Browsers Get Better
If you're making a list of Web browsers, you can stop after Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator. With 92 percent of the browser market between them, there's little competition for these two excellent products-except, of course, each other. And the IE-Navigator rivalry is heating up again with new versions about to roll out of both software shops. Betas of each browser's 4.0 versions are available as downloads-and shipping versions are due any day now-but if you don't want to walk on the wild side, stick with the stable 3.0 versions, which have been shipping for about a year.
The 4.0 versions, however, highlight the distinctions between the two browsers. Each company will try to broaden its product's appeal, but by moving in opposite directions. Netscape hopes to entice the experienced and corporate user, while Microsoft hopes better operating system integration and ease of use will turn IE into a mass-market browsing solution that will lure even novice or casual users.
Netscape radically changes the look and feel of its browser with version 4.0, adopting Microsoft-like features such as tool tips, movable toolbars and a Bookmarks button on the toolbar. Netscape also hopes to find a suite spot by unbundling Navigator into a set of discrete-yet related-applications for browsing, reading mail and newsgroups, and creating messages. The new suite, called Communicator, has better customization capabilities and ease-of-use touches such as one-button image-loading control and a single-step method to mark and organize bookmarks. Among its new components are Conference, which enables text, audio and video exchanges with other Internet users, and Constellation, an active desktop that will let you receive push content.
Microsoft tweaks Internet Explorer's interface a bit with some new ease-of-use features. In addition, Microsoft has been hard at work finding a new home for IE by integrating its browsing capabilities with the Windows 95 shell. The result is a dramatic makeover of the Win95 Desktop, with a new look for the My Computer and Windows Explorer utilities, Favorites lists on the file-utility menu bars and the Start menu, and Active Desktop features. Not to be outdone by Netscape's Conference, Microsoft offers its own collaborative work component, NetMeeting. A Personal Web Server will also be bundled with IE. With its integrated desktop, IE 4.0 users don't have to know the source of their information; they just have to know where to click to get at it.
On one front, at least, Netscape and Microsoft are united. Both support the Dynamic HTML specification (see sidebar "The Next HTML") by building into their products the ability to display interactive pages with advanced features such as custom buttons and read-only fields.
If shipping versions of IE 4.0 and Communicator are not yet available as you read this, you can download the betas and road test them yourself. Get Netscape Communicator at http://home.netscape.com/comprod/products