Netscape?s has made a preview version of Communicator 4.5 available for download, promising greater ease of use and novel features.
Communicator has been slimmed down, through the disappearance of the 'push' component Netcaster (licensed from Marimba) and the integration of the email and news readers into Netscape Messenger.
But a full download for Windows 95/98 still requires 12.6Mbytes. Currently, a download is available for Windows 95/98/NT, Macintosh and Unix.
The suite now consists of the Navigator browser, Messenger (mail and news), Composer for HTML authoring) and AOL Instant Messenger (real time messaging). Optionally, a version can be downloaded that also includes Netscape Calendar, which in combination with Netscape Calendar Server provides group scheduling.
New features in Communicator 4.5 include 'smart browsing', a restyled email client and newsreader, and support for roaming.
Smart browsing, the most innovative feature, ties the browser into Netscape?s Netcenter portal site. Rather than just typing in URLs, users can now type brand or company names or any type of keyword into the browser?s Web address line.
For instance, type in 'Toyota' and you go straight to that company?s home page, type in 'cars' and you are transferred to the automotive section of Netcenter.
If no specific Web site or Netcenter section is found, a search is automatically performed on Netcenter?s search engine, provided by Excite.
Another new feature is the redesigned Messenger client, which now combines both email and a newsreader ? just like Outlook Express in Microsoft?s competing Internet Explorer. Messenger now sports a three-pane interface, making it look even more like Outlook Express.
The roaming feature allows users to store their 'profile', including their bookmarks and address book, on a server rather than on their PC. However, the feature will only work if enabled by the network administrator.
At some point, said a Netscape spokesperson, the roaming feature will also be integrated with Netcenter. Users will then be able to store their preferences, bookmarks and address book on Netcenter, so they can access them from anywhere on the Internet.
Another tie-in with Netcenter, and again one that is not yet operational, is a new 'My Netscape' button in Navigator, which is supposed to lead the user straight to a personalised home page on Netcenter. But that feature isn?t expected to work until late this summer.
My Netscape is expected to be similar to personalised home pages on other portal sites such as Yahoo and Microsoft Start.
The final release of Netscape Communicator 4.5 is expected to ship in the autumn.
By the end of the year, Netscape hopes to release a first beta of Communicator 5.0. This will be the first open sourcecode version of the browser, and the first to include contributions from developers outside Netscape.
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