PC WEEK LABS
beta upgrade simplifies Web access. The next version of Netscape's Communicator Suite is shaping up as a useful upgrade, with significant improvements in messaging features and a few helpful new Web navigation options.
In PC Week Labs' tests of the first public beta of Communicator 4.5, released last week and slated to ship this autumn, the new Email functions were found to bring it on par with proprietary LAN-based Email clients, giving it an edge over Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser.
The improved Email interface is the most noticeable change in Communicator's Messenger messaging component, giving users a three-pane display of folders, messages and message contents that makes it easier to manage mail. A new template option enables preformatted messages to be created quickly, but the templates are not readily accessible from the Compose menu option.
Addressing messages has been simplified with a new address-completion feature, already found in competing messaging clients, that takes a portion of a name, looks it up in the address book, and fills in the rest of the name and the address. Support for shared folders, the equivalent of the public folders found in proprietary systems such as Microsoft Exchange, has been added to Communicator, but the folders are disabled in the initial beta.
Communicator's improved support for offline operation also makes it easier to create folders and to compose and manage messages offline when compared to some other mail clients, such as MS Outlook Express.
The Smart Browsing features, which attempt to make it easier to find information on the Internet, need further work. For example, a What's Related button, added to Navigator's location tool bar, lets users see a drop-down list of Web sites with content similar to the one currently being viewed. Although this works well on some Web pages, others show no related sites.
An Internet Keywords feature lets users type a company name and descriptive term and immediately launches the site. This worked in some cases, such as finding www.ual.com from a keyword of "United Airlines", but not in others, such as when it failed to find www.infoseek.com from a keyword of "Infoseek". If the browser cannot find the proper site, it launches a Web search.
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