What is it: the latest Navigator 4 browser with enhanced email, HTML editing and discussion group support. The professional version also includes calendar and conference functions.
Applications: for email, discussions and browsing both inside and outside a company.
Many businesses are using email as their main mechanism for exchanging information and data. It?s replacing memos, letters and even the phone and fax machine.
At the same time, as part of the trend towards more flexibility in organisations, collaboration software is proving a useful addition to conventional meetings as a way of holding discussions and rapidly distributing information.
There is also an increasing use of internal Web sites on company intranets, as businesses start to realise the benefits of better internal communication.
But there are drawbacks. Many of the systems used, especially email and collaboration software, are still not fully compatible with each other. Apart from the obvious disadvantages of being locked into a single supplier, this can reduce an organisation?s ability to share information with business partners and remote users.
Another problem is the number of different applications on the desktop that users must handle. Staff don?t have the time to learn several different complex programs. The quicker they adopt a new technology, the sooner their business benefits.
Netscape hopes that its Communicator suite of software will address these issues. The package consists of email software, collaboration tools for taking part in newsgroups (discussion groups), and a new Web browser.
Although there are several new programs involved, they have been tightly integrated to make the package easier to use. So, for instance, the toolbar items are labelled with ?Inbox? and ?Discussions?, rather than ?Run Netscape Messenger? or ?Run Netscape Collabra?. In addition, the programs are designed to be as similar as possible, with a consistent look and feel. Netscape?s use of shared components mean that when, for example, you are creating a Web page, you use the same editing toolbar as when writing an email message or newsgroup article.
Netscape has also provided a conferencing program for text and voice communication across a LAN or even over the Internet. It incorporates an Internet phone, whiteboard and text chat window.
The basic Communicator package is intended mainly for home and personal use. But there is also a Professional version for business users, which includes an extra three packages. The first is the Calendar, which includes a Task Manager and multi-user features such as free-time searching. There?s also a meeting in-tray, which collects meeting proposals, acceptances and refusals.
Another useful feature is Autoadmin. With this facility, each time a user starts Communicator, it automatically asks to check if there have been any software updates or configuration changes. If so, the user is prompted to update their installation.
The third additional package is a Java-based program which helps connection to 3270 mainframe applications. This presents the traditional dumb terminal ?green screen? within a window on your desktop.
The software is based on Internet standards so it can readily be used on the Internet ? or on a corporate intranet, using servers and software from any of a wide variety of vendors. Furthermore, Netscape delivers the software on 17 different platforms, which will be particularly useful to businesses with more than just IBM PCs on their desks.
The updated Web browser, Netscape Navigator 4, benefits from some new easy-to-use features. For example, you can type in a company?s name, such as Microsoft, and Navigator automatically realises that you really mean http://www.microsoft.com/ and goes straight to that Web site. Netscape has also improved bookmark handling, so users can structure their bookmarks in such a way that they are easy to find again.
One of the problems facing many email users is the sheer volume of mail they receive. Netscape Communicator has a handy solution in the form of mail filters. It is possible to create a number of different mailboxes, and then automatically sort mail by a wide range of criteria into the different boxes.
The single message centre provides a convenient overview of all mailboxes and discussion groups, showing how many messages are still unread in each. While reading messages, it is quite easy to go to the next unread message, without having to return to the inbox window.
Directories of users are queried using a standard protocol, LDAP. This can be used to query several types of directory that might used on internal networks, such as Novell?s NDS and X.500, and also global directories on the Internet itself.
The conferencing program features text chat (typed conversation), voice chat and a shared whiteboard. It?s easy to install and configure, although it can be tricky to adjust the audio levels so that speech doesn?t break up.
Netscape Composer is a single tool, which is used to create and edit any document. Composer is an HTML editor, and all the products in the suite are HTML-aware, so your newsgroup articles and email messages can be enhanced, instead of being plain black text.
Although the suite supports hyperlinks, they aren?t that easy to create. You can send an email message, including a hyperlink, to draw someone?s attention to a particular Web page, file or news item. But you can?t simply drag-and-drop a news item into a message to create a hyperlink to it ? you need to type in the full URL syntax.
Netscape Communicator is quick and easy to install, well designed and unobtrusive. Technically, it is nothing particularly special. There are other collections of software on the market which can achieve the same thing, but for businesses which are moving to standards-based software, and which want to give their staff something that is both easy to use and to administer, the Netscape package scores well. That it is also available on such a wide range of platforms is a distinct bonus.
Contact: Netscape at www.netscape.com
Price: $49 for the personal edition; $79 per user for the professional edition
Verdict: Netscape Communicator combines powerful features behind a simple unified interface. Although we looked at a beta edition, it is clear that Communicator will be a strong contender. It?s much easier to install and use than the alternative ? a collection of different programs or poorly integrated add-ons ? and business users will particularly like the new productivity features, such as the facility to filter mail automatically.
IBM and Technical University of Munich team demonstrate how Shor's algorithm, which can't be cracked by conventional computers, can be solved quickly with quantum computing
Hubble Space Telescope finds superflares from young red dwarfs could strip away planetary atmosphere
Younger stars are 100 to 1,000 times more energetic than when they're older
Two of the big four supermarkets will use the system to control sales of restricted products
PUBG news and updates: November's Update #23 to bring new Skorpion pistol and changes to blue zone visibility
Genuinely useful side-arm coming to PUBG in Update #23