Netscape has launched the beta version of Communicator 4.5, which is expected to ship this autumn.
The product points to some of the directions that the next major release of the Internet suite, Communicator 5.0, will take.
Version 5.0 will be the result of a joint effort between Netscape programmers and the Internet community. Although it will share some code with its successor, 4.5 should be the last release made by Netscape alone. Version 5.0 should be in beta at about the same time 4.5 ships.
Communicator 4.5 features closer integration with the new Netcenter portal site, a renewed Messenger service and what Netscape calls "superior quality" - in other words, fewer bugs. Indicative of the fizzling out of the push technology hype is that Netcaster, the push component in Communicator 4.0, will no longer be included.
The Navigator browser has a new feature called Smart Browsing (see earlier stories) for more productive searching. The user types in the name of a product or company, and the browser checks for a corresponding URL address in Netcenter's database. If found, the request is directed to the right site. Otherwise, the results obtained from a search engine are displayed.
Similarly, when users press a button called 'What's Related', Netcenter can feed the browser with a list of related sites.
But so far there are no enhancements for offline browsing or cache management of bookmarks, so the product is still bandwidth hungry.
Messenger now integrates the Collabra client for newsgroups in a reworked, more modern interface, similar to the competing Outlook Express. Messenger features support for the LDAP directory standard and for Imap 4, a protocol for easy remote access to email and news, including downloading for offline reading. LDAP can integrate the user's personal contact list with the corporate one and with public directory services such as White Pages, Four11 or Bigfoot.
The beta product will be offered free for users of Navigator or Communicator Standard editions. Communicator includes the Netscape Calendar client, Navigator, Messenger and Composer. Communicator Pro will continue to be aimed at corporations and will include a revisited Mission Control component for centralised management. Prices for Communicator Pro upgrades were not disclosed.
Alberto D'Ottavi works for PC Magazine in Italy.
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