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Netscape 6: Enter the Gecko
Reviewing the Next-Generation Web Browser
April 17, 2000
Like all good software, the new Netscape 6 is very capable of provoking some strong reactions. It certainly did with me.
I'm not going to pretend that I'm a fan of the new Netscape 6 interface. I'm not. I find it overdesigned and very inconvenient to use, with familiar tools scattered all over the interface, and there seems to have been a lot of change to the interface for the sake of change. The Netscape folks argue that it's a simpler interface with fewer buttons, and I suppose that's technically true; but it seems like a lot of important things, like easy access to bookmarks, was deemphasized in Netscape 6. (You can judge for yourself in the accompanying screen shot.)
And I'm not a fan of the current state of performance for Netscape 6: it's a beta that can be annoyingly slow and a resource hog. I know it's not good form to criticize beta software on a performance basis, but it seems like Netscape is actually slower than the alpha versions of Mozilla I had reviewed in the past.
Now, having said all that, I will admit that Netscape 6 will become essential software for every Linux user over the next two years. I'll even go farther and argue that if the performance issues with Netscape 6 are worked out, Netscape 6 has a very good chance of regaining some market share from Microsoft Internet Explorer in the overall Web-browser market.
The core of Netscape 6 is Netscape Gecko, a new browser engine that's also being positioned for use in a variety of situations beyond Netscape 6, including net devices, embedded devices, and set-top TVs. This engine contains no legacy code, and in our tests it did appear to render pages faster than older versions of Netscape Navigator. (Overall, however, this beta release is slower than previous versions of Netscape Navigator, proving that rendering pages is only one portion--albeit an important portion--of what a Web browser must do.)
And Gecko is Open Source, released under the Mozilla license. Open Source advocates can debate about whether the Mozilla license is a true Open Source license, but the fact is that Gecko is freely available and already being used in the embedded-Linux world is a good sign that Netscape 6 also has a great future.
The first beta release of the renamed Netscape 6 (gone are Communicator and Navigator, at least so far) is available for download. We downloaded it and installed it on two Linux boxes, one running Linux-Mandrake and one running Elfstone Linux.