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Netscape 6 for Linux: Flashy Looks, Little Substance
A Premature Release?
November 14, 2000
Thirty-two months of blood, sweat, and flames later, Netscape released the first commercial offspring of the much-touted and highly scrutinized Mozilla product today: Netscape Communicator 6.
This is a product that has been completely rebuilt from the ground up from the older releases' code (up to version 4.76) and it is apparent right off the bat that Netscape is indeed a subsidiary of America Online. It is also pretty apparent that there are still a lot of rough edges on this product's Linux version that led me to wonder why it had to come out the door like this.
Netscape 6, while aesthetically pleasing, gets some low marks on performance and broken parts of the interface.
Getting the Product
Downloading Netscape 6 for Linux 2.2 is supposed to be a matter of going to their Web site and clicking a link that will (a la Microsoft) download a mini-installer tarball that will in turn handle the bulk of the installation tasks.
What struck me as peculiar that after choosing the Linux version, the link took me to another page and tried to download the mini-installer without asking. Since I was using my local account, the tarball refused to uncompress itself.
I switched to root and tried again, and now this time the FTP site would not even let me download the tarball. Irked, but not daunted, I grabbed the tarball off of the FTP site myself and, using the installation instructions, started the installer program.
The machine I did this on was my SuSE 7.0 test machine, with 96 MB of RAM an AMD K6 chip. This was much more than Netscape's published requirements: a Pentium 233 or greater box with 64 Mb of RAM. The hard drive space is pretty hefty, weighing in at 26 Mb. You should also make sure you have glibc 2.1 and libjpeg.so.62 installed.
Running the install script was easy with a nice step-by-step dialog box to walk you through what amounted to three steps: read the README, read the license agreement, and choose from one of three installation paths. The choices were Recommended, Full, and Custom. If you want to use the Instant Messenger component of Netscape 6, you need to choose one of the latter two options. "Recommended" neither installs the IM component or the Java needed to launch the tool.
I recommend "Custom," because even if you have no plans to use IM, you'll need the Java components to acquire new themes for the browser, among other things. By choosing "Custom," you can also deselect a pesky little English (U.K.) package, which, if you are in the United States, is about as necessary as a sixth toe.
Once your choices are made, the installer gets to work pulling down the packages from the FTP site, which the install engine will then fit together into one cohesive package. You hope.
The download of these packages took an interminably long time, due to incredibly long pauses between each package that made me think the thing had hung up. Now, even though I have a cable modem, I was trying to download in the middle of the day, which may have been part of the problem. Still, even after getting the packages, the installation program did freeze completely during package compilation, forcing me (after a half-hour wait) to restart the app and go through the whole thing all over. I strongly urge you to try this during off-traffic hours, particularly if you have a dial-up connection.
After the second run, the Navigator window popped up in full glory and all seemed to be fine. Immediately I received an error message that Java support, despite getting installed, still needed to be turned on. A quick trip to the Preferences dialog took care of that, but it still was time wasted.