In The Beginning There Was Netscape
We all know the story. In fact it’s become a hackneyed web-cliché by now. Grizzled 18 year-old web veterans tell stories of the good old glory days when the web was young and how one browser changed the all-text experience of web browsing into a rich multi-media environment. Back then Internet Explorer wasn’t even yet conceived. In fact, the way web-lore tells it, young Billy Gates dismissed the Internet as a passing phase with little potential.
My, how things change. Of course we all know that the one constant in life is that nothing is constant. Everything changes, and it sure did for Netscape. However, right up until Internet Explorer 4.0 was released, Netscape was the browser of choice for a significant percentage of surfers, probably a majority. IE4 still had some problems though and many still stuck with good old Netscape. But by the time Microsoft released IE5 it was becoming increasingly obvious that Netscape had been spanked. IE5 simply presented a more feature rich tool with which to experience the Internet. Netscape handled fonts, tables and other important HTML features in an archaic and clumsy manner.
An army of new web designers also found that a web page could be coded to look very good in IE5 more easily than in Netscape. Making things even more difficult for Netscape is its shrinking market share, presently down to about seventeen or eighteen percent, which doesn’t give web designers much incentive to focus on Netscape when writing code. Netscape’s fortunes seem to be spiraling downward and few analysts predicted rejuvenation when Netscape was bought out by AOL.
While these facts still remain true today, Netscape has finally begun to take back some of that lost ground. Just a little tiny bit mind you, but perhaps, just maybe it’s the harbinger of what is to come. So sit back, relax, get a cup of coffee and let me tell you about the future … from my point of view, that is.
The WWWorld According to PokPok
Internet Explorer 5 has been around for a while now, as has Netscape 4.x. After all this time, people have become accustomed to what they use for browsing the web. I know this was certainly my situation as IE5 was my browser of choice and I could see no reason to consider changing that decision. IE5 performed very well, as usual, and Netscape still … well … didn’t, also as usual. Their releases of updated versions of their browser were really just bug fixes with little change to the fundamental software. Version 4.71 and 4.72 and then 4.73 were nothing to get excited about, just incremental improvements to an antiquated browser.
However, something has changed with 4.74, and oh mama, it’s time to get out that red marker and put a big ol’ red X on the calendar because when tested on The World Famous Ol’ Turd (my trusty and loyal test-bed box) this version is markedly and noticeably faster than its predecessor. Speed – the drug of choice for hardware junkies, is a powerful incentive to consider change, and change I have considered.
Of Speed and Opera – Has the Fat Lady Yet Sung?
We’ve known all along that Internet Explorer is a monumentally bloated piece of software. Granted it’s a very lush tool that offers a satisfying browsing experience, but at the expense of significant bulk; it could be considered fast for its size mind you, but its size is substantial and speed suffers as a consequence. The problem is that Netscape wasn’t significantly faster and unfortunately, in some ways it was slower and so presented no incentive to change, or even experiment with it as an alternative.
Recently though, after reading some posts by Al here in the PC911 Forum touting Opera’s speed, I decided to give this alternative browser a try. Opera’s advantage is that it is fast, very fast, much faster than either IE or Netscape. What’s more, with version 4 of their browser, Opera have improved their interface and made the browser significantly more reliable than previous versions as well. On top of all that, this tiny little browser (with the full Java package it comes to less than ten MB, most of which is … the Java package) renders web pages that look very good, even handles certain features better than Netscape. I was so impressed that I bought it, and for a freeware junkie that’s saying something.
Opera still has some problems though. It can be difficult to get it to do certain things reliably like retain information that’s kept in cookie files and its preferences settings are quirky. Worst of all though, it gains much of its speed by caching web pages you’ve already been to and relentlessly presenting you with these old pages when you click a link to a regularly visited location. This can be a mammoth pain when browsing sites like a forum where pages are changing virtually from one minute to the next. You must reload every time in order to get the current version of the forum pages to appear. Even so, Opera is so fast and light on its feet that it is sometimes worth it to put up with the hassle.
Now though, with Netscape’s recent release of version 4.74, with whatever voodoo they’ve done to it, it is, incredibly, almost as fast as Opera. Opera still holds an advantage, but only by a tiny margin. Netscape has improved their product in this one area by an astounding margin. I was absolutely floored when I updated my Netscape installation to version 4.74 from 4.73 on The Ol’ Turd here. Note that I used the base install of Netscape, with as few bells and whistles installed as possible, and I upgraded with the same base version, so the comparison on this machine is valid.
There is a caveat though. I am fortunate enough to have fast Internet access. My beloved cable connection has rendered using the Internet a joy rather than a tedious affair. The Ol’ Turd is an older model P166 MMX with a paltry 48MB of dawg-slow EDO RAM. The point of all this is that the water pipe isn’t the problem, the spigot is just too small. Cable access provides the potential for real speed, but this antiquated jalopy with insufficient RAM simply can’t handle it as quickly as newer machines with their faster hardware and abundance of RAM. The problem is compounded somewhat by the pudgy (to say the least) nature of IE5. Netscape isn’t much less bloated, but it certainly isn’t as elephantine as IE has become.
Still, I’m comparing Netscape to itself; version 4.74 is noticeably faster than previous versions on the same computer installed with the same options. This new speed simply makes it more attractive as an alternative to IE5, just as does Opera 4. What’s more, Netscape doesn’t rely on cached pages so fervently. While browsing the same forum web pages with Netscape that required constant reloading with Opera, I hardly ever need to hit the refresh button. When power browsing I am unconcerned with the appearance of the web pages that I’m visiting so Netscape’s speed has become a real factor in my decision about which browser to launch.
After a few days use I’m amazed that I find myself launching IE5.01 purely out of habit, then closing it and launching Netscape for its speed. On this machine it simply makes sense. If you have an older, slower computer and you’ve been using IE5 as your primary browser, you may wish to consider giving Netscape a try. I recommend the base install, select the “Custom” option when installing and disable as many features as you can live without. I think you’ll be very pleasantly surprised. And on the subject of speed, if your computer is really old, Opera would be an even better choice. Its small size and screaming fast speed can breath new life into that old computer.
The file name for the base install version of Netscape that I refer to above is cb32d474.exe.
Where Are We Headed and How Does This Affect Our Choices?
While it is almost impossible to accurately quantify, it is my opinion that Internet access speeds are rising at a rate greater than the average home computer hardware speeds are increasing. Cable and DSL are becoming available to a larger percentage of the surfing population, more than tripling Internet access speed, while at the same time, these same people are upgrading their computers in comparatively smaller increments (from say, 450MHz CPUs to 750 or 800MHz). As has almost always been the case since the Internet’s inception, the speed limitation of browsing is imposed by hardware rather than the Internet itself. Faster browsers exploit this circumstance. Opera 4 and Netscape v4.74 potentially demonstrate a groundswell movement away from Internet Explorer’s characteristic of sacrificing some (perhaps significant) speed at the expense of a more lush browsing experience. At the very least, it is nice to have the option to choose.
Submitted by: ;~* … PokPok