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Sequels are often scrutinized to see if they live up to the brilliance of the original, and software is no exception - particularly if it's a high-profile Web browser. Given Netscape's early lead in the browser wars, the latest version should be much better than it is. Version 6.0 signals the beginning of Netscape's new role: a way to load and launch software applications. However, most Web users aren't expecting their browser to be a surrogate operating system; they just want something they can surf the Web with, and on that score Netscape 6.0 falls down on the job.
Overextending the Browser's Role
Netscape 6.0 is the first version to be based on Gecko, a rendering engine that offers smooth, if slow, page rendering and rigorous standards compliance. This version also mimics AOL's technique of squeezing several applications into one window. That's fine for people who want their e-mail, instant-messaging client, WYSIWYG editor, and browser in one package, but users who prefer to keep their applications streamlined and specific will find Netscape's entangled suite of components frustrating.
The browser window is an ersatz AOL environment: click on an icon, and an application pops up; click on MySidebar, and you can do everything from read headlines to check stocks. But MySidebar is plagued by performance quirks - for example, even if you select an option that hides the sidebar, it occasionally slides into view. Worse, keyboard shortcuts are implemented inconsistently, and imported information, such as bookmarks and e-mail, is poorly organized.
A Matter of Preference
A bigger shortcoming is that users control little of their overall experience in Netscape 6.0. Although the browser lets you choose a general appearance, it doesn't let you alter the window's appearance. Seeing so much space eaten up by unalterable interface features can be vexing.
Also, Netscape and its assorted extras take up 28MB of hard disk space, and the program takes longer to start up than its predecessors and the current version of Microsoft Internet Explorer.
Lost in the Crowd: All of Netscape 6.0's extra features may diminish the one thing users want to see in a browser - the Web page they've loaded.