[NetExtra is SO COOL]
Netscape Navigator for OS/2: First Looks- by Tim Walker

For a long time I would've thought that doing what I've just been doing -- road-testing the first beta of Netscape Navigator for OS/2 -- ranked alongside Deep Space Nine being axed, or Bill Gates filing for bankruptcy in the "great-if-it-happens-but-it-won't" stakes. Yet here it is, a 3MB bundle of joy planted on my hard drive. Downloading the archive (officially, Beta 1a of Netscape Navigator 2.02e for OS/2 Warp -- not 2.02i) took just under an hour over my V34 modem -- it's a measure of how eagerly I've awaited this release that I downloaded it on a weekday evening. I never spend that long on the Net during the week...

Installation

Installation is handled by the IBM installer which should hopefully ensure removal of the beta is relatively painless. I did not install the Java extension, as I know of very few sites I visit which use applets. However, JavaScript is supported by default and is much more widely used so I decided that would suffice. The installation gives you the option of converting your WebEx quicklist to a Navigator bookmark list, which I did despite not having many entries in it. I mainly use URL objects; the installer is meant to be able to convert these to bookmark entries too, yet I never received this option. I then transplanted my old Netscape bookmark list into the Navigator folder, but found my carefully sorted sites didn't appear in the "sub-menu" bookmark format that Navigator normally displays. Otherwise, installation presented few problems, so kudos to all concerned there.

Impressions

First impressions were mixed. This beta is a bit slow to load; on my P75 with 16Mb RAM it went from start to finish in around fifteen seconds, whereas WebEx (or Navigator under Windows on native Windows PCs I've used) undercuts that figure significantly. Also, the interface appears somewhat untidy, especially the navigation buttons; however, this is a beta, and I imagine there's time to fix minor problems like these.

How does it perform? With a few exceptions, surprisingly well for an early beta. As someone for whom a major aspect of work involves creating Web sites, increasingly using Netscape enhancements such as frames, I have longed for a native OS/2 browser which can handle these features. (I haven't time to debate the rights or wrongs of "proprietary" HTML enhancements here, I merely accept the fact that an increasing number of sites use them and I believe we should learn to adapt. If you disagree, write in...) This Navigator is frame- and JavaScript-enabled, meaning that OS/2 users can finally browse certain sites which had hitherto been lost to us.

So, I decided to give the browser the acid test. I aimed it at Channel Cyberia, an animated GIF-laden framefest and the Web equivalent of London's Piccadilly Circus (famous for its huge illuminated advertisements). It handled the whole lot without a blip and indeed, I found that with certain sites Navigator loaded in images notably faster than WebEx -- this could be attributed to Navigator's caching options, or perhaps it was only a subjective observation.

As you'd expect, however, all is not perfect with the application as it stands. Quite a few times I saw Navigator crash with a SYS3175 error, usually when accessing more complex sites but also when I attempted to save an image with the right mouse button (a Navigator feature in this version). Surprisingly, I can't conclusively recall the beta bringing down the entire system, which was a major concern of mine from the start. Drag-and-drop is not yet enabled, and I'd be interested to see if the eventual finished Navigator can match WebEx's formidable prowess in this department.

Also, readers should note, the swap file can grow pretty big with Navigator; indeed, during one session it reached a personal record of 39Mb!!

Other Things

There's much more I could have tested out here but time was not on my side this time! In the main, however, Beta 1a has certainly whetted my appetite for the final version of Navigator for OS/2. Yes, it has its faults but most stem from the fact that it is a beta version. If you bear this in mind and can put up with the occasional crash this could be one of the best downloads you make this week.

It just goes to prove, even impossible things happen sometimes.


 * Netscape Navigator for OS/2 v2.02
by Netscape Communications
download from IBM's site
MSRP: FREE!
Tim Walker is a 23-year-old non-programmer, living near London, UK, working in electronic publishing and running Warp at home... which marks him out as a pretty unusual OS/2 user. His golden ambition is to create a Web home page on a topic no-one has thought of before -- anyone else like the Penguin Cafe Orchestra?

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