Summary: Bloated and buggy, crash prone and slow, by golly how we love thee. Its the year's most anticipated public beta release for OS/2.
All those who laid their bets on either the Warpzilla or Warpscape crews having a port of Mozilla completed before IBM released a beta of Communicator should be crying in their beer right now, because lo and behold, on Thursday July 30th, 1998, a full beta did indeed go public.
After a few limping starts (the file on IBM's site was corrupted until later in the evening) most of us with a WarpCast subscription or a careful eye to the newsgroups and mailing lists were downloading and installing the new beta. Amazingly enough, most haven't had any problems with this part, as long as you read the Read.Me file and pay attention to what you should and shouldn't do.
The new browser (okay, so it's new to us,) while originally designed and developed by Netscape has been ported to OS/2 mostly by IBM. It features a swanky new interface (.GIF, 22.3K) and, most importantly of all, an updated HTML rendering engine. For the first time, OS/2 users have a native way to read HTML 4.0 pages with style sheets, layers and other exotic extensions. It not only opens many new doors previously left locked to OS/2 users, but also ushers in better ways of presenting and organizing information than could be achieved with the HTML supported by the old Navigator 2.02.
In addition to the browser, the Communicator suite also includes an improved mail (.GIF, 15K) and newsreader (Collabra), plus a "WYSIWYG" web page editor called Composer (.GIF, 23.3K). All four are integrated nicely, accessible from either a floating palette or one docked in the bottom status bar of each component. Their settings can all be accessed from a common preferences dialog (meaning you can set up your mail client while in the browser, or vice versa), and the suite can also keep track of multiple users all sharing the same machine -- giving you the power to separate mail accounts, bookmarks and other preferences.
With the revamp of these components also comes a lot of little changes that ought to please. For example, in the mail client it's now a lot easier to set up a filter -- no more messing around with undocumented files in the System Editor. You can also now put your favorite web sites right on the main toolbar (where the fixed directory buttons used to be) for extra fast access.
But keep in mind that this is a beta and it shows. The program is slow and has a tendency to crash. While testing it we noticed excessive screen repaints (especially with pages that contain forms) as well as poor color management and graphics display for those with 256-color screens (making it's usefulness limited on laptop computers). IBM recommends that you leave the Java Just-In-Time compiler switched off (it is by default) and do not choose to import your settings from Netscape 2.02.
Something else you'll notice after starting up the browser for the first time and going through Netscape's registration process is that you can't install a VeriSign key. It may seem to install, but trying to use it to confirm your identity will fail.
At least the waiting is over, the fears soothed and the itches scratched. If you choose to try out this beta, make sure you also send your bug reports in to IBM. And once you do that, try to send some thanks along to their programmers too. Expect a full review of the entire Communicator suite for OS/2 here in OS/2 e-Zine! once the final version is released.
Communicator for OS/2 4.04, Preview
Chris Wenham is the Senior Editor for OS/2 e-Zine! - a promotion from Assistant Editor which means his parking spot will now be wide enough to hold his bicycle and a trailer.
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