[Stardock Presents: Trials of Battle]
Navigator/2 Unleashed- by Edward Stangler

OS/2 users who checked the Netscape web site on Monday, December 16th, received a delightful surprise. IBM and Netscape had announced the final release of Netscape Navigator 2.02 for OS/2 Warp (dubbed "Navigator/2" by many users). With this release, IBM and Netscape fulfilled their promise to deliver a high-quality, robust browser to OS/2 Warp users.

The install documentation says that "this release of Netscape Navigator offers you all the robustness of Netscape Navigator 2.02 and more." They aren't kidding. Not only do you get all the features of Navigator 2.02 you have come to love on other platforms, but you also get some nice Navigator 3.0 features, such as a working "Back" button on frames, and support for background colors on table cells. The browser also offers drag-and-drop support for URL objects, and you can use Voice Navigation to surf the 'net.

This release comes with the Java for OS/2 1.0.2 beta runtime environment. Java is supported on both Warp 3 and 4. It replaces the Java for OS/2 1.0.1 runtime environment found in OS/2 Warp 4.

In addition to the main Navigator/2 package, IBM has released an OS/2 Plug-In Pack which includes native OS/2 multimedia plug-ins (to play files such as .WAV, .VOC, and .AU), support for Windows 3.1 plug-ins (such as Shockwave Director), and software MPEG movie support.

Installation

Any beta versions of Navigator/2 should be removed before installing this final release, plain and simple. Not doing so can result in .INI problems or problems with the multimedia plug-ins. You have been forewarned.

Beyond that issue though, installation is fast, simple, and painless. Netscape Navigator for OS/2 Warp uses the standard installation program found in many of today's OS/2 applications. Uninstalling Navigator is just as easy.

I installed Navigator 2.02 for OS/2 on a 486/66 MHz machine, running OS/2 Warp 4 at a resolution of 640x480x64k. Internet access was through a dialup PPP account, using a 28.8k modem.

Browsing

The final release of Navigator/2 is quick and responsive. While not quite as light on its toes as WebExplorer 1.2 (shipped with Warp 4), it's definitely not the sluggish interface we saw in early betas. Redraws are kept to a minimum, and scrolling is very fast.

Apart from a few phantom scrollbars on the left side of the screen, web page rendering under Navigator/2 is also great. It lays out pages in a clean, attractive way. In fact, some pages look even better in Navigator for OS/2 than in its Windows or Macintosh counterparts.

The "Back" button is amazingly quick, as is the frames support. On many platforms, loading frames is asking for trouble, but on Navigator/2, the frames support is very stable and optimized.

Java

The Java support in this release is phenomenal. Loading and running Java applets is fast. In fact, it's noticeably faster than the Navigator/2 betas, even with the same version of the Java for OS/2 runtime environment (1.0.2).

After running a few applets, one begins to really get a feel for the integration of Java and Netscape Navigator for OS/2. It wasn't too long ago that we had to suffer through the WebExplorer Java Technology Demo. What users on other platforms have taken for granted, we have finally received.

The inclusion of the Java for OS/2 1.0.2 runtime environment dramatically eases the installation of Java support for users, especially those with Warp 3. While the extra packaging does increase the size of the Navigator/2 distribution archive, it is much preferable to the "upgrade kit" that IBM stated would be available for Warp 3 users. The "upgrade kit" they spoke of would have involved some hacking with a package called JEmpower. Netscape/2 takes care of all of that.

Native Multimedia Plug-ins (plus MPEG)

The OS/2 Plug-In Pack must be IBM and Netscape's Christmas gift to OS/2 users. The highlights of the package are the native multimedia plug-ins and the software MPEG support.

The first time you play a WAV or AU file, you'll be surprised. A progress bar, fully integrated into the frame or browser window, appears when you start downloading the sound file. In addition to the bar, you find mute, rewind, stop, and play buttons. After a few seconds, you can start playing portions of the sound file, even before you're finished downloading it all!

This level of sound support is amazing. Not only do you get tight integration with the browser, but offline, you can browse the sound clips you downloaded, via the Multimedia Internet Manager. This awkwardly named applet, found in the System Setup folder under Warp 4, lets you select and play back clips using the same interface as the Compact Disc player.

This integration extends to video, as well, but the Plug-In Pack leaves much to be desired in that area. First of all, it does not ship with a QuickTime codec, the code which allows playback of popular .MOV files. As for the remaining half of videos on the Internet, the AVI support is also sorely lacking. The documentation says that "some" AVI's may need an extra codec, available by searching the 'net. In my experience, just about all AVI's will need this codec. IBM should have packaged it directly with the Plug-In Pack.

The Plug-In Pack is redeemed by its MPEG support, however, called OpenMPEG Video. Even on a 486/66, a soundless MPEG video will play back at decent speed and quality. (Just don't expect any background processes to breathe while you play the videos.) Since this is software MPEG we're talking about, the documentation does recommend at least a Pentium to run those videos smoothly.

Windows 3.1 Plug-ins

It is certainly easier to install a 16-bit Windows plug-in into Navigator/2 than into WebExplorer. However, it's still not a piece of cake.

The README in the Plug-In Pack says that RealAudio and Shockwave Director have both been tested inside Navigator for OS/2. If you install RealAudio after installing Navigator/2, you should not have too many problems. You will have to manually tell Navigator which .EXE to use, and there may be some Win-OS/2 issues to wrestle with.

Mail and News

Netscape Navigator for OS/2 is not only a browser, but it also moonlights as mail and news clients.

The mail features in Navigator/2 make it a decent client. It's a little bulky, but it's more than adequate for sending and receiving normal e-mail. The news reader section is a sore spot though. The interface is bulky and quite non-intuitive -- even more so than on other platforms.

Overall

Netscape Navigator 2.02 for OS/2 Warp is a great browser. It's fast, reliable, and finally brings the best of the web to the OS/2 Desktop. The Plug-In Pack is a must for audio buffs. If you have a faster machine and want to search for the AVI codec, you'll find the Plug-In Pack even more valuable. Read your mail with Navigator/2, but skip the news.

The guys and gals at Boulder have really outdone themselves with the final release of Navigator/2. They have done a superb job porting the world's most popular browser -- and helping IBM to fulfill an important promise.


 * Netscape Navigator 2.02 for OS/2 Warp
by IBM & Netscape Communications
download Netscape Navigator/2 from IBM's site
MSRP: FREE for Warp 3 and Warp 4 users.
Edward Stangler is a programming consultant who has worked with OS/2, UNIX, the TI 99/4A, and regrettably, Windows. Drop by his home page at http://www.neosoft.com/~mred/os2links.html.

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