[webwithout-ie] article:AOL Concocts a Mess With Netscape 8.0

  • From: David Poehlman <david.poehlman@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: webwithout-ie@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 30 May 2005 14:20:40 -0400

We should watch this carefully.

-- =20
Jonnie Apple Seed
With His:
Hands-On Technolog(eye)s

AOL Concocts a Mess With Netscape 8.0

By Rob Pegoraro
Sunday, May 29, 2005; F06

Identity theft is a serious problem on the Web these days. Just ask

Not long after America Online bought Netscape Communications Corp. in =20=

AOL began neglecting the browser at the heart of the Silicon Valley
Updates arrived at an ever-slower pace, and a promised integration of =20=

browser into the online service's software never happened. Things =20
reached a
low point last January, when AOL launched a cut-rate access service =20
Netscape that bundled Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser.

If Netscape's programming code had not been released to the public =20
under an
open-source license, the browser that first popularized the Web would
be pushing up daisies by now.

Fortunately, other parties (aided by a $2 million pledge from AOL) =20
did pick
up where AOL left off, turning Netscape into, first, Mozilla and then
The latter release has gone on to have the most successful start of any
browser since Internet Explorer itself -- and with AOL's March 19 =20
release of
new Netscape browser based on Firefox, things have come full circle.

That's not a compliment. Netscape 8.0 (Win 98 SE or newer,
http://browser.netscape.com/ )
has more in common with 1998-vintage Netscape -- ugly, awkward and
unstable -- than with the sleek, reliable Firefox. AOL's developers =20
with a solid
foundation and added two worthwhile innovations, but the results are =20
a mess.

AOL's biggest change to Firefox was to add the page-drawing engine of
Internet Explorer. This means Netscape will properly display almost =20
any page
in existence
-- from IE-only sites such as Microsoft's Windows Update to artsy blogs=20=

designed with Web standards that IE doesn't yet support. Netscape =20
sticks to
Firefox engine, treating a page exactly the way that browser would, =20
unless a
site falls into one of two categories.

If a page belongs to a "whitelist" of about 150,000 sites that AOL or =20=

firms have certified as safe -- including major news sources, search
stores and other name-brand destinations -- Netscape will display it =20
in IE
mode. But if the page lands on a blacklist of sites that AOL knows or
are dangerous, Netscape switches to a locked-down Firefox mode, with =20
minimal Web functions permitted.

You can also switch the display of a site from IE to Firefox by =20
clicking an
icon at the bottom left of Netscape's window. Select "Display Like =20
Explorer" when a page doesn't look right, for example, and Netscape =20
reloads and redraws the page.

This approach fails in a couple of ways. First, why even bother =20
viewing a
page in IE unless it won't function properly in Firefox? The newer =20
just that much more reliable, secure and convenient.

Second, under certain circumstances Netscape 8 displays distrusted =20
sites in
IE mode, opening the door to browser hijacking attempts. When you use a
engine that Netscape displays like Internet Explorer, the browser stays
stuck in the less-secure IE mode as you click through to a page found =20=

by the

The only clue that you're browsing with your shields down is a little =20=

"e" icon at the bottom-left corner -- until, of course, a hostile =20
site tries
to take over your machine.

I ran searches for sites offering pirated games, knowing they would =20
take me
into a bad neighborhood, then clicked on five or so links. Only one =20
of them
was on Netscape's blacklist; the others were able to pop up a =20
succession of
pushy solicitations to run hazardous ActiveX programs. One even =20
appeared to
be on its way to loading an unknown program -- at which point I =20
exited the
browser and had the test laptop wiped clean.

AOL confirmed that this behavior was a bug and said it would issue a =20
for it.

Netscape's other major addition to Firefox's features is a set of "Live
Content" toolbar icons that present such snippets of Web data as weather
news headlines and stock quotes. It's the same basic idea as the =20
in Apple's Mac OS X, but here you don't need to switch to a separate =20
applications. On the other hand, AOL has yet to provide other developers
with a way to write their own Live Content widgets, which for now limits
feature to a predictable selection of AOL's own fodder.

Aside from Live Content, Netscape mainly sets back the art of browser
interface design. This thing just looks ugly, done up in a tacky
theme (as if its developers were Miami Dolphins fans). It also works =20
thanks to AOL's refusal to place controls where users will expect =20
them. By
a Web-search bar between the back, forward and reload buttons and the
address bar, AOL ignores the past five years of browser development =20
-- and
by shoving
the menus into the top right corner of this application's window, AOL
ignores the last quarter-century of software design.

Like Firefox, Netscape 8 allows for tabbed browsing, in which you can =20=

among multiple pages by clicking on a series of tabs within a single =20
Unlike Firefox, this browser enforces a single-window mode; even if a =20=

is set up to open in a smaller pop-up window, Netscape will display =20
it under
another open tab.

Netscape provides too many options to adjust its tabbed-browsing =20
(19 instead of Firefox's five) but gets most of the default settings =20
example, if you open a new tab, it fills with the same page as the =20
tab, instead of staying blank.

The cursor then fails to shift automatically to the address bar, =20
where you
could type the address of a page you do want -- unlike in every other =20=

browser I've used. Finally, Netscape clumsily widens the currently =20
tab, shifting every other tab left or right and defeating your =20
attempts to
select them from memory. These little flaws conspire to waste a =20
little bit
of your time every single time you use this program, all without =20
meaningful benefit in return.

Elsewhere, AOL added some options to store user names, passwords and =20
data frequently entered at Web sites. But it also took away Firefox's
highlighting of properly secured sites -- a valuable help to users =20
about whether they're on their bank's real site or a fake one set up =20
as part
of a "phishing" scam.

Add in the pushy marketing during Netscape's installation -- unless =20
you opt
out, it will have a resource-hogging Weather Channel program loading =20
you start up your PC -- and this browser's habit of crashing, and =20
it's all
but unusable. Forget AOL's history of abandoning the Netscape browser =20=

has yet to say if it will offer its new browser with its Netscape =20
service); this is a train wreck in its own right.

It's not as if installing Netscape will even permit you to de-clutter =20=

computer by uninstalling other browsers. As long as you run Windows, =20
with Internet Explorer. And it's going to be easier to keep a second =20
set of
bookmarks in IE for the dwindling number of IE-only sites than to put up
this sorry successor to Netscape.

Living with technology, or trying to? E-mail Rob Pegoraro at
=A9 2005 The Washington Post Company

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