Netscape is out with a test release of version 8.0, and the new browser is nothing like its recent predecessors, which were mostly about fixing bugs and playing catch-up. More than 90 percent of the world's surfing is still done on Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer, but many users complain of its numerous security vulnerabilities and lack of modern features like tabbed browsing, which lets you visit multiple Web sites without opening multiple browser windows.
Enter Mozilla Firefox, which debuted last fall to much fanfare. It lacks many of the IE features, like ActiveX, which is often blamed for enabling security breaches, and with its relatively low usage, malicious hackers don't target Firefox as much. But some sites won't work with Firefox because they need the IE features.
The new Netscape, which is only available for Windows PCs, addresses the quandary through a regularly updated list of "good" and "bad" sites.
If Netscape deems a site good, a green shield appears and the browser displays the site using the IE software engine that is built into Windows. Netscape figures such sites present little security risk, so why not enable all the features?
I succeeded in accessing Microsoft's Windows Update site along with the advanced features of my company's Web-based Outlook e-mail, neither of which works with Firefox.
Netscape displays a yellow shield when a site is absent from its list. In such cases, deeming Firefox safer, Netscape uses a Firefox engine that is embedded in Netscape's software.
Red shields along with a warning page appear when sites are on the bad list.
In this sense, Netscape is safer than Firefox or IE alone. I ran on all three browsers a site that tries to steal AOL billing information, and only Netscape successfully blocked the program from running.
Whether Netscape uses Firefox or IE, the site appears within the Netscape environment, and you always have access to tabbed browsing. You get IE's functionality and Firefox's security when you need them most.
Netscape also sports "multibars," a way to cram the equivalent of 10 toolbars into the space of a single one. Just click on "1," "2" and so on to switch among them. Each is customizable with whatever features you happen to want. Choose from Netscape's preprogrammed tools, like news headlines or maps, or add your own using Really Simple Syndication, or RSS, a technology for pulling content from sites (A bug that's supposed to be fixed before the final release in the next several weeks currently prevents you from fully doing so, though).
A new feature that lets you check Web-based e-mail from Netscape, AOL, Excite, Gmail, Hotmail, Lycos, Mail.com or Yahoo. You get automatically logged in with a single click, though for now you don't get alerts for new mail.
Netscape also sports a few improvements to Firefox: It's easier to open and close tabs and to instantly clear sensitive information like Web sites visited.
And while Firefox has a tool for remembering passwords, Netscape automatically logs you in.