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Netscape scrambles to keep Navigator on top, bug free

April 21, 1996


Netscape Navigator is the world's most popular software to access the World-Wide Web portion of the Internet. The software is used by an estimated 75 to 85 percent of Web users.

With Microsoft's continued development of its Internet Explorer Web browser, Netscape Communications wisely has shown no signs of resting on its laurels.

Netscape recently released beta (test) versions of what will eventually become the next official release. Netscape Navigator Atlas Preview Release 1 offers a number of new features that Web users can look forward to.

These include built-in helper applications for audio and video playback, and CoolTalk, a feature to allow real-time audio and data conferencing over the Internet. CoolTalk differs from existing telephone-type software in that it also features a text chat mode and a shared drawing board tool.

My favorite improvement is in navigating pages that utilize frames. The ``Back'' arrow button now works with independent frames, making it much easier to find your way around.

The Atlas Preview Release 1 is available at Netscape's home page.

DAYLIGHT SAVINGS BUG. Web-page editors have been wringing their hands in anguish since Daylight Savings Time went into effect. The time change brought a new bug to the surface for Netscape Navigator 2.0.

Navigator and other browsers use a process called ``caching'' to speed access to Web pages by storing copies of the ones you've viewed on your computer.

Each time a Web page is re-visited, the software checks the time and date the page was last revised. If it hasn't changed since the last visit, the stored (or cached) copy of the page is displayed. If changes have been made, the most recent page is displayed.

The Navigator software can't compensate for the recent time change. A page that has been updated on a Web site will not be recognized as new for an hour. For news organizations that update their pages regularly -- including ESPN and other media sites -- the bug means viewers won't see news updates when they're fresh.

I've run into the same bug when updating my personal Web site, and have employed a few of the following ways to work around the problem:

  • Set your computer to Standard Time. This means any applications that use or display the time of day will not match your local time.

  • Set your cache size to zero. The option is found under Network Preferences in the Options menu. Doing this defeats the whole purpose of a disk cache, and will slow the display of any pages you visit frequently. Not the best choice, but it works.

  • Clear the disk cache. This option is also found under Network Preferences. With no pages stored on your computer for comparison, the most up-to-date version of all Web pages will be displayed.

  • Netscape suggests that Navigator users running Windows 3.1/NT/95 insert a line in their AUTOEXEC.BAT file to help the software determine the time zone you live in.

Netscape has a special page devoted to this bug you might want to visit for more information.

You might want to just download Netscape Navigator 2.02, which according to C|Net Central's Web site, became available this weekend for download from Netscape's home page.

OTHER NAVIGATOR BUGS. Navigator 2.0 was officially released in February with much fanfare on the Internet. A number of security problems have continued to plague the software since its release.

Navigator incorporated Java, a programming language that lets the software download mini-applications called ``applets.'' These applets can be graphics, or executable programs run on the user's computer.

The software also incorporated JavaScript, a scripting language that can be inserted into HTML documents.

Both features have created security problems with the software. Soon after Navigator 2.0 hit the streets, developers were already working on a way to correct a security hole that would let a JavaScript applet read filenames from a user's computer.

In response, the company released last month Navigator 2.01, fixing the bug and offering a patch to upgrade 2.0 versions of the software.

Most recently, a new security-related flaw with Java was uncovered that could allow a Java applet corrupt or delete files on a user's computer. A fix is reportedly in the works, and more information on this bug can be found at Netscape's home page.

NETSCAPE PRESS. For inside news on what's happening with Netscape products, visit Netscape Press's Web site.

Netscape Press is a book publisher focusing almost exclusively on Netscape software products. They also offer an online magazine called Navigate! that delves into electronic publishing.

Navigate! this month has articles on CGI programming, reviews of Netscape plug-ins, Web site tips and software reviews. And useful stuff it is.

An on-line book catalog is also available, as well as reviews of some of their publications.

TO THE MOON. I've long been a NASA junkie. I grew up with America's space program, and I remember John Glenn's claim to fame well before he was elected to Congress.

The blockbuster movie ``Apollo 13'' recently rekindled that interest, and while surfing the Web recently, I discovered a fascinating site.

The Apollo Lunar Surface Journal is a detailed record of the six Apollo moon landings.

These are scientific transcripts of the events of each flight, from Lunar Module descent to rendezvous, the EVAs, and back to dock with the Command Module orbiting the moon.

I found the site fascinating, bringing back a flood of memories. It still sends shivers up my spine.

The pages are primarily text, but will incorporate pictures and video clips in the future.

There's more content coming, but even as it is, the site is a fascinating trip back to read very detailed descriptions of the exploration of the moon from 1969-1972.

NAVIGATION AID. I recently discovered a shortcut to use when typing in those often pesky (and sometimes lengthy) URL addresses.

With Netscape Navigator 2.0, you don't need to type http:// in the browser's address window. All you need to type is everything after the two slash marks. To visit my Web site, simply type in www.infi.net/~jebrooks.

Comments and questions about this column may be sent to jbrooks@myoldkentuckyhome.com, or visit www.myoldkentuckyhome.com on the World Wide Web.

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