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Netscape scrambling to improve Navigator, protect market share

July 14, 1996


The result of two software companies battling it out for dominance can be both good and bad.

On the downside, there's the constant change and upheaval that comes with the one-upmanship; the latest and greatest products come so quickly, it can be difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff (or in this case, the good stuff from the hype).

So has been the case in the battle for the top World-Wide Web browser, with software giant Microsoft in one corner and the innovative and plucky (and current champion), Netscape in the other corner.

In the most recent round, Netscape is rapidly updating its new browser, Navigator 3.0, which is still in pre-release beta testing (its available for a number of platforms, including Macintosh, at Netscape's home page.

At first look, there's not much difference in the look and feel of Navigator 3.0 (beta version 5) and Navigator 2.0 (which was officially released in late February). But its what you can't see that should impress you -- and like me, make the time spent downloading 3.0 worthwhile.

AUDIO AND VIDEO. Netscape has incorporated LiveAudio and LiveVideo into 3.0. This means that you can create a web page and embed audio or video files in the HTML coding.

Its quite simple to do (and image the fun -- cruising your favorite web page listening to Barry Manilow audio clips!).

To its credit, Netscape's rival, Microsoft, with its Web browser, Internet Explorer 3.0 (also in beta testing at the moment), also offers audio and video that can be embedded easily into the HTML source code. And as you might expect, the two company's methods aren't compatible -- yet.

For testing purposes, I've re-written the HTML for my own Web site to include a short sound file. To hear it, you'll need the latest version of Navigator 3.0 beta. Visit Netscape's home page first to download the new version, then try my Web site at the URL listed at the end of this column. Note that the file is rather large -- five megabytes -- and downloading it takes some time, even with a 28.8 modem.).

VRML. Virtual Reality Markup Language has long been heralded as the next ``Big Thing'' in Web development, allowing 3-D imaging and browsing of Web sites.

But little has been done with this programming language, beyond some cute demonstrations of tumbling cubes and bouncing spheres. Its worth keeping an eye on, and Netscape is at least providing support for it in its browser software. (Microsoft's browser also supports VRML, but it isn't compatible with the version supported by Netscape. Hmmm. Anyone see a trend developing?)

VOICE. Netscape is offering its CoolTalk software that basically is Internet telephone, only with some interesting additions.

One is fairly common among Net telephone software -- text-based chat windows to augment audio communication. The second is a graphical ``white board'' feature that lets you and the person you chat with to examine, point to and draw around the same graphic.

Depending on your operating system, you may need to download additional files to make CoolTalk work. Read the on-line documentation for details.

And yes, Microsoft's Web browser now in beta testing also has a similar feature, and again, it isn't compatible with Navigator 3.0.

ENHANCED FEATURES. Navigator 3.0 also features new ``Netscape-isms,'' or Netscape-unique HTML extensions, that sound promising.

Enhanced frame border controls. Now, HTML writers can control the presence of borders, as well as their thickness and color.

Multicolumn text layout will allow page designers to easily create Web pages that more closely resemble layouts in newspapers and magazines.

In the Windows versions, you can click on any image on a Web page and turn it into Windows desktop wallpaper. OK, this isn't big news, but a neat gee-gaw nonetheless. And I love gee-gaws.

WHAT'S NEXT? With Navigator 3.0 due next month, developers at Netscape are already hard at work on Navigator 4.0, which should be available for beta testing this fall.

Navigator 4.0 will reportedly add more tools aimed at developers and intranet users. Look for it at the Netscape Web site in September.

NOTES FROM THE NET. The death of the small Internet Service Provider was heralded by most Internet pundits when the big names in telecommunications decided to offer Net access -- among them AT&T and MCI.

According to the just-published Summer 1996 issue of the Boardwatch directory of Internet Service Providers, the number of providers is increasing, rather than decreasing.

And the cost of Net access continues to drop. Among the 2,461 ISPs included in the new directory, the average price of a dialup connection is $19.95 per month which includes an average of 61 hours of service.

POINTCAST UPDATE. PointCast Inc. announced this week a partnership with CNN to deliver news content via the popular PointCast Network.

Beginning in the fall, PCN users will get up-to-the-minute news from CNN. A similar partnership with CNN Financial Network will be available as an optional channel later this year. Additional content may be forthcoming from CNNSI, a joint venture between CNN and Sports Illustrated.

PCN's deal with CNN will mean TV spots for the software will appear on Turner networks in the fall. CNN will be selling commercial spots on its channels.

And in keeping with its drive to be the computing world's hottest screensaver/news retriever, the PointCast Network has announced it will create a new ``channel'' on its service devoted to coverage of the 1996 Summer Olympics.

To download your copy of the PointCast Network (for PCs only, though a Mac version is due soon), point your browser to http://www.pointcast.com/

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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