Navigating back from the dead

Netscape Navigator returns with version 9, cribbing heavily from Firefox but loaded with two new features no other browser has...yet.

Cue the creepy music. It's baaaaack.

After becoming the rickety, dilapidated, abandoned building of Internet browsers, the proverbial paint peeling and the windows boarded over, Netscape Navigator has returned.

The makeover started last year with version 8, but it was little more than Firefox's engine with some plug-ins embedded in the code and far less flexibility. That wasn't exactly a Klaxon call to rush out and try it.

How about now? Well, it's still built on the Mozilla engine, but the Navigator folks have kept most of the Firefox tools and ditched the embedded RSS reader, the security suite, and most of the other bloat. The new version has restored compatibility with Firefox themes and extensions--no, just checked. It's only compatible with extensions, not themes. Anyway, if the browser was merely a rebranded Firefox, it wouldn't be worth a look.

Two new features give it some heft. One is the unobtrusive manner in which the new Navigator has been bound to Netscape.com, which has been redone as a social-networking and news site. A Share button has been added inside the address bar, and it connects you directly to the mothership. Highlight content from the page, hit Share, and the content becomes a summary that just needs a few tags to be submitted to the collective. If you're on a page that's already been posted, Vote and Discuss icons appear instead of Share.

There's a series of Netscape.com-related sidebars, too. Netscape Friends' Activity shows you what your friends have been doing, while Netscape Tracker keeps tabs on the latest site updates, and Netscape News follows only news posts.

Navigator's Link Pad lets you save URL links without hogging RAM through tabs.

(Credit: CNET Networks)

Non-Netscape.com users--a small, rebellious group, no doubt--will appreciate the Mini-Browser sidebar, which lets you surf in the sidebar, and the neat Link Pad sidebar. Since I don't care for social-networking sites, Link Pad is the best thing about Navigator for me.

It's a savable URL notepad. You drag any URL, from the nav bar or from a link, and drop it on the sidebar to add it. If you close Navigator, it will remember what links you've got in Link Pad. Clicking on the saved link opens it in a new tab and removes it from the sidebar. I do wish it had more traditional notepad functionality, so I could add a few comments below each link to remember why I wanted to save that link for later.

Sadly, cool features don't inspire much loyalty in me, and as soon as somebody writes up a Link Pad plug-in for Firefox I won't take a second look at Navigator. It's a great idea, though, and I'm glad to see that Navigator is back in action. Competition between browsers means better products, and there's nothing wrong with that.

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