Hands-on with Netscape's new social browser
Netscape's new browser is built on Firefox and has a variety of ways to use and interact with Netscape's services.
Yesterday Netscape released a public beta of their new Navigator browser, and brought back the "Navigator" moniker. Firefox users will feel right at home, as the browser has been built off the same architecture and even works with Firefox extensions. Netscape has introduced several neat new features with version 9 that I think make it a fairly compelling browser choice.
The first thing users are likely to notice is the integration with some of Netscape's services. Users of Netscape.com, Netscape's redesigned start page that features user-submitted, and ranked stories by its users (similar to other social democracy sites like Digg and Reddit) get full integration with news stories and their site mail. When reading any story, anywhere, the browser will "phone home" to see if the link has been submitted to Netscape.com. If it has, users will get a graphical menu in the address bar that lets them vote on the story, or jump straight to the comments. If it hasn't, there's a "share" button that will take them straight to the submission page.
Another feature, and one users aren't likely to notice until they make a typing mistake, is URL correction. This will automatically fix spelling or punctuation mistakes like typing "con" for "com," or forgetting a "." somewhere. This is a little detail that most people aren't likely to notice until it fixes their mistake automatically.
One new feature that's sure to quietly become valuable to power users is the option to resize forms. Say you're writing a long e-mail or filling out a blog entry. When it gets to the point where you need to scroll to look over your work, you can just grab the bottom edge of the form and drag it down to make it larger. This can be incredibly helpful in forms where you simply aren't given enough room to see what you've written.
Netscape has included a handful of other new features, like a mini browser within your browser (for viewing sites side by side), a sidebar for Netscape's News Tracker service, and a special drag-and-drop sidebar for saving and accessing bookmarked links. Navigator has also been given a face-lift from version 8, with smaller and cleaner buttons.
Ultimately, Netscape Navigator 9 is just a specialized version of Firefox, akin to other niche efforts such as Flock. I can't recommend making the switch from Firefox to Netscape Navigator 9, unless you're a fervent user of Netscape's services. That being said, those users are going to enjoy this browser quite a bit, as it's been tailor-made to enhance their browsing experience.