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Users weigh in on Navigator

Netscape may have pleased its industry partners by unbundling Navigator from the Communicator suite, but the reaction from users is mixed.

Netscape Communications (NSCP) may have pleased its industry partners by unbundling Navigator from the Communicator groupware suite, but the reaction from users has been mixed at best.

User complaints seem to indicate that they aren't getting the features they want with the standalone Navigator, such as Java support. The independent browser comes with the Netcaster "push" channel viewer but doesn't have the email and newsreader capabilities of its 2.x and 3.x predecessors.

Last week, the company unbundled Navigator from Communicator under pressure from companies such as Lotus Development. Lotus saw the Communicator suite, which includes email, discussion groups, and conferencing, as a competitive threat and refused to use it as the front end to its Lotus Notes groupware.

"I'm not interested in Netcaster," one user said. "If I'm happy with Navigator 3. Is there any good reason to install Navigator 4?"

This user is representative of the people that Netscape is trying to move toward Communicator. And the company says help is on the way.

"We really want to give people more functionality, not less," Navigator product manager Karen Smith said. "People who like the mail and newsgroup capabilities of Navigator should use Communicator. Navigator 4 is a different type of product and is meant for a different audience--those who just want to browse."

Some Usenet respondents who paid for Navigator 2.x and 3.x were concerned they would not be able to upgrade to Communicator and get the email and news access. Not so, said Netscape's Smith.

Those who bought Nav 2.x or 3.x and bought a one-year subscription (for an additional fee) are entitled to a free upgrade to Communicator if the subscription hasn't expired. Those who didn't opt for the subscription can upgrade, but it will cost them extra money: $49 for the standard Communicator or $59 for the Professional edition, she said.

Still, some users aren't satisfied. Those who were happy with the feature mix of Navigator 2.x and 3.x don't like the choice between the pared-down Navigator and the component-heavy Communicator.

"[It's] kind of like offering a feast or a bone but nothing in between," said the Webmaster for a nonprofit organization.

Conceding the need for some extra capabilities within the new standalone browser, Netscape soon will release software that lets users connect to a remote server and check their email and schedule. But there are limitations. The software, called Messenger Express and Calendar Express, only runs on Netscape servers and mostly will be implemented within corporations. (See related story)

Discussion groups also are buzzing with complaints that the standalone Navigator doesn't run Java. It turns out that the first version Netscape posted to its FTP site didn't include all the necessary Java components.

The company discovered the error and fixed it after two hours, according to Smith. Anyone who tries to view a Java-enhanced page and gets a "security exception" message should download the product again.

The dual product line also underscores the shifting semantics of Internet software as the traditional "browser" continues to evolve.

"So what is a browser?" Rosemary Bianculli responded. "A program to view a Web page with, or a program to view a page with that also allows you to read Usenet posts and respond to 'mailto' functions?"

One could also add to that question: "or part of the operating system."