December 30, 2000

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New Browser War Heats Up -- But It's Netscape vs. Netscape

Mike Angelo -- 30 December 2000 (c)

The new Netscape 6 (NS6) browser suite should have lots of promise when it is finished. However, the premature Netscape 6.0 release has brought lots of criticism from reviewers and users alike.

The product that is Netscape 6.0 should have been released as its first preview release. However, AOL's Netscape division has released it as an end-user, shipping version of the browser suite, This very flawed product should not have been released as the initial shipping version.

Moreover, Netscape 6 Preview Release 1 (NS6-PR1) should have been distributed as an alpha or pre-beta release, not an end-user preview release. But in a sense, the real test of any product is user acceptance. And it looks as though user acceptance of Netscape 6.0 is far from approval of this preemie.

We just took a preliminary look at the MozillaQuest Magazine Web server logs for December 2000. Surprisingly yet not so surprisingly, MozillaQuest Magazine is getting more hits from Netscape 4.x browsers than from Netscape 6 and other Mozilla-based browsers combined. Please see Figure 1.

For more information about how Netscape 6 is a Mozilla-based browser, please see MozillaQuest the Series -- Building Your Own Mozilla-Based Web Browser: Part I, Skinning the Lizard -- Introduction, Overview, & Basics. Link is in the Resources section at the end of this article.

Figure 1. WebTrends anaylsis of traffic using Netscape browsers.

Netscape 4.x = 56.12% of Netscape Browsers hits

Netscape 5.x = 41.31% of Netscape Browsers hits

Here is one inference that might be drawn from the fact that more MozillaQuest Magazine traffic is from Netscape 4.x browsers than from Netscape 6 browsers. Netscape fans and users are not flocking to AOL's new Netscape browser. In other words it appears that lots of Netscape 4.x users are not accepting NS 6 as their browser of choice. Instead they are hanging on to their good old NS 4.x browsers -- or perhaps changing browser brands.

Of course that inference is drawn from limited data on only one Web site. It would be nice to have a survey of traffic-by-browser data for many Web sites. However we do not have that traffic-by-browser data for lots of other Web sites.

By comparison, Internet Explorer (IE) 5 traffic on MozillaQuest Magazine greatly outpaces IE 4 traffic. The inference one might draw from that is that IE 5 has been well received by IE users and fans. Please see Figure 2.

Figure 2. WebTrends anaylsis of traffic using Internet Explorer browsers.

Explorer 5.x = 92.66% of Microsoft Explorer Browsers hits

Explorer 4.x = 7.1% of Microsoft Explorer Browsers hits

Netscape 6 could be a good, much needed, and long overdue addition to the menu of available Web browser suites if it were not so buggy, were not so bloated, were not so annoying, supported SVG, supported QT movies, and so forth. And when NS 6 is finished it might well be not so buggy, not be so bloated, not be so annoying, support SVG, support QT movies, and so forth.

However, the preview editions of NS 6 that AOL/Netscape has presented publicly so far are fraught with such problems. We only can judge the product on what we can see now. And from what we can see, NS 6 still is not ready for prime time. Although, PR 3 is much closer to ready for prime time than are its predecessors, PR1 and PR 2.

Unfortunately NS/AOL seeks to solve its need to put an updated browser suite product on the market by rushing release of not yet ready merchandise, rather than putting good product on the table for public consumption. AOL/Netscape needs to put good product out now -- which it is not doing. (Netscape 6 Preview Release 3 -- Strike 3: Is NS 6 Out?, Linux Journal, 13 October 2000. Link in the Resources section at the end of this article.)

If you really want to get a good hang on just how premature NS6 is, take a look at the Mozilla development plan and roadmap. While so doing, please keep in mind that Netscape 6 is based upon the Mozilla browser suite. (There is a link to more roadmap and development plan information in the Resources section below.) Netscape 6.0 was branched off the Mozilla development trunk at about the same point development-wise as Mozilla .06 was branched off the trunk.

Development work proceeding to Mozilla 1.0 is conducted along the main trunk of the development tree. Every so often, a particularly good Mozilla daily development build is selected for the basis of a Mozilla Milestone release.

The Milestone release candidate then is "branched" from the trunk for particularly intensive quality control and necessary bug-fixing. Other than that quality control and necessary bug-fixing work, there is no further feature development on the branched release candidate. Meanwhile, further development towards Mozilla 1.0 continues along the main trunk. Enhancement and product development is limited to the trunk.

The initial Mozilla shipping version is designated as Mozilla 1.0 in the Mozilla development plan. And Mozilla 1.0 is not expected to be released until April or May 2001.

You can do the math. Netscape 6 is based upon Mozilla. AOL's Netscape division released its supposedly initial shipping version, NS 6.0, based upon Mozilla 0.6 -- something the Mozilla people readily warn is not even beta material -- in November 2000. Mozilla 1.0, the initial Mozilla shipping version, is not scheduled for release until April or May 2001. That certainly seems to add up to Netscape 6.0 being very premature for an end-user shipping product!

Unfortunately for Netscape, it appears that AOL's Netscape division did not make Netscape 6.0 a sufficient enough improvement over NS6-PR3 to make NS 6.0 truly acceptable to many Netscape 4.x users. As a result it also appears that many loyal Netscape 4.x users are not switching over to Netscape 6.

The big question well might be, are Netscape fans loyal enough and willing enough to wait for AOL's Netscape division to provide them with an acceptable product? From the number of people still using Netscape 4.x as their browser of choice, it seems many Netscape users do not find Netscape 6.0 acceptable. Time will tell!

Resources

Netscape 6 Preview Release 3--Strike 3: Is NS 6 Out?

MozillaQuest the Series -- Building Your Own Mozilla-Based Web Browser: Part I, Skinning the Lizard -- Introduction, Overview, & Basics

Mozilla Organization Revises Development Roadmap and Product Release Schedule

Note: The mozillaquest.com server log analysis for this article was conducted using Web Trends Enterprise Suite.

For more information about the Mozilla Organization, the Mozilla applications programming framework, and the Mozilla browser, please see:

To download and install the Mozilla browser suite, please see:

Official Mozilla Organization Downloads

To download and install the Netscape 6.0 browser suite, please see:

How To Download, Install, & Configure Netscape 6.0 -- Safely!

To build you own customized Mozilla-based browser suite, please see:

MozillaQuest the Series: Building Your Own Mozilla-Based Web Browser

For more information about the Mozilla Roadmap, please see :

Mozilla Organization Revises Development Roadmap and Product Release Schedule


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