I decided to download Netscape’s new v8 browser. I’d seen screenshots of it before, and was taken aback by the ugliness, but it is based on the lovely Gecko engine, so it can’t be that bad, right? Right?
When I first opened the executable, I was greeted by a system error. When I tried again, the browser actually opened, preceded by a large, tacky splash screen. I wasn’t able to find any way to turn it off.
The particular version I downloaded was 0.9.6, which itself was based on Firefox 1.0, which makes it several security fixes behind. I’m not sure if Netscape will based their releases on the official Firefox code, or go off and do their own thing.
When it opened, I was greeted by three different tabs telling me how fabulous the browser was. My immediate impressions were that this browser is ugly. The default chrome is a flat blue monstrosity. There’s an extra bar on top that is itself tabbed. Tab 1 shows weather (bloat) and a buggy feedback box (bloat). Tab 2 is bookmarks, and the rest are customizable. The buttons and lines are cartoonish, overly large and round, and without my beloved Adblock extension, I get served ads. A quick check shows that Netscape doesn’t even have Firefox’s default option to “block images from [www.domain.com].” [screenshot]
I opened up a single instance of Firefox (along with the ad hoc Slashfix extension and Adblock) and browsed to the same page. A quick look at my task manager shows that Netscape is using about 13MB more memory [screenshot]. Bloat bloat bloat. I’m not entirely sure what extra features Netscape has built in my default, and I’m sure there’s ways to reduce it, but 30MB of memory loading one relatively small webpage is unacceptable in my book.
Each tab has a little shield noting whether the site is trusted. I can just see, however, where this could be easily abused. It’s ultimately up to the user, though, since they can set per-site controls. Another thing you may have noticed is the ability to render a page using IE’s Trident engine instead of the normal Gecko engine. Given that there are still poorly-coded sites that don’t operate correctly in Firefox, this must be a good thing, right? No. While it’s still a matter of debate, I happen to be of the opinion that the ability to use either engine removes the pressure on web designers to create sites that comply with web standards, rather than browser-specific widgets and sloppy code. More bloat, which may account for the demo’s 10.7MB installer size.
A button on the far left of the taskbar opens up a Mozilla-like sidebar, with more ties to default Netscape services [screenshot]. One features of the sidebar is an integration with AOL’s Instant Messenger service (no surprise there). I can only imagine what the final version of v8 will come bundled with. It seems to work, though why anyone would want to control their AIM service through a browser instead of decent programs like Trillian or Gaim, I have no idea [screenshot].
Digging deeper into the options, we can see just how much Netscape v8 is based on Firefox. The options dialog is almost exactly the same, except for Netscape’s added whitelist/blacklist feature and a more centralized form-filler/password-saver called “Passcard.” Everything is still the same drab OS9-cum-colorblindness blue.
In terms of behavior, Netscape 8 works just fine. It’s based on the excellent coding of the Mozilla’s Foundation’s volunteers. But not only to I object to on æsthetic grounds (the default theme reminds me of the horrible “cat paw” themes on Mozilla Update), but on its extra bloat (isn’t this why people stopped using the Mozilla Suite?) and it’s integrated Trident engine.
Long story short: save your bandwidth. Stick with Firefox.