Strong integration makes Netscape Communicator 4.01 a more robust Web tool

This version of Communicator rolls e-mail, newsgroups, Internet browsing, push and pull
technology and Hypertext Markup Language creation into one integrated package. Plus, it
has a fix for the security bug recently reported in many browsers.


The Standard edition includes Navigator 4.0, the Messenger e-mail utility, the Collabra
newsgroup reader, the Page Composer HTML editor and Conference, a powerful replacement for
CoolTalk.


The Professional version has the Calendar scheduling utility, IBM Host On-Demand for
administering IBM Corp. servers over the Internet, and Mission Control and AutoAdmin
utilities for controlling group preferences and Communicator updates.


Both editions eventually will include the Netcaster push client, which, like the
PointCast Network and similar push sources, delivers continuously updated information to
the desktop.


Navigator 4.0 is the most improved part of Communicator. You can drag and drop uniform
resource locators to the Bookmarks folder and collapse or expand tool bars. An
AutoComplete URL feature automatically guesses an address when you start typing.


Another neat addition is a menu of previously visited pages. It opens when you hold
down the Back or Forward button for a few seconds, so you can return to a previous site.


This browser package has better support for Java, Object Linking and Embedding, and
Dynamic HTML interactivity. The Messenger component hasn't changed much since Netscape
Mail, though there are some controllability improvements.


For example, you can leave messages on the mail server and retrieve them later from a
different computer. E-mail can be threaded like discussion groups, so you can easily
follow an ongoing dialog.


Security is stronger via 128-bit encryption with personal security certificates.


Collabra and Page Composer are similar to their Navigator 3.0 counterparts. Collabra
users won't notice much difference from Netscape News. The only new things are HTML
message creation and better integration with the e-mail client.


Page Composer, a holdover from Netscape 3.0 Gold, has plug-in support for the HTML
editor and a spell-checker.


Conference, on the other hand, is a step up from CoolTalk. It does real-time audio
transmission and reception, following the International Telecommunications Union's H.323
conferencing standard.


Conference has a chat tool, collaborative whiteboard, group browsing and a file
exchange utility for Net collaboration.


Conference won't let you share files and documents as Microsoft Corp.'s NetMeeting
does.


Sites running IBM mainframes or Netscape's Enterprise Server will appreciate the IBM
Host On-Demand and AutoAdmin features in the Professional edition. The host emulator lets
administrators access mainframe applications via Communicator over an intranet or the
Internet. AutoAdmin controls all the features of Communicator.


The Calendar feature in the Professional edition, like Microsoft Schedule+, is a
collaborative scheduler. It has a nice interface, but unless your organization already
actively uses Netscape software on a developed intranet, you probably won't do much with
Calendar.


Netcaster will let users subscribe to personal channels such as television or magazine
news sources. Automatic update preferences keep the information fresh. You can choose to
view channels as a webtop, which shows the channel information over the entire screen.


Right now, the Netcaster push client is still in beta testing and must be downloaded
separately from Communicator.


What ties Communicator together is integration. Every component is easy to access from
the taskbar. A bit of redundancy gives cohesion. Messenger and Collabra are highly
integrated, and newsgroups and e-mail are accessible through either program. Overall, this
is an important browser advance. It's easy, powerful and shows glimpses of future
directions.


Zach Lutz is a free-lance writer and World Wide Web page designer in Arlington, Va.


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