The programmers at Netscape have created a two-headed monster of a browser in Netscape 8.0. It lets you choose to view pages as you would either in the Mozilla Foundation's Firefox version 1.0.3 or in Microsoft's Internet Explorer 6.0.
Unlike other browsers, Netscape 8.0 features both the Firefox and IE engines - with a single click you can switch between the two views.
And if you happen to visit a web page that has problems opening in the mode you're currently using, Netscape will automatically reload the page using the other engine. Unfortunately the news about Netscape 8.0 is not all positive.
It loses much of Firefox's simplicity and a few of its useful features, while gaining plenty of extra heft - Netscape 8.0 took up 35MB of hard-drive space on our test PC, compared with less than 16MB for Firefox. Surprisingly, Netscape uses Firefox 1.0.3, not the more recent 1.0.4 build that corrected recent security breaches. According to AOL, owners of Netscape 8.0, the vulnerability that 1.0.4 plugs doesn't affect Netscape 8.0 so no update was required.
One of the first things you'll notice when you open the browser is the icon on the far left of the Status Bar at the bottom of the screen, which indicates whether the current page is loaded in Firefox or IE. If you click the down arrow located next to it, you'll see options for displaying the web page in the other browser engine.
This icon also allows you to open the browser's Site Controls. You might expect to be able to automatically add the current page to your list of trusted sites from the Site Controls dialog box, but no such function is offered there - you have to use the option on the page's tab.
All or nothing
In fact, when it comes to trusting sites, with Netscape 8.0 it's an all-or-nothing proposition. You either go with all of the company's Trust Ratings - sites verified by web security firms Truste and VeriSign as either reliable or unsafe - or none at all. You can't manually add or remove sites from either list.
Likewise, Netscape 8.0's method of choosing which engine to use when opening a particular web page is determined by a whitelist of safe sites, again verified by Truste and VeriSign, and a blacklist of risky sites that Netscape claims to update three times a day. Sites on the whitelist open in Internet Explorer, with ActiveX and all other functions on. If you visit a blacklisted site, you are shown a warning.
Should you click through this and open the page anyway, the browser automatically blocks cookies, Java and other potentially unsafe functions.
Any site that isn't on either list will open by default in the Firefox engine. If you decide to view a page in the engine other than the one Netscape picks for you, the browser will remember your selection the next time you visit that page.
Netscape 8.0 outshines Firefox in one area - custom toolbars. Firefox lets you add items to toolbars simply by dragging them from the Customise window onto the toolbar itself. Netscape 8.0 extends this functionality to newsfeeds, travel and weather information, shopping sites, even movie times.
To remove an item, just drag it off the toolbar and back into the Customise window. You can even create your own custom toolbars - called Multibars - on which you combine your personal toolbars. Just remember to leave enough room in your browser window for the web page itself to be seen.
When you install the program, you're given the option to import either your Firefox settings and data, including bookmarks and cookies, or your IE settings - but not both. Your bookmarks are then available, regardless of the browser engine that you're using.
If you're happy with IE but are concerned about its poor security credentials, switching to Netscape 8.0 might give you the best of both worlds. You get ActiveX support and other IE features, combined with the safety of Firefox when venturing onto unknown websites. Of course, you may have to do without some of your favourite IE toolbars, which aren't yet available for the Netscape browser.
Even with the ability to reload misbehaving web pages in a different engine with a single click, the Netscape browser feels like a case of subtraction by addition. The features added to Netscape 8.0 may make it look more like a conventional browser, but it loses Firefox's simplicity and some of that browser's most useful features in the process.