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It's worth the wait

A new edition of the Web browser, Netscape, released last week is the first update in two years. It has enough new goodies to make it worth downloading, and its all for free.

REMEMBER THE story they always tell management students when they talk about inspired advertising? It was (in fact is) about this big American car hire firm, Hertz. And it's competitor, Avis. But try as it would, Avis could not overtake Hertz.

So its advertising wizards came up with a great tag line - "When you're number 2, you try harder!" - that turned its underdog status into a virtue.

That's more or less the position of Netscape, in what is called the Battle of the Browsers. It has an added poignancy, because not so many years ago, Netscape was the Bishma pitamah of browsers and 90 per cent of the world's net surfers used it.

Then came Internet Explorer. To grab a share of the browser cake, its makers, Microsoft made customers an offer they could not refuse - it gave IE away, free. Between "fee" and "free" it was a no-contest - and Netscape rapidly sunk to number 2 status. It indeed lost almost 90 per cent of the browser share to IE.

But out there in cyberspace, market shares are more about clout than quality. And many regular surfers (including yours truly) have retained a soft corner - and a corner of the desktop - for Netscape, even while using IE for day-to-day work.

For nearly two years now, Netscape too has been free but that has not radically changed the numbers - possibly because its last big update in November 2000, was such a lousy job. Netscape 6 was a bloated, sluggish giant that was

better left to slumber like Kumbhakarna in a corner of your desktop. But all that changed last week, when Netscape launched its new Version 7.0, and the difference is palpable. It is like one of those "before" and "after" photographs that come with ads for slimming pills. The new Netscape is slimmer (at 26 MB), noticeably faster on its feet and full of useful goodies.

The entire look has been cleaned to a large new-type face. A "quick launch" feature makes the start-up much faster. A feature called "Tabbed Browsing" allows you to open one new browsing window after another, and as long as your connection speed can handle it, you can jump from

window to window, even as all of them are updating. A simple "Control T" operation opens a fresh window.

There's more: Right click on any word on screen and you can launch a search operation with that as a key word - a great help to students who use the web to research their course material.

One feature where Netscape 7 catches up with IE-6 is in the new "save" mode - you can save a page as a complete HTML document: text, pictures, music and all. The other handy device is a radio tuner, where you can find links to a variety of Internet radio stations. With MP3 downloads in the old Napster style becoming difficult, book marking some music stations is a good way of accessing music that suits your mood any time you feel like it.

One could go on but a better idea is go to www.netscape.com, hit the "Browser Central" button and access lots of material on the new Netscape. You can also download it for free from the same site.

Unlike some others, Netscape comes in flavours for all platforms - Windows, Mac OS, Linux. Windows users will need a Pentium 233 or equivalent, 64 MB of RAM and about 30 MB of free disk space. The download can take nearly an hour at the speeds we get with telephone

dial-ups in India. But if you are prepared to wait, one or other of the monthly IT mags are sure to include it in an early issue.

The number 2 guys have really tried hard this time. Give them a try.

A. VISHNU (vishnua@hotmail.com)

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