Q: What happens when you break up/fire your web browser-developing group with years of experience, and later hire an outside firm to build your next product?

A: Netscape 8.

IEBlog has an amazing report—which I’ve just verified. Netscape 8.0.1 disables IE’s XML rendering. So if you try to load an XML document—say, an XSLT-styled RSS feed like the feed for this blog—using Internet Explorer or Netscape 8 with IE’s engine, you’ll see either a blank page or an unloaded-image icon.

Apparently every time Netscape 8 runs, it trashes a registry entry that defines how IE displays XML. At this point the only way to fix it is to uninstall Netscape 8 and delete that entry (directions at the above link).

This raises two questions:

  1. Why does Netscape 8 alter an Internet Explorer registry setting?
  2. Why can Netscape 8 alter an Internet Explorer registry setting?

I’ve said it before (though possibly not here), but Mozilla is much better off now that AOL isn’t calling the shots.

Update June 20: Netscape 8.0.2 fixes this problem.

People have justifiably criticized Firefox’s update system. It’s nowhere near what anyone wanted for 1.0, and it’s apparently a priority for 1.1. But for all its faults, at least they managed not to release a browser with publicly-known security vulnerabilities* to immense fanfare, then release a fixed version a day later—without any fanfare I could see—the way “Netscape” did.

Six days later, my copy of “Netscape” 8 still hasn’t noticed that there’s a critical security update available, even when I tell it to check. Fortunately I’m not using it for everyday browsing, since I just grabbed it out of curiosity. I finally gave up and downloaded 8.0.1, just in case I forgot about it later.

*Just as Netscape 6-7 were based on Mozilla, Netscape 8 is based on Firefox. Netscape 8.0 was based on Firefox 1.0.3, which contained a pair of security bugs that had already been fixed in Firefox 1.0.4. Given that the holes were widely publicized on May 7, Mozilla released a fix on May 12, and AOL released Netscape 8.0.1 on May 20, I don’t see why they couldn’t have incorporated the fix for the May 19 release.

The WaSP Buzz points out that Netscape 8’s ability to switch between IE (Trident) and Mozilla Netscape (Gecko) isn’t exactly new: Maxthon apparently does this already. Maxthon is essentially Internet Explorer on steroids, and since I’d rather use Firefox anyway, I’ve never tried out any of the browsers that wrap a new user interface around IE.*

MozIE has a similar ability, but is aimed squarely at web designers: it gives you two panes, one embedding IE and one embedding Gecko, and synchronizes the views. You get a side-by-side comparison of how each browser will display your page.

And a few years ago, Konqueror could switch between KHTML and Gecko. I’m sure it still can, and the only reason I don’t have Mozilla in my list of alternate views anymore is that I didn’t install the relevant bindings, or Fedora Core stopped including them in their KDE packages.

Is it new? Of course not. But this is Netscape. It’s kind of like Apple deciding to ship all new Macs with Virtual PC and Windows XP pre-installed. Or maybe France making English a second official language.

*My main interest in trying out different browsers is to see how they display websites. In theory, Maxthon and any other browser of its ilk should be identical to IE in this respect.

I installed the just-released Netscape 8 Beta. It imported most of my settings from Firefox, including bookmarks, cookies and even history. One of the first things I always check with a new browser is how it identifies itself, which in this case is as Firefox 0.9.6. (Presumably they’ll get on this by the time the final version is out.)

First impressions: importing was clean and worked well. UI is a bit freaky, as things are spread all over the place—like the main menu, which is in the upper right and in line with the title bar instead of where the menus are on every other Windows application. The multiple toolbars seem confusing at first (it took a while to dig up my bookmark bar, for instance). Then I looked at the site trust/rendering choices, the big exciting feature of this release. And I’m not impressed. Or rather I am, but not favorably.

The current tab shows a shield icon indicating the trust level of the site: Green if it’s been verified by a “Netscape Security Partner,” yellow if not, and I would presume red if it’s a known phishing/virus/etc. site. There’s also an icon indicating the trust level: a check mark if it’s trusted, an ellipsis for “not sure” and an exclamation point for not trusted. Unverified sites are, by default, in the “not sure” category. So far this makes sense.

Clicking on the shield icon opens a site controls dialog box enabling you to choose to what extent you trust the website, and below that, whether to display the site using the Mozilla Netscape or Internet Explorer engine: Continue reading

CNET has posted a write-up of AOL’s new Netscape prototype based on Firefox, as well as a screenshot. It seems to be a combination of Firefox + theme + bundled extensions… plus a mode that embeds Internet Explorer for compatibility.

There are some nice ideas: adapting Firefox’s RSS capabilities to create a headline ticker, for instance, and the Firefox team has been talking about bundling extensions since it was called Phoenix. As for the embedded IE mode… on one hand it provides a convenient solution to the biggest criticism laid on all non-IE browsers: they don’t render pages exactly the way IE does. But it comes at the cost of all the security risks inherent in IE itself. It does remind me of the “View with Gecko” option Konqueror used to have (and probably still does on some systems).

But the clutter… The sheer number of buttons, icons, widgets etc. in that screenshot is staggering. Even after installing the web developer extension I don’t think I have that many buttons on Firefox. 3+ buttons on the tab bar, 3 icons on each tab…. I hope that CNET was just enabling every feature they could find to get them all in one screenshot, but if AOL is trying to bill it as “easier” than Firefox (which was created with a simple user interface as a design goal), they’ve got to try another approach.

Update (via WaSP): It seems BetaNews has more information on the dual-engine setup. Apparently they do have security settings to mitigate the IE issues… but then so does IE, and we all know how well that’s worked. Also, another screenshot, which looks even more cluttered than CNET’s. I think this will be a browser that requires you to run it maximized at 2000×1500. (Also of note: Firefox developer Blake Ross’ Open Letter to Netscape and Henrik Gemal’s collection of screenshots.)

Further Update: MozillaZine has posted a more thorough review.