How Netscape Is Begging Me To Convert



I am a diehard loyalist when it comes to software. No doubt some might consider me a bit fanatical in defending my choices in certain operating systems, browsers and other utilities. As a result of this stubborness, it is difficult to get me to change from one piece of software to another. As long as my current selection meets my basic needs and performs the functions I require, I see no reason to change. For example, I expect my browser to display web pages and not much else. I finally gave in and upgraded from version 3.03 to version 4.61 in order to see a few more of the graphical sites using HTML that just didn't reender correctly on the older browser. It took a lot of convincing and moaning before I finally upgraded. Truth be told, I upgraded to see sites like this one.

In cases of browsers, changing becomes a bigger issue because of the choices I have. Netscape Navigator, Microsoft Internet Explorer (MSIE), and Opera. As a long standing opposer to Microsoft and their typical shoddy software, jumping to the major competitor is not my first choice. Several small details of Opera make a long term Netscape user not quite happy with it. Despite all of this, I am clicks away from dropping all Netscape products from my arsenal of tools. If a user like myself goes through all that change, it speaks volumes on the problems their products are plagued with. What kind of problems would make me change browsers?

Perhaps the most annoying bug that I found in 3.03, 3.04, and 4.61 is the unclosable crash dialog box. To date, I still can't figure out exactly what causes the crash, but more often than not the browser will exhale its last breath and leave me the standard dialog box telling me it can no longer display for me. I click 'ok' since the 'details' box is worthless, and I'm immediately challenged with another box, giving the same options. Click 'ok' again and again, the little box just doesn't go away. To date, I have found one way to get rid of the troublesome box. Reboot.

This little bug has prompted me to have near fits of violent outbursts as I can't close the box. Worse, I can't use CTRL-ALT-DELETE to get rid of it. I can't hide the box behind other windows until the next 'convenient' reboot. During one of these incidents, it prompted me to send fun mail to Netscape knowing full well I would not receive a reply. The mail went on to berate them for not providing a browser that could crash correctly. It seems to me that any programmer worth minimum wage could make a program terminate properly.

With the advent of Netscape Navigator 4.x came the auto-completing URL. Forget a URL you previously went to? The browser will dutifully autocomplete it based on your browsing history. Unfortunate for users, this feature is spotty at best. For those of us who go to the same site with different paths and files, this feature is a headache at best. If I download a file from http://www.demonic.com/files/jade.zip, each subsequent visit to "http://www.demo" will autocomplete to the previous URL. The failure in logic is that a single user would download the exact same filename repeatedly. Rather than autocomplete with the filename, why doesn't it stop short at http://www.demonic.com/files/ and leave me the choice of what to download? In the case of static web pages that are visited often, Netscape has the nasty habit of pulling up the first one you visited rather than the last. If I visit http://www.demonic.com/feb.html once, the browser will not consider that the last eighty visits to http://www.demonic.com/march.html might be the better URL to auto-complete. This action leads to more 404s than if the browser completed based on a reverse order of browsing history.

Perhaps a better indication of the infant nature of auto-complete is the simple typos. Input "ttp://www.demonic.com" and the browser will come back with a polite error message. It is odd that you can leave off "http://" and it will find it. Why can't a couple more sanity checks be put in place to catch a little typo? "http://www,demonic.com" will also yield a DNS error because Netscape can't figure out that the comma doesn't belong. It is just this kind of un-intuitive behaviour that frustrates me and reminds me of how far browsers are from becoming convenient and intuitive tools.

Another evil that plagues the end user is unskilled web designers who do not test their pages adequately. Site after site is interrupted with various javascript errors on line 9, line 13, line this and line that. I can't help but think that the web page author only tested in one specific browser and has no clue that other browsers choke and drool on their code. My problem is that Netscape will often output these ugly dialog boxes that come up with huge horizontal scroll bars. To get rid of the box and acknowledge the web authors sloppiness, I must scroll out four hundred columns to find the 'ok' box. Why can't they automagically snap the 'ok' box to the active screen? Why do they give the Windows 'X' option to close the window when it doesn't let you? Ugh.

The most common (smartass) answer to all my problems is "upgrade to the latest version!" This is quite possibly the most annoying and unsatisfying answer there is. The upgrade from 3.03 to 4.61 did not fix my unclosable dialog box problem. It also added the auto-completion headache to my list of prolems. While the upgrade from 3.x to 4.x was no picnic, the upgrade from 4.61 to anything higher seems to be living hell. Let me qualify by saying that I only use Navigator, not Composer, Collabra, Messenger or anything else. So downloading a 18 MEG archive to upgrade a few meg browser is absurd. More so that I am still using a dialup and must invest several hours of time to perform this upgrade. Not a chance.

On a whim, I decided to take this misguided advice and hit the Netscape site anyway. Using my laptop and Netscape 4.04, I find more brilliance pouring forth from Netscape.
     http://cgi.netscape.com/cgi-bin/su/sorry.cgi?bad=version

     To use SmartUpdate to manage your software components, you must
     be running a Netscape Browser which is version 4.04 or later
     (4.05 or later for Macintosh users.) 
That is discouraging. After checking the browser version I do a doubletake. Clicking on "go to netscape download":
     http://cgi.netscape.com/cgi-bin/upgrade.cgi

     You appear to be running: 

     Netscape Communicator 4.04: Windows 95/98 or NT: English (40 -bit
     encryption) 
Now, perhaps I am just missing something, but that sure seems to match. So much for a "SmartUpdate". As luck would have it, I had my laptop on a high speed connection and decided to upgrade while I had the chance. After the 18 meg download, the installation couldn't figure out how to close my current browser and just sat there at 99% completion. Once I helped it over that hurdle, I was forced into installing several extra packages including AOL Instant Messenger, with no option of leaving them out of the mix. Excuse me? What does AOL IM have to do with with browsing the web?

Like I originally stated, I am an end user. There is no way I could relay what type of headache the Netscape browser causes for web designers. Demonika spends inordinate amounts of time trying to work out bugs in the way Netscape renders HTML. I have tried to talk her into writing more about the various problems, and she has written about one annoying bug so far. If she spent time writing about every little bug or problem, she would never have time to design web pages.


Brian Martin (bmartin@attrition.org)
Copyright 2000