December 19, 1996 6:30 PM PST

Developers give initial thumbs-up to Communicator

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The latest release of Netscape Communications' (NSCP) Communicator product is getting a thumbs-up from developers, although some are still anxious to get a look at features that aren't implemented in an early beta of the browser posted to the Internet late last week.

Netscape posted a Windows 95 "preview release" of Communicator last Sunday to a Web site open only to members of the DevEdge Gold developer. The posting is a prelude to a wide public beta release of Communicator that is expected to start on Monday, according to company officials.

This preview release of Communicator, obtained by NEWS.COM, includes all the core components of the browser client, including Navigator 4.0, Messenger email client, Composer HTML editing tool, the Collabra News reader, and Conference audio conferencing software. As is typical with early browser betas, however, several other key features are still missing, including secure email, support for the IMAP mail protocol, and help support. The IMAP (Internet Mail Access Protocol) protocol simplifies email use for mobile users.

But Netscape has also quietly implemented a surprise feature--already available as AutoSearch in Internet Explorer 3.0--that lets users conduct Net searches directly from the browser's URL window.The search feature in Communicator piggybacks on all of the major search engines, including Yahoo, Excite, and InfoSeek.

A Netscape spokeswoman said today that the company is not certain whether the feature will be included in the public beta or final release of Communicator. Representatives of several major search engines said they had not been notified of the feature. Netscape pulled a similar feature out of the final release of Navigator 3.0, after including it in an earlier beta version of the browser.

Several developers interviewed today said that they were impressed with aspects of Communicator, particularly with the interface improvements. But, naturally enough, the program has some significant bugs that need to be addressed.

"A lot of it seemed like [interface] redesign," said Rich Kadel, vice president of software developer DTAI. "I saw a few glitches here and there. It seemed like the Web browser was the least mature of the components. We had a couple of our [pages] that didn't show up correctly. The next step is getting the browser cleaned up."

"From the outside, it looks good," said one developer who didn't want his name mentioned. "But in terms of developer-related features, lots of stuff isn't implemented yet." For example, he said he is still eager to see a feature that automatically downloads and registers plug-ins.

But while bugs remain and some features are missing, one leading Java developer said the release is still exceptionally stable for an early beta.

"It's the most solid preview release I've ever seen out of Netscape," said Karl Jacob, CEO of Dimension X. "I'm pretty impressed. I think the user interface is much, much better. It's a preview so there are going to be some problems, but it seems like a really good start."


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