Netscape Communications Corp has announced the feature set of Netscape Navigator 2.0, its next generation browser. The software, available for download in a beta version, changes the rules for both developers and users on the World Wide Web, extending HyperText Mark-up Language significantly, and introducing scripting, Java support, and a new Netscape application programming interface for building plug-ins to the software. At the same time the company announced Navigator Gold, a Web authoring tool which is due this quarter and offers drag and drop Web page authoring, including visual construction of tables, form design, text boxes and so on. The company has also announced LiveWire Site Manager, a visual drag-and-drop tool that enables developers to view and manage Web sites in a graphical format, viewing hypertext links to and from a particular page or file on the site and modifying and deleting them using a point and click interface. In Navigator 2.0, the company has expanded HyperText Mark-up Language in a variety of ways, the most important of which is the introduction of frames, independent scrollable areas on the screen, each of which can be assigned its own URL Universal Resource Locator address. The use of frames would mean, for example, that a search engine could display the results of its search in a new frame, rather than having to re-paint the entire screen. Frames can also be used as ledges, frozen areas of screen that are maintained while the user looks through other pages. This is especially useful for having a fixed navigation bar at the bottom of the screen, or a corporate logo kept at the top. Not only should frames increase the author’s control of the way that pages look, it should also speed things up considerably, avoiding the repetitive re-loading of images or text.
Support for Java applets
Next up is the inclusion of support for Java applets. Java – Sun Microsystem Inc’s C++-derived programming language – can be used to embed small programs into pages, and these are compiled and actually run on-screen within the page, enabling applications such as graphics viewers and spreadsheets to be built into Web pages. To get this to work, Netscape will have had to implement an entire language interpreter within the browser, so it will be interesting to see just how bloated Netscape’s memory footprint has become. The company has adopted a number of the elements of the Java language to develop its own internal scripting language for Navigator. The script seems destined to reduce the Web programmers reliance on Common Gateway Interface scripts at the server, adding to the portability of smart pages. Netscape said the scripting language gives the page designer access to events such as start-ups, exits and user mouse clicks. So it should be quite easy for the average HyperText Mark-up Language designer to get Netscape to play a particular sound in response to particular mouse click, or load a particular image depending on the time of day. This almost extends the Netscape Navigator software into the realms of a fully-fledged graphical user interface. Finally, d evelopers appear to be leaping over each other to announce support for Navigator 2.0’s new plug-in application programming interface. The interface is essentially an evolution of the old ‘help app’ concept, except that where the helper used to be an application in its own right, and it opened its own window, Netscape plug-ins will display their wares from within the Netscape Internet page. QuickTime movies, Adobe Systems Inc Acrobat and Macromind Director plug-ins are said to be just around the corner, and the company has development pledges from Kaleida Laboratories Inc, which intends to build a ScriptX plug-in and Tumbleweed Software Corp, developer of Wordperfect’s Acrobat-competitor, Envoy.
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