Netscape Detail New Communicator 5.0 Features

While Netscape in recent months turned its internal focus to fine-tuning its browser-portal integration strategy, the free-source developers at have taken on their shoulders the important job of completely reinventing the under-the-covers technology of Communicator 5.0. The effort has paid off: Netscape detailed Tuesday the next-generation technologies, code-named NGT, that will make up the bulk of the next release of its browser suite. The technology details, which were expected, hold the promise of greatly accelerating the adoption of key Web standards by Netscape, in Mountain View, Calif.

NGT includes two key components: NGLayout, a new rendering engine for drawing Web pages to the screen, highlighted by broad standards support; and a new customizable front end, which will let users create their own "chrome," or toolbars and browser buttons using cross-platform Web standards such as HTML and XML. Also notable is the modularity and small size of NGT, especially the rendering and layout engine, which is expected to be small enough to fit on a floppy disk. That makes possible the inclusion of the Communicator innards in third-party software, something not possible in previous releases of the browser, said Chris Saito, director of client product marketing.

As previously reported, Netscape officials -- especially its lead Mozilla engineers -- made the decision late last month to abandon work updating its last-generation rendering engine in favor of the all-new, more object-oriented NGT code. "The engine Netscape is running today was put together in a big hurry in 1993 and 1994," said Tim Bray, co-editor of the XML 1.0 specification and industry consultant. "It was a wonderful piece of work in its time, but it picked up some crud as it went along." The need for a fresh start is echoed on the website. "It's time to stop banging our heads on the old code base," wrote Brendan Eich, technical lead for the open source effort in a road-map document posted to "We've pulled more useful miles out of it than anyone rightly expected."

NGT's rendering engine will offer much faster display of Web content, while also providing support for industry standards such as HTML 4.0, CSS(CSS1 and CSS2), DOM, RDF, and XML 1.0. Unlike Microsoft, which is forging ahead with standards-track (but not yet standard) technologies such as XML NameSpaces and Schema, Netscape is concentrating on getting solid support for existing standards in NGT, and counting on the engine's modular design to make adding new standards a snap, said Netscape's Saito.

"We're going to take advantage of standards that are pretty mature," Saito said. "That's a slight change in strategy, trying to stay in step with the W3C [World Wide Web Consortium] and not get too far ahead. That's what's best for developers." Netscape's Saito declined to detail a rollout schedule for Communicator 5.0, but Netscape officials have previously promised a year-end delivery of the first Communicator 5.0 beta.

Richard Karpinski, InternetWeek


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