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Mac OS 9 Web Browsers: A Mini-Review

© 2004 Richard Sternberg

Washington Apple Pi Journal, reprint information

In case anyone is still interested in OS 9 browsers, here's a mini-review:

At the suggestion of a member or two, I switched from Netscape Communicator 7.02 to Mozilla 1.2.1 as my browser. Though my home computers have all made the transition to Mac OS X, my office is still on Mac OS 9.2, and that means I can't try the wonderful new features of Safari or Mail. In the context of a TCS thread, someone suggested that I take the freeware Mozilla 1.2.1 out for a spin. It's said to be faster and more advanced than Netscape, and they are both builds of pretty much the same product.

The download was a little hard to find. After all, Mozilla, too, has made the move to Mac OS X, even though that means it must compete with Apple's own free browser and mail client. Mozilla has advanced to version 1.4, but there is no build of Mozilla that works for Mac OS 9 after 1.2.1. But, after some surfing, I came upon it at <http://www.mozilla.org/releases/old-releases-1.1-1.4rc3.html> near the bottom of a very long web page.

The transition was almost frighteningly easy. I clicked on the Mozilla installer, carefully searched the custom menu, and then let it do a standard installation. Bingo! It had captured and catalogued my email, email accounts (and I have an unusually complex array of pop3, imap, and smtp acccounts), address book, and bookmarks. I was a bit surprised that Mozilla seemed to have a chat client that did not leave room for AIM, MSN, Yahoo, or the other major chat and IM clients. I never did determine whether I was using that incorrectly.

The start-up screen and top right icons are significantly prettier than Netscape, AOL, MSIE, and all the others I've seen ... if you like fire breathing Tyrannasaurs and all that. Okay, I admit I never quite finished playing with those before Mom took them away.

Mozilla does "feel" a bit faster, though it was difficult to test Web page responsiveness in any meaningful way ... especially after my cable company doubled my download speeds in the middle of the test. Email and Web pages, when they came, came faster.

But, the bottom line is that I'm back on Netscape. There were a couple of undocumented problems with Mozilla. First, Mozilla could not retrieve my Netscape mail. I'm not sure whether this was an incompatibility with IMAP protocols, but another WAP member suggested (in grave, technical detail that flew right over my head) that Mozilla does not have access to proprietary formats for accessing Netscape and AOL email. I dropped my paid AOL account a while ago, but I still keep a couple of free Netscape accounts, and I much prefer an email client to a Web client in retrieving my email. While I use the accounts rarely, that was a factor for me.

Second, Mozilla just couldn't live up to its reputation for being more advanced, at least as to stability issues. I only reviewed this on a subjective basis, but I seemed to be crashing much more often, and there seemed to be particular problems accessing JavaScript. While that problem may be generated by Web sites using Microsoft's adulterated version of JavaScript, the bottom line is that Mozilla frequently hung or crashed the whole computer just after an attempt to access a new Web site. Similar problems were suspected in streaming video sites, including mainstream sites like pbs.org. I also seemed to crash fairly often when connected to https (secure http protocol) Web sites. Generally, crashes and hangs became an issue.

While not decisive, another flaw of Mozilla taught me a bit more about my own -- and probably others' -- ergonomic comfort as a computer user. When Netscape crashed, a little application called Talkback would appear after it was restarted, and the user could document the crash and dutifully send it across the Ethernet cable and into the wall. It may well have landed in cyber Erewhon, but there is something comforting and co-opting about such a crash report. When the user is made to feel like part of the solution, it is harder to be angry about the problem. Mozilla has a similar reporting mechanism. Indeed, it is Talkback. But, when you upgrade from Netscape 7.02 to Mozilla 1.2.1, the Talkback claims it is sending Mozilla's crash messages to Netscape's programmers. While I am quite sure that there is no difference in how responsive the programmers are to these reports so long after the product has been orphaned, it is too easy to feel frustrated that Mozilla seems to send your bug reports to someone else's exterminators.

My next try will be <http://www.wamcom.org/latest-131/>, which was suggested in a private posting by yet another active WAP member. I see that the notes provide a spell checker, and I can sure use that. But, even more interesting, they refer to correcting a bug involving https page access. Let me hear from you on the TCS or at <Richard@RSSternberg.org> if anyone is interested in a mini-review of that freeware browser.

[Of course we are -- .ed.]