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AddThis Social Bookmark Button Netscape6 for Mac: Can it Compete With IE5?

by Derrick Story
04/07/2000
   Netscape 6/IE 5 Highlights

New Interface: Both browsers sport a new, appealing look.

Fast Page-Loading: Both browsers are speedy page loaders on current computers; Internet Explorer seems to perform better on older Macs.

Sidebar/Explorer Bar: Neither browser can leave the left side of the window alone.

RAM Consumption: Internet Explorer still uses less RAM, but it also has fewer goodies.

Join our discussion in the O'Reilly Network Browsers Forum.

Now that Netscape and Microsoft have both released new state-of-the-art browsers for the Mac, we're basking in the glow of choice once again.

I stayed up late the other night to test the two browsers and see how they stack up. I used a PowerBook 1400 with a G3 upgrade card running at 200 MHz, and an iMac DV Special Edition motoring at 400 MHz. Both machines were running System 9 and were wired to the same DSL connection.

I then downloaded the beta versions of Internet Explorer 5 and Netscape 6 (referred to as "Preview 1"). Both installations went well except for the first Netscape load on the PowerBook -- which crashed on launch. I started the process over, and the second installation proceeded just fine. I might as well say it right now: Both of these browsers are beta versions. There's sure to be some bumps along the way.

That being said, the browsers are both ambitious endeavors bringing lots of new goodies to our humble desktops. So a few potholes are certainly tolerable in light of their innovations. Let's take a look at the few key areas that really jumped out at me.

Load and Looks. The first thing I noticed when launching the browsers was that Netscape took longer to load than Internet Explorer -- in fact twice as long. Just for perspective, I also went back and launched Netscape 4.7 a couple times too, and even it was a much faster load than version 6. The speed is likely to improve with future releases, but the discrepancy should still be noted. The second thing I noticed with both browsers was their improved look and feel. Hats off to Netscape and Microsoft for providing us with an appealing interface.

RAM Consumption. Next, I took a peek at the RAM allocations for each browser. Internet Explorer consistently consumed about one third to one half the RAM that Netscape did. One thing to keep in mind though, is that Netscape includes an e-mail client and a HTML editor in its load, Internet Explorer is strictly a browser. Most folks who use Internet Explorer also open up Outlook Express (another 7 megabytes of RAM) and some sort of HTML editor (maybe BBEdit 5.1; another 2 MBs). If you add all of that up, then the RAM loads are about the same. In other words, if you stay within the Netscape family of tools, you won't be dinged RAM-wise. However, if you like to use a little of this and a little of that, especially on a laptop, you might want to take a look at Microsoft's approach.

Page Loading. Both browsers use an intelligent approach to loading pages by picking up images on the fly. Actual speed between Netscape and Internet Explorer was comparable on the 400 MHz iMac. I loaded each test page three times and then averaged how long it took for final rendering. I'd have to say that I'd considered it a dead heat on the iMac.

But Internet Explorer reigned supreme on the 200 MHz PowerBook. Not only did it launch considerably faster on the PowerBook, but it consistently loaded my test pages (Macworld.com and USAtoday.com) faster. This was particularly true if there were lots of images.

My initial impression is that if you have an older Mac, 250 MHz or slower, you might be happier with Internet Explorer's performance. If you have a brand new G4, PowerBook, iBook, or iMac, I doubt if you'll notice much difference.

* Netscape includes an e-mail client, Internet Explorer does not.

Table 1. Informal performance comparison of the beta versions of Netscape 6 and Internet Explorer 5 for the Mac.

Powerbook 200MHz iMac DVSEv400MHz
Internet Explorer 5 (beta) Netscape 6 (beta) Internet Explorer 5 (beta) Netscape 6 (beta)
Hard Disk Space*

10.9 MB

26.4 MB

10.9 MB

26.4 MB

RAM Allocation

6.4 MB

17.6 MB

6.4 MB

17.6 MB

Splash Screen

Colorful, but not cool

Just plain cool

Colorful, but not cool

Just plain cool

Launch Time

10 s

33 s

4.5 s

11 s

Page Load 1
USA Today.com

15 s

14 s

10 s

12.6 s

Page Load 2
Macworld.com

10 s

15 s

6 s

6.5 s

Refresh USAToday.com

10 s

9 s

6 s

8 s

Scrolling

Smooth/Fast

Fast

Smooth/Fast

Fast

Mac Intuitive

Very Intuitive

Moderately Intuitive

Very Intuitive

Moderately Intuitive

Sidebar Vs Explorer Bar. I hate to say this, but the only thing I like about Netscape's Sidebar window is the cool little open/close bar that lights up on mouseover. For the life of me, I can't see why they created this thing only to serve as a simple filing cabinet for bookmarks and basic functions. It's not attractive, and it certainly doesn't break any new ground.

On the other hand, I'm already addicted to Internet Explorer 5's new Explorer Bar that no longer intrudes on the left side of the page layout with the clumsy tabs that it once sported in version 4.x. Not only does it handle the common functions such as favorites storage, history and search with much greater elegance, Microsoft added new Scrapbook and Page Holder functions that are truly useful.

Scrapbook allows you save to save any page, links and all, in the Explorer Bar for later retrieval. Not only is this the answer to what to do with online shopping receipts, it's great for any page that you want to have and hold forever. Page Holder is similar, but more temporary and has the ability to list all of the links on any given page. Therefore it can sit there on the left side as your own personal site map while you continue to drill down and meander at will within a site.

Which One Is Best? Ultimately, browser choice is a very personal decision. Mac users might want to ponder a few moments about their hardware situation and choice of e-mail client before deciding which browser will serve as their default.

If you're a power user with lots of hardware muscle and a ton of RAM, Netscape 6 is an appealing choice. It's very standards compliant, renders pages well, includes lots of tools, and has a handsome interface. If you means are more modest with less than state-of-the-art hardware, Internet Explorer is tough to beat. On slower machines you can still swim with the big fish, and enjoy an elegant interface to boot.

Join our discussion in the O'Reilly Network Browsers Forum.