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Netscape Navigator Stability is Key

As health care providers increasingly surf the web for medical information as well as migrate to web-based clinical and practice management systems, one thing is obvious. The web browser is a key software application that must be reliable. The latest stable release of the Netscape Communicator/Navigator package – V4.72 falls short. Bug fixes that don’t, missing features and frequent crashes are prominent. The reasons for this is partly historical and partly organizational. Read more for some history, why this is important and a possible alternative.

The unfinished nature of Netscape’s popular browser is unfortunate because it is a key piece of software for health-care. In its finished Netscape form, and as its Mozilla open-source engine it has potential as a platform from which custom distributed medical applications can be built. But it must be stable.

The recently released Netscape Version 6 preview is not encouraging. Although still beta, it remains problematic and is something of a disappointment to many who have waited years for it to improve. Netscape and Mozilla is at a crossroads: both organizations need to fix glitches and respond to user’s needs or risk losing what marketshare it has gained on the Linux platform to a competitor. More importantly, in its current state it may turn away those who are experimenting with Linux for the first time. Almost certainly they will turn to the familiar Netscape name and interface in their first trials of Linux — and find it wanting.

Unfortunately its not that simple to just fix it. The relationship between Netscape 6 Preview and the Mozilla open source software it is based on, is complicated.

Here’s a short history for those uninitiated: The Mozilla project was founded/funded by Netscape in the final days of the browser wars, as it was
losing market share to Microsofts Internet Explorer. Netscape was bought by AOL continued Mozilla as an independant open source project funded, but independent of, both Netscape and AOL. Netscape 6 Preview is the first product of the base Mozilla engine and the familiar Netscape Interface. Mozilla’s engine is known as Gecko and when finished should result in substantially smaller and faster browsers than before. However, Netscape and Mozilla have very different missions and target audiences.

Mozilla is intended for ‘developers’ and Netscape to ‘end-users.’ For the relationship between these two entities from the horses mouth, has an interview with the Mozilla developers themselves.

A side-by-side comparison of the Mozilla browser vs Netscape Navigator results in two very different looking web browsers, both are buggy. There are alternatives: the Opera browser for Linux, for example. It is also in a pre-release state (like NS V6.0 Gecko). The Opera browser could be a viable candidate to Netscape’s Navigator web browser.

Any other web browser contenders out there that can match NS features? Inquiring minds want… alternatives. A prominent application such as
Netscape’s browser which is good on closed-source and buggy on open-source is a large barrier to entry for prospective practitioners, and anyone else. There is hope that the beta Netscape 6 will improve dramatically as well as Mozilla’s Gecko engin.

The question is one of time. The whispers about open source in medicine are no longer whispers. When it becomes a shout, open source must be ready if it is to succeed.

(Saint contributed to this post.)