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Browser Wars Claim a Casualty

I like free software. There's no philosophical argument here; it's just that I'm a cheapskate. In the mid-1990's, I left school and entered the working world, and was suddenly thrust into a predicament in which I'd never been before: that of having to procure my own software. So, I switched from Netscape Navigator, which at that point still cost money, to the then-new Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 4.0. I justified this decision by the fact that IE4 was, in fact, technically superior to Navigator 4, which was getting worse with each dot-release. Nonetheless, I couldn't help feeling a little like I'd sold my soul, and I always longed for the day when another free browser would come along that was better than -- or at least, as good as -- IE.

Fast-forward to the present time. I had just installed the new IE5.5 on my wife's Windows 98 machine, and we were shocked to discover that Microsoft's own Hotmail service -- my wife's email client -- crashed IE5.5. Consistently. And of course, there's no way (that I know of, anyway) to go back to a previous version of IE. I try to send in a bug report, but Microsoft's bug-reporting site tells me there is no support for that piece of software. So, fearing my wife might do me bodily harm if her email client crashed one more time, I looked again for free alternatives to IE.

Fortunately, or so I thought, at the same time two things happened: Netscape 6.0 was released, and Opera 5.0 was made free on the contingency that it be able to show you advertising. So I figured I'd try them out.

First, Netscape. Despite what they have become, I still have a soft spot in my heart for Netscape, based on the memories of the days when they first offered Navigator as a vastly superior alternative to Mosaic. I install 6.0 on my Windows NT machine. It appears to install fine, but when I run it, I get the opening splash screen, and then it crashes. Every time. And it won't uninstall, either.

OK, try it on my wife's Windows 98 machine. There, again, it appears to install just fine. But when I run it, the cursor turns to an hourglass for a minute or two, and then back. No Netscape window ever appears. Sigh.

Fine, let's try Opera, first on the Win98 machine. It installs, and appears to work, but when I go into Hotmail and try to compose a message, instead of the big text box where you write your message, I get two small ones: one about the size of a postage stamp in which my text goes, and another, partially overlapping that one, full of smiley faces. Perhaps this is a lack of standards compliance on Hotmail's part; Opera purports to be the most standards-compliant browser available. So, I'll just drop Microsoft a bug report telling them their Hotmail service isn't standards-compliant. I'm sure they'll fix that right away so I can switch from IE to a competing browser. OK, maybe not.

Try it on my NT machine. Exact same behavior. At least it behaves the same across different platforms.

Can you still get Mosaic anywhere?