Netscape Communicator was the brand name for Netscape Communications Corporation's client software suite for versions from 4.0 to 4.8. Originally, all Netscape client products were given the Netscape Navigator name, but for version 4.0 the Netscape team planned something different. The success of Netscape 3 Gold, which bundled an email client and simple HTML editor with the Navigator browser convinced Netscape management that the next big thing would be to create a full network suite. Thus, Communicator was born.

The core of Netscape Communicator is the Navigator browser, covered exhaustively at Netscape Navigator. It was available both by itself and as part of the Communicator suite. Aside from an updated interface, Navigator 4.0 included (broken) support for CSS, Javascript 1.2, PNG images, and the infamous <LAYER> tag. It is supplemented with the Messenger email client, the Collabra newsgroup client, and the Composer WYSIWYG HTML editor.

Like previous Netscape versions, Communicator was a cross-platform product, running on Windows (both Win16 and Win32), Macintosh (68k and PPC machines, classic MacOS), Unix with Motif (AIX, BSDi, HP-UX, IRIX, Linux, and Solaris), and OS/2. It manages to be essentially the same program over all of those platforms, in direct contrast to Microsoft Internet Explorer which only runs on Win32 and Macintosh and has two completely different codebases for the two platforms. Despite the difficulty of maintaining user interface standards across platforms, the interface for Netscape on Windows, Macintosh, and Unix systems is very similar.

At the time of its release, Communicator was lambasted for being too bulky as well as for its general bugginess. Of the common browsers Netscape 4.x is the one most likely to be cursed at for its lack of complience to standards. The Netscape-specific HTML elements and severely incomplete CSS support caused many websites to produce 'special' versions of their pages just for Navigator 4. Under Unix it was also famed for its ability to just vanish and leave background processes needing a kill -9 before the program would start again. Worse, there are documented conditions where the background processes would be stuck in an unkillable state, remaining in core until a reboot flushes them away.

The source code for development versions of Netscape Communicator 5 was released to mozilla.org on March 31, 1998. It was quickly realised that there was no way to fix the code properly, so the codebase was unceremoniously dumped in favour of what was then called NGLayout. There never was a Communicator 5 release, and version 6 of the Netscape browser dropped the 'Communicator' moniker and was simply called Netscape 6. The last version of Netscape Communicator was version 4.8, released in August 2002.


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This writeup is copyright 2002 D.G. Roberge and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike licence. Details can be found at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/ .

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