Well, Netscape 8.0 has been released! Not long ago I would never have anticipated this happening.
Given my previous sour experiences with its restrictive checks on the earlier beta and prototype versions, I didn't even bother trying the installer this time; instead I went about having someone install onto a different system meeting the published system "requirements," compress it into an archive, and letting me extract onto my own machine.
A lot of what I had said about Netscape 8.0 beta carries over to the final release as well. However, there have been some positive, notable changes to the software, some of which have addressed my own past criticisms:
Perhaps most notably, the awful (IMO) "Fusion" theme has been supplemented by "Winscape," a more intuitive theme similar to that of Mozilla Firefox and respecting system colors, and shown in the screenshot immediately above. Assuming they can run the installer, users are given a choice of what theme to use when installing the software. Netscape 8.0, with this option selected, looks suspiciously similar to my mock-up from December 2004.
Otherwise, the Multibar option panel (that I once thought of as a "bank of mystery buttons") has been replaced by a simpler and more descriptive version. It is now easier to note what HTML rendering engine the browser is currently using (through an icon on the status bar), although the entire premise of a browser capable of calling upon an (inferior) rendering engine other than its own gets me uneasy--and I find notions of "security zones" confusing. Also, the control menu now appears when right-clicking on the title bar, and the user agent string that identifies the browser (in access logs, for example) now follows the format executed by Netscape 7.x, with "Netscape/8.0" or "Netscape/8.0.1" at the end. Like Netscape 7.x, Netscape 8.0 implements a built-in AOL Instant Messenger and ICQ client, a feature convenient for some people.
However, I have to say my impressions of Netscape 8.0 are still negative. Although improved over early prototypes and betas, the user interface is still quite cluttered and confusing to use (although the new "Winscape" theme helps make the program almost-usable). The software identifies itself as "Browser 8.0" on the Netscape splash screen with the designation noted in Arial, inconsistent with other fonts used. Tab options are needlessly complicated, and it can be annoying that Netscape.com is automatically loaded in newly created tabs by default. Aside from the presence of the venerable Netscape name, a built-in instant-messaging client, and the unique but problematic "Display like Internet Explorer" feature, there are no compelling reasons to use it instead of Mozilla Firefox 1.0.4, upon which Netscape 8.0.1 has (loosely) been based. At best, Netscape 8.0 is destined to be no more than a niche product.
Unlike previous versions of Netscape (or Mozilla Firefox, the basis for this software), Netscape 8.0 is only available for Windows. This obviously eliminates any potential for Netscape 8.0 to be taken seriously as a legitimate cross-platform browser, and is regrettable.
Even so, I have to give AOL and the firms they have contracted development work out to some credit: It is obvious that a lot of development effort was spent on this product. Netscape 8.0 final is a better piece of software than the betas and prototypes that came before, and a few of my own past criticisms have been resolved.
It is interesting to note that the Netscape 8.0.1 maintenance update was released only a day after the original Netscape 8.0 browser had been released. If anything, this shows that AOL are more committed to Netscape 8.0 than they have been to the existing Netscape 7.x line, whereby bugs and security issues long fixed in equivalent Mozilla releases have lingered untouched for months on end after Netscape as a "real" company was killed in mid-2003.
UserAgent: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Win98; en-US; rv:1.7.8) Gecko/20050511 Firefox/1.0.4