Netscape Communications recently made the second beta version of Netscape Navigator 2.0 available. This version has several enhancements, including fixes for some serious bugs in the first beta, improved versions of mail and newsreader windows, and preliminary support for LiveScript, Netscape’s own scripting language. This version also claims to be more stable, offers improvements to the bookmarks and address book interfaces, and claims to have additional networking improvements for people accessing the Internet over a modem. Netscape has assembled a Web page listing worldwide mirror sites, so if one site refuses a connection, try other nearby sites. This beta edition of Netscape Navigator expires 21-Jan-96.
What’s LiveScript? This beta features preliminary support for LiveScript, Netscape’s own scripting language. LiveScript is loosely based on Java, but is designed to be more accessible to inexperienced programmers. LiveScript is by Netscape’s own admission "lightweight," which means there are significant limitations to what people can do with it. LiveScript is not part of any standard specification and (naturally) is only supported in Netscape’s browsers, which in many estimations makes it yet another in a series of non-standard "Netscapisms."
What’s more, LiveScript isn’t finished yet – this is just a "preview." Major portions of the language aren’t implemented, and the available portions are subject to change without notice. Some preliminary (and incomplete) information is available online, and it provides a glimpse of what Netscape wants to do. One thing that makes LiveScript more accessible than Java is that it’s a "loosely-typed" run-time system. In theory, this makes it more akin to HyperTalk than C; however, LiveScript is still considerably more obtuse than highly-accessible languages like HyperTalk and clearly shows its Unix/C++ roots.
The basic idea behind LiveScript is that functions can be embedded in an HTML page (in a <SCRIPT> tag), and the functions are then called when the client detects that certain events have occurred. For example, you might use LiveScript to make your Web page play a sound in response to a button being clicked, or you might use it to verify that a form entry met certain criteria, or (maybe) interact with a plug-in or another application. There are many potential uses for this sort of functionality, and it’s not surprising that Netscape has first implemented elements associated with forms, buttons, and links. The ability to perform simple client-side evaluations and actions with anything from user-entered information to results returned from a database-searching CGI would be of interest to any number of Web publishers, but particularly to folks interested in online ordering and transactions. It’s no coincidence these are the same folks who might be in line to purchase Netscape’s server software.
What Else? Of course, the biggest notable omission from this release of Netscape Navigator is support for Java, which is now apparently available for every other Netscape-supported platform. Like the previous beta, this version of Navigator is not compatible with Open Transport, and though there have been changes to Netscape’s GIF handling, running on a monochrome system still isn’t a good idea. Before running this beta, I recommend that you look through Netscape’s release notes for additional information that may affect you.