Virtual OS/2 International Consumer Education

October 1998

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View From the End (User)

Better Communication

By: Don K. Eitner (

History Lesson

In July, 1998, I wrote a review of the June release of Netscape Navigator 2.02 for OS/2 (see 9 Steps To Better Communication ( I concluded that all the pieces were now in place for Netscape Communicator for OS/2. IBM must have gotten the message, for within two months they released the first public beta of Communicator 4.04 for OS/2. It was quickly followed by a second public beta to correct Java 1.1.6 compatibility and a few minor bugs in the interface.

Well now it's October and IBM have released the final (Generally Available) Communicator 4.04 for OS/2. I'm fully aware of the many feelings OS/2 users have toward IBM on this one--it took them more than a year to give us the product we'd been promised and it still feels very much like a Windows program. However, many of us also are quick to point out that, unlike the Windows users, OS/2 users started at v4.04 rather than having to wade through the mess of last year's 4.0, 4.01, 4.01a, 4.02, 4.03, 4.04 upgrades which seemed to come every two weeks.

There are many things in this release which should make OS/2 users happy. This is a native program requiring no Windows support to be installed. It includes not only the 4.04 web browser but also Messenger (e-mail), Collabra (newsreader), and Composer (graphical web page designer). In fact, for a bit of difference, this month I'm writing my article in Composer (I usually type out HTML by hand in a text editor). I'm not noticing any missing components or features, and assuming it writes files using the official HTML standard (which I'm doubtful of) I may go back to using Composer for all of my web work. I think most web page designers won't see a reason not to use Composer--it's the best laid-out graphical web page editor I've ever seen, even if the code it writes is a bit messy.

Good Communicator, Bad Communicator

As with any new program, Communicator for OS/2 has some bugs. But this one is different from most--the developers at IBM added some undocumented tricks to make Communicator for OS/2 more usable. For instance:

There was a problem in the betas where graphics would display with white lines running through them. This still occurs to some people using the GA release, but there are a few undocumented fixes for it. One is given in the readme.txt file and requires only that you copy/paste the code to a new file (a REXX .cmd file) and run it. If this fails to work for you, Mike Kaply (Technical Lead, IBM) posted to a newsgroup another such REXX .cmd you could issue. This has worked for myself and many others.

Communicator in general has what I perceive as a highly annoying "feature" to guess at a URL (Uniform Resource Locator) while you're typing it into the Location box. I found this to be distracting, as I would have to stop my typing to read what Communicator "thought" I was getting at, see if it was correct, and if not, continue typing. Mike Kaply's newsgroup post had an undocumented fix for this, as well. It involves simply adding the following line to your prefs.js file:

user_pref("os2.url_completion", false);

Mr. Kaply's full newsgroup post can be found at

As stated earlier, Communicator for OS/2 still "feels" very much like a Windows program. The interface has those "buttons that don't look like buttons until the mouse is over them" on the toolbar menu, it's got the Win95-like "diagonal lines to indicate window resizing" at the lower-right corner of the window, and some users have reported that it fails to use their Color Scheme setting for menu highlighting unless they ALT-drag their default scheme to the desktop (or to Communicator itself) AFTER installing it. I did not personally experience this, however I installed the GA release over top of the second beta, so it may have already had my preferences from that. Also, in color selection dialogs, OS/2's color wheel is not used, and instead the user is faced with what appears to be Windows 3.1's color selection dialog -- I don't know whether Win95 uses the same one or not.

There is an upside--and it's a very impressive one! Finally OS/2 has an industry-competitive web browser of the 4.0 variety. We get all the best of the HTML 3.2 specification with parts of HTML 4.0, Cascading-Style-Sheets, JavaScript 1.2, and Java 1.1.6 support. Stability has been top-notch on my system but has been a problem for some others I've spoken with. Speed is on par with Navigator 2.02 for OS/2 (both in load time and while running) but Java applications load much faster in Communicator 4.04 than they did in Navigator 2.02.

We have received the ability to drag'n'drop pages and links to our bookmarks menu and to easily arrange them in folders and sub-folders. Full OS/2 drag'n'drop (of the type we all know and love from v2.02) is not yet supported, but is, according to Mr. Kaply, a top priority for a future release. Until then, we can only drag from a link or with the aid of the drag tool located on the location bar next to the bookmarks menu.

For those living in the US and Canada, there is a 128-bit strong encryption release of Communicator for OS/2 as well as the standard export-grade release. Both can be downloaded for free from IBM's Software Choice webiste ( ! Donwload size is approximately 7.5 megabytes. In addition, there is a 2.1 level version of IBM's PlugIn Pak for Communicator for OS/2. Included are the standard audio/video plugins (AVI, WAV, FLC, MP2, MPEG video, etc) and support for Windows 3.1 plugins. Developers will also find an updated PlugIn SDK (Software Development Kit) for use in developing OS/2 native plugins.

And the Verdict Is...

The most important test of the new browser is, of course, how well it handles the web experience. As expected, all HTML tags supported in earlier versions of Navigator are still supported. Every one of my most visited websites displays exactly the same in Communicator 4.04 as it did in Navigator 2.02. This includes sites (such as my own) which conform to the HTML 4.0 Transitional specification--the closest thing to an incremental update from HTML 3.2. The exceptions are a few Geocities sites which, in Communicator, have a layered image/link in the lower righthand corner of the display window. This seems to replace the extremely annoying ad popup windows we got with Navigator 2.02 when visiting those sites.

After writing this article in Composer, I went back over the code with my favorite text editor (FTE) and found the code to not be such a sloppy mess as I remembered from my Navigator 3.0 Gold days, however it tends to make choices on tags in an odd way. It likes to insert &nbsp; in place of spaces, it changes <code></code> tags to <tt></tt> tags, and unless you force an extra line break between a paragraph and a header line (ie. <h3></h3> which I've been using for the sub-headings in this article, the code gets pretty well squished together. Of course, the browser itself doesn't care about this--it's just a matter of whitespace for the coder's benefit.

The more serious of these matters is the replacement of standard HTML code (<code></code>) with equally standard but not nearly as specific code (<tt></tt>). As a believer in the concept of HTML as more than just a display language, I find this unacceptable for work where the user wishes their site to be usable by disabled persons using, for instance, speech software instead of a graphical browser. If you don't particularly care about these people, then Composer will be fine, but if you do, then you'll want to find a more perfect HTML editor or learn the language and use a text editor.

This is only a problem of Composer. Navigator recognizes all the standard HTML tags (as far as I can tell) so that both valid and invalid HTML pages display as they are meant to.

Final Thoughts

IBM continue to do good work in supporting OS/2 despite their assertions that there will be no OS/2 Warp 5 client/workstation release. Communicator for OS/2 may not be the single best OS/2 program in history, but it brings OS/2 into 1998 in terms of web browsing and publishing and it does so quite well. A few OS/2 specific features are still to come, but as far as I can see, none will affect the raw browsing experience to any significant degree. All the necessary components for serious web use exist and the price can't be beat. However, OS/2 users should remember that a serious, commercial competitor to Communicator is still to come -- the Opera web browser from Opera Software (, so by no means should the browser market for OS/2 be considered closed.

Even though it took IBM a year to release it, Communicator for OS/2 has come a long way since the first beta was released in late summer. This is a good product with a good future and I only hope the higher-ups at IBM were paying attention to the number of OS/2 users downloading Communicator for OS/2 when it was released. They could learn a few things from that information.

Netscape Communicator 4.04 for OS/2
License: free

About The Author

Don Eitner has been an OS/2 user since 1995 and has maintained The 13th Floor website since 1996. There he keeps an ongoing list of as     many currently available native OS/2 applications as he can find ( which was awarded 3 A ratings, including an A+, from SCOUG ( He has been writing monthly articles for the VOICE Newsletter since June, 1997 and was elected as Secretary on the Board of Directors of VOICE in April, 1998.

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