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-> Old SCO Netscape Communicator 4.0.8

Netscape Communicator 4.0.8

Ancient SCO Unix article left here for historical reference only.

I've been ignoring Netscape upgrades for a while. It's not that I was overly happy with the Netscape Navigator that I have been using; it's just that access to the net is critically important, and I didn't want to screw myself up by jumping too quickly.

Of course, I do have other machines I could have tested on, but then again, I already knew that Communicator was buggy: the newsgroups were full of messages telling me that. So I just ignored it.

But now we have 4.0.8 available from SCO as a free upgrade. I decided I had waited long enough, that any remaining bugs weren't going to cripple me, so I downloaded it from the pre-release section of SCO'sdownloads site.


Of course there are bugs. The release notes list a few, and there are a few more that I stumbled into. the bugs are more in the annoyance category than serious, and there are enough added features to make it worthwhile putting up with them. First, some bugs I noticed that weren't mentioned in the release notes:

Searching Newsgroups

When searching newsgroups, I have had no success: the search always fails with an NNTP error (unfortunately, it is not specific: simply "command unrecognized").

Startup Hang

If I have Collabra Discussions (Newsgroups) checked for opening at startup, this sometimes causes a hang. It's easy to stop it; either kill the netscape process or ALT-F4 to close the hanging window that's stuck behind the Navigator window. Or (my choice) just don't start Collabra by default.


I haven't figured out what triggers this, but a couple of times the menus have become unusable: any attempt to slide into a sub-menu with the mouse immediately triggers the first item on the sub-menu. The only fix I've found is to exit Netscape, and since I don't know what caused it, I don't know how to avoid it.


When I installed this, the installation did pick up all my defaults and preferences from the previous Navigator. However, although it saw the newsgroups I was subscribed to, it didn't seem to recognize which articles were read and unread until I let it write its own data to the .newsrc file. It actually treated all articles as unread. I let it load a few, then closed out, edited .newsrc by hand, and on coming back up, everything worked correctly. Someone else reported a similar problem: most of their .newsrc worked fine, but one group (which happened to be comp.unix.sco.misc) wouldn't open (or would open and immediately close). This also was solved by removing the .newsrc entirely and letting Communicator recreate it.


Like it's predecessors, Communicator on the SCO desktop doesn't change its icon when launched. Since this version starts even more slowly than the previous, that is even more annoying. Fortunately, the solution remains the same: see /Unixart/gui.html

New Features

The lack of features in Navigator often caused me to revert to other tools. For example, if I wanted to search the body of all my mail folders, I'd have to use grep. The newsgroup reading didn't support threading, and that often drove me back to Tin. Probably the most annoying lack was no filters.

All that has changed with Communicator.

Subordinate Folders

Communicator lets you create sub-folders, which allows me to organize my mail much more sensibly. A feature I'd like (but it isn't there) is to be able to indicate where to store a copy of messages I send. There is a global setting (as there was in the previous release), but it is cumbersome to change that for every message.

Better Newsreading

Communicator now truly threads, can mark threads to be "watched" (which means that you can easily see just those threads you are interested in), you can kill threads and more. It also automatically advances the header window as you reach the end of it (that was an annoyance in Navigator). I suppose there are still times I'd rather use Tin, but this is pretty good as it is.

Better Menus

The handling of large menus (like bookmarks) is much improved. However, this is also the place where Communicator sometimes loses its mind, or at least the mouse part of its mind.

Better Search

Although I haven't been able to make Newsgroup searches work at all, the searching within mailbox files has worked beautifully. There is complete control over what you are searching (sender, subject, body, cc, priority, date, and more), multiple criteria can be entered, and you can search sub-folders or everything at the same time.


Having filters is probably the most appreciated addition. Filters can move incoming mail into appropriate folders, can mark individual news messages or entire threads as read, all based on the same sort of criteria you would use in searching. This lets me subscribe to mailing lists that generate a lot of mail without having that mail clutter up my inbox, which might cause me to miss other, more important messages. An appropriate filter automatically moves the mail to its own folder where I can examine it at my leisure.


The final addition, the HTML editor, was available in the Gold edition previously. I prefer to edit HTM with vi so I really have nothing to say about this.


Some other people have pointed out that some Java pages will cause this version to lock up solid. It's true, though fortunately that hasn't happened to me on the Java pages I really need.

Minor Annoyances

There are some small design issues that annoy me. I suppose there is no sense fussing about the fact that HTML is used by default for composing. Fortunately it is easy enough to shut it off. I also don't like the close relationship between mail and newsgroups. This annoys me most when I am reading news, and want to move to another newsgroup, and get presented with my entire list of mail folders. If I wanted to read mail, I'd switch to the Messenger window!

I find that I have to close out of a newsgroup, collapse the news server window, and re-open it before I can convince Communicator that there might be new postings out there.

The Navigator choice always opens up a new window. The windows you have open are shown at the bottom, but they used to be ordered as you had last visited them; now they are just there in the order you opened them.

I don't like indicating attachments with a little paperclip "Show Attachments" icon; I suppose I'll get used to it, but for now I find it very easy to miss that entirely.

Bruce Baumman had some comments:

From: QC Computer <computer@qldcom.com>
Date: Mon Dec 16, 2002  2:19:54 AM US/Eastern
To: Tony Lawrence <tony@pcunix.com>
Subject: Netscape 4.7 Address Book (Little extra bit)
Reply-To: computer@qldcom.com

Hi Tony,

How's Things ?

I recently read your review page on Netscape 4.7 on openserver. I went
through and fixed all my problems that had been detailed on your page.

Very good... 100% ... ;-)

An extra small thing I noticed when fixing the address book. After I did
the mod on the preferences file and re-opened netscape / address book, I
seemed to have an entry that had no data but displayed "Name" in the
name column and "email" in the email column. When I listed the
properties for this netscape crashed.

I tried to delete it but not successful. Also strange things like blank
entries appeared letting me select things that did not exist.

I think this is because I tried to enter data in the address book before
fixing the original problem.

Anyway to fix this all I did is DELETE all the address book folders
including the "Personal Addresses" and re-create them. All seems to work
OK now. 

This may be worth a mention in case someone decides to start adding in
lots of entries in address book and finding problems later.

I don't know if exporting and importing will fix this as it could be
rubbish data in the file. I suppose you could export and sift through
the records until you find the suspect ones.

Probably a good idea to export address books before fixing the bug just
in case.

Before fixing the bug you could still add records to your address book
but not edit them, some people may have done this (like me ... ;-)

Merry Christmas ... :-)


Bruce Baumann
IT Manager
Queensland Communications Pty Ltd
MAIL: PO Box 1392, Eagle Farm QLD 4009, Australia
PHONE: +617 3868 2200
FAX: +617 3868 2200
EMAIL: Bruce.Baumann@qldcom.com
WEB: www.qldcom.com

© January 1999 Anthony Lawrence. All rights reserved.

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