Browsers of Future Past: Seamonkey 2.0 Preview

Everything old is new again, goes the saying, and I guess it's true. This week the Seamonkey Project released the first beta for the Seamonkey 2.0 Internet suite, a project that continues the tradition of the Netscape Suite with code from the latest releases of Firefox and Thunderbird under the hood.

The Netscape Suite is gone, but not forgotten. If you miss the days of the browser suite, the Seamonkey Project is keeping the flame alive with Seamonkey, an Internet suite that includes the browser, mail and newsreader client, IRC chat, and HTML editor. Seamonkey Beta 1 was released this week, and includes features from the upcoming Thunderbird 3.0 release and Firefox 3.5.

I started checking out Seamonkey again recently not so much because of the pending 2.0 release, but because I was looking for a quick and dirty HTML editor that runs on Linux so I could whip up a few tables for the openSUSE Conference schedule. As luck would have it, I dropped in on Seamonkey in the runup to the 2.0 beta.

Originally, the Mozilla Project split out Firefox and Thunderbird because many users didn’t want a monolithic suite. That decision makes sense for users who work with mail clients like Outlook, Mail.app, or Gmail, but if you’re using Firefox and Thunderbird, why not take a look at the combined suite?

Seamonkey in Use

My first task with Seamonkey was whipping up a few tables and getting those in shape for publication. I don’t do a lot of manual HTML these days, but I wanted something quick and relatively reliable on the WYSIWYG front. My first try was Kompozer, but it was extremely crashy, so I was pleased to find that Seamonkey was rock solid.

It’s not fancy, and you can probably do more with commercial tools like Dreamweaver — but if you just need something quick and dirty, then Seamonkey is the way to go. Even if you just grab the suite for the HTML editor.

Of course, there’s not much call today for generating a lot of static HTML, but it’s nice to have in a pinch.

I spent a few days using Seamonkey as a browser as well. The first thing I tried was to install a few add-ons, but unfortunately most of the add-ons that support Seamonkey aren’t currently listed as being ready for Seamonkey 2.0 beta. Ironically, even the Nightly Tester Tools add-on is not compatible, so there was no easy way to “force” install extensions.

The good news is, this is a temporary situation — so many, if not most, Firefox extensions should be compatible with Seamonkey 2.0 when it’s final.

Browsing with Seamonkey isn’t much different than using Firefox as a standalone. If a site works well with Firefox, things should work just fine with Seamonkey as well. The UI has a few different metaphors, and adheres to the old-style Netscape toolbars and so on. I actually prefer the Seamonkey-style Back and Forward buttons on the toolbar, which include the drop down history if you mouse over the right part of the button.

However, Seamonkey isn’t just Firefox with a few other apps grafted on — some features from Firefox, like the privacy features and the phishing protection, aren’t included.

Spent a little bit of time in ChatZilla on IRC. Depending on my travel schedule, I spend anywhere from a few hours to forty hours in IRC on any given week, so a good IRC client is a pretty important part of my desktop.

Generally speaking, though, I find ChatZilla to be only a fair IRC client. It’s good enough to get by, but misses some of the bells and whistles of my favorite client (Konversation). And, of course, you don’t need to use Seamonkey to get ChatZilla — there’s an add-on for Firefox that will allow you to run ChatZilla along side Firefox.

The Seamonkey mail client is reminiscent of Thunderbird 2.0 or older Netscape mail. It includes fixes and some features from Thunderbird 3.0, but not the tab interface or any of the redesign for preferences, etc. It did a great job at importing my account info and mail from Thunderbird 3.0 beta, though, and is a solid mailer.

A Sweet Suite

If the beta is any indication, Seamonkey 2.0 will be a solid release. If you miss the combined suite of products, you’ll definitely want to take Seamonkey for a spin.

But that’s the main claim to fame, really. Seamonkey doesn’t really offer much more than the sum of its parts and the old way of doing things — if you don’t need or want a full suite, then you might as well stick with separate applications.

Not to harsh on Seamonkey, and I’m kind of glad that the Seamonkey team is keeping the suite alive and it seems to be a very high quality release. But, overall, the missing features from the upstream components (Firefox and Thunderbird) make Seamonkey less compelling.

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