Downloading makes the Web go around
- By John McCormick
- Oct 13, 1997
Internet newcomers are usually astonished to discover they can get almost anything on
the Net, much of it for free. They find it a challenge to efficiently locate just what
Many managers think the only free software on the Internet is shoddy or
undesirable--for example, arcade-style games. But good applications, utilities and other
tools abound on the World Wide Web in the form of freeware, shareware and full commercial
You'll also find beta versions of exciting new programs, massive files of information
on virtually any topic, images, maps and, yes, games.
More and more users are enthusiastically downloading programs and upgrades right off
the Net. It gives them better control over the work environment, saves time, and ensures
the latest versions and drivers. Network administrators, however, seem less than thrilled
about this trend.
Some managers see a strong similarity between individual Internet downloads and
improper telephone use. The cost of employees' phone calls to friends and relatives is
fairly obvious. The cost of Internet downloads is just as real, if less obvious.
Network managers fear virus infections, lost work time, bandwidth clogs and hard-drive
burdens caused by Net downloads. Even more, they dislike the havoc wrought by unauthorized
software on carefully tweaked network and application software. Management's fear of
downloads is certainly not misplaced.
But nothing short of eliminating Net access or imposing draconian work rules will stop
It's just too useful. So it's up to agency managers to educate users and learn how to
deal with the flood of new software on Web-enabled networks.
Some managers have designated an authorized download guru to receive user requests,
then find and deliver the most appropriate information and software. This approach has two
Now let's look at some downloadable programs that could benefit users and managers.
Cyber Patrol 3.1, located at http://www.cyberpatrol.com,
is designed to help parents block unwanted Web sites from children. For $30, it could be
your cheapest Web oversight tool.
The same files you don't want children to see are just as inappropriate for adults
during business hours.
Browser plug-ins and Net helpers augment employees' Netscape Navigator or Communicator
and Microsoft Internet Explorer browsers, which navigate through Web pages and convert
Hypertext Markup Language files to viewable images.
Even if your employees don't need browser upgrades, they may be complaining that a lot
of sites aren't fully accessible with their basic browsers. The solution is to augment
those browsers with plug-ins to handle everything from live audio and video to 3-D virtual
Users don't even need to search for the plug-in download sites. Web pages that would be
enhanced by a certain plug-in offer the visitor a chance to download it immediately. For
example, Silicon Graphics Inc.'s VR Web page at http://vrml.sgi.com
offers a VR plug-in.
WIRL, available athttp://www.platinum.com, is a
$29 ActiveX plug-in that will keep you from feeling flat.
Working inside your Netscape or Explorer browser, it lets you manipulate objects on
virtual reality pages. The actual site for the file involves a 146-character address, so
you're better off working your way to it from this home page.
EarthTime, available at http://www.starfish.com,
is a real-time clock with information about eight cities, such as sunrise and sunset times
and languages spoken. Look under the "cool&free" location on the site for
this as well as a trial version of Sidekick97, Sidekick utilities, InternetMeter Relay and
other handy tools including a trial version of a set of Starfish Internet tools.
They're all freely downloadable or reasonbly priced at $20 for 25 utilities.
Meter, a utility for Explorer and Navigator 3.0 and later versions, posts a bug in the
corner of your browser screen to show time online as well as data transfer rates.
IQ, available at http://www.qsound.ca/iqmain.htmor
accessible via the consumer products button on the main page, enhances streaming audio for
users of Progressive Networks Inc.'s RealAudio product.
[email protected], an ActiveX control from the software libraries at http://www.farallon.com, lets Netscape and Explorer
users view other users' screens anywhere in the world. PC and Apple Macintosh versions are
Columbine Bookmark Merge, available at http://www.clark.net/pub/garyc/,
is a free utility that edits, merges and prints out users' own lists of favorite Web
FormulaOne/Net, available at http://www.visualcomp.com,
is a Microsoft Excel-compatible Web page spreadsheet that works with Netscape Navigator.
This $79 spreadsheet might be useful on your intranet as well as your Web site.
Table of Contents, available at http://www.progtools.com/toc.html,
appears toward the bottom of the main page. Web sites often have table of contents files,
labeled .toc, to help you navigate. This free software grabs the .toc file where available
and shows you a tree diagram of the site contents.
WebTracks 2.0, from http://www.wildcat.com, is a
free music utility that plays the MIDI music files found on many sites. PC and Mac
versions are available. I wasn't able to get the instant download to work, so I advise
pushing the Free Downloads button on the opening page.
IPIX Viewer, from http://www.ipix.com, is a great way
to view images on the Web. It could really liven up government sites that post impressive
images or panoramic photographs.
Click on one of the pictures on this site and download the 1.1M ipxset16.exe plug-in
that lets you walk through panoramic images. It isn't exactly virtual reality, it's just a
flat picture. But there's so much detail that you feel you're actually standing in a
location and looking up, down and all around.
ICQ ,from http://www.mirabilis.com, is a free
program that monitors Net access of all users who sign up and lets others know when you
are online. Note that this isn't a spying tool. Because you have control over whether it's
activated, all it really does is help you coordinate online sessions with distant
Intel Internet Phone, from http://www.intel.com,
complies with the international H.323 low-bandwidth audio standard to let you chat in real
time with anyone on the Internet, anywhere. It isn't ideal, but it is free. In some cases,
you may be able to talk over the Internet more easily to someone in a remote place than to
place a regular telephone call there.
Unlike the other downloadable programs mentioned, this one requires additional
hardware: a microphone and compatible sound card. Many computers now come equipped with
these, and they aren't prohibitively expensive.
OnLive Talker, from http://www.onlive.com, combines
talk and text conferencing with whiteboarding, all tied into a Web page.
OnLive LiveList enables online e-mail conferencing and maintains a list of
participants. It even notifies you when they are online for easy group conferencing. This
file is free and relatively small.
Check out the 3-D community server and client on this site if you think a live VR room
would be good for voice conferencing with fellow workers around the world.
Netopia Virtual Office, from http://www.farallon.com,
takes collaboration even further. This $50 package gives telecommuters an instant virtual
office network where they can talk, exchange files and e-mail, whiteboard and even share
A trial version of Farallon's Timbuktu Pro for all Microsoft Windows operating systems
including Windows NT 4.0, is here, too. It lets you browse or edit files on remote
MIRC 5.02, from http://www.mirc.co.uk/get.html,
has mirror sites in California and Utah where you might find MIRC easier to download. This
$15 software lets you confer in real time with colleagues when e-mail isn't adequate for
the job. IRC, or Internet relay chat, is like a text version of Internet phone calls and
PlugItIn, from http://www.plugitin.com, is an
essential utility for Windows 95 and NT users. It locates, installs, removes and generally
helps you manage your collection of plug-ins.
Now let's discuss a few programming utilities.
CSE 3310 Validator, from http://www.htmlvalidator.com,
is a $25 package that checks your HTML files for syntax errors. Click on Download from the
WebMotion, from http://www.astoundinc.com,appears
under Other Features in the Select Your Destination dialog box. This $60 utility helps you
create .gif and Java Web page animations.
WebPlayer, from http://www.astound.com/awp/index.html,
can play Astound Inc.'s Astound and Studio M multimedia files directly from Web pages.
Of course, not everything downloadable from the Net is Net-oriented. When you're just
getting started, you naturally want to find the best utilities to help you download other
wanted files. Here are some downloading hints.
The obvious way to locate useful software not listed in this guide is to make careful
searches in Internet search engines such as AltaVista at http://www.altavista.digital.com or Yahoo at http://www.yahoo.com.
Try an engine's advanced search techniques to get the fastest results with the least
number of redundant or useless hits. Also try one or more of the search agents listed
If you don't have the time to surf the Web yourself, find a program to do it for you.
Just give the Web agent information about what you're looking for, then turn it loose on
the Net to locate, filter, download and organize hits from various sites.
Surfbot, from http://www.specter.com, not
spectre.com, was probably the best Web agent in early 1997. Its $40 online price was
terrific, but Oracle Corp. has since bought this software and may no longer have it
available in trial version.
Surfbot is an example of how ephemeral things are on the Net. If you think you might
want one of these programs, don't procrastinate in downloading.
Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh is working on a Java intelligent agent that
can be launched in multiple, cooperative gangs to track down data like your own Baker
Agents aren't the same as search engines. An agent, or bot, is yours personally. It
resides on your computer or, better yet, clones itself on servers while searching and
actively looks for new information rather than sifting through the search engines' fixed
Search engines are massive collections of precatalogued data about what has been found
on the Net in past searches. That doesn't mean search engines are serving up stale
information; you'll find lots of dead links. They all have their own agents that are
constantly searching and updating the databases.
Which search engine is best? There are scores of them, each with its special strengths.
No need to learn how to use all their different features when you can search them all with
the tools below.
WebSeeker, from http://www.ffg.com, located under the
Download button, is $50. It can conduct simultaneous, unattended searches on a dozen or
more search engines. It even trims the fluff from the results by eliminating duplicate
A $299 version called TechSeeker for Win95 and NT is tailored to search for technical
information such as product data, press reports and software drivers. Likewise, the $149
WebSeeker LE searches specifically for legal information.
WebCompass, from http://www.arachnid.qdeck.com,
sends you to Quarterdeck Corp.'s site to order, but you get a good introduction at this
site, and it usually loads faster.
WebCompass looks for your information on 35 or more search engines (you can add more)
as well as Usenet, gopher and File Transfer Protocol sites. It's currently the top search
agent. To buy at a government discount rather than download from this site, call
File Dog, from http://www.edgepub.com/fd/, is
a $40 Win95 agent that can download all the other files listed in this guide while you're
off doing something else.
The speed of your downloads will depend on a lot of things, including what path the
data takes across the Web and how many people are trying to access the server at the same
If you notice any mirror sites listed for a file you want to download, the first listed
choice probably isn't the best one.
No need to just take your chances, especially if you are downloading large files that
will take many minutes. Often you can quickly test the waters by starting to download and
watching the browser's telltale, which will show how fast data is moving and predict the
total download time.
Sample several of the servers and use the fastest. Even if you're going to lunch during
the download, speed still matters.
If being called a bandwidth hog doesn't bother you, remember that slow downloads can
cause time-outs or hangups. This is a real time-waster because you have to start over
Dipstick 2.0, from http://www.klever.net/kin/dipstick.html,
automates the sampling process described just above.
The free Dipstick utility will check each mirror site and let you know which one is
fastest at the moment.
Also at this site are Big Brother, a free utility that monitors host activities on your
IP network, and Pumpkin, which lets you exchange files during talk sessions.
News Ticker, from http://www.my.yahoo.com at the
bottom of the page, is a ticker tape that displays free, customized news from a daily
Yahoo "newspaper" called MyYahoo.
As with the PointCast Network, you can select from scores of general topics and many
news sources. However, MyYahoo doesn't use push technology like PointCast.
MyYahoo is always there and updated, but you have to go to it rather than passively
viewing information fed to your computer. The one-line ticker tape utility will stream
your MyYahoo headlines across your screen, updated as often as every 10 minutes.
You can keep the ticker always on top of other Windows applications even when you're
working with the screen underneath. Move it backward and forward, and instantly connect to
the full story by clicking on the item you want.
Best of all, the MyYahoo ticker is a small file, and I have never encountered any
software conflicts from it. In my opinion, this is going to be the future of push
Inexperienced Web surfers should note that some of the files and sites listed may have
disappeared by the time you read this. I verified them all recently. However, the
Internet, like a living entity, changes constantly.
A common problem is a message saying your browser is unable to locate the requested
site. You may read something to the effect that "The server does not have a Domain
Name System entry."
If that happens, try again immediately. Often this is a simple conflict such as another
user trying to access the same site through your server at the same time. If that doesn't
work, try again later.
Why this happens is complex. Your browser first has to go to a server that holds a
current list of all sites on the Internet. That server's lookup tables translate your
typed Web address into a string of numbers. The tables are updated frequently, and
sometimes glitches occur.
Of course, the site or file may actually have disappeared. If you can't find it using
one of the search engines, you're out of luck.
I've listed home pages rather than specific file locations, because these locations
change faster than almost anything else on the Net. Also, it's a good idea to go through
the main page, because you see any warnings that may have been posted about updates or
problems with certain programs.
If you can't find a file where I listed a specific address within a site, back up a
slash or two and look for directions to the file.
If you encounter problems locating a file ending in .html, try .htm and vice versa.
And although most Web addresses start with www., not all do. Don't simply assume I
If this information has whetted your appetite for Web downloads, don't miss Purdue
University's list and program archive at http://omni.cc.purdue.edu/7Exniu/winsock/list95.htmfor
more than 1,000 Win95 Internet applications.
At last check, there were more than 750 16-bit applications for Windows 3.x users, too.
You can download many of them directly from the site.
John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s.