Here's where to find the best ways to find anything on the Web

Faster Internet connections make a difference for serious Web searches, but software
helpers can do better and are easier to acquire and install than, say, an Integrated
Services Digital Network link.


If you have to wait forever to get to hot links, try a browser accelerator. These handy
utilities store locally the pages you most recently visited, but their best feature is
preloading pages.


Browser accelerators copy to your PC’s hard drive or memory the pages for links on
a Web page while you’re still reading it. How much of a boost you get depends on how
fast you read, how many links the page has, and whether the software downloads the link
you want before or after you click on it.


Most accelerators operate as proxy servers, inserting themselves between your Microsoft
Windows browser and the Internet. You might shudder at the thought of adding yet another
software layer, and with good reason. Proxy servers introduce new bugs, require
configuration and support, and might make your system crash more often.


Even so, Go Ahead Got It from Go Ahead Software Inc. of Redmond, Wash., is a
nonproxy-server accelerator with lots of performance-enhancing features. Read about it at http://www.goahead.com.


Go Ahead Got It preloads pages you visit frequently as well as other pages you specify.
More importantly, it lets you know when such a page has changed. Other accelerators just
speed up your views of old data.


My favorite search engine is Yahoo, but others have different strengths. AltaVista,
Lycos, WebCrawler, Excite and Infoseek are general search engines, and there are country-
and topic-specific search sites, too.


For serious research, try http://www.isleuth.com/.
  The Internet Sleuth site lets you search general search sites simultaneously or
choose among 3,000 others.


This one site has thousands of categories, each of which can connect to multiple
databases.


For example, the Arts & Humanities category covers architecture, art, genealogy,
history, humanities, literature, performing arts and subcategories.


Under government, there are far too many agencies and categories to list, each letting
you search multiple databases simultaneously.


Perhaps you’re a beginner and can’t decide where to enter or how to get
around once you’re on the Web. There are easier alternatives to the ubiquitous
Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator browsers, but you will need to use one
of them at least once to download an alternative browser unless you can talk someone else
into doing it for you.


Check out http://www.neoplanet.com for
NeoPlanet, a full-blown alternative perfect for novice or occasional users. NeoPlanet
isn’t a true browser, it simply puts a new interface on Internet Explorer to hide the
most frustrating aspects.


Agency administrators who load NeoPlanet on their new users’ PCs will spend a lot
less time in support and training.


Another alternative Web navigator suitable for intermediate or advanced users is Alexa,
at http://www.alexa.com.  Instead of replacing the
Explorer interface, Alexa’s tool bar gives more detailed information about sites
gleaned from Alexa’s database.


It has an online encyclopedia, dictionary, thesaurus and a tool to help users reach
"404 Not Found" sites they can’t reach in the normal way.


The last feature relies on Alexa’s archive of more than 500,000 Web sites. It
isn’t infallible, but often a desired page is only temporarily unavailable because a
server went down or the periodic site-locator upload file left it out.


Sometimes a site no longer exists, of course, but all the user wants is to read some
information from the first screen. In both cases, the Alexa Archive can be a lifesaver.
The tool bar takes up screen room, but you can collapse it or close it selectively.


Even if you must download the 1.6M alexasetup14n.exe file over a slow dial-up
connection, the utility is worth 10 minutes to install for serious surfing.


John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s. E-mail him at powerusr@penn.com.

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