Serious about surfing? Try out these browser alternatives, plug-ins

Faster Internet connections do make a difference for serious Web searches, but
software helpers can be even better. Software is easier to acquire and install than, say,
buying and setting up an Integrated Services Digital Network link.


If you have to wait for what seems like forever to get to hot links, try a browser
accelerator. These handy utilities store locally the pages you most recently visited. A
browser accelerator’s best feature is its ability to preload pages.


Browser accelerators copy to your PC’s hard drive or memory the pages for links on
a Web page as you’re browsing. 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, I like using Go Ahead Got It from Go Ahead Software Inc. of Redmond, Wash., a
non-proxy-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 along with pages you specify. More
importantly, it lets you know when a page has changed; most 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 all 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 all the general search sites
simultaneously or choose among 3,000 others.


This single site has thousands of categories, each of which can connect to multiple
databases. For example, the arts and humanities category covers architecture, art,
genealogy, history, humanities, literature and performing arts, plus 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 on the Web. There are easier alternatives to the ubiquitous Microsoft Internet
Explorer and Netscape Navigator browsers. Keep in mind that you will need to use one of
the two 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,
created by Bigfoot L.P of New York, 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’ computers will spend
a lot less time in support and training.


Another alternative Web navigator suitable for intermediate or advanced users is Alexa
Internet, at http://www.alexa.com. Instead of replacing
the Explorer interface, the San Francisco company’s informative 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 10-minute installation is worth it 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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