TECH TALK TUESDAY – Alternative Browsers

nancy Techie Tues 9-2-97

Are you tired of the browser wars? Are you ready for another choice? There are several alternatives to the Netscape and Microsoft products. Best of all, they don’t need Windows, download quick and take up almost no drive space!

Browser Options 
By John DeBellis 

   If you thought Microsoft’s “Internet Explorer” and Netscape’s “Communicator” were the only browser choices for surfing the Web, think again.

An increasing number of independent software vendors are producing feature-rich Internet browsers capable of rendering formatted text, images and sound.

Alternative browsers are being created that overcome the growing number bulk and memory limitations that seem to encumber Netscape and “Internet Explorer.”

While the first browsers were stand-alone applications of about 1.3 megabytes, today’s browser applications have ballooned into monster suites with e-mail software, chat software, a VRML client and Java support. They range in size from 10-to-20 megabytes.

“Alternative browsers take a neater approach,” said Helmar Rudolph, the communications and strategy officer with Opera Software, the makers of “Opera,” a popular browser for Windows.

“The aim is to give computer users what they want in as slim a form as possible,” Rudolph said.

Alternative browser downloads of more than 1.5 megabytes are rare. The focus of most alternative browsers is to add as many advanced features as possible while remaining svelte applications.

Even so, few alternative browsers support slick features such as Java, JavaScript, tables and frames. The ones that do, offer an intriguing escape from memory-hogging bloatware.

“We felt that we could make a browser better than Microsoft and Netscape,” Rudolph explained. “We saw needs such as less RAM usage and page-loading time not being addressed in the popular browsers.”

The featherweight “Opera” browser (http://operasoft ware.com) is, in many ways, a feat of software engineering.

Despite its trim form, it supports JavaScript, secure server coding and many Netscape plug-ins, including “Macromedia Flash” and “Adobe Acrobat Reader.” It can also smoothly display fonts, colors, forms, frames, images and graphics.

But while Opera may appear to load Web pages as technically sound as other browsers, the way in which it unfurls images and text is something to behold. Opera loads most HTML and graphics-intensive pages in less than 20 seconds. And it can load several pages simultaneously–nearly as fast.

Multiple pages can be displayed in tile or cascade formats with no drag on memory resources.

Although “Opera” has e-mail capability, it lacks the features users have come to expect in e-mail such as multiple folders, filters and a viewer pane. Still, users can link to another e-mail application from within the browser.

“Opera” can be used on computer chips as old as the 386SX with just eight megabytes of RAM memory. A Windows 3.1 version is also available.

In exchange for blazing speed and functionality, Opera Software, based in Norway, charges a small fee, whereas the Netscape “Communicator” and “Internet Explorer” are free. “Opera” can be used for free for 90 days, then may be purchased for $35.

If a free alternative browser seems more attractive, Oracle’s “HotJava” Java-driven software at http://www.javasoft.com/, is worth a look.

Java is a software language that can be used on any computer platform. “Communicator” and “Internet Explorer” have both incorporated some form of the code into their browsers as a helper application.

Sun Microsystems, the inventor of Java, has tried to apply the technology to create a 100 percent Java browser called “HotJava.”

“HotJava” supports all of the standards one might expect to be in a browser, such as frames, fonts and colors, the latest generation-HTML and, of course, the Java language.

It is no surprise that “HotJava” reads Java better than any browser available. That may be valuable to surfers who frequent Java-rich sites. But for that advanced ability, the user has to trade speed. “HotJava” loads pages at a snail’s pace.

Still, this browser is worth a try, just to see Java run in all its animated glory.

To use “HotJava,” you will need at least a 486/66-megahertz processor, 16MB RAM, 7.5MB of free disk space. It is a Windows-only client.

The majority of personal computers around today easily fit that requirement if they are using Windows 95, Windows 98 or Windows NT. But to get on the Web these days, you don’t even need Windows.

A browser called “Arachne,” available at http://www.naf. cz/arachne/xch/, is a Web browser for DOS compatible-operating systems.

“Arachne” defies the familiar blurry, pixellated images of DOS applications.

A full set of graphical components, from status bars to icons and support for Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) level 4.0, make sites load as speedily as any Windows-based browser.

“Arachne” has support for PPP dialer to connect to your ISP, WAV player, and utilities like MPEG player, AVI/Quicktime player or Telnet client, which can be downloaded as “Arachne packages.”

This is worth a try if you are into new Web experiences or do not have the resources of a more powerful machine.

“Arachne” runs on a PC with at least a 386-megahertz processor 4 megabytes of RAM memory, 600 kilobytes or more DOS memory a 512-kilobyte VESA-compatible SVGA card, a mouse, a sound card and color monitor. Arachne is available for a 30-day trial period, after which the cost is $30.

 

ORBITALS!

Portions reprinted from ASAHI

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