The University of Minnesota's Gopher system is an inherently list-based Internet service that provides access to large quanties of information. Because of this, it maps perfectly to separate windows of lists, between which you can switch back and forth, clicking on interesting items to explore deeper in Gopherspace. And thus, this is the technique used by the most commonly used Gopher client, TurboGopher, which was written by the same folks who created the entire Gopher system. However, with the ascendancy of the World Wide Web, more people probably access Gopher servers via the single-window Web browsers like MacWeb than via TurboGopher, just because it's easier not to launch another program. That's not to say that TurboGopher still doesn't have its uses. If you mainly use Gopher servers, TurboGopher still feels much faster than the Web browsers, and its multiple window approach often works better as well.
The primary reasons for TurboGopher's popularity are that it comes from the developers of Gopher at the University of Minnesota and that it has the fastest perceived speed (especially over slow modem links) of any Gopher client available for any platform.
TurboGopher comes configured out of the box, so to speak, to point at the Home Gopher server at the University of Minnesota. Actually, that's not entirely true of the most recent version, TurboGopher 2.0, which may require a minimal setup process. TurboGopher 2.0 requires Apple's Thread Manager, which comes with System 7.5. However, if you don't use System 7.5 (TurboGopher requires System 7.0 or later) you must drop the Thread Manager extension that comes with TurboGopher in your Extensions folder into the System Folder. Restart, and then you're ready to run TurboGopher.
Double-clicking on the TurboGopher icon launches the program. At this point it connects to the Home Gopher server and displays the main menu in the Home Gopher Server window (see figure 24.1), along with windows for your Bookmark Worksheet and the TurboGopher Help (only the first time you launch the program).
Figure 24.1: TurboGopher Home and Bookmark Worksheet windows.
Behind the Home Gopher Server window is the Bookmark Worksheet window, which holds your personal bookmarks to other sites or items available via Gopher. You can create bookmarks by selecting an item and choosing Copy (or pressing [Command]-C) from the Edit menu and then pasting (or pressing [Command]-V) the item into the Bookmark Worksheet window.
Note: You can save a bookmark file (use the Save As command in the File menu) that points at a specific folder in Gopherspace. If you then double-click on that file to launch TurboGopher rather than double-clicking on the program itself, TurboGopher won't automatically connect to the Home Gopher Server but instead connects to the site listed in your bookmark file.
Let's browse around a bit so that you can get a feel for navigation in Gopherspace; it's really very easy. Double-click on the "Information About Gopher" item to open that window. Next, double-click on "Gopher Software Distribution" to move into that area. Finally, click the "Macintosh-TurboGopher" item, and in there, double-click "00README" to open that document for reading (see figure 24.2).
Figure 24.2: Browsing through Gopherspace.
If you wanted to download a copy of TurboGopher (or any other program indicated by a disk icon), you could close the "00README" window, double-click on the "TurboGopher2.0.sea.hqx" item, and TurboGopher would download it for you. If you do download a file, TurboGopher can download while you continue to explore Gopherspace, although it does take a little longer for windows to open and text files to display. When a download is complete, you can click the resulting Open button to open the file just as though you had double-clicked on it in the Finder. TurboGopher can automatically debinhex files, but recommends setting StuffIt Expander as the helper application for BinHex files. Therefore, clicking on the Open button both debinhexes and expands the file.
In addition to the disk icon that indicates a downloadable file, TurboGopher may display a number of other icons next to the items in the lists. Most common, of course, is the folder, followed by the text file icon. Double-clicking on a text file displays it immediately. The question mark icon brings up a simple search dialog that lets you, for example, enter one or more words to search for in a full-text database. Some icons indicate file types. There's one that looks like a starburst and identifies a GIF image, a speaker that marks sampled sounds, another that denotes QuickTime movies, and one that indicates a DOS program. You also may see an icon that looks like a Mac Plus; it indicates that the service is terminal-based and launches NCSA Telnet for you if you double-click on it.
TurboGopher 2.0 uses a number of helper applications like NCSA Telnet, so by default it hands off HTTP URLs to MacWeb, FTP URLs to Anarchie, NNTP URLs to NewsWatcher, and Ph URLs to Ph (a phone directory application from John Norstad). In addition, TurboGopher uses JPEGView to display images you download.
As you may realize, Gopherspace is huge, and although Gopherspace is highly linked, more so even than the Web, it can be confusing to browse through manually. The tool that makes navigating Gopherspace possible is Veronica, which enables searches of either only Gopher directories or of all items in Gopherspace (see figure 24.3).
Figure 24.3: TurboGopher and Veronica.
You can generally find Veronica under "Other Gopher and Information Servers," or perhaps under a folder called "World," but whatever you do, make sure that you have a bookmark to both types of Veronica searches. The new simplified Veronica search tries a number of Veronica servers in a row, because they're often overloaded and refuse connections.
Note: If you read the FAQ in the Veronica folder, it tells you about a number of useful features in Veronica that you'd never know otherwise, such as using the -t7 switch in a search string to only find searchable items.
If someone tells you to check something on a specific Gopher site, you can jump directly to it. From the Gopher menu select Another Gopher, and in the Domain Name field type the Internet address of the Gopher site to which you want to connect (see figure 24.4).
Figure 24.4: TurboGopher Another Gopher dialog.
These days, though, people often trade URLs, not just names of servers, and TurboGopher also can deal fairly well with URLs. From the Gopher menu, choose Use Uniform Resource Locator, and in the dialog box that appears, paste or type in a URL. If it's a Gopher URL, TurboGopher goes directly to that site. If the URL is for news, FTP, the Web, or Ph, instead, TurboGopher passes it off to the appropriate helper application.
If you hold down the Control key while clicking on an item in a Gopher list, TurboGopher displays a pop-up menu containing information about that item. It's a quick way of determining where a file is, its URL, and that sort of thing. Unfortunately, not included in the pop-up display is the size of a file; for that, you must choose Get Attribute Information & URL from the Gopher menu and look toward the bottom of a badly formatted list of information.
Note: Just seeing a URL isn't all that helpful, so if you want to copy a URL as you would in Anarchie or Fetch, hold down the Option key and choose Copy from the Edit menu. Unfortunately, [Command]-Option-C doesn't do anything, even though it's the same as holding down Option while selecting Copy.
One of TurboGopher's major speed increases comes from its capability to let you start reading a document while it's being retrieved. Although this capability doesn't actually speed up execution, it reduces the time you wait for the program, which is all-important.
To aid in navigation, you can optionally have TurboGopher reuse the same window rather than open a new one each time. This capability prevents window clutter, although it may make moving around more confusing. Also, a Recent menu lists all the places you've visited, in reverse chronological order; selecting any item from this menu takes you there instantly. If you end up in a window with a large number of items, you can type the first few letters of a name to move directly to it, or you can use TurboGopher's Find feature, available from the Edit menu. Arrow keys work fine for navigation, along with the Return or Enter key for moving into an item.
TurboGopher is fast and easy to use, and for heavy use of Gopherspace, it's better than using a Web browser. Although TurboGopher 2.0 cooperates well with the other main Internet programs, I found it to be fairly flaky at times. Once or twice its capability to display and copy URLs gave thoroughly incorrect information, and I had some trouble getting it to pass URLs properly when it was low on memory. If you're just using the occasional Gopher server, especially if you connect to it from a Web server, a Web browser is probably a better choice than firing up TurboGopher. But, I'll keep TurboGopher around for when I need to burrow deep into Gopherspace for some piece of information.
TurboGopher is free for noncommercial use (commercial use requires permission -- ask at firstname.lastname@example.org). The most recent release of TurboGopher is always available from the University of Minnesota Gopher server, and at either of the following:
Although I only recommend that you use TurboGopher (or one of the Web browsers) for accessing Gopher servers, there are a couple of other Gopher-related programs out there. There were originally a few more clients, including GopherApp, MacGopher, and Sextant, but they haven't been updated in so many years that I can't even justify using space in the book on them, much less recommending that you check them out. Unless I note otherwise, the following applications can be found in:
Although actually a Gopher client, Blue Skies, free from the University of Michigan's Weather Underground's Alan Steremberg, is primarily a neat application for, well, interacting with the weather. You need not go outside or travel to other parts of the world, though. All you must do is launch Blue Skies and select GroundHog Server from the GroundHog menu. I especially like the interactive weather maps, which bring up a map of the United States. Moving your mouse over different locations on the map displays the weather conditions for that city. You can even zoom in and out to a few different magnifications, and in doing so gain access to more detailed weather data.
You have two options if you want to set up a Gopher server on a Mac. I mentioned Peter Lewis's FTPd in the previous chapter, and the University of Minnesota also has a Gopher server called GopherSurfer. GopherSurfer can work with AppleSearch, Apple's heavy-duty (it requires a 68040-based Macintosh) searching engine. So, if you are serious about setting up a searchable Gopher server on a Mac, check out the combination of GopherSurfer and AppleSearch. Like TurboGopher, GopherSurfer is free for non-commercial use -- commercial organizations should contact the Gopher team at the University of Minnesota.
The free PNLInfo Browser is a somewhat interesting Gopher client because it uses a hierarchical outline view much like the Finder's Name view. Clicking on a triangle expands the outline, although because it must retrieve the new information from the remote Gopher server, PNLInfo Browser doesn't feel snappy. It can display abstracts for Gopher items that describe what that item is in more detail. Also interesting is PNLInfo Browser's subscription feature, which can notify you of items that have changed since you last viewed them.
The Power Mac-only TurboGopher VR, from the University of Minnesota Gopher Team, is best described as the unholy marriage of Spectre (the 3D tank game from Velocity Development) and TurboGopher. Actually, I think TurboGopher VR is extremely cool -- whenever you enter a new Gopher menu, TurboGopher VR drops you with a thud into a Spectre-like three-dimensional scene containing what look a bit like stone monoliths littering the countryside. Roll up to one and you can read its title (the same as you'd see in one of TurboGopher's normal text lists) and click on it to go into it. A central spire lets you zip back up in the hierarchy. I can't say that it's useful, and it's probably buggy as all get out, but if you've got a Power Mac, you simply must check out TurboGopher VR.
Although usage of Gopher is decidedly on the wane thanks to the popularity of the World Wide Web, there is still a great deal of information available in Gopherspace. It's simply easier to publish via Gopher than via the Web, and as a result, sometimes it makes sense to use a dedicated Gopher client instead of a Web browser to access Gopher servers. Take your pick.
In the next chapter, "World Wide Web," I'll look at the main Web browsers, one of which, MacWeb, comes on the ISKM disk for you to use. After you've had a chance to check out Gopherspace with MacWeb, try downloading a copy of TurboGopher and try it that way as well so you can make up your mind about which you like better.