Chapter 13



World Wide Web


The World Wide Web has seen explosive growth in the past year. Companies such as Netscape Communications, Spry, and InternetWorks have gotten in on the action and have come out with excellent alternatives to NCSA Mosaic, offering many new features and ease of use not seen in Mosaic.

NCSA wasn't exactly sitting around twiddling its thumbs. It is coming up to speed as a 32-bit application, with a greatly improved alpha release of NCSA Mosaic for Windows 2.0. Kind of ironic -- I wrote about the alpha version of 1.0 for the first edition and I'm going to write about the alpha version of 2.0 for this edition. But first...


Netscape Navigator


Netscape Navigator is a new World Wide Web browser that was released in December, 1994 (actually, there were betas available for a few months prior to that). To give you an idea of the excitement generated by this program: its main architect, Marc Andreessen, was named in Time magazine's "Top 50 under 40" based on beta releases of this software! Marc was a student at University of Illinois and a staff member of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) during the initial development of NCSA Mosaic. He and Jim Clark, founder of Silicon Graphics, started Netscape Communications.

Netscape Navigator is a wonderful browser, touting a secure protocol by which private information, such as credit card numbers, may be sent to WWW servers running Netscape software. It also displays Web pages before the images are entirely loaded, enabling you to read the text of the page while you are waiting for the images. And, it highlights links that you have already visited in different colors, so you can keep track of where you have been.


Installation and Setup

Netscape comes in a self-extracting archive, ns16-100.exe. Extract this to a temporary directory and run the setup.exe program. The setup program then prompts you for the place to put the final executable. You can then delete both the self-extracting archive and all the files that it extracted.

When you first launch Netscape, there are a number of preferences that you should set. First, go to the Options menu and select Preferences. The drop-down menu at the top of the dialog box lists the different categories of options that you can set (see figure 13.32). The categories you should check out right away are those for Directories, Applications, and News, and for Mail and Proxies.

Figure 13.32: Netscape Preferences.

Under Directories, Applications, and News, make sure you set your News (NNTP) Server variable to the news server for your site, and also configure the location of your newsrc file. You may use the same newsrc file used by any other newsreading applications (such as News XPress). Also, under Mail and Proxies, set the Mail Server entry to the mail server for your site. You can obtain both of these settings from your system administrator.


Basic Usage

Other than a healthy curiosity, it doesn't take much to use a Web browser. The main window shows you the text and inline graphics on the Web page you are connected to. Clicking on any blue-colored word or blue-rimmed graphic takes you to another place on the Web (see figure 13.33).

Figure 13.33: Netscape main window.

Although you normally just click on the blue (or purple, if you've used that link recently) words and graphics, most people also make heavy used of the Back and Forward buttons to travel to recently visited Web pages. If you click on the Home button, Netscape takes you directly to your home page (the page that opens automatically when you launch any Web browser). The pop-up menu enables you to go to any of the pages you've visited previously, which is handy when you're browsing randomly around the Web and want to flip back to a previous page. You can stop a page from loading by clicking on the Stop button.

NOTE: The Netscape "N" icon in the upper-right corner of the window normally just tells you when Netscape is working by animating itself. However, it also has a secret function; click on it and you'll go directly to Netscape's home site, which is a bit useful if you've changed your home page.

The text field at the top of the screen shows the URL for the current page. You can edit this URL or copy it into the clipboard for use in some other application, although I mostly use this to copy a URL and send it to a friend in email. You can highlight any portion of the document and copy it to the clipboard as well.

Netscape's bookmark lists are perhaps my favorite feature. To add the current page to the list of bookmarks, all you need to do is go to the Bookmark menu and select Add Bookmark. This adds the bookmark to whatever file is specified in the Directories, Applications, and News preferences dialog. The nice thing about Netscape's bookmark files is that they are in HTML format, so you can view your bookmarks as a document if you want. You can then set this as your new home page, so that you aren't always loading Netscape Communications' home page.

That's about all there is to using Netscape's basic features. Although the Web is a vast and quickly growing place, it's surprisingly easy to use.


Special Features

Netscape has good online (and I do mean online, as in "on the Internet") help, but in a neat twist of interfaces, it's available from the Help menu. Selecting any of options from the Help menu connects you to a Web server and brings the help information down from the Internet -- enabling the company to update its help system at its leisure. I encourage you to browse through the help menu items now and again just to see what's new. The Netscape folks frequently make useful announcements there. This is a great system, assuming that the user isn't having trouble getting Netscape to work.

Netscape also works well as a newsreader. It offers threaded news reading, and can use a newsrc file created by another program. From the Directory menu, select Go to Newsgroups. This gives you a list of newsgroups that you may already be subscribed to, plus a field that enables you to subscribe to others. A feature that was in beta releases that doesn't appear to be in the current release is a button that gives you a list of new newsgroups to subscribe to. With the current release, you must know the newsgroup to which you want to subscribe.

Netscape can also make a secure connection to a WWW server, provided it supports https (secure HTTP). The way that you can know that you are connected to a secure server is by looking at the icon in the lower left corner of the screen. If this is a solid key, then you have a secure connection. Most of the time, you don't have a secure connection, but that is usually all right, because most of the time you are dealing with nonsensitive data.

Right now, Netscape makes the only secure WWW server program on the market, and it charges companies that want to use it a fair chunk of change ($5,000, which includes the program and support -- available only for Unix). That's why the company can practically give Netscape Navigator away.

Netscape Navigator enables you to mail a document that you find to someone else. From the File menu, select Mail Document. This brings up a dialog box with a field to enter the recipient of the mail, a field for the subject (which defaults to the URL of the article), and a large area to actually type your message. Clicking on the Include Document Text button puts a plain text version of the current Web page in the Mail window.

One nice feature of Netscape in a more and more paranoid Internet community is its ability to work with firewalls via what are called proxy servers. A firewall is a system that sits between you and the Internet, theoretically to keep intruders out. However, firewalls also make getting out to the Internet from the inside difficult, and something called proxy service makes this possible by routing the Internet requests appropriately through the firewall.

Netscape deviates somewhat from what an HTML client is supposed to do by not allowing flexibility in the configuration of text styles. Personally, I think text styles should be up to the server and not the client. This ensures that what the user interface designer (HTML coder) intended is really showing up on the intended viewer's screen.

Finally, although it can be hard to quantify this feeling, Netscape seems to be the fastest of the Web browsers under Windows. It works well over a dialup connection, and sports a number of features that make it seem faster than it really is, such as allowing the user to click on a link to move on before the current page has finished loading. Similarly, Netscape supports what are called "interlaced GIFs," or GIF files saved in a specific format. When a Web page contains one of these GIFs, Netscape brings it in in chunks such that the image slowly becomes sharper and sharper. Although this process may be even a bit slower than just drawing the image from the top to the bottom, you get a sense of what the picture looks like before Netscape has loaded it all. Often, that's all you need to see before moving on.


Overall Evaluation

Netscape Navigator is a wonderful program for accessing the World Wide Web. I can still crash it every now and then, but overall, the program is pretty stable. For overall ease of use and features, I think it's the best in its class, at least for the moment.


Administrative Details

Netscape Navigator is free to nonprofit users, though all are encouraged to register the program. It costs $39 per user to commercial users, and site licenses are available. It's available directly from Netscape's FTP server at:

ftp://ftp.mcom.com/netscape/windows/ns16-100.exe


NCSA Mosaic for Windows


There have been a lot of feature enhancements and usability improvements in the latest alpha of NSCA Mosaic for Windows 2.0 (alpha 9 at the time of this writing). This is the best of the completely free Web browsers, and the best 32-bit browser out there. It lacks a few of the features that Netscape sports (https security, threaded news reading, article copying to the clipboard, article mailing), but it surpasses it in others (table display, FTP logging, true 32-bit). It seems a bit unstable on Windows 3.1 (perhaps it is better on Windows NT), but depending on your needs, NCSA Mosaic may be the better browser for you.


Installation and Setup

Since Mosaic is a 32-bit application, you can run it using Windows NT or Windows 95 without problem and you may continue reading with the next paragraph, rather than reading how to upgrade your Windows to 32-bit operation. If you are running on Windows 3.1 or 3.11, this gets to be a tricky venture. You need to get W32SOLE.EXE, which is a self-extracting archive containing the Microsoft Windows patches that allow you to run 32-bit applications. You can find this file at:

ftp://anubis.ac.hmc.edu/pub/infosystems/www/browsers/winmosaic/w32sOLE.exe

You must extract this file into a separate directory, and then run the setup program (setup.exe) from that distribution. This makes it so that you can run most 32-bit Windows applications available today.

If you had a much earlier version of Mosaic, consider deleting c:\windows\mosaic.ini. Mosaic doesn't do all of the things in the same way that it used to, and the mosaic.ini files are not particularly compatible.

Now you are ready to set up Mosaic. It comes in another self-extracting archive called mos20a9.exe. Extract this into yet another directory and run the setup program, setup.exe. Follow the instructions it gives you.

Although you don't need to configure anything to use Mosaic, it's a good idea to visit the Preferences dialog and adjust some of the settings to match your personal information and preferences. Launch Mosaic, and from the Options menu choose Preferences to bring up the Preferences dialog (see figure 13.34).

Figure 13.34: Mosaic Preferences dialog.

The Preferences dialog is a tabbed dialog box (Windows 95 look and feel) which has six sections. In the General part of the Preferences dialog (shown in figure 13.34) you can set the URL for your home page if you want it to be something other than the default NCSA Home Page, and you can modify how the links look and work. By clicking the Viewers tab, you can change which programs launch when you load certain types of data, such as a sound file. In the Services tab, you can enter your name and your email address, as well as configure various bits of technical gateway information. The Tables tab lets you adjust how tables are displayed, and the Annotations tab lets you configure where your annotations to pages are to be stored.

Just above the Preferences command in the Options menu is the Choose Fonts command, which brings up a list of configurable fonts; here you specify which fonts you want to use for the different HTML styles that exist on the Web (see figure 13.35).

Figure 13.35: Mosaic Font styles dialog.

The basic idea is that you can choose an HTML style and then modify the font, size, and style characteristics that go with it. If you think that the current font choices are ugly or unreadable, you can experiment with these settings, but in general, it isn't wise to change these font settings much.


Basic Usage

NCSA Mosaic works much like Netscape. Just click on any of the highlighted underlined words or graphics to visit a location (see figure 13.36).

Figure 13.36: Mosaic main window.

The NCSA Mosaic What's New page is a great place to browse for new Web servers that have recently arrived on the Internet. Sometimes they seem to appear at the rate of five or six per day -- though the What's New page is updated only a few times a week.

The left and right arrow buttons at the top of the screen enable you to go back or forward in the set of Web pages that you've recently visited. The house button jumps directly to your home page, and the pop-up menu enables you to go to any of the pages you've visited previously. The Mosaic icon in the upper right of the window indicates what Mosaic thinks it's doing at any given time, and clicking on it acts as an interrupt.

I have Mosaic set to display URLs in the URL field, which not only shows you the current URL, but enables you to select it and copy it for sending to someone else, or modify it for visiting a slightly different URL. Simply change the text of the URL and press the Enter key. I also have Mosaic set to show me the status message (both of these options are in the Options menu, as you might suspect) so that I can tell what it's doing and how long it might take.

Mosaic provides hotlists, which I think are inferior to Netscape's bookmarks, because Netscape spits out the bookmark file as valid HTML which you can then set as your home page. However, hotlists are handy too. There's a toolbar button for adding entries to your hotlist, along with a menu option under Navigate. You can access these hotlists either by going to the File menu and clicking on Open URL, or by finding the name of your hotlist in the menus. You may add menus and submenus using the menu editor under the Navigate menu, and any one of these menu items may be your hotlist.


Special Features

It's difficult to talk about the special features in Mosaic 2.0a9 since it's only been out for about three days as of this writing, and hasn't even reached beta phase. The forms support seems to work well, although the formatting of the results from this server currently leaves a little to be desired (see figure 13.37).

Figure 13.37: Mosaic forms support.

Mosaic is like Netscape in that the online help is on the Internet rather than on your machine. The good news is that you can also download its online help in one convenient .zip file from its home page.

NOTE: There are entries in the mosaic.ini file that determine where online help goes. If you are having trouble getting to these options, it may be because those entries aren't present. There's a mosaic.ini sample file that should be in the same directory as where you extracted the original Mosaic archive, and that file should have everything in it you need to run help.

Although this feature doesn't appear to be working completely in the current alpha release, you will eventually be able to make personal annotations to any document on the Web. These annotations are added to the bottom of the documents as links; clicking on the links brings up your annotation later on. Since annotations are merely HTML documents stored locally, you can even annotate your annotations.

In a clever move (or perhaps a really dumb one, depending on how much mail they can handle), the Mosaic developers added a Mail Technical Support command to the Help menu, making it easy to send them comments and bug reports.

You can open a new URL with the Open URL command in the File menu, and the Open Local menu item enables you to open an HTML document that resides on your hard disk.

Just like Netscape, Mosaic uses proxy servers. I haven't tested this feature, so I don't know how well it works, but it's been a part of the NCSA Mosaic from early on and should function well by now.


Overall Evaluation

When it was the only game in town, NCSA Mosaic was an absolutely essential program to have for accessing the Internet. However, now that there are many other browsers, you have a choice. I recommend that you spend some time with other programs (especially Netscape) to see which you prefer.

Despite Netscape's many features, Mosaic is a step ahead in other ways, which makes a certain amount of sense, given the chronology. Whether that will remain true in the future, I cannot say.

NOTE: One interesting comment on the entire Mosaic discussion is that many companies have licensed (for big bucks) the Mosaic source code for use in commercial Web browsers. In the near future you should have many commercial Enhanced Mosaics to consider as well. They may be sold separately, come bundled with other software, or even be part of your operating system.


Administrative Details

NCSA Mosaic is free to users (although I couldn't have put it on the disk even if I'd had the space -- NCSA guards Mosaic pretty closely). You can find it on the Internet at either of the following:

ftp://ftp.tidbits.com/pub/tiskwin/mos20a9.exe

ftp://ftp.ncsa.uiuc.edu/Web/Mosaic/Windows/mos20a9.exe