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The recently discovered AutoStart 9805 worm has opened a can of worms, specifically new B and C variants that stymie freeware utilities. Also this week, Apple de-authorizes dealers, Tara Calishain explains how to find images on the Web, and Adam explores what makes a good Web browser (along with what makes browsers so hard to evaluate). Finally, Connectix has released a minor Virtual PC update plus an open RAM Doubler beta to address conflicts with Microsoft Office 98.
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Minor Connectix Updates -- Connectix has released minor updates to Virtual PC and RAM Doubler. Virtual PC 2.01 addresses problems with Ethernet networks using 802.3 frame types, fixes some game installation problems by including CDROM.SYS 2.0.1, and offers a new SYSINI.EXE file. The downloads are 1.2 MB (for Virtual PC with Windows 95) or 420K (for Virtual PC with PC DOS). Connectix also has an open beta program for an extension that addresses all known compatibility problems between RAM Doubler 2.0.2 and Microsoft Office 98, most notably an inability to launch Word 98. Although these problems occur only in highly specific situations, if you've had trouble with Office 98 that you believe might be related to RAM Doubler, it's worth trying the extension (38K download). Once Connectix finishes testing the extension, they plan to roll the code into RAM Doubler 2.0.3, which will be a free downloadable upgrade. [ACE]
by Mark H. Anbinder <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Dr Solomon's Software, the current publisher of Virex, an anti-virus utility, announced two Virex updates in quick succession last week. These new versions find and remove two newly discovered variants of the AutoStart 9805 worm, originally reported in "AutoStart Worm Breaks Mac Malware Silence" in TidBITS-428.
Dr Solomon's says the variants replace previous versions of the worm, if found, and each uses different filenames from those used by the original AutoStart 9805 worm, making them harder to find. AutoStart 9805-B doesn't restart the computer, as do the others, and AutoStart 9805-C doesn't directly damage files. Also, the B variant targets different kinds of data files than the original for its damaging sweeps.
TidBITS has heard of several freeware utilities designed to combat the AutoStart 9805 worm. Because these utilities fail to spot the new variants during scans, we can't recommend their use. Instead, we encourage all TidBITS readers to contact the publishers of their favorite commercial anti-virus utilities for an update. Remember that outdated anti-virus software is next to useless, and although the AutoStart 9805 worm initially appeared in Hong Kong, we've heard reports of it surfacing in the U.S. as well. If nothing else, make sure to disable the CD-ROM AutoPlay option in the QuickTime Settings control panel.
by Adam C. Engst <email@example.com>
Last week, Apple completed a significant pruning of its extensive reseller network by "deauthorizing" about one-third of its 3,600 U.S. dealers, retailers, and value-added resellers. In addition, Apple cut more than half its authorized service providers in the U.S. Apple's rationale was to focus on the dealers and service providers who do a good job at promoting the Macintosh. By making the cuts, Apple significantly reduced the costs associated with coordinating resellers and service providers.
Although I'm sure Apple terminated some dealers who didn't deserve to be deauthorized, on the whole, I think this move makes sense. When I searched Apple's Dealer Locator to see how many dealers were in the Seattle area, I realized that I'd never heard of five of the eight businesses listed despite having lived in Seattle for seven years while participating in the local Macintosh users' group the entire time. None of those five specialized in the Mac, whereas two of the three I did recognize were marked as Apple Specialists.
The fact that the resellers I hadn't heard of weren't marked as Apple Specialists is potentially telling. It's possible that these businesses were in part using their Apple authorization to attract customers, who they then steered toward PCs - I've heard numerous reports of this happening in the computer superstores Apple dropped earlier this year (see "Apple in 1998: Retreat or Focus?" in TidBITS-416).
Even if these computer stores aren't using the Macintosh as bait, removing them from the mix of possible Apple dealers isn't a bad thing. When a store sells both Macs and PCs, at best they won't care which machine an individual or business wants to buy, and they're unlikely to offer the same level of knowledge and service as a store that focuses on the Mac. In the end, that's what all this is about - helping Apple focus its resources on those resellers who in turn focus on the Macintosh.
by Tara Calishain <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The proverbial picture is reportedly worth a thousand words, and although today's exchange rate may not be that good, sometimes you want to find a specific image on the Web. Perhaps you're looking for a picture of an optical telegraph to figure out how it works, or perhaps you just want to see a chart that shows how the radio spectrum breaks down. Adam Engst found himself in that situation not long ago while editing a book about bandwidth, and complained in a MacWEEK column that little has been done to simplify locating images on the Internet. Search engines make it possible (though sometimes difficult) to find textual information on the Internet, but finding specific images can be daunting.
In the first part of this article series I'll explain how, by being clever in the way you search, you can use popular search engines to find images. In part two, I'll point you to a growing number of specialized image search engines.
AltaVista -- AltaVista allows you to search with a special search command called "image:". For example, "image:giraffe" returns Web pages containing a graphic file containing the word "giraffe" in the title, or with words that begin with "giraffe," like "giraffe1" or "giraffe9."
If you use that search query to search for giraffe pictures, you'll receive over 1,400 results and possibly give up in despair (or spend way too much time online previewing images); however, if you use additional searching commands to build a context for the giraffe image, you'll get better results. For example, say you wanted pages that were giraffe intensive. (Nothing but neck, you might say.) You could use the command "title:" to search for pages containing "giraffe" in the title. The search query "title:giraffe image:giraffe" results in a more manageable number of results.
Keep in mind that even with special syntax, AltaVista can be case-sensitive; it does not treat the search queries "image:giraffe" and "image:GIRAFFE" in the same way. If you use only lowercase letters in a word, AltaVista finds all instances of the word regardless of capitalization, but if you capitalize even a single letter, AltaVista searches only for words with exactly the same capitalization.
On the other hand, you might want giraffe images in a more scholarly context. The search command "domain:" limits your search to certain domain types, so the search query "image:giraffe domain:edu" produces about 100 results of giraffe images located on computers in the educational domain.
You can also use AltaVista's inclusion and exclusion operators ("+" and "-") to force AltaVista to include or omit search terms. For instance, you may want only pictures of Rothschild giraffes. Searching for "+rothschild image:giraffe" gives you a glorious picture of a Rothschild giraffe from Kenya. Since these giraffes are often referred to as the "Rothschild's giraffe," if you use AltaVista's wildcard character, the asterisk to deal with variations on the name, "+rothschild* image:giraffe" provides a few more pages with giraffe pictures, including a wonderful page from the Perth Zoo.
HotBot -- HotBot is a bit more complex, but it also works when searching for images. Instead of the special commands that AltaVista uses, HotBot takes advantage of checkboxes and pop-up menus.
HotBot's basic search form has just been changed to enable image searching. Use the Look For pop-up menu to specify the basic criteria for your search (all the words, none of the words, the exact phrase) or more narrow search queries (there's an option for "Boolean phrase," letting you build your own Boolean search query.) You can also restrict your search to page titles by selecting "the page title" in the Look For pop-up menu.
To continue our example from the AltaVista discussion, to search for giraffe images on academic Web pages, try filling out the form as follows: Type "giraffe" in the Search the Web field; leave "all the words" chosen in the Look For pop-up menu; from the pop-up menu labeled "North America (.com)" select "North America (.edu)" and select the adjacent checkbox; and in the Pages Must Include section, select the image checkbox.
This is a lot of pointing and clicking to suffer through, but it works well: HotBot displays a number of results ranging from giraffes at the Washington DC zoo to a giraffe birth video. The More Search Options form makes it easy to add (or exclude) additional words and phrases such as Rothschild or Kenya.
HotBot has such a large database that you want to narrow your results further. I suggest using the date options on HotBot's More Search Options form to specify pages added to HotBot's database before or after a certain date, or within a recent time period.
Lycos -- Lycos has created a search engine just for media, called Lycos Pictures & Sounds. You enter your search terms, select the Pictures radio button, and click the Go Get It button. This doesn't seem like a lot of control, does it?
Fortunately, Lycos also has an advanced search interface, which looks a lot like HotBot's: you can narrow your search by domain, file type, and title. In addition, Lycos uses a unique method of sorting results, allowing you to specify the importance of certain aspects of the results. You can indicate how important the frequency of the search word is, whether your search terms appear in exact order, and so on. Unfortunately, Lycos's Pictures & Sounds search engine is a little more awkward to use than the HotBot engine, offering no easy way to build complex Boolean expressions, and the database appears to be far smaller.
The Bigger Picture -- For most people, sites like AltaVista, HotBot, and Lycos work well for locating the occasional image. Other people, however, will want to explore image-specific search engines available on the Web, which I'll cover in the next article in this series.
[Tara Calishain is the co-author of the Official Netscape Guide to Internet Research and owner of CopperSky Writing and Research.]
by Adam C. Engst <email@example.com>
Although I've been writing about Internet software for years, I've never done a formal review of a Web browser. Why not? The reason are myriad. For one thing, with a piece of software, unlike a book or a movie, an individual impression isn't particularly relevant. I can like a movie for intensely personal reasons, for instance, and not worry about the fact that no one else may share my opinion. However, with a software review, I try to come to a relatively objective conclusion that I expect at least some other people to share.
But Web browsers are screwy. They're all screwy, and it's driven me crazy over the last few years. Whenever I talk to people about which Web browser they use and why, they inevitably say something different than the previous person I spoke with. The only consensus seems to come from the fact that there are a limited number of Web browsers, so by default, a certain number of people must agree in the end. If we had more Web browsers, opinions would vary even more widely.
Here's the problem. If I were to review a Web browser, I'd be concerned with three primary issues: features, performance, and stability. Normally, I don't think stability should be a major part of a software review, but I also expect most software to be relatively stable, which hasn't been true of many versions of the common Web browsers. But how do you evaluate stability fairly? Everyone seems to have a different experience. Perhaps Internet Explorer 3.01 was rock solid for this person, but Netscape Navigator 4.04 crashed constantly. And the next person found Netscape Navigator 4.05 fairly reliable, whereas Internet Explorer 4.0 bombed out of sight all the time. I even still hear from people who swear by much older versions of the main Web browsers. Of course, perceived stability is also related to hardware, extensions, and even the type of Internet connection. In short, I've never been able to make any reasonable generalizations about Web browser stability.
So what about performance? Consider all the variables involved in serious performance testing. You must test different types of pages repeatedly, then test different types of Internet connections, clocking both initial load times and loads from cache. Of course, specific settings and system configurations make a difference, and testing anything on the Internet brings in variables related to the performance of your machine, your connection, your ISP's connection, the Internet backbone, the remote server's Internet connection, the load on the remote server, and more. Frankly, it's a nightmare. I've tried to do performance testing in the past, but I gave up when I realized my test methodologies had so many holes that they were practically transparent.
Okay, so what about features? We're definitely on firmer ground here, but even still, one person's feature can be another's bug. For instance, I've become quite fond of Internet Explorer's AutoComplete feature when typing URLs in the Address field. It takes a little getting used to before you figure out what it's likely to do with any given text string, but I've been able to internalize its quirks. TidBITS Technical Editor Geoff Duncan, on the other hand, hates that feature and turned it off instantly. Similarly, I like the fact that Internet Explorer provides a history feature that works across windows and sessions, in contrast to Netscape Navigator's history feature, which is window-specific (it goes away when you close a window) and session-specific (it goes away when you quit). Geoff, ever the contrarian and in this case hailing from one of the outer planets, somehow claims that window-specific history is better. Put it this way. Arguing with Geoff is almost as annoying as arguing with me, but luckily, I seldom have to argue with myself.
My Current Browser -- Here, then, is what I'm going to do. I'm going to tell you what I use for my main Web browser at the moment, and why. If you disagree with me because my choice crashes constantly on your system, or the alternative is faster in your experience, I won't to argue with you about it.
That said, my current favorite browser is the just-released Internet Explorer 4.01 that we wrote about last week in TidBITS-430. I've been playing with early releases for a while now, and version 4.01 can be compared to the previous 4.0 release with three words: "Faster, More Stable." Oh, there's also support for Apple's ColorSync technology in specially created JPEG images, but frankly, I don't much care about that, although graphic designers concerned about how their images look on the Web might be.
In the testing Tonya and I did in January when she wrote about Internet Explorer 4.0 for MacWEEK, there was no question that Internet Explorer 4.0 was slower than Netscape Navigator (most any version). The reason was quite simple - Internet Explorer added DHTML (dynamic HTML) to its page rendering engine, but the developers didn't have time to tweak the code. Thus, every page loaded slower than it should have (and slower even than in Internet Explorer PR1, a preview release that lacked DHTML). And, although I found that both Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator crash with roughly equivalent frequencies on my Mac, that was still far too often, especially since there were certain actions which were guaranteed to destroy Internet Explorer 4.0 (try searching for "Smith" at Amazon.com).
With Internet Explorer 4.01, though, performance has improved significantly. For the reasons mentioned above, I haven't tried to do any performance testing, but almost everything about using it feels faster, especially returning to previously loaded pages. It's certainly more comparable to Netscape Navigator now, which is welcome. Even more important, in several weeks of using the beta builds, I've had only two crashes, and I was able to exit gracefully out of both using MacsBug.
The reason I put up with Internet Explorer 4.0's mediocre performance and stability before was its feature set, which was sufficiently different from Netscape Navigator's so as to make the speed hit worthwhile. My favorite features include the following.
The feature I use the most is a shortcut that enables me to open a link in a new window by Command-clicking the link. Both Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator provide an Open Link in New Window command in the pop-up menu that appears if you click and hold on a link, but Command-clicking is much faster. In part, this feature works well for me because I use two large monitors and Internet Explorer opens the new windows on my other monitor, enabling me to keep reading the original page while the new ones load. Netscape Navigator tends to open new windows on top of my existing one, making it harder to keep reading while pages load. I especially like opening multiple windows when working with search results pages. Ideally, I'd use Internet Explorer's Search tab, but since it retrieves its list of search engines from Microsoft's generally overloaded Web site, it's too slow to load. And, when it does load, it doesn't include AltaVista, the search engine I prefer.
I've become fond of Internet Explorer's History feature because it can track the last 1,000 pages I've visited (1,000 pages generally covers about two weeks of normal usage for me). You can open the History window and search for text in page names and URLs, although I'd like to see Microsoft take the feature a step further and search the full text of cached pages. Connectix's SurfExpress does this, and it can be quite handy. Netscape Navigator's History feature frustrates me because as I said above, it's window and session specific, which means it seldom contains a site I want to revisit.
Related to the History feature is Internet Explorer's AutoComplete feature, which guesses at URLs or page names as you type. I type a lot of URLs, since I generally know where I want to go, and I've found that the utility of AutoComplete requires that I watch the Address field as I type. If it starts guessing wrong, I just keep typing. For instance, say I want to go to Apple's home page. I prefer to type "apple" and have Internet Explorer figure out "www.apple.com". However, if I've been to the Apple Software Updates page recently, it will instead guess that page. So, I type "apple", notice that Internet Explorer has guessed wrong, then press Delete to delete the rest of the guess and Return to have it find and load Apple's home page. Geoff complains rightly that Internet Explorer overrides proper name resolution as well as Open Transport's search domains. So, when Geoff types "www", he expects his Web browser to use the search domain first and fill in "quibble.com" at the end. Because Internet Explorer ignores the search domains, it instead tries to load "www.www.com."
I generally like Internet Explorer's Download Manager window, which makes it easy to see what I've downloaded and how large it was (since people always ask me to include download sizes in TidBITS articles). Unfortunately, the silly thing won't close when the download is done, so I'm constantly closing it manually or hiding it behind my main browser window. I'd like to see Microsoft close that window when the download is done, perhaps providing an option to alert me via a sound that I could set to a voice alert (no modal dialogs, please!).
Although I keep relatively few bookmarks, I need to visit a few Web pages frequently, and I appreciate the fact that Internet Explorer lets me place those bookmarks on the Favorites Bar for easy clicking, rather than choosing them from the Favorites menu. Various utilities exist for modifying Netscape Navigator's Directory Buttons, although this sort of customization should be available in the program. Skylar Stein's $5 shareware Navigator Button Editor 1.3.4 and Joel Reed's freeware ResEdit instructions claim to work with the latest versions of Netscape Navigator and Communicator.
Finally, as part of our editorial process surrounding the creation of TidBITS Updates, one of us generally writes the update and saves the file in a folder served by Personal Web Sharing. Then that person calls another editor and asks them to read the update. It turns out that editing a paragraph of text in a Web browser is best done with a large font size, and the Larger and Smaller buttons that can appear in Internet Explorer's toolbar simplify this process immensely (make sure to use the Compatible Plus toolbar setting in the Browser Display pane of Internet Explorer's Preferences dialog). Although Netscape Navigator provides control over font sizes in the Fonts pane of its Preferences dialog, there's no quick way to change the size for a single page.
I've seen little brand loyalty with Web browsers, and I certainly don't have much. If the next version of Netscape Navigator were to offer these features and more, I'd switch in a second. I keep both Web browsers available anyway, and I periodically use both while testing Web page designs and whatnot. What I'm waiting for though, is to see what independent developers do with the Netscape Navigator source code. I assume that everyone has a favorite feature they'd like to see implemented in a Web browser, and Netscape's move of opening up the source code for Netscape Navigator might prove tremendously interesting as a way of obtaining an innovative new feature set, plus potentially improved performance and stability.
In short, what I want from a Web browser is performance, stability, and features that make my use of the Web more efficient. For the moment and for my uses, that means using Internet Explorer 4.01.
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