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as an Actrix customer, informed of developments and services within the company.
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Browser Wars!
Explorer versus Netscape (Part 2)

Last month, as you'll probably remember, we looked briefly at the history of browsers, and Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Netscape's Navigator in particular. This month I want to deal with the far more difficult task of comparing the two in operation.

An exercise like this is fraught with difficulties and subjectivism. Firstly it is difficult to overcome the preference for the familiar. I have used Explorer most of my Internet life, and this is probably the biggest factor in deciding preferences for most of us. Secondly, local conditions at any particular time can come into play. The day you decide to test one or the other browser, you may be experiencing Internet difficulties because of conditions at your local exchange or something, and it is easy to mistakenly attribute these to your browser. I have enjoyed a little correspondence over the last month with others who have definite browser preferences or who have been doing some comparing of their own, and it was interesting to see that some of the reasons as to why I prefer Explorer were the very reasons why others preferred Navigator!

The lighthouse from the Netscape logo But here we go with the comparison between Explorer 5 and Navigator 4.72.

I think I would be safe in saying that the thing that concerns us most when browsing would be speed. In order to compare the browsers' speeds online, I set up a test. I restarted my computer, sent Internet Explorer to www.altavista.com, my favourite search engine, and searched on the word "blue." I opened the first ten sites returned by AltaVista and timed each one until they were fully downloaded. The average time per site was  36.7 seconds. I restarted my computer and went back to AltaVista with Navigator. This time I typed in the word "red" and timed the results for the first ten returned sites to download. The average time was 47.2 seconds!  

Both were done under the exact same conditions through a 56K modem, and I was a tad surprised that the results were as different as they were. If anyone else has done a similar test, I would be interested in hearing about their results.

Interestingly, Both programs failed to find www.altavista.com on the first attempt. Both succeeded when I clicked the Refresh or Reload button. That was also a surprise (I was used to Explorer doing that from time to time, but thought Navigator was less susceptible to losing itself). More than anything, though, this probably just indicates that AltaVista was experiencing slight difficulties or was slightly too busy to answer my browser requests the first time around.

Two Explorer "E"s
Okay, so what about ease of use? When it comes to straightforward browsing, there really isn't anything in it at all. Both programs allow you to turn images off for quicker browsing. Both create and manage bookmarks easily. Both have similarly intuitive interfaces. Both have pretty much the same buttons and features such as view source, find on this page, and so forth. Basically, if you can use one, you can pretty much use the other.

One thing however, that Navigator does well that Explorer seems to neglect is a feature that allows you to view in a systematic way, information about the page. This feature is found under the View menu and will analyse the page for you providing links to individual images and files. Clicking these will cause the properties and attributes for each file or image to be displayed. This is very interesting if you're into analysing how a page has been built, how long it's been there etc. 

N is for Netscape There are some features of Navigator that tend to let it down in the browsing field, in my humble opinion, however.

My first criticism has to do with the way Navigator loads the page. Explorer gives you one nice blue bar at the bottom of your screen as it loads the page. This blue bar moves from left to right according to the percentage of the page that it has downloaded. Granted, the blue bar often sits there unmoving, but at least you can tell, at a glance, just how much of the page is downloaded, and just how much there is to go. Navigator, on the other hand, presents you with a grey bar that moves from side to side back and forth. It's more dynamic, but it tells you very little beyond that Navigator is trying to download the page.

Instead Navigator reports to you (on one of the grey bars near the bottom of the screen) on every single aspect of the page that it is working on. It will tell you it has downloaded 31% of 24k, for example. Such a report probably means that it is downloading one of the page's images and it is 31% of the way through doing that. Great, but it gives no clues as to how many images there are to go, how big they are or at what pace it is likely to get through them. Essentially then, what it does tell you has no real value at all. You have no real idea how long the page is going to take to download, so you never can tell whether to sit tight and wait, or whether it's best to try another page.

What makes it even worse is the way that Navigator will tend not to display what it has downloaded anywhere near as fast as Explorer will. Navigator will load much of what it is downloading into memory and then suddenly display a near complete page. Explorer, on the other hand, takes a much more useful approach. It will simply display what it has downloaded as it downloads it. This means that you can begin to read the text of a page before the images have finished downloading and know whether you want to stay there or move on. These may sound like picky criticisms, but when you're limited to a 56K modem and paying for your time online, the question, "Should I stay or should I go" is often an important one when you're waiting for pages to download.

The next criticism I have of Navigator is that it is nowhere near as smart as  Explorer when it comes to returning you to the previous page. Explorer will usually remember exactly where you were on a page when you clicked a link, and when you press the Back Button. This is really handy if you are clicking lots of links from a single page. Navigator is liable to return you to just about anywhere on the original page and this can be confusing.
On top of that Navigator seems mostly unable to read Html code that specifies a visited link. Web designers usually make their pages so that a browser will display a link that it has already been visited in a different colour. When you click the Back button, Navigator will drop you back somewhere on the page you left and it will usually then be up to you to find whereabouts on the page you were, and which links you have visited. This can be another significant time-waster. Incidentally, many web-designers will tell you, too, that Navigator is generally less versatile when it comes to reading Html code. Pages that look fine in Explorer (granted, they were probably designed using Microsoft clients) will sometimes look strange in Navigator, or may be unreadable altogether.

My major criticism of Navigator, however, has to do with its mail software, Messenger. Unlike Explorer's mail program, Outlook Express, Netscape (up to 4.72) cannot handle more than one mail box. Outlook Express can be set up to check as many mailboxes (different email addresses) as you like, even on different servers. With Netscape's Messenger you are limited to just the one specified email address, unless you create different profiles and log into and out of Netscape using each one. This was fine in the past when Internet users were generally less sophisticated and only had the one email address, but it really is a disadvantage nowadays, and quite a surprising omission on Netscape's part, in my opinion.

Well, so much for the comparison. I've tried to be as objective as possible and to avoid being too damning of Netscape. After all, my natural tendency is to back the underdog, and Netscape is certainly that when these two programs are compared. It would be true to say, too, that Explorer only shines here because I am comparing it to Navigator. If I were just looking at Explorer's faults, I could write plenty.

Why GoHip Ain't SoHip!

Every now and then the Actrix help desk receives and irritated call or email from someone who seems to have had certain aspects of their computer hijacked by GoHip. More and more frequently I am receiving email from people with GoHip promotions in their signatures, and, though I rarely comment, I wonder how many of them are really happy to have an advertisement added to the bottom of *every* email they send. I wonder how many are even aware that it is there.

An initial visit to the site (www.gohip.com) left me with mixed feelings. It appears to be a legitimate search engine with helpful links to Auctions, news, shopping, entertainment and sports pages and so forth.

At the bottom of the page there are links to a series of full length feature movies, and these really do work. I was able to watch the Three Stooges, something I haven't seen since childhood. That's reasonably impressive (the free movies, not necessarily The Three Stooges), and the fact that they will let you watch free films (albeit chunkily) deserves some credit. The films are all older, but on the other hand, they are generally well known and respected films.

The first warning bell went off, however, when I clicked an animated advertisement that promised me a special free video had finished loading for me to watch. Instead I was taken to a site that was full of advertising. It may or may not have had a link to the actual film. At that stage I lost interest and felt that I had been slightly hoodwinked. That sort of advertising just comes across as sneaky to me.

My real beef with GoHip centres on the requirements of joining. To join you must agree to download their "browser enhancement" which takes over your Internet Options settings, placing a search box and constant advertising at the top of your browser whenever you are online. No matter how often you remove this, it will re-install itself every time you start up. From then on, any time you click your browser's search button you will be taken to the GoHip homepage. Six bookmarks are added to your bookmark directory, and all your outgoing emails will contain a few lines promoting GoHip.

Before you download the "enhancements" and join, you are warned that these changes will be permanent unless you go back to their site and run the removal program. What has struck me about people who have complained of the GoHip hijack is that they often aren't sure how they got it, and have no idea how to remove it. This is probably because the GoHip tactics are, in my opinion, aimed at the casual browser who may be surfing around without paying a lot of attention. Who can be bothered reading fine print when surfing? The page promises an enhancement after all.

Ultimately, GoHip have probably shot themselves in the foot. They certainly don't usually feature in web-based search engine lists (they are conspicuously absent from Actrix's links page, for example) and though they fairly warn about their browser enhancement, I still find their tactics to lean towards the obnoxious.

There are at least two obvious lessons here.
  • Read the fineprint before you download anything.
  • Make sure there is a way to reverse whatever you are doing before you do it, especially if you aren't sure about it. Incredible promises from websites are usually just that - incredible (in terms of being unbelievable).

In my book, a little healthy cynicism and caution are a big part of being "net-savvy."

If you, or someone you know, has been "GoHip hijacked" you can run the executable enhancement removal program found at http://www.gohip.com/remove_browser_enhancement.html. If you'd rather not do that, contact the Actrix Help Desk (support@actrix.co.nz) who can email the removal program to you.

Letters to the Editor
Email the Editor

I'm sure you'll get "a few" submissions on this...

I was a Netscape devotee until about 3 months ago. I started to get a bit sick of Netscape crashes and strange slowdowns and tried IE5 having seen others using it.

Well, it was quite a bit faster and smoother. And presented some things better. And of course, some sites only worked properly with IE, so that was a relief. I almost gave up on Netscape...

But since then I have gone back a bit. I find Netscape's bookmark editor much better than IE. That might seem like a minor issue, but it isn't if you maintain lots of bookmarks over a long time. Netscape's history list (Communicator - Tools - History) seems equally sophisticated.

I also use Netscape mail and news, and I can say it's a relief to not have to worry about Outlook viruses ;-)

Also I use other operating systems, and Netscape lets me share mail and bookmarks across OSes.

Finally, Netscape 6 (Mozilla) even in beta form, is already at least as fast as IE, smaller, and supposedly better in standards support. Once finished I imagine it will probably be substantially better than IE5. But MS will have 5.5 out then....

Cheers

Aaron Lawrence

PS. Although you exclude the multi-platform consideration from the start, that's a bit unfair. Netscape have really done a much harder job, not to mention having their market deliberately destroyed by MS. People do need to realise that MS don't offer a choice of running IE on anything but Windows...

Thanks Aaron. Your point about Outlook viruses is especially good, and something in Netscape's favour that I should have mentioned in my comparison. I look forward to learning more about Netscape 6, too. -Ed

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Hi there.

I've often heard talk about "Windows Registry". What is this mysterious creature and what does it do? Maybe a wee Newsletter article on it... (or is it _way_ too boring?)

The Day Family

Hmmmm, yes, I think a small article on the Windows Registry might be interesting. Thanks for the idea. I've asked my Boy Wonder, Jeremy Fairbrass, to see what he can do. Have a look below. -Ed.

I checked the Winamp site but nothing for Mac. Any suggestions?
David Murray,

David,

Not being a Mac man, I have not used it myself, but Mp3Rage seems like quite a comprehensive Macintosh answer to Winamp. It retails for $24.95US, but a demo version (and further information) is available for download here.

There are also a number of other Mac Mp3 players available at the following locations:

http://software.mp3.com/software/featured/
macintosh/player/


http://gil.mac.tucows.com/mp3mac.html

I hope that helps a little. -Ed

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I've left your newsletter in my inbox waiting for a chance to read it....which I only just have.

I wish I'd read it earlier, as I'd have prevented getting the LIVE STAGES worm. Also I would have been much more knowledgeable on the Napster issue which was a big topic in our home this weekend. I could have been a real know-it-all if I'd read the newsletter earlier.

So this is a pat on the back for a good info-sheet.

Cathy Strong

Cathy, I was sorry to hear about the Stages Worm. Nearly as tragic, as Norrie will affirm, was missing the opportunity to be a good "know-it-all." :-)

Thanks for your kind words. -Ed.

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Nice newsletter!

As a Mac User I have tried both Netscape and Explorer. I am using Explorer because it is takes up less room on the hard drive. When I started to set up a web page, I was writing all my own code-- after having taken a course. It all seemed OK. I put it up and started getting complaints that there was nothing there. They were all from Netscape users. I loaded Netscape and found, sure enough, that most of the pages could not be seen. It seems that Explorer is much more forgiving of bad code than is Netscape. Took a while to sort it out. I now check my pages in BOTH before posting.

I look forward to the next issue.

Julian Winston

Thank you, Julian, for your kind words. I know from my own experience that what you say is true. In fact our design team always have Macs and PCs on as they work, and check their pages in both programs on both platforms continually. -Ed.

Norrie's Nerd Words

Let me start this month by congratulating last month's chocolate competition winners!

Elizabeth Passuello, Nicholas Murray, Sonja Giles-Hickey, Donald Gordon, Dean Moor, Sharron Keith, Mike Williamson, Pascal Sigrist, Michele Dunlop and Morris Gentle.

In order to win a free Norrie the Nerd chocolate bar, sent through the post courtesy of Actrix, all they had to do was be among the first ten to email me telling me with whom I once sang a duet. The answer, of course, was Celine Dion as anyone who visited my homepage at:

http://www.actrix.gen.nz/users/norrie

...would have been able to find out.

Yummy yummy
The competition is open again this month. All you have to do is be among the first ten to email me the name of the fifth potential Teletubby! What could be easier than that? :-) If you think you know, email me at norrie@actrix.co.nz and perhaps I'll be sending a chocolate nerdy bar your way! If you're one of the ones who won last month, however, you must wait at least one day before competing this time.

I would really like to thank Ray Lee from Heraldic Art, too, for generously providing these beautiful chocolate bars [which also taste good :-)]

Busy, busy, busy - On top of my hefty schedule flying around the world advising all and sundry on technical matters, and my important tasks involved with keeping the Actrix technical department running like the well-oiled machine that it is, I've had to appear on radio, but even there I'm constantly interrupted by people seeking the benefit of my technical brilliance! Have a listen to Radio Sports in the mornings if you don't believe me.

Regards,
Norrie T Nerd
Actrix Networks Ancient Geek
norrie@actrix.co.nz

The Windows Registry:

By Jeremy Fairbrass, the Boy Wonder (and we do wonder about the boy... -Ed)

If you've ever heard of the Windows Registry and wondered what on earth it was, you're about to find out!

Actrix Games Servers!

Blood and Guts!

The Registry is a critical part of Windows that stores almost all of the settings and configurations that various programs, including Windows itself, need to operate. This includes such things as what screensaver and wallpaper you are using, what homepage you have in Internet Explorer, your Word or Office settings, and literally thousands of other settings.

The Registry as we know it has been incorporated into Windows since Windows 95 was created, and it's remained basically unchanged ever since. With Windows 95 and 98, the Registry is made up of two files - SYSTEM.DAT and USER.DAT. These files are both kept in the Windows directory on your hard drive. If you have multiple Windows logins, then each user will have their own USER.DAT file, which will be kept in the Profiles subdirectory (inside the Windows directory). Settings that relate to the entire computer, such as Control Panel settings for example, are stored in the SYSTEM.DAT file. And settings that just relate to particular users, such as the colour scheme used, are stored in the USER.DAT file. Windows NT and Windows 2000 stores its Registry in files with different names, but the basic idea is the same.

These files can't be edited in a text editor of any kind, because they are encoded - if you opened one of them into Wordpad, all you'd see is a whole lot of garbage. Windows comes with a special utility called the Registry Editor, which allows you to edit the Registry properly. However, this is a very dangerous thing to do, if you've never done it before! The Registry Editor doesn't have an "undo" function, so once you've changed or deleted information from the Registry, it's final! As such, if you deleted or changed the wrong information, you could potentially disable a program, or even render Windows itself unusable to some degree - possibly resulting in the need to completely reinstall Windows!

Because of this, I won't give instructions on how to find or use the Registry Editor program. This program should only be used by "Power Users", or people who know a lot about the ins and outs of Windows. These people will already know how to find and use the Registry Editor! As a rule of thumb, if the information I'm writing about is completely new to you, you'd be well advised to avoid meddling with the Registry unless you had a "computer geek" (like Norrie) to help you. :-) However if you are wanting to learn more about the Registry, to further develop your knowledge, I'd suggest doing a bit of a search on the internet on the topic - there is a wealth of information out there that will help you learn how it works and how to safely edit the Registry.

- Jeremy Fairbrass

At Actrix, our Games Master has been busy getting our five new games servers up and running! The plan is to soon have a very detailed and extensive user-interface for prospective gamers, but we're excited enough about it so we see no need to leave them idle for the time being. I think too, that our techies are tired of shooting each other during lunchbreaks, and just want some fresh blood.

To play, you must already own a copy of the game but the latest updates etc for each of the games are available to you at ftp.actrix.co.nz.

The Games and addresses (if no port number is listed, please just use the defaults) are as follows:

Action Quake II at aq2.actrix.co.nz
Unreal Tournament at  unreal://unreal.actrix.co.nz
Quake III Deathmatch at quake3.actrix.co.nz
Urban Warfare at quake3.actrix.co.nz 27999
Halflife (Deathmatch) at hl.actrix.co.nz
Halflife Team Fortress at hl.actrix.co.nz:27016.

By 7 August we also plan to launch the brand new, latest and greatest Quake III Urban Terror. We will be among the first in the entire world to offer this!

If you are an Actrix customer, you are welcome to book a games server for your own use (we'll put one up for you especially). There is no booking fee, but you must request a booking from an Actrix email address. If you'd like to do that, or if you have any questions about the games, please email gamesmaster@actrix.co.nz.

Computer Truths

  • A computer program does what you tell it to do, not what you want it to do.
  • All wiyht. Rho sritched mg kegtops awound?
  • Any sufficiently advanced bug is indistinguishable from a feature. - Kulawiec
  • Best file compression around: "DEL *.*" = 100% compression.
  • Buy a Pentium 586/90 so you can reboot faster.
  • Calm down -- it's only ones and zeros.
  • Computer analyst to programmer: "You start coding. I'll go find out what they want."
  • Hardware: The parts of a computer system that can be kicked.
  • If speed scares you, try Windows...
Outlook/Outlook Express Vulnerability Patch

Microsoft have released a Security Bulletin (MS00-043) announcing the availability of a patch that eliminates the recently publicised "buffer over-run" vulnerability in Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express.

The security bulletin explains what the vulnerability is, why it happens and what can be done about it.

According to the Microsoft bulletin:

You are not affected by the vulnerability if any of the following are true:
  • You have performed a default installation Internet Explorer 5.01 Service Pack 1 on your system.
  • You have performed a default installation Internet Explorer 5.5 on your system and your system is not Windows 2000.
  • You have installed the patch discussed in either Microsoft Security Bulletin MS00-045 or MS00-046.

If none of the above apply to you, you should install the patch.

The vulnerability can be eliminated by taking any of the following actions:

Clicking tickles! Bringing It All Back Home
Another month and another newsletter. Once again I hope you enjoyed or benefited from this one in some way.

Each month I receive some really great letters from readers, and so I have decided to include a Letters to the Editor section each month from now on, especially when they have to do with topics under present discussion. My policy here is not to include letters unless I have gained permission from the writer. If you are happy for me to publish your letter, it would save me time if you say so when you write, otherwise, I will ask you before I include it. Of course, too, I reserve the right not to publish your letter even if you ask me to. Please be encouraged to contribute.

See you in a month,

Rob Zorn
Editor - Actrix Newsletters
editor@actrix.co.nz

"Computers are useless. They can only give you answers." - Pablo Picasso