by August 11, 2001 0 comments



The world of browsers extends far beyond IE and Netscape Communicator. This world is occupied by alternate browsers, which are leaner on resources, offer multi-platform support, and have built-in features–like integrated multimedia–that may suit your needs better, or are useful for people with disabilities. Here are 12 such browsers that can make your Internet experience more productive

As Internet users you are continually fed a dose of new and updated versions of IE (Internet Explorer) and Netscape Communicator. The latest versions claim to incorporate the latest technology, but these rarely result in improving your experience. Most of your searches for information don’t require such resource-hungry applications (geeks call these big two, Bloatware) and the multitude of plug-ins that load up when you start your browser.

Enter alternate browsers that are leaner on resources, and offer better tools, or at least, variety. For instance, they may have an integrated browser client for surfing, chatting, e-mail, and video conferencing. Some of these also offer multi-platform support, which, along with their small footprint, makes them lucrative candidates for small-footprint devices. Toned-down versions of traditional browsers may lose ground here because they may not incorporate all the required features.

The term alternate browsers is also used for browsers for people with disabilities. These offer features like ‘read-aloud’ or connection to Braille devices to generate output that the visually impaired can comprehend. Here are a few nuggets from the world of alternate browsers.

1. HotJava Browser

Features: Runs on its own engine, supports modern standards, is platform independent
Cons: Is unstable, really slow 

Java being platform independent, gives Sun Microsystems’ HotJava browser platform independence. The browser supports tables and frames, GIF and JPEG images, cookies, AU audio, FTP, SMTP and SOCKS protocols.

While installing, you may choose to install JRE that comes bundled with the browser or use an existing JVM on your machine. The browser has most of the standard features that you find on traditional browsers. You can configure the content display settings (like, fonts or links). It also supports proxies for connection. It can be directed to handle Web content the way you want it to–you can direct PDF content to your Acrobat Reader or QuickTime movie content to QuickTime Player. The browser comes with an integrated SMTP client that can be configured to send
e-mail.

It renders Web pages well, but they take some time to be rendered. Also, the refresh is slow and you can see substantial ‘jerks’ if you scroll through a Web page. This may be because of the heavy code-crunching that it has to do to be platform independent. Its response to commands is a little sluggish and it takes a while for a button-click response to come through. Also sometimes when you click on a link, the application seems to freeze.

2. RapidBrowser

Features: Has good integration of multimedia viewers, supports MDI 
Cons: Is resource hungry

Aimed at users with high-speed Internet access like cable or other broadband connections, this browser is based on the IE engine. Installating it is a breeze; when we installed it, it took up a little more than 4 MB of hard disk space (over and above the IE install). While downloading the application, you should have a username and password to connect to the RapidBrowser network to access features in the browser like video links, search, and chat. However, we faced a slight problem while connecting to this network.

It offers lots of multimedia, including a basic MP3 player with playlist manager and a media player for streaming video content on the Internet. This player window can also be viewed in a resizable TV mode. So you can watch music videos or newscasts in a TV-like always-on-top window while working on something else. The media player comes with a lot of presets and a quick video URL mail-to link, which works with your existing e-mail application.

RapidBrowser has an instant messenger client and chat rooms. We did not come across a very populated chat room, though we did get to talk to a couple of other RapidBrowser users from across the globe. This browser also features an integrated search bar that connects to a search through the RapidBrowser network. The browser offers an MDI (Multi Document Interface) that does away with Windows’ taskbar clutter of multiple instances of browsers. 
In all, a welcome add-on to your existing IE.

3. Neoplanet 5.2

Features: Has customizable interface, features ‘Channels’ 
Cons: Is a bit heavy on system resources

Neoplanet could be the only desktop application that you need to load for all your Web-browsing requirements. This integrated suite comprises a browser, an e-mail client, an instant messenger client, chat, and a new concept of ‘clubs’. The browser has a slick rounded look and the interface is skinnable. The full-screen option, though, is not all that great. Apart from the regular navigation buttons, the interface also houses a channel bar on the right, which is akin to your favorites, the difference being that these are easily accessible. You can drag and drop a Web-link onto the channel bar to add it there. The navigation bar features an integrated search option that lets you search the Net using well-known search engines.

Neoplanet’s built-in e-mail client can be accessed at the touch of a button. This e-mail client is complete in all respects with multiple-account support and filters. Its instant messaging client requires you to sign up for the ‘clubs’ with a username and password. The downside to this messenger is that you can only chat with other Neoplanet users. All the features for customizing the browser can be accessed through the control panel, which also houses start-up options, Neoplanet has its own dialer, a modem booster, and even a link to adjust your IE specific settings. The application is a little heavy on resources and if you go on to open another browser window, the difference is all the more perceptible. It takes up around 6 MB of hard-disk space over and above IE.

With all the bells and whistles, this browser is for those who like a bit of spice in their Web browsing. Novices to the Internet will find the combination of common Internet functions into a single application an easier option. But this can still be improved upon.

4.Opera

Features: Runs on its own engine; fully customizable interface and feature settings; full-featured e-mail client built-in; an integrated, basic ICQ client 
Cons: None

Opera claims to be the ‘fastest browser on earth’ and has developed a significant amount of cult following. It is currently in release 5.12 and is free with ads for desktop use. The download is either with or without JRE. A notable installation feature is that it installs everything under one directory, not a distributed install like in the case of IE or Netscape. The browser supports all modern Web standards, including XML, HTTP, SSL, and style sheets. It also has experimental support for WML for WAP sites. To display embedded content like PDF, Flash, and multimedia, Opera uses the concept of plug-ins.

The interface shows a significant amount of information like the status of your Web request, the number of images and the loading of Web page in percentage. You can easily toggle loading of images with a single button click. The browser’s full screen mode is much better than that of other browsers. In fact, the full-screen mode can be used in conjunction the OperaShow feature to turn it into a presentation tool. Opera’s easy to configure; all its settings are stored in an INI file that can be edited manually or through the application’s GUI. Everything right from RAM and disk cache to security preferences, layout and appearance, and location of toolbars can be customized.

Opera supports MDI that lets you open multiple websites within the same application (similar to RapidBrowser). Opera also remembers all your open windows on exit; and if by chance your PC or application crashes, Opera will take you back to where the interruption happened. It also has an integrated e-mail client which is complete in all respects with multiple accounts, import from Eudora, filters et al. It also has built in ICQ instant messaging, though not very extensive.

Overall, a lean, feature-rich and mean browser. 

5. WebPhace

Features: Has skinnable interface, built-in MP3 player 
Cons: Is a little buggy

This browser, based on the IE engine, carries forward the concept of integration of multiple functions as in
Neoplanet.

WebPhace features themes that are called Phaces (Faces). You can submit Phaces for inclusion onto the website. A notable feature is the integration of a multimedia player. Though RapidBrowser’s player is much more robust, this MP3 player still does a decent job of playing music. The player interface looks suspiciously like Winamp’s, but the seek bar does not work.

6. Smartalec Voyager 6000

Features: More viewing area, effective content and ad filter built-in 
Cons: Interface is a little buggy, no proxy support

This browser provides a more viewable screen than regular browsers. At a mere 1.5 MB of hard disk space and little other system resources, it’s a convenient application. The interface has minimal controls and buttons, which are sufficient. These can also be skinned with a choice of skins already available in the skin gallery. You may find many options of regular browser missing; but find some that are exclusive to Voyager, like an advanced ad/popup and a content filter. The content-filtering engine works on objectionable keywords within a Web page and does a good job of keeping children away from such content. It also has a quick language translator button powered by Google. The rendering of Web pages is a little slower than IE, but the difference is not too much to be a bother. Navigation may seem a little crude at first, but does its job of getting you to the Internet with ease.

7. Lynx

Features: Offers simple and fast browsing 
Cons: Is a text-only browser

Lynx is a text-only browser generally used on Linux- or Unix-based OSs. Versions for DOS, Windows 9x/NT, Apple Macintosh and OS/2 also exist. It is can be downloaded for free and distributed with the source code under GNU
GPL.

Lynx displays only the textual part of the Web; it does not support images, frames and tables, JavaScript or VBScript, ActiveX controls, or other embedded content, making it a simpler and faster Web-browsing alternative. Despite it not supporting images, Lynx is very popular and comes with major Linux distributions like Red Hat. Mouse support, which includes clicking on links, scrolling, and interacting with some HTML form elements can be optionally compiled into Lynx. It also supports cookies, proxy servers, printing, and bookmarks. SSL (Secure Socket Layer) support can be built in or applied as a patch.

8. Konqueror

Features: Supports all modern internet standards, has customizable interface, e-mail client 
Cons: None

Konqueror, which can be called IE of KDE, is a powerful and feature-rich browser for the Linux KDE desktop (a Windows-like desktop for Linux users). Apart from browsing, it also has an integrated file explorer. As a Web browser it supports HTML 4, CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) 1 and 2 (partially), JavaScript and applets, and Netscape Communicator plug-ins like Flash and RealAudio. It also supports SSL for secure transactions over the Web, and may soon support MS ActiveX controls. Konqueror also has an integrated e-mail client that lets you check your mail from a POP3 server. KDE is under GNU license and so is Konqueror, and so they’re free to download and distribute.

This compilation is in no way a comprehensive listing of all alternate browsers. Once you try them, you may even find one that suits your needs better, and is not a resource hog that slugs down your PC every time you start it.

Ashish Sharma

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