Web design

There are several alternative browsers that offer many of the features of their more popular rivals and, in fact, may be more suitable for you
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The Independent Culture
It seems as if we live in a world that is ruled by binary opposition: good/evil, day/night, Labour/Tory, McDonald's/Burger King, Netscape Navigator/Internet Explorer. We are constantly asked to choose between two options, as if there were no other possibilities, as if the world were black and white with no shades of grey (much less red, purple or chartreuse). But, the fact is, there are plenty of choices out there, you just have to dig a little. There is ambivalence, dusk, the Lib-Dems, Wimpy, and, yes, there are even other Web browsers.

It's hard to say exactly how many people are using any particular browser, as the numbers are constantly changing. One of the best estimates comes from Browser Watch (http://browserwatch.internet.com) that carefully measure which browsers are visiting their site. By their own admission, the people visiting their site are usually software developers, site designers, editors and writers. Still, their statistics are probably as valid as any other sites.

On a typical day - Thursday 21 May 1998 to be precise - about 52 per cent of the browsers visiting the site were some version of Netscape Navigator while 37 per cent were some version of Internet Explorer. Between the big two, that makes up about 89 per cent of the browser market, leaving a surprising 11 per cent slice of the market "independent".

The truth is that there are several alternative browsers that offer many of the same features as their more popular competitors and may even be better suited to your needs. These include:

Cyberdog 2 (Mac)

Apple Computer's multi-purpose Web browser takes the third spot behind IE, being used by 2.5 per cent of Browser Watch's visitors. It is hardly surprising, either. Despite the silly name, Cyberdog is a feature-rich program, including FTP, Gopher and Telnet support, not to mention one of the best mail programs I have ever used. As a Web browser, Cyberdog does an adequate job supporting HTML 2.0, Navigator 2.0 plug-ins, GIF, TIFF, PICT, JPEG, Java, and Quicktime.

The bad news is that because of the recent troubles at 1 Infinite Loop (the home of Apple), this is Cyberdog's final curtain call. Still, if you own a Mac, I highly recommend downloading this browser from the Cyberdog Web site (http://cyberdog.apple.com).

Opera 3.x (Win95/98/NT)

This is the browser to watch. Although it is currently only available on the Windows platform, Opera is the type of browser NCSA's Mosaic might have become had Marc Andreesen not started a commercial product.

The first thing to remember about Opera is that it sticks to the standards. Whether that is the World Wide Web Consortium's HTML specs or ECMAScript - the official version of JavaScript - this browser follows the rules, making life that much easier for Web content developers. In addition, Opera is fast, has a small memory foot print (1.7MB!), and can do Netscape plug-ins. Its system minimum requirements are a 386SX with a paltry 6MB of RAM.

I did encounter a few problems, though, while using it. Although at first the idea of having the bookmarks - links on Opera - in a separate, always available window seemed like a good idea, they took up valuable screen space and I couldn't find a way to get rid of them. Also, the back arrows didn't always work. Although cheap compared with other non-browser software, Opera is not free. But you can download an evaluation copy free from the Opera Software Web site (http://opera.nta.no).

Opera is still being developed (unlike CyberDog and Mosaic), and has been receiving favourable reviews from a variety of sources, making it the frontrunner amongst the alternative browser contenders. There is also a Mac version in the works, so stay tuned.

Lynx 2.7 (Mac, Win95/NT, Unix)

Lynx is the original browser. Before there was JavaScript, frames, tables or even graphics, Lynx was being used to surf the Web. If you want an extremely fast, extremely small browser, and do not mind forgoing those distracting graphics, Lynx is the way to go. Not only is it free to use, it is also free to distribute and, if you are feeling really ambitious, its program code is public domain (now you know where Netscape got the idea) and can be tweaked for your individual needs.

Lynx can be downloaded from a variety of Web sites, but you might try Subir Grewal's page (http:// www.crl.com/subir/lynx)

To learn more about alternative browsers, check out the Browser Watch site mentioned above or Browsers.com (http://www.browsers.com). If you are using one of these browsers or have another favourite alternative browser, send me your comments.

E-mail Jason Cranford Teague at indy_webdesign@moonshadow.com