What are they: offline Web browsers
Applications: they reduce the time and expense of browsing the Web by copying entire sites to a local hard disk or network drive; also useful for demonstrating Web sites or browsing on a portable PC when disconnected
For many small businesses, access to the Web can be expensive. Call charges, even at local rates, can mount up. It's even more difficult to justify this cost when many people in an organisation regularly go back to the same sites.
One answer is to take the information off the Web and put it on the desktop using an offline browser. This is a software utility that works with a standard browser, and downloads all or part of a Web site - either as you watch or at specified times - complete with graphics, Java applets and sound clips. It allows you to browse sites at your leisure, and much faster than with online browsers.
Although the market for offline Web browsers in the UK is smaller than in the US, it may be more lucrative for UK software vendors. Local phone calls in the US are free, whereas in the UK they are offered only by some cable TV providers such as Nynex. Even then, calls are free only when dialling locally from one Nynex number to another in the evening and at weekends, and that is tied in to purchasing extra TV channels.
One of the most popular offline browsers on the market is Web Whacker from the Forefront Group. This review looks at version 2.01 of Web Whacker and compares it with Traveling Software's Webex.
Web Whacker 2.01
A free evaluation version of Web Whacker can be downloaded from the Web at www.ffg.com. It allows you to download or 'whack' a total of 20 sites to a maximum of two levels deep. The downloaded file is 2.3Mb, and installation is straightforward.
Web Whacker works with Netscape Navigator versions 1.1 to 3.0, and Internet Explorer v2.0 and 3.0. During setup, you are asked whether you want to configure your default browser, a designated browser or manually configure a browser.
Next, the Forefront Web Whacker icon group is established. This contains icons for Web Whacker itself, the Web Manager, uninstaller and the usual Read-me file. If you have asked Web Whacker to configure your browser automatically, it will only do so once Web Whacker is started. If you configure manually, you will need to enter 127.0.0.1 as the HTTP proxy address and Port 8080 in the proxy server details of your browser. As your browser has been configured to connect through Web Whacker (the proxy server) you won't be able to browse without running Web Whacker. However, this should not be a major problem.
The design of Web Whacker's user interface is confusing at best and a hindrance at worst. The taskbar above the top of the browser window is far too big: it would have been quite adequate at a quarter of the size.
In addition, you have to work both in the Web Manager window and in Web Whacker itself. It also takes some time to familiarise yourself with Web Whacker and the way it works.
Once you have found a site to download, a wizard asks you where you want to store its URL, how many levels you wish to whack and whether you want to only download files at this URL, which is recommended.
You enter a user name and password and the frequency of renewing your 'copy' of the site, then click on the whack button in the task bar and the browser will download the site.
It is useful to check the total number of pages once you start downloading because deceptively simple sites can have three or four-hundred pages in their top two levels. You need to ensure you have plenty of free disk space before whacking an entire site.
Overall, this new version of Web Whacker does the job, but not elegantly.
It's really no better than version 1.0.
Verdict: a competent and easy-to-use utility, which is spoiled by fussy interface design. However, it still does the job.
This is the offline browser that was previously known as Milktruck.
It performs the same job as Web Whacker, but has a different approach to the interface in that all actions are carried out within an HTML page.
An evaluation version is available at www.travsoft.com, but this is limited to downloading two pre-packaged sites or one custom site, which is not enough to check out the product properly.
Webex is easy to install. You are required to specify whether you use Netscape Navigator or Internet Explorer, although it is quite straightforward to change your default browser at a later date.
Webex has two components: a browser and an agent which deals with scheduled downloads. We found Webex even more difficult to get to grips with than Web Whacker. It is particularly daunting that the main toolbar floats in the Web page being browsed, although you do get used to this eventually.
The Webex main page, which replaces your own home page (although this is still available), lists several 'popular' sites. To download a site you access it in the normal way. Webex checks whether it is already stored and, if not, you go to the Personal Storage page where you just click the Webex Now link to store the site on your hard drive.
Webex doesn't have the same comprehensive progress details as Web Whacker; all you get is a few spinning icons to tell you the progress of the downloading.
If you use Internet Explorer 3.0, there is a rather annoying problem with frame-based pages. This is because the Webex toolbar is shown in every frame component. That said, it deals with frames in Netscape perfectly well, displaying only the toolbar in the main frame.
Verdict: this is a competent, reasonably basic offline browser. However, using HTML pages to host the product can be confusing. A further drawback is that there is limited information on the progress of the download.
Contact: Traveling Software on 01753 818281 or at www.travsoft.com
The offline battle:
Neither Web Whacker nor Webex is an ideal offline Web browser because they are both too fussy.
However, Webex is half the price of Web Whacker.
Pointers to at least 17 other offline browsers and a vast variety of other Internet software can be found at http://i-shop.iworld.com.
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