One desktop, two browsers, 72 tips
October 22, 1998
by Michael Cahlin
(IDG) -- Quick, how many browsers do you have on your PC? If you use Windows (and we know you do), you probably have at least one -- Internet Explorer. But odds are pretty good you also have some version of Netscape Navigator or America Online's browser lurking on your hard drive. And that's okay. These days, it makes sense to have more than one way to wander the Web.
Some browsers are better at certain Web activities than others. IE doesn't always display your file download progress (Navigator does), but it can print a Web page with all the frames displayed (Navigator can't). You might prefer one browser's interface but the other's bundled e-mail program. Some sites claim to be optimized for one browser or the other, so you wonder if you are missing out on some whizzy features by using the wrong one (see "Optimized for your browser?" chart, link below). And if you create Web pages, previewing them in both browsers is a must, since each has quirks you may have to compensate for.
Unfortunately, browsers are a bit like squabbling children. Each wants all your attention, and they hate to share things (like bookmarks and address lists). But you can train them to get along and even help each other out. We offer browser-rearing advice for versions 3.x and 4.x of Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator--ways to make them work better in tandem and on their own (plus a few tips for surfing via America Online). You'll also find a list of common keystrokes for both major packages, some handy right-click shortcuts, and help on what to do when your connection throws a tantrum.
Just don't call us if they start fighting over the channel changer.
Browser cohabitation tips
If you have more than one browser installed on your system, you juggle multiple sets of bookmarks, address books, passwords, and cookies. And with each browser vying for your attention, keeping everything straight can get confusing. So lay down a few simple house rules, and insist that your browsers learn to get along.
Battling browsersMake Internet Explorer the default
Whenever you install a Web browser, it begs you to let it become your default browser, and it repeats this plea until you make a decision. What if, after using one browser for a while, you want to switch default status? You can change your mind, but it's much easier to do so in Internet Explorer than in any version of Navigator. In IE 3.x and 4.x, select View, Internet Options, click the Program tab, put a check mark in the bottom box, which says "Internet Explorer should check to see whether it is the default browser," and then click OK. Close and reopen Internet Explorer, and the Microsoft browser will once again beseech you to let it be your default browser.
Let Navigator take the helm
Changing the default in Navigator 3.x and 4.x is a bit more complicated. Follow the steps from the previous tip, and uncheck the box next to "Internet Explorer should check to see whether it is the default browser." If you're lucky, restarting Navigator will summon the default browser query--but don't count on it. If Navigator balks, you'll need a text editor like Windows 95/98's Notepad to edit the prefs.js file. Exit Navigator, and click Start, Programs, Accessories, Notepad. When it opens, click File, Open. Click the drop-down arrow next to "Files of type" and select All Files (*.*). The prefs.js file is in C:\Program Files\Netscape\Users\yourname, where yourname is your Windows user name. Open it and look for the line "user_pref("browser.wfe.ignore_ def_ check", true);". Carefully change the word true to false. Save, exit, and then restart Navigator. The default query should appear, at which point you can give Navigator the top bunk.
Back up your bookmarks/favorites
You've spent valuable time collecting URLs. Now, before you try any of our fancy tricks, protect yourself by making backups of your Bookmarks or Favorites. No matter which browser you're using, the easiest way to do this is to open Windows Explorer, then hold down Ctrl and drag a copy of Navigator's bookmark.htm file (it's in the same folder as prefs.js) or Internet Explorer's Favorites folder (it should be in the Windows folder) to a floppy or to another area of your drive.
Add Navigator bookmarks to IE favorites
By adding Navigator's Bookmarks to IE's Favorites list, you'll gain instant access to all your Bookmarks from within Internet Explorer. It's as simple as adding a shortcut to your bookmark.htm file. As you add Bookmarks, they're automatically added to Favorites. In IE 3.x and 4.x, select File, Open, choose Browse, set "Files of type" to All Files, and use the "Look in" drop-down box to navigate to bookmark.htm (see the previous tip for its location). When you find it, double-click the file to load it into the Open dialog box. Click OK again, and IE will display Navigator's Bookmarks as active links. On the menu, click Favorites, Add to Favorites, name the shortcut Navigator Bookmarks, and then click OK. Badda-bing! Now you can click Navigator Bookmarks just as you would any other IE Favorite.
Convert IE favorites into Navigator bookmarks
Netscape doesn't make it easy to convert Favorites into Bookmarks. The cheapest solution is Microsoft's free IE Import and Export Favorites Tool. This 50KB utility imports Bookmarks into Favorites and saves Favorites as Bookmarks. But beware: In bringing IE Favorites into Navigator, this utility replaces your bookmark file; if you want to keep them synchronized, you'll have to import the Bookmarks into Internet Explorer first (using the preceding tip) and then replace the bookmark file with the merged Favorites.
QuikLink Explorer from QuikLink provides a better and simpler solution. It imports bookmarks from Navigator, IE, Opera, and Mosaic into a centralized bookmark database. Saving a bookmark in the database automatically makes the bookmark accessible from any of these browsers. A free version of QuikLink Explorer organizes bookmarks within one browser, but for multiple browsers you'll need the $20 Standard edition.
During installation, both Netscape and Internet Explorer import your address book from other browsers (and from previous versions of the same browser). But what if you want to import this stuff after installation? In IE 3.x, select Go, Read Mail to open Internet Mail; then click File, Import, and choose the appropriate files. To import an address book or e-mail from another program into IE 4.x, open Outlook Express, click File, Import, and then choose Address Book or Messages. Make a selection and click Import. Navigator 3.x users should use a third-party utility like InterGuru's $20 E-mail Address Book Conversions, a program that converts address book files to and from Eudora, Outlook Express, and Netscape Messenger and Mail. Users of Navigator 4.x have it easier: Open Messenger and then the Address Book by selecting Communicator, Address Book. Click File, Import. You can then import an address file from Eudora Outlook Express or from any address book in LDIF or Text format. Netscape has more information online about converting IE 3.x and 4.x to Communicator (link below).
Working with AOL
Read AOL e-mail without AOL
On the road but left your laptop at home? You can still read your AOL mail (and send messages) if you can get to a PC connected to the Internet. AOL's new NetMail service is a tiny browser plug-in that, once installed, accesses AOL e-mail from anywhere. Just go to NetMail and download the 1.5MB plug-in. Then click the Read Your Mail! icon, type in your AOL screen name and password, and click Sign On.
Don't use AOL's browser
AOL has never been known for its browsing capability. The new AOL 4.0 integrates a version of Internet Explorer, but don't expect it to behave like your stand-alone IE. AOL's Favorite Places list can't be used with or exported to any stand-alone browser. The stand-alone IE also has better history-keeping features and smarter toolbars, and it's more customizable.
But don't worry, you can still run Navigator (or for that matter, the real IE) on top of AOL. First, make sure you're running AOL 3.0 or 4.0 for Windows 95/98: Log on to AOL, click Help, and select About America Online. To download Navigator from AOL, use the keyword Navigator or go directly to Netscape's download page. Alternatively, you can use a stand-alone version of IE 3.x or 4.x. Simply launch either browser once you've got AOL running. Of course, no matter which browser you work in alongside the service, you still have to use AOL for e-mail and newsgroups, unless you have a separate Internet connection and mail program.
AOL address-book tango
Once you outgrow AOL and move on to a full-fledged Internet service provider, you'll want to export your AOL address book to your new e-mail package. Good luck. AOL's Address Book doesn't willingly share information with any e-mail software. Believe it or not, the easiest solution is to send everyone in your AOL Address Book a message asking these correspondents to send future e-mail to your new e-mail address. Both Outlook Express and Messenger can automatically insert incoming e-mail addresses into their address books. In either of these programs, click Reply, right-click the sender's e-mail address, and select Add to Address Book. If you ask your correspondents to send you their contact information too, you can cut and paste it into the Address Book instead of typing it in.
Tips for a one-browser world
Maybe you've decided that switching between browsers is too much trouble, and you've settled on a favorite. But whether your browser of choice is Navigator or Explorer, you want to get the most out of it. Read on for ways to speed up surfing, ease navigation, share resources, and save time.
Pump up your performance
No pictures, no waiting
You've probably heard this one before, but useful information always bears repeating. If faster downloading is your primary goal, you should try turning off graphics, sounds, and animations, and make text-only loading your browser's default. To do this in IE 3.x, click View, Options, select the General tab, and then uncheck the box next to Show Pictures. If you are using IE 4.x, choose View, Internet Options, Advanced, and uncheck all of the boxes under Multimedia. In Navigator 3.x, select Options and then uncheck the Auto Load Images box. In Navigator 4.x, click Edit, Preferences, choose Advanced, and then uncheck the "Automatically load images" box. If you decide that you really want to see the picture after all, don't worry. Just right-click its image icon and then click either Show Picture (in IE 3.x and 4.x), Load Image (in Navigator 3.x), or Show Image (in Navigator 4.x).
Improve your image
Microsoft's PowerToys for IE 4.x has lots of nifty utilities for controlling Web graphics. If switching between text and graphics mode has worn you out, try Image Toggler, which resides on IE 4.x's Link toolbar and lets you download or skip images with a click. Another PowerToy, Zoom In/Zoom Out, can magnify tiny graphics with a right-click, and Web Search injects keywords into your default search engine with a right-click, for instant results.
A more stable relationship
Any browser crash can make Windows unstable. The severity ranges from an app going belly-up to Microsoft's dreaded Blue Screen of Death. In Navigator, you can bring up the Close Program dialog box by pressing Ctrl-Alt-Delete, but doing this can cause other open programs to fall like dominoes. It's better to bite the bullet and restart. IE 4.x offers another option: Before you crash, click View, Internet Options, Advanced and check "Browse in a new process." This makes IE launch a separate version of Explorer rather than feeding off the already-open window that also provides your Windows shell, so next time IE 4.x hits an iceberg, it shouldn't take Windows down with it.
By changing two tiny Registry settings called MTU (Maximum Transmission Units) in Windows 95, you may be able to increase browsing speeds dramatically in both Navigator and Internet Explorer. If just the idea of messing around with the Registry makes you nervous, you can hire a $10 shareware utility to do it for you -- MTUSpeed (link below).
Shrink dat file
Every time you visit a Web site, Internet Explorer stores history and cache information in files that have .dat extensions. The more data these files have to store, the bigger they get. Though Microsoft won't cop to it, clearing the Cache and/or History folders in IE 3.x and 4.x doesn't always return these files to their original default size of 8KB, 16KB, or 32KB. You can see for yourself by opening a DOS prompt (select Start, Programs, MS-DOS Prompt), navigating to the directory where your cache or history resides (cd c:\windows\tempor~ or cd c:\windows\history), and then looking for the .dat files. If you open them, you'll see all of your "deleted" URLs.
The problem? Aside from the fact that these .dat index files let snoops track where you've been surfing, IE begins to slow down when the files reach approximately 200KB. And once they reach 500KB, the program starts crashing. One solution is to delete both files, but you'll have to do it in DOS, not Windows. Click Start, Shut Down, Restart in MS-DOS mode. At the C:\> prompt, type deltree c:\windows\history, and then press Enter. (In IE 4.x, this path could be c:\windows\profiles\yourname\history.) Then type deltree c:\windows\tempor~1 and press Enter. (This process can take up to 15 minutes if the .dat files are extremely large.) The next time you fire up your browser, both files will be rebuilt as empty .dat files.
There's a better solution, but it will cost you. You can manage file size and permanently kill all the private data in cache, history, and .dat files by using the $15 shareware program TweakIE 2.0 (link below). Its IESweep feature clears your cache and history folders and resets the .dat files to their empty size. This utility also alerts you when .dat files have grown big enough to affect your browser's performance.
Navigator also maintains a history of recently visited sites, though this doesn't slow down your system. To prevent others from seeing where you've been, you need to clear it. Navigator 3.x clears the history each time you shut down the program. In Navigator 4.x, select Edit, Preferences, choose Navigator, and click Clear History. Trouble is, Netscape's history file, like IE's .dat files, retains information. To cover your tracks completely, you need to delete this file. Exit Navigator, open Windows Explorer, and press F3; when the Find: All Files window appears, search for netscape.hst. It's usually found in C:\ProgramFiles\Netscape\Communicator\Users\yourname. Right-click it and select Delete.
Share the cache
If you run Navigator 3.x and 4.x on the same computer -- and if you do any Web page design, you probably do -- you can speed up both browsers and save hard disk space by forcing them to share the same cache. In Navigator 4.x, click Edit, Preferences, click the plus sign next to Advanced to expand it, and click Cache. In the Disk Cache Folder box, type in the location of Navigator's 3.x cache file (usually c:\program files\netscape\navigator\cache). In Navigator 3.x, click Options, Network Preferences; and on the Cache tab in the Disk Cache Directory box, type in the location of Navigator's 4.x cache file (usually c:\program \files\netscape\users\yourname\cache).
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