Feb 2003                                                                                                     

Web Master Wanderings
By Curt Potsic, Space Coast PC Users Group

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SCPCUG Web Master Curt Potsic

Microsoft's Outlook Express E-mail client and Internet Explorer (IE) browser are currently used by the vast majority (something over 90%) of Windows PC users on the Internet today. I started surfing the Net in 1996. Back then Netscape ruled as the browser of choice. I'm not going to get into the Microsoft monopoly argument. Suffice to say, I may be a bit biased because I started with Netscape and have always felt more comfortable with it. I do use IE 5.5 as a backup browser for checking SCPCUG.com web page compatibility and surfing web pages written specifically to display properly only in IE, but my browser of choice has always been Netscape's. For E-mail there has never been a question. I have always used Netscape's Messenger. Although Outlook Express comes free as part of Windows, I have never configured it for use.

IE and Outlook Express may function quite well and even have features lacking in Netscape's browser and E-mail client, but I find it very troubling that so many security flaws continue to be discovered in IE and Outlook Express, each requiring another patch from Microsoft. Virus signature updating is time consuming enough! Why should I also be forced into repeatedly patching my browser and E-mail client? This security issue is the main reason I have stayed with Netscape. In fairness to Microsoft, since they command such a large percentage of browser users, the virus writers most likely target their product. And so I have preferred to keep a low profile with Netscape.

Based on my computing experience, I also subscribe to the philosophy "if it is not broken, don't fix it." Therfore I stayed with Netscape 4.76 even though Netscape 6 and 7 were released. However, in October 2002 I finally decided it was time for a change. I wanted something that would get me away from the commercial aspects provided in products like Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Netscape's Communicator. I found what I was looking for in Mozilla at http://www.mozilla.org. Mozilla is a free open-source browser suite and similar to Netscape 7.01. In fact, Netscape 7.01 is partially based on Mozilla 1.0.2 code. Open-source means that the source code is being developed by a community of programmers at large rather than by just Netscape engineers. According to Mozilla.org: "Most of the codebase was/is written, unit tested, and documented, by a team of around 100 Netscape staff. The level of participation by others, from volunteer hackers to IBM engineers, is increasing as the project progresses, with around 300 non-Netscape participants having had their code checked in to date. (This ignores non-code contributions such as testing and documentation.) Most product testing and bug reporting is done by the hundreds of thousands of users who regularly download test binaries from Mozilla.org."

In October I downloaded the Mozilla 1.1 browser suite which was officially released Aug 26, 2002 and started my Mozilla adventures. I am now running Mozilla 1.2.1 (11 MB download) released Dec 2, 2002. And what a great browser suite it is, but more about the features later. First, I'll walk you through the install process.

Before you install, read the version Release Notes available at Mozilla.org to get an idea of what to expect. Since Mozilla is a cross platform product (meaning it runs on Windows, Linux, MacOS, etc.) you will have to look for the notes that apply to the Windows version. Installation of Mozilla is fast and easy with only a few simple setup and install screens. I highly recommend you do the Mozilla install off the Internet as you may wish to change some Mozilla security preferences before going online the first time.

During setup I picked the Custom Install option. I chose to install only the browser (Navigator) and E-mail client so I selected Navigator, Mail & Newsgroups, and Personal Security Mozilla Setup ScreenManager. The HTML editor (Composer) came automatically with these selections. I did not want the chat program (Chatzilla), the developer oriented programs (Inspector and Debugger), or the Quality Feedback Agent program. I also did not select (check mark) the Use Quick Launch option. This preloads part of the Mozilla browser so the application loads faster but also uses up some resources. Internet Explorer also partially loads when Windows is booted up but you have no control over preventing this as IE is integrated with Windows. I would rather wait a few seconds longer for Mozilla to load than use up resources when it is not necessary. Once Mozilla is installed it takes up just under 26 Megabytes.

After the Mozilla files are copied to your hard drive, Mozilla automatically starts and comes up with the Profile Manager. Here you can create multiple user profiles for your settings, preferences, bookmarks, and stored messages. Mozilla imports information from other browsers. It found the profiles I had created for Netscape 4.76 and I imported my bookmarks and all my e-mail messages. Netscape 4.76 was still on my hard drive and Mozilla did not disturb it. All my Netscape 4.76 settings, bookmarks, messages, etc. were still intact. Mozilla also nicely asked if I wanted to make it my default browser and/or default E-mail client. There was no hijacking of programs. In Mozilla Mail & Newsgroups under Tools there is a Import option. Here is where you can import Address Books, Mail, and Settings from other programs like Eudora, Outlook Express, etc.

One of the first things I discovered once I had Mozilla up and running was it does not come with Java as past versions of Netscape and IE did. I went to the SCPCUG Home Page (http://www.scpcug.com) and the News Scroller box showed I needed a Plug-In. Clicking on that took me to Netscape's Plug-In page to select the Java Plug-In for download. What I did not realize initially was this Plug-In is 13 MB in size. That is bigger than the Mozilla suite! The whole download and install of the Java Plug-In was automated and no problem. I turned off my antivirus program while the file was downloading (prior to the install) just to make sure it did not cause a problem. Once installed you have a Java Web Start icon added to your DeskTop. While surfing I noticed that Java is not even activated until you go to a page that uses Java. A Java icon then appears in your System Tray. It then stays there until you close the browser.

Mozilla has many great features and it would be impossible to cover them all. Even after using Mozilla for several months I am still in the discovery process. For a quick overview of what Mozilla has to offer go to "101 things that the Mozilla browser can do that IE cannot" at http://www.xulplanet.com/ndeakin/arts/reasons.html. This list compares Mozilla to IE 6.0. Some items listed are technical and developer oriented but in general the list gives one a good idea of what Mozilla has to offer.

Cookie Request When Using MozillaOne of the most important features to me is Cookie Management. When I visit a web site for the first time, Mozilla informs me if the site wishes to send me a cookie and details what the cookie is and its expiration. I then have the choice to say Yes or No to acceptance but more importantly I have a checkbox that says Remember this decision. If I check that box and do not accept the cookie, I never see a cookie from that site during future visits unless I reverse my decision later (which is possible with the Cookie Manager). Now, I have complete control over cookies! Cookies of course are necessary in some cases like when buying something Mozilla Cookie Manageron the Net. Your shopping cart will simply show empty if you do not accept the cookies because that is how the merchant tracks what you are buying. Once you have completed your transaction you can simply go back to not accepting cookies while just browsing the merchant's site. By going into Preferences | Privacy & Security | Cookies you can do wonderful things like Disable cookies in Mail & Newsgroups. Yes, whether you realize it or not some E-mail message ads may include cookies. You can also Limit maximum lifetime of cookies.

Speaking of ads in E-mail messages, Mozilla has a fix for that also. Now I can understand ads being on the web to help pay for the information I am looking at, but I do not like cluttering up my E-mail messages (especially when they are unsolicited and trying to sell me something) with a bunch of images. Being on Dial-Up I may have to wait for the images to load into the E-mail message from some busy remote server. In Mozilla by going to Preferences | Privacy & Security | Images and checking the box that says Do not load remote images in Mail & Newsgroup messages, this problem is solved. On that Mozilla Scripts and Plugins Preference Choicessame preference page under Animated images should loop, I selected Once. That took care of having those animated GIF ads on web pages annoying me with their constant motion while I am trying to read the page text.

The second most important feature to me is Pop-Up Ad Blocking. There are a number of blocking programs for IE, both shareware and freeware, but none that I have found for Netscape. Mozilla has it built in and it really works! I have yet to see any Pop-Ups or Pop-Unders. This feature is activated in Mozilla by going to Preferences | Advanced | Scripts & Plugins and under Allow scripts to, uncheck Open unrequested windows. While there you might also consider unchecking Hide the status bar.

Tabbed Browsing is also a big winner! What Tabbed Browsing does is allow you to create a grouping for web pages you usually visit together. A tab is created for each page and shown across the top of your browser under your Personal Toolbar. Bookmarking the group of tabs allows all the tabs to be brought up simultaneously thus loading the tabbed pages. You can then Mozilla Tabbed Browsing and Sidebarswitch among the pages easily just by clicking the tabs. Tabbed Browsing is activated by going to Preferences | Navigator | Tabbed Browsing and selecting how you want to open tabs. I chose Middle-click or control-click of links in Web page. So if I am on a web page and click my mouse wheel on a link, a tab is created for the page I was on and a tab is created for the page I am going to. If I had just left-clicked the link instead, that link's page would have simply opened. I can add more tabbed pages to the group by again clicking my mouse wheel on a page link. When I have the grouping I want, I can go to Bookmarks, select Bookmark This Group of Tabs, and give it a Name. You might consider the above as temporary instructions for Tabbed Browsing because version 1.2.1 Mozilla Help under Tabbed Browsing shows "content to be provided." Yes, there still are a few rough edges in Mozilla 1.2.1 but nothing that has caused me concern. I have found it to be extremely stable, much more so than Netscape 4.76.

Mozilla has some features similar to IE. For example, a sidebar is available in IE 5.5 (IE's Explorer bar) but Mozilla's Sidebar includes tabs within the Sidebar for Search, Bookmarks, History, What's Related, etc. which makes it much more convenient. You can also select a favorite Search Engine like Google. Pressing the F9 function key on the keyboard brings up the Mozilla Sidebar.

One feature Netscape 4.76 did not have was Find & Replace. Mozilla's Mail & Newsgroups has it. This comes in very handy when you get one of those messages that has been forwarded several times and has all those >>>> symbols in the message body. If you intend to send the message text to others, do your friends a favor by eliminating all those symbols and replacing them with a blank space. Find and Replace is available from the Edit menu when composing a message. Other E-mail features I like include message filtering before and after receiving the message and customizable color coding (labels) for messages.

Mozilla's Download Manager is very comprehensive and so much better than just a simple Progress Dialog box. The Progress Dialog box is still available, however, if that is your preference. To select your option go to Preferences | Navigator | Downloads. The Download Manager shows Mozilla Download Managerthe Downloading file Name, A Progress Bar, % Downloaded , Time Remaining, Amount of Data Transferred versus Total File Size, Transfer Speed, Time Elapsed, and Source Path. When the download is finished you can immediately jump to the file location by clicking Show in Explorer or open the file by clicking Launch File. The download information for each file is retained unless you choose Remove from List. I really appreciate having all this information.

Mozilla also allows you to save web site page information in three ways: Web Page complete (HTML page with all referenced images), Web Page HTML only (no images), or Text Files. These options give the user complete control in gathering web information. If you do any kind of serious research on the web, this is a "must have" feature. It allows you to gather the information online and then review it in detail later at your convenience offline. Until I installed Mozilla I had been using IE 5.5 to do this as Netscape 4.76 does not have this feature.

I have just touched on a few of the many features in Mozilla which to my mind makes it the best browser suite out there. I am especially gratified to know I am not alone in my thinking. In his Nov 8, 2002 WinInfo Daily Update Newsletter (http://www.wininformant.com/), Paul Thurrott of SuperSite for Windows (http://www.winsupersite.com/) stated he uses Mozilla, rather than IE, as his primary browser. Such a statement means a lot to me. Paul Thurott is one of the leading experts on what is happening with Microsoft and the Windows Operating Systems. I value his insight, judgements, and opinions. His SuperSite link has been on our SCPCUG Software Links page (http://www.scpcug.com/softlink.html) for a very long time and I have often quoted from his WinInfo Daily Update Newsletter at our SCPCUG Main Monthly Meetings.

Well known computer columnist and author John C. Dvorak (http://www.dvorak.org) is also using Mozilla. In his Nov 26, 2002 PC Magazine article "Upstarts Attack Microsoft Slackers" (http://www.nyq.pcmag.com/article2/0,6263,715464,00.asp), John wrote "A lot of people have been switching their browsers from Internet Explorer to Mozilla 1.1, Opera 7, or even the new Netscape Navigator (now based on the Mozilla code). Count me in. For most of my browsing, I've moved from IE to Mozilla."

In conclusion, I can truly say that with Mozilla, browsing is once again a pleasure, like the old days before the web got so commercialized with ads. Much more information about Mozilla is available on the web. For starters, in addition to the Mozilla site (http://www.mozilla.org) which has a wealth of information, try MozFan.info at http://www.mozfan.info/ and MozillaNews at http://www.mozillanews.org/.

Note: Web Master Wanderings articles contain links to external web sites. Web addresses are constantly changing. There is no guarantee that the information links provided in this article will remain unbroken or up-to-date beyond the date that this article is originally published.