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Lost in Cyberspace

Beyond Navigator and Explorer

This article was originally published on August 11, 1998 by SignOn San Diego and Copley News Service.

You'd never know it to read the trade magazines or popular press, but there are Web browsers out there not published by Netscape or Microsoft. Now, given that both Netscape's Navigator and Microsoft's Internet Explorer are free, why anyone would want to use an alternative browser – much less go to all the trouble of coding one – is a good question.

But out there they are. Dozens of them. A couple of them are actually quite good, better even than Navigator or Explorer in some ways.

Of the alternatives, the two most polished, professional browsers for the Windows platform are Opera and HotJava.

Opera is a Norwegian company that is pushing hard in the browser wars, and is making some noise if not much of a dent in the market. Unlike Navigator and Internet Explorer, Opera isn't free – after a 30-day trial period, you must register Opera for $35. (In a bit of overly optimistic marketing hype, Opera's home page declares that "Lastly, Opera isn't 'free' – and never will be. In fact, our users are paying for it with the greatest pleasure.")

What do you get for your pleasure-laden payment of $35? A full-featured browser, actually. It's laid out much like the latest version of IE, with a favorites list running vertically down the lefthand side of the open browser window. And, as advertised, Opera is fast – pages load significantly quicker than in either IE or Navigator.

But Opera seems to lack some compatibility. At least some Java applications did not run on Opera that did run on other browsers. And the popular Shockwave and Real plug-ins won't work with Opera, either.

The other top-notch alternative browser for Windows, HotJava, is a free Java-based browser from Sun Microsystems. The basic version is available for Solaris or Windows, but there are other versions to run on Macs and other platforms as well.

Unlike Opera, HotJava (predictably) will run Java applications. But as with Opera, HotJava lacks a lot of the popular browser plugins that make the Web as interactive and multimedia as it is.

Another free browser for Windows is NeoPlanet from Bigfoot. OK, to be accurate, NeoPlanet isn't really an "alternative" browser as it's simply a reconfigured version of Microsoft's Internet Explorer; IE is the browser "engine," while NeoPlanet adds its own channels bar in a vertical menu along the righthand side. And most plug-ins seem to work with it, due to the IE engine.

Other Windows-based browsers include the latest versions of the two that started the whole Web phenomenon: Mosaic and Lynx.

Mosaic was the first commercially available graphical browser and the precursor to Navigator and IE (Netscape's founders started on the Mosaic project before striking out on their own). It is still available for free download, although no longer being developed. Version 3.0 is available for Windows 95/NT and Mac; 2.11 is available for Windows 3.1 and newer, while XWindows users can get up to version 2.7. It does support frames and tables (sort of), but – again – no plugins or Java.

Lynx is the original text-based browser, from back when people were still excited about the hypertext possibilities of the Web – never mind flashy graphics or multimedia. It's still in development, still being supported, and you can find versions for most platforms from the above link.

One of the first Mac alternative browsers came from Apple itself, Cyberdog. It's a freebie, seems to have a lot of support, and looked nice on screen shots (sadly, I don't have access to a Mac these days).

For even more Windows and Mac browsers, or other platforms, a visit is in order to Dave Garaffa's BrowserWatch site. The Browser Boulevard section of his site lists browsers by platform – Windows, Mac, Unix, OS/2, Amiga. Each listing also has a hot link to the developer's home page where you can get more info or download a demo or shareware version. The down side is that the list isn't very up to date – many of the browsers listed are no longer supported and many of the links are no longer good.

Finally, check out Yahoo's browser page. You'll find stuff like IBM's Web browser for OS/2, Voyager NG for the Amiga, the SPIN graphical browser for DOS, plus dozens of other browsers with names like Charlotte and Juggler and Viola. And a Yahoo search for "browsers" will turn up even more, such as the Crystal Atari Browser for the ST/TT/Falcon line of home computers.

But unless you're actually using one of those old Amiga or Atari computers, it's hard to imagine wanting to use any browser besides Netscape or Internet Explorer.