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Browsers and desktops

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on December 12, 2003
(Issue 2150, Ether Entrepreneurs)

Last week, we looked at a handful of e-mail clients available for Windows – and that came in response to an earlier column where I bemoaned the bugginess of Eudora's e-mail software and the Netscape 7 browser. In that original column, I also pointed out the ongoing security issues with Microsoft's competing products – Outlook and Internet Explorer.

As illustrated in the last column, I was pleasantly surprised to learn from readers that there are solid alternatives to Eudora and Outlook.

And, of course, there are also alternatives to Netscape and IE – even if those are the two most popular browsers.

I've written at length in the past about Opera, a commercial browser from Norway that is very good, very fast and very inexpensive. It's available not only for Windows, but Mac and Linux, too.

And we've also visited Mozilla before, an open-source descendant of Mosaic, the first graphical browser for Windows (although not, as legend has it, the first graphical browser ever – World Wide Web/HTML inventor Tim Berners Lee wrote his own graphical browser for the NeXT workstation he created the Web on). Mozilla is also available for Linux and Mac as well as Windows.

On the Mac side, there is now Apple's very good Safari browser for OSX.

But Windows users also have yet another polished, stable Web browser available – Beonex.

Open-source, based on Mozilla

As with the buggy, often-crashing Netscape 7, Beonex is based on the Mozilla open-source browser code. Unlike Netscape, I've yet to have Beonex crash on me.

Visually, it looks more like Netscape 7 than it does Mozilla. Like its two cousins, it contains a browser, a combined e-mail client/newsgroup reader and a graphical HTML editor.

In fact, I'd say Beonex is more of a tweak of Mozilla than a separate browser. For one, of Mozilla is running and you try to launch Beonex, Windows simply opens another Mozilla window. And the same happens in reverse, too – if Beonex is running, you can't launch Mozilla.

What sets Beonex apart is its security features – it's locked down tighter than Netscape or Mozilla. JavaScripts are more tightly controlled, according to the Beonex web site. Cookies are automatically flushed at the end of each session. It disables some of the identifying information browsers generally provide to web servers when you visit a site.

The e-mail/newsgroup client is also set up to keep malicious HTML from hijacking your e-mail account.

The coolest feature that sets Beonex apart is the search function in the address bar. Instead of typing in a URL, you can also type in the search words you want to use, then click Search – and you are taken to Google where you results are displayed.

For those tired of IE's security holes and Netscape's instability, Beonex provides a nice alternative. And it's also available for Mac OSX and Linux as well as Windows.

Desktop alternatives

Outside of the Mac, most computer operating systems have provided a choice of graphical environments. Linux lets you choose between Gnome and KDE, the Atari ST/TT line supported NeoDesk, and in the early days of Windows you could use GEM or GeoWorks to replace Windows on top of DOS, or even use Central Point Software's PC Tools for Windows to enhance the clunky functionality of Windows 3.1.

Microsoft has been trying to strongarm the Windows world into the Mac's monolithic version of computing ever since Windows 95, however.

Still, for those who don't like the XP desktop – even with all the themes available – there do remain other choices.

One that I found is Aston.

It's not a full GUI replacement for Windows – the dialogue boxes and file-managing menus are all native Windows95/98/2K/XP. But it does let you have a very different approach to the desktop on your PC if you like.

The way Aston organizes information on the desktop is simply different from native Windows. And that organization of information even varies within different Aston themes; they are more than simple cosmetic changes – they actually offer alternative forms of data organization.

And let's face it – each of our brains works slightly differently. I found one Aston theme that stacked my applications on the desktop by type of program – office productivity, online utilities, games. Once you find one you like, it makes it a lot easier to do what you want to do on your PC.

There are other Windows desktop replacements – HoverDesk, Stardock and more – and we'll be visiting them in the coming year. Don't want to wait? You can check out the Google Directory listing for Virtual Managers.