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Hot on the Web

More browsers than ever

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on August 6, 2004
(Issue 2232, Are You Game?)

It's an interesting phenomenon that proves once again (as if we should have needed additional reminders) that the accepted wisdom isn't always so wise.

Years after everyone in both the industry and media had written off the Web browser as a viable software model, conceding the market to Microsoft's dominant Internet Explorer, more and more upstarts continue to introduce new browsers, while others keep upgrading theirs.

Over the past year, we've looked at all kinds of alternatives to IE – from Opera and Netscape to Mozilla, Mozilla Firebird, Mozilla Camino, Beonex and Apple's Safari. Heck, in the supposed 'Grand Age" of the Internet in the early 1990s you never had this much competition in the browser market.

It's all enough to make you wonder whether Microsoft didn't at least touch a small nugget of truth when they argued in their antitrust case that Netscape lost its market dominance by failing to adapt quickly enough.

Not that IE has lost its market dominance – not yet anyway and maybe not as long as Microsoft includes it with every copy of Windows it sells – but clearly there are enough disillusioned consumers to make it worthwhile for others to support their own browsers.

Yet another entry

A British firm has released the Deepnet browser. It's a free download from

What sets Deepnet apart from any other browser I've tried is the way it combines a Web browser, a Gnutella client and a news reader. Well, that last part isn't quite what it sounds, for Deepnet doesn't let you access a Usenet server; instead, it goes to Web sites like the BBC or CNN, and feeds you their news feeds. So you can't subscribe to alt.sys.atari-st, but you can subscribe to the BBC's Americas report.

As far as the Web side of things is concerned, the browser seems to work just fine with most add-ons and plugins. Every site I visited looked as good in Deepnet as in anything else. It even ran Flash applications without having to re-install a plugin.

All of which leads one to wonder if Deepnet isn't built around the Mozilla or IE engines. The About entry in the pull-down menu didn't offer any clues; no acknowledgment of outside copyrights.

While Netscape and Mozilla have offered a Usenet news reader with their popular browsers for years, Deepnet is the first browser I've found that includes a file-sharing client – in this case Gnutella.

Deepnet is certainly as easy to use as LimeWire, one of the more popular Gnutella clients.

Gnutella, for those not familiar with it, is a peer to peer file-sharing network protocol that allows you to designate a directory on your hard drive and allow anyone else on the network to access files in that directory.

While the most publicized application of this has been for sharing MP3 music files, you can share just about any file you want. I found vacation photos of Maui, recipe e-books, all kinds of perfectly legal and very interesting materials.

The newsfeed browser is also an interesting application of technology; I subscribed to both BBC and CNN in seconds. The interface is familiar and easy to figure out quickly.

Fully integrated

In fact, that was one of Deepnet's best features – you can switch back and forth from Web to news to P2P file sharing with a single click. And within each application, you can have multiple tabs open.

It's a pretty addictive little Internet interface.

The Deepnet Web site says there is no spyware or adware included, which makes me wonder how they plan to make money off of this free download. Unlike the free version of Opera or Juno, there are no built-in ad panels.

However, I also noticed that even when I closed all Deepnet windows, the Deepnet icon remained in the Windows taskbar – and my router buttons were lit up like a Times Square Christmas tree. What was causing all that traffic? Gnutella pings? News updating calls?

Maybe, but I'm not a programmer and I'm not entirely comfortable with leaving Deepnet on all the time until I know what all that Internet activity is.

But for the tech heads among us, Deepnet sure seems to be worth investigating – it's feature set and ease of use make it awfully nice to use.