I overheard a conversation at last month’s meeting of the Tucson Macintosh Users Group. Two TMUGers were discussing America Online, in loud voices:
Mr. ISP: Are you still using that stupid AOL?
Mr. AOL: Sure. Why not?
Mr. ISP: Come on. Get a real Internet account!
Mr. AOL: You mean, like “get a real computer”? Not a chance.
Mr. ISP: No, seriously. Why do you keep using that lousy AOL?
Mr. AOL: What’s so bad about it?
Mr. ISP: Busy signals, teenage dimwits, spam-spam-spam in your mailbox, and that idiotic AOL browser.
Mr. AOL: Ha! You’re wrong. I can log in anytime, delete the spam in a few seconds, and I don’t ever use chat rooms.
Mr. ISP: Yeah, but browsing the Web on AOL is worse than changing your tire when it’s 110š outside here in August.
Mr. AOL: Wrong again. I can now use either Netscape or Internet Explorer instead of the built-in AOL browser, just like you can. Plus I have access to all the AOL content, which is more than you will ever have. Take a hike, and pick on somebody else.
I was intrigued by the final statement of Mr. AOL, especially after reading the comments in the October issue by my colleague, Mike Gorman, our talented My Mac artist:
“I don’t own stock in AOL and I know its bad points. But I look at it as I
look at my Mac: there are certain things I like to do with my computer, and I like to do them in the easiest way possible. I feel AOL does it for me.”
Our TMUG BBS administrator confirmed that he is using Netscape instead of the AOL Web browser. American Online 3.0.1 is very good for content and variety, but the default Web browser is slow, clumsy, and incomplete compared to the full-featured competition.
When I returned home, I launched AOL, activated AOL Guide, chose Topics, selected The Internet, then double-clicked “How do I run Netscape with AOL.” The box that popped onto the screen read:
Well, this must be easy, I thought, so here goes. And thus begins our story.
I launched Netscape 3, which I had been using daily with my ISP http://WorldNet.att.net, but this time I didn’t allow Navigator to perform its PPP dial-up. Next, I opened AOL 3, and logged onto the local dial-in number. I clicked on the Netscape window, typed in a Web URL address, and the system froze. I did a Restart.
In reverse order, I logged into AOL, then launched Netscape. A splash screen appeared, stating I needed to activate the AOL-Link extension. I made AOL-Link active, and did another Restart. Again I logged into AOL and launched Netscape. As it crashed, I got a momentary error message. I looked up the error code, and learned that my system memory was insufficient to run all those applications. Fair enough.
I have 20MB of real RAM on my 68K Performa 636. I activated RamDoubler 2, restarted twice, logged onto AOL, opened Netscape, and was able to browse through a couple of URLs before Navigator crashed. I did a few more restarts, and eventually I learned that RamDoubler 2 is incompatible with one or more of my INITs. Additionally, I had a hunch that I needed more physical RAM than was available on my computer in order to run Netscape with AOL.
Disabling RamDoubler 2, I briefly considered reinstalling Netscape 2 to continue the experiment. I was so much happier, though, using Netscape 3 than version 2 that I dropped the idea. Instead, I loaded Microsoft Internet Explorer 2, from Adam Engst’s Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh, Fourth Edition, CD software. I remembered reading how RAM-thrifty Explorer is.
Yes, Internet Explorer did run successfully on AOL, but Explorer 2 was
disappointing, in comparison to Netscape 3.
I remembered reading Mike Wallinga’s “Wall Writings” in the June 1997 issue of My Mac – http://www.mymac.com/columns/monthly/wall_writings/jun_97.htm, in which he took the plunge and began using Explorer 3 as his daily browser. I wondered if it would work on my system, running with AOL instead of a PPP connection.
I downloaded Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0.1a, trashed Explorer 2, and installed Explorer 3. When I restarted, the system crashed with the dreaded “throbbing rectangle” startup freeze. I gradually disabled conflict-causing INITs and did many restarts, until I could get the system to reboot with extensions on. (Special note: I have since obtained Conflict Catcher 4, to manage future problems of this nature.)
It was possible to launch both AOL and Explorer 3, and browse for a little while before Explorer crashed. I was getting closer to my goal, and I was pleased with Microsoft’s browser, at least while it was working.
Like many of you, I was in no hurry to use Explorer instead of Navigator, but now that Apple and Microsoft are partners, sort of, I can use Explorer with a clear conscience. Right?
Russ, our fearless My Mac editor, suggested, via e-mail, that Explorer probably needed more memory allocated that was currently available, and that I should systematically disable conflicting INITs and fonts.
Okay, Russ. Using Get Info, I changed the Explorer memory setting from 5000K to 5500K. Then I disabled or trashed a bunch of extensions, control panels, and fonts which I hoped I could live without. I even dumped a few preferences that were no longer necessary.
At Russ’s suggestion I also ran Disk First Aid twice, Norton Disk Doctor
twice, rebuilt the desktop and zapped the PRAM with TechTool, and created a new set of Finder Preferences.
I spent most of my waking hours reading Ted Landau’s SAD MACS, THIRD EDITION, and taking careful notes. Ted’s advice was consistent with Russ’s recommendations.
For the first time all week, the computer booted up like an Olympic medalist: clear sailing from the Power Key to the Finder. Hey, Russ and Ted: Your advice was brilliant.
My euphoria was curtailed, though, when I began messing around with the memory settings for both AOL and Internet Explorer. I changed AOL’s allotment from the default, 6000/4000/6000K to
6000/4000/4000K, because I thought I wouldn’t need the browser’s 2MB of memory any more. I tested AOL on its own, and it worked perfectly, with the 4MB of memory active.
Next I began fooling with Explorer’s memory allocation in Get Info, but I couldn’t get consistent browser operation. Perhaps the problem was that I set both the Minimum and Preferred settings at 6000K. I was getting closer, though, and could taste victory on the horizon.
I awoke in a sweat at 2:30 a.m. I figured it out in my sleep! As long as I
had 1MB – 2MB in an “unused block” of RAM, I could keep AOL’s memory allocation at 4MB and fine-tune Explorer’s memory until the recipe worked.
I forced myself to stay in bed until 6:00, then hurried into my office. The
Mac started up just fine, as expected. AOL still was at 6000/4000/4000, and ran beautifully, with no AOL browser active.
I found that at 4000K I can read the Usenet Newsgroups using AOL’s News reader, but that AOL’s own browser requires 6000K of memory. Explorer at 4974/5000/5500K runs comfortably on top of AOL, leaving me 2MB of System memory to spare. Whew!
At this point Russ said, “John, get more RAM!” No kidding, pal.
Throughout the following week Explorer and AOL were compatible
allies; so much so that I began to consider America Online a double-strength Internet Provider. I’ll explain.
The majority of activity on the Internet consists of e-mail and Web-browsing. AOL’s e-mail software is sufficient for most personal communication. We now know that Explorer or Navigator can be run on AOL, given sufficient RAM.
Internet Usenet Newsgroups are freely available on AOL 3. I spent an
afternoon on Usenet, via AOL, and the News reader feature is acceptable, and very fast.
America Online is, first and foremost, a content provider, or a digital
information community. Millions of AOL subscribers spend most (if not all) of their online time within AOL itself. The online channels are gateways to an astonishing amount of readily-available material, and member-to-member communications.
My friend Stuart reminded me: “Another alternative is to get into AOL via your Internet provider and you only have to pay $10 per month for unlimited usage. Quitting AOL and logging on directly to Explorer or Netscape only takes a few seconds. Why do you need to combine the two instead of using them independently, if you’re paying for the ISP anyway?”
Correct, Stu, but my method enables me to have only one membership, to AOL.
I am pleased with the results of my week-long project. It is very convenient being able to click back-and-forth between AOL and the Web, especially using a first-quality browser.
Keep reading ….
As a bonus, each America Online account offers up to five different screen names to the subscriber. Using this capability, several family members, close friends, or business associates can share one AOL account. The $20/month subscription cost for AOL (which is reduced if you prepay annually) is a tremendous value for the money.
AOL 3 and the America Online network are far from perfect. I have experienced most of the well-publicized problems during my three years as a member. I am now more positive on AOL, because the network is extensive, the software is good, and the browser is replaceable!
I would like to thank Russ for his top-notch assistance in preparing my
Any questions, readers?
John Nemerovski (firstname.lastname@example.org)