Wall Writings
My Mac Magazine #28, Aug. ’97

This Month: To Web, or not to Web…

First it was RealAudio. Then ShockWave. Frames. RealVideo. Animated GIFs. Java. “Push” technology. And now they want me to download this huge Netscape Communicator program… er, suite? Enough is enough. My computer and myself no longer have the memory or the patience, respectively, to deal with it all. My Mac freezes, I fall asleep waiting for applets to load, and I spend more time waiting on bells and whistles that I don’t really need than I actually spend getting anything done. Don’t get me wrong; I like the World Wide Web, and I like the pictures, stylized text, forms, and other things that the Web is capable of handling. I even enjoy a few good Java applets and sound bites. But you’ve got to know when to say when. I think the Net has reached its saturation point for multimedia, unless you’re running a brand new 604e with a few dozen megs of RAM, anyway.

So, in a transcendentalist, back-to-nature like move, I decided to work for a week without Netscape or Explorer. No Web browser for me. Just Eudora, Fetch, Global Chat, NewsWatcher, TurboGopher, and MacLynx. Yes, MacLynx. Did I say no Web browser? Oh, sorry. I lied.

A Browser For the ASCII Lover in All of Us
It began, coincidentally enough, when I started using Internet Explorer 3.01 as my one and only Web browser. I’ve found that MIE has occasional problems with Eudora running in the background, and it has a tendency to freeze while loading simple inline GIFs. At least that’s the case on my machine and the amount of memory I can allocate to it. Maybe it’s a RAM Doubler problem; it wouldn’t be the first time for that. Whatever it is, I really don’t know and I’m not too concerned with finding out. MIE still doesn’t crash any more often that Navigator 3.0 did, and MIE’s feature set is too compelling for me to switch back.

But all of that is beside the point. The thrust of the matter is that I was freezing, crashing, and having all of my problems occur while my browsers (either one) loaded stuff I really didn’t need – all of the aforementioned goodies. Just when I had found the information I wanted or needed, the screen froze on me. And, as any devout follower of Murphy could tell you, usually the most pertinent information would be found a little too far down, so that I would have had to scroll a few lines to get to it. A restart, a reconnection, and a reloading later, I had what I needed. It was as annoying and as inconvenient as hell, though.

So, I turned off all of the features, didn’t load the images, and now I’m sitting pretty. Pretty darn inefficient, that is, since I have eight megs of RAM devoted to an application that is doing nothing more than showing styled text on the screen. That’s not the solution.

Then I read about MacLynx, a Macintosh port of the Lynx browser that Unix computers use to surf the Web. Its main caveat: it’s entirely text-only and keyboard-driven. It’s small, fast, and requires only two megs of RAM. Kind of like a gopher app for Web pages. It’s also still in beta, which normally is a big “no” in my book, but I was curious enough to try it out.

I like it.

It may be very basic, but the people that are doing the porting have gone to great lengths to make this Unix program Mac friendly. It comes in PowerPC and 680×0 flavors, and supports AppleScript, Drag and Drop, Internet Config, Speech Manager, helper apps, and so forth. It also supports HTML features like cookies, forms, frames, maps, and the like. Impressive for a text-only browser, in my opinion.

It does have a few limitations, though. Hopefully these will get fixed as future beta releases come out, but as of now it can’t print, and the copy, cut, and paste commands don’t work. Also, some scroll bars sure would be nice!!! Getting used to all of the key commands is a little tricky, too. I’m surprised by how much I miss the button bars found in Netscape and MIE. All in all, though, the program works as advertised.

It’s fast, responsive, and remarkably stable for a beta program. It’s not the be-all and end-all of browsing, I could think of several improvements right offhand. Also, the tags that remain for images get a little annoying – try to access a graphically heavy Web site with MacLynx and you get more tags on your screen than you do actual text. But for quickly accessing some information, it works just fine. For simple things, like just checking out the latest Cardinals game score or the newest Macintosh headlines, it does the job well.

I don’t want to come across as too much of a purist. I’ll admit that the lack of pictures and sounds started to become a little dreary. I’ve since developed a nice co-existence between my browsers: Internet Explorer when I want to surf for fun and pleasure, and MacLynx for when I need some quick reference work.

By the way, ironically enough, I found out about MacLynx while doing some Web browsing with Explorer. If you’d like your own copy or just a little more info about MacLynx, I suggest using C|NET, at http://www.browsers.com.

More Than Just the Web
And let’s not forgot all of the other neat, mostly text-only things to do while you’re online. Even the most casual of My Mac readers have probably heard of my infatuation with e-mail programs, so I won’t say any more about that. However, during my text-only week I fell in love with IRC again, found FTP to be a more than acceptable alternative to downloading files using a Web browser, and even kind of got into UseNet. Sort of. Well, I guess you can’t have it all.

So, if you’re even the tiniest bit disillusioned with the bloated browser programs and slow download times of Web pages, try a text-only week for a change. I wouldn’t recommend a total, cold-turkey withdrawal from the triple W (I’m sure not brave enough to go to that extreme!), but you’ve got nothing to lose, right? Except a few pretty pictures, that is…

Wall Writings: The College Years
Right now, I’m typing away in my air-conditioned living room during 90 degree heat. It’s hard to believe, but by the time you read this, I’ll be preparing to sit around in my tiny little college dorm room in 90 degree heat instead. In the next couple of months, expect to hear a lot from me about getting by with my “new” computer (I inherited a 020-based LC, a downgrade from my family’s current 040-based LC 575) and living on a virtually “Windows-only” campus. Wish me luck.

With the move to college also comes the changing of my e-mail address. I’ll have to go through the tedious task of unsubscribing and resubscribing to all of my mailing lists, and telling my friends about the change. Problem is, I’m not sure yet what my new e-mail address is going to be. Then I realized that I’m going to have to do the whole thing over again when next summer comes and I’m home for vacation, and then again in the fall, and then…

After contemplating this vicious cycle for the four years that it would last, an idea hit me: a permanent e-mail address. Some of you may have noticed it on the back page last month, but I’ll formally announce it here. I’ve chosen the forwarding service Iname, and instead of choosing one of the zillions of “fun” domains that they offer, I went with their boring and generic one. My new (and hopefully permanent) e-mail address is mikew@mymac.com. Please send all e-mail headed my direction to that address. I highly recommend their service, and if you’d like to check them out yourself, their URL is http://www.iname.com. (Access their Web page with Netscape or MIE for best results. 🙂

See you in September!

Mike Wallinga (mlwall@mtcnet.net)

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