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2. Browser add-ons aid navigation on Web

By Mark Alberstat

WE'VE ALL BEEN cruising the World Wide Web for years now, and although the number of Web sites and pages grows daily, the way we use the Web and view those pages has remained relatively static. The browser wars of the mid-'90s are over, with Microsoft's Internet Explorer coming out the clear winner and the once dominant Netscape trailing far behind in second place.

A few new Web browsers have been introduced over the years, the most prominent being Opera and Mozilla. Opera is certainly the lesser known of the two. It's a privately developed browser that costs about $30 US, unless you don't mind seeing a lot of ads and use the ad-supported version. Mozilla is basically the open-source version of Netscape, which is now owned by AOL.

To help people browse the Web more efficiently, several of the busiest sites have created browser ad-ons to help their users. Many other companies have also created a wide variety of browser plug-ins that can aid users in their online surfing.

One of the first, and possibly best-integrated products, is the Google Toolbar. This ingenious device works as another toolbar line in your browser window. The bar features quick access to the massive - and quick - Google search engine and is fairly customizable.

For users with a healthy dose of paranoia, or a shared computer, the bar also features a "clear search history" button. Best of all, this toolbar is free and very easy to install and use.

In Yahoo!'s ongoing attempt for you to live at their site they have also added a browser toolbar to their growing list of Yahoo! downloads. The Yahoo! Companion is similar to the Google Toolbar but also has quick keys to your Yahoo!-stored bookmarks and also a button for My Yahoo!, their customizable portal page.

eBay also has a integrated toolbar for all the auction junkies among us. The free add-on keeps tabs on your eBay auctions without you having to go to their site, and through the My eBay tab.

For the student in all of us, Merriam-Webster, the dictionary people, has an add-on that integrates very well into the Internet Explorer and Netscape toolbars. Once installed you can highlight any word on a Web page, or enter it in a search box, and a new pop-up window appears with the definition of it from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. There's even a link for an audio clip of the term so you can get the pronunciation correct.

Newshounds, of course, aren't left off the list of target markets for browser add-ons. MSNBC's free News Alert doesn't actually place anything on your toolbar but does put an icon on the bottom of your screen. When the icon flashes a bull's eye, news is breaking. You can then click the icon for a popup of that news item. The feature is configurable so you can get breaking-news updates along with those from the entertainment, business and technology worlds.

There are other ad-ware and share-ware programs with which you can add buttons to your browser, automatic form fill-in tools and of course, programs that can suppress those annoying pop-up ads. Remember, not all Net companies are created equal and some of these add-ons could give you configuration problems or even increase the number of pop-up ads. With these tools, and others like them, you will be able to surf the Web better, faster and maybe save some time for a bit of online gaming.

Here are a few links related to the software mentioned:

The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about computing, e-mail If we use your question in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.


The Mousepad Index


Originally published 9 February 2003


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