Webster Browser

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, send e-mail

Published by: Webster Publishing, go to the web site
Requires: Any computer running Windows 95, 98, NT4 or higher and Microsoft Internet Explorer 4 or higher
MSRP: AUS$19.95, US$15.00 (on-line purchase)

Webster Browser is a Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) add-on. Webster Browser provides a replacement interface for IE, as well as some interesting features not found in IE. As a general browser it functions quite well, rivaling the speed of IE. Webster Browser boasts a host of features and functions not found in IE, and is marketed as a one-stop shop for incurable Web surfers looking for the ultimate surfing tool.

In 1986, Webster Publishing, based in Sydney Australia, began authoring and publishing a wide range of computer books aimed at teaching people how to use popular PC software. Webster then expanded into developing interactive, computer-based training software. CD-ROM development started in January 1993, with the first multimedia CD released in September 1993 - a product which taught people how to use Microsoft Windows and DOS, and which included extensive audio as well as text and pictures. Webster Publishing released its first two reference multimedia CD-ROM titles in October 1994, with additional titles released through 1998. By mid-1998, Webster Publishing had over 30 multimedia titles selling in the retail channels in Oceania, North America, Asia and western Europe. Webster Browser is the latest in a long line of interesting titles. Today, Webster Publishing supports Webster World - a remarkable online encyclopedia in wide use by schools in Australia.

We tested Webster Browser on a PII/400 running Windows 98 and IE5.01 accessing the 'net through a LANCity LCPET-3 cable modem on a 500Kbps connection. Installation was quick and easy, and no preset IE5 settings were altered. The existing Favorites list was fully accessible, although the Webster installer added a Webster Browser Search Engine item.

Webster Browser provides access to every feature normally associated with IE4/5 and adds some interesting features of its own. If you're into amateur Web design, your installation of IE should have included FrontPage Express. Webster Browser will automatically send pages to FrontPage for editing and management. You can even save pages as projects, with the option of running them offline in a slide show (a very nice touch for amateurs wishing to get an idea about how good or bad their site is). Saving on-line sources to disk also allows images to be copied locally, and URLs rewritten to reference the images locally. If you want to teach yourself Web page design, this is an ideal tool.

Webster Browser also provides lots of on-line information about individual pages and sites including META tag data (key words made available to search engines), script, frame, object, and form counts, image lists, total download sizes for HTML pages, and a host of image control functions. If poking around is more to your liking, the nifty Spy feature lets you run your mouse over any page objects and find out how the page was put together, the image names, and specific dimensions. You can add notes to any page for later reference.

Two of the niftiest features you'll find anywhere are the Zoom function (which lets you zoom in on any image in any increment), and the multiple Favorites feature which allows you to access your normal Favorites list as well as any others that happen to be accessible (such as on a network or Intranet).

The most intriguing feature is the Administrator mode which allows surfing to be restricted to only selected URLS or alternatively, restricted from selected URLS. This also allows ads to be turned off. For example, restricting access to ad.doubleclick.net will prevent any ads from appearing in AltaVista. There's nothing new here, but it does represent another parental control option alongside such things as NetNanny, CyberSitter and eBlaster.

The browser is preconfigured with lots of commercial links to Webster Publishing's mini-empire in Australia, which appears to be a great resource for anyone looking for information about Oz and New Zealand.

Cons: With all the inexpensive development tools available for modern interface design, the Webster Browser interface could look a lot better. As a work of visual design it leaves a lot to be desired. The Webster Publishing Web site is poorly designed too, presenting difficult navigation, key pages buried too deeply, and requiring far too many mouse clicks to get at the e-commerce area (in order to register Webster Browser for example). (Ed. Note: As of April 2003 the Webster World site has been completely redesigned and much improved)

Pros: Webster Browser is functional enough for any inveterate Web surfer. The multiple Favorites directories, Spy and Web page project management features are particularly nice and the combination is unique. The unique Zoom feature is also useful. Webster Browser is rock solid in operation. It is available via download as a fully operational 30-day, trial version. Give it a whirl - it might be just what you're looking for.

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