It’s a beautiful day. You’re seated comfortably, with your hands on the keyboard and your modem cranked up to maximum throughput. You’ve got nothing in front of you but the open road and your favorite Web browser. Where do you go from here?
They don’t call it the World Wide Web for nothing. New sites appear every day, offering everything from news and information to an opportunity to spend money or play a game. You will never have time to visit every site on the Web, but with help from us you can hit the highlights. We’ve found some of the best sites on the Web for your journey, named the best browser (see the sidebar “Picking Your Ride: The Best Browser”), compiled essential search tips (see the sidebar “Finding Your Way: Top Search Tips”), and even found utilities to help you en route (see the sidebar “Your Packing List: Essential Web Utilities”). We’ll leave the driving to you.
The Mac and the Web go way back. Hundreds of sites feature Mac products, shareware, news, and evangelism. Many of the best ones are run by individuals whose work is fueled by love for the Mac.
Operated by author and Macworld contributing editor Ted Landau, MacFixIt is both a running commentary on Mac OS developments and the home of detailed troubleshooting advice for everything from hard disks to digital cameras.
The site is searchable and is updated three times a week. MacFixIt users are quick to find bugs and conflicts, and they regularly contribute tips and suggestions, making the site a true treasure of the Mac community.
If you’re in need of serious Mac help, make sure you also stop in at the Apple Tech Info Library, a.k.a. TIL (
). This searchable archive contains technical notes, product data sheets, and other documents about every Apple product. If you’re willing to wade through a massive amount of information, you’ll probably find your answer here.
Like a number of online and catalog retailers, MacConnection is part of a larger site that’s devoted to computer products for Windows PCs. Unlike most of these Mac site segments, however, MacConnection has its own front page and won’t spit out a bunch of parallel-port peripherals when you search for a printer or backup device. The site is well organized and fully stocked with Macs, peripherals, and software. The search feature is easy to use, and the prices, while not rock bottom, are fair.
If you’re looking for a used Mac or for parts and peripherals for older systems, another site will fit the bill: MacWorks (
Info-Mac, the giant shareware archive housed at MIT and mirror sites around the world, is the granddaddy of all Macintosh-shareware sites. The HyperArchive Web site, hosted by MIT’s Laboratory for Computer Science, is a bare-bones search interface to the Info-Mac library that leads to abstracts of each file and a download link. We recommend this site because of the sheer volume of the archives and the absolute dedication of the volunteers who work to keep it up.
With a Web browser and a credit card, you can find and buy just about anything online. The good sites offer secure transaction processing to protect your credit-card number from theft. Most online stores also offer fast delivery and competitive prices. Watch out for e-stores that charge high shipping rates, and be sure to compare prices with those of other sites. You may be surprised how much of a difference there is.
Here you’ll find electronics, home office equipment, automotive items, sports equipment, and lots more. CompareNet isn’t a department store, however; its primary function is to help you narrow down a list of products and compare them, based on price and features. With that information in hand, you can click on a CompareNet partner link to go to a commerce site and make a purchase. The site’s comparison criteria are well chosen, and the ability to create a custom table of just the products you’re interested in is very slick.
Selection and depth are two major reasons to shop for music at CDnow. True, the prices are not the lowest you will find online, but they are somewhat below retail and sales are frequent. Devotees of a particular artist can even find listings here of compilation CDs that contain songs the artist recorded.
Music Boulevard (
) offers a bit less selection but includes a tremendous amount of artist information, including links to album and concert reviews and feature articles.
This massive auction site is a treasure trove of stuff, both modern and collectible. It connects sellers and buyers of just about anything that people can collect, ranging from sports memora-bilia to old coins, records, and movie posters. Since eBay is an auction site, it is a wild and woolly place. When you bid on and buy items, eBay acts as an intermediary for the auction; you actually purchase goods from individuals or businesses that list items on eBay. Because you must take the seller’s word for the condition and value of merchandise you buy, be particularly cautious as you make your purchases.
Price a trip right from Expedia’s front page, and compare prices even without giving a password. Registered users can purchase tickets and save and print itineraries. Expedia includes a full range of travel information, maps, and trip-planning tools to help tourists and business travelers price and route their trips.
Try TheTrip.com (
) to track flights so that you know when to pick up visitors at the airport.
Money management is among the hottest topics on the Web, because so many people are interested in financial planning and investment and also because the Web is an excellent medium for viewing, calculating, and manipulating numbers. Many major money sites offer educational information as an enticement to subscribe to a more detailed version of the service, while others offer online brokerage, loan services, and other financial products with the advice and free stock quotes.
Quicken.com offers a bit of everything for those interested in keeping track of their money. You’ll find financial tutorials, tax planners, mortgage calculators, retirement planners, investment-research features, and lots of great money-management tips and tricks.
Like Quicken.com, Microsoft’s money site offers a wide array of information and services, but MoneyCentral Investor is primarily geared toward those seeking to analyze and manage an investment portfolio. Among its standout features are custom portfolio tracking and detailed company research for investors.
Check out Morningstar.Net (
) if you’re particularly interested in tracking mutual funds. Morning-star is a well-regarded mutual-fund rating service and offers a dizzying array of information about thousands of funds. Both MoneyCentral Investor and Morningstar.Net offer more in-depth data for paid subscribers.
Reference sites make it easy to find words, statistics, maps, and just about anything else you might find in dusty books on a reference shelf.
Simple to use but full-featured, the Merriam-Webster site provides definitions, synonyms, and antonyms for common (and not-so-common) English words. Unlike some online dictionaries, Webster’s is nice enough to check your spelling. It also offers alternatives to words it can’t locate.
The CIA’s World Factbook is not a guide to intelligence activities but a wondrous collection of information about the geography, climate, people, governments, and customs of the world, arranged by region and country. It’s updated annually.
Type in a street address and MapBlast shows you a map of the neighborhood. You can get driving directions (complete with a choice of the fastest or easiest route to follow). You can also search for area lodging, restaurants, business services, transportation, and much more. The site makes it easy to print or e-mail your map, and zoom in and out to get a better look.
The answers to questions you’re afraid to ask (for risk of appearing silly) can often be found at Learn2.com. There’s information and instruction on all sorts of everyday tasks, such as changing a tire, applying eyeliner, or shipping a bicycle. You can search or simply browse a selection of categories, including automotive, health and fitness, and travel.
Online you can find news tailored to almost any interest. Most well-regarded news outlets have their roots in print or broadcast media, but a few online-only players have gained a reputation for speed and depth of coverage in a particular field.
It’s an interesting fact of Web life that sites run by television networks can be among the best places to find timely and detailed news coverage. The ABC News site does not usually include in-depth analysis, but it does cover a wide range of news, including politics, health, technology, and sports. The site is updated throughout the day. True to its TV parentage, ABC News.com offers streaming video, via RealPlayer, but there’s a lot to like about the site even if you’re a reader rather than a watcher.
If you’re following a story closely, also check close runner-up CNN (
Business news is easy to come by on the Net, but more and more sites are charging subscribers for access to a large portion of their content. One exception is CBS MarketWatch. It combines investor-oriented business news, updated throughout the day, with analysis of market activity and with special-interest sections. These include sections on legal issues, tech stocks, international business, and columnists’ commentary.
If you have some money to spend, you should give the Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition (
) a try. It costs $59 annually for those who don’t subscribe to the print version of the Wall Street Journal and $29 for those who do.
Type in a city name or zip code and view the current temperature and forecast. You’ll also find weather maps and updated weather satellite photos.
Whether you’re enamored of a certain movie star or fervently following a football team, you’ll find that the Web is an excellent source of information on all forms of diversion. Listings, news, scores, and statistics abound for couch potatoes.
Type in your zip code and the Gist site will give you a detailed listing of all that’s on cable, satellite, or broadcast television in your area.
More than simply providing listings, Gist allows registered users to create a customized TV grid with schedules for their favorite channels, search for movies and other shows by keyword, and receive show reminders by e-mail. The interface is slick and easy to use, and the information is complete.
Movies, actors, directors, and screenwriters are cleverly cross-referenced in this true compendium of movie information. The site’s listings are surprisingly complete, including all of the films made by most major film personalities and even a list of alternative and foreign film titles. Best of all, Internet Movie Database is interactive, too, allowing viewers to add their opinions in the form of ratings.
If you’re trying to find out what’s playing in theaters near you, we recommend a trip to MovieLink (
). It’s just like phoning 777-FILM (a service available in most cities; you tell the computer your zip code and it tells you what movies are playing in your area) but without the Moviefone man’s…distinctive voice.
Sports Illustrated’s in-depth analysis combines with CNN’s timely coverage to create a thorough, up-to-date site. Organized by sport, with links to standings, features, statistics, and team rosters, CNN/SI is easy to navigate and chock-full of info on all major pro and college sports, including women’s sports.
Arranged like a typical online newspaper, The Onion takes satirical pokes at pop culture, politicians, and the latest news.
THE LAST WORD
Like tour guides trying to show off Europe in a week, we’ve been able to hit only a few of the Web’s highlights. Much more awaits you, whether you use links you find at these sites orwith the help of a search engineyou take off on your own. Bon voyage!
SHELLY BRISBIN is a coauthor of
Mac Answers: Certified Tech Support
Picking Your Ride: The Best Browser
Every Internet traveler needs a browserthe software that serves as your window to the Web. Although any browser will display Web pages and keep track of your favorite sites, the contenders differ in style and performance. The good news is that choosing the wrong Web browser won’t cost you a dime. Netscape Communicator and Microsoft Internet Explorer are both free, and you’ll find a copy of each included with Mac OS 8.5. The bad news is that each of these applications mixes nifty features with annoying inconveniences.
The first thing you should know is that your browser is probably outdated, especially if you’re using a version that came with the Mac OS. On the Mac OS 8.5 CD, Apple shipped Internet Explorer 4.01 and Netscape Navigator 4.0.5 (Netscape’s older stand-alone browser, which doesn’t include features built into the mega-application Netscape Communicator). Here, we concentrate on version 4.5 of both Internet Explorer and Netscape Communicator, available from the respective companies’ Web sites as large downloads.
Bigger and Slower
Netscape’s browser has put on weight: what was once a simple Web browser (Navigator) is now part of Communicator, which includes e-mail and news clients and a Web authoring application. As a result of its bulk, Communicator can require twice the RAM of Internet Explorer and takes up lots more disk space. The Internet Explorer bundle also includes a news and mail client, but it’s a separate application (Outlook Express).
Although Communicator takes the booby prize for biggest browser, both applications suffer from a lack of speed. Communicator seems to take you to Web pages a bit more quickly, but each browser requires the same amount of time to complete a complicated page. Their slowness is particularly noticeable when you compare Communicator or Internet Explorer with Navigator 4.07, the older, browser-only offering from Netscape (still available from Netscape’s Web site) that delivers pages in much less time.
Besides its own RAM bulk, another factor that slows down Communicator is the program’s preinstalled browser plug-ins. These add substantially to RAM demands. You can trim Communicator’s bulk by removing plug-ins you don’t need.
Unfortunately, Internet Explorer’s slowness can’t be blamed on plug-ins or other extras. This make its performance that much more disappointing. Its only performance advantage is that text elements load first (Communicator loads them only after building the page), making it possible to scan an Explorer page while it’s still being drawn on your screen. You might even decide to move on to another page before Explorer gets around to filling in ad banners or navigation elementsa potential time-saver.
Communicator does beat Internet Explorer hands down when it comes to rendering Dynamic HTML (DHTML) animation. Communicator positions and rotates images correctly and efficiently. Explorer, on the other hand, often bungles or drops DHTML objects and delivers those it can handle at a painfully slow pace. If you need to view DHTML pages, stick with Communicator, despite its other limitations.
Each browser includes a selection of clever features that help you surf more efficiently, but Internet Explorer’s are more elegant. In Internet Explorer, URLs autocomplete as you type, as do Web-based form fields if you’ve entered information about yourself (name, e-mail address, street address, and so on) in your preferences. Explorer also adds a Sherlock-integration feature, available from the Location bar. Under Mac OS 8.5, you can choose to open Sherlock and use it to search for sites that are similar to the one you’re browsing. However, Communicator offers a more useful optionit lets you search for “related” sites. This feature is similar to Explorer’s Sherlock tool but more elegant, because it doesn’t require a switch to Sherlock and it generates a list of suggested links that are available from an unobtrusive pull-down menu.
Keeping Things Organized
Although both browsers do a good job managing bookmarks and the browser window, Internet Explorer offers the most innovative tools. Explorer’s main contributions to desktop-management elegance are the four tabs (Favorites, History, Search, and Page Holder) on the left side of the screen. Clicking on one of these tabs displays a narrow pane that allows you to view, for instance, your bookmarked links or a history of your surfing activity organized chronologically. Explorer’s Page Holder, new in version 4.5, lets you instead place a Web page in the small windowpane. You can then click on links and see the resulting pages in the main browser window.
Getting It Down on Paper
If you print Web pages, you’ll find that Explorer does a better job of rendering colored and shaded headings and boxes than does Communicator. Communicator often drops shading and text in shaded areas. Explorer also wins points for its Print Preview feature, which even lets you shrink a page to fit on paper.
Browser Autopilot Microsoft likes to tout its browser’s Mac-savviness, including support for themes and other Mac OS features. Internet Explorer is the only browser that lets you download sites for offline browsing. However, both Microsoft and Netscape have held back on at least one major feature available to Windows usersthe automatic updating of browser software when new versions are available.
Windows PC users of Communicator and Internet Explorer can set their browsers to notify them when updates are ready and ask if they want to automatically install the new software. Mac users must still check the Netscape or Microsoft site for new browser versions and download them in the traditional way.
To its credit, Microsoft did bring its drag-and-drop software-installation method over from the Office suite to the Mac version of Internet Explorer. However, using it may mean you lose existing plug-ins or anything else you have stored in your current Internet Explorer folder. Favorites and other preferences, which are stored in the System Folder, are preserved.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
Internet Explorer ekes out a narrow victory over Communicator, primarily because of its clever timesaving features and smaller RAM footprint. Offline browsing, site subscriptions, and superior printing also give it a leg up on Communicator.
Still, Communicator is the clear choice for viewing DHTML animation and offers a helpful search tool. The browsers are free, so if you have the room, we suggest you keep them both on your hard drive.
Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.5
Netscape Communicator 4.5
Superior DHTML support; collapsible tool bars; smart browsing locates pages without a URL.
No autofill features; potentially high RAM overhead from tightly integrated mail and composer tools; poor printing options.
Netscape Communications (650/254-1900,
Finding Your Way: Top Search Tips
There is an incredible amount of information on the Internet, but you can’t make use of what you can’t find. Whether you use Mac OS 8.5’s Sherlock or a Web-based search site, follow these tips to design searches that take you where you want to gostraight to the information and resources you’re most interested in.
Most of these techniques apply to searches conducted both with Web-based search engines and with Sherlock. Sherlock allows you to query several search engines at once, which means not only that you will get the widest possible array of responses but also that you’ll need to filter those responses carefully.
Start with Yahoo
If you want to find lots of good information about a broad topic, without wasting your time on obscure links, make Yahoo (
) your first search stop. Yahoo is a good place to start, because it’s both a directory and a search engine. Not only can you browse to find groups of sites within a broad category but you can also type in a search request that brings back farther-flung results.
Why is this is helpful? When you’re doing a simple search, you want a good mix of information, but preferably without an overwhelming amount of junk. Yahoo first searches its well-organized directory to find matches to your query, only afterward turning to more-random keyword matching. Extra bonuses: Yahoo’s interface is uncluttered, and the hierarchical catalog is easy to browse and understand. Yahoo also forgoes the “in your face” commercialism of some competitors that offer shopping opportunities along with legitimate search results.
Cast a Broad Net
If you don’t have any idea what the Web has to offer on a given topic and want to view as many search results as possible, try a metasearchin other words, make use of several search sites simultaneously. Both Sherlock and MetaCrawler (
) allow you to do this. MetaCrawler gives you a wide choice of general-purpose search sites, such as Infoseek and Lycos. Sherlock allows you to search any site for which you have a plug-in installed, including such special-interest sites as Info-Mac and Amazon.com.
If you do have a good idea what you’re looking for, make your search as specific as possible. This will limit the number of unrelated search results you’ll receive. For example, search for Bengal cat breeders rather than just Bengal to avoid getting back a long list of sites about tigers, Indian provinces, and the pro football team in Cincinnati. If you don’t get enough results when you do this, it means your initial search was too narrow. Try removing one word of the query, say breeder, to retrieve more results.
Look for an Exact Match
One way to be even more specific is to put quotation marks around your search strings. Doing this tells most search engines that you want items that include the words you’ve specified only when those words appear as a phrase.
Search by Proximity
If search terms don’t necessarily form a contiguous phrase but are likely to occur close to one another, try a more advanced, near search. You can experiment with this using AltaVista’s (
) Advanced Search. Just enter your complete query in the search box. For example, “tropical fish” near aquarium will find references to tropical fish that live in aquariums, rather than the ocean-going kind. This search will deliver more results than tropical aquarium fish and omit references to unwanted nontropicals.
Try an Advanced Search
By now, you may be starting to wonder what else is possible if you can do something as obscure as search for terms that are near each other. Indeed, near is just the tip of the conditional-search iceberg. Conditional, or Boolean, searches give you more flexibility to find what you’re looking for when using most search engines. You can narrow a search or widen it by using special terms, such as and, or, and not, between your search words. For example, another way to find out about your favorite feline without reading up on its bigger cousins would be to search for “Bengal cat” NOT tiger.
Some search engines require you to enter the separators in uppercase. Others require (or allow) you to use timesaving symbols instead: the plus symbol (+) for and, and the minus symbol (-) for not. If you’re having trouble, check the search engine’s help area to find out the engine’s particular way of doing things.
Ask a Question
Natural-language searching lets you ask a plain-English question, such as “What is Joe DiMaggio’s lifetime batting average?” Only a few search engines, including AltaVista and InfoSeek, can do this type of search. Sherlock also supports it. It’s a powerful way to combine the best aspects of an exact-match search and a Boolean search. Be warned: you won’t often get a precise answer to your question, but you will frequently find links that provide the information you need within a click or two.
One of the best ways to search the Web efficiently is to learn the rules of the search engine you use most. All major search-engine sites provide a help area with some instructions. Most abide by a general set of rules for phrase searches and Boolean searches, but a few search sites also offer special features that are described only in this area.
Your Packing List: Essential Web Utilities
Armed with a Web browser and the URLs of sites you’re interested in, you’re ready to venture onto the Web…almost. Here are some accessories that can make your travels faster. You probably don’t need them all, but the right one may make your journey much easier.
URL Manager Pro 2.5
Tame large collections of bookmarks and e-mail addresses by using this shareware gem from Alco Blom (
). URL Manager (
; $25) adds two menus to your browserone with URL Manager bookmarks and another with commands and help. With just a click or a keystroke, you can access previously stored bookmarks and add new bookmarks to your URL Manager collection (some other bookmark managers require you to import bookmarks).
Surf Express Deluxe 1.5
This tool’s purpose is to make you wait less for the Web pages you go to most. Surf Express Deluxe (
; $45), from Connectix (650/571-5100,
), uses cache-management techniques to optimize the browsing of sites you visit often, making the sites load significantly faster (see Reviews, March 1999). You can also search cached files with Surf Express to find a URL and the date you last visited it. If you haven’t upgraded to Mac OS 8.5, you’ll also be interested in the Supersonic Search application included in this package. It’s not Sherlock, but it does let you pick from a menu of search optionsstock quotes, news, Web sites, and newsgroupsand enter a query. Supersonic Search displays its results in your browser, opening it if necessary.
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