Monday, July 31, 2006

Offline Browsers - Re-defining the web experience – huh?

Diagnosis: Browsing Nightmares.

Rx

Offline Browsers (s.o.s.)

You may be extremely happy that rates of internet surfing are going rock bottom level and even at some places in India too, some ISPs such as Caltiger and Mantra Online are offering you free internet surfing over TCP/IP connections. But your happiness goes on drain when you really encounter Browsing Nightmares such as very low bandwidth, unstable connection due to less speed and unable to connect primarily due to limited bandwidth, thanks to ever increasing number of internet users. In such situations, not only your precious time gets wasted; you eventually end up in paying huge telephone bills apart from frustrations. The situations become more serious when you try to connect from remote areas, say from non-metro cities or from where there is limited access lines are provided by ISPs. Further, with a normal browser such as Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator, when you surf the Internet and look upon a page or read the contents of the page or simply chat, then your modem becomes idle for that period of time. This idle time did not provide you any productivity and add up your Internet surfing cost for nothing. Of course, main browsers provide you off line browsing facility, but they facilitate you only the cached content of web that you had already visited on a certain day or date. Your can also set your browser to download or refresh your favorite site automatically at a preset idle time for offline browsing, but they lack features and are not intuitive. Not only TCP/IP connections, but ISDN connections and dedicated leased lines also suffer these aliments due to limited Internet Gateway Bandwidth of ISP providers. The only remedy for above situation is offline browsing using third party offline browsing tools.

Why offline browsing?

Some of the reasons that compel you to use offline browsing include:

v Convenience: You can access your downloaded, saved files any time you wish without having to connect to Internet. Frequently accessed web sites can be stored locally and updating may be synchronized with that of site. For example, if a site is updated weekly, then you need to synchronized once a week and for rest of the for whole week, you can use downloaded web site any time you wish without going online.

v Super Speed: Loading web pages from local disc becomes instantaneous and you don’t have to wait and mock upon rotating earth of IE or any other animated figures of your browser that tell you busy sign of downloading pages.

v Great Money Saver: Your overall cost of surfing will be less because of offline browsing. Some offline browsers and file down loaders try to down load many pages at a time from number of servers, thereby further reducing cost of surfing. You can further save your money by intelligent scheduling and adopting non peak load hours browsing such as Flexi Time of Satyam Online between 10 P.M. to 8 A.M. where your surfing hours are counted at discounted rates. That is, if you surf for two hours during those specific times, then you will be billed for only one hour. Besides, you don’t have to burn midnight candle for those odd hours, thanks to offline browsers. You can set your offline browser to download specific sites at those odd times, and after completion of task, it will automatically log off and even shut off your computer, ready to surf offline at later hours of your convenience. And remember, you will get blazingly high speed during those odd hours because relatively less traffic over the Internet. It means that say, a 1 MB file will take much less time to download as compared to normal traffic hours. You can also set your e-mail client such as Outlook express through task scheduler that it will connect to Internet at those odd hours, send and receive all your mail and shut down the system if you so require.

v Space Saver too: Some offline browsing tools such as WebZIP goes soft on your hard disk space, since they put downloaded internet sites in zipped format. Later you can browse those zipped files as normal Internet site with the help of either internal browser of WebZIP or any external browser such as Internet Explorer.

v Fast download: Offline browsers / File Down loaders down load several files at a time, reducing down load time. Choosing not to down load graphics or multimedia files can further reduce the down load time.

v Create firewall: Offline browsers create insulation between real dangerous worlds of Internet to your system. Illegal outside access, hacking and sneaking in to your system can be minimized if you use simple file down loader and using offline browsing.

v Other: Training web technique without involving high online cost is possible, limiting recreational surfing at commercial organization is possible, limiting access to the Quality & Quantity of web content can be effectively implemented. These are also some of major factor that advocates in favor of offline browsing.

Offline browsing is really catching, that is why you can find more than a dozen offline browsing tools packed with features and Internet file down loaders available today for your service and main browsers are also heading in this direction. Some popular offline browsers are WebStripper, NearSite, WebSnake, Teleport Pro, Web Leech, WebWhacker and WebZip, Web VCR, File Hound, John’s Downloader, GoZilla, Download Demon, WebREAPER, Download Butler, Web Copier, and Download Wonder. Let us see how some of they function and what they offer.

WebStripper : This is a new category of freeware program, that shows the enormous potential of Internet. This program is funded solely by advertisements. When you use this program, an advertising bar runs over the top of program menu. But you can purchase the commercial version by registering if you do not want to get disturbed by the advertising bar, which also hamper your downloading speed by constantly updating its advertising bar in background. Apart from this snag of advertising bar, the program is feature rich and you can configure it to how to down load and what to down load. There is option to exclude graphics and multimedia files for faster down load. The down loaded files are saved in a separate pre assigned file for browsing at a later time. WebStripper is easy to use; highly Configurable and a running task can be paused any time. The files downloaded up to that time remain usable. This program speeds up stripping by downloading several objects at once. WebStripper can be left running unattended safely. It will hang up and disconnect your Internet connection when its task gets completed. The only drawback it has is that it does not have its own internal browser, nor it integrates with any main browser. It simply downloads the files from Internet at great speed and save files on your disk for offline browsing.

Near site: Main feature of this offline browser is it works closely with your browser. It may be rated as browser plug in. NearSite’s intelligent cache takes over from browser’s cache and can be set to automatically retrieve Web pages daily, weekly or monthly basis. NearSite’s intelligent Channels maintain your own chunk of web, ready to use any time. NearSite can archive downloaded web pages for permanent record and with the help of this program, you can distribute web pages on floppy disk or on CD or on DAT drive. NearSite also works as Proxy server and allows you to provide web access to network users with just one Internet connection.

WebSnake: WebSnake is primarily an offline browsing tool that provides you added tools with which you can mirror a website including the directory structure of original web site. So you can sneak in to great web sites to see how a web site is set up. WebSnake also grabs e-mail addresses form a site, build map or structure of remote website, search for specific keywords on a web site, and retrieve specific types of files from specific web sites. WebSnake is fully customizable to down load anything from a single file to the entire site along with all links to it or from other remote site. WebSnake can be set to refresh or download a site on hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, at startup or when idle. You can choose specific day say, Sunday the day with minimum load on Internet to optimize downloading performance of WebSnake.

Teleport Pro: This offline browser has some additional features than standard offline browser. This program provides you searching web site for certain type and size of files, automatic download of selected list of files from the Internet, and make a list of all pages and files on a web site to make specific file downloading easier and thus relieving you from downloading garbage. Teleport Pro uses a special search algorithm to rapidly search web pages, identify and classify their links, and then retrieve all files matching the file types you specify to download. If you have not specified the file types, then it will download every file. Teleport is programmed to remember everything it has downloaded, hence it will never download same file twice, however, this feature can be forced to retrieve files again if you think that the file has been corrupted somewhere. There is a scheduler with which you can schedule your file-downloading task.

Web Leech: The most distinguishing features of Web Leech between other similar type offline web browser are its Windows explorer type interface. You can drag and drop desired files from remote sites to local folder for downloading. This program lack its internal browser, but it supports main browser like Internet Explorer and Netscape Communicator for offline browsing of downloaded files. However, the program also lacks in options, and there is no provision for automating and scheduling task.

WebNails: What if your offline browser has retrieved hundreds of files and you have to sneak in to every file rapidly to pick out the desired content in a hurry? In such situation, call for help of WebNails, that generates interactive, resizable thumbnails complete with inline graphics for the web pages you have downloaded. Thus your cumbersome task of page hunting become easy and you can find desired file much easier and earlier. WebNails can automatically retrieve your cached or saved web pages in thumbnail view. At startup, it asks whether you have surf the Internet or not. If you say yes then it searches your hard drive for the updated files, and then displays the downloaded files in thumbnail view. If you want to view any web page fully, then double clicking it will give you full view. This program is not designed to download files from Internet, which is often considered as main feature of offline browser. But at times, thumbnail view of web pages may help you if you work in volume and want to search some valuables in a hurry.

FileHound: This program is basically a file down loader, that download files from Internet for you to browse at later time using offline-browsing facility of your standard main browser. This is one of most powerful file down loader program available today that gives you facility to down multiple files at once, has built in complete session logging for error recovery and program diagnosis, has bandwidth throttling facility so that you can perform another task over Internet while downloading files in back ground. However it does not provide you much of options to down load a site and scheduling is difficult, it can turn off your system when your file downloading gets completed.

WebWhaker: WebWhaker is fully customizable Internet file down loader that provides you facility to create categories to organize your downloaded sites in to main desktop area of program. There is a status bar that provides you status of progress of current task. WebWhaker works with browser i.e. it restarts your Web browser after closing WebWhaker, thus allowing you to continue browsing the web. There is facility for scheduling the task of WebWhaker so that it can download files for you, unattended. It can also be set to download your e-mail on a regular basis. You can apply filters so that WebWhaker will down load only specific type and size of file. Use of this application is simple since it supports drag and drop facility and a small program icon group remain visible over top and while you are surfing normally, simply drag and drop the file or URL, and the rest will be done by the WebWhaker.

WebZip: WebZip is a unique program that facilitates you to download web sites completely or in parts and save it on disk simultaneously in zipped format, saving your disk space. You can then browse zipped web site offline with WebZip or if you want your standard browser, then you have to unzip it first. With WebZip, you can also perform standard file zipping and unzipping task. You can conveniently move or send zipped web site to another computer or e-mail as attachment. This is powerful down loader can download 16 pages simultaneously if your connection and bandwidth permit so. WebZip is fully customizable so that you can define what to down load and when to down load.

eCatch: This is a feature rich offline browser that has powerful built in integrated browser for offline surfing of downloaded web pages. The down loadable site can be fully customizable and you can schedule it too. You can assign entire site or set depth level, files to include, files to exclude, follow server address or not etc. Its multi threaded downloading capability lets you to down load up to 50 pages at a time if your bandwidth thus permit you. eCatch is fully programmable to work automatically so as to connects, downloads and disconnects on its own.

A word of caution

Using offline browsers are tricky. You have to manually evaluate an offline browser’s usability at your end. You have to tweak in to and configure an offline browser’s option and preferences manually, as the default setting are usually useless and if you use default settings, then you may end up in downloading stuff you have never wanted. For example, a file down loader may have hundreds of URL (as advertisement of those sites) in its default address to which it will attempt to refresh after its first launch. You have to manually disable or delete those unwanted URL, add your own, set depth level, define file types to download and then only it will be useful to you. Further, offline browsing may not suit every body. If you surf from site to site at random, or search for specific content and want to compare them, chat, play games over Internet etc., then there is no option other than but online browsing. If you download a full site for offline browsing, then firstly, it will not be useful for you the whole site content; secondly, it will take up lot of time and disk space.

Still, offline browsing is valuable when you visit a site regularly and frequently, a web site’s whole content attracts you, and finally, if you regularly download big files such as movies, music and program files- freeware, shareware, patches or free upgrades off the Internet.

UPDATE : Recently, a small startup company named Webaroo has started giving Offline Browsing pack for free. The highly compressed webaroo packs contains specialized, pre-downloaded contents from web that can be browsed offline. For example, its Wikipedia pack having 8 GB size in a dual layer DVD ROM will have entire contents of Wikipedia, and can be browsed through any browser without the need of an active Internet connection.

Re-defining the web experience – huh?

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