BISSEX: Surf Smarter

I'm always dishing out website addresses in this column, but I rarely talk about the mechanics of visiting them. Many people find the Web frustratingly slow. I can't buy you a faster modem, but I can share some Web surfing advice that may help you be more efficient. Here are some of my favorite tips for smarter, faster, easier use of that ubiquitous tool, the Web browser. Save It For Later. You don't have to read everything while you're online. If you only have one phone line, or if you pay a per-hour charge to be online, it can be helpful to save the stuff to your hard drive and read it later, after you've disconnected. Under your browser's File menu, choose "Save." You might want to make a special folder if you grab a lot of pages. Later, to read them, choose "Open" from the File menu and select the file you saved; you don't need to be connected. (For grabbing entire pages when you're using somebody else's computer, Navigator users should note the "Mail Document" option under the File menu. It lets you send the text of a page as e-mail -- to yourself, if you like.) Turn Off Images. If you are looking primarily for information, you'll find that things go much faster when you set your browser not to display images automatically. In Navigator, un-check "Auto-Load Images" in the Options menu. In Internet Explorer, choose "Preferences" from the Edit menu, then turn off "Show Pictures" under "Web Content." When you visit a site after making this change, little place-holders will appear (with explanatory text, if the designers have done a good job) instead of the real images. These can be clicked individually to load the actual pictures as you need them. One very pleasant side effect of this technique: no more ads!Lose Controls. The default browser windows have too much chrome -- buttons and controls that take up valuable display space. On a small screen, that junk can eat almost a quarter of the vertical area in the browser window. In Navigator, the worst offender, under the Options menu turn off "Show Directory Buttons" and "Show Toolbar." In Internet Explorer the menu is View and the items to turn off are "Button Bar" and "Favorites Bar." Background Check. Most versions of the popular browsers are set up to display text on a gray background by default. Bad. Not only is it grim looking, but it impairs readability. I prefer a warm off-white, but you can pick your own shade. In Navigator, choose "General Preferences" from the Options menu, then click "Colors." In Internet Explorer, under the Edit menu choose "Preferences," then "Browser Display." Moderation is the key here -- it's not a good time to use your favorite color, unless that happens to be white.Bookmark Blind. Bookmarking a page is handy. (Bookmarks are called "Favorites" in Internet Explorer.) But did you know you can bookmark a link without visiting it at all? Let's say that in the course of doing Web research on how to build a wooden boat you spot a link to a boating supply company you hadn't heard of. If you follow the link, you might get distracted. Instead, just click the right mouse button (Mac users hold the mouse button for a full second); from the menu that pops up, choose "Add to Bookmarks" or "Add Page to Favorites." Just remember to check your list once in a while (Bookmarks menu in Navigator, Favorites menu in Internet Explorer) once in a while or all you'll have is a list of sites you wish you had seen!Now you are armed with some of my best tips for efficient Web browsing. Next week I'll talk about the architecture of the Web and the factors out of your control that make it so damn slow. If you want a faster modem, start working on that letter to Santa.***Sites in my SightsIf you want to be a hard-core browser junkie, visit Browser Watch (www.browserwatch.com) and get your fill of news about the latest browser versions and their capabilities. But be careful, you might turn into one of those people who only use the Web to learn about the Web.

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