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Browsing: A Review of WebWhacker
Monday, March 15, 1999
If your time is at a premium, you probably wish you didn't have to wait for web pages to load. With offline browsing, you don't have to, and there are some other added benefits. Today we test one tool, WebWhacker by Blue Squirrel, to look for ways to make your surfing more efficient.
WebWhacker runs on both the PC and Mac platforms. Our installation on a G3 accelerated Mac Powerbook 1400 was effortless and the program ran flawlessly. To understand what WebWhacker does, remember that every page viewed on the web is "requested" by your browser, either Netscape or Explorer, through the web protocol and sent by the host to your computer screen. If there are graphics on the page, those too are sent by the host as separate files. The whole process can take just a few seconds or many minutes, depending on the size of the files and the speed of the connection. If you click a link, the whole process happens all over again, and again and again as you browse. The waiting time accumulates as you wait for all of these downloads to your computer to take place.
What WebWhacker does is work when you're not browsing. You can tell it to pull down an entire site, the do something else. While you are gone, WebWhacker is happily transferring everything to your hard drive. Then when you choose to browse offline, links within the site you "whacked" are pulled off your own computer, not the internet. The speed of loading is significantly faster, meaning your wait time is reduced.
Sites saved to disk can also be scheduled for updates, where WebWhacker checks for new or revised pages and updates your hard drive as needed. With this feature, you could perform weekly checks to always have a fairly current site saved on your computer.
On the downside, some knowledge of folder or directory structure is necessary to fully configure WebWhacker. You must tell it how many levels deep you want to go, and if you don't tell it to stay on the site, it will attempt to also access and save links to other sites (such as you might find on a Links page).
The way sites are accessed after being saved has advantages and disadvantages. Sites are added automatically to a webpage of "favorites", a great way to restrict access to students. However, this also means you must always browse initially through WebWhacker, and there is no way to easily transfer an entire site by disk to another computer, since the directory structure of the site isn't maintained. This major drawback means you can't save a site at home, then take it to school. It will have to be "whacked" at school and saved on a server there.
One problem we have encountered with other shareware products is how they don't work well on sites which share IP addresses with other domain names. WebWhacker negotiated these easily.
WebWhacker can definitely save time and can find a place on a school's network. Used this way, it provides security against students going out on the web unauthorized and helps your school to create a list of favorites to use on a school network. We wish it allowed files to be more easily saved and transferred by disk, and hope that future upgrades add this feature.
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