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Browsing's little annoyances


Sandra Medlock is the software trainer and webmaster for Lancer Corporation, leader of the CorelDRAW SIGs, and an online auction enthusiast.

A few years ago, one of the most annoying features on Internet websites was blinking text. Then came dancing animals. And frames which left you confused as to what you were looking at or what you were bookmarking.

Today, savvy web page designers have raised the annoyance bar and can leave you trapped in their website. This is a particular favorite of some adult and pornography designers. 

You’ll get an innocuous, generic e-mail message with a link to the website, and when you click the link and find yourself on the home page of a pornographic site, you find you’re unable to leave the pages. The first time this happens, it’s scary, for it seems like the pornographer has reached across the Internet and seized control of your computer.

What’s actually happened is that the page contains a script that directs the browser to continue opening pages when you try to close the window. If you have a slow dial-up connection, you can try to close the windows. On some occasions, I’ve been able to escape a trap by using the Go/Goto or history option in my browser. Otherwise you may have to shut your browser down to kill the action. Using the File|Exit command usually does the trick (or try the keyboard shortcut, Alt+F4). If it doesn’t, use the Ctrl-Alt-Del key combination to bring up your Windows task dialog box. Select the Netscape task and click the End Task button. 

Another annoyance is rather simple to handle. Many sites use pop-up Netscape windows to advertise products, newsletter subscriptions, or services. This can be managed by simply closing the pop-up window. However, there may be a sequence of pop-up windows that open. If I find a site too annoying with its pop-up windows, I just avoid the site and look for another that meets my need. Sometimes depending on pop-ups to spread your message can be risky. Several months ago, a long-waited shopping site was panned by Internet critics because of its numerous pop-up windows.

Some web designers like to control the visitor’s connection to outside sources, so they use two tricks: opening a new, controlled browser window or viewing the outside material within frames.

If you click a link which opens a new browser window, closing that new window will return you to previously active window. Many times, however, a user won’t realize a new window has opened until he or she tries to use the back button and sees that it is grayed-out. Use the taskbar in Windows 95 or 98 operating systems to keep track of open windows and close the ones that aren’t necessary. The open new window is useful when you want to keep a static window (like results or an auction closing) but continue to surf the net.

I like the technique used by Barbar Mikkelson in her San Fernando Valley Urban Legends pages. In her older legends pages, she coded the link to an outside source which opened a new browser window that contained no menu or toolbar. When you finished reading the message, you clicked the X button in the upper right hand corner to close the window and then returned the window with Mikkelson’s web pages. 

But what if you want to reference a link and return to it later? Well, you could look at the page source code and try to find the link reference in the HTML code. An easier way is to right-click the mouse when you are in the abbreviated window and choose Add Bookmark or View Info from the Netscape shortcut menu. View Info will list the page and image URLs. In Internet Explorer, use Properties from the shortcut menu.

What if you’re viewing a page that uses frames? You can use the shortcut (right-click) menu again to bookmark or view info on the frame. 

Note: If you are trying to print or bookmark information that is viewed in a frame, make sure you have clicked on the frame before selecting the option. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to print a frame and ending up with the table of contents frame or bookmark
 When I’m fighting a web designers’ control of the framed material, I will often use “Open frame in new window” from the shortcut menu. Another feature I find useful when determining if a page has frames (in Netscape—sorry, I don’t use Internet Explorer enough to find this feature in their browser) is to click the file menu and see if the menu options include Save. . . Send. . . or Print this Frame.

Here’s a little trick for viewing images in Netscape. Have you ever wanted a closer look at an image? You can use View Image from the shortcut menu to open the image in a new browser window. I find this technique helpful when I’m looking at pages with broken picture links. This seems to be a common problem on auction sites. But even though the link is broken on the main auction page, I can usually right-click the link, select View image, and see the image in a new window.

What happens if an HTML or Javascript trap forces you to close your browser, but you want to reopen and try to resume where you left off? Open the browser and use the history file to resume your surfing (avoid the last — or first — entry in the history. . .that’s usually the one that caused your browser to crash or forced you to close). You can practice this, by visiting TJ Web Sites and testing some of its browser and window tricks.

And speaking of history files, they’re a good source for finding files you forgot to bookmark. You can set your browser options to save history files for a certain period, or you can also open the history file and delete all the entries. I dunno, if someone spent in my household spent a few hours on the computer and I noticed the history file was empty, I might be a little suspicious. On the other hand, if I don’t want my husband to notice that I’ve spent a lot of time on Ebay looking at auctions for Beanie Babies, I may be tempted to clear the history cache myself.

Hint: If you are trying to cover your tracks, you can selectively delete entries from the history file. But don’t forget to erase or clear the file and location bar caches.

The location bar, or URL field, records your keystrokes when typing in web addresses. It then “quickfills” the address the next time you begin typing the URL. I use this technique when checking pages on the company website as a quick way to get a page without having a voluminous bookmark file. 

One final annoyance is one encountered with the Netscape Messenger window. I understand the need to promote items through its e-mail Preview Pane (on start-up), but their promotions are a real pain in a controlled corporate environment. Too many times I’ve had users think the directive to upgrade “Netscape Communicator Now!” or try the newest version of RealAudio is coming from the IT department. If the start-up page referenced in the preview pane annoys you too, you can change your preferences script to reflect a different or blank webpage. You can find the steps to edit this file in Netscape’s knowledge base or e-mail me at [sandra@cains.com] for the instructions. There are some tricks to this, so the exercise is not for the novice user.

So now, you’ve learned how to deal with HTML annoyances…Go take on the Net!

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