Once beneficial, now necessary?

Introduction

As the Mac and its bundled software applications adopt new features, some third-party software is relegated to the “old and in the way” pile. Take Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 and Mac OS 8.5’s Sherlock search utility, for example. Now that Internet Explorer lets you save Web pages as offline archives, are utilities that perform a similar function still useful? And since Sherlock can search the Web for items that interest you – and rank them by relevance – do you need a like-minded utility? Those are the questions we put to two offline Web-browsing utilities – DataViz’s Web Buddy 2.0 and Blue Squirrel’s WebWhacker 3.0 – and a Web-searching utility, Leptonic Systems’ SurfJet Agent 1.0. Working the Web
Although Internet Explorer allows you to save a single page as well as anything linked to that page, Web Buddy’s and WebWhacker’s other tricks are compelling enough to justify buying the programs. Both let you dig deeper into a Web site (up to 99 levels) than does Internet Explorer (5 levels). And both applications let you schedule times to download any page or site. Internet Explorer offers a similar feature, but it works only with sites that support Internet Explorer channels. Each of the applications also has a more comprehensive set of filters than does Internet Explorer. With the latter, you can exclude files attached to a Web page in only a general way – you can filter all images, sounds, and movies. With Web Buddy and WebWhacker, you can be more selective about which MIME types you download. While Web Buddy and WebWhacker share some advantages over Internet Explorer, they aren’t twins. Web Buddy is the easier to use when you’re surfing the Web, because it’s available to you from within your browser; to use WebWhacker, you must switch from your browser into the WebWhacker application. And if you want to perform scheduled downloads, WebWhacker must be running; Web Buddy launches itself at the appointed time. Web Buddy offers other convenient features you won’t find in WebWhacker: you can create and file bookmarks with a single click, and a translation feature lets you turn Web pages into word-processing documents. (You can export files in WebWhacker as well, but only as separate HTML and graphics files.) Regrettably, Web Buddy’s translation is a hit-or-miss affair – some pages translate complete with text and graphics, while others fail to translate at all. WebWhacker isn’t entirely outdone by Web Buddy, however. Unlike Web Buddy, WebWhacker allows you to search for text in the pages you’ve downloaded. And most important, WebWhacker is compatible with Mac OS 8.5. In my tests, Web Buddy 2.0 froze three different Macs running OS 8.5 whenever a scheduled event initiated a dial-up Internet connection. (The problem doesn’t exist under OS 8.1.) Sherlock’s smarter brother?
SurfJet Agent is another program that might fare better if there weren’t a free alternative. Much like OS 8.5’s Sherlock, SurfJet Agent logs on to the Internet and queries search sites based on keywords you’ve entered. As with Sherlock, you can include a wide variety of terms in a single search, but unlike Sherlock, SurfJet Agent lets you indicate your level of interest via sliders to help determine the relevance of the search results. However, SurfJet Agent failed to find sites easily found by Sherlock. When I tested both applications, using my name as the search term, Sherlock found more than a dozen references; SurfJet Agent failed to locate a single one. And adding search sites to Sherlock is easy – just drop them onto the System Folder. SurfJet Agent requires that you enter the URL for new search sites as well as arcane prefix codes such as &TERM_1=. Let’s hope a future version of the program searches farther afield and is easier to configure.
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