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Living with two browsers

May 19, 1998
posted at:2:28 p.m. EDT

By James A. Martin

PROBLEM: Differences between the two major Web browsers can make converting from one to the other a challenge.

SOLUTION: Download conversion tools to ease the transition--but be prepared to take several steps.

Every two years, Dorinda Sears gets a new PC for her work as a senior search consultant for Caywood Partners, an executive search firm in Tiburon, California. A few months ago, she received a Gateway system with Internet Explorer 4.0 preinstalled. Says Sears, who had used Netscape Navigator up to that point, "Since it was there in my face, I thought I'd try it."

Sears eventually decided to stick with IE 4.0, but she found no straightforward way to convert her Navigator bookmarks into IE favorites (Microsoft's name for bookmarks). So she asked an administrative assistant to open

Navigator on her old PC and cut and paste the bookmarked URLs into a Eudora e-mail message. Because Eudora supports active hyperlinks, clicking on a URL in the body of the e-mail message automatically opened the appropriate Web site in IE 4.0 on her new PC. Once the site was loaded, Sears added it to her IE Favorites menu. Then she repeated the process until she'd transformed all her bookmarks into favorites.
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What a chore. If like Sears you're switching browsers, you'll want to take your plug-ins and e-mail information with you. It's not easy being caught between fierce competitors like Microsoft and Netscape, but some tricks and tools can help smooth the conversion.

Bookmarks and Favorites

Now that Navigator and Internet Explorer are both free, many Web surfers will be tempted to use them interchangeably. According to Mike Williams, a sysop for CompuServe's Netscape User forum, most will encounter the same dilemma Sears did. That's because IE and Navigator have always handled bookmarks differently. Navigator saves bookmarks in a single HTML file, while IE essentially creates separate Windows 95 shortcuts.

Netscape users who want to switch to IE 4.0 have it easiest. During the installation process, IE 4.o automatically imports any Navigator bookmarks on a PC (earlier versions of IE don't do this). Once translated and placed in a folder called Imported Bookmarks, the Navigator bookmarks are available in IE along with other favorites. Tom Tsao, product manager for Communicator, says Netscape is considering adding the ability to automatically import Internet Explorer favorites to Navigator 5.0.

Aside from automatic conversion during installation, Navigator bookmarks can't be directly imported into IE or vice versa. But there are indirect ways. If you have both browsers installed on your system, you can open the Netscape bookmark file in IE 3.x or 4.x. To do this, select File*Open*Browse; choose the hard drive where your application files are stored; and navigate through the following folders: Program Files, Netscape, User, and Your Name. You'll find the Netscape bookmark file (in HTML format) in the Defaults folder. IE displays this file as a page, with all the bookmarks available as active links. Clicking on any link opens the site in IE, at which point you can save it as a favorite.

Unfortunately, IE favorites aren't in HTML, so you can't switch them to Navigator this way. Your best bet is to use one of several freeware and shareware utilities to convert favorites into bookmarks. One of the most popular is NavEx, a freeware conversion tool available for downloading at PC World Online. Or you can try Bookmark Converter 2.0, an $8 shareware utility. These utilities also work in reverse--converting bookmarks into favorites.

Plug-Ins and E-Mail

Bookmarks aren't the only things you'll want to take along if you change Web browsers. How about all your plug-ins and e-mail settings?

When it comes to browser plug-ins, IE 4.0 automatically looks during installation to see if any are on your system (in Netscape folders). If so, Microsoft's browser uses the Netscape plug-ins, so you don't have to install them manually.

Netscape's browser doesn't support ActiveX controls, nor will current versions of Navigator import other IE plug-ins. According to Tsao, Netscape is considering adding that ability in the next version; but for now, users switching to Navigator must install the plug-ins they need.

Converting e-mail messages, address books, and e-mail settings (such as your address and your ISP's phone number) from Navigator to IE takes only a few steps. Open Microsoft Outlook Express, the program IE uses to send and receive messages. Select File*Import; choose Address Book, Messages, or Mail Account Settings; and in the pop-up window, select the files you want to import.

Because Microsoft uses a proprietary mail format, relocating e-mail messages, addresses, and settings to Communicator requires a few more steps. The easiest work-around, Tsao says, is to export your IE 4.o messages from Outlook into Eudora format using a converter tool (available at PC World Online). Once your messages are in Eudora format, you can import them into Navigator, following the directions given at Netscape's help site (see below). As for addresses, you'll need another utility, such as Interguru's E-mail Address Conversions, a $20 shareware program.

When all the heavy moving is done, take a breather. And while you're resting after the browser transition, check out You've Got E-Mail for more on handling e-mail and address books.


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