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Internet Explorer 5.0 goes offline

Beta version of browser offers new ways to speed your surfing -- even when you're not connected.

December 16, 1998
Web posted at: 1:40 PM EST

by Tom Spring

(IDG) -- If you get to the Net via a dial-up connection, you know all too well how slow surfing can get, and you may get tired of firing up your modem for only a quick peek at a favorite site. The beta of Microsoft's Internet Explorer 5.0 shows great promise in its ability to attack speed problems, making offline browsing and saving Web pages considerably easier.

IE5 adds a handy new synchronization feature and two new ways to save a Web page on your hard drive. It's also gotten hip to saving newsgroup discussions offline.

Picking favorites

When you hit upon a Web page you like and add it to your Favorites, you're asked if you want to make the page available offline. Click the Customize button, and up pops the Offline Favorite Wizard.

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Using the Wizard function, you can set how often Internet Explorer checks the site (daily, weekly, or at other intervals), what it downloads (including images and linked pages), and how it notifies you. You can also modify how many levels into a site you want to go or limit the total size (in megabytes) of the download.

I tested this by downloading the New York Times Online front page and several layers of the Web site. Now I can free up my phone line and read the Times offline. Better yet, I can schedule automated return visits to the page to see if anything has changed. (If you configure Dial-Up Networking to connect automatically, it will dial your ISP. Dial-Up Networking will not disconnect after the synchronization; instead it will "time-out" at the time it is configured to do so.)

Still getting beta

These features compete with good products currently on the market, such as WebSnake, NearSite, and Grab-a-Site. These products cost anywhere between $30 and $70, and Internet Explorer is free, but the beta may cost you some painfully frustrating moments.

Developers say they are still working a lot of the bugs out of IE5's offline browsing features.

The synchronization feature tends to hiccup. This usually generates annoying error messages and only partial Web page downloads. Another feature, designed to notify you when a Favorite site is updated, was far from in sync. (The feature did work after some tinkering.)

IE5's savings grace

Microsoft's slogan may be "Where do you want to go today?" but with IE5 you might think it's "What do you want to save today?" You get two new ways to save Web pages.

IE4 lets you save a page in either text or HTML format, but when you save a page in HTML, you get placeholders where the graphics should be.

With IE5, you can neatly store a Web page before it gets updated by saving it as a "Complete" page. You can keep pictures, texts, Java applets, and even Shockwave programs for as long as you like.

Alternatively, you can save any page as an "Archive", converting all the page's files into a single file. That way you can save the page to a floppy or e-mail the page to a friend -- no hassles.

Downloading discussions

Newsgroup messages can be just as short-lived as Web pages. But using the synchronization feature in Outlook Express 5.0 (which comes with the full download of the IE5 beta), you can download newsgroup discussion messages for offline reading.

However, Outlook Express lacks the Wizard functions that let you control what and how much of a site you download, and you can't schedule downloads.

To synchronize a newsgroup, open it in Outlook Express and select Synchronize. To be more selective you can highlight just the messages you are interested in reading offline and then select "synchronize."

IE5 is expected to ship in the first quarter of 1999. Though it's still in beta, IE5 generally seems about as stable and to have as many bugs as IE4, although this is not the highest of praise. Your experience, of course, may vary.

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