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Review: iCab Preview 1.1 (US)

Feb 24, 1999

The iCab Company (www.icab.de) released iCab Preview 1.1 (US) via the Internet sometime yesterday. A day before that, I had downloaded a copy to evaluate, and this is the follow-up review I promised. Some points differ from the comments I made in my earlier review, and I wish to highlight them here together with some more notable features:

What's Available In Preview 1.1

  • Support for HTML 4.0 - iCab supports HTML standards from 2.0 through to the latest 4.0.

  • Support for Mac OS 8.5 - iCab supports Navigation Services, Appearance Themes, and proportional scrollbars when used with Mac OS 8.5.

  • Support for Java - For Java applets to work properly within the browser, iCab recommends that you install the recently-released Macintosh RunTime for Java (MRJ) 2.1 from Apple.

  • Drag and Drop - Drag-and-drop is extensively supported in iCab, as well as in the Hotlist and Download Manager. You can drag links from an open browser window directly to iCab's Hotlist window or to the Download Manager to download them altogether with just one click. Similarly, you can remove links from the Hotlist or Download Manager by simply dragging them straight to the Trash. (This places a text-clipping of the link in the Trash - just in case you have second thoughts.)

  • Dragging images to the desktop - Hold down the Option key before dragging the image that you want to save onto your desktop. In addition, normal dragging of linked images or hypertext off the browser window onto the desktop produces a text clipping of the URL, while dragging of highlighted text produces a clipping of the text selection.

  • Contextual Pop-up Menus - iCab offers you an option between Control-clicking and holding down your mouse-button (now the default) to activate contextual pop-up menus. Depending on your preference, you can set the time-delay for the latter; the default is 0.8 seconds.

  • Automatic Update - This feature should prove popular to people who create their own websites. Automatic Update (listed under the View menu) dynamically refreshes a web page while you are updating its source-code using a text-editor. As soon as you save your changes within the text-editor, iCab refreshes the web page automatically.

  • Selective Image Filtering - This somewhat controversial feature is a first for web-browsers being introduced by iCab: its selective image-filtering capability can stop images from loading based on their dimensions or the URLs they are linked to.

  • Find - Another of iCab's more remarkable features would be its Find function (located under the Edit menu). It allows you to search for information by keyword and content either on the current web page, among your local files, in iCab's WebCache, or on the Web. Using this feature to do a Web search, iCab can simultaneously launch up to two preselected search-engines in new windows while you continue browsing on the main window. It may not be Sherlock, but it's good enough for me.

  • Importing Web Cache & Bookmarks - iCab is able to import Web files and Internet Cache from Explorer, as well as bookmarks from either Communicator or Explorer. (iCab prompts you the first time you run it).

  • Persistent History - iCab remembers the sites you've been to, even after a restart.

  • Download Manager - This should be familiar to those who use Explorer.

  • Live-Scrolling - enabled by default.

What's Not Supported Yet

Cascading Style Sheets Level 2 (CSS2), JavaScript, Plug-ins, and SSL - These should make it into the final product, according to iCab's developers. Plug-ins are being analyzed at the moment, and will be included if possible.

Shades Of The Y2K Bug
I had earlier remarked that iCab is intolerant of deviant HTML code, turning some websites haywire that would otherwise look normal in other browsers. Although that is true, I made it sound like a bad thing. It is not. In fact, I now think the error reporting feature is one of the better features unique to iCab.

It's actually a good thing in the long run. It prompts website developers into writing clean bug-free code that will be compliant with the emerging HTML 4.0 standard.

Just to give you an idea of how useful this feature is, try clicking on any error on the list, and a new window opens up showing you exactly where the errant code is located in your HTML script. As a matter of fact, I'm actually reviewing my website now to expunge all the deviant code with the help of the little red-faced monster you see on the top-right corner of your iCab browser window.

And guess what? After all the red "warning sign" errors had been rectified, my pages finally looked decent again in iCab, and remained largely unaltered in both Communicator and Explorer, showing no ill-effects from the clean-up operation. I hope to take care of the remaining "thumbs down" errors in due time to declare my website HTML 4.0-compliant (or at least iCab-friendly!)

Bugs?
iCab has quite a list of search-engines under "Search The Internet" in Preferences, but several of these are German sites, which you may not find useful. When I attempted to add in new search-engines to the list, it seemed to cause iCab to crash. If you have a similar experience or otherwise, please let me know.

There is no automatic textwrap when you use iCab's email feature (thanks to Liam Gray for pointing this out). Hopefully, that little problem will be fixed in the final version.

The English version of the iCab help file is a little hard to read at the moment, because it's just a rough hack from the original German document using AltaVista's online babelfish.altavista.com translator. But if you have the patience, look it up by all means.

Making Websites Look Better on iCab
First of all, I think you would agree that one problem right now is that certain websites don't look quite right when viewed with iCab. As I've mentioned, this is not so much a problem of iCab being rigid, but that many sites actually have bad code in them. Click on that little red face again and you'll see how each site actually fares in terms of HTML 4.0-compliance.

Here are a couple of tips to enhance consistency in the way iCab renders web pages that have been "optimized" for Communicator and/or Explorer:

  • Under Edit-Preferences-HTML Display, set your border width to 8 pixels, while allowing web pages to override this setting. This is the fixed default border width used by both Communicator and Explorer, so pages that are aligned in these browsers will be aligned in iCab as well.

  • For "Font Encoding" (under the "View" menu), choose Western Europe/USA (ISO-8859-1). This ensures that the more obscure text symbols come out right.

What To Look Forward To
I had the opportunity to pose Oliver Joppich of The iCab Company some questions about the future plans for iCab, and this was the reply I got:

NewsPage: Any plans to include full email support?

Joppich: No. There are good free email clients in the 'net. We will keep iCab small and just support the feature to send an email. We don't like the idea of a complex browser/email program. These are two different things. We also don't like the idea of WebTV. That is not a good idea (two different things). We share the opinion of Jobs at this point. And WWW and email-database are also two different things.

For the English preview, we will fix a few things. Like Yahoo. We know that Yahoo is an important site in the US, but the behavior of their website is not very friendly for non-Netscape, non-Microsoft browsers. We will try to support this (by simulating this behavior). We hope Yahoo will sometimes understand that their use of html and cookies is not good for a free browser world.

NewsPage: Likely release date for iCab's final product?

Joppich: We will release iCab, when all important things are done. But we also will keep one version of iCab for free. We like the idea of a free Internet.

So there you have it. Enjoy the cab-ride in the meantime till the full version arrives.


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