Saturday, February 17, 2007

Replacing AOL software

As AOL has become more web oriented, I have found less and less use for AOL's proprietary software. I started on AOL in 1997 with version 4.0, and worked my way through five different upgrades.

AOL software is still darned easy to use. One of its best features is the ability to enter e-mail addresses into your address book once and have them available online from anywhere in the world as well as offline on your own computer. But it has problems. For starters, it can be unstable. And for cross pollination purposes, the address book cannot be exported to other e-mail programs. Nor can the "favorites" list be exported into other browsers.

I started using the Mozilla Firefox browser and Thunderbird e-mail program recently. It took awhile to configure them the way I wanted, much longer than it took to configure AOL the first time. Then I had to hand type every e-mail address into my Outlook Express address book. From there I exported it directly into Thunderbird completely effortlessly. (I could have entered it directly into Thunderbird, but I already use the Outlook address book for mail merge in my OpenOffice suite.)

Mrs. Toy, who hates to even touch a computer, much less knows how to, actually prefers Thunderbird's clean e-mail interface over AOL's, which she found too cluttered with unrelated stuff to find the right buttons.

Then I rediscovered Netscape. Remember Netscape? That was the browser everyone used before anyone ever heard of Internet Explorer. Firefox and Netscape have a common heritage in Mozilla, but they have taken somewhat divergent paths. Netscape is owned by AOL, while Mozilla is an open source program developer. Its kinda complicated, but Netscape and Firefox are very similar but not identical.

Netscape 8.1 has the advantage over Firefox in that it had AOL Instant Messenger built in, along with the ability to display web pages either as Firefox does or as Internet Explorer does. It also has additional security features and the ability to display the local weather on the toolbar. Its a neat browser.

Since I couldn't directly export my favorites from AOL into Netscape, it took me sevaral days to copy ten years of collected favorites into netscape. Whew.

All was well for a few days, then suddenly, it started falling apart. Netscape started freezing up or crashing. I exported my bookmarks (favorites) into Firefox (real easy this time!) and did a clean reinstall. It worked great for a day, then started crashing again. The forum at Netscape.com had users reporting the same bug all occurring within a day of each other! I'm hoping they'll get the  bugs worked out soon. But for now I'm using Firefox for browsing. Its steady as a rock.

So why didn't I upgrade to Internet Explorer 7 like everyone else? Because I still have a Windows ME system, and IE 7 doesn't work with anything earlier than Windows XP. I don't like to have to spend my money one a new machine just because Bill Gates tells me to. This machine works just fine, thank you. Besides, Firefox and Netscape were doing the things IE 7 now does long before Microsoft decided to upgrade Internet Explorer, and Firefox doesn't need to make me buy new computer systems to stay in business because Mozilla is non-profit.

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