Free interface lift for your browser

Against the slick backdrop of today's Internet, browser interfaces have gotten as tired as old clothes. After surfing with NeoPlanet 2.0 for a few days, the thought of returning to Microsoft and Netscape's interfaces feels like stepping back into 70s' polyester. No thanks!

NeoPlanet 2.0 is a browser shell that slips over Microsoft Explorer or Netscape Navigator as gracefully as an Armani suit. What's cool is that your browser's underlying features and favourite settings remain unchanged. NeoPlanet isn't a new browser -- it's an interface upgrade. The free 1.9MB download provides a handsome collection of easy-to-use interfaces, a trio of sophisticated search tools, integrated e-mail access, and a modem optimisation utility.

An all-occasion interface

Once you've downloaded and installed the program, NeoPlanet piggy-backs on either Microsoft's or Netscape's browsers. Four modern interface "schemes" come with the download, but 16 additional designs are available free on the NeoPlanet site. Just pick a scheme to change your browser's look and feel. If you're like me, not every scheme will be your cup of tea, but depending on your mood, you're likely to find something you like. For example, I now switch between a stylish art deco motif with pearlescent buttons and a more playful dinner napkin version in which my browser controls look like doodles.

Regardless of my scheme, however, NeoPlanet puts a little life back in my old browser. It looks and feels like I'm using software that's back from the future. I only wish the rest of Windows was as attractive! The only thing I'd like to see more of is a means to create my own interface buttons and toolbars on the fly. And I could do without the integrated ad -- but more about that later.

Better browsing

Surfing the Web is like going to garage sales. You have to wade though a lot of junk -- but now and then you stumble on a real find. Sorting through the debris gets tedious, however. NeoPlanet's Channels reduce the tedium by allowing you to navigate using minimal keystrokes. Just click on "News," "Money," or "Sports," and a subset of buttons appear below the toolbar that connect you to more than 800 popular sites. You can also create your own channels and share them with friends. If you want more specific info, simply press the "What's Related" button, and NeoPlanet queries Alexa Internet's database and provides a list of URLs relevant to what you're currently viewing.

Another fun perk is NeoPlanet's use of RealNames technology. If you forget a URL, type in a keyword or two and it'll try to track it down for you. For instance, I recently read some essays by Czech President Vaclav Havel. When I typed his name into the address field, NeoPlanet took me to his Web site in Prague. Looking at the URL, I quickly realised that I'd never have found it on my own!

Unfortunately, the downside to NeoPlanet is a stamp-sized ad window pasted to the lower right side of the screen. It's there whenever you have the Channels bar displayed. Fortunately, when you click the Channel bar off, the ads vanish with it.

All told, NeoPlanet is more than just a pretty interface. Whether you're fresh to the Net or a seasoned browser user, the integrated tools make it easier to scour the Net for the stuff you're looking for, check your e-mail, and mull over the latest market figures, headlines, or tomorrow's forecast. Try it, and judge for yourself.

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John Goddard

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