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Notes from the Technology Trenches - The Anna Kournikova Virus; Review of the NetCaptor Internet Browser

By Roger V. Skalbeck, Published on February 15, 2001

Roger V. Skalbeck is the Technology Services Librarian and Webmaster at George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, Virginia, and he is a web committee member for the Law Librarian’s Society of Washington, D.C. Opinions included in this article do not necessarily reflect those of his current employer or any other organization.
This column is, of course, 100% free of any legal advice.


The Anna Kournikova virus

Well, it's happened again. An email-based virus written in Visual Basic spread quickly across the globe, channeled chiefly through Microsoft Outlook and its address book. This time it's named after Russian tennis-star Anna Kournikova, this virus, which behaves much like the "I Love You" virus did, served most of us up with the equivalent of "Love" in tennis: just about nothing. Well, I guess it's only "Love" in that sense if you don't count the hours, headaches and email traffic that it generated. As a main point of contact for technology and computing where I work, I got calls from a number of people asking about this virus and about virus protection in general.

Since very few of the people where I work utilize Outlook for email, the virus might not have spread as widely as it did in other environments, but I could quickly spot one or two Outlook users based on the source of the traffic. Wired News provides a good initial assessment of the virus in: New Virus: Now Anna Loves You (2/12/2001). A subsequent story from CNet News.com reports that the virus author is OnTheFly, who appears to have written it in response to a recent study that people hadn't learned anything from attacks like the LoveLetter (Anna virus author comes forward - CNET News.com 2/13/2001).

Whether this was the author's intent or not, it does serve as a good point to remember. The fact that the virus itself was pretty harmless should allow us to breathe a sigh of relief (and collect our thoughts, count our blessings or whatever, and move on). The thing to remember in this is to be careful in reading email and to care for the importance of virus-protection and data backup. If you did get attacked by the Anna Kournikova virus, you will probably have fixed everything by now. Hopefully as a result of this virus, we will all make a valiant effort to care about protecting our systems from viruses.

[Editor's note:  Kournikova virus creator arrested, released, USA Today, 2/14/01.]

Review of NetCaptor Internet Browser

If you surf the Internet a lot, and especially if you want to have a wider palette of options for scanning and organizing access to Internet web sites, you might want to check out the NetCaptor Browser. This is a separate browser program, which is mostly an extension of Internet Explorer. I just came across this nifty program, and it's gives you several new approaches and controls in accessing web sites. You can use it to control annoying pop-up windows, you can load simultaneous groups of web sites, you can toggle between sites within a single application window, and it's also been integrated with FlySwat.

Let's take a look at some of the core features of this program:

Tabbed Site Interface: One of the first things to notice about NetCaptor is that it way it orients the way a user towards opening new web sites. By default, it groups each new URL you choose to open under its' own tab, and it keeps all instances within a single application window. As different pages are loading, status boxes appear and adjust associated with newly-opened pages. Below is a quick look at the tabs for four Internet sites I accessed in succession. You can open and close tabs selectively, and each tab will tend to stay open while you follow hyperlinks within that window.

Since each site will tend to open up within the same application window, pop-up menus, advertisements and new browser "target" commands open in similarly-sized separate browser panes. As the next exciting feature of NetCaptor, you get to use this control of pop-up windows to your advantage. On a site-by-site (and even page-by-page) basis, you build a directory of sites for which popup windows are not allowed. On the up side of things, this means that annoying advertisements and distracting popups can disappear altogether.

If you define this control to widely, you might also disallow very useful methods of popping up windows, including those for slideshows, navigational aids and some other useful things. One annoying thing about the default functionality of the program is that it opens up these useful instances of pop-ups without their predefined size and location attributes. If you need these features for sites you access, you should access them with Netscape or regular Internet Explorer.

Multi-Site Opening: The next intriguing feature of NetCaptor is the ability you have for opening groups of web sites all at once, based on personalized categories and selection. With this, you build groups of sites in what are defined as "CaptorGroups", customizing the name to appear on each tab if you so desire, and then you can open the en masse whenever you need to. In the example below, I built a quick list of technology news sites, renaming two of them. One way to access these is through the tabbed options menu that appears along with the history list and favorites/bookmark navigation (as shown to the left below). When a named CaptorGroup is selected, each page is loaded simultaneously. Being something of a shortcut-key fanatic, I liked this feature even more after discovering the proper keystrokes for multi-tab navigation. In fact, I was quite pleased to see a full page shortcut cheat-sheet included with the program.

 

This is the tabbed navigation of some of NetCaptor's features: CaptorGroups, a browsable and searchable Favories list, a search page, and a pretty standard "history" feature. The above list shows five entries within a CaptorGroup, which load simultaneously when selected. Shortcut keys can be used to quickly jump between sites that get loaded.

FlySwat!

As an added excitement of sorts with this browser software, it comes "bundled" with the FlySwat browser plug-in, which is a program that enables keywords in Internet documents to make them links into selective categories of sites. The FlySwat program automatically enables keywords (not appearing in other Internet links), and converts them into links into flyswat's database of related links. Words highlighted by FlySwat can include company names, terms of art, product names, and any manner of proper noun, with a special strength for celebrities such as Ernest Borgnine shown to the right.

A full review of FlySwat appeared here in LLRX previously, so check that out for complete coverage of it's unique features and functions.

All in all, I found NetCaptor to be quite satisfying. The free version includes advertisements that appear and disappear throughout a browsing session, but since they don't crowd the main viewable portion of the screen, they didn't seem to onerous. If you used this on a regular basis for its core features, a modest price of $19.95 seems a reasonable amount of money to spend for the expanded options. I really wouldn't see myself replacing Netscape or Internet Explorer for my core browsing tasks, but I expect that I will probably come back to NetCaptor again and again for that extra level of control and flexibility.

As always, if you have comments or suggestions for future columns, please contact me.

Copyright © 2001, Roger V. Skalbeck.