January 12, 2005

Some of the Best Software You Never Tried (Part 1)

I like free, useful software. (Who doesn't?) I thought I'd share some of the ones I've used that may be off the beaten track for some folks, but well worth a look. Rather than try to cram them all into one post, I'll feature them one at a time. First up:

Maxthon (formerly MyIE2):

Pure and simple, Maxthon is a power browser's browser. One might say I live on the web, and Maxthon has more features than I'll ever need -- so that's saying something. It has the most refined and featured tabbing system of any free browser I've seen. I can drag tabs around, control their width, have multiple tab rows, or just one long one using left/right scroll buttons. Maxthon pops open new tabs faster than IE opens new windows. When searching with Google, I can leave the results window open in the first tab, and launch the linked sites in other tabs without losing Google's page. With tabs, there's no more clutter on the Windows taskbar from multiple open IE windows. It have it set to minimize to the system tray to stay out of sight until I need it.

I really like its robust and customizable built-in ActiveX filter, pop-up blocker, and ad-blocker, which even blocks floating ads. My web surfing is more enjoyable and a bit faster since I don't have to wait for ads to load or close extra pop-ups. I can save multiple open sites as a "Group" -- perfect for saving research sessions with related open pages. It automatically reloads missing pictures -- no more little red x's or missing picture icons unless there's a broken link in the page.

Mouse gestures for navigation are incredible. It's like tabbed browsing -- once you've used them, you'll never want to go back. Maxthon's Alias feature gives me ActiveWords-like functionality by assigning memorable aliases to URLs. For example, I simply type "g" and press Enter to go to http://www.google.com, or "wrt" to bring up my Linksys wireless router's config page. It also sports a built-in search bar (customizable for virtually any search engine of choice) and an auto-highlighter for search terms.

It's skinnable, and it's self-cleaning: When closing Maxthon, I have it set to automatically clear its undo list, address list, history, search bar history, cache, cookies, and form data. About the only thing it doesn't clean is the notorious index.dat files, which are kept open by the Windows operating system. (I have another program for doing this, but that's an upcoming post.) It also sports an Undo feature with a site history for the current session. If you accidentally close a tab, Undo lets you choose which closed web site to reopen. This has come in handy more times than I can remember.

As you may have surmised, it takes a little while to get accustomed to and master all of this functionality, but it's well worth the effort. Now that I have, I'm so much more efficient and productive in accessing and organizing online information.

Yes, Maxthon is based upon IE, let's get that out of the way. However, its developers have thoughtfully closed some of the security holes, and Maxthon is pretty stable for a browser. Maxthon also uses very few system resources compared to IE. No browser is 100% secure, not even Firefox, and I haven't seen adware, spyware, or viruses on my systems in a very, very long time (and I scan regularly with multiple programs). I don't believe I've been lucky in this regard: I've also set up IE and Maxthon to be selective (e.g., blocking or prompting for active content) and it definitely helps to know what not to click on while surfing.

Because it's IE-based, Maxthon works directly with my saved IE Favorites, so I only have one list of bookmarks to deal with. Because it's IE-based, I don't have to install all-new plugins to work with standard web apps like QuickTime, Shockwave Flash, Acrobat Reader, and the like. Maxthon can handle sites designed for IE, so I don't have to swap between a non-IE and IE browser. The last time I checked, Maxthon does not support the newest version of the Google Toolbar (although a prior version still works). This might be a downside for others, but not for me. Maxthon provides very similar, if not better, functionality. Maxthon also supports over 400+ Maxthon plugins as well as many IE plugins.

I've tried IE, Netscape, Firefox, and Mozilla, and Maxthon just fits the way I like to power browse. Firefox, while lean, fast, and arguably more secure, is still too primitive for my taste and needs, and it's a hassle to manage different plugins and bookmark lists. Maxthon is fairly fast and stable, and its numerous features are polished and highly customizable. It's also actively developed, with frequent version updates. Rarely have I ever been this pleased with any piece of software, free or otherwise. Maxthon just lets me surf my way. Not surprisingly, that's also Maxthon's tagline: "The way we surf the world."

Topic(s):   Trick or Treat  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard