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Web Browsers

Emissary 2.0 beta 4
A Browser with Everything but the Hype

By Jon Kaufthal (08/08/96)

Although hype for Attachmate's Emissary is nearly nonexistent, this do-it-all browser deserves some serious attention. The latest beta of Emissary 2.0 brings with it a few tricks that even Microsoft and Netscape have yet to think up.

Weighing in at 7.5MB compressed (a streamlined 3.8MB version is also available), this browser is no lightweight. Besides the usual fare, the features include support for many Netscape plug-ins, voice prompts, multiple user profiles, agents, customizable themes, and tight integration between file management, mail, and news, with full drag-and-drop support from any component to any other.

Emissary owes much of its bulk to the preinstalled plug-ins and "themes." Emissary ships with the Shockwave plug-in, Real Audio, and Inso's Word viewer. Additional themes consist of collections of link pages, customized buttons, sounds, and messages. The program ships with preconfigured themes like "Business," "Entertainment," and "Just for Kids!"

Emissary's slick look and simple, consistent user interface go a long way toward making Emissary's claim of bringing users "all of the Internet, all in one place" a reality. An optionally visible window on the left side shows a tree map, with branches for Web Surfing, Files, Mail, News, and Host Access (via telnet). Each of these branches expands to reveal lists of sites, files, and folders. Clicking on an object in this window brings it up in the main window on the right--whether the item clicked on is a file or folder on your hard disk, a newsgroup, a Web page, a telnet site, a graphic, or even a Word document. Any item can be dragged into a folder, onto the customizable toolbar, or into your out-box. The forward and back buttons work throughout--not just on the Web--and resources like Emissary's built-in spell-checker work in any component. FTP is done through the same Windows Explorer-like view that Emissary uses to chart local or network drives, and Emissary can be configured to work with your favorite antivirus software to perform on-the-fly virus-checking for any file downloaded.

Emissary's Agents are can be set to performs tasks like cleaning up garbage files, checking e-mail, news, or the Web, automatically generating e-mail, expiring old mail and news, and more. You control when these tasks are done by either selecting regular intervals, choosing specific times, or tying the actions to events (on launch, for example). And, of course, any action can be executed immediately on command as well.

Surprisingly, despite the vast array of features, the quality of each one remains excellent. Clicking "edit" on the toolbar brings up an excellent WYSIWYG HTML editor, and clicking "bugs" shows a list of HTML errors on the current page. Mail and News are more than adequate, with built in unencoders and support for rich text format. Emissary's help is remarkably thorough, and such initiatives as an optional "tip of the day" at start-up and walk-through directions for the first time an action is performed make Emissary easy to learn.

Overall, Emissary's HTML support is quite good. The full extent of HTML 3 is supported, along with the more popular of many proposed additions, including the relatively new font face tag. And Web pages in Emissary load quickly enough to keep up with the pace of even the quickest of browsers. Still, Emissary will occasionally cause a page not to look its best. The program's palette is sometimes off, and transparent .GIFs may be rendered incorrectly.

With all its functionality, Emissary still has its shortcomings. In this beta, two key items, Java and SSL (used for secure online transactions), were not supported. SSL is scheduled to be implemented in the final 2.0 release, but Java is not--a major black eye for a browser that can otherwise claim to handle nearly anything. And the usual beta symptoms, such as the occasional program crash and a slightly rough-around-the-edges feel to certain parts of the program, are seen here as well.

Although it may not cause Microsoft or Netscape to lose any sleep, Emissary does have several features from which both Internet Explorer and Navigator could benefit by implementing.

Emissary 2.0 beta 4
List price: Free download for beta.
Requires: Microsoft Windows 3.x, 95, or NT.

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Copyright (c) 1997 Ziff-Davis Publishing Company.

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