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2 outstanding Net programs
technofile  by al fasoldt
Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology 
Simple gray rule

2 outstanding Net programs: Citizen 1 and ICQ
 

Bit Player for March 2, 1997
This is an expanded version of the column that appears in print.

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1997, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1997, The Syracuse Newspapers

I've been raving privately about two superb new Windows 95 Internet programs over the last few weeks. Now you can hear about them, too.

They are Citizen 1, perhaps the best-organized (and certainly the best-looking) suite for finding information on the Internet, and ICQ, an amazing program that combines chat, mail, file transfer, user location and remote-control functions. Both are free.

Citizen 1 is available at http://www.citizen1.com/ and ICQ can be found at http://www.mirabilis.com/products.html. Mirabilis is an Israeli company. (I'm mentioning this only because many of us here in the United States don't realize how extensive the Israeli technology industry is. In Internet software, Israeli companies have a fierce head start. Internet Phone, the single best Internet telephone program, also comes from an Israeli firm.)

Citizen 1 is a search tool. It works with your Web browser to feed search criteria to Web sites around the world. In plain talk, Citizen 1 knows how to handle hundreds of different search sites; all you have to do is type in what you are looking for.

This simple explanation fails to convey the range of information Citizen 1 can help you find. You'll find three main categories—business, reference and personal information. Each of those categories has sub-categories. (The "business" section has personal finance, travel and entertainment, for example.) Looking at just one of those sub-categories, you'll find as many as 100 search sites listed.

You don't do any of the work of finding information at these sites. Instead, you merely enter what you are looking for into a simple form within Citizen 1 and click on a button. It sends out the appropriate search strings (words or phrases) for the site you've chosen. Clicking in a small window opens your browser with the search results already displayed.

The user interface of Citizen 1 is radically different from the interfaces of most other Windows 95 programs. It uses one-click tabbed buttons and triangle-shaped directory expanders to display your choices in an easy-to-handle way.

Because Citizen 1 takes advantage of the advanced multitasking built into Windows 95, you can send out as many search requests as you want, one after the other, without interfering with other operations on your PC. You can view the returned Web pages in any order.

ICQ—a play on the words "I seek you"—is best described as a fast way to reach selected Internet users, but it has many other features. The program is designed to run all the time while you are online, and normally shows its presence only by an icon in the Windows 95 tray (the area near the clock at the bottom right corner of the screen).

When you first run ICQ, the program guides you through a simple-to-understand setup system in which ICQ gives you an ID number. It stores that ID number along with some basic details such as your name and any other information about you—if you choose to disclose anything—at a Web site, so that other ICQ users will be able to reach you directly.

You can send a message to another ICQ user anywhere in the world in a second or two, using a small message form. You can also invite another ICQ user to chat—to show typed messages on a split-screen window—by sending out a chat request. (Users can choose to ignore any requests for any of ICQ's functions.) You can chat with many users at the same time, or keep chats and messages private.

You can also send a file of any kind to another ICQ user. You can adjust a slider to regulate the speed of the file transfer—a great idea if your connection is being sapped by other Internet activities. In my testing, ICQ took only a small toll even when the slider was pushed up full tilt. When I pushed the slider all the way to the left, ICQ's file transfer was barely noticeable. (It was slow, too.)

But functions such as these are available in other Internet programs. What sets ICQ apart from nearly all other Internet applications is its ability to trigger programs on another computer. Ordinarily, ICQ sends out a request for a remote user to run a certain program—an Internet phone program, for example. But the remote user can switch ICQ into an automatic mode so requests from afar are acted on immediately, with no need for approval.

This means a user connected to the Internet would not need to do anything to respond to an Internet phone call, to give one example, even if the Internet phone program was not running. ICQ would remotely run the phone program, then fire up the same program on the calling computer.

The same technique could be used to launch data-processing programs remotely for office use across continents or around the block.

This also means ICQ must be set up properly if you want to keep anyone from getting into your computer while you are online. The default setup does a good job of keeping users from doing anything without your permission, but a wayward click (by a 12-year-old, for example) could mean disaster. If you install ICQ, be sure to monitor its settings each time you use it.


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