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Tools for ferreting info on the Net

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

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Tools for ferreting info on the Net

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1996, The Syracuse Newspapers

A ferret is an animal famed for finding things. On the Internet, the word is about to mean the same thing.

A company called FerretSoft at is giving away some of the best search programs I've seen, all under the Ferret name. Advertisers get space in a display area at the top of each program, so you don't have to pay a cent support them. (Ad-free versions may be available later, but Vironix says it would charge for them.)

NetFerret is the suite of search programs—WebFerret, NewsFerret, IRCFerret, EmailFerret and, soon-to-be-added, FileFerret—available in separate downloads from the Web site. The Ferret programs currently available run only on Windows 95 and Windows NT 4.0, but Vironix says it is working on versions for the Mac and other systems.

WebFerret will no doubt be the most popular in the suite, because it handles Web-page searching better than any other searcher you can find. It uses the latest multithreading techniques in Windows 95 (and its big brother, NT 4.0) to send search criteria to many search engines at the same time. (Versions for lesser systems may not be able to handle multiple searches in quite the same way.)

WebFerret returns a list of hits—pages that contain the word or phrase you're looking for—just as ordianry search methods do. But placing your mouse pointer over a Web page in the list pops open a small view window that shows you more text from that page, and double-clicking on the entry opens the page in your browser.

Opening pages from the search list is faster in WebFerret than in, say, Alta Vista's results window, possibly because WebFerret has already translated the Web address into an IP address.

NewsFerret, which lets you search for a topic, a phrase or a word among hundreds of thousands of messages in thousands of news groups, is even more impressive. It works the same way, showing a portion of the message when your pointer hovers over the entry in the list, and also gets the original item when you double-click. But it picks up encoded files attached to (or included in) messages automatically, sparing you any effort.

Best of all, NewsFerret does all this without the need for a separate news reader program.

The other Ferrets are outstanding, too. IRCFerret finds anyone or any channel on the Internet Relay Chat system and EmailFerret tries its best to locate the e-mail address of anyone who uses the Internet.

For a more complete description of the Ferrets, look at the reviewer's guide.

I've always had a problem with Notepad, the little editor included with Windows. It can't handle large texts and doesn't know how to save its own configuration. Microsoft didn't even improve it when Windows 95 came out. The text-length problem is a big difficulty on the Internet, because Internet software often uses Notepad to show you texts. If they're too long to fit, you have to use something else.

The best Windows 3.x Notepad replacement is clearly Spad, a free text editor from PC Magazine's Douglas Boling. It works just like Notepad except for the file-size limit (it has none) and for the configuration problem (it knows how to save its position on the screen and its internal settings). And, yes, it will open up with word-wrap enabled.

But a good Windows 95 replacement has been harder to find. Most of the ones I've tried were too cumbersome. But I've now found an outstanding—and also free—Notepad replacement for Windows 95 called Textpad. It's a 32-bit program, has a toolbar, knows how to behave, does just what it should do and no more, and lets you choose the font for the display and a couple of other things. (And, yes, it also will open with word-wrap turned on.)

Get Spad from the PC Magazine at Get Nextpad from

(Many other replacement editors are available from links on one of my Web pages,

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