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How to do more than one thing at a time on the Net

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

How to do more than one thing at a time on the Net

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1996, The Syracuse Newspapers

"If I have two phone lines, can I get onto the Internet on both of my PCs at the same time using one account?"

I was perplexed by the caller's question. It turned out that both PCs were in the same location—he wasn't asking, as many do, if he could log on from the office at the same time as the kids were surfing at home. He was trying to find a way to open two Web pages simultaneously, and he figured he needed two PCs.

He was disappointed when I told him his ISP account allowed only one call at a time. But he was totally confused when I told him he didn't need two PCs and two connections. He had a hard time understanding that a modern Web browser can call up many pages at the same time, in separate windows.

You may have the same misconception. So let's look at what your TCP/IP connection can do. You may be surprised.

Modern Internet software is usually designed to multitask. There are exceptions, but most of them time you'll find you can do other things while you're running a modern Web browser, e-mail program, chat application or ftp-transfer utility.

I need to make that clearer, because I'm going to add a complication shortly. What I'm saying is that you should be able (on a PC or Mac) to log onto your ISP account and browse the Web (or do any other Internet activity) while you use your word processor or play solitaire or balance your checkbook. What I'm also saying is that you should be able to browse the Web while you check your e-mail. In other words, you can do more than one Internet function at the same time.

But that's just for starters. With Netscape Navigator, Internet Explorer and some other modern browsers, you can easily instruct the browser to open a new window, so that the page that's currently open stays on your screen while you open another one. The technical limit to the number you can have open at the same time is based on how much memory your computer has, but the real limit is based on your patience. Things start to slow down when your browser is grabbing texts and images from more than three or four pages at once. My record on my 96-megabyte Windows 95 PC is 27 pages open simultaneously—but at a speed that only a brick could love.

Various browsers handle the new-window command differently. Internet Explorer makes good use of the right mouse button on PCs—click it and you'll see what I mean—and Navigator is coming around to that philosophy, too. (Mac users normally don't have two mouse buttons, but they use other methods.)

E-mail programs are usually less accommodating, often keeping you from writing mail in one window while receiving it in the other. But some do this very well. Try yours to see how it does.

Likewise, good ftp programs let you log onto separate ftp servers simultaneously. CuteFTP, the most powerful of the Windows ftp utilities, does this better than any other ftp software I've tried. I often log onto my own ftp server in one CuteFTP window while doing transfers to and from three or four other sites at the same time.

If your Internet programs won't let you run multiple sessions, look for better software on the Net. Programs designed for good multitasking turn your computer into a full-time tool.

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