NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article
Give Your Portal Some Pizzazz
Customize Your Browser's Home Page and Increase Your Productivity

by Steve Bass, Pasadena IBM Users Group, August 2001
(click to email author)

I was at a buddy's house recently and spotted something alarming. His home page--the screen his browser automatically opens with--was MSN.

Yeah, you heard me. Not only hadn't he switched to another home page, he wasn't even aware that he could modify the page and get rid of much of the useless junk. With an ad-blocking program, he could also avoid all of Microsoft's blaring, shameless self-aggrandizements.

My hand started twitching. I was about to lunge towards his mouse and try to single-handedly change his home page, when his wife shouted "barbecue's ready."

I was on my third beer when two things struck me. I'd had enough to drink and I had to help this guy out.

Dumping the Ads
You can decide for yourself whether blocking ads is ethical. As far as I'm concerned, ads that are deceptive (the one that looks like a download gauge and says "click here"), pop up boxes (or worse, those damn X-10 camera pop-under boxes), and blinking Flash animations are all fair game.

My favorite ad jamming utility is WebWasher (http://www.webwasher.com). It's free for personal use and if you accept the defaults, easy to use. Of course you can tweak WebWasher in dozens of ways, fine-tuning it to, say, allow some cookies to be released while withholding others.

Point Me Home
Changing your Home page is a five minute operation. It's straightforward in Internet Explorer (IE). Go to the Web site you want to use as your Home page. Then from the Tools menu, choose Internet Options and click Use Current.

In Netscape, go to the Web site you want to use as your Home page. From the Edit menu, choose Preferences. (I'm using version 6.01; your Netscape version may have slightly different menu settings.) You'll need to find the Navigator category or a dialog area that shows the Home Page option. Click the Use Current Page button and you're done. But while you're there, examine the Toolbars section of the Options area. Uncheck the buttons Netscape automatically adds, things you might not need or want.

Presto Chango
You may encounter a sleazy web site that changes your Home page without permission. It's happened to me and it threw me for a loop. Not only couldn't I figure out how they did it, I couldn't change it back to my original Home page. First try the previous instructions. If that doesn't fix it, you'll need to change a setting in your Registry. Fred Langa has a way to do it and he explains the process here: http://www.langa.com/newsletters/2000/2000-07-10.htm#2

Playing Around with Portals
I think of my browser-and Home page-as the center of my online activity, sort of a control panel that gets me to other places quickly and efficiently. I've never counted the hours but I'm guessing my browser's on screen about 40 percent of the time. (Probably another 40 percent is with Eudora and the balance in Word and PowerDesk.)

By the way, a portal isn't something mysterious or esoteric. It's simply a single integrated point for access to information, people, and other Web sites; a personalized and customized user interface.

While I'm not happy with Yahoo's emulation of Microsoft (they bought eGroups only to make it a complicated chamber of horrors), their portal is terrific. My bias towards using Yahoo is twofold: Yahoo provides a variety of information, more than most portals, and it's blessedly easy to customize a page. Better, I have five separate Yahoo pages, each serving a different need. For instance, my main page includes the following:

o News: Technology, local, science, world, and others.
o Calendar: A quick view of my upcoming events with access to my calendar.
o E-mail and messaging: I get to see my Yahoo mail account and who's online for an instant message.
o Local area events.
o Bookmarks: I use this handy category to jump to sites that I want access to but aren't important enough to add to IE's Links bar.
o Weather.
o Financial portfolio: A small, password-protected box that lets me see my daily losses.
o Mapping: Similar to MapBlast.com but with a pull-down history.
o News clipper: Yahoo automatically searches its news database to find articles that I'm tracking. I have other Yahoo pages, each accessible from my Home page.
o Entertainment: with a listing of movie show times for theaters in Pasadena and an evening's worth of TV listings.
o Yahoo Search Tools: I have all my lookups here--Yellow Pages, E-mail and phone searches, as well as bookmarks that link me to people and reverse phone directory pages.

Yahoo's a Flex Champ
Page layouts are simple to design. Most Yahoo modules-Calendar, Maps, E- mail, Weather, for instance-can be placed on either side of the Home page. Bookmarks Portfolio, News, and other modules can be removed from the page to become a separate, temporary floating boxes. And the content can be set into either two medium sized columns or two narrow and one wide column.

Creating a Home page Portal is a fun project, has the potential to let you navigate the Web faster, and unlike installing a new operating system, is guaranteed not to hose your PC.

Steve Bass is a Contributing Editor with PC World and runs the Pasadena IBM Users Group. Write to him at steve_bass@pcworld.com. Check PCW's current edition at http://www.pcworld.com/resource/toc/index.asp and sign up for the Steve Bass online newsletter at http://www.pcworld.com/bass_letter

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