Software Reviews

WebWhacker 2.0 by ForeFront

Reviewed by Laurence Fenn

The worst part about surfing the Internet is the speed, or rather lack of it. Even with a 28.8k modem or higher, some pages can take forever to download, and grabbing files can be a nightmare. The time that you access sights can be a help, so WebWhacker helps this but allowing you to schedule when you access your favourite sites. It can download all the files, text and graphics of a site when there's less traffic, and allows you to view the pages using your current browser, without connecting to your Internet provider. Apart from a working Internet connection and the standard requirements for Windows 95 or Windows NT 4.0, it recommends 8Mb of RAM, 10Mb of hard disc space (2Mb for the program, 8Mb for the stored sites, and a SpyGlass SDI standard-compliant Web browser. This includes Internet Explorer 2.0 or higher, Netscape Navigator 1.1b3 or higher, or Enhanced Mosaic 2.0 or higher.

Installation was easy, with only the option of setting which browser to use with the program. It acts as a proxy server, sitting between your web browser and the Internet, checking which pages are requested. If your browser asks for a page that WebWhacker has previously stored (or whacked as the program likes to term it), it sends the data to the browser from its store. Netscape Navigator and Explorer both allow the setting of a proxy server in a different way, and this is the option that you have.

When you start WebWhacker, you have to tell it which sites to load, and you can import your bookmarks file into the program. You then have to decide how deep you want to 'whack' a site. If you choose one level, it will only read the graphics and text from the web address given. Choosing higher levels means it will read the files that any links of the first page relate to. You can choose to remain on site, to stop the program from loading files from other sites that may be linked to the original address. You can specify how often you want to update the web site, whether it is just once, daily, weekly or monthly. Once you have set the options for all your sites (which can be sorted into categories), you can decide on which sites to whack from your list.

Whacking the sites will prompt your dial in box to appear, and once you are connected, contact all the sites and download the files. In theory as the program is not displaying the files (as it would if your were just visiting the site using your browser) it should be quicker. In the lower half of the screen you can see the progress, as it connects to the site or sites, and downloads the information. If you regularly visit certain sites then this will speed up as only the changes will be loaded. One fault with this is that web pages change constantly, and if you have set the level to more than one, you will be downloading any files linked to. In the case of sites that have large files (like software archives) you could be downloading several megabytes of information that you do not want. In this case you should reduce the level that you are whacking to, or visit the site using your normal browser to establish it's contents.

Once WebWhacker has saved all the information, you can disconnect from your Internet provider. Using your normal web browser you can enter the same web site address, and the program will work as proxy server and send the images and text faster than your normal web connection. However, I noticed a long delay between entering the address and WebWhacker sending the information to Netscape Navigator. As it was reading the data from the hard disc I would have thought that the response would have been instantaneous. Trying it with Microsoft Explorer 2.0 came up with the same results. The response was slow the first time you try to access a site, but fairly quick as you navigate through the links of that site. The manual mentions this and states that the total loading time is not significantly different, but I found a 30 second or so delay with no response other than 'connected' in the status bar a bit disconcerting.

You have the choice of viewing the subscribed URLs in either a hierarchical tree structure (Tree View) or as a sorted list (List View). The latter can be sorted by URL or page title.

The first six icons in the top of the window are also present in a dropdown AppBar. This works like the Start menu toolbar and can be attached to any side of the screen. The six functions are:

Headlines - creates a web page with a listing of all your top-level whacked URLs as links.

Grab - this selects the currently viewed site to be subscribed, and starts the wizard to select a category and how many levels to whack. If the site requires a user name and password, these can be selected as well.

WebMgr - this is an Explorer style manager for your subscribed URLs, dividing them into categories such as Arts, Business, Computers, Education, Entertainment, Financial, government, Hobbies, Internet, Kids, Magazines & Newspapers, Misc and Sports. You can create your own folder names, or move sites into different folders.

Search - this allows you to search for specific words or phrases contained in the title and/or body text of any of you whacked sites.

Whack - this starts the process of grabbing the site data according to the URLs that you have enabled. One you have started the process you can stop it, but if it is not connecting to the site, or extracting files. That means that if you can see it is downloading a large file you cannot stop it.

Renew - this re-whacks the selected sites manually, and compares the new file on the Internet with the one held in it's whacked database.

The four remaining icons in the program window, which are not on the toolbar, are:

Schedule - change when you want to whack URL sites.

Props - Change the properties of the selected URL.

Import - imports previous whacked URL sites from WebWhacker 1.0 into version 2.0. The main difference is that version saved the information in separate files, and version 2.0 saves all the information in one file. It does not import the actual data from the site, so you will need to re-whack the sites.

Export - this saves the text and graphics etc. of a whacked to a file, much like right hand clicking on an image in Netscape and choosing save as, or choosing save as from the file menu to save the HTML coding. If you export large files or a large group of files, you cannot stop the export process once it has started.

The manual was not easy to follow, and I was moving from chapter to chapter trying to find relevant information. The program may work seamlessly in the background, but the speed at which it works does not improve the results. You still have to go online to download the information, and the idea of being unable to stop processes which may take a long time, means that you must be sure of which sites you want to whack. Your web browser automatically copies all your viewed files to a cache to speed up your browsing whilst on line, and although the file names are not the same, you can view the text and graphics files with any word processor or graphics program. Some programs like Secret Agent by Ariel Communications Ltd can read the cache files and allow you view them using your browser, even generating a summary of all GIF and JPG files (the two formats used for graphics files). There are versions for Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Explorer and the response time is as fast as your hard disc. Other programs read ahead while you are browsing on the Internet, downloading links and information that it anticipates you will follow (like net.jet).

If you are sure on the contents of a site, and want to schedule your downloads for when you are not at your PC, then this program will be for you. However, the Internet is a constantly changing place, and I like to see what I'm going to download. You can speed up the time you spend on the Internet without using any other programs. You could try:

1) Switching off the automatic loading of images, so only the text is loaded.
2) Saving the HTML file to your hard disc for viewing offline. The graphics won't be saved, but the important text and coding will.
3) Start a new web browser window whilst a slow page is loading. You can have more than one browser window open at the same time in a session.
4) Don't bother with the http prefix when entering an address to go to. In fact you can just enter the middle part if it starts with www and ends with com (for just enter microsoft).
5) Increase the size of the cache used by your web browser. If you return to a site within a session or a page uses the same graphics file, it will read from the cache.
6) Clear your cache when it gets full, to stop the browser swapping out the old files for the new ones.
7) Use your web browser to search FTP sites, but use a dedicated FTP program to download the files, as it will be quicker. Use an FTP site that's local to you will also speed up the connection.
8) Try to use the different search engines available effectively to find the information you want. Most have advanced search parameters that can reduce the number of 'hits'.
9) If like me you find several interesting links in a magazine that you want to visit you can either go to the magazine's web site and follow the links if they are listed there or type the links into a simple HTML file. You then load the local file into your browser and use that to link to the pages when you are on line. You can take your time entering them using notepad, and give them any description that you like. I save these files on the Desktop, so I can drag and drop them onto my Netscape icon. My web browser is loaded with the link page and my dial up connection box appearing.
10) Choose the time that you connect. It's cheaper in the evenings after six and at the weekends, and also quicker when America is asleep (generally early in the morning before twelve).

Alternatives: Net.Jet from Peak Technologies (£29.99), Secret Agent from Ariel Communications Ltd (shareware), Cache Explorer from, Freeloader from

Review first appeared in ROM Newsletter of the Guildford PC User Group in July 1997 (Vol.7,No.7)