The Navigation Toolbar and You

First Published:
Date Published: 1997
Copyright © 1997 by Kevin Savetz

It's been there since time immemorial. You noticed it the first time you ever launched a web browser, and you've been taking it for granted ever since. It's the Navigation Toolbar, perpetually hovering above whatever web page you happen to be looking at. The toolbar in Navigator 4 is deceptively familiar -- sure, it looks more-or-less the same, but what changes lurk behind those icons?

Of course you know the Back, Forward, Reload and Stop buttons, you tap them absentmindedly whenever necessary. Try this: click on the Back or Forward button and hold the mouse button down for a moment. Navigator will reveal a list of several pages that you've been to, so you can jump back or forward by several pages at a time.

Remember the What's New, What's Cool, Net Directory and the rest of the guide buttons that adorned previous versions of Navigator? Those are gone in version 4, replaced by a single Guide toolbar button. Clicking it will zip you off to, Netscape's own directory for browsing web content. Offering a categorized view -- business, computers, entertainment, finance and so on -- each category includes links to a small selection of Web sites and news. Links to other resources, including What's New and What's Cool (you didn't think they were gone forever, did you?) are here as well.

Back up at the toolbar, to the left of the Guide button, is the Search button. Here's a big change form earlier versions of Navigator, in which the "Find" button would let you search for a word on the current page. In Navigator 4, the Search button is for searching the Web, and it is downright useful no matter what your favorite search engine is. A button bar provides easy access to Yahoo, Excite, Infoseek and Lycos. The brilliant part is this page's ability to be customized: click on the Customize button to make your favorite search engine the default tool the next time you press the Search button. This feature is convenient for a Web that is not one-size-fits-all.

Have you tried the Security button? Pressing it pops up the Security Info page, revealing the sundry details about the security of your connection to the current site. From there you can toggle the security warnings that tell when you enter or leave a secure site, send unencrypted information over the Web, and so on. (Those settings are available under the Navigator menu of the Security Info page.)

The Print button is intuitive enough -- click on it to print to current page. Sure, you could roll your mouse all the way up to the File menu and select Print, but think of the precious seconds this button will save you. Printing does have one gotcha left over from the previous version of Navigator: if you're on a page with frames, Navigator will only print the current frame. So be sure to click somewhere in the frame that you want on paper before tapping the Print button.

The images button -- hey, where did it go? If you're a Windows user and have Navigator set to automatically load images, the Images button isn't necessary and quietly disappears. If you prefer to quickly download each page's text without images (choose Preferences from the Edit menu, then click on Advanced to toggle this), the toolbar's Images button reveals itself. Clicking it will download and display the page's images. In the Mac version, the button is always there, but grayed out if you automatically load images.

After a long day of exploring web sites near and far, the toolbar's Home button provides quick access to the familiar safely of your home page. With Navigator 4, as with every previous version, the home page defaults to -- one of the most-accessed (and ironically, least-interesting) web pages in the history of the Internet. Pick Preferences from Navigator's Edit menu to change your home page to something -- anything -- else. (For my money, the coolest use for a home page is to display the current satellite weather image from the WXP Weather Processor at Purdue University: Hey, it beats Netscape's relentless flood of press releases. But I digress.) If you do change your home page, remember that clicking on the Netscape icon at the right edge of the toolbar will punt you instantly to your old stomping grounds,

Should you forget the purpose of any of the buttons on the toolbar, hovering the mouse pointer over the button will reveal a ToolTip to remind you. (In the Mac version, ToolTips are an option, adjustable via the Appearance menu of the Preferences window. ToolTips are always available in the Windows version.)

On the left edge of each toolbar you'll see a grab bar: click it and drag it downwards to rearrange the toolbars. You can change their order, but unfortunately, they're all tethered to the top of the browser window -- wouldn't it be cool if you could anchor the toolbars at the side or bottom of the window? Sorry, perhaps this will be a trick for Navigator 5.

Single-click the grab bar to collapse any of the toolbars -- it will become a thin horizontal bar near the top of the window. Click on it again to reveal it again. If you're a frequenter of the toolbars but short on screen real estate, this is more convenient than constantly choosing the Hide and Show Toolbar commands from the view menu.

Articles by Kevin Savetz