Pick a Peck of Preferences

First Published: browserwars.com
Date Published: 1997
Copyright © 1997 by Kevin Savetz

This week we delve into the nooks and crannies of Netscape Navigator's preferences, where you can control a multitude of functions ranging from essential features to the merely aesthetic.

Navigator's preferences are broken down into four major areas: Appearance, Navigator, Identity and Advanced. Choose Preferences from the Edit menu to view the preferences window. On the left you'll see an expandable list of categories -- click on the plus sign (Windows) or the arrow (Mac) to reveal the sub-categories. For instance, Languages and Applications settings are hidden within the Navigator menu. Let's go down the list and take a look at the various preferences panels


We start with the easy stuff: appearance. The "On startup, launch" button controls what Navigator will do when you start it. The default, Navigator, will bring up the familiar browser window. Choosing Netcaster will cause Netscape's push client to start by default -- not recommended unless you have a permanent Net connection as well as bandwidth to burn.

The "Show toolbar as" option has been around since the dark ages, and its correct setting is simply a matter of personal preference. If your screen real estate is limited, Text Only will buy you a few extra pixels of space for the web page.

The Mac version has two additional buttons: "Show ToolTips" enables the Windowseque feature of reminding you what each button does when you hover the cursor over the toolbar. The "Use Desktop Utility Pattern" checkbox is rather useless -- if checked, Netscape will use the Macintosh system utilities pattern as the background in the toolbar and status message area instead of the standard gray color. This can make the toolbar and status messages exceedingly hard to read. If you have System 7.5 or 7.6, you can set this pattern by opening the Desktop Patterns control panel, choosing a pattern, and holding down the Option key while clicking the Set Utilities Pattern button. Our crack team of Navigator hackers (OK, me fooling with it in the wee hours of the morning) couldn't make this feature work with System 8. No loss, really.


The fonts panel gives you control over the look of the web pages that you visit: you can allow web sites to control the fonts that you see, or you can wrest control from the site and take fonts into your own hands.

Dynamic fonts are a powerful addition in Netscape 4: they allow a site to temporarily transmit fonts to your computer, giving the webmaster precise control over the look of the page. But dynamic fonts increase the time that it takes to download pages, and although they can be pretty, funky fonts generally aren't necessary for correct display of a page. Netscape allows you to disable use of dynamic fonts if you desire.

If you like, you can take total control of the situation by specifying what fonts Netscape will use for monospace and variable-spaced text. This might prove useful if you want a uniform, easy-to-read look for all the web pages you visit, or if your eyesight requires use of large type.


More subjective fun is in store at the Colors panel. Here you can specify the colors of links that you've visited and haven't visited yet, and whether links are underlined (which can make identifying them much easier.) If you're sick of web sites that use horrific color combinations (or combinations that are simply unreadable on your grayscale monitor) then click the "Always use my colors" box. Purists will say that this feature strips a page of part of its personality; I say "It's my computer, if I want to look at lime text on a magenta background all day, that's what I should have."


This ill-named panel is one of the most useful -- the biggest reason is that this is where you can set your home page. Either paste in the URL of your favorite page or click "Use Current Page" to set it.

Don't overlook the "Navigator Starts with" setting. Sure, you may want your home page to load each time you start the program, but there's a certain simplicity in having it start with a blank page. Even better, Navigator can resume with the last page you visited before quitting it last time -- a great way to regain your train of thought if you frequently log out on a hurry (or God forbid, crash).

The History option sets the length of time a link that you've visited will appear in the "been there, done that" color before reverting to the "hey, this is new" color (as set in the Colors panel.) Me, I set the history to 365 days (the maximum on the Mac) or 999 days (a nice big number for the Windows version). Why shouldn't the program remind you that you've been to a site, even if it was several months ago?


The Web, like the world, has many languages -- and some web pages are available in multiple languages. This panel is where you can tell Netscape what languages you would prefer to see on the Web. If you're fluent in French but can also read English, for example, you can press the Add button to add French to your languages list. You can also drag languages around the list to rank your language preferences.

Of course, there's no guarantee that the languages that you specify will be available -- most web sites are written in just one language, and if that is the case, that's the one you'll see.


This panel lets you specify the helper applications that Netscape uses to deal with various types of files and URLs -- telnet sites, BMP images, .ZIP files and so on. Netscape is pretty well stocked with helper apps. If you don't like one of the default helpers (perhaps you'd rather use WinZIP instead of PKZIP to handle compressed files?) this is the place to tweak things.


It's easy to miss the Identity panel because it doesn't have sub-menus. The Identity menu simply wants to know your name, e-mail address and any organizational affiliation. No, it's not so that Netscape can tell web sites whe you are. But should you click a mailto: link to send a message, Netscape will use this info as the return address of your message. Harmless.

If you're using a Mac, there's a checkbox there, too: "Use Internet Config". The Internet Configuration System was designed to make your life easier by reducing the number of times that you need to enter your preferences into each of your Internet clients. It's worth using. You can get the latest version of Internet Config from ftp://ftp.share.com/internet-configuration/InternetConfig1.4.sit. The online documentation is at http://www.quinn.echidna.id.au/Quinn/Config/.

May I have some more?

More preferences? Yes indeed. Next week we'll dive into the really juicy stuff: Navigator's Advanced preferences. Don't go in there without a guide.

Articles by Kevin Savetz