Sailing the Internet's Stormy Seas: Mosaic Navigator book

by Alan Zisman (c) 1995. First published in Our Computer Player, July 1995

The Mosaic Navigator
by Paul Gilster
John Wiley & Sons
ISNB 0-471-11336-0
price-- ???

Paul Gilster has given himself the task of guiding users through the often uncharted waters of the Internet. His two previous books, 'The Internet Navigator', and 'Finding it on the Internet' have proved to be invaluable sources of information for many users. When they were reviewed in the Computer Player (February, 1995), however, I criticized their relative lack of discussion of the World Wide Web-- the graphical hypertext network that for many, especially for many new users, has BECOME the Internet.

In his new book, 'The Mosaic Navigator', he makes up for any previous omissions. As the title suggests, this book is solely devoted to getting users up and running with Mosaic.

Mosaic is a Web browser, software to use to move around the World Wide Web, view Web pages and their multimedia contents. Developed at the University of Illinois' National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), it is available for free in versions for Windows, Unix, and the Macintosh.

Gilster focuses on the Windows version, but also includes a chapter on the Mac version, and makes enough on-going references to that platform to enable Mac users to work with this book as well.

He discusses the background to Mosaic and the Web, and the sort of connection to the Internet needed to use Mosaic-- modem users need to arrange a SLIP/PPP connection with a service provider; text-based shell accounts just won't work.

The book continues with where to find Mosaic, and how to install it on a Windows computer and on a Mac. We then look at Mosaic add-ons-- customizing it to work with graphics, sounds, and video, and at how to personalize Mosaic's menus, and a brief introduction to creating a customized home page. We discover how Mosaic can be used in place of more traditional Internet programs for Gopher, FTP, and telnet, as well as its less-impressive abilities as a UseNet reader, and for e-mail.

Carrying on with using Mosaic on the Web, we get a chapter of interesting sites (at least as of September, 1994, when the book went to press). Finally, a discussion of the future for Mosaic and the Web in general, looking especially at the themes of finding information that were introduced in Gilster's earlier books.

The Internet is a fast changing environment, and nowhere more so than the World Wide Web. The number of Web sites is estimated to be doubling every five months-- more than doubling in the time since this book went to the printers.

That makes it hard to keep up to date-- it may have been a mistake for Gilster to focus his book so tightly on NCSA Mosaic rather than on the Web itself. While Mosaic was the hot Web application last Fall, since then, it has been replaced by Netscape-- another freely available program created by some of Mosaic's originators, which offers better performance for modem users.

Since Netscape was still in the planning stages when this book went to press, Gilster can't be faulted for failing to cover it. However, had he written his book focusing more on the Web and Web browsers in general, the book would not have appeared to be obsolete so quickly. Even Mosaic continues to evolve-- it is a work in progress, in continual beta testing, with several new versions appearing over the past few months.

However, this book remains relevent, even for users of other Web browsers. It would be too bad if users of Netscape, Internet Works, or recent offerings from CompuServe or elsewhere pass up on this book, just because it's called 'The Mosaic Navigator' rather than, for example, 'The Web Navigator'.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan