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That's where Push Technology For Dummies comes in. Author Bud Smith introduces you to the hot push software that everyone's talking about, including PointCast, Marimba Castanet, and BackWeb. You also find out about the push features built right into Microsoft Internet Explorer 4 and Netscape Communicator 4. The best thing about channels is that they're fully customizable, and Push Technology For Dummies shows you how to choose the hottest content and make it work for you.
Discusses the process of having Netscape NetCaster, Internet Explorer 4.0 and other programs "push" material from web sites to the user's computer, rather than the user having to search.
Part I: Making Push Work for You
- Stepping through Push Technology
- Part I: Making Push Work for You
Part II: Push Clients
Part III: Push Platforms
Part IV: The Part of Tens
Part V: Appendixes
- Icons Used in This Book
Part II: Push Clients
Chapter 1: Introducing Push
Welcome to Push Technology
- What is pull technology?
What is push technology?
- What Does Push Look Like?
How to Pick a Winner
Getting the Benefits of Push
Solving Push Problems
Chapter 2: Pushing Your Computer to the Limit
Push and Your Computer System
- Push and processor power
Avoiding RAM cram
Not oversubscribing your hard disk
Opening up space on your desktop
- Push and Your Internet Connection
Chapter 3: Choosing a Push Platform
The Netscape-Microsoft Push War
And the Winner Is
Major Push Products
Push for Windows
- Works best on Windows 95?
Push and Windows 3.1
Push and Windows 98
- Push for the Macintosh
Push for UNIX Users
Using Push in the Organization
Part III: Push Platforms
Chapter 4: Choosing and Starting with PointCast 2.0
A Thumbnail Sketch of PointCast 2.0
A Quick Look at PointCast
- Preview: PointCast 2.0 in action
What more is there to PointCast?
What does 2.0 add?
- PointCast Picks and Pans
- For PointCast
Winning with PointCast
Do you need PointCast?
- Installing PointCast 2.0
- Getting your version of PointCast
Installing PointCast 2.0
Registering to use The PointCast Network
Connecting PointCast to the Internet
Chapter 5: Choosing PointCast Channels
Choosing PointCast Channels and Topics
- Selecting your PointCast channels
Personalizing a PointCast channel
Tips and tricks for choosing
- Profit from Your Business Channel Choices
- Picking the Companies you want
Becoming a captain of the Industries channel
Creating your own Wall Street Journal
- Come to Life with Living Channels
- Finding your true Pathfinder in life
Choosing (or losing) the Lifestyle channel
Getting good Sports
Doing something about the Weather channel
- Get Just the National News You Like
- Cut! Assemble your own CNN
Make the News channel your own
Edit your own New York Times
- Pick and Choose from Regional News
- Get All the Technology You Can Handle
- Get WIRED News
Make TechWeb and ZDNet sing your tune
Chapter 6: Choosing PointCast Connections
Using the PointCast Connections "Superchannel"
Adding a Connection from PointCast
Adding a Connection from the Web
Create Your Own PointCast Connection
- Create a Web site
Reorganize your Web site
Register your Connection with PointCast and RSAC
Create the Connection
Chapter 7: Making PointCast Your Own
- Changing PointCast application settings
- Touring PointCast
- Using the Channel Viewer and SmartScreen
Managing the Ticker
Connecting to the Web
- Using PointCast Management Tools
- Get your free PointCast tools here
Which tools do you need?
Solving seven PointCast problems
Using PointCast to create opportunities
Chapter 8: Starting with Marimba Castanet
All about Castanet
- Preview: The Castanet Tuner in action
How Castanet works
Do you need Castanet?
- Setting Up Castanet Tuner 1.1
- Getting the Tuner
Installing Castanet Tuner 1.1
Configuring Castanet Tuner 1.1
Chapter 9: Using Marimba Castanet
Touring Castanet Tuner 1.1
- The Channels tab and Channel menu
The Listing tab
The Hot tab
The Configure tab
Configuring user information
Configuring network information
- Touring Castanet Channels
- Subscribing to a known channel from the Tuner
Subscribing to a channel
Searching for Hot channels and transmitters
Checking out a transmitter
Searching for new channels
- Managing the Tuner
- Controlling updates
Add and remove the Tuner from start-up items
Start the Tuner minimized or by a shortcut
Quit the Tuner (really)
- Using Other Marimba Tools
Chapter 10: More Push Products
Buying into BackWeb
- What it is
What it's good for
Installing the BackWeb client
- Finding Out about Lanacom Headliner
- What it is
Choosing Headliner channels
- Push Products for the Internet, Intranets, and Extranets
- More Internet push products
Intranet and extranet push products
Part IV: The Part of Tens
Chapter 11: In the Beginning: Internet Explorer 4.0
Internet Explorer 4.0 Push Revealed
- Preview: Internet Explorer 4.0 in action
Why Internet Explorer 4.0?
How Internet Explorer push works
Do you need Internet Explorer 4.0?
- Setting Up Internet Explorer 4.0
- Getting the Internet Explorer 4.0 Setup program
Getting the rest of Internet Explorer 4.0
Installing Internet Explorer 4.0
Chapter 12: Creating Internet Explorer Subscriptions and Channels
Adding Web Site Subscriptions
- Subscription options to look out for
Subscribing to a Web site fast
Subscribing to a Web site with options
- Subscribing to Active Channels
- Channel options to look out for
Chapter 13: Using Push in Internet Explorer 4.0
Using Web Page and Channel Subscriptions
- Updating your subscriptions
Managing your subscriptions
Setting up the Subscriptions dialog box
Fast-surfing your subscriptions
Modifying subscription options
- Activating Your Desktop
- Putting Web icons on the desktop
Using the Channel Screen Saver
Previewing Active Desktop
Turning on Active Desktop
Touring Push in the Active Desktop
Creating a desktop component
Turning off active content
Turning off Active Desktop
Chapter 14: Netscape Netcaster Unveiled
Push in Netscape Communicator
- Communicator push = Netcaster
Do you need Netcaster and Communicator?
- Getting Netscape Netcaster
- Uninstalling Communicator or Navigator
Downloading Navigator and Netcaster
- Installing Navigator or Communicator
Chapter 15: Using Netscape Netcaster
What -- Me Worry? Netcaster Options
- Subscribing to Web sites
Subscribing to Netcaster channels
- Managing Netcaster Channels
Using the Webtop
Part V: Appendixes
Chapter 16: Ten Cool Internet Explorer 4.0 Channels
CBS SportsLine's Personal Channel
The Forbes Channel
Mayo Health O@sis
The Microsoft Network
Chapter 17: Ten Cool Netscape Netcaster Channels
Gartner Group Advisor
The HomeArts Network
Infoseek Industry Watch
- Appendix A: Glossary
Appendix B: Push Providers
Book Registration Information
In This Chapter
To use push technology effectively, you have to have a relatively robust computer system -- but just what does relatively robust mean? Well, here's what you need for a relatively robust system for push technology:
If you have a different kind of computer, or a less capable computer system than this, push is likely to not work well, or it will overstrain your system in ways that I describe in this chapter.
Most people reading this book have a system with these specifications or better, except possibly for the amount of RAM. The trickier part is the speed of your Internet connection. Push programs work best when you're hooked to a network-based Internet connection that's always connected to the Internet -- no dialing up a modem to get a connection -- and has reliable download speeds of 5 Kbps or better. (However, many people on fast network connections get much worse performance than this because of various bottlenecks on the Internet.) If you have a dial-up connection or a slower connection, using push is likely to be unduly frustrating, but I also describe workarounds in this chapter.
As you may already know, the demands of push programs are such that even if you have the right kind of computer system and the right kind of network connection, overdoing it is still pretty easy. Push technology is still cutting-edge technology, and using cutting-edge technology means that sometimes you get, well, hurt. In this chapter, I go over the minimum requirements, how to work around them if you have less than the minimum, and how to avoid the problems that can occur even if you have more.
Software developers of all kinds are constantly faced with a frustrating problem. They can develop better software with more features if the software is designed for fast systems with lots of RAM, big hard disks, big screens, and fast Internet connections -- the kind of systems that software developers have. This kind of software does neat stuff and gets lots of positive attention from computer magazine editors and software reviewers, who also tend to have powerful systems.
The trouble is, this acclaimed software runs poorly on the computers that most people have. The software in question runs poorly or not at all on these middle-of-the-road systems. Users experience lots of frustration, software companies receive angry calls and letters, and no one's happy -- until a few years later, when most users have upgraded their systems and the balky software has been debugged. Then the next round of cool new software that runs best on the coolest new hardware hits the market, and the cycle begins again. Figure 2-1 depicts this cycle clearly.
Push software is in the beginning of this long and frustrating cycle. Push software demands a lot of the user's Internet connection and computer system, creating room for more problems. I discuss how to avoid problems on the computer system part of the equation in this section, and I cover the Internet connection part later in the chapter.
The one part of your computer that push is not demanding on is the microprocessor. Today, most computers have microprocessors that are easily up to the demands of storing and displaying text and non-moving, low-resolution graphics like those found on Web pages and push channels. More demanding work, such as displaying high-resolution graphics and playing back multimedia sound, video, and animation files, tends to be the province of advanced users like graphic artists and computer game players.
High-resolution graphics and multimedia aren't very prevalent in push because the files are so big that they cause problems in terms of Internet connection bandwidth and hard disk space. So most push channels send a lot of text, a little bit of graphics, and only an occasional small multimedia file. As a result, a 100 MHz Pentium is enough to keep up with most push requirements.
The only problem comes about because the best operating systems for today's push products, Windows 95 and Windows NT, are pretty demanding on the processor themselves. And these operating systems support demanding applications, which you may be foolish enough to run alongside your Internet connection and your push program. In this case, you need more processor power and are likely to have more frequent crashes -- not because of the underpowered processor, but because of other bottlenecks and bugs that arise from trying to do so much at once.
As I write this book, the amount of RAM, or random access memory, in your computer is one of the most sensitive issues in the computing world, and the RAM situation is about to get more confusing.
For most of the '90s, RAM prices have stayed relatively high, even as the processor power available for a given price has doubled every 1824 months and hard disk capacity has soared even faster. A typical computer system today has more than four times the processor power and eight times the hard disk space of a computer of five years ago, but only about twice the amount of RAM -- 8MB or 16MB on many systems. But RAM prices have started to fall fast, and the amount of RAM in a typical new computer system is about to change.
During 1998, systems with 32MB of RAM are expected to become commonplace, and 64MB won't be out of reach for many buyers. Software developers will finally have enough of the most-needed hardware component for adding lots of cool new features. And all of us with 8MB, 16MB, or even 24MB of RAM in our systems will be seriously left behind.
Most Windows 95 users get thrashing -- a form of computer slowdown explained later in this chapter -- when running anything at all on an 8MB system, and 16MB is enough for most office applications, most of the time, but not enough for push technology. (PointCast slows your system unacceptably; Netscape Navigator or Netcaster can almost do it in.) 32MB is really the minimum needed to comfortably use Windows 95 or NT, a push program, a browser, and even just one productivity application. (Hmmm... Does that make Windows operating systems, push programs, and Web browsers anti-productivity programs? Just wondering.)
If you have 24MB or less of RAM, the solution is cheap and simple: More RAM. Now, if a RAM fairy could touch our computers with a magic wand and instantly add 16MB for $200 or so without disturbing our paper-laden desk areas and dusty computer motherboards, most of us would do it. The problem is, you have to either get a technician in, or get your computer system out, to do the upgrade.
The advice from here is, Just do it -- or, if you're not experienced at upgrading computer hardware, Just have it done. The risks of electric shock (to you or the computer), putting the RAM chips in backwards, breaking the RAM chips' connectors, not knowing which DIP switch to flip, or breaking something else are too high for me to recommend that novices do it themselves. Set aside a little time and money and get an upgrade to 32MB of RAM or so. Otherwise, using push technology is likely to be more hassle than it's worth.
Users of portables have to pay more for RAM and having it installed. Also, portable users tend to love their little powerhouses so much that they don't want to send their computers to the shop for even a day. But don't wait! Portable systems are more fragile, they're more expensive, and they run on batteries. Your portable can run down its batteries way too fast, and possibly wear out its hard disk way early, if you try to run push programs with insufficient RAM. (Most portables have 8MB or 16MB; such systems need a 16MB upgrade to run push programs successfully.) Watch and listen for thrashing. If it occurs, do not pass Go, be ready to spend about $200, and get a RAM upgrade.
Paging Dr. Hard Disk
From my perspective as a longtime Macintosh user, one impressive positive in Windows 95 is its ability to swap hard disk space for RAM smoothly. You ask, "Uh, what does that mean?" Well, when a computer's RAM gets full, it temporarily stores some of the less-used RAM stuff on the hard disk. This process frees up more RAM for whatever needs to run right this moment. (And today's processors run at hundreds of millions of instructions per second, so that means right this moment.) When the unneeded RAM stuff is needed again, it's copied back in from the hard disk, and the other stuff is copied back out. This swapping is called paging. The Mac does it badly; Windows 95 does it quite well.
This swapping process works fine as long as big chunks of the RAM stuff that want to be in RAM aren't needed for several seconds at a time. The processor, RAM, and hard disk are all busy, part of the time, swapping things around, but have millions and millions of other cycles available in which to do real work. But when the amount of stuff that needs to be in RAM -- the working set of the current session -- meets or exceeds the amount of RAM available, thrashing occurs. This term is not meant to indicate a totally rad skateboarding session. Instead, thrashing means that your computer is spending all its time copying data around, trying to free up space in RAM so that it can do a little work.
Thrashing is easy to detect -- your hard disk light is flashing constantly, or you can hear the hard disk working, and your computer slows down a lot -- your system is thrashing. Thrashing is bad! When you see it happen more than once or twice a day, get more RAM.
Every time a new Web page is displayed on your computer, you have to wait anywhere from a few seconds to a minute while all the files of the Web page get downloaded to your computer's RAM for display. These files usually include one main file for the Web page's text plus a graphic file for each ad, with a background image, clickable graphical area, or a picture. Figure 2-2 points out the downloading process as it progresses on a typical Web page.
Now as you use the Web, all these little waits add up. You spend about 20 minutes of your Websurfing time waiting if the elements on each Web page total 100K in size, you view 25 new Web pages in a typical Websurfing session, and you have a 28.8 Kbps modem connection working flawlessly. Only new pages count -- when you return to the same Web page again, its files have typically been stored in a folder called a cache on your hard disk, and it appears about ten times faster than when it had to come down over the Internet. Wouldn't you like to surf that fast all the time?
Well, the promise of push is that you can. Push technology downloads the Web pages or channel information that you need in advance, enabling you to surf at top speed. (Of course, the moment you follow a link out of the downloaded material and back onto the open Web, you're back to working at whatever the Internet's speed is at the moment.) The little detail you may not think about is that the files are downloaded and saved on your hard disk, each one taking up space. A relatively conservative program like PointCast may use about 15MB of your hard disk for a dozen text-heavy channels. A dozen or so Castanet channel subscriptions may take up more like 50MB of code, graphics, and text.
You always want to have 100MB or so of hard disk space free. Otherwise, you're in imminent danger of filling up your hard disk. At best, a full hard disk can make you stop and do disk backup and cleanup when you're supposed to be doing real work, and at worst it can contribute to serious system slowdowns and nasty and hard-to-repair system crashes. (I once spent weeks battling a brand-new bug in a minicomputer operating system because I was the first customer to try running it at over 95 percent of hard disk capacity. Remember my mistake.)
Forgetting how to find a display of the amount of free hard disk space on your computer is easy. Follow these steps to check hard disk space on your own hard disk drive(s):
The hard disks and other system resources in your computer are displayed.
A context-sensitive menu appears.
A Properties dialog box appears showing a pie chart with the amount of used and free disk space.
Figure 2-3 shows the Windows display for how much hard disk space you have free.
Confusing the amount of used space, the amount of free space, and the disk capacity is easy. The amount of used space is shown in blue, first, and on the top of the pie chart; the amount of free space is shown in purple, second, and on the bottom of the pie chart. Be sure that you look at the amount of disk space remaining and don't confuse it with the amount of disk space in use or the amount of free space.
The two main methods of push information delivery, channels and Web site subscriptions, are the sworn enemy of empty hard disk space. Options in some push programs make downloading way more data than you need easy. (Blunt warnings about these options are included in later chapters of this book.) You can chew up space with these files faster than you can say "read/write head." And these files aren't easy to clean up. Finding the right files can be hard, and you never know when deleting what looks like a data file can cause your push application to crash.
You always have surprises when it comes to hard disk usage, as well. In order to support uninstalling Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0, Windows 95 backs up the previous version when you install Internet Explorer 4.0. Very nice, but guess what? The backup file is 30MB. (Run the Install/Remove Programs application in the Control Panel folder to delete the backup file.)
How do you avoid overfilling your hard disk? Don't start messing around with push programs unless you have 200MB or so of free hard disk space -- 100MB for the push programs and 100MB of free space for your Windows swap file and temporary, emergency use. Upgrade your hard disk if necessary; if you're that close to running out of space, if push doesn't, well, push you over the edge, something else will. (And good news -- in general, the bigger a hard disk, the faster it runs.) Then try to sip from the fire hose of push channels and Web site subscriptions instead of guzzling; you waste less time and less hard disk space.
Push programs gobble up screen space almost as fast as disk space. Most Web sites and push channels are designed to take up most of an 800 x 600 screen. But in addition to the content, you often need to have a window or window pane open to switch between one channel or subscription and another. Then you probably want to see at least the corner of some other programs' windows, the Windows taskbar, and maybe some Windows windows. Arranging all this information on an 800 x 600 screen is nearly impossible.
If you have or can upgrade to a video card and monitor that support 1,024 x 768 resolution, you're in great shape -- except for screen savers, which take up the whole screen, however large. If you're stuck with an 800 x 600 screen for now, you have to get good at window management and scrolling.
Figure 2-4 shows Netscape Netcaster running with a Web site subscription on an 800 x 600 screen. Notice that you can't see about a third of the Web page because of the Netcaster Channel Finder. To view the full Web page, you have to iconize the Channel Finder. It floats as a small but irritating rectangle on your screen, as shown in the figure. You have similar problems with Internet Explorer 4.0, though it uses a sliding pane that sometimes gets out of your way (as does Netcaster at some points). PointCast is better organized and keeps things in a single browser at the expense of much space for its stories. All of these programs are trying to fit as much information as possible onto your desktop, sometimes at the expense of leaving space for any other programs you might be trying to run.
Push programs use up screen space. Some of these programs run best as screen savers, and some of them want to replace your Windows desktop. A not insignificant minority of users -- remember, I used to work in a company with lots of well-paid and well-equipped software engineers -- dedicate a second screen or a whole system just to running PointCast or some other push program. Unless you have a big screen or an extra screen, carefully consider how a push program uses screen space before you decide whether it's a keeper. Even with the best-organized push programs, count on spending time juggling tasks and windows in an effort to see everything you need to see at once.
Push and you
Your ability to get what you need from push technology depends heavily on external factors, such as your computer system's capabilities and the speed and reliability of your Internet connection. But getting what you need from push technology also depends quite a bit on you -- your knowledge of your computer system, tolerance for change, willingness to take chances, interest in or need for pushed content, and plain old luck. As a reader of this book, you're demonstrating a willingness to discover and to think things through in advance that can help you tackle push successfully. The information in this book can help even more. So charge ahead -- but think carefully about who you're talking to before you recommend a push program to someone who may be a bit less gung ho than you are.
Push technology really gives your Internet connection a workout. For most people, the term Internet connection can mean two very different things:
A dial-up modem and a network-based connection are by far the two most common types of Internet connections. Even users who have a network-based connection during the workday often have a dial-up modem connection at home and while traveling. Push technology has special attractiveness on the road -- you can get updates while connected and then read them while unconnected. As a result, even the most coddled corporate worker is likely to end up using push technology over a dial-up connection at least part of the time.
Dial-up by the hour?
Many dial-up modem users still pay by the hour for connect time. If this means you, watch your connect-time charges when you use push products! Running up dozens of hours of extra usage time is easy as you surf the Web for push information, download push products, and begin to use them. Just one push product connecting daily for updates can add 30-60 hours per month to your connect time.
In addition to regular dial-up modem connections and network-based connections, many rarer types exist, such as ISDN, ADSL, cable modems, and satellite-dish connections. Each of these technologies promises to be how users get fast Internet access real soon now. But none of these connections is worthwhile at the moment, unless you're a pioneer by nature, a corporate employee who can get help or even subsidies from your Information Services department, desperate, or lucky.
Part of the reason for my disrespecting all these waves of the future is that a lot of bottlenecks are on the Internet, and the speed of your connection to it is only one of them. No matter how fast you make the last mile between your computer and the Internet, your connection speed only rises to match the slowest link in the overall chain. The Internet itself gets crowded, loses data (not permanently; it's re-sent, but slows things greatly), and even goes down in part or in whole. When you get connection speeds lower than you expect, dozens of potential problems can be the cause. So speeding up your connection to the Internet is going to solve only part of the problem.
A lot of tips and tricks exist for getting, and staying, connected, and for connecting faster -- more than I can discuss in this book. I had a lot of trouble getting modem cards working with a couple of PC portables while writing this book, so I know that it's an important and complicated topic. Check out Modems For Dummies®, 2nd Edition, by Tina Rathbone (published by IDG Books Worldwide, Inc.) to discover more about the fine art of being connected.
Push technology really shines a harsh light on your state of connectedness. When you Websurf, you do it when you want to, for as long as you want to, and stop when you get tired. But push usually happens at regularly scheduled intervals and downloads more data than you ever do in a typical Web session. Just as a for-instance, it's been reported that 10 percent of Internet usage in some companies is PointCast updates. Not only is that a significant amount of Internet usage, but this Internet usage tends to happen at 8 or 9 a.m., slowing down everyone at once.
Push works best if you're constantly connected and each channel or Web site can connect and get updated at the time of day and number of updates that make sense to you. But on a modem, you have to compromise, usually one update per day for all channels and additional channel-specific updates on an as-needed basis.
This book includes a lot of suggestions for using your Internet connection most effectively with each type of push product. Still, as a modem-equipped push user, you probably find out more than you care to about juggling connections and updates. And as a network-based user, you may find out the hard way that your connection isn't always very fast. And if you complain to Information Systems (IS), you'll probably hear that "PointCast is crowding the whole Internet" story from above thrown back at you. Make sure that you have a reliable connection of at least 28.8 Kbps (which means download speeds of about 2KB per second); if not, look for a faster connection or consider using push sparingly.