It's summer already. Out at the beach, a few wet suit-clad surfers are way, way out there in the water, grabbing the next big wave. Ordinary folks sit in the sand or duck and splash close to shore. But a few swim way out there, and sometimes get into trouble.
It's pretty much like that on the Internet these days too. Much of the exciting new stuff that's being developed is for the people on the software equivalent of the snazzy surfboards. Ordinary folks who try to sample it risk getting getting wiped out.
Take, for example, Netscape Communications Corp.'s frames. Frames, which debuted with Netscape version 2.0, divide a page into separate scrollable windows for viewing multiple pages simultaneously. A good idea. But as the small screen splits into even smaller nested panes, the text gets more and more unreadable.
It's difficult to navigate your way out of this diminishing infinity (clicking the right mouse button will help); more difficult still is getting the whole page to print out.
In order to see frames at all, however, you need the latest browser. If your browser can't handle frames, you'll get a blank page or a message like this: "Incompatible browser. This page uses Netscape 2.0 frames. If you are seeing this message, you are using a frame-challenged browser."
You can only hope that the webmaster at that site has provided an alternate "no-frames" version.
If you're frustrated by frames, you've got company. To see what I mean, visit "I Hate Frames" (web1.webstar.net/ atapaz/www/frames/), the Frames Page (www.cs.hope.edu/ beck\man/frames/) or Frames Suck (www. um\med.edu:8000/pub/i/ijosh/frames/) for further rants and examples.
You run into similar problems with Java, the new programming technology that permits the transfer of animated, interactive mini-applications ("applets" is the preferred term) to your browser. To use them, you've got to have Netscape 2.0 or higher, HotJava or the beta version of Internet Explorer 3.0. You just get an empty space on your screen if you're not compatible.
If you have Java capability, prepare to sit and wait while the applications are downloading. You may very well crash. I've turned off the Java capability because browsing had slowed to a crawl.
Another annoying feature is billboard text that scrolls across the bottom of your screen, usually saying something like "Welcome to my home page. . . . Welcome to my home page. . . . Welcome to my home page." This takes over the piece of browser real estate where the status message -- which displays useful information about locations and page loading -- should be. The status bar is also the place where the "Document: Done" message will display. To me, that means that I'm ready to send a page to my printer. But not if there are animated objects moving on the page, such as mini-envelopes that open and close, cute eyeballs that move right to left or any similar actions. A page sent to the printer while this nervous recursive activity goes on may result in massive printouts of garbled, blank and wasted paper.
And now there are "plug-in" applications that you need to add to the browser configuration to make your way through pages chock-full of multimedia icons.
For example, you may link up to a Web site and see this message: "This page talks when used with Apple's English Text-to-Speech software and MVP Solution's Talker Netscape plugin."
Or, "Click the home page banner for a 30-second Shock." (Loading slows while this is running.) Or "This page plays music (MIDI) with either the ViewMovie' or QuickTime' Netscape plugins" or "Java is served with your news." Software companies are pushing the envelope pretty fast for people who prefer finding what works well and staying with it. But I think they're learning that mandatory upgrades are not the way to keep loyal customers. I'm looking forward to more consumer awareness from Web page designers, both professional and homegrown. Margot Williams's e-mail address is email@example.com. PLACES TO GO
Going to the beach? Make your first stop the World Wide Web at Beach-Net (www.beach-net.com) where you can check out Eastern Shore weather forecasts, tide tables, sun and shark safety tips, summer events, local businesses and real estate listings. Beach volleyball will be a medal event for the first time at the 1996 Olympics. For a preview of the competition, visit the Atlanta Olympics site (www.atlanta.olympic.org/ acog/sports/).