Netscape 4.61 Browser Tips and Tricks

By: Walter Metcalf
Date: 01/10/01

Some days it seems I live in the Netscape browser! When I am doing things directly related to this site, it is somewhat unusual for me to have only one copy (instance, for the purist) of Netscape running: three is quite common. As a result, I have developed a love-hate relationship with Netscape. When I get disgusted with it, and hear of another browser that is supposed to better in some way, I often check it out. So far I have always found that the new one has some deficiency bad enough to make it intolerable, and I come back to "the devil I know".

At least Netscape is nearly always predictable, and can be customized to a degree sufficient to make it reasonably comfortable to use. Some things of course, I will just have to live with. However, in this article I want to talk about some of the techniques I use to customize Netscape. As usual with this type of thing, there are a few caveats.

First, I have learned these techniques from a wide variety of sources over a number of years, so I can't begin to give proper attribution. Consequently, in most cases, I won't attempt to give the source of a tip.

Second, I am either currently using or have recently used the majority of tips specified here, so I know they work--at least on my systems. I cannot guarantee, however, that they will work on everybody's system. If I mention a tip I have not been able to confirm, I will say so. In other words, YMMV (your mileage may vary).

Third, I use third party programs for the other functions of Netscape--mail, news, and composer, and consquently am not intimately familiar with Netscape's behaviour in these areas. Therefore I will limit my discussion to the browser portion.

Finally, this list is no sense complete. It is merely some of the more useful tricks I have found that work and make Netscape more tolerable and easier to use.

  1. "Hello, I'm running Windows"

    Depending on the sites you visit, this could be your most important tip. Unfortunately, many otherwise excellent web sites reject non-Windows browsers, or non-Windows and non-Mac browsers. Most give you a message, however some do not--you just can't see anything. Still others, like Western Digital ( show a basic site to non-Windows users and an enhanced site to Windows users. You can set Netscape for OS/2 to tell everyone it's running on Windows: just add the following line to the prefs.js file located in your profile directory:

    • user_pref("", true);

    • Note: Here, as anywhere else you are changing the Netscape files, be sure all Netscape programs are closed first.

  • Maximize Your Bookmarks

    Another exceedingly useful trick is to add the line user_pref("os2.drag_menu", true); to the pref.js file. This simple trick will display your bookmarks in multiple columns across the your screen, complete with folder icons, which can be expanded merely by holding your mouse on them. I have been able to get three columns, but to get that many you do have to be a little careful about the maximum length of the bookmark descriptions. If even one in the third column is too long, the display will revert to two columns.

  • Optimize Memory Use

    A good technique to make Netscape run more efficiently is to hand over the task of managing virtual memory (caching) to OS/2 Warp: the operating system's algorithms for these tasks are much more efficient than Netscape's.

    Here's how to do this:

    1. Set Netscape's Memory Cache (Edit|Preferences|Advanced|Cache) to a minimum number (1-2 MB);

    2. Set the Disk Cache to a significantly large number (10-20 MB).

      Note the actual values depend heavily upon your machine (especially how you use it and how much RAM you have.) For example, I have 256 MB RAM and often run multiple instances of Netscape; consequently I have my Memory Cache set to 4 MB. Avoid setting it too large, however, as Netscape will get bogged down trying to manage the files, especially the images, stored therein.

  • Minimize History Management

    Netscape maintains a history file of images and pages you visit. Its purpose is to allow you to find places you visited in the past, as well as to speed up browsing by detecting whether or not a page has changed. The overhead in keeping this file up-to-date grows quickly as the size of the file grows. Consequently it is very important to keep this file as small as possible. By default, files expire after 9 days, although this can be changed in the Preferences (Edit|Preferences|Navigator). I recommend you keep it at the default, or set it even lower.

  • Balance the Load

    If your system has multiple hard drives, consider changing the Netscape cache to a different drive from that on which Netscape resides. This may be especially advantageous if your system swapper is on the Netscape drive. By doing this you will help balance the load between your two drives. To change the Netscape cache drive, first go to the drive on which you wish to cache, and create a new directory. Then go to the "cache" page on the "Advanced" tab, and enter the full path specification of the new directory. Close and re-start Netscape, and you're all set.

  • The Rick Walsh Maneuver

    Rick Walsh has found a cure, or at least a work-around, for a nasty long-standing problem in which repeated opening and closing of the current refresh of Netscape causes the Workplace Shell to close down. Click here to read all about it. [Note: I have not confirmed this personally, but a reader has written to me thanking me for letting him know about the fix.]

  • Cancel Auto-Completion

    As you type a URL into the location box, the browser by default attempts to "guess" the URL you are going to type based on the URL's you have visited in the past, and then complete the URL based on this guess. While this can often save you keystrokes, it can also be confusing. This feature can be turned off. To do so add the following line to the pref.js :

    • user_pref("os2.url_completion", false);

  • Bookmark your Secrets

    If you're like me, you have several private sites that require a userid and password to access. If you access these a lot, it would be handy to bookmark them. Here's how to do it:

    1. Start Netscape, and click on "Bookmarks";

    2. Click on "Edit Bookmarks";

    3. Click on "File";

    4. Click on "New Bookmark";

    5. Enter a suitable description, and then enter the URL constructed as follows:


        Note: the ':' and '@' characters are required.

    6. If desired, use the "Cut" and "Paste" items on the "Edit" menu to move the bookmark to a different location.

      Note: This procedure should not be used where tight security is important.

  • Save your Text

    Here's a simple trick that can help you save, and even print, a web page that's being difficult. Ordinarily, of course, whenever you do a File|Save As on a web page, the result is a document in HTML format. If that's not what you want, or you want to print a page that Netscape won't let you, say, because the function is greyed out, then click on File|Save As, but then before you click OK in the combo-box, go to the filename window, and change the extension from .HTML to .TXT. Netscape will detect that change, and automatically perform an ASCII save. The resulting file will contain all the text, without the images, and can easily be printed.

  • Stack Right

    You probably know this, but in case someone else doesn't, start Netscape and go to the Page Setup page (File|Page Setup), and note the "Last page first" box. If you have a printer that stacks paper in reverse order (i.e. so that the last page printed becomes the first page--like many DeskJet printers), then be sure to check this box. That will cause pages printed from the Internet to come out in the correct order. I hope you will find some of these tips useful in making Netscape a little easier for you to use.

    Walter Metcalf

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