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Web Browsers: Synth Zone; Microsoft Explorer

Using a gateway site like Synth Zone will provide a huge number of jumping‑off points, but if you also maintain an organised set of Favorite (sic) sites, you're more likely to be able to find them again.Using a gateway site like Synth Zone will provide a huge number of jumping‑off points, but if you also maintain an organised set of Favorite (sic) sites, you're more likely to be able to find them again.

Tracking down the information you need on the Internet can be a joy or a nightmare, depending on whether you're idly browsing or desperately searching for a small specific piece of information. In this month's Net Notes, Martin Walker passes on a selection of basic tips to make browsing easier.

Over the last few months I've answered lots of queries from readers who want specific Internet addresses (or URLs). Sometimes they have already been provided with an incorrect or incomplete URL, but the problem with Internet addresses is that even if a single letter is incorrect, a 'site not found' message will be sent back. I've now been using the Internet for several years, and have amassed various techniques to attempt to find and keep track of the information I need. If you don't know where to start looking, or get an error message when you type in a supplied URL, it is still usually a fairly easy process to track down the desired page.

Jumping Off Points

When using a search engine like HotBot ( specifying 100 returns in the English language can greatly speed things up (see main text for more details).When using a search engine like HotBot ( specifying 100 returns in the English language can greatly speed things up (see main text for more details).

The easiest way to get started is to use Gateways. These are sites that keep a comprehensive and up to date list of other web sites relating to a particular topic. I tend to use Synth Zone as much as any other ( since it covers the majority of music instrument manufacturers, as well as plenty of special interest areas such as analogue synthesis and MIDI. If you don't know where to start looking, Synth Zone can more often than not provide several jumping‑off points. This approach is ideal if you are looking for a manufacturer, or are searching for patches for a particular model of synth. It has the added advantage that while some of the site addresses themselves may change, the chances are that the Gateway site will be updated.


All browsers have options to save URLs for future reference — in Microsoft Explorer they are known as Favorites (sic), while Netscape call them Bookmarks. Selecting 'Add to Favorites' or 'Add Bookmark', respectively, will append the URL of whatever page you're currently browsing to a database so that you can easily find it again later.

Many people try this but give up after they amass a huge unmanageable list of favourite sites. However, a little effort (off‑line, when the phone bill isn't mounting) can turn this into an easy‑to‑use reference section. The secret is to use different folders for the various subjects that interest you. Any new URLs you add appear outside the folders, making them easily visible, and you can then drag them into the appropriate folder later to tidy things up.

Spelling Checks

Most developers have registered rather obvious domain names, so people can find their web sites quickly and easily. The most common suffix for the URL is .com, so for instance, Yamaha can be found at For companies in the United Kingdom, the suffix is often used instead (Yamaha UK have a site at If you know that a developer is based in Germany then adding .de (for Deutschland) will normally do the trick. So, if you're not sure how to find a manufacturer's web site, try simply typing in the name of the company, adding www. at the front, their name, and .com at the end. Although most full URL names begin with , browsers will normally add this if it is required, to save you having to type it in every time (you may have noticed that we print URLs in SOS without this prefix).

Some site names are case‑sensitive, including the one for downloading XGedit updates ( — in this case the capital Gs must be entered. However, few such restrictions apply, although it is normally safer to enter the entire address in lower case.

Product Support

I'm still surprised at how many people don't know where to look for the latest soundcard drivers or sequencer update. When you first buy a soundcard or sequencer, the chances are that the packaging and manual will both provide the manufacturer's URL. Starting at this home page, there will normally be a fairly obvious link shown for 'Drivers', 'Updates', 'Download', or 'Product Support'. One of these, or a similarly named link, will take you to the page where the latest downloadable files are listed. Some manufacturers make life even easier by providing a 'News' page that lists the latest changes on the web site including any recent postings of new drivers.

If you want support files such as Cubase mixer maps, Logic Environments, Cakewalk Studioware panels, and so on, then the manufacturer's web site is always the best place to start looking. Even if some are provided by users they may still appear on the main web site. Sometimes particularly helpful users set up their own web sites with product support information. You may find links to some of these from the manufacturer's site — but not if they publicise bugs or grumble about the products! However, this sort of site can often be found via a Gateway, and once you find one for your particular product you can often link to other similar sites from the first one.

Search Engines

Various search engines are available for free use on the Internet. In essence, you type in a suitable word or words to describe what you're looking for, and then the engine trawls through its constantly updated database to see what if any references there are containing these search words.

Many people try a few of the available search engines and then give up after finding that they all generate hundreds or often thousands of seemingly unrelated references. To be honest, I rarely use search engines to find specific information because of this, but you can narrow down the options considerably by using a very specific search word. So, if you were looking for information on digital audio, it might for example be better to try 'S/PDIF' to narrow down the options. Many of them also allow you to specify words or phrases that must appear, or to exclude pages containing particular words or phrases, usually using + and — symbols respectively (so, for instance, entering '+"S/PDIF output" ‑Minidisc' would search only for pages that contain the phrase 'S/PDIF output' but not the word 'Minidisc').

Back Tracking

Many web sites are in a constant state of development, which can mean that a search engine's database entries are out of date, and will provide links to specific pages within a site which then appear as 'Not Found' when you click on them. However, this doesn't always mean that the page has gone for ever — there's a good chance that the webmaster has simply revamped the site and the URL of the page has changed slightly.

In many cases it may not be worth spending any more time looking, but sometimes the link will frustratingly seem to be exactly what you were looking for. If you want to persevere, try removing the final part of the file name to move you up to the next folder, which may still exist. For instance, Steinberg UK have re‑organised their pages on several occasions, but given a URL of, you could try clicking in the Address box of your browser and deleting the 'body.htm' part at the end. Press Return after the edit and you may find that this folder still exists. If it has disappeared as well, delete the 'gbp97/', and so on. By working back like this, you will probably get a valid page address eventually, and this may have links to the new URL addresses. In keeping with this logic, the site's home page will very often be the first part of the URL (normally ending in .com or

Speed Up Searches

Search engines can be extremely useful when looking for information on a topic about which you know next to nothing — in this case a huge list of options may be just what you need to get you started. For this reason, any search engine that offers the option of viewing more than the typical 10 entries at a time is worth adopting. I choose the maximum of 100 in HotBot, for instance (see above), and then start multitasking to establish some leads (see next section). If you restrict yourself to the more typical 10 hits at a time you will have to click on the 'Next' button a further nine time to view the first hundred matches, which can take considerably longer.

If the option exists it is also worth choosing your native Language — there's no point wading through additional hits written in a foreign tongue if you can't understand a word of them.


A useful tip when following such rough‑and‑ready leads is that all Internet browsers allow you to open a new window when following a link, rather than opening it in the current windows. For instance, if PC users click the right mouse button on a link when using Microsoft's Internet Explorer, the top two options in the popup window are 'Open' and 'Open in New Window'. When you are following a selection of leads, simply open each one in a new window, allowing the original search engine screen to stay open and carry on updating in the background.

You can then switch quickly between the new windows to see whether they look promising. Periodically you can switch back to the search engine window and see if any more promising leads have appeared that look worth following. In this way you can be scanning half a dozen or more web sites simultaneously, rather than wasting time waiting for each one to load in full.


Another invaluable source of information on all matters, including music, is the plethora of user forums devoted to specific topics. Much like ice cream, every user forum has its own flavour, but you can learn a lot by eavesdropping on the many postings from other people, and even more if you get involved yourself. SOS hosts its own forum (" target="_blank) which includes a host of themed topics on all aspects on music and technology.

When you first enter a new forum it is worth browsing for a bit, and learning how to use any special features. For instance, many forums have a Search facility that works in exactly the same way as general Internet search engines, with the huge advantage that it only looks at the relevant musical information on the forum. If you want a specific query answering, a quick search will often turn up plenty of existing postings with relevant information.


If there are a lot of questions that get asked time and time again, many forums include a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section. The SOS Forum is no exception, and I have been appointed faqmaster of the 'PC Music: Frequently Asked Questions' section. If I get a lot of email queries on a particular topic (top of the list seems to be 'which soundcard should I buy?) then rather than just replying to a single reader I post the answer in this section for all to see. Many topics have already been covered, and these include problem areas when using parallel port MIDI interfaces, some of the many possible causes of PC crashes, and lots of information on setting up bus Master DMA with hard drives for better performance. Good hunting!

Finding Your Way About

Browser software has many useful features to help you retrace your steps, but sometimes people don't realise how easy it is. So, for those of you who haven't come across them yet, here are a couple of timesavers.

  • All browsers have Back and Forward options, often as dedicated buttons on their toolbar, as well as available options in a Go menu, and as keyboard shortcuts. If you want to return to a page that you were viewing previously, simply click on the Back button. Each click will take you one page further back, and if your cache is set up correctly (read the help file) this will be almost instantaneous, since the data will not need to be downloaded again, being already stored on your own computer. The Forward button moves you in the opposite direction.
  • Many browsers also have a History option, which will display a list of every page you have visited during the previous so many (user‑selected) days. If you want to revisit a site that you found yesterday, open the History window while on line and click on this entry. Sometimes you may also have to click on the Refresh button to force a new download from the web site if yesterday's page data is still present in your cache, to make sure that you receive the latest version.