Oligo 2.0

URL: http://www.inklineglobal.com/products/oligo/

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Rating: Forget about it

Review:

I recently received an invitation from inKline Global to preview their about to be released Oligo 2.0 browser. Even though I favor Microsoft Internet Explorer as my browser of choice, I am always open to try new contestants in the browser war since there are some nice features in other browsers that I miss in MSIE. What further piqued my curiosity was the bold statement that Oligo 2.0 was better than Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator, NeoPlanet, and other browsers. I decided to install it on my test machine and take Oligo 2.0 for a spin, spending a few hours customizing it and surfing the web to see if it could live up to its promise.

Oligo’s System Requirements:

  • Computer: Pentium processor and above
  • Memory: At least 16 MB of RAM
  • Disk Space: Minimum 10 MB of free space
  • Operating System: Windows 95/98/ME/NT/2000
  • Browser: Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 and above.
  • Internet Connection: Dial up networking capability and Internet access through modem

The test machine I used is a Pentium II 233, 128MB RAM, running a clean Windows 2000 installation with Opera 5, Netscape 6 and MSIE 5 installed for basic comparison purposes. Downloading and installing Oligo 2.0 was painless and uneventful – almost. Towards the end of the installation a blatant marketing survey popped up asking me for all sorts of personal information, like my income etc. – sorry, but only my accountant gets that info. Thankfully clicking Next got rid of that screen without forcing me to fill it out.

To understand the reason for this survey you have to know that Oligo 2.0 is Ad-ware, meaning that you can download a free version that displays constant banner advertising, or purchase an ad-free version for $29.95 that gives you more viewing space, removes the advertising, and allows downloading of software updates for one year. While I understand that it is Ad-ware, I got a bad taste in my mouth early on from this marketing survey.

After installation was complete, I fired up Oligo for the first time and was greeted with the default screen.

 

In case you were wondering earlier why MSIE 4.0 or higher was a system requirement, after looking at this picture you will understand why: Oligo 2.0 is in reality a MSIE add-on that allows “browser skinning”, meaning that it is not a standalone browser, but uses MSIE and its settings, options, cookies, etc. for the browsing part and adds the capability to customize the interface by choosing from different skins and give your browser a different character by choosing from a number of themes. Where have we heard this before? That’s correct – NeoPlanet essentially has been doing the same thing for quite some time now, as well as Netscape, which introduced themes capabilities in version 6. The main difference of Oligo skins are that they can be any shape you want and are not limited to the rectangular MSIE browser window. Oligo also offers you the additional capability of creating your own skins. They have a step-by-step tutorial explaining this process, however you need to have a graphics program such as CorelDraw or Photoshop to do so.

The concept behind Oligo is to change the user’s browsing experience from a browser-centered one to a URL-centered one, giving you the option to customize each site you visit to your liking, instead of being limited to a browser session. However, I’m not sure how feasible that concept is. Consider this: I have currently about 575 favorites in my list. Who in their right mind would sit down and customize each one of them with comments, fonts, skins, colors, etc.?

The first thing I noticed was the wasted screen real estate due to the odd shaped skin around the browser area. In the image below, which is a screenshot of a 1024×768 desktop, you’ll see how much more screen space Oligo takes up viewing the exact same page. The window on top is MSIE 5, the window in the background is Oligo 2.0 using the default skin, both windows viewing exactly the same part of the web page. The additional screen space taken up by Oligo is very noticeable. You’ll need to run at least 800×600 resolution to see the full skin on your screen, a point that was not mentioned in the system requirements.

 

Somehow I can’t see how having irregularly shaped skins is an advantage. To me it seems like a bad utilization of screen space. Last time I checked my monitor was rectangular and having rectangular windows made the most efficient use of it.

Resizing the Oligo window was another matter. Depending on what skin you use you can only get a hold of a resizable area of the window border in limited areas. This was very odd and made resizing awkward.

I wasn’t too impressed with the different skins that came with the program after sampling the selection. The skins looked like a low resolution bitmap blown up, resulting in a very “pixely” look, not very smooth. NeoPlanet’s skins look a lot smoother in comparison.

A few more little graphic oddities I noticed was a ghost pixel in the top left corner of the screen when using the Oligo default skin, as well as extremely long screen redraw times when moving a window that was placed on top of the Oligo window.

Oligo offers a library of skins on their web site that you can download and add to your collection. However this process requires a bit of manual labor as you have to manually download each skin file, unzip it, create a folder in the appropriate place, copy the file, etc. Both Netscape 6 and NeoPlanet make this process a lot easier by offering easy one-click import of new themes. This feature hopefully will be available in a future version.

The main browser interface of Oligo offers a limited number of buttons (Back, Forward, Stop, Refresh, etc.). These buttons are in different locations depending what skin you use and require some getting used to. In addition, due to the low quality skin graphics the buttons are hard to recognize, so expect to be hitting wrong buttons for a while before you memorize them.

Another mildly annoying bug was the lack of a program icon in the task bar button for Oligo. As you might have noticed in the second screen shot above, each browser that has a button in the task bar shows its own program icon as well as the title of the web page currently displayed. Oligo is missing that icon and therefore makes it harder to identify it from a throng of open applications.

The Oligo Manager

Oligo offers a number of additional functions such as launching multiple sites with one click and customizing skin, font and color options for each site you view. To access these and other features you launch the Oligo Manager.

 

While it is pretty easy to use, I found a number of oddities in the Manager, some of them being simple bugs in the user interface that should have been caught early on in the QA process:

  • The Options pull-down menu doesn’t act like one, instead of offering a pull-down menu it launches a dialog box. To conform with normal Windows behavior it should have been added to another submenu instead.
  • Moving the vertical middle divider bar resized the whole window from the right, but did not change the window division ratio between the different panes as expected.
  • The Alt key combinations normally used in Windows to operate a program mouselessly do not alway function as expected in Oligo Manager. For example, when the focus is on Font and Color Options, pressing Alt-F to access the File menu does nothing. Using the Tab key trying to maneuver between the different panes didn’t work, therefore rendering the Manager effectively unusable without a mouse, even though a mouse is not listed in the System Requirements. Supposedly, this will be corrected in a later version.

Then there were functionality issues:

  • In order to create a group of sites to launch simultaneously you need to create a group folder, then add the links to that folder. But you cannot create the links inside that folder, you have to create the link in your favorites first, then drag it into the group folder. Not obvious and somewhat cumbersome.
  • The option of browser window positioning does not work. The idea is that you can position the browser window on a mock desktop in the top right pane to determine where the browser will open when this link is clicked. In reality the window was not launched anywhere close to where it was placed in the preview window, even after multiple attempts.
  • Launching a group with unique skins multiplies loading time by the number of windows to be opened. On my test box Oligo took about the same time as MSIE to open and load the page, approximately 3 seconds. But when loading a group of two or three sites simultaneously, it took 3 seconds for each window to consecutively open and load the page. Opera has solved this much more efficiently, launching multiple sites within the same 3 seconds it takes to open one site.
  • Since only MSIE Favorites can be imported, why not make it an option during the install to avoid the extra work during configuration? Also, the Import wizard does not offer a Browse button in case your Favorites folder is not in the default location. Instead, you have to hand-type the path. No offense, but that is really annoying. This is Windows, fer cryin’ out loud.

That said, the Manager is otherwise pretty straightforward and offers a number of extra functions like adding comments to each link, customizing the skin for each link as well as the font and color options. The point of this? I dunno. Don’t web masters usually have a reason for making their fonts a certain size and color in order to make their page appear correctly? Why mess with that for other reasons than boredom?

At this point, after hours of testing and making notes about flaws, without finding any noteworthy benefit for me personally, I finally gave up and started writing this article.

Conclusion

I realize that it was a preview version I tested, but in my personal opinion a product that is only a week away from launch should be in better shape than this. While reviewing the marketing blurb in the announcement e-mail I stumbled across this disturbing statement:

“Besides being beautiful, Oligo personalizes and enhances users’ surfing experience by providing powerful essential tools that improves overall surfing efficiency.”

No offense, but at this point I have to disagree. I suggest changing the product name and version from Oligo 2.0 to Uglio 0.2 and taking it back into the engineering lab for a few months, taking a good look at the strengths of NeoPlanet for skinning and the multi-window feature of Opera and improve the functionality based on those findings, and finally ironing out the UI bugs.

Once that has happened, I’d say Oligo is a nice toy for people that like “eye-candy”, have screen real estate to waste, and have time to waste in order to customize skins and fonts and links.

But as far as I’m concerned, I’ll go back to my “boring mass-produced square browser” that is free of charge and free of ads, for more efficient surfing.

Submitted by: Alex “crazygerman” Byron

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