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[Undercover Browser]

   Mahesh Shantaram


Remember the 'boss key'… that revolutionary concept introduced by gaming software in the '80s for office-goers? It was a combination of keystrokes that would instantly turn off the game and swap the display with a more serious-looking (read boring) screen. Proof that necessity is the mother of invention. Adult games like Leisure Suit Larry came with their own boss keys, allowing overworked employees a much-needed break.

Somewhere down the timeline of software evolution, the boss key was forgotten. That's surprising, since there are even more good reasons to goof off during office hours nowadays - surfing, emailing and catching up with gossip on those blogs! Clearly, you need to steal a few hours from under your boss' intrusive nose.

So how do you actively pursue your information assimilation efforts without being whacked by a pink slip from the rear? Say hello to Ghostzilla, for this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, to use an oft-quoted statement from a well-known spy movie.

Skinnable apps, Appable skins
Ghostzilla lets you surf openly, confident that no one will even notice. Call it camouflage browsing or invisible surfing, if you wish. You've heard of skinnable applications that let you change the look of a software while retaining its features? Think of Ghostzilla as the exact opposite. It turns any application into a Web browser while retaining the 'skin' of the original software. In case you missed the significance of that statement, Ghostzilla subtly force-fits a fully standards-compliant Mozilla 1.0 Web browser into any boring application --Word or Excel, Notepad or Robohelp, Dreamweaver or Visual Studio.

'Subtle' is the operating word here. Ghostzilla's so discreet, it doesn't have a form of its own and doesn't show up in the system tray. It resides in memory. And when activated with a specific movement (touch the left edge of the screen with the cursor, then the right, and then the left again), it appears within the currently loaded application. It loads quickly and vanishes just as fast (Got to be quick when the big guy's on his rounds). As for the surfing experience, you can choose from six degrees of obscurity, right from full-colour with images to toned down text and grayed images that appear only when the mouse rolls over them. Notice in this screenshot that the browser settles only within the 'main' frame of an application (Outlook Express in this case) and obeys the laws of resizing too. It looks like they thought of everything.

Mozilla under the hood
The Ghostzilla browser is built upon the open source Mozilla HTML rendering engine, which is a great alternative to Internet Explorer. If you've used the latest versions of Netscape in the past year, you'll be familiar with the way HTML pages are rendered in Ghostzilla, since they use the same technology beneath the hood. And if you're accustomed to Netscape's bells and whistles, you won't miss those either: Ghostzilla comes with Netscape Composer and managers for forms, cookies, images, passwords and downloads.

An increasing number of browsers support multi-tab browsing (the ability to open several sites within the same application), and Ghostzilla isn't one to be left behind. Power-surfers can tweak the preferences to enable this, among other things.

Beware of revolution
Every few years, a Web-inspired application comes along, does something absolutely revolutionary, earns a whole lot of love from The People, knocks the socks off the suit types, and gets sued out of existence. Third Voice and Napster come to mind. (The fact that even their sites don't exist anymore should tell you something.)

Third Voice spawned a new category of applications called Web annotation software, but met with stiff opposition for many reasons, just one of them being that users could alter the design of a site by leaving annotations on it. In a sense, Ghostzilla stands a similar risk of offending software manufacturers should they object to their application interfaces being 'tampered' with to conceal a browser. Not to mention the new freedom it thrusts upon bored workers.

We'll take it
The mad scientists at Ghostzilla have created a monster, and they know it. A helpful note on their site gives the official line: "Use Ghostzilla instead to learn, read news, and stay informed... to refresh when you need mental breaks from working, but do not use it instead of working."

Let's pretend we didn't notice that www.officeslacker.com redirects to Ghostzilla!

The author is an independent writer who is answerable to none but his wife.


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