By ANICK JESDANUN, AP Internet Writer 4 minutes ago
It sounds too good to be true: the highlights of the Web squeezed into
a data file small enough to fit on your laptop or mobile phone,
letting you browse even when you don't have a live Internet
connection. After giving Webaroo a whirl, I found that it is, indeed,
too good to be true.
Webaroo, downloadable as a free "beta" test from Webaroo Inc.,
promises to make it "simple for you to take the Web with you - and
find what you are looking for anywhere, anytime." On your PC or phone,
it stores the Web sites it believes will be most useful for finding
nuggets of information.
You customize Webaroo by downloading "Web packs," ranging from 64
megabytes for world news to 6 gigabytes for the online encyclopedia
Wikipedia. There are packs targeted for several cities around the
world, each as large as 256 megabytes. There's also one for soccer,
and others are in the works.
You also can direct Webaroo to download and store specific Web sites
Webaroo, which plans to eventually display targeted ads next to search
results, can automatically update the sites whenever you are connected
to ensure you have the latest information. Problem is, you must tell
it to do so -- and it's not apparent unless you happen to view your
My expectations were low and skepticism high. I knew Webaroo wouldn't
be able to handle my e-mail or instant messaging without an Internet
connection. Nor was I expecting the ability to post on message boards
or download video on demand.
But I was hoping for enough of the basics to answer reasonable
More often than not, I couldn't easily get what I wanted.
I began by requesting the Web packs for Wikipedia, world news and New
York, where I live. But Wikipedia never arrived. Only later did I
learn I didn't have enough disk space; Webaroo didn't immediately make
I then tried to research restaurants, museums and hobbies in New York.
A search for the movie "Thank You for Smoking" got me the previous
day's showtimes from AOL City Guide, but links to that day's and the
next day's showings produced error messages. "24 Hours on Craigslist"
returned a mention in The New Yorker magazine that the documentary was
playing -- but I got no reviews or other details about it.
Being close to lunchtime, I decided to search for sushi restaurants on
New York's Upper East Side. The first three listings were instead for
Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai restaurants along with delis on the WEST
Side. The fourth result was for a general neighborhood directory, with
no information on each restaurant's cuisine or quality.
I also tried to find my cable service provider, but a search for
"cable television" got me a bed and breakfast that offers cable TV, a
computer repair shop called Cable Doctor Co. and a magazine review of
an HBO movie. "New York cable television" returned information on the
Mets and Yankees baseball teams, not Time Warner Cable.
I managed to find the hours for the Museum of Modern Art, but nothing
on its current exhibit on Edvard Munch.
To be fair, not all searches were frustrating. After trying various
search terms, I managed to find what's currently featured at the
Guggenheim Museum. I also immediately found airport parking
information, a subway map and the week's weather forecast.
Searches for news were acceptable. "Egypt blasts," "Nepal protests"
and "Thai elections" got me some information on current events, even
if the results weren't as extensive as those at Google Inc.'s news
I can empathize with Webaroo's challenge in making the most
information available in the fewest number of bytes. That means giving
high priority to directories and other sites with "high content
density." But such sites can lack depth and be poorly organized.
Webaroo says it wants to err on the side of brevity, but it may soon
offer size options -- those who want the bare-bones can get the
smallest version of the New York pack, while info-hungry consumers
like me can get it super-sized, even if it means having to delete
family photos from my hard drive to make room.
Also in the works is a "Web to go" pack -- some 40 gigabytes covering
just about any question you might have.
The closest to it for now is Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia in
which anyone can contribute, regardless of expertise. Although critics
say such openness results in inaccuracies and biases, proponents
credit its collaborative nature for a more comprehensive tome that can
reverse errors more quickly.
I tried deleting some of those family photos to make room for it, but
Webaroo still refused, even with 6.8 gigabytes free (Webaroo
recommends having at least 10 gigabytes available). Nor would it let
me use an external drive with more space (that option is coming).
I shudder to think how something that large will fit on a mobile
device. Webaroo says you need a Windows Pocket PC device with at
least 512 megabytes of external storage -- for Wikipedia, you'd need
an 8 gigabyte compact flash memory card.
The desktop version works on Windows computers only.
Webaroo does provide some of the information you might need on the go,
but unless you have plenty of storage space, I wouldn't bother. Spend
that offline time reading a book or smelling the roses; either will be
more enjoyable than trying to surf an abbreviated Web.
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.
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