A Seattle company has introduced a service today that allows people with laptops or handheld computers to surf through a range of web content while they're offline.
The client software for the service, from Webaroo, is free to download and use. Acer plans to bundle the software on some of its laptops, a spokeswoman confirmed, although she couldn't be more specific.
Customers require a bit of forethought to use the service. While connected to the internet, they must first download the software client from Webaroo's website and browse through the "web packs" it has on offer there, which are folders of web pages and other information grouped by subject area. They then download the web packs they want, and can also download any web pages they want from other sites. Then, when the user is offline, the content can be searched and viewed.
Webaroo says the key to its offering is a back-end technology that crawls the internet and analyses web pages to choose the best content to include in the web packs. It tries to select pages that contain a lot of information in order to appeal to as many users as possible. Subjects for the web packs include news, sports and cities such as London and New York. Each packs include "thousands" of pages each, Webaroo said.
Each time users reconnect to the internet, the software automatically updates content they have chosen, deleting older information to create more space. The software downloads the content in pieces over time so as not to hog all the user's bandwidth.
Users need a laptop running Windows 2000 SP4 (Service Pack 4) or Windows XP SP2 with at least 1GB of available storage. The service also works with handheld devices running Windows Pocket PC 2003 Second Edition, but because most handhelds have limited storage users will need an additional storage card if they want to store more than a single web pack. The service will soon also be compatible with Windows Mobile 5.0 devices, Webaroo said.
While the service itself is free, any connection fees to access and update the content will apply.
Caching content to access offline later is not new, but an effort to make a broad selection of internet content available is unusual. Some vendors offer remote access software that lets workers access corporate data when they have no connection. In addition, many web browsers, as well as services like Google Local for mobile, cache recently downloaded pages, but do so primarily to speed up subsequent visits.