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Research Commentary on the Spire Project

Optimizing Windows for Research
By David Novak

One approach to improve internet research is to improve the pace that you gather information. This can be accomplished by having multiple window panes open at the one time. The basic idea is familiar to most computer users but there are some unique and exceptional ways to further optimize this aspect of your searching. This article will focus on this fairly technical topic, for Windows users.

Firstly, let us gather some of the tools you will need up on the desktop for you.

1) ShowDesktop is a simple windows command that minimizes all the open windows. You will likely find it down in your /Windows/Systems/ directory (not /windows/ but /windows/systems/). Bring it up onto you desktop then sequester it away in your toolbar on the lower left corner. Oh, and set the toolbar to Always on top + Hide. (Right click your toolbar, select properties, then check 'Always on Top and 'Auto Hide'). Works beautifully. As an alternative, become familiar with the keyboard shortcut, Windows+D. (Uses a key with a small microsoft windows image - not found on all keyboards.)

2) On a personal note, if you have a third button on you mouse that you don't use, consider setting it to 'close window'. Do this by visiting Start -> Settings -> Control Panel -> Mouse -> Buttons -> then chose 'Close Application' for the second button.

Now lets learn some of the keyboard shortcuts that will help you work with multiple window panes.

3) Learn to use the Alt+TAB shortcut easily so you can switch between the various window panes you have open or minimized. When you have several windows panes open (henceforth called windows), try holding the Alt+TAB key then pressing the TAB again. See how it cycles through what is available. Good. Also of interest, the Alt+F4 shortcut will close the current active window. (Good for killing those unwanted pop-ups.)

4) Just for completeness sake, remember also your CTRL+C (copy), CTRL+V (paste), CTRL+Z (undo). There's also the Alt+Spacebar+N shortcut for minimizing the current window. I sometimes use it instead of reaching for my mouse.

And finally, lets get to your web browser...

5) By selecting File -> New -> New Window, you can open an additional window for the current page. The same can be accomplished by CTRL+N, or in explorer, by holding the shift button when you click a link. In Netscape it's the control button you hold down.

And if that did not confuse you, nothing will.

Now to theory. The aim is to liberate yourself from looking at the internet one page at a time. Thanks to the magic of modern computing, you can search the web in many directions at once, just by rotating through several windows that are doing different things.

Start slowly. View a page like Do you see that pdf file on the right hand side? Do we click the link and wait, and wait, and wait while the pdf file downloads? No! Hold down the shift key (or CTNL key) and open the pdf file in another window - minimize that window, then go back to reading the rest of our When we finish, we'll probably see the pdf has finished downloading too.

Another step faster is to read a page like (yes, a plug), and when we come across a link that interests us, hold down the shift key (or CTRL key) and open the link in a new window. Now go back to the first window (with the ALT+TAB shortcut perhaps?) and shift-click on another link that interests you. Keep going till you reach the end of the page then close your current active window. By now you should have several pages downloading in the background. Go to the first and start again.

The advantage here is twofold. Firstly, this is a far more fluid way to search. None of that stopping and starting that takes your train of thought in different directions, to constantly new pages organized in different ways. Secondly, by having several pages waiting to be downloaded at any one time, you effectively double the speed of your internet connection. This can be very important if you are without a DSL line or cable modem, though the technique helps these lucky people too.

Let us get moving a little faster again. Say we come upon a page that is interesting - and makes a reference to a word we don't know, or to an author that we think we should have a bit of background information about. Simple. Type CTRL+N to open a new window, then send it off to do a Google search on the word or name. We can check on it in a moment or two, but more importantly, when we've learned what we wanted to know, we can close that window (with the ALT+F4 shortcut perhaps?) and be back where we were when this errant question entered our mind. Simple and Fast.

Faster still? OK. Visit and notice the "Unified Global Search Engines" form on the top left corner. From here, you can launch a variety of searches very rapidly. The script does several things to make searching easier (like translating field terms) but for our purposes lets do this:

1) Download the complete page and keep it on your computer - where you have faster access to the page. (It takes several milliseconds to reach across the internet to grab that Google or Altavista home page to prepare to type in a search query. This is faster.) Visit and unzip it in its own directory. (It's just html and images - no viral risks.)

2) Alternatively, if you know HTML, copy the script and text from and place it completely on a page you have handy, perhaps with other shortcuts of yours. Permission to do this is written into the html of the page.

3) Now link the script somewhere handy, like as your home page, or by dragging the little butterfly into the links section of your browser where it will stay. Now when ever you need a quick search, click the home button (or butterfly image) and you are already typing a search.

Once you have this script handy, imagine you are reading a page and come across a few words that seem to concisely describe what you are looking for. You should do a search for those words, don't you think? Yes - and nothing could be easier. First, copy the words with CTRL+C. Next open a new window with CTRL+N. Next bring it to the Unified Global Search Engines form by clicking on either your home page, or the little butterfly in you links page. See, the cursor is waiting in the form box, so CTRL+V to paste the words. If Google is good for you, click 'Search' and the response is on its way. When you are done, type ALT+F4 and return to where you were.


How fast can this go? Imagine after we are familiar with the techniques here, that at one time we are searching Google on one window, browsing a bookstore on another and reading an article on a third window. If you can think about more than one thing at a time, why not explore that way too?

Having many windows running at the one time has the unfortunate side-effect of causing the system to crash a bit more frequently. Not that often, but a bit more, so perhaps a precaution is in order. I always have a simple text document running where I stash bits of webpages I want to visit, addresses I found or quotes I will want to use later. I keep this as a running record of where I have been.

Additionally, you need to remember to keep shutting down windows as you search or it becomes an exercise in desktop clutter. This is why I have my text file open to record interesting but divergent search directions.

Why bother? I mean, memorizing shortcuts, installing buttons and a new home page, running the risk of more crashes... Why? Because it works. You can search five times more effectively in this way, and the experience is far more rewarding and enjoyable. You should see me do this one day.

This kind of searching is fluid and graceful - adjectives usually not associated with computing.

* * *
David Novak, founder of the Spire Project, delivers seminars on Exceptional Internet Research around the world. I hope to see you one day. for details.

Post-script: Please share with me clues you know to further improve searching. Reach me through

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