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Last Updated: Monday, 10 April 2006, 12:35 GMT 13:35 UK
Service to preload web on laptops
By Mark Ward
Technology Correspondent, BBC News website

Wi-fi user, AP
Using the net while mobile is not always a good experience
A hi-tech start-up called Webaroo is aiming to shrink the web so that it can fit into a laptop.

The company has designed its service so that people will not have to go online to access information found on the net.

It has already signed a deal to put its snapshot of the net on laptops sold by PC maker Acer.

Eventually it will offer a "web-to-go" package that crams the most useful parts of the web into a block of data 40GB in size.

Internally, Webaroo has likened this distilling of data into a portable format to Douglas Adams' iconic Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Crawl space

To start with, Webaroo has put together software that lets people download the bits of the web they find want so they can use them when they are mobile, and fast net connections are thin on the ground and even thinner in the air.

Brad Husick, president of Webaroo, acknowledged that a lot of what people did online, such as e-mail and instant messaging, demanded a live connection.

Still from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie
Webaroo likens its service to the HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy
But, he said, a lot of what we use the net for such as searching out facts on Wikipedia, looking for hotels or merely satisfying our curiosity, can be done offline.

"Beyond breaking news, the frequency of updates on the web is pretty low," he told the BBC News website.

The key to making this useful is having a good copy of what is online complete with supporting links.

Mr Husick said Webaroo was a "web scale" operation that, like Google, regularly crawls the whole internet to keep its index up to date.

"We analyse the content itself to offer the broadest possible coverage," said he. "It's as fresh as the last time you were online."

This work to distilling the whole web into its most relevant parts distinguished what Webaroo does from software that lets people get copies of sites to browse offline.

"Taking a few sites with you is a fairly trivial process," said Mr Husick.

Page count

Crawling and analysing the web also set Webaroo apart from services such as AvantGo which lets people get updates of sites they are interested in for browsing on a portable device.

Webaroo homepage, Webaroo
Users download the Webaroo browser and search engine
Mr Husick said such "clipping" services typically re-format webpages, cap how much can be downloaded and do not give access to a lot of information.

Those that download Webaroo will be able to pick sites to download to look at on a laptop or a Windows mobile device. Alternatively they can get "webpacks" that bring together a series of sites Webaroo thinks are most appropriate to a topic.

The London webpack, for instance, has up to 15,000 webpages in it and contains travel information, hotel details, history and blogs. The breaking news webpack brings together 50,000 webpages. The Webaroo software is a wrapper that lets users search through the pages downloaded just like they would do on the net.

"The pages are precisely as they are online, no reformatting, extracting or replacing content," he said.

Like many other net start-ups, Webaroo relies on adverts for its revenue stream. Those searching pages via those stored on the Webaroo browser will see a couple of relevant text ads before the list of search results.

Trying to create a list of the sites people might look at was impossible because what web users seek out was so random, he said.

Initially Mr Husick expected users to put the pages they are interested in on high-capacity memory cards but eventually will put all the useful parts of the web in their pocket.

"Storage is no longer an issue," he said.

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