Got my groovy browser baby, yeah

It might be worth turning your browser into a "desktop-portal" -- if "Austin Powers" is part of the deal.

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It’s hard not to be tickled pink the first time you hear Mike Myers’ voice emerge from your computer, growling, “Groovy baby, yeah.” And all it takes to cause such excitement is a click of the flower-powered channel bar on the “Austin Powers” version of the NeoPlanet browser — released over the weekend on the “Austin Powers” movie site. But it gets old quick.

Call me a curmudgeon, but I just don’t want to have that much fun with my browser. In fact, before I saw the “Austin Powers”-branded browser — with Myers’ alluring mug and a cartoonish Union Jack dancing along the tool bar — I just couldn’t drum up a whole lot of interest in the NeoPlanet browser.

The “desktop-portal” sits on top of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer to provide “a complete browser/portal environment.” Basically, it’s a browser that has the look and feel of a portal site — with the browser’s hidden bookmarks replaced by a portal’s permanently visible channel bar. The channels store your links in groups built around interests like shopping, news and finance. And, like many a desktop app today, NeoPlanet lets you personalize your browser/portal by choosing from a variety of “skins,” or alternative graphical interfaces, so that it can look like a treasure chest or honor a sports team.

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Since signing an exclusive deal with Lycos in mid-May, NeoPlanet has switched the default home page of its 1.5 million users from Snap to the Lycos Network, while Lycos has created branded versions of NeoPlanet so that users feel as if they’re surfing from within the environment of Tripod, Suck or other Lycos properties.

While I can understand why NeoPlanet would appeal to Lycos’ business sense — it is driving about 700,000 daily page views to Lycos, says NeoPlanet president and CEO Drew Cohen, and provides all sorts of great revenue-sharing opportunities with the e-commerce sites it features — I just couldn’t understand what Lycos users get out of the deal. But more than 7,800 people have downloaded the Suckster browser/portal complete with that signature gun-toting fish, so it might just be me.

Put simply, I’m not a portal user and I’ve never really wanted to turn my browser into a Snap- or Lycos-controlled environment. But I got it when I saw the Austin Powers version. When “you’ve got mail” is replaced by a clip from a Hollywood flick (a UPS man making a “surprise, surprise” delivery from “The Spy Who Shagged Me”), you know you’re experiencing branding at its best.

Suddenly I could envision thousands of people (well, teenagers anyway) downloading a new version of the browser/portal every week to keep up with the latest movie and music releases. For a flicker of a moment I even imagined surrendering my straight-shooting browser for an “I put the grrr in swinger” surfing machine. But one click too many on the channel bar and that “groovy baby, yeah” went from giggle-inducing to supremely annoying. If I did join the million-plus NeoPlanet users, I suppose I’d have to mute the sound.

Kaitlin Quistgaard, Salon's former technology editor, writes frequently about the arts and South America, where she once lived.

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