StartShift (v1 beta)

Centre for Computational Geography
University of Leeds

This application changes the page Netscape starts up with each time it's run. It doesn't effect the homepage settings, but starts Netscape with a page sequentially taken from a list in a text file. Example uses include setting up pages so they're opened the day a webzine comes out, a magazine/journal is published online, or some other page is updated on a regular basis.

The application can be run from a shortcut in the Windows Startup directory, or by a UNIX script, such that it changes the startup page each morning when a machine is booted. It picks sucessive pages in rotation, so theoretically, if it's run each morning, it can get Netscape to display a particular page on a particular day (5 urls = 5 day's worth of pages).

Note: this application is in beta, and comes with no quarantees. Please see disclaimer at bottom of page. Please see the changes file for a list of known issues. So far it's only been tested on Netscape 7 PR1.

To use the application, you'll need the archive file startshift_1beta.jar, and a text file containing URLs, one to each line, called urls.txt (example). One of the URLs (the one the program will start with when first run) should have an asterisk "*" infront of it. You'll also need a copy of the Java Runtime Environment (JRE). You can get the standard version here and the Software Developers Kit (SDK), which contains a developer's version, here.

Basic Setup

The following instructions detail how to set up the application in Windows to give you a new first page. UNIX people can probably work it out themselves!

  • The first, and absolutely critical thing is to find the Netscape preferences file called prefs.js and back it up. Note that this program will produce a backup file called prefs.bak, but that you should not rely on this. Make your own backup, and backup your bookmarks.htm/bookmarks.html at the same time. In fact, back up the whole of the directory - you should be doing it anyhow! If you're using Netscape 6/7 you can usually find the prefs.js file in the directory %windir%\Profiles\yourname\Application Data\Mozilla\Profiles\yourname\ or in a subdirectory of it (where %windir% is your windows installation directory, usually something like WINNT or WIN98 and yourname is, well, some variation on your name).

  • Put the files startshift_1beta.jar and urls.txt in the same directory as prefs.js. Once you've done this, and provided Netscape isn't running, you can run the program by double clicking on it. If it doesn't change the page that comes up when Netscape runs, you probably don't have the JRE installed. If you're convinced you have, and you're feeling techie, there's a bat file you can alter here.

Boot Setup

The following instructions detail how to set up the application in Windows to give you a new first page each time you boot up your machine.

  • To get the application to run when a machine is booted, you'll need to make a Shortcut in your Startup directory. You can usually find this directory at %windir%\Profiles\yourname\Start Menu\Programs\Startup\ Make a shortcut (right-click in directory and choose the option) to the startshift_1beta.jar file. This is a good start, but it still won't work. Once you've gone through the process of making a shortcut you need to set some of it's advanced settings. Right click the new shortcut and select Properties - you should see a dialog that looks something like this...

    Screenshot: Shortcut properties

    You need to adjust the Target setting so it runs the jar file. The command to do this will be something like java -jar "%windir%\Profiles\yourname\Application Data\Mozilla\Profiles\yourname\startshift_1beta.jar" but, if your "java" path is screwy, as it can be, you'll need to type in the full path to the JRE's bin/java.exe rather than just java. The second thing you'll need to do is set the Start in: directory to the directory containing the prefs.js. Note that in the case of both this and the Target settings, you need double-quotes around paths with spaces in them (i.e. "C:\Program Files\" not C:\Program Files\) and that you can use %windir%\ to refer to the Windows installation directory. If you want an icon for it, you can find one here (right-click, Save As).

And that's it! You can test whether it works or not (remember Netscape needs to be shut down while the program runs) by looking for the Startup menu under your Start > Programs menu.

How it works

It resets your browser to open with the last webpage you visited, then tricks the browser into believing the page it pulls from the urls.txt is the last page it saw. Each time it runs, it pulls out the URL with the asterisk infront of it, and shifts the asterisk to the next URL in line.

This application may be freely used by academic and non-profit, non-governmental organisations, as well as private individuals. Other organisations should contact the CCG for information on its use.

Please note that while the author feels this application to be stable, neither he, nor the organisations he works for can quarantee that the application won't destroy files on your computer, eat your cat, run off with your partner, engender any number of praeternatural catastrophies, or, indeed, precipitate any other life/business/spiritually-ruining events, and if you download and/or use the software you accept they aren't liable for anything - we're just poor kids trying to make a difference. Good luck!

For further information about this application and the source code, contact Dr Andy Evans.

[CCG homepage] [School of Geography homepage]