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MacWeb

by Adam C. Engst <ace@tidbits.com>

[Excerpted from Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh, 2nd edition.]

A few days ago, while browsing through comp.sys.mac.comm, I spotted an announcement for a new World-Wide Web browser called MacWeb, written by John Hardin for MCC's EINet group. The fact that there was only one stable Web browser available previously (NCSA Mosaic) made this announcement interesting, but the feature set, including the lusted-after forms support that Mosaic doesn't yet have (wait a few weeks for the beta of Mosaic 2.0 to appear), made MacWeb sound like a must. And, from first glance, it looks like MacWeb will be an essential program to have until Mosaic adds forms support, and then the competition will heat up.

Installation and Setup -- There's no installation or setup worth mentioning for MacWeb; essentially you connect to the Internet and then launch MacWeb. Since MacWeb comes preset to open a local home page that lives on your hard disk in MacWeb's Documentation folder, if you launch MacWeb without connecting to the Internet first via SLIP or PPP, MacWeb won't open MacTCP and try to dial.

MacWeb has a few preferences, which you get to by going to the File menu and selecting Preferences. You can change the home page that MacWeb automatically accesses on launch to any valid URL; you can have MacWeb automatically open a specific hotlist of stored URLs at startup; and you can set little options, such as the window background color and Autoload Images (turn it off for faster performance over a SLIP or PPP connection). Despite MacWeb's Load Images This Page menu item, I'd prefer that MacWeb kept the option for autoloading images in the menus because I find that I often want to toggle that setting.

If you don't like the way MacWeb assigns fonts to the HTML styles, you can change the fonts via the Edit menu in Styles dialog box. The Element pop-up menu and its sub-menus enable to you pick a style to edit, and since the styles are hierarchical, it's easy to set all heading styles to Helvetica, say, and then vary the font size for the different heading sizes. You can also modify colors as well, but I'd recommend restraint on the colors - colored text (and too many colors in text especially) can be difficult to read.

Basic Usage -- I always feel funny telling people how to use a Web browser, because it seems obvious. MacWeb is no exception, and in fact the basic window design looks much like Mosaic, as does the menu layout and features such as the Hotlist interface.

MacWeb offers buttons for moving back and forth between places you've visited, a home button for bouncing back to your home page; a question mark button for Web search items; an editable URL field for copying URLs; and a status field that indicates what MacWeb is doing, along with a preview of what URL goes with any given link. My favorite part of the status line is that it often tells the size of the file MacWeb is accessing, and counts up as it retrieves the file.

When you click on an underlined link, MacWeb promptly takes you to the appropriate page, and as it fills the page, you can scroll down. However, if MacWeb brings in a graphic, it pops back to the top of the page when it draws the graphic, which can make for a confusing jump. The Find command (from the Edit menu) helps if you hit a large page and want to jump directly to a certain part.

If you find a Web resource that you wish to visit again, add it to your Hotlist with the Add This Document item in the Hotlist menu. The Hotlist menu also has a Hotlist Interface sub-menu with options for creating new hotlists, opening old ones, editing them, saving them, and so on.

Of course, if you have a URL from a newsgroup or TidBITS, you can enter it manually into MacWeb by choosing Open URL from the File menu and typing or pasting the URL. MacWeb can also open local documents and can reload the page if it isn't up to date for some reason.

Problems -- You cannot select text in the main window, which means that you cannot copy it for use anywhere else. I do this all the time when I want to tell someone about a neat Web site or to send email to an address I see on a Web site. Copy & paste is essential for these tasks, and any Macintosh application should allow you to copy text from a text display window. This is the most requested feature and should be fixed soon.

If you're used to the way Macintosh applications accept mouse clicks, MacWeb may confuse you. If you click on a link, the link activates when the mouse button goes down, not when it comes up, as is standard in Mac applications. John also noted that he plans to fix this problem quickly as well.

Other minor irritations exist. Although MacWeb allows you to resize its window to any size you like, it doesn't remember the size; you must resize it each time if you don't like the default size.

MacWeb doesn't always like being interrupted (although reports indicate that it's better than Mosaic 1.0.3) - if you press Command-Period to stop the transfer of data, the data transfer stops, sometimes along with your Mac, after which you must restart.

Finally, there are many different types of data on the Web, and Mosaic handles them through a set of helper applications. MacWeb wants to do the same, but currently provides no interface for choosing helper applications. If you don't have the proper helper application, MacWeb claims it can't find the viewing application and asks if you'd like to launch one manually. Nice idea, but opening one in the a Standard File dialog box doesn't currently work (but will be fixed). If MacWeb doesn't open helper applications at all, but does work if they're already running (experiment with a GIF and JPEGView), try rebuilding your desktop to update the desktop database.

Special Features -- Although relatively simple, MacWeb has a number of special features that complement its sparse interface. Although it has a History sub-menu under its Navigate menu, MacWeb also provides a shortcut for navigating to the sites you've previously visited - just click and hold on either the forward or back buttons. After a second or two, a pop-up menu appears, listing the history.

When you choose Open URL to type or paste in a new URL, MacWeb provides a pop-up menu of hotlist items; selecting an item from that list pastes its URL into the URL field for you to edit if you so choose. It also remembers the last URL you've typed in that session, which is thoughtful. You can also type, paste, or edit a URL in the editable URL field in the main window. Once you do that, pressing Return or Enter opens that URL.

In a nod to NCSA Mosaic, MacWeb can import hotlists generated by Mosaic. This simplifies switching to MacWeb if you have a large hotlist in Mosaic.

If you decide to run with images turned off by default, you can load selected ones by clicking on them, as you would expect, but if you want to get all of the images on a page, the Options menu offers a Load Images This Page command, which does just what it says.

MacWeb enables you to save a document as straight text (often strikingly ugly without the formatting you see onscreen) or as HTML, (useful for seeing how a certain effect has been achieved). If you want to view the HTML quickly, from the Options menu choose View Source and MacWeb generates an HTML file and opens it in BBEdit, TeachText, or SimpleText. Holding down the Shift key retrieves the page again and displays the original HTML (a subtle difference). Holding down the Shift and Control keys while selecting View Source retrieves the original HTML file and also retains any MIME headers sent from the server. These modifiers apply to all document retrieval actions, so you can load a document to disk, merely by Shift-clicking on a link or Shift-entering a URL.

In its Navigate menu, MacWeb lists a few places that you might want to visit, and one of them is the EINet Galaxy, which I'm finding a useful launch point for finding information. EINet has done some interesting things, such as building a search into many of the navigational links, so when you see the results, not only do you have the few hard-coded links, but also many dynamic links created from the search. EINet searches a Veronica database, the HYTELNET database, and many places on the Web itself, so it does pretty well. I'd like a hard-coded link to the NCSA What's New page, but you can hack this one in for yourself. Edit MacWeb with ResEdit, and in the STR# resource, add two new fields at the end of the "NavigateM" resource. Call the first "NCSA What's New Page" and for the other, enter:

http://www.ncsa.uiuc.edu/SDG/Software/Mosaic/Docs/whats-new.html

MacWeb supports two Apple events, one of which is OpenURL (OURL). In theory, AppleScript or another application (such as Eudora or NewsWatcher - plans are already in the making) could send MacWeb an OURL event to have it access a particular URL or respond to an OURL event sent from MacWeb from a mailto or news URL. EINet's shareware MacWAIS client supports the OURL event too, and can thus take special advantage of this, by handling direct WAIS connections for MacWeb, with the documents being sent back to MacWeb for viewing. You can get the necessary version of MacWAIS at:

ftp://ftp.einet.net/einet/mac/macwais1.29.sea.hqx
ftp://ftp.tidbits.com/pub/tidbits/tisk/mactcp/wais/mac-wais-129.hqx

Last, and perhaps most important at this time, is MacWeb's forms support. Mosaic is slated to have forms support in version 2.0, due out soon, but if you're impatient, you simply must get MacWeb and try it out. Once you run into a site with forms, you get fields and buttons and menus onscreen, and you can work with them just as though they were part of a Macintosh dialog box. For a sample, try searching through TidBITS with this forms-based interface to WAIS.

http://www.wais.com/wais-dbs/macintosh-tidbits.html

Overall Evaluation -- MacWeb is a excellent program in its early releases, and I anticipate most of the rough edges to be worked out in the near future. I would like to see it stray a little from the Mosaic model - just because Mosaic is the most popular Web browser out there doesn't mean that it has a lock on how a Web browser should look and act. In particular, the Hotlist feature could be improved and differentiated.

Until the Macintosh version of Mosaic gets forms support, I expect MacWeb to garner a significant mindshare of the Macintosh Internet community. All too often I've ended up at an interesting-sounding Web site and then had to leave without trying it due to the lack of forms support in Mosaic.

MacWeb has a surprisingly small footprint at 374K on disk, a welcome size given some of today's bloated applications. It requires less memory than many, and can run in a 700K memory partition (don't believe the 2,048K number in the Get Info dialog box). Perhaps because of its small size, it feels faster and more responsive than Mosaic.

Administrative Details -- MacWeb was written by John Hardin of the EINet group of MCC, the Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation (and no, I don't know how they get that acronym to work). MCC has released MacWeb as freeware for academic, research, or personal use; companies should contact MCC for licensing information. To report problems with or make suggestions about MacWeb, send email to <macweb@einet.net>. You can retrieve the current version of MacWeb on the Internet at:

ftp://ftp.einet.net/einet/mac/macweb/macweb0.98alpha.sea.hqx
ftp://ftp.tidbits.com/pub/tidbits/tisk/mactcp/www/mac-web-098a.hqx