CiH catches up with the latest version of a potential world beater.
You might remember a little preview, tucked away in the body of Alive issue
4 at the beginning of this year? This was all about a promising little HTML
document displayer called 'Highwire'. To quickly recap an oft-told
prehistory, Highwire started life long even before then. I remember a first
sighting back when I did something called 'Maggie', back when there were
still computer shows with Atari content in the UK.
The original Highwire was a very fast HTML document displayer, intended to
'beat dis' with respect to comparing it with CAB for formatting speed.
Highwire also had one or two useful little tricks in its favour, even at
that early stage, such as dynamic resizing of the current document page
onscreen, without going through the tedious refornatting process that CAB
did. Apart from that, v0.1 couldn't do a lot else, and, as the Highwire team
freely pointed out, it was a long way off being a functional www browser.
Since then, the team have maintained a steady and heartening rate of
progress, with new releases every couple of months or so. We have now come
on quite a bit further, with the current v0.8 in the public domain since
Highwire v0.8 is still some way off being a full competitor to the likes of
CAB. The exterior appears to have changed very little. There is no user
interface as such, apart from the drop down menu at the top of the screen.
It remains offline in use, although there are reports that advanced beta
versions *are* able to be used online?
The progress made since v0.1 becomes apparent when you load in a web page,
as most of the major work has been taking place underneath the visible
portion of the browser. Taking my 'cih.atari.org' pages as an example,
Highwire can now display these all more or less correctly. The glaringly
obvious display and formatting bugs having been eliminated, and the ones
that are left, too minor to worry about. A development new since v0.5 has
been the ability to display pictures in documents, well at least .GIF files.
Presumably, .JPG support is to follow later? Where jpeg images should go,
there are empty frames or placeholders conveniently awaiting their arrival.
Thinks like sub-links within the site all work correctly as well.
The Highwire team have made good progress with things like tables, and
reckon they are 90% there for HTML 4 compliance. There is also some sort of
support to be featured for .PDF documents, stated at 10% complete, but this
doesn't seem to work at the moment, and I'm not sure about aN audio driver,
which seems to be looking for a missing system component on my machine?
If you look more closely, there are the very beginnings of an interface, as
the right hand mouse button becomes a crude 'back-button', so you can
retrace your steps without reformatting. (Which might suggest some sort of
cache system using the memory is starting to come in too.)
Speedwise, Highwire is still blisteringly fast, for a text-only HTML
document. With the .GIF displayer active, the gap is less pronounced with
CAB, but can be affected by different screen modes. As the following figures
show, Highwire definitely benefits from a truecolour display more than a 256
colour screen mode.
I'm using a test that I used last issue, when I compared the relative
efficiency of my Falcon vs my Acorn Risc PC 600 in rendering the Alt Party
"Haze of Recollection" page, from the 'CiH HQ' site, in a very much offline
sense, of course.
Test 1, CT2 Falcon, 50 mhz, MagiC v6, 800x592 pixels, 256 colours:
CAB v2.8 = 16 seconds
Highwire v0.9 = 12 seconds
Both browsers perform respectably in this mode, but Highwire is showing
itself to be the quicker of the two by a respectable margin.
Test 2, CT2 Falcon, 50 mhz, Magic v6, 704x560 pixels, Truecolor:
CAB v2.8 = 13 seconds
Highwire v0.9 = 8 to 9 seconds!
A major gain for both browsers on speed when they use truecolor, but this is
especially pronounced with Highwire. I ran that test more than once, not
quite believing what I saw.
This sort of suggests that Highwire will really come into its own, with
higher end and screen-boosted hardware. Let's see what happens when we
finally get our CT60's!
There is a fair sized list of things still to do. A proper interface or
control panel, further image support, and of course, that magic moment when
it finally goes on line. Then in the future, magical features such as
AT TIME OF WRITING:
I've got a feeling that with the next version, v0.9, there will be a major
update in the wings. The current v0.8 is really an evolutionary outgrowth
from v0.5, where .GIF images were first displayed. With the time interval
lengthening from the previous release in August, I wonder just what the
Highwire team have got planned for this next version?
And we find out, as of the end of October, v0.9 escapes its makers,
revealing some new features. Still a long way from completion, but inching
Multiple windows are now supported. Also ALT+mouse clicking on a link opens
it in a new window. Displaying of non-Speedo fonts is working now so far.
The result isn't that pretty yet but at least useable. There is also
implementation of wheel mouse support. There is realtime scrolling for
There are other improvements, but v0.9 is still an evolutionary outgrowth
reflecting steady progress. The big jump to a fully working www browser is
still some way off, but watch this space in future issues!
CiH, for Alive! Mag,Oct/Nov '02