Highwire is v1.5!
(Erm 1.6 now!)
The third of an occasional but hearteningly regular series!
We've written about this interesting web browser on a couple of previous
occasions. The first time was when the earliest public beta v0.1 was
released, back in issue 4. This was essentially a smartened-up version of
the original code demonstrater that Rob Goldsmith showed me at the Stafford
Atari Computing Convention. It was pretty, but only useful to show how fast
it could render a plain HTML document in comparison with CAB chewing over
that identical document.
The second time, we developed a knack for just missing the really big steps,
as we wrote about version 0.8(?) in Alive issue 6. This was a couple of
versions before online support became a reality, with v1.0. In the meantime
though, the gains were many, and impressive, as the HTML page it rendered,
bore some resemblance to the original. There was even a certain amount of
graphics support, with .GIF images able to be displayed.
Now the circle has turned again, and the latest version demands some serious
consideration, as it is now several steps over what has gone before.
Highwire still isn't a complete browser, not as much as CAB, but it is
certainly a lot closer than before. If you are going online now, the
majority of web pages displayed, look as they should using any other browser
now. That's right, as a (nearly) full set of graphics displayers are now
included. You not only get .GIF now, but also .JPEG and .PNG images, and
these are all online! What makes this possible, is the cacheing system,
present since v1.4, in my opinion, transforming Highwire from an interesting
curiosity, to a properly functional browser.
Apart from the major addition of online graphics support. The basic HTML
rendering engine has been massively speeded up even from what it was
before.. On my CT2, a medium-sized web-page is rendered and displayed almost
instantaneously! There will be a CT60 review to follow a little bit later!
According to one source, a partial reason for CAB being 'slow' may have been
due to it being designed as an offline browser originally, with online
function only added later.
(CT60 retrospect:- Yes, it flies on this as well. Basic page rendering is
fantastically quick, it does it, even for large (70k plus) pages, almost
before you are aware that it has finished loading! The increased grunt also
does a lot of favours for picture loading, especially if they are pre-
cached. The only thing holding back now, would be the modem connection!)
Some little but convenient things have been fixed too. Now you only have to
type in the www part of a website address now. Of course, there have been
numerous bug-fixes with each new release of Highwire, and I daresay, there
will be more to come.
It now supports a variety of different connection systems. Stik/STing, and
Mintnet are both supported. And soon coming is Iconnect, which will benefit
It's not as if you have to access to a SuperVidel as yet! Highwire offers
some neat dithering on low colour systems, according to the screenshots on
Highwire, in keeping with its multi-tasking and multi-threading ethos, can
support multiple downloads at once in independent windows. And it still
seems to be okay with single TOS systems as well.
I might mention the graphics support is not quite there yet. There are no
background images, which might affect the look of a minority of web pages.
Highwire 1.5 is also missing support for animated .GIFs, and things like
transparent .GIFfs may display incorrectly. In operation the browser
'freezes' whilst it is downloading pages and decoding graphics, but you are
still able to dynamically resize a completed page window, without tediously
redrawing everything like CAB. This is still one of my favourite features of
Highwire since v 0.1!
The 'to-do' list reduces steadily. We are still awaiting, forms, cookies,
and downloads, in no particular order..Some of these are already there if
you know what to do! Downloads can be found and renamed if you rummage in
the cache, and there is even a workaround for google search, by typing the
full text string in the 'enter URL' line, and using plus signs instead of
spaces. When forms and downloads in particular are added, then the basic
browsing needs are more or less complete.
party clients. These fall into the category of waiting until the basic form
and function of Highwire has been fully sorted out. My own personal
suggestion would be the facility to add user-definable skins (and maybe a
competition to make these hosted somewhere!)
We have the unceasing dedication of Ralph Lowinski (Altf4) to thank for the
progress made in the last year or so. He is the major active coder working
on Highwire at the moment. Any help or input would be useful. There is still
room for other coders to come on board, as Highwire is deliberately designed
to be open-ended and have a bolt-on philosophy as and when extra features
are made available for it. We also have Gokmase to thank for his ceaseless
promotion of this very worthwhile project.
(The state of affairs after v1.6 was released at the turn of the year was
that there was going to be something of a fundamental recode, to better
adapt Highwire to the more advanced functions, such as proper form support.
So sometime this year, you will be able to Google with Highwire!)
Conclusion (for now!) It is getting to the stage where we can start to see
something like a finished product. Highwire started off as a technology
demonstrator with little real use but a lot of potential. It matured to
become an occasional back-up to more established browsers such as CAB. Now
at 1.6, it is showing the potential to become the browser of first choice,
with CAB only used where more complex interactions with the internet, such
as form useage is needed. Before too long, it looks like Highwire could take
over as the default browser on Atari and compatibles? I hope so.
CiH, for Alive Mag,2003-4.