News Team Current issue History Online Support Download Forum @Pouet

01 - 02 - SE - 03 - 04 - 05 - 06 - 07 - 08 - 09 - 10 - 11 - 12 - 13 - 14

Alive 4

              A Pre-preview!

One of the more mysterious stories of recent years on the Atari Scene  seems
to be coming closer to the surface at long last.

About a couple of years ago,  at the Stafford Atari show,  a chap called Rob 
Goldsmith  was set up on a stand next to us.  He was demonstrating something 
which  looked interesting.  This was going to be "Highwire",a freeware web 
browser,  and  a state of the art replacement for the commonly used CAB.  At 
that  stage Highwire only existed as a pile of source code which had  to  be 
compiled  on  Rob's  Falcon,  to see it in action.  At that stage,  it could 
format  and  display a basic HTML (3.2) document about twice as  quickly  as 
CAB, but not a lot else.

Rob said that there was a lot more on the way, and we should ultimately look 
forward  to  something that would be superior to CAB,  even  including  such 
bells and whistles as Java or Javascript,  something which CAB stopped short 
of doing, when it ceased active development at v2.8.

As  it  was,  Rob ran short of time,  to be fair,  he warned us that this was 
likely  to happen.  The project was made open source,  and nothing much else 
seemed  to  happen for a while.  However,  new signs of life have started to 
appear  recently,  like  green springlike shoots of growth or  something.  A 
dedicated website has appeared, and now, a welcome Xmas present, in the form 
of the first preview version of Highwire made available for public release.

This early version is more advanced than what I saw that first time  around,
although  it  is  still a long way off being  even  a  half-functioning  web
browser.The version that I picked up,  called 'Menuweb features a basic GEM
user interface, which makes loading in third party files possible, and not a
lot else.  Highwire is fairly specific about what it needs to run on at this
stage.  Some kind of multi-tasking operating system is needed, not too fussy
whether that is MiNT or MagiC, NVDI and GDOS compatible fonts installed. The
host  machine presumably doesn't have to be a Falcon,  as the  documentation
mentioned it running on a Hades.

When  it  first runs,  it brings up a preloaded default page,  which are the
developer  notes  and  documentation,  converted to HTML format.  The  other
immediately  noticeable  thing  is,  that frames are included,  and are  90%
operational,  according to the blurb.  Since those early days,  Highwire has
also  gained  colour recognition,  90% HTML 4 compliancy,  and a half-decent
attempt at tables. Of course, we are reminded that there is still a lot more
to  do,  with  such things as graphics,  a proper user-interface,  an online
module for internet use, and lots more, even before features like Javascript
are included. Highwire is more akin to CAB in its very early days, back when
it was just called 'HTML document displayer'.

But  early  signs  of a good pedigree are already  apparent.  Highwire  pre-
formats  a document quickly,  then displays it.  Which means that it doesn't
tediously reformat it EVERY time the browser window is resized, as with CAB.
The dynamic resizing of the browser window is virtually realtime with my CT2
fitted  Falcy,  and  must surely be blindingly quick on anything faster?  It
uses  multi-tasking  threading  so when other functions are  added,  so  you
should  be able to view the textual part of a page,  whilst the graphics are
still loading, rather than waiting for CAB to stop 'sticking' on things like

It's looking good from here!

The examples included some fairly wild interpretation of the 'frames' theme,
showed off the different font sizes it could support,  gave good examples of
tables, and showed that linking worked well. It made a pretty decent fist of
using the available NVDI fonts too. At this point, I decided to give it a go
with some third-party documents.

My  examples were the off-line versions of my 'cih-hq' web pages,  and early
indications were encouraging.  especially for the simpler, cleaner handbuilt
pages. These displayed perfectly, only missing their background textures and
in-page graphics,  but the spaces for the pictures were perfectly placed, as
if these were going to appear at any moment now.

Where  there were errors,  were in my earliest attempts,  the Maggie page in
particular,  which probably uses a kludge to display itself anyway. Links to
the sub-pages worked perfectly as well.  I got the feeling that for off-line
use at least, there really wasn't that much further to go.

I also tried loading in some plain text documents as well (some of the other
articles you are reading in this issue of Alive!) and Highwire was perfectly
happy to display these too,  with all of its dynamically resizing magic, and
in a nice looking font. The only downside is, in common with everything else
HTML, that it does make a mess of the more ASCII-related bits I've done. But
I won't hold that against them!

Look, it displays plain text as well!

So what is likely to happen next? I was encouraged when I read the developer
documentation.  There  is quite a large list of people working on  Highwire,
since  it went open source,  including some well-known names apart from Rob,
such as Matthias Jaap,  STGhost,  Lonny Purcell,  Baldrick,  and others. The
documentation  goes on to state that the team will be deaf to  requests  for
specific  features  for  a while,  which is fair enough as  they  are  still
working on the basics.  Hopefully the companion interview text will reveal a
bit  more  about  the  anticipated timescale,  but we  should  hope  to  see
something  a lot closer to a fully functioning web browser before too  long.
Such as being able to display 'cih-hq' fully, offline at least?

To  conclude,  I  was greatly encouraged by this pre-preview.  Highwire is a
slick  and competent HTML and text document reader at the present time,  and
should hopefully be a lot more than that soonish?

CiH - For Alive!  Jan '02

Alive 4