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
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
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