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Alive 6

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 '' 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
javascript support, to take it past the point that CAB got to.


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
slider usage.

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

Alive 6