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Alive 8

            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
MagicMac users.

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
their website.

Screengrab here!

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.

In the longer term, we are also waiting for Javascript, and support of third
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.

Alive 8