Desktop productivity applications have become background noise: the UltraWriters and MegaMaths of the world no longer make me wonder if I'll live long enough to experience enough of the great stuff computers can do, if only we can design and use them correctly. Recently, all my thrills and chills have come from the Internet, and my only concern was whether the Mac platform would transcend the weight of its current application suite and arrive as a mean lean Internet machine. Last week's Expo made me forget my worries - I can't wait to roll up my sleeves and start using all these great new products!
Why Print? Many companies attending Macworld Expo showed off products that don't assume your final output will be to paper. Many such products are not yet shipping, and many of them will ship with freely distributable Netscape plug-ins. Several help you manage bookmarks, and we'll be reviewing a number of them in future TidBITS issues. Some looked just horrible; some looked promising. Three that grabbed my attention were Acrobat, QuarkImmedia, and Virtus Voyager.
Adobe's Acrobat lets you "print" to an Acrobat file, and then share and view that file online. Acrobat has been around for a few years, and Adobe is still tweaking it; upcoming improvements include a Netscape plug-in and the ability to link to a PDF file from a Web page. Acrobat's increasing integration with the Web makes me somewhat more interested in seriously checking out its next shipping version.
Quark showed off the not-yet-shipping QuarkImmedia, which you use along with QuarkXPress. QuarkImmedia's claim to fame is that people who know QuarkXPress can easily make multimedia presentations that can run in a viewer or a Netscape plug-in. Not knowing QuarkXPress, I found the product completely inscrutable; I gave up on the lengthy demo after about 20 minutes. Call 800/788-7835 or 303/894-8888 to request a "prototype demonstration" CD of QuarkImmedia.
Virtus showed off Virtus Voyager, an alpha release VRML browser which currently (in the version I just downloaded) functions as a helper application for Netscape. VRML, Virtual Reality Modeling Language, is used to create three dimensional environments. Voyager enables you to view and navigate VRML documents with fluid links to and from normal Web pages or to and from other VRML documents. Voyager can import files from Virtus WalkThrough Pro 2.5 or from any other 3-D program that can do VRML export (and I haven't the foggiest idea if any exist; I should have asked!). The alpha version of Voyager is available for download via the Virtus Web site.
Web Authoring -- At last August's Boston Macworld Expo, HTML authors couldn't get enough of Ceneca's (now Adobe's) PageMill and SiteMill (see TidBITS-290 and TidBITS-305). Although SiteMill still isn't shipping, PageMill made a big splash at Macworld Expo - Adobe had a small computer classroom on the show floor and gave seminars that helped people learn to use PageMill.
Bare Bones Software's BBEdit 3.5.2 now offers an extension called PageMill Cleaner, which fixes some problems that PageMill creates in HTML code. BBEdit 3.5.2 provides an integrated spelling checker that automatically skips HTML tags, a better interface for extensions, as well numerous other improvements. BBEdit 3.5.2 also comes with version 2.0 of Lindsay Davies's BBEdit HTML Tools, a set of popular BBEdit extensions (PageMill Cleaner is part of this set). Bare Bones Software has also released BBEdit Lite 3.5.1; the update fixes some problems in BBEdit Lite 3.5.
Another possible option for cleaning up PageMill's HTML is a straightforward AppleScript application from Clint MacDonald <email@example.com> called FixPageMill. It works with any version of BBEdit 3.5 to clean up HTML generated from PageMill.
A company I hadn't heard of before, Vermeer Technologies, showed off the not-quite-shipping Front Page, a Web site management and HTML authoring tool that offers many of SiteMill's features, but with the addition of what Vermeer calls WebBots. A WebBot helps you use and customize a good sampling of CGIs through dialog boxes, instead of by scripting. Vermeer's WebBot CGIs work with a variety of Web servers including NCSA, CERN, and Netscape. Unlike PageMill, and according to Vermeer, Front Page will not alter existing HTML code if you import an HTML document.
Front Page is currently available for Windows, and the company representative who gave me a demo had - apparently - never heard of PageMill before coming to the show. Front Page looks promising, so I hope the shipping Mac version works with Quarterdeck's WebSTAR. I also hope Vermeer is Mac-savvy enough to compete with Adobe.
[Microsoft is expected to announce 16-Jan-96 it will purchase Vermeer Technologies. So instead of Vermeer versus Ceneca, we get Microsoft versus Adobe. -Geoff]
CGIs -- In the CGI department, several companies offered CGIs that you configure in dialog boxes, not through programming. A CGI (Common Gateway Interface) is an application or a script that extends a server's capabilities. A common example of a CGI is one that processes information returned from a form. A dialog-like interface for a CGI application makes setting up the CGI possible for people who don't do scripting.
Foresight Technology featured CalendarSet/CGI, a set of CGIs that should ship in February and enable you to "create and manage" a calendar on a Web page; Web Broadcasting offered Web FM 2.0, a product that helps you link WebSTAR to FileMaker Pro 3.0 databases; and Blue World Communications showed off MacSite Searcher, a product that works with WebSTAR, Frontier, and FileMaker Pro 3.0 to index a Web site, so people who view the site can search it.
Maxum makes a variety of useful add-on products for WebSTAR, but their new product is RushHour, which is essentially a Web server dedicated to rapidly sending out graphics. I saw a demo where RushHour served a series of frames from a QuickTime movie; frames from the movie had been saved as JPEGs and were being served from a Duo 210 over Ethernet. Netscape, the client, was running on a different Mac and displayed the frames quickly enough that they looked like the original movie. Of course, that won't work over a modem, but it's still a great demo.
Teachers might check out WEST's WebSTAR add-on, also called WEST, which sets up an online classroom of sorts, with options for tutorials, work sheets, asking questions in a forum, and so on. WEST, hailing from Ireland, has plans to ship versions of WEST that work with other servers as well. In case you were wondering, WEST stands for Web Educational Support Tools.
Serving up the Web -- Quarterdeck was at the show, promoting their Web server, WebSTAR, and giving out squishy miniature brains. Originally sold by the now-bought-out StarNine, WebSTAR is no longer the only commercial Mac server in town. Whether other companies can compete remains to be seen, but three Web servers - Delphic's OneSite, MDG's Web Server 4D, and Spider Island Software's TeleFinder Internet BBS - have all entered the market, each offering a different feature set. And of course, Peter Lewis's $10 shareware FTPd can also act as a Web server, and for the truly broke, there's the free httpd4Mac.
All in all, the show had a cartload of products that let Mac users create, manage, and experience the Web. After several shows where the high points involved comparing how many pounds the already obese desktop productivity applications had gained, this Expo gave a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel.
Adobe -- 800/411-8657 -- 206/628-2749 -- <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Bare Bones Software -- 508/651-3561 -- 508/651-7584 (fax)
Blue World Communications -- 206/313-1051 -- 206/313-1056 (fax)
Delphic Software -- 909/792-7932 -- <email@example.com>
Foresite Technology -- 800/701-9393 -- 817/731-4444
817/731-9304 (fax) -- <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Quark -- 800-676-4575 -- 303/343-2086 (fax)
Quarterdeck (StarNine) -- 800/525-2580 -- 510/649-4949
510/548-0393 (fax) -- <email@example.com>
Maxum -- 847/830-1113 -- 847/830-1262 (fax) -- <firstname.lastname@example.org>
MDG Computer Services -- 708/622-0220 -- 708/622-8893
Natural Intelligence -- 800/999-4649 -- 617/876-4876
617-492-7425 (fax) -- <email@example.com>
Vermeer Technologies -- 800/932-0075 -- 617/576-1780
Virtus Corporation -- 800/847-8871 -- 919/460-4530 (fax)
Web Broadcasting -- 415/329-9676 -- <firstname.lastname@example.org>
WEST -- +353-1-706-8766 -- +353-1-283-0669 (fax)