When I wrote the first edition of this book, the World Wide Web was just starting to explode and the Macintosh was being left out. Then, along came NCSA Mosaic for the Macintosh and all was well in the world. Since that time (fall of 1993), the World Wide Web has propelled the Internet into the eyes of the public. "Check out my home page at . . . " has become a common phrase, and the amount of information that appears every day on the Web is staggering.
Despite the fact that the Web was developed at CERN, in Switzerland, NCSA Mosaic deserves a good deal of credit for popularizing the Web. NCSA had the resources to create Mosaic and to give it away, and although it wasn't a particularly good program at that point, it was enough to entice people to use and publish information on the Web.
Of course, any success demands to be copied or even exceeded, and that's where the other major Web browsers came from. First was MacWeb, from the EINet group of MCC, and then came Netscape, developed by many of the same programmers who had created Mosaic while at NCSA. Then, NCSA, via a company called Spyglass, licensed the Mosaic code to a variety of companies that have produced versions of Enhanced Mosaic that differ little from the first versions of NCSA Mosaic. Most recently (and discussed in chapter 28, "Integrated Programs,") InterCon has added a Web module to their TCP/Connect II integrated program.
For the most part, the Web browsers are extremely similar, so I'm going to start with MacWeb because it sorts first in an alphabetical listing of the names and because we've licensed it for inclusion on the ISKM disk.
The beauty of writing about Web browsers is that there are almost no instructions to give. The basic idea is that you connect to the Internet, run the Web browser, and then click on the underlined words (they can also be in a color, but that doesn't show up well in a black and white book) to traverse the links between Web pages.
That's about all there is to using the Web. We're not talking difficult here.
MacWeb was the second major Web browser to appear on the Macintosh, and has always differentiated itself by being small and quick. New features, such as a pop-up menu that appears if you click and hold on a link, often appear in MacWeb first and are then copied by the other Web browsers. Because of its small size and low memory requirements, MacWeb is the browser of choice for people with older Macs or not much memory. Just for comparison, the latest versions of MacWeb, Netscape, and NCSA Mosaic weigh in at 470K, 1,370K, and 2,200K on disk, respectively, and MacWeb can get by in as little as 750K of RAM, compared to 1,784K for Netscape (which prefers more) and 2,700K for Mosaic. Because of these reasonable requirements and because it's a good program, we've included MacWeb on the ISKM disk.
MacWeb has only a few preferences, which you access by going to the File menu and choosing Preferences (see figure 25.1). You can change the home page, the page that MacWeb automatically accesses on launch, to any valid URL (or even an HTML document on your disk, which will keep MacWeb from trying to dial out if you connect via PPP or SLIP); you can have MacWeb automatically open a specific hotlist of stored URLs at startup; and you can set little things such as Autoload Images (turn this option off for faster performance) and the window background color. The most important preferences to set are your email address and your news server in the General section of the Preferences.
Figure 25.1: MacWeb Preferences dialog.
If you don't like the way MacWeb assigns fonts to the HTML styles, you can change those fonts. Choose Styles from the Edit menu to display the Styles dialog (see figure 25.2).
Figure 25.2: MacWeb Styles dialog.
The Element pop-up menu and its submenus enable to you pick which style you're editing, and because the styles are hierarchical, it's easy to set all the heading styles to, say, Helvetica, and then vary the font size for the different heading sizes. You also can modify colors as well, but I'd recommend restraint here. Colored text (and too many colors in text, especially) can be difficult to read.
Although you shouldn't have to mess with them, you also can modify MacWeb's default settings for helper applications and suffix mappings (which are how MacWeb determines what sort of file it's retrieving).
I always feel funny telling people how to use a Web browser, because it seems so obvious, and MacWeb is no exception to this. Anyway, when you first launch MacWeb, it accesses its default home page (see figure 25.3), which may look a little different.
Note: There's nothing special about the default home page -- it just happens to be the page that MacWeb loads when you launch it, and you can set anything as your home page. I set my home page to the Dilbert comic strip at:
Figure 25.3: MacWeb home page.
The basic parts of the MacWeb window are self-explanatory. MacWeb offers forward and back arrow buttons for moving back and forth between the pages you've visited, a home button (with a little house on it) for bouncing back to your home page, a question mark button for Web search items, and an editable but somewhat small URL field for copying and pasting URLs. At the bottom of the screen, a status field indicates what MacWeb is doing, along with a preview of what URL goes with any given link. My favorite part of the status line is that it often tells you the size of the file MacWeb is accessing, and counts up as it retrieves the file. That kind of feedback is useful when you're on a slow connection and waiting for a graphic to transfer.
When you click a link (blue and underlined, although a link becomes red once you've followed it), MacWeb promptly takes you to the appropriate page, and as it fills the page, you can scroll down. However, if MacWeb must also bring in a graphic, it forces you back to the top of the page while it draws the graphic, which can make for some confusing jumps in the text if you've started reading. Reading text in the MacWeb window works exactly as you'd expect it to, and the Find feature available in the Edit menu is a big help if you hit a large page and want to scroll directly to a certain part.
If you find a Web resource that you like and want to visit again, you can add it to your Hotlist with the Add This Document item under the Hotlist menu. The Hotlist menu also has a hierarchical Hotlist Interface menu that provides options for creating new hotlists, opening old ones, editing them, saving them, and so on. If you edit the hotlist, MacWeb brings up a list of your hotlist entries. Clicking the Edit button enables you to modify the name and URL (see figure 25.4).
Figure 25.4: MacWeb Hotlist Editor.
Of course, if you have a URL that you retrieved from email or a TidBITS article, you can enter it manually into MacWeb. Choose Open URL from the File menu and type or paste the URL in before pressing Return to activate the link. When you choose Open URL, MacWeb also provides a pop-up menu of your hotlist items; selecting an item from that list pastes its URL into the URL field for you to edit if you so choose. Another way to go to a specific Web site is to paste the URL into the URL field over the existing one, and press Return to activate it. MacWeb also can open local documents and can reload the page if for some reason it isn't up-to-date.
Although relatively simple, MacWeb has a number of special features that complement its sparse interface. Although it has a hierarchical History menu under its Navigate menu, MacWeb also provides a shortcut for navigating to sites you've previously visited. Simply click and hold on either the Forward or Back buttons. After a second or two, a pop-up menu appears, listing the history.
MacWeb allows you to resize its window to any size you like, and it remembers the size of the frontmost window when you quit, opening the window to that size the next time you launch MacWeb.
If you do decide to run with images turned off by default, you can load selected ones by clicking them. If, however, you want to see all the images on a page, the Options menu contains Load Images, which does just that.
If you Command-click an FTP link, MacWeb asks Anarchie to retrieve the file instead of doing so itself. Similarly, although MacWeb doesn't support mailto links internally, it asks NewsWatcher to deal with them (since NewsWatcher supports the GetURL event, whereas Eudora doesn't yet). MacWeb does support news URLs internally, but it also can pass them off to NewsWatcher with a Command-click. I approve of using the more powerful specific tools in this way, rather than fitting the square Web browsers into too many round holes.
Note: You also can use other modifiers when clicking on links. The Option key makes MacWeb open a new window, the Shift key makes MacWeb retrieve links to disk, and the Command key forces MacWeb to use external helper applications, even if MacWeb can display the format, such as GIF, internally.
If you click on any link and hold the mouse button down, MacWeb pops up a LinkOps menu that offers choices for retrieving the link, retrieving it to disk (a very handy way of snagging graphics from Web pages), viewing information about the link, copying the URL, saving it to a hotlist, or saving it to disk. This feature works so well that Netscape copied it.
Unique to MacWeb is the capability to sort your hotlist by name or URL, and you can export hotlists in MacWeb format, in Mosaic format, or in straight HTML. MacWeb also can import Mosaic hotlists.
MacWeb is Power Mac-native. It is extremely fast at redrawing already loaded pages, something that can be a bit sluggish in other Web browsers. MacWeb also starts and quits quickly, something you don't think about until you use a program that's slow to launch and quit, like Netscape.
Note: So that it works for everyone, I've put the 68000 version of MacWeb on the ISKM disk. If you have a Power Mac, be sure to download the native version when you get a chance. There's an Anarchie bookmark for it in your MacWeb folder.
MacWeb is an excellent program in its early releases, and I fully anticipate that most of the rough edges will be worked out in the future. I would like to see the Hotlist feature improved and differentiated. The major problem with the current version of MacWeb is that you cannot select text in the main window, which means that you cannot copy it for use elsewhere.
Is MacWeb the best Web browser right now? No, that honor goes to Netscape for the moment. Netscape has two advantages over MacWeb. First, Netscape opens multiple connections to a server when you connect, which means that it can bring in a number of images simultaneously, making it faster than MacWeb. Second, Netscape has hierarchical bookmarks, which makes saving and organizing bookmarks easier in Netscape than in MacWeb. If MacWeb could gain parity on those two counts, its other features would easily place it among the best of the Web browsing crowd.