For the most part, the various Web browsers have opted not to include the proverbial kitchen sink in their code, and they all rely on a common set of helper applications for dealing with certain types of data. There are numerous other applications that you can use as helper applications, but these are the most popular. All are available at the URL below, unless mentioned otherwise.
Note: If a Web browser cannot launch your helper applications properly, try rebuilding your desktop -- if the desktop database is out-of-date, the Web browser may not be able to find the proper helper application.
One criticism of the HTML format used on the World Wide Web is that it doesn't provide the kind of complete control that desktop publishers are used to when laying out a page. There are a number of electronic document formats that some people use for this purpose, including Adobe Acrobat, Common Ground from No Hands Software, WordPerfect's Envoy, and Farallon's Replica. Of these, Acrobat is the most common, and Adobe and Netscape are reportedly working to include support for Acrobat's PDF documents in future versions of Netscape. Until then, you'll have to use these programs as helper applications. I wasn't able to find a Web page for Common Ground, although the others do have Web pages.
Although the trend among Web browsers is to display JPEG graphics along with the text and GIF graphics on a Web page, not all of them can do this yet. Those that don't, send all JPEG images, and most other unsupported graphics formats, to JPEGView from Aaron Giles, which is postcardware. JPEGView does an admirable job of displaying JPEG images, and is Power Mac-native for a significant speed boost for Power Mac users. JPEGView can crop images, resize them, and convert between a number of different formats. It's a staple for other Internet programs that use helper applications as well, such as TurboGopher.
Making files available for download via a Web browser is somewhat haphazard, thanks to the way the Macintosh files can have both resources and data forks. The safest method is the standard, BinHex, but a much tighter format is MacBinary, which stores both forks of a normal Mac file together in a single file that you can upload to other types of computers. If you want to download a file in MacBinary format (usually indicated by a .bin extension), you need a helper application that can decode the MacBinary format, because Web browsers, unlike FTP clients, don't do so automatically. All that said, the program you need is Peter Lewis's free MacBinary II+ because it can work with the Web browsers to decode MacBinary files. MacBinary II+ has no interface; if a Web browser doesn't call it automatically, you must drop a MacBinary file on MacBinary II+ to have that file decoded.
Although Sparkle, and even SimpleText, can handle QuickTime movies, Web browsers generally default to using Apple's MoviePlayer to display QuickTime movies. Of course, you must also have QuickTime installed for any of these to work. You can't download MoviePlayer, although it comes with QuickTime and on the System 7.5 CD. Getting QuickTime has become more difficult if you don't get it with your Mac or with System 7.5, although you can purchase it online at the Web page below. Frankly, if getting MoviePlayer becomes a problem, I recommend using Sparkle, SimpleText, or one of the other free QuickTime players, like Leonard Rosenthol's Popcorn, which are readily available.
Web browsers occasionally need to download or display straight text, or sometimes the HTML source code for a Web page. Although any word processor or text editor should work for this purpose, and I always use Nisus Writer, Apple's SimpleText is usually the default because it's free with every Macintosh. If your Mac or version of the System is old, you may have the older and less-capable TeachText instead. SimpleText is available at some of Apple's FTP sites, but everyone should have at least one, if not four or five, copies on their hard disks from installing commercial applications that typically come with TeachText or SimpleText so you will be able to open ReadMe files with a simple double-click.
Although SoundMachine seems to be used as the default for most audio files, the most recent version of Norman Franke's free SoundApp claims to play even more sound formats, including one, the Windows WAVE format, that SoundMachine doesn't handle. I haven't seen many (OK, any, but I'm not big on downloading sounds) WAVE files, but because they come from the Windows world, you're likely to hit some eventually. SoundApp can handle the Internet standard Sun au format, so you could use it for all of your audio needs.
Rod Kennedy's free SoundMachine is the most popular application for playing the audio files that you run across on the Internet because of its support for the standard Sun au format. Though it is mostly used to play sounds, SoundMachine can also record sounds in the au format. Although it would probably drive me nuts in normal use, I rather like SoundMachine's Chatterbox Mode, where it uses Apple's PlainTalk technology to read the text of the menu items and buttons you select.
There are two video formats that are fairly common on the Web, QuickTime and MPEG. The most popular MPEG player for the Macintosh is Maynard Handley's free and frequently updated Sparkle. Sparkle can also display PICT files and QuickTime movies, and it contains PowerPC code for optimum movie playing performance on Power Macs. Sparkle requires System 7.5 or System 7 along with a whole slew of additional extensions, including QuickTime 1.6, Sound Manager 3.0, and the Thread Manager, among others.
Aladdin Systems' free StuffIt Expander is such a necessary part of your Internet toolkit that we've included it on the ISKM disk. StuffIt Expander is universally used as a helper application to debinhex files and to expand both StuffIt and Compact Pro archives, along with self-extracting archives created by either of those two programs. If you own one of Aladdin's commercial products or register their shareware DropStuff with Expander Enhancer, StuffIt Expander gains the capability to decode many other formats, include MacBinary, Unix compress, and zip files. I encourage everyone to register DropStuff with Expander Enhancer if you want to decode these additional formats -- it's a great way to thank Aladdin for making the basic StuffIt Expander available for free.
The zip format. that's the standard in the PC world, is one of the formats that StuffIt Expander can only handle after you've registered DropStuff or purchased another Aladdin product. While you're getting around to registering DropStuff, you can try out Tommy Brown's $15 shareware ZipIt, which also can decode (and encode) zip files. One way or another, please support these shareware efforts. Tommy Brown modeled ZipIt's interface on Compact Pro, although of course you shouldn't have to interact with the interface to a helper application all that much.
The Web is where the action is, and I hope this chapter has given you the necessary information to pick out a Web browser and start poking around. Everything changes so fast that it's hard to say where you should start, but I currently recommend you point your browser at Yahoo and either browse or search for information. If you can't find it in Yahoo, one of the search engine links in Yahoo should help, if anything can. Enjoy yourself, and remember to come up for air every now and then. The Web can be a mighty vortex.
In addition, I've created an ISKM Home Page (the version of MacWeb on the ISKM disk goes to it by default) that points to many of the rest of the best sites on the Internet for searching and browsing; by using these links you should be able to find anything that is actually available. These are the same resources I use, so I've given you the exact same tools to which I turn whenever I need to find something on the Web.
All this browsing is fine and nice, but what if you want to create your own Web pages? Read on, because the next chapter tells you everything you need to know about the process on a Macintosh, unlike most other books that I've seen about the Web.