Previous Issue | Search TidBITS | TidBITS Home Page | Next Issue
The emperor may have no clothes, but is he indecent? Adam examines the United States Supreme Court's ruling on Communications Decency Act and the notion that "indecent" material spontaneously arrives on people's computer screens. We also note the newly released Netscape Communicator 4.01, LetterRip 2.0, and the Usenet news server RumorMill, plus Tonya looks at visual HTML editors, including Adobe PageMill, Claris Home Page, and Symantec Visual Page.
Copyright 1997 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
Information: <email@example.com> Comments: <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This issue of TidBITS sponsored in part by:
Small Dog Electronics -- Special Deal for TidBITS Readers!
Power Mac 8500/180 - Factory refurbished, FREE Keyboard: $1999
For Details: <http://www.smalldoggy.com/#tid> -- 802/496-7171
LetterRip 2.0 Available -- Fog City Software has released LetterRip 2.0, their dead-simple mailing list management software. LetterRip 2.0 adds support for POP (eliminating the need for a dedicated Internet connection), message banners and footers, extensive Apple Event support, message processors, automatic subscribe and unsubscribe accounts (popularized by our <email@example.com> and <firstname.lastname@example.org> accounts), and multiple domains. We've found LetterRip 1.0 almost painless for managing several small internal lists. LetterRip 2.0 is a free upgrade for existing users. Otherwise, it costs $295 and includes 12 months of support and updates. [ACE]
Straight from the RumorMill -- Fans of Peter Lewis and Stairways Software will be pleased to note the release of RumorMill 1.0, a $35 shareware Usenet news server for the Mac. Although RumorMill isn't intended to handle a full Usenet news feed (currently about 1 GB per day, and rising), it's a simple, inexpensive solution for hosting local newsgroups and giving local users snappy access to a partial news feed - even if the server is using a dial-up connection! RumorMill supports multiple upstream and downstream sites, access restriction by IP number, and remote administration via a separate setup application. RumorMill also supports NewsWatcher preferences and standard newsrc files, and has several advanced features that can be configured via telnet. For the price, RumorMill is hard to beat for local discussion groups, and it only wants 2 MB of RAM. [GD]
by Tonya Engst <email@example.com>
Netscape Communicator 4.01 is now available for the Macintosh. The software contains a suite of Internet tools for Web browsing, email, HTML publishing, receiving pushed data, and more. The Web browser, called "Navigator" within the suite, represents an upgrade from Netscape Navigator 3. A Professional Edition comes with additional modules for group scheduling and network automation. Judging from the buzzword-compliant data sheet (which may have been authored by Dilbert's boss), both versions are aimed squarely at corporate users. Communicator 4.01 also fixes the recent "privacy" bug that received widespread media attention. This bug enabled nefarious webmasters to retrieve known files from users' disks.
Perhaps the most noticeable new feature in the Navigator module (and one more aimed at consumers) is the Bookmarks menu, which comes preconfigured for your convenience with categories such as Sports and Shopping. Each category has sub-items; for instance, Shopping includes The Sharper Image and Amazon Books. User bookmarks display at the bottom of the menu. Although new users may find the menu a convenience, for me it felt as though a shopping mall had attached itself to my browser.
I found that I could change the new bookmarks menu by swapping in my old bookmarks.html file such that it replaced the bookmarks.html file in my user folder (located in the Netscape Users folder within the Preferences folder of my System Folder). I did some testing and found that editing the new bookmarks.html file also works, but I don't yet know whether either solution is permanent.
According to Netscape, Communicator requires at least a 68030-based Macintosh with 16 MB RAM and System 7.5 or later. The Standard Edition download, with all Communicator components, is about 10 MB. [TJE]<http://www.netscape.com/flash1/comprod/products/communicator/>
by Adam C. Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
And there was joy in Mudville, for the mighty CDA had struck out.
On 26-Jun-97, the United States Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision (two justices dissented in part), ruled that the Communications Decency Act, better known as the CDA, violated the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. In the words of the official decision, "The CDA's 'indecent transmission' and 'patently offensive display' provisions abridge 'the freedom of speech' protected by the First Amendment." With that, parents, teachers, and librarians must decide for themselves, without the heavy hand of government but with the aid of filtering and blocking software, what is not acceptable for their wards to view online.
What They Said -- I'm no legal scholar, but from reading the full text of the decision (posted eight minutes after release by online advocates using a PowerBook and a Ricochet wireless modem), it seems that the Supreme Court had a number of problems with the CDA.
The court found the CDA overly vague, and felt that vagueness would have an "obvious chilling effect on free speech." In essence, if the government makes something illegal, citizens should be able to discern what actions have become illegal.
The court felt that the CDA failed to define the terms "indecency" and "patently offensive" adequately. Without a strong legal definition, it's difficult not just for normal people, but also for lawyers to determine whether some speech qualifies as indecent, patently offensive, or neither. Personally, I have trouble with situations like this, because it seems to me that "decency" is a concept that differs radically between people, cultures, and eras.
The court criticized the CDA for failing to account for the possibility that "offensive" material could have any socially redeeming value. The world is not all sweetness and light, and sometimes exposure to offensive material is worthwhile.
Finally, the court felt that the overall vagueness of the CDA was exacerbated by the attachment of criminal penalties to a content-based ban on speech.
What Now? Proponents of the CDA have vowed to continue fighting for a provision for controlling, well, the kind of speech they don't like (it seems the most accurate description). Some groups plan to lobby the U.S. Congress for a new statute, and CDA co-author Senator Dan Coats may introduce a new, more-focused bill. That possibility was given some encouragement by the concurring opinion written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (and joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist). In that opinion, Justice O'Connor postulates that the creation of "adult zones" on the Internet would be constitutional. However, she also noted that "user based zoning is in its infancy," and "we must evaluate the constitutionality of the CDA as it applies to the Internet as it exists today."
Other possible legislation would require Internet service providers to offer filtering or blocking software. President Bill Clinton said the administration would study the Supreme Court decision, and noted, "If we are to make the Internet a powerful resource for learning, we must give parents and teachers the tools they need to make the Internet safe for children." Proponents of the CDA urged the administration to appeal the ruling.
It is worth noting that existing laws about the distribution of child pornography and "obscene" (a more rigidly defined term than "indecent") materials have applied in the past, and continue to apply to the Internet.
Some Thoughts -- I've been confused by the administration's defense of the CDA, not because I find any of the administration's arguments in the least bit compelling, but because it seemed so ludicrous that such a law could passed to begin with (okay, so it was part of the overall Telecommunications Reform Act of 1996), and all the more so that the administration pursued it after the initial defeat in a lower court (see TidBITS-315 and TidBITS-333). Perhaps I'm biased toward the concept of individual responsibility, but the rhetoric surrounding this debate astonishes me.
For instance, President Clinton said, "With the right technology and rating systems, we can help ensure that our children don't end up in the red light district of cyberspace." Sorry, but you don't "end up" looking at dirty pictures on the Internet - if you are looking at them, you intentionally followed a link to view them. The same goes for Usenet newsgroups, IRC channels, and most anything else. More to the point, the reference to the red light district is misleading, because it implies physical danger. That might be true in a real red light district, but anyone who accidentally wanders into a sexually explicit Web site, newsgroup, or chat room can leave instantly, without possibility of harm.
Additional Legal Resources -- My opinions above are just that, personal opinions, and hold no more weight in court than would a box of ping pong balls. For real legal opinions, I refer you to the archives of the Cyberspace Law mailing list, where the topics of free speech and CDA have been discussed at length.
For those seriously interested in legal discussion, complete with copious footnotes (which, I understand, are a necessary part of the legal literary genre), I recommend a book called Law and the Information Superhighway. Written by Professor Henry H. Perritt, Jr. of the Villanova University School of Law, and published by Wiley Law Publications, the book is an exhaustive reference and textbook. It's not cheap at $150, nor is it a light read, but when a legal issue surrounding the Internet comes up, I turn to it for some basics. Check the page below for a review of the book.
by Tonya Engst <email@example.com>
The first two parts of this series looked at text-based HTML editors, programs that offer a great deal of control over the final product. Such editors force you to deal with HTML tags, a process that bores some, intimidates others, and generally falls outside the Macintosh tradition - most Mac users who monkey with HTML tags take about ten minutes to ask for a program that handles HTML behind the scenes. The first of this type of program was Adobe PageMill (most recently reviewed in TidBITS-356), and PageMill has currently has two direct competitors: Home Page 2.0 from Claris, and Visual Page 1.0 from Symantec. This article contrasts these three programs, and notes a few free alternatives.
All of these programs function like low-end word processors: they lack sophisticated text editing options, and you can't drag & drop objects freely on the page as you could in a desktop publishing program (or a high-end HTML editor like Golive CyberStudio Pro or NetObjects Fusion). Further, they take a page-oriented perspective that frustrates people creating large sites. Each program has an Edit view that attempts to offer a WYSIWYG display (though perhaps WYSIWYS - "what you see is what you see" - would be a more appropriate term), plus an HTML view for working with HTML tags and a Preview that tries to approximate how a browser will display the page, with operational internal links. Annoyingly, the programs' HTML views can't access the styling commands available in the Edit views, so everything must be hand tagged in the HTML views.
All three programs work well for experimenting with layouts and creating some Web pages. However, in many real-life instances these programs are awkward to work with in some important way that ultimately means that - in a perfect world - their HTML needs final tweaking in a text environment. Still, not all pages need perfect HTML to serve their purposes or their creators' time constraints. Recent experiences in helping new computer users have reminded me that creating a Web page using graphical software would be a worthy accomplishment for some, one not to be marred by tagging issues.
You won't go seriously wrong with PageMill, Home Page, or Visual Page, but differences do exist.
Tut, Tut, It Looks Like Text -- For serious composition, these three programs are uniformly mediocre and lack sophisticated options available in a modern word processor. Even so, they all have a basic Find and Replace option and support basic Macintosh editing conventions, though Visual Page and PageMill both fail to insert an extra space if you drag & drop text between two words. PageMill and Home Page both also have spelling checkers, though PageMill's is nothing to write home about. Home Page uses the standard Claris spelling engine and dictionaries and has a more mature look and feel. Home Page also takes honors as the only program where you can change the default font and size - an important feature for folks who cannot compose in the annoyingly tiny Times 12 point default font that all three programs share. For all these reasons, Home Page gets the nod as a writing tool. Still, this category of software works best for poster- or brochure-like pages.
For placing large documents on the Web, you'd be better off using an HTML converter such as Myrmidon 1.2 by Terry Morse Software, which deserves more space than I'm giving it here; RTFtoHTML 3.6 ($29 shareware from Chris Hector); Microsoft's Internet Assistant 2.0 for Word 6.0.1; or Astrobyte's BeyondPress 3.0, a QuarkXPress XTension with zillions of hot features, including support for cascading style sheets (Extensis sells a light version called CyberPress).
Or, you'd be better off using a word processor such as Nisus Writer 5.0.4 that comes with decent HTML conversion options (I'm not impressed with WordPerfect's HTML features). Another possibility would be Akimbo's Globetrotter (reviewed in TidBITS-374).
Tables and Frames -- Tables and frames are particularly tedious to build from scratch in HTML, so Web publishers are likely to turn to these programs for help with them. In the frames arena, Home Page isn't as good a choice, because it cannot display pages within a frameset. PageMill and Visual Page both offer this feature.
When it comes to tables, all three programs use toolbars and palettes for applying table formats, so you need not repeatedly open and close dialog boxes as you set up a table. Even so, Home Page takes low ratings in this area, primarily because you must apply cell and text formats one cell at a time, making mass formatting tedious.
PageMill is slightly better - you can apply some cell formats to multiple cells, but you cannot apply text-oriented formats, such as the strong tag. I dislike working with tables in PageMill because I have trouble remembering the techniques for selecting within a table (you might want to select the entire table, a cell, or text within a cell). If you use PageMill frequently, you'll have no problem, but occasional users may share my frustration. Also, PageMill's toolbar has minuscule buttons, and I have trouble identifying them quickly. Working with PageMill tables doesn't feel fluid to me.
Visual Page does the best job with HTML tables that I've seen in this software category. The table feature is easy to learn and offers more options than Home Page or PageMill (for example, in PageMill you can only size cells vertically by dragging them; in Visual Page, you can type a measurement, and that measurement can apply to any selection of cells). Most importantly, Visual Page can format text within multiple table cells all at once, plus apply a full range of cell formats to multiple cells.
Graphics & Image Maps -- Given Adobe's emphasis on graphics, it's not surprising that PageMill's graphics handling features stand out. It's not so much that PageMill has more features, but it puts more care into their implementation. For example, Visual Page can resize graphics (either visually by way of dragging or numerically by way of typing measurements), but it can't resize them proportionally. Home Page can resize proportionally, but only when you drag, not when you type. PageMill can resize proportionally whether you type or drag, though it lacks snazzy options like resizing proportionally to fit inside a box. If your interest in graphics can be satisfied by placing images that have been modified in other applications, any of these programs will work, but if you are big on graphics, PageMill will suit you best. A big minus for Home Page is that it cannot display graphics aligned left or right of text (though they'll display that way in a Web browser).
The Media Drag Bag -- These three programs accept a grab bag of file formats. For instance, they all handle PICT, GIF, and JPEG images. In most cases, you just drag a file onto the document window, and the file joins the page, usually as a graphic or embedded object which can then be configured in a dialog box. Sometimes, though, the program simply creates a link to the file in question. For example, Visual Page treats sounds as embedded objects, but Home Page creates clickable links leading to the sound files. These programs display dragged-in objects differently, and the differences are particularly apparent in Preview mode. Adobe made sure that PDFs (Portable Document Format files) work well, and Symantec paid special attention to Java applets.
Personally, I find Preview modes bogus, because I preview pages in a browser, but I can imagine scenarios where Preview mode becomes important - users might not have enough RAM to also launch a browser, or be so inexperienced that switching applications posed an unreasonable challenge. The table below summarizes how these programs display different types of dragged-in files. ("Object" means a generic embedded object; "link" means the program linked to the dragged-in file instead of incorporating it on the page.)
File Format & Home Page PageMill Visual Page Mode displays: displays: displays: ------------------------------------------------------ Animated GIF Edit Mode first frame first frame first frame Preview Mode first frame plays first frame QuickTime Edit Mode first frame first frame plays Preview Mode first frame plays plays AIFF Edit Mode link object object Display Mode link object object au/WAV Edit Mode link link object Display Mode link link object Java applet Edit Mode Java object Java object Java object Display Mode Java object Java object plays PDF Edit Mode link first page object Preview Mode link first page object ------------------------------------------------------
Killer Features -- Each of the programs has at least one killer feature that differentiates it. PageMill has a color palette that stores any set of colors, making it easy to apply a consistent palette. Visual Page enables you to work with HTML and Edit mode showing at once. Home Page is the easiest to learn.
Who Should Use What? I tend to recommend PageMill to design professionals, particularly those who use other Adobe products. Now that PageMill ships with SiteMill, it may well be the best value of the lot, and we'll look at SiteMill later in this series. Visual Page wraps a lot of features into a reasonably good interface, and I think it's best for somewhat experienced Macintosh users or for serious Web publishers and those who don't like PageMill or are outside the Adobe milieu. Home Page feels more like a hobbyist or home business tool: it's the easiest to learn, especially if you've used other Claris software and you realize that Control-clicking things brings up a handy menu.
Price? Visual Page and Home Page have official estimated street prices of $99.95 and $99 respectively; PageMill's suggested retail price is $149, but you should be able to find it for under $100. If you're buying, look for the new version that includes SiteMill 2.0. Also, check for deals - for instance, there's a $20 discount on Visual Page for owners of other Symantec development tools and owners of Home Page 1.0 can upgrade for free.
For those who like their software free, possibilities include AOLpress 2.0 and the Composer module in the newly released Communicator 4.01 from Netscape Communications (though Communicator isn't free to business and government users after a 90-day trial period). In my opinion, neither of these programs are in the same ballpark as their fully commercial counterparts.
AOLpress -- On first glance, AOLpress has an impressive feature set: tables, frames, and forms; a customizable toolbar; a nifty, online workbook tutorial; and a site-oriented perspective that includes external link checking, multi-file find and replace, and multi-file spell checking. It is primarily intended for AOL customers, and can open and save files directly from a server running AOLserver or the Web hosting area on AOL. All this sounds great, but the software needs a serious makeover.
There's no drag & drop from the Finder, no Balloon Help, and the program shuns the Mac Help menu in favor of its own. AOLpress uses paths in the Open and Save dialogs, and doesn't resize properly on a second monitor. Besides these obvious issues for Mac users, the program has numerous disappointments: a Form palette that disappears behind document windows, the multi-file Find and Replace cannot replace single items in multiple documents (instead it can only replace all), and table edges cannot be resized by dragging. The menus and dialog boxes are arranged so you spend lots of time mousing around in hierarchical menus, and dialog boxes lack Apply buttons that would hasten experimentation with different formats. The worst flaws, at least for me, are that AOLpress crashes frequently and runs sluggishly on my Power Mac 7600.
Composer -- To be honest, I haven't spent much time in this newly shipping version of Composer, and - in fact - was so unimpressed with its predecessor, the HTML editor in Netscape Navigator Gold, that I ignored it until just now, when I decided that this article wouldn't be complete without noting it. A brief tour of the program reveals a more attractive, Mac-like version than its predecessor. I actually like the toolbar, which consists of two rows of colorful icons, with no button edges showing. If you mouse over a particular icon, it pops up inside a beveled square.
Netscape has honed Composer into a simple tool for making basic pages. If Composer has support for forms or frames, I can't locate it. Table editing has improved enormously, and you can apply text formats to multiple cells, though you can't resize cells by dragging their borders. I implied earlier in this article that all programs noted here have HTML views; Composer does not, but it does supply a command for quickly viewing HTML in the text editor of your choice. For making basic pages with a cheap tool, I recommend trying Composer. Composer performed well on my 7600, but there may be configuration issues that I'm not yet aware of, and - as with any product these days - Communicator's recommended hardware requirements (16 MB RAM and a 68030-based Mac, plus System 7.5) may need to be taken with a grain of salt.
Summing Up -- Although I may have left out your pet peeve or favorite feature, I hope you have a good idea of the major software options available for visual HTML editing. Next week we'll look at Golive's CyberStudio Pro, which offers optional drag & drop placement of objects (like a desktop publishing program) and a rich collection of high-end features.
DealBITS -- Cyberian Outpost is selling Home Page and Visual Page for $84.95 each to TidBITS readers who purchase through these URLs. This price represents an $8 discount off Cyberian's regular price. Unfortunately, we were unable to get a deal for the SiteMill-enhanced version of PageMill before this issue went to press (see the MailBIT in TidBITS-385 for more information).
Adobe Systems -- 800/411-8657 -- 408/536-6000
America Online -- 800/879-6882 -- 703/448-8700
Claris Corporation -- 800/544-8554 -- 408/727-8227
800/800-8954 (fax) -- <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Netscape Communications -- 800/638-7483 -- 415/937-3777
415/528-4124 (fax) -- <email@example.com>
Symantec Corporation -- 800/441-7234 -- 541/334-6054
541/334-7474 (fax) -- <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Non-profit, non-commercial publications and Web sites may reprint or link to articles if full credit is given. Others please contact us. We do not guarantee accuracy of articles. Caveat lector. Publication, product, and company names may be registered trademarks of their companies. TidBITS ISSN 1090-7017.
Previous Issue | Search TidBITS | TidBITS Home Page | Next Issue