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The Web may be based upon hypertext, but this week Matt Neuburg reviews the rejuvenation of Eastgate's Storyspace, a hypertext authoring tool that predates the Web. This issue also brings a shift in the TidBITS universe - the Engsts are moving back to Ithaca, NY. Also, we note PC Connection purchasing Outpost.com, the releases of Frontier 7, Now Up-To-Date & Contact 4.0, and BBEdit Lite 6.1, plus Internet Explorer 5.1.1 and OmniWeb 4.0 for Mac OS X.
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UserLand Ships Frontier 7 -- UserLand Software has released version 7 of their flagship program, Frontier. Frontier is a powerful outliner, database, and scripting environment that's frequently used for the creation of Web pages; since it's also an Internet client/server, it is often used as a Web server that creates its Web pages dynamically. Frontier includes Manila, a set of scripts that lets users create and maintain dynamic Frontier-based Web sites by means of a browser; alternatively, a Manila site can be maintained with Radio UserLand, a "light" version of Frontier lacking the Internet server features. What's new in Frontier 7? First, there are some tweaks to Manila and various bug fixes. Second, there's the advent of a Mac OS X-native (Carbon) version, including the ability to communicate with the Unix shell. Finally, Frontier now shares with Radio UserLand the capability to hook powerful scripted actions to its native outliner; for example, opening a heading of an outline to see its subheadings might cause those subheadings to be a list of files generated live over the Internet, or a list of MP3 files on your hard disk (which Frontier can then play). Frontier costs $900 per year ($100 academic); you can try Manila (and download Radio UserLand) for free. [MAN]
Outpost.com Acquired by PC Connection -- The Internet consolidation is continuing, with Outpost.com founder and CEO Darryl Peck announcing on 30-May-01 that his company is being acquired by long-time hardware and software vendor PC Connection, which also runs the Mac Connection catalog and Web site. Outpost.com's 1.3 million customers and well-known brand enabled them to avoid the fate of so many other Internet companies that have disappeared quickly and completely. Outpost.com will continue to operate under its own name and from its existing facilities, though it will share PC Connection's extensive inventory. It's been an interesting six years for Outpost.com - check out our 1996 interview with Darryl for a look back at the beginning and Darryl's thoughts about PC Connection then. [ACE]
Free BBEdit Lite Updated to 6.1 -- Bare Bones Software has released BBEdit Lite 6.1, the latest version of its free text editing application. BBEdit Lite 6.1 is carbonized for Mac OS X (but supports older system software back to System 7.5.5) and builds in support for Navigation Services and the Appearance Manager, plus playing movies and translating image formats using QuickTime. Version 6.1 also rolls in better pattern matching (grep) search-and-replace syntax and improved searching across multiple files. BBEdit Lite is a 4.3 MB download and requires a PowerPC-based Mac; registered users of BBEdit Lite are eligible for discounted upgrades to the commercial version of BBEdit. [GD]
Now Up-to-Date & Contact 4.0 Released -- Power On Software has released Now Up-to-Date & Contact 4.0, revamping the interface and improving performance of the widely used personal information manager. Power On has added new features with trademarked names like Grab-'n-Go (contextual menus for grabbing data from other applications, such as Microsoft Office 2001), AlphaBar (easy access to contacts), and QuickFilter (easy filtering of contacts within a list). This release also includes an assortment of new custom and Internet/phone fields, TCP/IP and DNS support, the capability to attach pictures to contacts, and more. The full version of Now Up-to-Date & Contact costs $120, and owners of any previous version can upgrade for $50; both options are available electronically. You can also download a free 30-day fully functional 10 MB demo (14 MB with documentation). The software runs under Mac OS versions 8.6 to 9.1 and under Mac OS X's Classic mode; owners will receive a free upgrade to a native Mac OS X version, which is projected to ship by the third quarter of 2001. [JLC]
Internet Explorer 5.1.1 and OmniWeb 4.0 Arrive -- Apple has delivered an update to the Microsoft Internet Explorer Web browser provided with Mac OS X. Internet Explorer 5.1.1 is still officially a preview version and is currently available only through the Software Update control panel in System Preferences; you can't download it from the Microsoft or Apple Web sites. Apple says Internet Explorer 5.1.1 improves the browser's reliability and provides better support for file downloading, among other enhancements. The software supports English, Japanese, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Swedish.
Meanwhile, the Omni Group, long-time developers of software for the NeXT platform and, more recently, for Mac OS X Server and Mac OS X, released a final version of OmniWeb 4.0, their native Cocoa Web browser. OmniWeb has earned a reputation for offering better performance than Internet Explorer, which is a carbonized version of Microsoft's existing version of Internet Explorer. You can use OmniWeb for free, but buying $30 license will eliminate reminders that the software is unlicensed. [MHA]
MyFonts.com Adds Fresh Faces -- During this time of dot-com implosions, it's nice to see a good idea doing well. Online font vendor MyFonts.com announced that it has added 11 new font foundries to its lineup, increasing the size of its catalog to more than 13,000 typefaces. The new additions include faces from Bergsland, BlueVinyl Fonts, Burghal Design, Storm Type Foundry, and others. Part of the MyFonts appeal, aside from the depth of offerings, is its online technologies: WhatTheFont can examine an uploaded scanned image and identify the typeface used, while TypeXplorer provides font suggestions based on boldness, width, contrast, or x-height. [JLC]
by Adam C. Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
They say you can never go home again. That's true, after the fashion attributed to the paradoxical Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who quoted by Plato as saying that you could not step into the same river twice. But even acknowledging that Tonya and I are no longer the same people we were ten years ago and that Ithaca is no longer exactly the same place we left in 1991, like Homer's Odysseus, we are nonetheless headed back to Ithaca, located at the base of Cayuga Lake in upstate New York. Hopefully, our trip and arrival will be a bit easier than Odysseus's was.
Tonya and I moved to Seattle in 1991, just two years after graduating from college and just a year after starting TidBITS. In many ways, we grew up in Seattle, both personally and professionally, and Seattle itself has aged over those ten years as well, though in not entirely pleasant ways. The attractive aspects of living here - our good friends and the great natural beauty of the area foremost among them - have started to pale against the disadvantages, most notably abysmal traffic and the overall effort of living in a large metropolitan area. But dealing with the downsides was a decision we could make for ourselves - until Tristan came along. Suddenly we found ourselves literally strapping a small person into the car against his will for 20 to 60 minutes of driving at a time. As we looked into the future, we saw that this was neither how we wanted to live our lives, nor how we wanted Tristan to live his.
We could live almost anywhere we could get an Internet connection, a dizzying level of freedom that has always succumbed to the generally enjoyable inertia of living near Seattle. As Tonya and I discussed the possibility of moving while walking along the shores of Lake Washington on a brilliantly sunny New Year's Day, we realized that the practicalities of life pointed toward an answer. As much as we enjoy exploring a new area, learning its geography and history, meeting new people, and trying to understand what makes the place unique, at this point in our lives, we're uninterested in figuring out the details. We don't want to spend time learning the fastest route to the airport, where to renew our driver's licenses, or whether there's a geographically and temperamentally suitable running club. Even more important, we've learned the importance of a community support structure when children are involved, and we couldn't see how some random town or city could compete even with Seattle, where we already have lots of friends, though no family.
The answer suddenly became clear, because there's only one place in the world - Ithaca - where we not only already know how to live, but where we also have a built-in family support structure. We both grew up in Ithaca, attended Cornell University, and lived in the area afterwards. There was little we didn't like about living in Ithaca - it's a gorgeous physical setting, the populace is educated and thoughtful, and the interpersonal networks run deep. In fact, the main reason we left in 1991 was because Tonya had a great job offer in Seattle. Plus, on a less practical level, the heroes of fairy tales always leave home to seek their fortunes, a meme that has wormed its way into the American pioneer psyche.
Well, we found our fortune in Seattle - it turns out to have been the growth of TidBITS, a best-selling series of books, a small role in the rise of the Internet, our many close friends, the chance to live high up on a mountain looking out on the Olympic Mountains, and most recently, Tristan. But having found our fortune, it's now time to return home. TidBITS and Tristan will accompany us to Ithaca, of course (though our primary servers will remain in the Seattle area at digital.forest). We'll miss our friends, but the Internet will ensure they don't seem so far away in between visits.
We continue to integrate the Internet into our lives where appropriate, and I hope to write more soon about the different ways we utilized the Internet and our Macs in the process of moving. Plus, it's safe to say that some of the negatives of living in a small town - the lack of a great bookstore, for instance - will fall away in large part with a liberal dose of Internet connectivity, which should in turn help us focus on those aspects of life we feel are the most important.
On a practical note, life has been astonishingly hectic for the last few weeks, and if anything, the logistics involved with selling a house, buying another, and moving not just our possessions but our entire lives across the country will make the next two months overwhelming as well. Geoff Duncan, Jeff Carlson, Matt Neuburg, and Mark Anbinder will make sure TidBITS continues uninterrupted, but they'll all be under additional stress too. In short, we may have trouble maintaining our desired level of responsiveness, so if you can limit email to essentials for a while, we'd all appreciate it. Thanks so much, and see you - as always - on the net.
by Matt Neuburg <email@example.com>
Ten years ago, just two applications embodied for me the prospect of all that was brave and new about the blossoming Macintosh age: Apple's HyperCard and Eastgate Systems' Storyspace. HyperCard let me program little interactive worlds, where I or some other user could push buttons, and read or enter text; it was a superb teaching tool. But, despite its name, one thing that HyperCard wasn't very good at was hypertext. Hypertext! How the idea resonated in my brain, with echoes of Engelbart and Nelson, of Xerox PARC and Xanadu! Text within text within pictures within text, the sum of all knowledge linked mysteriously together ten thousand ways, an ever-unfolding path of discovery opening to the click of a mouse! And Storyspace was all about hypertext.
Storyspace was the subject of the first review I ever wrote for TidBITS back in 1991. Subsequently I used it to create various online hypertext documents, including a presentation of the Ancient Greek verb, a commentary on some Plato text with an embedded Greek grammar, and a manual for SuperPaint.
Nevertheless, Storyspace quickly languished on my Mac. Other ways of storing and retrieving information, mostly outliners and databases and mixtures of the two, took precedence. The rise of HTML and the World Wide Web made hypertext commonplace instead of a curiosity, for which no special software was needed except a browser. Now Storyspace is back with version 2, fully rewritten, with a better interface, a better manual, and with use of current technologies such as drag & drop and contextual menus. It's time for another look.
Once Upon a Time -- A Storyspace document is a container for text snippets. Text can be styled, and there is enough arrow-key navigation to make Storyspace a competent, though primitive, editing environment. You can also import existing styled-text documents, and they can be "busted" into smaller snippets afterwards - at every carriage return, for example. A snippet can include pictures. It can also include references to QuickTime movies, and can have a sound attached to it (but see the bug list later on).
Every snippet has a name, as distinct from the actual text constituting the snippet. The name cannot be styled, it must be shorter than 32 characters, and it helps if it's unique, though this isn't required.
Storyspace arranges your text snippets in a hierarchy - that is, some snippets can be at the top level, and some snippets can be subordinate to other snippets. When viewing the hierarchy, you see the names of snippets; you can drag a name to rearrange the hierarchy, or double-click it to reveal the snippet's text.
You get not one, not two, but four different ways of viewing the snippet hierarchy:
As an outline. The names of the snippets are the lines of the outline; snippets with subordinate snippets have a discovery triangle to their left, to show or hide them, and there is basic arrow-key navigation.
As a chart. This looks like a genealogical diagram turned sideways. The top-level snippet names form a column at the left. If a snippet has sub-snippets, they are listed to its right, and linked to it with lines. (I would have called this a tree, but that term is otherwise engaged; see below.)
As a map. Snippets are portrayed as small rectangles of fixed size with their names at the top. Map view works rather like the Mac OS X Finder's icon view. The rectangles represent the snippets at a single level. If you select a rectangle and press the down-arrow key, the rectangle zooms to occupy the whole window, and now you're looking at the snippets subordinate to it; pressing the up-arrow key lets you zoom back up.
As a treemap. This is like a map in the sense that snippets are shown as rectangles with their names at the top, and in that you can zoom a snippet to dive into it, so that it occupies the whole window. The difference is that you're shown all snippets at all levels below wherever you are. There are no scrollbars; the snippets resize themselves so that they all fit evenly in the window.
You don't change hierarchy views in a single window; rather, you open a new view window of the desired type (e.g. "New Outline View"). You can have as many view windows open as you like. Each view window offers a contextual menu listing all its snippets and letting you select one. A separate window, the Locate window, lists all snippets alphabetically and lets you open a new view on a snippet. So you will almost certainly be able to peer into, and rearrange, all parts of your document in whatever way you find helpful. I should add that when you rearrange the hierarchy in one view window, the contents of all other view windows change to reflect the new arrangement; perhaps I shouldn't be impressed by this, but I found it so cool that I played around with it for hours.
The great weakness of Storyspace's hierarchical organization is the snippet naming scheme. Sticking to 32 characters is a severe restriction - nowhere near enough to give a snippet an informative name. In a document of any size at all, it becomes impossible to identify your snippets by name alone. Yet there are many contexts where that's exactly what you have to do.
The Journey -- Your document has a second level of organization, which comes from hypertext links. A link may emanate from a snippet as a whole, from a particular stretch of text in a snippet, or from a rectangular region of an image. The link may lead to another snippet as a whole or to a particular stretch of its text. Links are very easy to create: if both snippets are visible, and the link is to a snippet as a whole, you select the source, choose Create Link, and click the destination. Otherwise, you link from the source to a floating palette called the Tunnel, and then complete the link from the Tunnel to the destination.
Navigating links is equally simple: basically, you Command-Option-click the source of a link, and the text of its destination snippet opens. Having visited a snippet by way of a link, you can always return to the source snippet. Plus, Storyspace maintains a browser-like history of visited snippets that you can traverse or view.
So far, this sounds like a Web browser; but the interesting part, transcending the Web's capabilities, is what happens when there's more than one link. If several links emanate from a clicked stretch of text, a dialog appears listing the target snippets, letting you choose a link to follow. If several links emanate from the snippet as a whole, then these links are prioritized, and the highest-priority link is followed that doesn't have a "guard field" to prevent its being followed. A guard field is a brief filter letting you impose some simple requirements, such as that particular text be selected, or that a particular snippet has been visited or not visited before this link will be traversed. Obviously, this is valuable in constructing documents that have a measure of interactivity and even unpredictability.
Aside from following links in this automatic way, there are three other means for working with links:
Optionally, a link can have a name. The Paths window lists all link names, and then lists all snippets at either end of any link with a particular name; and from here, of course, you can open a snippet's text. I've always found it disappointing that this feature plays no role in the automatic traversal of links. For example, there's no rule that you'll leave a snippet by a link with the same name as the one you came in on, so there is no way to follow a Path automatically as a means of browsing a document.
Another approach is to choose Browse Links, which brings up a window listing all the links emanating from the current snippet. This window is also where you change a link's name and guard field, and its priority (by changing its position in the list).
The Roadmap window lists the snippets that are sources of links leading into the current snippet, and the snippets that are destinations of links leading out of the current snippet. The Roadmap also shows you the current snippet's text. Plus, you can double-click a snippet in either list to make it the current snippet - and what's more, you're allowed to open multiple Roadmap windows! Obviously this is a powerful link-based way to inspect the document.
The chief weakness of Storyspace's link organization is its treatment of links whose destination is a particular stretch of text. There are two problems. First, when you follow a link to a stretch of text, that stretch is not selected, so you get no indication of what's relevant about the destination text. Second, looking at a stretch of text, there is no way to learn that a link leads into it; this makes your document very difficult to maintain and renders the feature both unpredictable and largely meaningless.
The Key -- A snippet can have any number of keywords associated with it. This is useful primarily in the Find window, where you can find snippets by whether they contain certain text, by whether they have a certain keyword, or both. Unfortunately, you cannot do searches more complex than that - for example, you can't find snippets that have two given keywords.
The other use of keywords is in connection with following links automatically. There are two "magic" keywords, such that when navigating into a snippet that has one of them, an unvisited sub-snippet of that snippet will appear instead; there is another magic keyword that clears the history list, thus causing all snippets to count as unvisited. I must say that I consider this secondary use of keywords confusing and unnecessary; I appreciate that there is a useful distinction to be drawn between a guard field attached to a link and a guard field attached to a snippet, but I can't believe that the keyword feature must be misappropriated in order to implement this distinction.
The Great Escape -- You can work with a Storyspace document on your own, as a way of storing and retrieving information; but what if you want to share this information with others? Eastgate provides three ways to do this.
The first way is to give your recipient a copy of the Storyspace Reader application; this freely distributable application can open your document, and resembles Storyspace itself, bereft of any capacity to edit or save. You get quite a bit of control over how simplified a version of the interface the user will see. For example, you can eliminate view windows, encouraging the reader to navigate the document through links, and you can dictate whether navigating a link closes the source snippet. You also get to choose which of two toolbars the user will see. One toolbar permits free navigation of the hierarchy (go to the next sibling of this snippet, the first sub-snippet of this snippet, and so forth). The other requires that all navigation be done either by clicking within snippets or by typing words; the typed words function like selected text for purposes of guard fields. (That's how you navigate my Greek Verb Paradigm document; if you're looking at the Present Active Indicative, you can type "passive" and presto, you're looking at the Present Passive Indicative.)
The Reader interface has improved greatly from earlier versions, in that the user has access to most of the menu items from Storyspace itself. So, for example, you can do a Find to search on text or a keyword, you can work with the Roadmap, and you can open the Paths window, which makes these features useful in a way they weren't before. On the other hand, perhaps the user has a bit too much power: for example, you can rename links using the Paths window (though this change can't be saved), and you can clear the History list (which can be saved).
Finally, you can export as text. Styles and pictures are lost, but if you are using Storyspace merely as a writing tool, this may be acceptable. You can export all snippets, the current snippet and its sub-snippets, or all snippets belonging to a Path. Template files enable you to customize the export slightly; for example, you can insert a separator between snippets. That's how I wrote this review; I created it in Storyspace, and exported it to Nisus Writer later.
The Final Chapter -- There's no doubt that this is a vastly improved Storyspace: the interface is both simpler and more powerful, and so it's far easier to use. I particularly like the fact that windows - the list of all snippets, the Find dialog, the link browser, and so forth - are now all ordinary windows, without anything being modal. Also, any place a snippet is listed, that listing is the snippet, and you can do with it whatever you would do with the snippet in a view window. For example, when you do a text search, you can drag a snippet from the resulting list into a view window as a way of rearranging snippets. (Oddly, the Paths list is an exception.)
The manual has also been completely rewritten, and is presented as very nice PDF - and for me to call a PDF "nice" means it must be very nice indeed. It's not perfect, but it's darned good.
On the other hand, there are a lot of small interface glitches. Storyspace makes file dialogs, and my menubar clock, appear in unexpected fonts. The cursor doesn't change in customary useful ways: for example, when you're editing text, the cursor is an arrow, not an insertion point. Sometimes a text window goes off into never-never-land: asking to open the window pushes all other windows to the background, but nothing appears. Every once in a while a text window updates incorrectly, becoming illegible. The buttons and scrollbar at the bottom of a text window gradually sink behind the window border every time you save, eventually becoming inaccessible. Some dialogs have slightly misplaced elements, such as checkboxes that overlap. The QuickTime movie feature is more or less unusable, because the movie is difficult to select and play, and tends to vanish unpredictably. The sound recording feature is of poor quality; I presume that this is because a low sampling rate is used to keep the sound small, but it would be more polite to give the user a choice. The dialog where you create a new snippet is misleadingly called Rename. Some preference settings don't always work; for example, I set all new snippets to be created with the New York font, but they used Charcoal instead. In map view, snippet names are slightly larger at 100 percent magnification than at 200 percent, and your magnification setting is not saved with the document. In the Choose a Link dialog, line highlighting is broken. When you delete a link that emanates from text, the text coloring that indicates the presence of the link doesn't go away, and may even grow mysteriously to overwhelm lots of irrelevant text. I realize that some bugs are inevitable, but I would hope to see many of these issues addressed in bug fix updates soon.
Serious hypertext is intriguing, cutting-edge stuff; Eastgate Systems has created a home for authors of such hypertexts, and they even sell original fiction and non-fiction works in Storyspace format. For those searching for truly interesting ways to work with text, whether for personal use or for eventual distribution, Storyspace is definitely worth a look. At the very least, I recommend playing with the demo version and reading through the user stories Eastgate has collected from people in far-ranging fields. You might decide that Storyspace is just what you need.
Storyspace costs $300, or $100 to upgrade from an earlier version. It requires a PowerPC-based Mac running System 7.5 or later. A 3 MB demo version is available for download. There is also a Windows version.
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.
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