Best Enterprises recently released World Wide Web Weaver 1.0. This commercial release looks like Best Enterprise’s shareware HTML Web Weaver, but its code is totally new. Best Enterprises re-wrote the application to eliminate bugs and make general behind-the-scenes changes. World Wide Web Weaver (which I will call "Web Weaver" for the duration of this review) isn’t for Web professionals who maintain large sites or who need macros – for those people, I still recommend BBEdit or Nisus Writer. However, for people getting started with HTML authoring, Web Weaver could be a useful tool.
Web Weaver requires System 7 and comes with a suggested RAM allocation of 1700K. The program costs $50, or $75 for an annual subscription which includes all releases in that year. Web Weaver also has an educational cost of $30 ($55 for a subscription). Through the end of 1995, registered users of HTML Web Weaver 2.5.x can purchase Web Weaver for $25 (or $15 educational).
Getting Started — Unlike the $99 (list) PageMill (see TidBITS-305), which shields users completely from HTML, Web Weaver assists users in directly applying HTML tags, and displays tags in HTML documents as users add them. Web Weaver doesn’t enforce HTML rules – users can apply tags willy-nilly and Web Weaver won’t complain. This free form approach is 180 degrees from the rigid approach of the $199 (street price) HoTMetaL Pro, which does not permit incorrect tags.
As Web Weaver launches, it opens a document called Untitled.html. Untitled.html opens with a few tags helpfully pre-inserted. These tags – start and end versions of <HTML>, <HEAD>, <TITLE>, and <BODY> make up the basic structure that envelopes an HTML document.
Web Weaver displays tags in a different style from text, and it displays tagged text appropriately for how it is tagged. For instance, <STRONG>-tagged text looks strong (by default, it shows in bold). Users can easily customize the font, style, size, or color of tags and text. Unfortunately, Web Weaver sometimes mixes up its text and tags, and shows text in the colors and format of the tags. The Scan for Tags command in Web Weaver is supposed to make the tag and text colors show correctly; unfortunately, it doesn’t always work.
Web Weaver offers about five different ways to apply tags, and you can give any tag a custom keyboard shortcut if you don’t like its default shortcut. Web Weaver comes with many tags already listed in its menus, toolbar, and palettes, and you can add your own tags, including highly customized tags, such as an anchor tag with a MAILTO attribute and any email address.
Web Weaver reflects today’s melting pot of HTML tags, and users can insert tags with no regard as to whether they are HTML 2.0, in the HTML 3.0 spec, Netscape extensions, or what have you. In this respect, Web Weaver and PageMill share a big problem – the programs do not help users determine what flavors of HTML they are creating. Web Weaver does have a preview that can show documents in different installed browsers, but I’d like it to display different flavors of HTML tags in different colors so users can see what they are doing.
Why Care about HTML Flavors? I’d like the Web and HTML to avoid one of the biggest problems with the way word processors have evolved. Even now, word processor users find it difficult (if not impossible) to convert documents between different programs. Oh sure, lots of converters are out there, but few reliably translate most layouts and features. I can’t tell you what Adam and I have gone through trying to find a Word 5/6 converter that reads and writes Nisus Writer 4.x files and reliably retains all paragraph styles. (The DataViz MacLink Plus converter is essentially unacceptable, although we’ve managed to make it work sporadically.)
One great thing about HTML is that it has the potential to become standardized in every sense of the word – the potential to be a language everyone can write and everyone can display as it was written. I fear HTML will fail to become standardized, and we will end up with two big end-user headaches: gobs of HTML documents that cannot be shared between HTML editors without all hell breaking loose, and browsers that use largely incompatible sets of tags as multiple companies struggle to dominate the industry.
More Features — Web Weaver comes with a table editor, which is quite helpful for simple tables, but not a complete solution for complex tables or tables that must be updated from time to time. Although I did not test this personally, according to Best Enterprises, Web Weaver can import "tables created in Word, Excel or any other program that can save tables in a tab separated format."
Web Weaver has a rudimentary Find and Replace command, though it desperately needs a Replace Then Find option. It could also use a Wrapping option so you can easily start a Find operation at any location in a document and finish at that same location. I hope future versions will fix these problems and add basic wildcard options.
Web Weaver handles special characters, and it shows them as the named entities required by HTML. If you set it up right, Web Weaver can also display these characters as the actual characters, so users composing HTML documents in languages that use frequent upper ASCII characters will find Web Weaver usable. If, however, you import a document containing named entities, or you convert the display of upper ASCII characters from showing characters to showing entities, Web Weaver cannot reverse the operation and show the entities as characters.
I think Web Weaver shows promise, and I look forward to future versions. I’d like to see the interface enlarged – the buttons are small, the pull down menus in the vertical toolbar are minuscule, the palettes have tiny text in them, and the dialog boxes appear vertically squashed. I’d also like improvements in the awkward dialog box for creating links. The dialog presents different text fields for different parts of a URL, instead of providing field for entering the entire URL – when I enter a URL, I don’t want to think about the scheme, path, and so on. If you copy and paste URLs into HTML documents, you can work around this process by clicking the dialog’s Import URL From Clipboard button, which effectively lets you "paste" into the dialog.
In the meantime, HTML amateurs will likely find Web Weaver easier to use and more engaging than a text editor or word processor. If you have difficulty seeing small objects or reading small text on a Mac screen, Web Weaver isn’t for you. A bunch of sixth graders, though, should have a screaming good time putting Web Weaver through its paces.
A fully-functional demo version of Web Weaver is available.
Best Enterprises — 315/265-0930 — <[email protected]>