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Globetrotter: Brilliant Yet Bewildering

Globetrotter Web Publisher 1.1.1, created by Akimbo Systems (publishers of the FullWrite word processor), blends word processing and HTML editing features to make a brilliant but bewildering Web authoring tool.


Excuses, Excuses — Ideally, TidBITS would have published this review in late 1996, soon after Globetrotter 1.0 shipped. Unfortunately, I was slowed by my Macintosh’s strange crashing problems with Modern Memory Manager turned off (more on that later), Globetrotter’s documentation, and my false expectation that Globetrotter shipped as it was billed in pre-release versions – as software intended for people who want to print documents and publish them as Web sites.

Instead, over time, I learned that Globetrotter is aimed at those who want to make Web pages using word processing tools. Globetrotter also works reasonably well for producing printed documents, but that’s primarily a side-effect of the fact that Globetrotter has much in common with FullWrite.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy — Open a new Globetrotter document, and you’ll see a rich set of menus. Some have a good set of keyboard shortcuts, but others – particularly menus for tables and forms – lack shortcuts.

You’ll also notice buttons for switching between Browser View and Page View. In Browser View, you cannot make changes, but you can see how your document might appear on the Web. In Page View, you can edit documents, and additional buttons (such as two-page view) appear and modify Page View. I spent most of my time in Page View because my Mac crashed four of the first five times I tried to switch into Browser view.

To make a Web page in Globetrotter, just start typing. You can also paste in text or import files via XTND. You can apply formats like bold, small caps, or strikeout, change fonts and sizes, and even change text color. Globetrotter refers to formats using word processing terminology, with nary an <EM> or <STRONG> to be seen.

There are few ways to control (or – in some cases – predict) how Globetrotter will convert formats to HTML. If you have no interest in HTML, you won’t care, since the resulting Web pages tend to look fine. You can customize the occasional format; for instance, you can turn off <FONT FACE> so font choices don’t end up in the HTML.

Globetrotter feels like a word processor. Sometimes this is good, but other times it’s weird, because Globetrotter operates on a printed page metaphor, not a screen metaphor. When you insert a page break after a few inches of text, you see a big blank area representing the rest of a sheet of paper. The blank area only shows in Globetrotter, not on the Web, and there’s no way to set a custom page size that equates to a screen.

The bulk of Globetrotter’s Web publishing features are accessible through a regrettably modal, multi-tabbed Web Setup dialog box where you configure most Web-related details: whether recent changes should be color-coded or take on a "NEW!" graphic, the appearance of the default horizontal rule, settings for a navigation bar, and so on.

Slip Between the Style Sheets — Globetrotter beats the PageMill-and-friends crowd with its ability to connect styles to how text appears on the Web. For example, to structure a site quickly, you could style main topics with a paragraph style called "Contents." Your site would consist of one Globetrotter file, but each topic would automatically appear at the top of a new Web page, tagged as an <H1> heading.

Contents-styled topics could appear in a navigation bar on each page (a text-based bar or one based on Globetrotter’s limited button set). Main topics could also appear in a bulleted list on a separate page or at the bottom of the first page. But, there’s no way to customize this list, and no way to create list sub-heads.

In Globetrotter, you can’t see the list or the navigation bars, but they do appear when you preview or export to HTML. (Akimbo prefers the term "publish" instead of "export.") Styles strike me as the most important part of Globetrotter, and I can’t understand why Akimbo demoted them to the bottom of a long menu, with no keyboard shortcuts. It would also be handy for Globetrotter to come with styles pre-set to match HTML tags. Styles like "Heading1" or "IndentedQuote" would easily map to HTML tags without confusing users, and they might push authors towards creating well-structured documents where tags indicate text’s function in a document, not just its appearance.

Links — Linking options are weak in Globetrotter. Linked text appears with a dotted underline, but you cannot wave the mouse over linked text to see the URL; instead, you must double-click the text to open a dialog containing the URL. Other problems include no single-step method for removing link information and no way to access frequently or recently used URLs.

Although savvy Globetrotter users can handle intra-site links through styles, Globetrotter can also convert URLs in the text to links, or you can make links by hand. If you create a link by hand, you can choose a picture or button to represent the start of the link. The text that acts as the start of the link automatically appears in the button.

Globetrotter has no link verification feature, but it can store URLs in its glossary. To use a stored URL, you type its name in angle brackets, like this: "<<URLname>>". On export, Globetrotter automatically swaps in the correct URL. If the URL changes, you simply change the glossary entry and export again.

Graphics — Globetrotter has numerous graphics-related features and offers some uncommon ones. For instance, text formatted with fonts like Zapf Dingbats or Symbol converts to a graphic when you export to HTML. Additionally, horizontal rules can be individually customized or take on characteristics from the Web Setup dialog box, where you can even substitute a graphic for the standard horizontal rule.

Globetrotter accepts PICT, PNTG, JPEG, and GIF files. Graphics can be linked from a document or incorporated into the document file. The program has transparency and interlacing features, and it can add <ALT> tags to images. There’s no way to resize graphics by dragging their edges, though you can type numbers to change the height or width, or resize by percentage. Globetrotter can align a graphic with respect to text in a paragraph, but these alignments don’t display in Page View, and popular options for wrapping text left or right of a graphic are not available.

Although the half-baked alignment feature is a disappointment, image maps work well, with full support for client- and server-side options. The image map editor does a good job with the usual suite of features (sans a zoom), plus the capability to set <ALT> tags for any image map section and optionally have them show up in a text-based navigation bar below the image.

Globetrotter sidebars can contain either graphics or text callouts, and they float on a page, with text wrapping around them. When published to the Web, the contents of a Globetrotter sidebar can convert to a graphic, a good way to create jazzy looking headlines. Sidebars can also be ignored, or published as separate, linked-to pages. Linked-to pages are titled with the contents of their first paragraph, and there’s no way to customize that. Sidebars are another example of where word processing concepts feel funny, because you’d never guess to employ a sidebar to accomplish these tasks. Instead, you might look in vain for a Text to Graphic or Link to Page command.

Forms — Choose Insert Form Here and Globetrotter pops up a dialog box asking how the form will communicate with your Web server. You can enter a URL to any CGI, or set up extensive options for how results might be mailed to you or stored in a tab-delimited text file. Options include the subject of the email file and an acknowledgment page that people receive after filling out the form. Globetrotter creates Perl scripts for these options (Perl 4 or 5, or MacPerl), and such scripts should work on a wide variety of servers, though people using Macintosh Web servers must set up an AppleScript for the email feature.

Form elements are inserted from a menu and as you insert most elements, a detailed configuration dialog box opens. For each element, you can indicate whether its value should appear on the optional acknowledgment page. Regrettably, there is no toolbar or keyboard shortcuts for inserting form elements; Globetrotter comes with a Form Toolbar folder (in the Extras folder) that contains clipping files of form elements, but it’s not much faster to drag elements in than it is to choose them from the menu.

General Web Publishing Features — In addition to features I’ve already mentioned, Globetrotter has a Get Info dialog box that estimates download times for each page. There are options for including Java applets and embedding plug-in-type objects, and it’s even possible to create annoying running type in the bottom of a browser window. In another feature list checkmark, Globetrotter has a Post command for uploading to a remote server.

Tables — HTML table support is present, and it’s possible to set up many table options, like vertical alignments, colors, and cell padding. Formatting is easy, though the modal Table Format dialog box has no Apply button, so experimenting with different table formats takes a lot of mousing. Some cell formats, most notably vertical alignment, must be set by double-clicking a tab marker in the ruler above the table. You can select cells horizontally and then apply a format (such as bold), but you cannot select vertically in order to format an entire column in one step. Globetrotter exports tables nicely to HTML, and even inserts extra characters to accommodate browsers that don’t understand table tags.

I ran into a bothersome problem where table cells wouldn’t select or deselect properly. Akimbo eventually identified the problem as a bug with using black as the selection color.

Writing Tools — Globetrotter packs a pile of helpful writing tools. The spelling checker ignores URLs and email addresses and can be controlled almost completely from the keyboard. It has a Valid in Doc command for indicating that words are correct only in the context of a particular document. The thesaurus strikes me as useful and friendly. The glossary combines an "auto-correct" feature with the more traditional ability to store frequently used bits of text, and the bits can be lengthy (according to Akimbo, they can exceed the often-bothersome 32K limit inherent to many such features).

The reasonably capable Find dialog box can find and replace based on formatting information, and it supports a limited set of wild cards, an important, though undocumented feature: few people will guess at Option-X to represent any word and Shift-Option-? to represent a character.

In short, compared to most HTML editors, Globetrotter offers more mature writing tools. It can sort numerically or alphabetically, offers clipboard-related commands like Copy Append and Paste Swap, and has variables for inserting updating elements like change date (complete with what look like features for running a print merge, though the documentation is silent on this topic).

However, Globetrotter lacks two important word processing features. The first is a multiple undo, which I increasingly consider a necessity. Second, Globetrotter’s outliner occupies a prominent position in the interface but is only good for creating the Web equivalent of basic lists, not for outlining an entire document. The outliner would shine if outline levels could be linked to Globetrotter’s styles, which can be easily linked to HTML tags.

Weak Documentation — Anyone who doesn’t already know Akimbo’s FullWrite will have a tough time learning Globetrotter, and even FullWrite aficionados will have trouble divining some of Globetrotter’s unique features. Learning the ins and outs of Globetrotter has felt like a frustrating dialog with a teacher who gives bad grades but rarely explains the topic at hand.

The interface does not lend itself to exploration; there is no toolbar and thus no tool tips, and nothing like Balloon Help or helpful dialog box comments. The heart of the Web-based documentation, called the Answer Guide, has about ten pages: Using Tables, Creating Forms, Formatting, and so on, and each page has a long list of questions and answers. There’s no detailed table of contents and no index. I’ve read the documentation completely, and some of it multiple times. Even so, on many occasions, I only found out how to do something by inferring from a reference in the documentation, through the printed FullWrite manual, or by asking Akimbo directly.

Memory Madness — Try to use Globetrotter on a Power Mac running any version of the Mac OS before 7.5.5, and it won’t launch with Modern Memory Manager turned on, a trait perhaps unique to Globetrotter amongst all currently shipping Macintosh programs. Akimbo does this to avoid crashing, and points the finger at Apple as the cause of the problems. I found it tremendously annoying until I upgraded to Mac OS 7.6, because my Mac crashed frequently without Modern Memory Manager turned on, and basic troubleshooting failed to solve the problem.

Too Many Features, Too Little Documentation — Globetrotter has a perplexing mix of word processing and Web site tools, almost as though Akimbo included a ton of features from FullWrite and then didn’t have the mettle to look at the octopus it had created and sever some of the nonsensical arms. This impression comes in large part from the interface, which highlights trivial options like two-page view and outlining at the expense of important Web options like styles and the features accessible only through the modal Web Setup dialog.

I have no quarrel with creating Web pages in a word processing environment, but I find it annoying to have irrelevant aspects of word processing thrust on me. If Globetrotter is for Web publishing, its documents don’t look like it. Document windows should look more like a screen and less like a sheet of paper. Documents should be editable in a view that shows their approximate Web appearance, not a print preview. Sites should optionally display in a graphical or hierarchical overview so it’s easy to understand the relationships between pages.

If you use FullWrite and have little interest in learning HTML basics, Globetrotter may be a good choice for you. I think most people will find Globetrotter much better in its next release, when – hopefully – Akimbo will give the interface a makeover and supply more complete and better-organized documentation.

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According to Akimbo, to run Globetrotter, you need at least a 68020-based Mac running System 7.0, but they recommend a 68040- or PowerPC-based machine running System 7.5 or higher. You also need 4 MB available application RAM and between 1 and 5 MB of disk space. Akimbo sells Globetrotter for $99 via a Web download. A 1.9 MB demo is available from the Globetrotter Web site.

Akimbo Systems — 800/375-6515 — 617/776-5500 — <[email protected]>

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