If you’re planning to buy a Mac just to prepare for Copland, you might want to think twice: word on the street is that Copland has once again been delayed. Also this week, everything you could want to know about table tools for HTML, info on ShrinkWrap 2.0, news on a flurry of Web browser releases (including Netscape 3.0 and Microsoft Internet Explorer), and the conclusion of Adam’s overview of Internet bookmark management utilities.
Portuguese and French Translators Needed
Portuguese and French Translators Needed — After the success of our call for help translating TidBITS into Dutch, we’d like to see if anyone wishes to help translate TidBITS into Portuguese. We have a few volunteers, but not enough to start the translations. If you’re interested in translating some of TidBITS into Portuguese each week, let me know. Also, the French team could use more volunteers, so if you’re interested in helping with the French translation, drop me and Seth Theriault <[email protected]> a note. The more people who help, the less work it is. [ACE]
Holding Your Breath?
Holding Your Breath? Apple is expected to announce this week that Copland (the codename for the next major version of the Mac OS) will not ship until mid-1997, some six months after the previous estimate. Apple also will not release Copland Developer Release 1 (DR1) to developers at the World Wide Developer’s Conference (WWDC) next month. Although Copland DR0 has been available to selected developers since January, DR1 is to be a significantly wider release with a near-finalized API for managing backward compatibility with existing applications, a crucial component. Though this delay is not expected to impact third-party development significantly (it’s too soon for products to be tied tightly to Copland), this is disappointing news. In the words of one Mac programmer, "Copland had better be cooler than hydrogen ice cubes if Apple expects me to wait any longer." For those keeping track, Apple originally announced plans in early 1994 to ship Copland at the end of 1995. [GD]
ShrinkWrap 2.0 — Chad Magendanz has released a major upgrade to his popular disk image utility ShrinkWrap. ShrinkWrap 2.0 supports large volumes (such as CD-ROMs, hard disks, and removable media), self-mounting disk images, and new image formats (including DiskDup+, Apple Drive Containers, and PC disk image files). Version 2.0 also offers improved scripting, a log, and native performance for both 68K and Power Mac users. ShrinkWrap should appear on Info-Mac and UMich sites shortly; for now it’s at the URLs below. ShrinkWrap remains free for non-commercial individual use; commercial users can register through Kagi Shareware. [GD]
Taming Your Tables
If you’ve ever played around with HTML, you know that typing HTML is a picky, but usually straightforward process. HTML tables can be far more complex than normal HTML. You start a table with a <TABLE> tag and – as you might guess – you end a table with a </TABLE> tag. But, when it comes to specifying where rows and cells start, text alignment, how many columns or rows a given cell spans, and so on, setting up tables turns complicated. Try converting a ten-page spreadsheet with oodles of formatting into an HTML table, and you’ll turn into a whimpering mass of protoplasm, begging for a magic wand to simplify the process.
Although a number of full-blown Web authoring programs help you create tables, few convert existing tables into HTML (the main exception is the $5 shareware BBEdit HTML Tables, a BBEdit extension).
Fortunately, help is at hand through a number of non-commercial programs that convert tab-delimited text files into HTML tables. (For those of you who tuned in recently to the world of computers, you can save most any spreadsheet, database, or word processor table in tab-delimited format. As always, test this on your data before depending on it!) This article won’t cover everything available, so I apologize in advance if I missed your personal favorite. Instead, I’m going to mention a few tools I consider to be the most valuable. All of these tools are available in the HTML directory at any Info-Mac mirror.
TableMaker — If you don’t mind a small learning curve and crave sophistication and flexibility, I recommend Sam Choukri’s $5 shareware TableMaker 1.0.1, which converts a tab- or comma-delimited text file into an HTML document containing the file in table format. TableMaker’s documentation clearly explains how to tweak the application via a text-based settings file, where it enables you to set a caption, custom alignment, cellspacing and cellpadding, border thickness, and so on. If you insert special codes into the text file, you can create cells that span more than one row or column, using the HTML attributes rowspan and colspan.
If I could change one thing about TableMaker, I’d change the way it makes me navigate an Open dialog to open my TableMaker Settings file each time I do a conversion, especially since the dialog contains no directions and I occasionally become confused and re-open the text file instead.
Interestingly, the TableMaker Web site has an interactive version of TableMaker for use over the Web.
HTML TableTool — For ease of use and converting upper-ASCII characters (but not reserved characters) to entities, try HTML TableTool 1.1.2, a freeware utility by Bertil Holmberg that requires HyperCard or HyperCard Player. Unlike most table-making utilities, TableTool presents users with a console-like interface for setting up some aspects of how you want to create a table. You then use the Open button to open a tab-delimited text file, and HTML TableTool responds by putting its HTML output in an editable field within HyperCard. You can tweak the output (if you like) and copy the text into another application; you can also save the code as a text file. Unlike TableMaker, which exports complete HTML documents, HTML TableTool outputs only the HTML needed to create the table. HTML Table Tool’s upper-ASCII conversion can be turned off for long files.
Text->Table — Nathan Cook’s Text->Table 1.1 is a freeware utility that pops up a dialog box in response to you using it to open a tab-delimited text file. The dialog box offers a few options: you can enter a caption, specify whether the resulting file should have just the table tags or also have the necessary tags to create an HTML document. You can also set a few options, like whether it will have a border and whether the first row should have header-style cells or data-style cells.
TableCloth — TableCloth 1.5.2, an AppleScript emailware applet by Ben Elroy, converts tab-delimited text to tables. To use it, you drop a text file on the applet’s icon and then work your way through a few dialog boxes that let you set some aspects of your soon-to-be exported table. You can set any attributes you like within the <TABLE> tag (such as border thickness and cell padding) as well as any attributes inside all row tags and all data cell tags. TableCloth outputs tables as complete HTML documents.
Speed — For the smallish tables typically found on the Web, all four utilities create the necessary HTML within just a second or two. If you need to generate big tables, you might be concerned about speed, so I tested all four utilities with a 13,500 character, tab-delimited text file. The ten by fifty cell table had a few empty cells, some cells slightly populated, and a few cells filled with large paragraphs of text.
TableMaker flew through the sample file in about two seconds. HTML TableTool took about five seconds with high-ASCII conversion off, and a bit over a minute with conversion on. Text->Table took about 30 seconds, and I kept my fingers crossed the entire time because the application gave no indication it was working and displayed a white area on my monitor where its dialog box had been. TableCloth was the slowest of the lot. The first time I tried TableCloth, it churned away for about three minutes and then complained about being out of memory. I quit TableCloth, increased its preferred size from 200K to 1000K, and tried again. On my second try, TableCloth still took three minutes, but completed the job with no problem.
What to Use — Each application works differently and has its own set of pluses and minuses. Generally speaking, for the best marriage of ease of use with flexibility and friendliness, go with HTML TableTool. It’s also the only program converts high-ASCII characters to entities.
Text->Table is perhaps the simplest utility of them all, so if it provides the features you need, you might find it a good choice. Text->Table is also perhaps the fastest to interface with for small tables – it puts up one dialog box that offers a few basic options and then it gets out of your way and does its thing. TableCloth is easy to use, it does give you a little more flexibility in a few instances, and – because it’s an AppleScript – script-savvy HTML authors may be able to incorporate it into a larger sequence of events. TableMaker is perhaps the most sophisticated and was by far the fastest on my speed test, but it requires you to edit a text file.
Also, if you own Excel, you may find it more efficient to import your text file into Excel. You can do visual formatting within Excel and then use Excel to create an HTML table, as explained in the next article, "Excel, HTML Tables, and You."
Excel, HTML Tables, and You
One of the basic tools most HTML authors look for is a simple table editor to spare them the annoying task of constructing HTML tables by hand. Since I generally handle the data I use for HTML tables in Excel spreadsheets, I find an Excel add-in to be a great solution, and this article looks at two commonly available tools that work with any version of Microsoft Excel 5.0 (or Excel 7.0 for Windows 95). The first is the shareware eXcel Table Markup Language (XTML) 1.3 by Ken Sayward; the second is Internet Assistant for Microsoft Excel, a free add-in wizard from Microsoft.
Neither of these add-ins does everything, but both work with a minimum of fuss. You get what you pay for: Microsoft’s free solution provides some interesting options, but the $7 shareware fee for XTML provides a fast-evolving product that’s more compatible with non-Microsoft Web browsers. I looked at an older version of XTML some time ago and discarded it, but now that I have taken a second look I’ll be registering my copy.
Both add-ins work the same way: you select a range of cells and then use the Tools menu to access the add-in. The add-in then uses the range to create an HTML table. I won’t go into a blow-by-blow comparison of every feature, but here’s an overview of some key differences:
- Internet Assistant can write the results to a new file or combine the results with an existing HTML file by using a special HTML tag. XTML only creates a new file.
- XTML has a Preferences submenu that the user can invoke in advance to set up some basic preferences. Internet Assistant, like typical Excel wizards, requires you to verify the preferences within a series of dialog boxes each time it’s used. XTML’s preferences dialog box lets you enable and disable features as you like; with Internet Assistant, it’s basically all or nothing.
- Because you can define basic preferences, XTML is faster to use and more suited to exporting multiple tables quickly.
- Internet Assistant adds typeface and font color tags to your output, but they (currently) only work with Microsoft Internet Explorer.
- Both add-ins try to preserve basic formatting like horizontal alignment, boldface and italicized text, but XTML’s preferences enable you to choose which HTML tags are used in each case (or if they are used at all). Internet Assistant decides for you and uses only the most basic <B> and <I> tags. XTML also offers additional features such as settings for table and column width, and border thickness.
- Both add-ins let you define titles and headings for exported documents; Internet Assistant can also insert the author’s name and email address at the bottom of exported HTML documents.
I started this article as a review of Internet Assistant for Microsoft Excel and only later looked at the most recent release of XTML. Microsoft released Internet Assistant with almost no fanfare; I found out about it when I saw a brief mention of it in MacWEEK. It looked like (and is) a good way to generate HTML tables without buying an expensive special purpose application.
What I wanted was a simple way to keep table data in Excel, create HTML from that on demand, and then copy and paste it into existing HTML files in BBEdit. This means I don’t care if I can define custom titles, headers and footers. Internet Assistant can combine the exported table with an existing HTML file by using a special HTML tag, which seems like a great feature, but I found it of no particular value in my work.
In my opinion, XTML does the job best because it exports cleaner HTML. Not only does it avoid proprietary HTML tags, but the preferences let me make the exported HTML look like the stuff I write myself. I spend little or no time altering its exported HTML.
If you use Excel and need to generate HTML tables once in a while, get Internet Assistant for free from Microsoft’s Web site and you’ll be all set. But if you need a tool you can use regularly, the $7 for XTML is money well spent. The products happily coexist, so don’t hesitate to make your own comparison.
Browsers on the Brain
Just when you thought it was safe to go back on the Web, there’s a flare-up in the mind-share wars between Web browsers. Here’s a quick run-down of some recent forays.
NCSA Mosaic 3.0b1 — Remember Mosaic, the program that started the avalanche of enthusiasm for the Web? NCSA has released a beta of Mosaic 3.0 for Macintosh, featuring support for Internet Config, Open Transport, and a variety of HTML 3.0 tags. This release supports text-to-speech via MacinTalk, an interface for handing other protocols (like FTP) to different applications (like Anarchie), balloon help, the ability to customize the display characteristics of HTML elements (so headings can be in purple Helvetica, and body text in green Geneva, if you like), and support for Netscape frames. Although this release isn’t particularly stable and is still slower than most other browsers over a dial-up connection, it’s a good step forward. The download is about 2 MB.
NetManage WebSurfer — NetManage, the company that produces the Chameleon Internet package for Windows, has unveiled the Macintosh version of its Web browser WebSurfer. WebSurfer 3.0 is a bare-bones browser with some performance and interface quirks that wants 4 MB of RAM. Though it doesn’t support all the features of its Windows cousin, it does support a variety of HTML 3.0 tags and Internet Config. This version of WebSurfer can be freely downloaded; the archive is a little over 1 MB.
Netscape Atlas & Atlas Gold PR2 — Last week, Netscape released its second preview release (PR2) of Netscape Navigator 3.0 and Netscape Navigator Gold 3.0. Codenamed Atlas, these releases are intended to show technology Netscape plans to incorporate in future versions, although many of those features are still unavailable for the Mac. Atlas PR2 supports Internet Config, is Open Transport native, supports Java on Power Macs, and is supposed to have better features for managing helper applications and plug-ins, though that preferences panel refuses to open on my Mac.
The Atlas PR2 download is about 3 MB, and separate versions are available for 68K and PowerPC-based Macs. The application has a minimum RAM allocation of 8 MB, with a suggested allocation of 10 MB. Netscape says that was a mistake, and the minimum should be 7 MB, with a suggested partition of 9 MB, and will update the installer to reflect those changes; somehow, I don’t feel relieved. Response to Atlas PR2 has been mixed, and I cannot report it was stable (or even usable) in my tests. The release expires 31-Jul-96.
Netscape has also released PR2 of Atlas Gold for Power Mac only. Atlas Gold reportedly adds table editing and other HTML authoring tools, but I can’t say more, not having a Power Mac.
<ftp://ftp.netscape.com/pub/navigator/gold/ atlas/pr2/mac/Atlas-Gold-PR2- Installer.hqx>
If you’re among the many Mac users of Internet Explorer who aren’t amused by its "Homage to Windows 95" animation, check out Matthew McRae’s irreverent Internet Explorer Sanitizer. [GD]
More Bookmarks than Books, Part III
When we publish articles that attempt to review a comprehensive collection of a certain type of product, we sometimes miss a few products for one reason or another. Here then, are the products that didn’t make it into the previous two parts of this article, which began in TidBITS-323.
Clay Basket — Dave Winer’s Clay Basket, now at 1.0b8, was one of the first bookmark managers, but in its second major incarnation added Web site management features that drove its bookmark management features into the background. Dave tells us Clay Basket’s third incarnation will reverse direction.
Clay Basket only works with Netscape Navigator and is essentially an outliner, like Frontier’s, that displays bookmarks hierarchically. Although you can drag links from Netscape into Clay Basket’s outline window, that merely creates a new outline item with the URL as the name; it doesn’t make the item hot (you must manually copy the URL into the item’s Location window to make it hot). You can launch the URLs associated with normal hot items by double-clicking their outline triangles. However, if you make an item with a URL into a topic heading, you can only launch its URL by opening its Location window and clicking the Send to Netscape button. Clay Basket can import and edit a Netscape bookmarks file, and it offers a Netscape recording mode. Clay Basket supports non-Web URLs, but only through Netscape. Clay Basket is not so much of a bookmark manager but an alternate editor for Netscape’s bookmarks file (making it unnecessary with Netscape 2.0.x).
In Control 4.0 — Attain’s $85 In Control information manager (with a free limited demo) recently added support for URLs. Like WebArranger, In Control enables you to snag URLs at any time (thanks to an extension) and you can drag & drop URLs into In Control. Also like WebArranger, you can organize bookmarks any way you like (thanks to In Control’s database capabilities). In Control uses Internet Config, can import bookmarks, and can extract URLs from HTML files. Most interestingly, In Control can identify URLs even in other text that you grab, giving you the context of the surrounding text and the capability to launch the related URL. Tim Stein <[email protected]>, who told me about In Control’s new capabilities, feels that In Control is faster and easier to use than WebArranger.
InfoDepot 2.5 — Chena Software’s $189 information management program, InfoDepot, now supports URLs in version 2.5, which is a free upgrade for registered users of 2.4. You can drag URLs into InfoDepot from Web browsers that support drag & drop, and once you have the URLs in InfoDepot, you organize them with InfoDepot’s outlining capabilities. Launching URLs is done via a script, or you can use ICeTEe to Command-click the URLs to launch them via your preferred helper application. InfoDepot supports three URL schemes (http, ftp, and gopher) but doesn’t use Internet Config; instead it routes all URLs through Netscape Navigator. Although it lacks the URL features, Chena offers a free outliner based on InfoDepot 2.4.
SurfBoard 1.0b1 — Abbott Systems’ $39 SurfBoard is perhaps the most attractive of the bookmark managers I’ve seen, featuring an interface reminiscent of a futuristic TV remote control. A tall vertical green button opens the display screen to show your current list of URLs (you can have more than one list). The main list is likely to be long and hard to navigate (although you can sort by name or last access time), so nine "fast dial" buttons in the main screen provide quick access to URLs in categories you set. A blue triangle button at the top of the window lists the last 15 URLs you’ve visited, and a blue "plus" button grabs the current URL from your Web browser (either Netscape Navigator or Internet Explorer). You can drag links into SurfBoard from Netscape, and SurfBoard can import bookmark lists from both browsers. I haven’t used SurfBoard for long, but it looks like a great effort. I’d worry about it bogging down with too many URLs, but its features for making recently accessed URLs available will help a great deal.
URLs R Us — There are a ton of HyperCard stacks that track URLs, and most of these stacks, useful as they may be for their creators, generally aren’t good general purpose solutions. However, Jon Pugh’s URLs R Us stack goes beyond most other HyperCard URL managers because it uses AppleScript to grab URLs from Netscape Navigator or the clipboard, can launch them easily, and has various sorting and finding features. Even more unusual are its features to check Web pages, updating a "Date visited" field and "Title" field. Jon’s stack has a variety of other features as well, so be sure to turn on balloon help when exploring its interface. If you use HyperCard all the time anyway, Jon’s stack is worth a look.
WebPinMaker 1.2.4 — Hisashi Hoda’s free WebPinMaker is an interesting program. At first blush it’s just a way of snagging URLs, and then only from Netscape Navigator. WebPinMaker creates a small windoid that is always available, floating over all other applications. Clicking the push pin icon in that windoid snags the current URLs in one of three formats. You set the formats by zooming the windoid and selecting Pin File (a format that CyberFinder will take over if loaded), Netscape URL, or Self Launch. A Pin file is a WebPinMaker file that launches its URL by launching WebPinMaker first. A Netscape URL is the same as what you’d get by dragging a bookmark out of Netscape 2.0’s bookmark list. A Self Launch file is the self-extracting version of a URL: double-click it and it launches the URL itself without needing WebPinMaker around (which is true of the Netscape URL file as well, and they’re smaller).
Other Comments — Readers always send in lots of tips when we publish articles of short reviews, and I wanted to share a few of the more interesting ones. First off, Mel Patrick, author of WabbitDA, wrote to pass on a correct email address: <[email protected]>.
Alco Blom <[email protected]>, author of URL Manager, writes:
I’d like to mention one powerful feature of URL Manager (that you indeed included in your review) that I use frequently in combination with TidBITS – the Scan Text command. Drop a TidBITS issue on URL Manager’s window (or use drag & drop with a whole chunk of TidBITS text), and voila, you have imported all hypertext links mentioned in that issue.
Aleks Totic <[email protected]> wrote to tell us that if you drag bookmarks or folders from Netscape’s bookmarks window to the Finder while CyberFinder is loaded, you get CyberFinder bookmarks. The reverse is true as well, so dragging CyberFinder bookmarks or folders from the Finder to Netscape’s bookmarks window creates Netscape bookmarks.
Outliners — A number of people mentioned using other outliners, specifically Acta and Frontier, to store URLs. Although getting URLs into these programs isn’t generally easy, launching URLs via ICeTEe is trivial.
Finding in the Finder — A criticism of bookmark managers that rely on the Finder (like CyberFinder) is that they don’t seem to have sophisticated searching capabilities. You can search for the name of a bookmark file, but what if you want to search for text that appears in the URL itself? You can if you have System 7.5’s Find File program.
Open Find File and select the disk(s) in which you want to search. Click the More Choices button to reveal a second set of menus. From the first pop-up menu, choose "creator," and in the text entry field to its right, enter "URL1" (sans quotes). That limits the search to files created by CyberFinder (though you could enter the creator for any bookmark manager). Now, press Option while choosing contents from the second pop-up menu (contents won’t appear unless you hold down Option). Then, type the text you want to find in the text entry field to the right, say "apple" to find all sites whose URLs contain the string "apple". Finally, click the Find button.