UCS, University of Newcastle
The aim of this project was to perform a cross-platform (Macintosh, Unix and Windows) survey of World-Wide Web (WWW) software tools and to report briefly on as many as possible under the constraints of time, software costs and equipment available. It was not within the remit of the project to make specific recommendations.
The market is very volatile and there is a huge number of tools with more appearing literally every day. Because of this we have mainly concentrated on servers, browsers and HTML tools; coverage of other areas has of necessity been somewhat patchy due to time constraints. In the course of the survey we have identified 33 servers, 38 browsers, 82 HTML tools and 61 miscellaneous others, including log analysis, helpers, graphics, imagemaps and bookmark managers, plus 12 online tools, mainly HTML validation services.
Details are available at http://www.ncl.ac.uk/wwwtools/
The World-Wide Web provides an unusual business model, whereby companies offer software with very attractive pricing, or sometimes even free of charge. This tends to be done as an attempt to set standards or to "increase market share" (although what this means in this environment is quite a different matter). Some shareware and freeware tools written by individuals are either very much under development or have been abandoned by their authors. Others have been competently written and should not be ignored as, in the current atmosphere, commercial products are guaranteed no greater longevity.
Choice of tools will ultimately depend upon personal preferences and/or institutional circumstances. The following sections are intended to provide starting points in the process (demonstration copies of the great majority of tools are available). A summary of tools with URLs is given in the Appendix.
Fierce competition, in addition to better quality products, has led to more all-encompassing software being made available. The normal definition of a browser has become somewhat blurred in that most recent offerings have mail and news facilities built-in. Some, such as Netscape Navigator Gold, even include HTML authoring facilities.
One way in which the companies offering browsers have tried to distinguish their product from others is by the addition of specific features such as Netscape's security, tables and plug-ins. This generally tends to make the product more usable but it has also led to larger and larger browsers, both in terms of disk storage and, more worryingly, memory requirements. There are smaller `footprint´ browsers available, but the trend seems to be for one, all-encompassing client, that can play movies, run VRML demonstrations, allow real-time downloading of audio, handle news and mail requirements, and incidentally show standard HTML documents.
Apple's novel Cyberdog Internet is a departure from this trend, in that it is made up entirely of OpenDoc parts. OpenDoc is a component technology, endorsed by many vendors (such as Oracle, IBM and Netscape but not Microsoft) that allows components of the system to be changed at will. This should mean that if you don't like the emailer or the browser part of the system, you can substitute another part that does work to your satisfaction (always assuming such a part exists). This also means that as small, or as large, an Internet information client as you wish can be created.
There is currently only one browser that is truly cross-platform, and that is Netscape Navigator. Version 2.0 (with bug fixes) is the most preferable as, although it can have prodigious memory requirements, it is almost a de-facto standard. NCSA Mosaic has suffered from a relative lack of development, although a version 3 beta, which answers this, has just been released for the Macintosh, with the Unix and Windows versions likely to follow. Spyglass Mosaic is more highly developed across all three platforms but costs $200.
This is really a choice between Netscape Navigator 2.0 and Microsoft Internet Explorer 2.0. Netscape is the preference of many, but Explorer has the advantage of its much smaller footprint and faster operation. In fact, it would not be imprudent to suggest that both browsers should be used. However, the Cyberdog system, if the appropriate OpenDoc parts are made available, would make for a very much more personalised browser than is ever likely to be offered by either Netscape or Microsoft.
Netscape Navigator is strong, particularly as it is also available on the other platforms, although the current lack of plug-ins means it is lagging behind in the value-added areas of PC and Macintosh. Arena remains a useful testbed for HTML 3 features, NCSA Mosaic and Chimera still have advocates, and Lynx is invaluable if a line-mode browser is required.
Netscape Navigator, Microsoft Internet Explorer and NCSA Mosaic, together constitute a sizeable part of the PC browser market. However, Oracle's PowerBrowser stands out as being interesting, supporting Java and Secure Socket Layers, and coming with its own integrated personal server.
HTML tools appear to be converging upon something which will allow full What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) editing to take place in a browser window, and which will incorporate syntax, spelling and link checking in addition to page management facilities. For example, INRIA is already producing Amaya as part of Project Opera: this is a browser-based WYSIWYG editor for Unix and Windows which will support the full HTML 3 specification, client-side imagemaps, mathematical formulæ and style sheets. It will be freely available within the next few months.
Two editors run on Macintosh, Unix and Windows: GNNPress and Hotmetal 2. Both are free (although the "professional" version of Hotmetal costs $195) and are two of the better editors available.
GNNpress is a full WYSIWYG editor which includes a built-in link checker and a limited page management facility. Editing takes place directly in a fully-functional browser window with drag and drop editing within and between windows. In addition, the raw HTML can be viewed and edited.
Hotmetal is a semi-WYSIWYG editor which includes document validation for HTML 2, HTML 3 and Netscape extensions. Images, links, text styles and tables are shown WYSIWYG (forms are not). HTML tags and URLs can be shown or hidden, thus providing a reasonable preview.
Internet Assistant for Word 6 and the PageMaker HTML Author plugin can be used on both Macintosh and Windows. Navigator Atlas Gold, which provides WYSIWYG editing in a browser window, is available for both the PowerMac and Windows 95/NT, although the PowerMac preview version examined was somewhat unstable. In the blue sky department, PowerMac and Unix versions of HotDog are promised.
Alongside GNNPress and Hotmetal, Adobe's PageMill, which is a full WYSIWYG editor, stands out. Version 1 was lacking in support for tables but version 2, which addresses this deficiency and which adds many more features, has just been announced. Of the non-WYSIWYG editors, the shareware PageSpinner is worthy of consideration, as is the conventional editor BBEdit, with its powerful multi-file find/replace function and plethora of HTML extensions. Many of the other non-WYSIWYG editors betray their HyperCard origins.
The choice of Unix HTML tools is rather sparse. In addition to GNNPress and Hotmetal, asWedit, a non-WYSIWYG editor, is the most worthy of mention for its range of features, including syntax and spell checking.
There are two further WYSIWYG editors for Windows: InContext Spider, which displays documents in both WYSIWYG and logical format and has an integral syntax checker, and Live Markup Pro. Many of the non-WYSIWYG editors are worthy of consideration, depending on the facilities required. HotDog Pro and Webber stand out: both incorporate a syntax checker with Webber adding a spelling checker and HotDog Pro a link checker and built-in previewer.
32-bit editors for Windows 95/NT are now becoming more common. Of note are CMed, for its wide range of tags and sensible treatment of Netscape and Microsoft extensions; WebThing, for its conversion of word processed text, simultaneous multiple browser support, autocopy mode and cross reference function; and Web Media Publisher, for its support of frames, Java and ShockWave.
When faced with the choice of which server to run, there are two major sites available which offer more detailed analysis of market trends and major features of most of the available servers than was possible or within the remit of this report. We would recommend that anyone looking for an institutional or departmental server consults
The server market is currently dominated by Unix rather than by PCs running Windows NT or Macintoshes. This is probably an historical legacy, and the trend now seems to be away from the complications of running a Unix machine towards simpler Macintosh and PC solutions. This trend will probably continue, although the advantages in terms of integration into distributed filesystems and the heavy presence of Unix skills at many sites means that Unix servers will stay popular for some time.
A trend among web servers is the introduction of GUI based installation and maintenance, such as is found with Spinner or WebSTAR. This has clear attractions, particularly for those just starting to run a web server. Others consider GUI interfaces to be overkill for what is often essentially a once-only setup and configuration exercise. The Netscape Proxy Server, for example, can be configured, restarted and fine-tuned from a browser, but really to appreciate what is happening it is still necessary to understand the syntax of the configuration files written by the GUI manager.
Macintosh servers are noted for their ease of setup, with CGI scripts being executed using AppleScript, Frontier or Perl.
Webstar is the leading Macintosh server, and has the advantage of being commercial software that is being constantly uprated (recently, Open Transport compatibility has been added). It can be controlled remotely via a GUI, allows straightforward MIME type set up, creates logs in the standard format expected by log analysers and has interfaces to database software such as Butler and Filemaker Pro. Its shareware partner, MacHTTP, has some features not present in Webstar.
NetPrezenz is written by Peter Lewis (a well known shareware author) who is renowned for his excellent products. It is an FTP, gopher and WWW server which is available for the very reasonable sum of $10. It is not so fully featured as Webstar but is definitely a useful addition to a Mac webmaster's toolkit.
In the Unix world, the Apache server has taken over from NCSA httpd (from which it evolved) as the most used server. Apache offered many attractive features, such as support for virtual hosts, performance enhancements and built-in support for server-side imagemaps at a time when NCSA's server was just emerging from a long period of stagnation. NCSA's server now offers many of the same features, and it is true to say that if a solid, high performance, well supported, standards-compliant server driven from the command line is needed then either will do the job well.
The Netscape server has an advantage over the NCSA and Apache servers in that it is also available for Windows NT and has a GUI setup interface which may be considered an advantage.
For an interesting alternative to the mainstream servers, Spinner stands out as a highly modular, GUI maintained server.
Many other Unix servers are proof-of-concept systems with a possibly limited medium-term support commitment. This is not to dismiss them, as many are sophisticated, perform well or provide unique services (such as GN, which can talk both gopher and http). However, if an institutional or departmental server is being set up it might be advisable to choose a conservative, mainstream server with a clear development path. Exceptions to this would be situations where a server meets the needs of a particular niche; for example the Oracle server would be of particular interest to sites requiring integration with corporate Oracle databases.
Due to lack of access to appropriate hardware, we were unable to give Windows NT servers the attention that their increasing market share deserves. Of the mainstream servers, Netscape and Microsoft clearly cannot be ignored. Netscape has the advantage that it is also available under Unix, whereas the promise of integrating MS Office applications with the Web is a incentive to look at Microsoft's server. There are also many advocates in the NT community of O'Reilly's Website server.
As far as we have been able to find, these are available for Macintosh and PC only. They range in functionality from simple URL storage to software that is able to create agents that check specified web sites for changes in content at pre-set intervals. Of these, Smart Bookmarks for Windows stands out for its organisational, web page download and agent creation facilities. Macintosh bookmark managers, with the exception of WebArranger, tend to be of the organisational variety only, and choice is very much a matter of personal preference, although URL Manager is worth consideration.
Many of the graphic applications available for Macintoshs and PCs will perform the operations usually necessary to produce graphics suitable for the web (format conversion, transparent GIFs, colour reduction, scaling etc.). A by no means exhaustive selection of these is presented on the web pages. For Unix, xv is the application most commonly used for these purposes.
The GIF Construction Set (Windows) and GifBuilder (Macintosh) can be used to produce animations. For Windows 95, Egor Animator can be used to produce Java animations.
Again, almost any application can be used as a helper for a web browser and some of these are given on the web pages. A useful testing facility and source of helpers, the WWW Viewer Test Page is listed under on-line tools. Helpers are, in general, becoming less necessary as browser plug-in technology develops.
Mapedit is available for both Unix and Windows. It handles JPEG, PNG or GIF images and produces client- or server-side (NCSA or CERN) map files. For the Macintosh, Webmap supports PICT or GIF images and produces server-side (NCSA or CERN) map files.
GNNPress and the PageMaker HTML author plugin will perform link checking on the HTML document being edited. For Windows, there are two dedicated packages, CyberSpyder and WebDick.
The production of data on usage statistics is increasingly seen as an essential part of any webmaster's responsibilities. Being able to detect increases in server load helps with forward planning as well as aiding the discovery of server problems. Standards compliant web servers write their logs in Common Log Format, meaning that if an appropriately sophisticated log analysis tool is not available for the server's platform, the logs can be moved elsewhere to be analysed. Most servers have traditionally not provided their own log analysis tools, although the trend is now for them to do so, and for them to provide real-time analysis of the server's performance.
Of the log analysis tools identified, only Analog is available for all three platforms. It has a very large array of analysis and display options, as well as being fast and free. Netstore's 3Dstats is an interesting concept, although we could not get it to produce a VRML world of our logs in the time available. Another interesting view of server logs is provided by Sam Shen's Web of Accesses.
It may be significant that, while most Unix log analysis tools are provided
free of charge, most PC tools are either shareware or commercial products.
As the average web site becomes larger and more complex, tools for automatic site creation and management may well become the next development explosion, although comparatively little in this area is currently available. One trend is for editor-server combinations such as the proprietary GNNPress/GNNServer and Microsoft FrontPage, and the non-proprietary Amaya and SiteMill. The second approach is that of Clay Basket for the Macintosh, which combines with a scripting language (Frontier) to provide a template-driven facility for automatic HTML markup and site update.
The primary conclusion is that there is a very large number of good WWW software tools offered either commercially or as shareware, and that this number is growing without any visible slow-down at the present time. This is illustrated by the fact that, although the survey has occupied many more man-hours than was originally allowed for, there are many tools, and information sources which will yield more tools, still outstanding. Merely checking the content of the related web pages and bookmarking them if appropriate is not a trivial task. Further, the pace of change is such that software examined at the beginning of this project is quite likely to have gone through at least one significant update before the publication of this report.
Certain areas, such as Windows NT servers, indexing systems and webcrawlers have been neglected due to time constraints and we believe that these, in addition to the key areas highlighted herein, are worthy of their own surveys.
Lest this seem too negative, the list of tools produced is one of the most, if not the most, current and comprehensive available. If further expanded and, more importantly, kept up to date, it would be an invaluable time-saving resource for the Community. If left to stagnate, it will be valueless within a few months.
It is therefore recommended that resources should be found to maintain and expand the web pages produced at whichever site is deemed appropriate, and that contributions to them should be actively solicited from the UK Academic Community at large, and possibly also from the software companies themselves. As a less labour-intensive alternative, it may be possible to to use a dedicated search engine or a customised search agent, such as that provided by Verity .
A secondary conclusion is that, with a few specialist exceptions, no company can afford to charge a high price for web tools, the competition is much too fierce. Examples are the GNNPress editor which (as NaviPress) cost $99 when this project started and which is now free, and the price reductions given to Education by Netscape on its web and proxy servers. In view of the current pace of change, we feel that any lengthy evaluations and negotiations with vendors would in general be premature at this stage. We believe that, especially in the area of HTMLtools, most vendors would be amenable to granting academic site licences if they do not already do so.
Further details are at http://www.ncl.ac.uk/wwwtools/
Graphics Multimedia Virtual Environments Visualisation Contents