OmniWeb being ported to Rhapsody - fwd

Wendy J. Mattson (
Mon, 23 Jun 97 18:07:52 -0700

Interesting to see the developments with OmniWeb, even though the
writer does not really know whereof he speaks. I could have written
a more clueful -- and correctly spelled -- article. :-)
["....the heart and _sole_ of any Web browser ", indeed!]

The way the article is written (non-specific, general, no names of
developers, poor spelling and grammar) makes me wonder if the author
spent much time on it, or ever actually *used* the software... or
saw the app in action -- maybe he only heard about it by phone or
something. Goofy.



OmniWeb Inside Look: OpenStep Web Browser Coming to Rhapsody

Report by: Dan Hughes (_dhughes@webintosh.com_)
June 23, 1997

When Apple Computer made the decision to purchase NeXT in late
December of last year, their obvious intentions for the acquisition
were to jump start their ailing operating system division via the
OpenStep environment. But along with the expectations of receiving a
world-class, battle tested, cutting-edge product, Apple gained
something that has gone largely unnoticed thus far -- a committed
pool of seeded NeXT developers who have been building what Steve
Jobs likes to call 'best of breed' applications over the past five

This is vitally important, if only for the sole fact that Rhapsody
won't sing its song on either Intel or PowerPC without the aid of
dozens of premiere applications. Revolutionary products are what
will largely determine the success of Apple's mammoth endeavour and
the importance of having a group of developers who are already
experienced with developing for OpenStep (and are in fact shipping
products) can't be stressed enough. Like the actual OS, there is a
relatively large base of OpenStep applications available that have
been through years of maturation which will lead to products for
Rhapsody that don't feel like '1.0' applications, even though people
will perceive them as such.

While it's a given that not every OpenStep developer will decide to
make the incremental jump to Rhapsody (although faced with the fact
that many software companies had their business' revolving entirely
around OpenStep, we believe the migration percentage will be
extremely large), several notable companies in the current crop have
already pledged their support. One such firm is Seattle-based Omni
Development, makers of the popular OpenStep Web browser, OmniWeb. We
here at Webintosh wanted to get Macintosh users familiar with some
OpenStep products which are destined for Rhapsody, and for many,
this inside look at OmniWeb will be their first chance to see what
OpenStep applications actually look like.

The Heart Of OmniWeb

_)_Obviously, the heart and sole of any Web browser is the actual
browsing window and this is where we'd like to begin our look at
OmniWeb, partly because of the program's sometimes radical approach
to surfing. Glancing beyond the Apple homepage, a look at the
browser's user interface will certainly raise some eyebrows (and no,
we're not talking about the OpenStep reversed scroll bars).
Differing from every other Web browser in history (at least to our
knowledge), OmniWeb actually has two URL fields at the top of the
window. Omni feels that it's important to always have the user
knowing where they're at and where they want to go, and judging by
this explanation, we more or less agree with them.

Although a potentially confusing issue for new users, power users
will love the capabilities provided by this feature. Basically, the
bottom field indicates the current page (and doubles as a progress
meter when content is being loaded) while the top field represents
selected URLs -- users can choose locations through a number of
different ways including: navigating links via the keyboard's arrow
keys, selecting and then editing a link via a right-mouse click, or
by dragging in URLs.

The remainder of the browser's front-end interface stays in line
with the standard interface of other applications, although one
might notice the lack of a stop button on the toolbar. Actually, as
one would expect, there is a stop button, but in OmniWeb, the load
icon does double duty, acting as the stop mechanism when pages are
being downloaded.

Navigationally speaking, OmniWeb takes full advantage of key/click
combinations. As mentioned above, a right-mouse click will select
links and display them in the top URL field. Clicking on a link with
the ALT key depressed results in the user being able to drag a
window icon around. When you drop the link, a new browser window is
cued, centered around the placement of the icon. A variety of other
combinations execute other various useful commands.

Multi-Threaded Browser

_)_Much like the utility panel of OpenStep that allows you to kill
mis-behaved or disruptive applications, OmniWeb's Processes panel
allows users to digest the informational material that is being
downloaded. Any ongoing process -- loading pages, images,
animations, etc. -- can all be stopped individually, a handy feature
the bodes well for anyone who occasionally needs to load straight
text that might happen to be surrounded by large graphics.

Incidently, because of OmniWeb's heavy multi-threading
capabilities, all ongoing processes can be executed at the same
time, rather than the normal way of having a Web browser bringing in
each item successively.

Much of OmniWeb's true innovation is behind the scenes, and the
browser's dynamic pipeline architecture is no different. Basically,
the application knows where it's starting (a given URL with some
sort of protocol) and understands where it must end up (an image in
the browser window, etc.). The context of the data will pass through
the pipeline of plug-in processors and will be organized by their
type. For instance, the two GIFs in the Processes panel screenshot
have passed through the pipeline and have been recognized as images,
thus the image icon. The other images are still loading, and
therefore a generic document icon is displayed.

Error Message Collector

_)_Though all errors messages are displayed in the Processes panel,
the Console window keeps logs of all messages. While the company
openly admits that many people rarely, if ever, use this feature,
the Console can be useful for Web designers who are looking for the
precise error string that can crop up.

Not Your Ordinary Source Viewer

_)_OmniWeb's Source viewer goes beyond the traditional
implementation in most Web browsers by actually offering the ability
to directly manipulate HTML code within the source window. It would
be foolish to think that this feature is a full fledged text
editor, but what it does provide quite nicely is a quick way to make
small changes and view them immediately. The application is even
'intelligent' in that it tries to map the appropriate path and
filenames of the Web directory specified when saving changes to the
HTML document.

Monkey See, Monkey Do...

_)_Despite what some have gathered, OmniWeb has been at the
forefront of providing the Web browser genre with innovative and
superior features over the past few years. Omni's handling of
bookmarks, for instance, was a part of OmniWeb long before Netscape
started using a similar approach in Navigator. Evidence of this is
clear by simply looking at the bookmarks features of early versions
of Navigator (Mozilla). Some OpenStep supporters even suggest the
functionality was entirely ripped off by Netscape, although we will
leave the debating to zealots.

The screenshot of the bookmark window show its ability to sort
items through a hierarchy of folders, something which the program
puts no limitation upon. In other words, your folder can span
basically expand forever. Also note the little 'zaps' next to some
of the entries: any item with a zap next to it indicates that it has
an associated URL. The 'zap in a book' next to Comics reveals
something interesting -- OmniWeb allows users to string together
different bookmark containers, a useful feature for anyone needing
to sharing bookmark files.

Furthermore, OmniWeb also has what the company likes to call
'inspectors'. Much like the subscription capabilities of Microsoft's
Internet Explorer 3.0.1 for the Mac, OmniWeb will periodically
check user specified Web sites and determine whether or not their
content has updated. If it has, a bright yellow alert if placed in
the bookmark window. However, Omni openly admits that this feature
isn't panacea for tracking sites. A wide variety of Web sites don't
support this feature (including Webintosh) and even when a site
does, it's possible that the inspector can be looking at a
never-changing frame inset.

Direct Web Searching


Most of the latest Web browser support Internet searches directly
in their URL field, but OmniWeb goes even further by allowing users
to search dozens of popular engines directly from the browser's
interface. By calling up the Search Panel, clicking on the engine of
your choice, and entering the phrase of interest, OmniWeb will
query the specified engine and relay all relavant matches directly
back to the Panel.

The impressive feature is accomplished by some clever work on
Omni's behalf. The company uses a specifically-formatted HTML page
that defines the search engines and how to operate with them. Users
can actually create their own search pages (albeit not as easily as
Omni does), which can be useful if Omni is experiencing any network

A Rhapsodic Future

Although Omni doesn't expect to make widespread changes to OmniWeb
in the course of moving it over to Rhapsody, they will be in fact
updating the product, as evident from the numbering scheme (the
Rhapsody version will be christened OmniWeb 3.0). One of the major
hurdles in their way is the necessary removal of the browser's
dependencies on the old NeXT Text object. Although a great object
for smaller work, Omni will need to transplant the OpenStep Text
Suite in place of the old engine. In the process, the company
expects that the use of the newer engine will yield better
performance for the product.

As far as support for industry standards -- the current incarnation
of OmniWeb on OpenStep doesn't have built-in support for Java, but
the decision not to support the language was, according to the
company, mainly a business related issue. However, since Apple will
providing full Java integration in Rhapsody, OmniWeb 3.0 will take
advantage of that. In stark opposition, Omni has made it clear that
they have no intentions of support for JavaScript.

Whether or not Apple realized that they would be gaining a large
part of the NeXT development community when they purchased the
company isn't known, but the fact is that dozens of mature,
battle-tested, and robust applications will be making their way to
Rhapsody, and that will surely make them smile. Omni Development is
just one of those companies making the charge to the upcoming
platform and we'll be sure to keep you up-to-date with their latest

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