By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1999, The Syracuse Newspapers
A big change is coming in Web browsers. They're going to get sexy. And they're going to get more practical.
If you'd to see what I mean, go to the home site of the Mozilla project and download the latest version of this next-generation browser, then take another adventure and try out the new browser called Amaya from the folks who invented the Web. Both of them are free.
The Mozilla project is the brainchild of some software engineers at Netscape. They asked volunteers from all over the world to help create the successor to Netscape Communicator 4. The browser they're creating is called Mozilla. (The name might change. They're having a contest for the best suggestion.)
I downloaded and installed the latest Linux version of Mozilla. Versions for Windows and Macs are available, too. Mozilla isn't finished yet, so don't expect the version you install to do everything right. Some features don't work yet, others don't work right and some even cause the whole thing to crash. But Mozilla now works well enough to use, and that's what matters.
When it's finished sometime next year, Mozilla will have all kinds of new features. It will work a lot like Netscape Navigator in some ways, but you won't confuse Mozilla with Netscape once you try a new feature called "chrome."
It lets Mozilla can change its look in an instant. The Mozilla window and its gadgets and menus can be switched to make it look like anything between a Tokyo-by-night neon-and-black box and a simple black-and-white window without a single frill. This function uses what every 14-year-old these days knows as "skins." (WinAmp was the first program I came across the used skins -- alternative window designs -- and now the idea is catching on all over the software industry.)
One of my favorite skins for Mozilla is a design that makes all the fonts larger than usual and puts a swirl of bright colors across the entire window frame (the area outside the Web page). But I also like one that makes Mozilla look just like Microsoft's Internet Explorer. And, yes, if you long for newness but hate change, you can make Mozilla look exactly like Netscape Navigator.
Some of the features I wanted to try didn't work right, so I can't tell you much about the mail and newsgroup parts of Mozilla. Netscape Communicator's otherwise wonderful mail program has a nearly fatal flaw in not being able to handle more than one mail account at a time. Mozilla will be able to handle as many as you want.
The only way to try Mozilla is to download it and run it. Just keep in mind that it's not finished yet.
Amaya, the other browser, is a lot more finished, so you won't have to worry about crashes. You can get it from the World Wide Web Consortium (usually referred to as the W3C) at <http://www.w3.org/Amaya/>http://www.w3.org/Amaya/. You'll find versions for Windows PCs and many different Linux and Unix computers.
Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, had something like Amaya in mind when he set out to create software that could link texts (and, later, pictures) from one computer to another. He was thinking of collaboration, of people in one location writing and editing documents that were stored someplace else.
In Amaya, the W3C has created a free browser that is really an amazing Web-page editor in disguise. Click a toolbar button and Amaya changes from a carefully crafted Web browser to an advanced HTML editor. It's a what-you-see-is-what-you-get editor, so making fixes or starting from scratch on a new page is a no-brainer.
Amaya shows four different views of any page, whether you're using it as a browser or an editor. This makes it a powerful tool if you like to see what's behind the HTML code. Besides the standard view of a page, you can see the structure of a page, with related parts organized in a kind of hierarchy, and you can see a table of contents. (Amaya builds these for you automatically.) You can also see the page in a wonderfully clear "alternate" view that looks like a perfectly organized text file.
All these views function even if the editor is turned off, but if you click the "Editor/Browser" button they turn into documents that can be edited. Editing one of the views makes changes directly onto the page, and you can see these changes take place as you do the editing. And editing the page makes immediate changes in the views. I found this amazing.
You have to try all these options to see them in action. Once you do, you won't be satisfied with an ordinary HTML editor ever again.