HTML Trek: The Next Generation

by Cye's Eye Cye H. Waldman, Ph.D.

Copyright © 1996 Cye H. Waldman. All rights reserved.

| Introduction | NaviPress | Tip of the Month | Bookshelf | Resources |


Is it just me, or does the Internet seem to be stalled? In spite of the constant hype you see on television and read in the paper many of the products that have been promised have not materialized. (Oh, I forgot—this is the computer industry.) And there have been only 30 new books on Web authoring in the past month. It sounds like a lot but it's the smallest percentage gain in the several months I've been tracking such books. The book list has over 160 titles but the growth rate is way down. About 50 of those books are slated for next year but I suspect that many of the others will slip into next year. As I write this in early December I count about 70 books on Web authoring presently on the bookstore shelves. The total number of Internet books must be staggering. Macmillan, the largest computer publishing group has over 150 titles under the Que, Sams,, New Riders, Hayden, Adobe, and the recently acquired Ziff-Davis imprints.

This month's authoring discussion is about NaviPress, a browser/editor that allows in situ editing right in the browser and has some other nice features in addition. This is clearly the next generation of HTML editors. (Netscape has promised similar features in its Navigator Gold 2.0 release.) I'll also talk about how I use the Web to keep up the book list, and some new books of note that have crossed my desk (and lingered long enough to be read).

NaviPress Web Authoring Kit

NaviSoft ( has come up with a complete Web publishing solution that is unlike any other on the market. NaviPress is the authoring arm of the solution. It consists of a combination browser/editor that allows you to create and/or modify HTML files in true WYSIWYG right in the browser. You can have more than one browser Window open at a time and cut and paste or drag-and- drop from one to the other. NaviService is the publishing arm of the solution. With NaviService you can have your Web pages hosted at NaviSoft's Web Server (for a reasonable fee) and be able to modify and maintain your Web site from your own home or office without fussing with ftp accounts. You can even get your own domain name.

In this review I'm just going to look at NaviPress 1.1, the browser/editor. In order to create a Web page (or HTML document) you can start with an existing Web page, one of several NaviPress templates, or a blank page. It's quite an experience to type directly onto a browser page, or drag a picture in and see the results immediately. It seems so natural that you almost forget that you can't do that with anybody else's browser! Once you have something on the page you can change it by any of the usual editing techniques. Dragging and dropping also works but it's not as easy as it sounds because the program doesn't indicate the drop point as you drag the section around. So it's somewhat difficult to know exactly where a large image is going to fall when you drop it.

Basically, you can create respectable (even good-looking) Web pages without knowing a stitch of HTML code. This is a promise that many have made but few have delivered. What distinguishes NaviPress is the true WYSIWYG interface. Also, NaviPress has full support for both Netscape and HTML 3.0 extensions. Moreover, it does forms, tables, and imagemaps too. I'm a big advocate of tables and I can tell you that this is the best table editor I've seen.

Imagine this: you click the "create table" icon which you've placed on the customizable toolbar, select the number of columns and rows you want, a title and some other esoteric table properties, and you've got a table on-screen. Now you can fill it by typing or pasting in text or images. You can even create nested tables by creating tables within individual cells. My only complaint about the table is one you've heard from me before—it produces ugly (i.e., hard-to-read) HTML code. I wouldn't like to have modify it. Oh, didn't I mention that NaviPress not only allows you to view the HTML code it's created but also lets you edit it? Web authoring is further enhanced by NaviPress's handy supply of clip art, backgrounds, horizontal rules, arrows, etc. to embellish your pages.

NaviPress 1.1 also features a "MiniWeb" utility that gives a graphical representation of your Web pages. This shows all the files in a directory plus the links that are out by the HTML files. It shows file icons connected by lines (or a web) when links occur. It can get pretty messy when you have hundreds of Web links in your HTML documents as I do in my book lists. But for simpler pages it affords a unique view of your site and allows you to verify that local links are all correct.

Overall, I recommend the program highly, but I do have some minor reservations. First, on the positive side, this is not a new program. It's in its second incarnation and is mature enough to have the major wrinkles ironed out. Next, the company is committed to moving with emerging technologies such as plug-in modules for Java. Also, the program is available for Windows, Macintosh, and UNIX platforms. On the downside, some of the operations seemed very slow, even on a fast Pentium, and this 16-bit program doesn't take advantage of Windows 95 features such as long filenames. (I'm really tired of the programs that change my booklist.html to bookli~1.htm upon saving.) But worst of all, some of the HTML code created by NaviPress, which looked perfectly normal in its own browser, looked totally bizarre in Netscape 1.2 and Microsoft Internet Explorer 2.0.

NaviPress 1.1 is very reasonably priced at $99 but you can download a free preview version for a 30-day evaluation. Better yet, the full manual is available online so you won't be left out in the cold if you have any questions.

How Does He Find All Those Books?

Keeping up with the flow of books is itself an interesting exercise in the use of the Web. I get a few announcements and press releases from publishers, but these are mostly old news by the time I get them. For the most part I rely on searching the Web to ferret out new titles and locate URLs for the books and their authors. Curiously, the best sources of information are the online bookstores which maintain searchable databases of both current and announced books. (It turns out that bookstores get advanced information on planned titles from the publishers, sometimes even before the authors or publication dates have been set.) The most valuable of these is the Computer Literacy Bookshops followed by Books, and Discount Computer Books at Readme.Doc. Most of the publishers maintain "What's New" pages and I keep track of these with the URL-Minder: Personal Web Robot This is a free service that will send you an email message when a specified Web page changes. You may have noticed that I offer their service on my book page. My third line of attack in the book watch is to visit the publishers' pages periodically.

The above information should help you locate books on any subject, not just authoring for the Web. is not limited to technical books and they boast over a million titles. In addition to a search engine at their site, they will notify you when key words you specify show up in new book titles. (I would be careful about searching for books about Java, however, as you will get many more citations for a certain island in Indonesia than you will for Sun's new cross-platform programming language—for the time being, at least.)

I've collected a lot of useful book information in a new Web page which grew out of my interest in books on authoring for the Web. It contains lists of online bookstores, computer book publishers, and other book resources online (mostly other lists). Naturally, all of these are hot-linked to the sources. Use this page as a starting point for all of your book needs. Many of the online bookstores offer discount prices as well.

Tip of the Month

This month's Tip comes from Mona M. Everett, Ph.D. I thought it was so good that I started using it immediately upon discovering it and beseeched her to write it up for us. So here it is in her own words.

Overlaying in Netscape Tables

This trick takes advantage of a quirk in Netscape Tables and, consequently, does not work in other browsers. Whether the quirk is deliberate or not is questionable but it makes it possible for Netscape to do what is currently 'impossible' with HTML; i.e., overlay graphics with other graphics or text.

If you place an image into a table cell and the image is too big for the cell, it will stretch the cell vertically but overflow the cell boundaries horizontally and to the right. In fact, it happily overflows into any cells to the right of the cell in which it is positioned. To use this, make a very small column, 1-3 pixels wide on the left of the column in which you wish to overlay. Put the image in the tiny column with a WIDTH tag large enough so that it appears to start in the overlay column. Put anything which you wish to appear on top of the image in the overlay column.

I have found this the most useful trick to spruce up my pages. However, a few words of caution are needed. (1) Depending on the order in which HTML elements are loaded in the page (and this differs between loading from your local disk and a server), the image may be loaded last and cover up the overlay. Just scroll the screen to fix the problem; everything rewrites correctly. (2) Since images are pixel oriented, they tend to appear where you put them in most browsers if you constrain them to a table. This is not so with text because the user can alter the face and size of the font displayed. Text placed over narrow bars, as it is in one of my examples, may appear over the bar in YOUR browser but not in someone else's. (3) If you overlay a transparent image onto another image, it will make the bottom image transparent, too. This was not true in Netscape 1.1 but is in the newer editions.

You can see a variety of uses of this trick and a few others at the Morphic Molecules Public Pages.

(Here is an example of what such a table taken from my own book list site But I urge you to visit Mona's site (see URL above) to see all the possibilities and learn how to do two types of bar charts as well. Ed.)

Table Overlay Demo

Thanks a lot
Mona, you've
made the Web
a better place
to live.

New on the Bookshelf

This month's featured book is Tom Kientzle's Internet File Formats (Coriolis Group, $40 with CD-ROM). The Internet, by virtue of its platform independence, has brought most of us into contact with people and computers we would not ordinarily encounter. In so doing, it's made us aware of the great variety of software and file formats available on other platforms. Each platform has its own unique set of file extensions, standards and compression formats. Kientzle's book covers all the bases. I counted 99 file extensions that are described in this book. But it goes beyond a simple description of the file formats with discussions of which are best for which applications, how to use them, how the files are structured, and how the various compression techniques work. It also provides utilities for converting compressed files between platforms (e.g., unZipping a DOS file on a Macintosh or Linux system).

The material is very interesting and I found that could (and frequently did) pick it up, open to a random page and start reading. The accompanying CD-ROM contains most of the software described in the book and works on all platforms that support the CD-ROM standard. Many (but not all) of the programs on the CD- ROM are described in an appendix to the book. I recommend this book for all serious Web masters and authors.

In Brief

Mary Morris's HTML for Fun and Profit is now out in a second edition, dubbed the Signature Edition, with a new chapter on Netscape extensions, extended support for Macintosh, Windows, NT, and UNIX. Also, a Windows server has been added to the CD-ROM. The book is $40 from Prentice Hall.

I found Garry Howard's Introduction to Internet Security: From Basics to Beyond (Prima, $35) to be at once enlightening and disturbing. If you have concerns about security or are simply interested in the history and scope of online abuse check out this well-written, informative book.

Finally, on the lighter side, Michael Hyman's PC Roadkill is filled with anecdotes and stories of the personalities and products that give a human dimension to the PC world. It's a steal at $20 from IDG Programmers Press.


Authoring Tools

NaviPress Web Authoring Kit

Personal Web Robot

URL-Minder: Personal Web Robot

Tip of the Month

Mona Everett's Morphic Molecules

Books & Book Resources

Kientzle, Tim (1995) Internet File Formats, Coriolis Group, $40 with CD-ROM.
Morris, Mary (1995) HTML for Fun and Profit, Prentice Hall, $40 with CD-ROM.
Howard, Garry S. (1995) Introduction to Internet Security: From Basics to Beyond
Hyman, Michael (1995) PC Roadkill
Computer Literacy Bookshops Books
Discount Computer Books at Readme.Doc
Cye's Definitive List of Books on Web Authoring
Bookstores and Book References

Cye H. Waldman, Ph.D., is a technical and engineering consultant based in Encinitas, CA, and a chronic Webaholic.