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A Little History of the World Wide Web     Timeline     World Wide Web browser     Proposal     Erwise     Viola     Project     W3 Servers    

An updated quick look at ViolaWWW

This W3 browser for X11 workstations is based on the Viola hypertext environment. Viola uses X11 intrinsics, but does not need motif. I tested it using a NeXT with CubeX, in grayscale and color versions. We've also now run it on Sun4 and decstation. This is an update of my earlier review. (Sometimes there are problems with fonts which cause it to hang on startup, for example under openwindows. See the bug list for details of problems of particular platforms.)

Pei Wei, Viola's author, is finishing his degree at UC Berkley, and will be with O'Reilly Associates where he will continue to work on Viola.

Here are my personal comments on a (May 15) test version. See also: running it at CERN , comparison with Erwise.


Features of the browser are:
  • Multifont text
  • Links highlighted with "button" boxes, single click to jump
  • "Home", "Back" and "Forward" buttons
  • Single window operation plus "clone" of a copy of any document in another window.
  • A History window with list of documents visited.
  • A "bookmark" facility
  • Online help buttons
  • Searching of remote index: input field at bottom of window
The bugs reported in the last review have been fixed, and there is now online documentation available especially on viola in general from Pei's server in Berkeley.

Look and Feel

The overall look was very good to my particular taste: I'm no great fan of motif LAF, anyway. The "feel" is also good, apart from the speed of display which is just slow enough to be frustrating if you're used to something faster. The old1.0 version was much faster, but monofont. The multifont text is certainly worth the wait unless its only a phone number you're after.

The formatting of the text is very good: the styles are clear and distinct, apart from the List style (LI) which looks too much like normal text. It could do with being indented and a bit of white space inserted between list elements.

Ease of use

The program has to be installed, coming with three parts: a binary, a directory full of viola scripts, and a shell script to define an environment variable to point to the viola script directory. Once this has been set up, all you have to type is "vw" and the program starts from a default home page just as the line mode browser does. That's three keystrokes, and it's point-and-click from then on!

Cut and paste don't seem to work yet although one seems to be able to select text, which is then underlined.. more features in the pipeline, I suspect.

Bells and Whistles

The arrow buttons along the top margin look like "Previous", "Back" and "Next", but don't work in quite the same way as in the NeXT and line mode browsers. The left and right arrows move though the history of where you've been. The up arrow is quite confusing in that it means "go to where I was last" litterally, so using it twice brings you back to the same place. At any time, if you follow a link, the new document is put on the end of the history so you loose your place. This can be confusing if you're not using the history window. If you are using the history window, the confusing element is that the same document appears more than once in it if you have visited it more than once. This means the history window can become quite large if you wander around a lot. I've used the word confusing, but once you know how it works, its fine to use.

The function of "Next" meaning the next article in a list is not available.

Hidden documentation

You have to be inquisitive to find out that there's documentation about Viola hidden under the globe icon. It is more obvious that help resides under the big question mark. In both cases, the program intelligently checks for a local copy of the help before going off to California for the original. It then caches a copy in /usr/tmp. Nice point. I suggest a link from the help into the "About Viola" documents.

See the hypertext markup

Other gadgets are at the bottom of the window: three small icons tucked in after the index search field. The history feature and "print" buttons don't quite work in practice, but are close to working.

The third is is source viewer which allows you to see the HTML source of a document in a separate window. This is useful for information providers, and also for explaining how WWW works!


There is a little "clone" button (an icon of tearing a sheet off a pad) which allow one to make a copy, in another window, of a document. This is not a complete clone, as the window does not have any buttons (except for "clone"!). Therefore, if it is an index, you can't search it (pity),. You can, however, follow links with it -- but the referenecd document is brought up in the orinial, unique "master" window. The clone window is nicely unclutteretd as a result, though.


A very neat browser useable by anyone: very intuitive and straightforward. The extra features are probably more than 90% of "real" users will actually use, but just the things which an experienced user will want. I'm looking forward to the minor bugs with the scroll bar and color working being cleared up.

Tim BL

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