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Through The Looking Glass: Hypertext - what is it?

Through The Looking Glass: Hypertext - what is it?

Ed discusses some of the many uses for HV, the Hypertext Viewer program on the HP 100/200LX

by Ed Keefe

Hypertext is one of the buzzwords of the Internet Revolution. The word appears as part of the acronym for Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). Hypertext is easy to spot. Its an integral part of almost every document on the World Wide Web. Most often hypertext shows up as blue letters in contrast to the more frequently used black letters. When you move your cursor to a group of blue letters and click the mouse, a new screen full of related information appears. To help novices get used to the idea of hypertext, I've found it useful to relate it to something they already know.

Most people are familiar with the notion of a cross-reference or a footnote marker in a printed document. They know that a superscript number means that they should look at the bottom of the page or flip to the end of the chapter to read a footnote or endnote. they're aware that the phase (see page 237) means that they have to hold their place in the book, turn to page 237, read what's there and flip back to where they left off.

 If you automate a cross-reference with some programming wizardry, you get hypertext. With this electronic version of a cross-reference, you don't have to flip to a new page: the computer does that for you. You don't even have to hold on to your original location since the computer will remember that for you as well.

 Early examples of hypertext

Hypertext is not something new. I first encountered it in 1970. Early Computer Assisted Instruction (CAI) languages such as Pilot and Plato used highlighted text, along with a light pen, to make computer based learning something more than mere electronic page turning.

Id almost forgotten about hypertext until I ran across it on the PC in the mid 1980s. The PC versions of hypertext no longer used a light pen. Instead, they used cursor keys or a new-fangled mouse to point at highlighted text to skip to another part of a document. I must have been intrigued with this technology. A search of my 5.25-inch disks turned up eight programs that could purportedly create hypertext documents.

Only one of these program was worth a second glance: Tutorial Writer, from Intelligent Educational Software (IES). I used this program to create several hypertext tutorials for beginning programming students.

However, like a lot of good software, Tutorial Writer faded into history when the computer labs at the college where I teach migrated from MS-DOS to Windows. Amazingly, both Tutorial Writer and my tutorials work on the HP 200LX.

For those who are looking for a good MS-DOS based computer-based-training program, I've included a copy of Tutorial Writer (TW3.ZIP ) along with a tutorial called Landmarks of Computer Languages on the current HP Palmtop Paper ON DISK. Tutorial Writer takes up about 500K bytes of disk space. When you have it installed, execute TWRITER.EXE and work your way through the demo.

Be aware that the voice-overs will shut off your serial port, which is important if you're using the REMKEY program to run the demo. Try running my tutorial on a computer with a color screen. It runs on the 200LX, but you'll wear out the [ON][/] buttons trying to compensate for the colored screens.

To run the tutorial, type LMRK to unpack the archive in a selected directory, and then use the TA.BAT file to run the tutorial. The section on the landmarks of computing history will show you several examples of early hypertext. The second section of the tutorial may prove interesting to computer programmers.

Enter HTML and the World Wide Web

 The World Wide Web (WWW), developed by Tim Berners-Lee and released by CERN in 1991, made hypertext one of its most important features. Now you could click on an automated cross-reference and be transported to the relevant part of a document in an electronic library half-way around the world.

 The downside to HTML was that it was mostly a windows or X-windows application, and it required a reader that could interpret sound and pictures in a graphical environment. MS-DOS was not deemed a suitable medium for most browsers.

 Windows browsers and the recent browser wars

 The CERN browser was the first such graphical program that would let Internet users view, and create, hypertext documents. This was soon followed by Spry's Mosaic browser and viewer. If I'm not mistaken, Mosaic was part of the CompuServe, windows-based WWW browser, up to version 2.5.

The browser that captured the largest market share, however, was Navigator, from Netscape. It was the first browser/viewer to take HTML to the next level. In the process, standardization committees stepped in to insure that browsers would all use the same features and not add new ones. But, before the standardization process could really get underway, Microsoft started giving away its Internet Explorer program.

Microsoft then insisted that resellers had to start bundling its program as part of all Windows95 and WinNT 4.0 installations. This practice, which amounted to the illegal dumping of products on a market, brought the U. S. Justice Department and a bevy of lawyers into the fray, and the browser wars began.

It's become something of a moot issue recently, since Netscape no longer charges for its latest version of its browser. Netscape Communicator is free for the taking.

MS-DOS based browsers

Knots browser

One of the early attempts to create an MS-DOS program that would let you view hypertext documents on a PC was the KNOTS Browser. The program would let you read WWW documents off-line. However, it did not have the ability to show pictures or access documents, unless they resided on your hard disk.

For those who are interested, I've included a copy of KNOT1_3C.ZIP on The HP Palmtop Paper ON DISK. The program appears to have been written with a less than optimum graphics library, and it suffers from several limitations, such as HTML pages not exceeding 1,800 lines, with no more than 400 URL links per page, hypertext links not being longer than 100 character, etc.

KNOTS works on the LX palmtop, but apparently the product has been withdrawn from circulation. Its Web site, www.soton.ac.uk/ ~ng194/knots, is no longer valid. Don't expect too much from KNOTS. Its so slow that it will be a mere novelty compared to Hypertext Viewer.

HV, by Andreas Garzotto

 Hypertext Viewer (HV.EXE) is the only HTML reader that is designed exclusively for the HP 100/200LX. Andreas Garzotto, the creator of the program, intended HV to be used in conjunction with WWW/LX, a World Wide Web browser, which was also designed exclusively for the HP 100/200 LX palmtops. WWW/LX is a commercial product from D&A Software, whereas HV is free, for personal use.

 Configuration and setup of HV

 I have found through trial and error that the preferred way to configure HV for use on the HP 200LX is to put all the HV files in a separate directory (\HV) on the A: drive. The files take up about 200K bytes.

To suit my own tastes, I've set the HV.CFG file to have its Root=A:\HV, Editor=A:\WRD\PE.EXE, Retain=Yes (to keep a history of previously opened documents), HistorySize=10, History=C:\_DAT\HV.ENV, CacheDir=A:\HV, NumCache=25,Links=NO, Download=C:\, Filter=*.HTM.

For my fonts, I've chosen FontDir=A:\HV, with Normal= medium, Bold=large, Italic=luhs 13i.hfn, H1=Large, H2=luhs13bi.hfn, H3=luhs13b.hfn, H4=luhs13i.hfn, Fixed=smxn0913.hfn. These Header and other fonts seem to make hypertext documents most easily read on the HP 200LX. The Large and Medium fonts use the built in fonts. However, since I've installed Jinifonts in place of the built in fonts, most of the text appears as sans-serif.

 For external viewers, I've chosen GIF=A:\HV\LXPIC.COM %s and, as an experiment, I've also set EXE=%s and COM=%s. These last two external viewers let me run small DOS programs by pointing at a hypertext link and pressing ENTER. Since I am not using WWW/LX on my palmtop, I've left the other configuration settings in HV.CFG as comments by placing a semicolon before the configuration line.

Running HV

 With the HV.CFG configuration file saved in A:\HV, I can run HV.EXE, either from DOS or from within System Manager. Since I open only HTML documents stored on my palmtop, I've gotten used to pressing MENU (File)(Open Local File...) (the shortcut is (Ctrl)+(O) ) and picking a file from a pick list.

Pressing the PageDown keys will let me scroll through the document. Pressing the cursor movement keys moves me from one hot-link to the next. Sometimes HV will attempt to display a GIF or JPG graphics file if one is found in the same directory as the document. If I accidentally press ENTER on a hot-link to an external reference, HV tells me that the site is not found.

I can press ENTER again and HV will display the full Uniform Resource Locator (URL) for the site. This is a handy feature. It lets me carry the BOOKMARK.HTM file from my desktop Netscape browser to the palmtop. I can then type these WWW addresses into my computer at work.

 HV uses either the ESC or Backspace keys to let me move back to the previous hot-link, whether its in the same or another document.

One of the first things I noticed when I started running HV was that it took a long time to index a large HTML document when it was first loaded. HV also created a .PAG and .LAB file for each file loaded. This is something that Navigator and MS Internet Explorer have to do, as well, when they load an HTML document.

However, they create their cross-reference list in memory and throw it away when the document is no longer being referenced. HV, on the other hand, puts the indexes on disk, since there's not enough room in memory to hold a large document and its index. A beneficial side effect to this approach is that the index is already created the next time you load the document, and you don't have to go through any indexing process.

OK, so what's it good for?

 Most of the uses that I've found for HV are peculiar to my career as a computer science instructor. My field of study is overflowing with new material on a daily basis. Some of it is transitory, such as announcements of new products and new technology, but some of it is also semi-permanent, such as technical references, glossaries, books, and articles.

I also create a lot of documents for classroom use, either as handouts or Web pages on the local Intranet. I test the Web pages in HV. If they're readable in HV, I can be certain that they will be readable on all the computers in our labs, whether they're running Netscape Navigator 2.0 or Internet Explorer 4.0. For example, for a unit in Project Management, I've created a rather lengthy HTML document that contains a glossary of terms, as well as screen shots of many different Project Management programs.

What else is HV good for: let me count the ways

 Presentations: I've found that HV can serve admirably well as a substitute for lecture notes. In HV, I can press the [F3] [Edit] key to activate PalEdit (PE.EXE) and change the size of fonts or create links to other parts of a document. Its great not to have to shuffle papers and look for references. I can use a combination of the HV search engine, along with hot-links to find information Id forgotten I had.

 Documents Captured from the Web: One of my favorite Web sites is the Virtual Computer Museum (www.comlab.ox.ac.uk/archive/other/museums/computing/pioneers.html ). It's a treasure trove of information about the people and the machines that have been part of computing history: everything from abacus to Cray Supercomputers, and everyone from John V. Atanasoff to Conrad Zuse. Many of these documents have been given a place of honor on my palmtop.

Syllabi : I have several dozen syllabi for C++ and other computer language courses from various colleges and universities around the world. So far they have not inspired me to convert my own syllabus from NoteTaker to HTML. (That's a low priority item on my ToDo list.)

 Course outlines: Slightly different from syllabi are course outlines that include classroom assignments and reading lists. I would venture a guess that other disciplines are beginning to get the hang of using the WWW as a resource for their disciples. The inHOME Professor Corporation, for which I do consulting, also has a complete set of course outlines for everything from MS Windows 3.1 to Advanced Access for Windows 95.

Tutorials: Many computer language tutorials are currently being written as HTML documents. They tend to be lengthy and not very complete: just enough to whet your appetite for more. I've included one such C++ tutorial created by a group of high school students on this issues The HP Palmtop Paper ON DISK.

References for computer languages, especially C and C++: I frequently use an HTML Glossary of Terms on the palmtop. Its not very technical, but the information is short and to the point. I also have two very large HTML references for both the C and C++ language specifications. Both of these are commercial, copyrighted documents that came with printed versions. I prefer the electronic versions since I can keep them in my pocket. They have proved invaluable in the classroom to answer questions posed by students.

 Online quizzes: Several high schools and colleges have begun to use the WWW to administer and score quizzes and tests. Usually you have to be registered for a course before you'll have access to the sections of the Web site that let you view the quiz.

Web courses: There are literally thousands of courses being offered on the World Wide Web. My experience has been with the courses offered by Ziff Davis University (ZDU). The ZDU course on HTML using the HotDogPro HTML editor is a good case in point. I was able to carry the whole course along with me on vacation on the palmtop and keep up with the daily exercises and reading. I saved everything on the palmtop and uploaded it to the Web site when I returned home.

Jesse Liberty, the author of Teach Yourself C++ in 21 Days, also offered a C++ course through ZDU. The textbook was available in HTML format, as well as a printed version. I opted for the HTML version. It went with me on yet another vacation. The book came with all the source code from the text. Believe me, the course can be completed in 21 days, provided you don't have to type in C++ code on the palmtop.

 Creating Your Own HTML Documents: Other books, such as IDGs C++ for Dummies: Quick Reference, by Namir Shammas, don't come in HTML format. To get this small 250-page booklet into the palmtop, I used an HP flat-bed scanner, along with a program that would read the text and save it in an MS Word 7.0 document. MS Word was useful for spell checking and cleaning up the text. It also let me save the document in HTML format. Now that the book is on my palmtop, I can use a combination of PalEdit and, believe it or not, Lotus 1-2-3, to add hypertext links. This tends to be time consuming, but I figure that by the time I've got the task done, Ill have read the book front to back several times over.

Learning to program with HTML: Recently, Iowa State University converted their beginning Computer Science courses from Pascal programming to HTML programming! When I heard about this, my initial reaction was, no way can you program in HTML! However, the faculty at ISU have assured me that, it works! they've promised to send me a course outline in the near future. I figure the palmtop will be a good place to play with HTML programming. HV will be a good test-bed for yet another oddball programming language.

 Until next time, HaVe fun!
 
 

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