A quick look at ViolaWWW

Note: This version of 11 April 92 is obsoleted by a new one.

This W3 browser for X11 workstations is based on the "Viola" hypertext browser. Viola uses X11 intrinsics, but does not need motif. I tested it using a NeXT with CubeX, in grayscale and color versions. A minor bug crashes the program when displaying on color screens -- which is a pity, particularly as the color icons are good. See the bug list for details of problems of particular platforms.

Pei Wei, Viola's author, is finishing his degree at UC Berkley, and plans for the continued support of viola are being mapped out now.

Here are my personal comments on a (April 11) test version. See also: running it at CERN , comparison with Erwise.


Features of the browser are: Current (Apr 29) bugs include

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.

The window looks a little cluttered. Perhaps the "ViolaWWW" could be taken out of the window itself and put as the window title in place of "www".

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!

A strange characteristic is that a click in a hypertext window doesn't have to be on a button, it can be somewhere near it. This can lead to an unexpected jump if the click was just to bring the window to the surface, or an attempt to copy some text. (Cut and paste don't work yet).

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. "Up" is the same as "Back", a destructive backtrack through the history, but "Left" is just s non-destructive backtrack: "Right" undoes "Left". 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. 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