Professional JavaScript | 36 | WebReference

Professional JavaScript | 36

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Professional JavaScript


Be is a European hardware and software company that produces a personal computer called the BeBox aimed at the Multimedia market. Learning from experience gained at Apple, their computer has architecture optimized for fast multimedia formats like video, and attracts developers interested in those kinds of applications. To the ordinary user, it's still a point-and-click window-based (not Windows based) environment, so Be has a JavaScript capable browser. Unfortunately our research hasn't extended to any analysis of its worth, but if you are curious, have a look at


Similar to the BeBox, but older is the Acorn computer, now based on a RISCOS platform, popular as an educational computer in the UK. Tiny Ant Limited at have produced a Web browser for that computer with JavaScript support called Fresco. If you want to produce enhanced Web pages for British school kids, perhaps you'd better have a look at what they've done.

Netscape Variants

It's worth briefly noting the group at who are developing Netscape 5.0. Their approach is sometimes confusing because they use a variety of nicknames for their browser, or the browser project, or the technologies in the browser. SeaMonkey, NGLayout, Mozilla, Gemini, Raptor and Navigator are roughly all the same thing - effort surrounding Netscape's flagship browser product.

The only thing that this group currently produces which could be considered a separate browser is the Gecko test software. Gecko is a facility for developers that let them test some of the new technologies in Netscape 5.0. By the time you read this, Netscape 5.0 will probably be available. You can download the current beta versions or just Gecko and have a fiddle if you are curious.

The Mozilla version-in-development of JavaScript is currently 1.5. This version introduces very few changes over 1.4 to date, the most obvious being tighter integration with the Java component of the browser.

Beyond the Mozilla organization are a couple of loosely related projects. The Cryptozilla project, being based outside the U.S.A. (in Australia) is not subject to the export restrictions that Netscape is. They've taken the Netscape browser source and put back strong (140-bit) encryption into it, so you can get the identical browser from their Web site with better encryption if you want it. See

Vastly more speculative are Internet discussions with regard to browsers named Jazilla and Jozilla respectively - noble plans to provide Netscape-like browsers written entirely in Java. Don't hold your breath waiting for these to deliver.

Apple, Unix and Others

The Apple and various Unix platforms are covered by the major browsers from Microsoft and Netscape. The major Unix platforms, Sun, HP, and Linux are supported by Netscape and Opera.

Set-Top Browsers

Not everyone in the industrialized world has a PC at home, but nearly everyone has a television and a telephone. If set-top boxes can give consumers access to cable TV or satellite TV, then why not to the Web and the Internet? Just plug the phone into the set-top box, add some software and away you go. There are several examples of browsers with JavaScript support that run on set-top boxes today, and they're worth a quick look. But before doing so, consider the implications of set-top technology.

The set-top and TV environment is a different one to that of the home computer. First, there is the technology - until we are shortly blessed with high definition digital television at a price mere humans can afford, all we have is an old TV set. That set was designed for very low resolution compared with a computer monitor - just several hundred by several hundred pixels. Some fancy processing can smarten it up a bit, but there's still limits imposed by the surface of the picture tube. The bandwidth of an ordinary TV station's signal is low, and particularly bad in the U.S.A, which doesn't encourage picture tube makers to over-engineer much. Next, (especially) old TV screens are designed to be blurry - each pixel blends into the next one in order to create "natural" tones. Anyone who has used supertext subtitles for the hearing impaired or looked at the weather on the original TV hypertext systems know how big and chunky the text has to be in order to be both sharp and readable. Next, in a TV picture tube the intensity varies from color to color, whereas a computer monitor has a "flatter" response. This can result in bright colors "washing out" dimmer ones. All these effects impose severe constraints on what images, text, and layout you can get away with in a Web page and still have it look good on a TV screen. Finally, instead of a keyboard and a mouse, there's just this remote control thingy - definitely no one wants to squat within arm's reach of the screen fiddling with the buttons in order to search the Web.

Beyond the limits of technology is the user. Your original TV couch potato has different expectations to a computer user when first hooking up to the Internet via a set-top browser. In particular, lots of typing is out, lots of passive entertainment is in - further constraints on the content provided. That remote control is fiddly to work with, and so the user doesn't want to be navigating and scrolling all over the place, which is more than likely given that you can't cram much HTML on his screen at a time.

All that aside, a set-top box is cheaper than a PC and there's enough demand for many companies to be working in the area. Set-top boxes have use outside the home too - in information kiosks and possibly in rugged environments where a PC made of delicate parts isn't welcome.

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Created: April 12, 2001
Revised: April 12, 2001