First Looks: Warpzilla NGLayout .001- by Christopher B. Wright
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Christopher B. Wright is a technical writer in the Richmond, VA area, and has been using OS/2 Warp since January 95. He is also a member of Team OS/2.

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Summary: The open source browser from Netscape is evolving fast with a new layout engine that's twice as powerful and flexible as the old one. Here's our first look at the version that has been ported to OS/2.

The last time I reviewed the Warpzilla browser (the OS/2 Port of the Netscape Code), I mentioned that in the README the developers stated they were going to be essentially starting over as they moved to the new NGLayout rendering engine. The first public results of that work are now available, and it's impressive.

Warpzilla integrates the NGLayout ("Next Generation Layout") rendering engine with an OS/2 browser. This NGLayout engine is being worked on by a separate open source project that Netscape has officially endorsed for inclusion in all its browser products. Warpzilla also, for the first time, includes a more browser-like user interface with Communitcator-like toolbar.

In order to run Warpzilla you will need the EMX runtime package from Hobbes, since this library was used in the porting process. Running "xpviewer.exe" at a command line (or creating an icon for it on your desktop) will cause the Warpzilla browser to appear.

When you open Warpzilla for the first time, you see what basically amounts to a window with a web page in it (.GIF, 13K). It's not until you re-size it that you see the "new" UI, which looks pretty much like Netscape version 4.5, right up to the new "What's related" tab. This re-sizing maneuver seems to "wake up" the interface by forcing a re-painting of the window, and is indicative of its very early "pre-beta" state. Most of the buttons actually work to some extent, though not all of them. The pre-set bookmarks in the lowest button strip work, but the bookmarks button itself does not, and neither does the "What's related" tab. The navigation buttons (forward, back, reload, stop) work just fine, but the navigator components buttons at the bottom (mail, newsgroups, composer) do not. The whole program feels like an unfinished patchwork at this time.

Currently, the only way to jump to a web page is to enter the address into the URL field on the button bar -- you cannot use the CTRL+O or CTRL+L key combinations that you can in Communicator/2 and Navigator/2 respectively.

The NGLayout Engine Flexes Its Muscle

But the NGLayout rendering engine itself is very impressive. First, it's very, very fast -- it loads pages a lot faster than either of the Netscape products currently available for OS/2. Second, it's very advanced. I ran it through the gauntlet of CSS-1 (Cascading Style Sheets) specification tests that the World Wide Web Consortium hosts on their web site and recognizes most of the CSS-1 spec. It didn't seem to handle one or two of the tests, but it clearly beats out Communicator and Internet Explorer 4.0.

One of the most impressive demonstrations of the NGLayout's power is seen in one of the included test pages that come with Warpzilla. Not only can it use an animated GIF (image) as the background of a page or table cell, but it can also nest frames within frames, with each being independently scrollable. The stress-testing page not only places four free-form frames together (frames that are anchored to a paragraph, rather than the browser's window as Communicator currently only supports), but embeds two more within the third, animating the background image of a table cell with text centered over it. Maybe not something that you'd have any practical use for in any sane web page design, but it does demonstrate the amazing flexibility and power of this new layout engine.

There did seem to be a few quirks in the way it renders HTML -- one of the pages on the W3C site had words bleeding off the left margin (.GIF, 30K) for no reason that I could determine. Also, when Warpzilla was actually loading a page it had a tendency to lock me out of everything else -- I couldn't switch to other open windows or applications, couldn't open new applications, and couldn't close anything. Finally, while it's fast actually loading a page, there seems to be a significant delay between the time it takes to tell it to do something to it actually starting to do it (like open a new page, or open a dialog box, or even close the the application). Such things are to be expected with software in development, however.

Java and plugins are not supported and I couldn't tell if Javascript was or not because I couldn't ever see any Javascript pages. For example, at one point I tried to browse over to BMT Micro's home page (the home page uses mouseover commands to highlight whichever navigation graphic your mouse hovers over), but the page didn't render correctly. I don't know if that's because Warpzilla simply has a few quirks and skipped over a large portion of the page, or if it didn't recognize the Javascript commands and refused to render the parts of the page that had those commands embedded in it. Attempts to go to other javascript-enabled pages (the StarDivision pages and the Dialog Enhancer pages, for example) were unsuccessful because the browser would crash before they loaded.

For a pre-beta, this is a very usable piece of software, and I'm very impressed with what they've done so far. It's not at the point where I'd consider using it as my primary browser, but it is at the point where I'll keep it on my machine to use it once and a while. And if this is where they are now, by the time an actual beta rolls around we should have a fully functional (and pretty stable) base product.

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Warpzilla NGLayout

by Warpzilla porting team
download from the Warpzilla homepage (2M)
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Copyright © 1998 - Falcon Networking ISSN 1203-5696
November 16, 1998