There is a raft of low-cost software tools and utilities designed to help web masters, web authors and users make the most of the web. In this review I have tried to give a flavour of what is out there. The software covered includes PhotoVista, a utility for creating panoramic views on web pages; Submission Wizard, for getting your own web sites listed on web search engines and an off-line web page reader called HighLights.
I also checked out Image Censor for filtering out pornography.
Three-hundred and sixty degree panoramas are increasingly popular on CD-ROMs and web sites. It's an intriguing idea. A window onto a photographic view can be panned around in any direction. The more sophisticated versions also have hotspots. PhotoVista is designed to simplify the process of creating panoramas.
To build a panorama, first you need to catch photographs. PhotoVista has samples, but being suspicious, I dashed out into the nearest field with my trusty Minolta and made a fool of myself spinning round, taking the 12 photographs needed for a complete overlapping arc. After processing, these were scanned in.
Over to PhotoVista. In the arty main screen I selected the range of image files (most common formats are supported) and told PhotoVista the lens I had used. The application matches the images, processes the overlapping and produces a panorama. It really is as simple as that. Because of the mapping onto a curved surface there will usually be some jagged edges.
PhotoVista can crop these out, but I found it better to save the whole thing and use an editor like PaintShop Pro to tidy up the images.
The outcome - a widescreen picture - is impressive in its own right, but PhotoVista also produces an extended VRML file, used by a plug-in viewer to display the image on an HTML page, standalone or as a screensaver.
This lets you pan around the vista and click on any hotspots you've set.
However, for the hotspots to perform some action, they have to be programmed in raw VRML.
PhotoVista is a must to liven up your web site. Equally, if you are producing CD-ROMs, it offers a way to produce a genuinely quality feel. What's more, if you build an electronic catalogue and use PhotoVista to convert it into a panorama, the result is a clickable shop window that can be explored in a remarkably natural fashion. Check out the PC Week examples section of my web site http://members.aol.com/NotAHome for pointers to sample panoramas.
PhotoVista is available from Live Picture at $99 (#62).
A great web site really sells your company. Now all you've got to do is attract the punters. Advertising helps, but getting onto the army of search engines and directories is also a must. Exploit's Submission Wizard program neatly automates the process.
After filling in site details to be passed to the search engines, you choose from the huge range of locations Submission Wizard knows. In the shareware version your selection will be ignored and a handful of engines picked at random, but with a key, Submission Wizard works through your list making appropriate submissions. Exploit suggests resubmitting every few weeks to ensure maximum currency. For remarkably little effort you can establish a truly global shop window.
Most of Submission Wizard is very straight forward. I would have liked more guidance on selecting search engines because it isn't always clear whether you'd want to be listed on a particular site. Also I don't like the way Exploit license the software. Your key to Submission Wizard only works for a set period, then you have to buy another. I prefer an outright licence since it's much easier to get through a corporate purchasing bureaucracy.
Despite this, though, Submission Wizard is well worth acquiring.
Submission Wizard can be downloaded from www.exploit.com Keys to use the full version cost from #15 for one month to #80 for a year.
Off-line readers for the web are liable to become endangered species once Internet Explorer 4 duplicates most of their functionality. There's still room, though, for niche products like Highlights 2.
Like most offline readers you add your favourite pages to Highlights' list. This can only be done automatically from Netscape. But in Internet Explorer users have to cut and paste. Thereafter, each time a web site is visited, Highlights compares it with the last visit and highlights any changes. You can specify that you'd like any changed references followed too, to bring in the next level of information. On its own this is handy, but coupled with the scheduler that prompts Highlights to go off and retrieve changes automatically, you have a powerful combination.
What sets Highlights apart is the way changed sections within the page are clearly marked. For example, in the screen-shot above, the Microsoft home page had a new entry about getting cheap software with a new PC, while the item further down the page on McAfee and Back Office is not new, so it hasn't been highlighted. The benefits are obvious. Highlights really does trim the amount of reading you have to do, and brings it offline too.
I have one problem with the software though. if you have "Connect to Internet as needed" ticked in your Internet settings, Highlights asks if it's okay to switch the feature temporarily off. It does this even when using the scheduler, so unless you disable the feature, you can't use the scheduler unattended. Highlights is also fazed by flashy or complex sites. For instance, it couldn't get past the labyrinthine access procedure for PC Week, for example, but this is true of most unattended readers.
A good tool, though, for support departments and others who need to keep up with the news.
Tierra Highlights 2 costs #39.99 from Cross Atlantic Software www.crossatlantic.co.uk
There are plenty of utilities to check for dubious words and sites, but they can't spot nasty images. Image Censor monitors the screen for anything it thinks is doubtful. If it spots a suspect image it can log it or even lock the individual out.
While this technology isn't foolproof, it generally spots pornography and, the warning that it's around, may deter even if the software is not actually not active.
If you are getting too much rubbish tripping your Censor you can decrease sensitivity. The screen shot shows the information recorded in the Image Censor log, which provides a simple database of captured screens.
For the system manager there is a separate utility to manage the log.
This can be run from floppy, preventing smart users from hacking in and hiding their tracks. Not for everyone, but if you need this level of control, or there have been complaints about nasty bitmaps, Image Censor could be invaluable.
Image Censor is available from Microtrope: www.microtrope.com
VERDICT: PHOTOVISTA Panoramas made easy
- Integrated version control
- True visual development with JavaBeans
- Finding plug-in could be easier
VERDICT: SUBMISSION WIZARD Makes web sites visible
- Submit your site to many search engines
- Simple to use
- Time-based key
- Needs more information on targets
VERDICT: HIGHLIGHTS 2
Highlights new web info
- New text easy to spot
- Simple scheduler
- Unwanted prompt spoils scheduler
- Can't use with complex sites
VERDICT: IMAGE CENSOR
Clever smut spotter
- Silent tracking of doubtful images
- Controllable sensitivity
- Can be many false alarms
- Is snooping justified?
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