Comms Corner 6 - originally published in the January 1996 issue of PCW Plus.

The World Wide Web, commonly abbreviated to WWW, is the chief player in dragging the Internet out of the back bedroom of computer freaks and into the living room of the common man and woman (that's you and me, BTW). It differs from its predecessor, Gopher, in that the presentation of documents is no longer confined to the traditional linear approach, i.e. one page after another, but can instead be arbitrarily defined.

Web documents and the individual pages they consist of form a lattice, allowing you to skip any number of pages ahead or back without ploughing through the material inbetween. This facility, known as hypertext, extends to jumping to a separate document on the same computer or even to a document stored on a computer located on a different continent. Skipping occurs via so-called hyperlinks, highlighted sections of text that can be selected by the user and activated. All of this happens seamlessly, as if you were paging through a single LocoScript file.

It's the power and user-friendliness of the World Wide Web, together with its ability to reproduce not just text, but also graphics and sound, that make it so popular. In the space of just a few years, the Web has come to be almost equated with the Internet itself, although it isn't as ubiquitous as e-mail, which is more or less taken for granted by Net users because of its simplicity and practicality. Broadly speaking, the Web is probably used more for relaxation than serious endeavours, although the possibilities are endless and there are far reaching educational and business applications. Indeed, big business recently woke up to the advertising and PR possibilities of the WWW, causing the commercialisation of the Net to become an ongoing source of heated debate amongst Net users.

A widely propogated untruth is that your humble PCW isn't up to the ominous task of conjuring Web pages onto its monochrome screen. Nothing could be further from the truth, although there naturally are some restrictions that require elaboration.

Firstly, you can forget about investigating the much publicised multimedia applications of the Web. In other words, admiring film clips in 16.7 million colours and reeling as your PCW plays Beethoven's 5th in symphonic stereo are pleasures you will most certainly have to forego. I'm afraid the PCW really is too humble for this. It's also impossible to run a Web browser on the PCW itself (well, theoretically it's possible, but one doesn't [yet] exist!), so you will have to be content with using the one on your Internet provider's computer, with your PCW as a kind of glorified remote-control.

By far the most common Web browser in use on Internet providers' computers is Lynx, a relatively primitive text-only program, but quite sufficient for our needs. The main problem in using it from a PCW is its heavy reliance on VT100 emulation features, some of which are missing in all PCW comms software to date. To make matters even worse, the Web uses a different character set (known cryptically as ISO 8859-1) than the PCW, resulting in many characters, particularly those used in other European languages, being displayed incorrectly.

To overcome these obstacles, I've written a stand-alone VT100/ISO 8859-1 emulator that can be used with any external software you care to run. The good news is that, if you followed last month's article to the letter, you already have the program in question on disc. The emulator is contained in the archive EMU102.COM, which you should have picked up by FTP-mail last month. If not, you'll need to delve into last month's magazine and do this before proceeding. Interactive FTPers can download it from under /pub/cpm/amstrad/, or, alternatively, you can obtain it free of charge by snail mail from PCW-PD.

To unpack the archive, type EMU102 [RETURN]. This will unpack the files onto the same drive as the archive itself. Alternatively, a destination drive for the files can be specified, such as EMU102 M: [RETURN]. You can now use CP/M's built-in TYPE command to read the program instructions contained in EMU.DOC or, since the program is indisputably a doddle to use, go straight to installing it by typing EMU [RETURN].

Your PCW now effectively has a simple VT100 screen and ISO 8859-1 character set at its disposal. To acquire the accompanying VT100 keyboard, you will need SETKEYS from your CP/M master disc. The particular key file required by SETKEYS depends on the comms software you use. If you use a program that intercepts the [Esc]ape key ([EXIT] on the PCW) for its own purposes (such as COMM+ or ZMP), then you need EMU-B.KEY, otherwise EMU-A.KEY is the file required (for QTERM, MAIL232, etc.). Type SETKEYS key file [RETURN] to install the required keyboard configuration.

With EMU running in the background, you can now proceed to run your normal comms software and dial into your Internet provider as usual. If your comms software has its own VT100 emulation built in, be sure to turn it off, or it will override EMU's emulation. In QTERM, for example, you can toggle VT100 mode by typing [PASTE] V. COMM+ requires you to type [EXIT] W from the on-line menu and then press [RETURN] to deselect the current emulation.

Next month, we'll fire up Lynx and take a look at its most useful features. I'll also try to give you some pointers for navigating the World Wide Web, a somewhat daunting task at first sight.

© 1997. Page last updated 31st December 1997