This Story Posted:
July 12th, 1999

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Interview
Is This A Web Site Or Your Desktop?
Interview By Michael Munger
I stumbled across a Web site when its author talked about it on a mailing list. He was so proud of it that I had to visit it, and surprisingly, this was the most Mac-like Internet site I have ever seen. Imagine a site that works exactly like your desktop. Pull down a menu, select an item, and a window pops up just like it would when you open a folder on your Mac. Amazing, isn't it? Here is a screen shot of it.

I interviewed Scott Naness, the guy behind this site called Scott's Web Page. Don't be fooled by its title. It is not just another personal page.

Michael: When did you have the idea for your site?

Scott: About 4 years ago. My first interaction with the Web was in the fall of 1994. I was using Lynx to browse around, and I had no idea there was more than text to the Web, and if there was, I couldn't see it with only a dial-up to a command line host. Later in the fall, I got my first PPP account, and I got Mosaic and MacWeb. It was crude, but I saw potential to it. I started to envision a cooler, more intuitive way to browse the Web. I had made a very simple site with no inline graphics and just a couple of links to other pages back in the fall of 1994. Then, when I saw Netscape and client side image maps, I had the idea to browse a site by a menu-like structure. But I knew I couldn't yet make a real Mac-like menu-driven site. At the time, my idea was to make a picture with a Mac menu bar on it, and if you clicked on the menu item, it would take you to a new page with a new image, with the menu drawn on the image, and so on.

Michael: What technology did you need to get your site done?

Scott: I watched JavaScript blossom, and I wanted desperately to learn it enough to do replacement images and such, in order to make the site possible. The more I learned about it, the more I realized that I still could not do what I wanted to do. I realized quickly that I couldn't do the site I wanted to do with the technology that existed at the time. I could have done a site which loaded new graphics for each menu, but menu mouseovers weren't possible (and I didn't know they were called that at the time).

In my current site, if you use pre-4.0 browsers or other browsers, you get a site that acts like that - images of the menu bar by itself, and clicking on a menu item brings up a new page, with a graphic of that menu pulled down. But I wanted something better - more dynamic. I wanted it to work just like my Mac menus worked. I saw some potential with JavaScript, but it seemed too complex at the time. Also, I wasn't sure I could have images laying on top of other images with JavaScript, so I put my plans on hold and made other designs for my personal Web site, slowly but surely adding more content to it, giving myself the opportunity to have a cooler site in the future.

When Netscape 4.0 beta came out in early 1997 (or late 1996) and they showcased some of the abilities of DHTML, layers and JavaScript, my idea came back into my head in full force, and I knew it would finally be possible to make the site I had been dreaming about.

In the time between the fall of 1994 and early 1997, I became a mega computer geek, even working in a major corporation in the online services department. I stopped updating my older Web site in the hopes it would inspire me to learn DHTML and JavaScript and make the new site. Well, then IE 4 came out and I learned they handled DHTML in different ways, though there was limited compatibility between the two. Ditto with JavaScript (JScript on IE) support. Between that and a busy job and somewhat active social life (gasp!), I never quite got around to learning DHTML. Finally, my job paid for a class in DHTML and JavaScript in September of 1998.

Michael: Once you learned about the technology, how much time did it take you to get it done?

Scott: I took what I learned in the DHTML class and ran with the idea, first making a limited, inaccurate (content wise) working prototype around November 1998, to prove it could be done. Then I started working on the content, and what the menu items would be. I was always so concerned with the layout and the functionality that I never actually decided on the content. I always wanted to utilize some of the stuff I already had which hadn't changed, and I went from there. Finally, in May of 1999, I got a Netscape-only site working. IE was a bit tougher to coerce.

Michael: The appearance themes you offer (Mac OS-like Platinum, Windows 95, Windows 98, etc.) are surprising. How did you do that?

Scott: In the past two years, I have become involved with Kaleidoscope, and have made several third party schemes, most of them being OS Schemes (Windows 95, Windows 98, OPENSTEP 4, NEXTSTEP 4, OS/2 Warp 4, plus one original interface scheme). I took that and applied it to the page, and made working versions of each (except OS/2) for the Web site, and I may someday add other Mac OS based "schemes" to the design as well. All I had to do was create the graphics of the window, the menus, and the menu items, and change the placement of the graphics and the image maps. The JavaScript that makes the site work is identical for each theme. I was able to design and implement the theme switching in one day.

Michael: You talked about Netscape, but how did you get the site to work with Internet Explorer once it was online?

Scott: Once I got all 5 Themes working, and using the identical JavaScript code (making it easier to paste in a new script that works cross-browser), I started to play more with IE. I got it to work in some backhanded kind of way, but it works. I then made a lot of "if Netscape, then do this, and if IE, then do this instead" commands, and I made it work. Along the way, I developed an alternate site, using a much more legacy style "menu" system, which will be used by older browsers (before 4.0 in both Netscape and IE) as well as any browsers with Frames or JavaScript off. Basically, any browser other than IE 4.x or Netscape 4.x. It is really nothing more than the idea I described above, with big images with menus pre-drawn on them, with client side image maps.

Michael: Who can view your site?

Scott: The site works cross-platform. I've tested it all in Mac OS and Windows, and one of my beta testers used UNIX (although I am not sure which flavor) with Netscape 4, and has had good results. It should be viewable in all its glory in Netscape 4.0 and higher, and IE 4.0 and higher (IE 5.0 on Windows works). Older browsers will be able to see the alternate site, with identical content. So, basically, anyone should theoretically be able to use the site.

Michael: What software did you need in order to achieve it ?

Scott: I wrote all of the code in BBEdit, all by hand. I'm a firm believer in that. I've never really felt comfortable using WYSIWYG HTML editors. I can write clean, accurate code by hand very quickly, and generally faster than people using HTML editors.

Michael: Just how proud are you about this site?

Scott: Extremely. For several reasons. First, I had a "vision" years ago to do something which I thought was cool, and had to wait to do it. Once it became possible, I figured I'd never get around to doing it or learning what I needed to learn. Now that my original vision has come to fruition, I find it very fulfilling. Second, I have gotten a lot of feedback from webmasters, friends and coworkers, and most people are impressed with how it works, how the menus work properly, and how "clean" it is. Third, the switchable themes, which were an afterthought, work nicely. That was an idea I got from someone else, and I was pleased at how quickly I was able to get it implemented.

Michael: Now that it is online, what do you plan on doing with this site?

Scott: I can add features, sub-sections, and I even have a place where I can just add random thoughts and feelings called Miscellaneous Ramblings. I thought of adding other themes but they would be Mac OS only - no other OS themes. I'm considering adding a cookie option which would keep the same theme that you last viewed when you visit again. Hopefully, I can add more pictures, movies and friends :-) At some point, I hope to have the ability to make the windows resizeable, but that would require a lot of code which I do not know yet. I also plan on possibly adding a JavaScript "clock" in the menu bar, which would work like the system clock. But nothing is set in stone.

Michael: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Scott.

Conclusion

We have seen loads of sites reproducing the Mac OS interface, but Scott Naness went further than anyone else. In a world where the simplicity of the Mac's operating system is praised, Web sites with the same interface make it easier to browse because the environment itself is more familiar than the way most sites are organized. One could only hope that this is the start of a new trend, and that such sites will be easier to conceive in the future. When I say that, I mean it. We have HTML editors... but we don't have the same editors for JavaScript and DHTML. We certainly have some software to work with them, but does the end user have access to such software that does everything for you just like with HTML? Of course not.

Scott's Web Page



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