The Electronic Labyrinth


UserWare's Dart version 2a is a shareware program with the unheard-of price of $30 (including runtime). Obviously the developer, Ted Husted, is hoping that everyone who so much as takes a look at it will feel obliged to send him such a trivial sum. Or maybe he's in a price war with Orpheus.

Dart is a DOS program which implements a full multiple-window, scrolling, mouseable interface in text mode. Graphics are not supported. As an editor, Dart works with ASCII files up to 32,000 lines long. None of the usual facilities of a text editor are present. We would have liked to have seen block commands (cut, copy, paste) and intelligent word wrap.

As a viewer, Dart can load both ASCII files and compressed hypertext files. A history, index, table of contents, print, backtrack, and on-line help are provided. Only reference links are supported. These support destination anchors, but the anchors on both ends must be identical. For example, the previous link in this node (the word "anchors") would have to be linked to a destination that is also the word "anchors."

Hyperbooks are created by inserting simple markup codes in the source document. Dart transparently translates these when viewing the file. A somewhat arcane naming convention is required for multiple document hyperbooks. Files must be distributed individually; they are not bound together in any way. The markup codes support bold and underlined (yellow on a colour monitor) text, input fields for simple data entry forms, and running external programs.

There is no reader module. The entire Dart viewer, small though it is (100 KB), must be distributed to end-users. This is a problem, as there is no way to turn off menu items which you don't want readers to access. Performance is excellent, even on low-end computers.

Rutgers University Press has chosen Dart as their hyperbook distribution system. This is surprising. Our opinion is that Dart cannot be recommended until a few more features (enhanced editing, runtime control, file binding) are in place. However, along with Orpheus and HyperShell, it is a great example of how to do a lot with a little. We look forward to the next version.

Ted Husted
4 Falcon Lane E.
Fairport, NY
phone: 716-425-3463

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