Re: WWW: Strengths & Weaknesses

peter Murray-rust (p.murray-rust%MAIL.CRYST.BBK.AC.UK@vm.ucs.UAlberta.CA)
Tue, 6 Jun 1995 00:23:19 +0100

I think that David has put the strengths and weaknesses of the Web well,
and I'd like to add something to the "Multimedia" and "Interaction".
(We've just finished the first virtual multimedia course on the Internet
- Principles of Protein Structure - which we'll be presenting in session 5.
See the first URL below).
        David is right that downloading traditional multimedia (e.g. movies)
is slow and unconvincing, and that trying to interact with a stateless
server is unpeasant and slow.  However, where it's possible, the use of
specialist client-side helper programs can transfer all the intensive
work to the client-side.  If an object can be downloaded in simple form,
or a script can be sent which runs locally, then it's possible to get
very attractive multimedia with a high degree of interactivity.
        In our community there are already two methods for doing this.
The first downloads vector-based images which are then viewed with a very
flexible viewing program (Mage) - this can include animations.  As the
vector representation is compact, downloading - even at 14.4 is small
compared with the human's thinking time.  Moreover the scripts and images
can be stored and viewed at leisure (without paying the bills).  The
program is in widespread use (it's distributed as part of an electronic
journal - Protein Science) and could certainly be used for many other
purposes than proteins.
        The second consists of downloading the molecule itself and then
rendering it locally with a very powerful program (RasMol).  In a
refinement of this it's possible to download simple scripts and run them
to alter the display and labelling.  (Both methods allow for instant
rotation and translation of the objects.  There should be no security risk.)
        By using the MIME protocol (specifically chemical/pdb) the server
stamps these files so that the specialist viewers can be started by the
client.  I am sure that this approach is very widely applicable to many
disciplines and I would recommend the creation of simple ,
platform-independent, helper/viewer tools for specialist formats.


Peter Murray-Rust, Glaxo Research & Dev. (; (BioMOO: PeterMR)
Birkbeck College,, CBMT/Daresbury,