PENN PRINTOUT
The University of Pennsylvania's Online Computing Magazine

October 1994 - Volume 11:1

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Hot Lynx

By Mike Berry and Chris Hiester

The World-Wide Web promises to deliver the riches of the Internet to anyone who can click a mouse or press a key, but many of the popular attractions of the Web - slick graphics, sounds, and video - require expensive hardware and high-speed network connections that some people simply cannot afford. While the explosion of multimedia tools, especially NCSA's Mosaic and Cornell's Cello, has introduced a new world to many Internet users, it has also left a tantalized population of less fortunate users in the dust. According to Tim O'Reilly, president of the technical publishing company O'Reilly and Associates, "The problem with Mosaic is that it's currently for the haves of the Internet."

Fortunately, there is an equalizer for the have-nots called Lynx. Lynx is a terminal-based World-Wide Web browser developed at the University of Kansas that offers the same global hypertext and multiple protocol capabilities as its multimedia counterparts, but without the high cost. Lynx performs as well on a 8086-based PC with a 2,400 baud modem as it does on a high-end UNIX workstation. And since most academically useful information is textual, not graphical, Lynx unleashes the power of the Internet to every PennNet citizen regardless of whether one is looking for the full text of Stanley Chodorow's Convocation speech (http://www- penninfo.upenn.edu:1962/penninfo-srv.upenn.edu/9000/21227.html), a searchable index of The Canterbury Tale (gopher://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/11/Archive), the Faculty Club's hours (http://www-penninfo.upenn.edu:1962/penninfo- srv.upenn.edu/9000/60.html), or today's weather forecast (http://cougarxp.princeton.edu:2112/bpd/webweather.html). Lynx may not give you the Emerald City in Technicolor, but once you try it, you'll see that you're not in Kansas anymore, either.


Lynx at Penn

Penn's campus-wide Web, with over 30,000 accessible documents, is a microcosm of the larger World-Wide Web. Most of Penn's Schools, as well as a host of interdisciplinary programs, administrative departments, and individual faculty, students, and staff, maintain resources on the Penn Web. Some particularly compelling examples include:

  • The Library's new Gateway system, which offers scholarly tools such as the Oxford English Dictionary and Lexis/Nexis, via Lynx.
  • The African Studies Web server, one of the largest electronic repositories of information about Africa in the world.
  • OncoLink, the award-winning cancer information resource.
  • Finding and connecting to a Lynx browser at Penn is a cinch. Lynx is installed on many of the large e-mail hosts on campus, such as mail.sas, eniac, dolphin, and pobox. To connect, simply type "lynx" at the main menu or at the UNIX prompt.

If you're on another host that does not have Lynx, you can still connct via the campus-wide Lynx service; simply telnet to www.upenn.edu and log in as "pennweb".

The advantage of using Lynx on an e-mail host is that you can download and save files straight to your home directory, just as Mosaic users can download directly to their client machines. Those using the campus-wide Telnet service can enjoy all the features of Lynx except downloading and saving files locally. This may not be a problem for most users however, since Lynx lets you send documents to yourself via e-mail (see below).


Using URLs in Lynx

Like Mosaic, Lynx takes you directly to the resources you want. Instead of mouse clicks, your keyboard's vertical arrow keys lead you through successive hypertext links in a document and the right arrow key follows a link.

While arrow keys are the only required navigational tools for Lynx, keep in mind that each individual resource that Lynx can find has an electronic address called a URL (Universal Resource Locator). If you already know the URL of the resource you are looking for, you can type "g" and then the URL address to go directly to that resource. Most URL's conform to the following format:

protocol://host/path/filename

For example: http://www.upenn.edu/pennprintout/aboutprintout.html

Additional features avail themselves via one-letter commands such as "h" for help; "p", to print, save, or mail yourself a document; "m" to return to the main screen, your home page; and "s" to search any searchable document or database.

Web browsers, such as Lynx, envelop several older network protocols, making Lynx a single, easy-to-use interface to six types of network services supported by PennNet:

  • World-Wide Web
  • Gopher
  • PennInfo
  • NetNews
  • FTP
  • Telnet

Previously, each type of network service had a specific interface and required different commands. Now, with the Web's multiple protocol capabilities and a standardized URL addressing scheme, Lynx users have access to almost every source of information available on the Internet. Here are some common examples:

http://www.upenn.edu The World-Wide Web is expanding at a rate of nearly 300,000 percent annually, by one estimate. Penn's home page has connections to many local Web services and a variety of hot links to services on the Internet. PennInfo, School, and departmental resources are available here as well.

gopher://gopher.upenn.edu Access the established world of "gopher" resources with this address. Penn's Gopher server has connections to sites around the University, such as the English Department Gopher, and around the world, with links to indices of Gopher servers on every continent.

news:upenn.talk NetNews discussion groups range from local topics, such as University Dining Services, to broad, worldwide topics, such as geopolitics and ecology (see the article on 4). Note that the URL for NetNews lacks the "//" usually required after the protocol specification.

ftp://ftp.upenn.edu File transfer becomes easy with the user-friendly interface that Lynx provides. The University's official FTP site provides popular supported shareware applications, some site-licensed software, and some course-related software, as well.

telnet://whois.upenn.edu Lynx can reach any host on the Internet using a telnet address. "Whois" is the campus-wide directory, listing departmental affiliation, e-mail addresses, and soon, mailing addresses and phone numbers for University faculty, students, and staff.


Lynx history

Lynx is a success story in free software development, and perhaps a model for future development on the Internet. It became popular in the wake of excitement over Mosaic, just before the landmark December, 1993 New York Times article that disappointed thousands of Internet users: Mosaic required, according to the Times, a high-speed Ethernet connection to the Internet - virtually unheard of outside the corporate and academic worlds.

Like many packages in the public domain, Lynx was originally a small project for a group of computer programmers who noticed a local need for a particular tool. But after releasing their tool to Internet users two years ago, Lou Montulli, Charles Rezac, and Michael Grobe quickly discovered that Lynx filled a need for a large population of low-end, high-need users. "I never expected to be in a position where I could help make a contribution to global communication... quite like that," said Grobe.

When Lynx 2.2 was released in February, it was heralded in a number of print magazines, including PC Week and Online Magazine. Only three months later, Lynx 2.3 tackled the security holes and bugs that had just been fixed by its high-profile counterpart, Mosaic.

Still, Lynx remains a relatively small project compared to Mosaic and most commercial products. Montulli and a student programmer, Garret Blythe, spent much of their effort on Lynx outside of the office last year. In fact, many improvements and patches were submitted by users outside of the University of Kansas. Rather than reinvent the wheel, programmers across the country opted instead to assist in the development of Lynx.


Why is Lynx so popular?

One of the reasons Lynx has become popular is that it is easily ported to most machines that are connected to the Internet.

For users, Lynx is popular because it is fast, free, and has the same simple, seamless feel that made Mosaic an instant success. Further, Lynx accesses the part of the World-Wide Web that many regard as the most useful: text. "In a way, we may find ourselves relevant to that most basic of university activities for the first time - publishing - disseminating information - in some sense the heart of university activity," Grobe said.

More important, however, is the fact that users demand products like Lynx because they do not always have access to high-end network resources. While the University has wired most dormitories and office building with high speed Ethernet connections, thousands of faculty, staff, and students still reside off campus and rely on the modem pool. Just last month, the pool expanded from 240 to 300 modems - but the speed of those modems remains the same: roughly 100 times slower than an Ethernet connection.

While the future most certainly holds impressive networked hypermedia applications, Lynx reminds us that the most important piece of the web - the written word - will ultimately become as easily and widely disseminated, viewed, and retrieved online as it is on paper. Perhaps more so.... For now, just click your keyboard three times and say, "There's no place like my home page."

Note: The authors researched this article using the Library's Lynx- based information gateway. They interviewed Michael Grobe online via a Lynx-based form.


MIKE BERRY is a Sophomore in SEAS; CHRIS HIESTER is Technical Support Specialist for Data Communications and Computing Services.