HotSauce Heats Up

Apple's "Meta Content Format" Is Catching On

By Karen Liberatore, Macworld Online Editor

HotSauce, Apple's 3D "fly-through" data viewer, is adding spice to Web sites, including Macworld Gameline. "It's going like gangbusters," said Hardie Tankersley, HotSauce project manager, of the newfound interest in the application once known as ProjectX.

How to Make
3D Web Sites

Matt McAlister,
Macworld Online editor,
shows you how to
cook with HotSauce.

While HotSauce as the reincarnated ProjectX is not "new," it got a jumpstart at Macworld Expo/San Francisco, where it was demonstrated by Tankersley during Gil Amelio's keynote address. "Awesome," muttered an attendee sitting behind this reporter. It's just the reaction Apple hopes to hear: The goal is to make HotSauce's core language - Meta Content Format (MCF) - an industry standard.

The outlook is promising. Not only are there more than 30,000 HotSauced site maps online, Web management developers and search engines are embracing the MCF file format, developed almost single-handedly by Apple scientist R.V. Guha.

More Players Are Getting Sauced

Currently a plug-in for both Netscape 3.0 and Microsoft Explorer, HotSauce got a boost last week when Netscape announced it would incorporate MCF into Constellation, its multifaceted workspace product for both intra- and internet use.

Yahoo has been "sauced" for months. NetObjects supports HotSauce in Fusion. Excite, the Internet content engine flooding television viewers with Jimi Hendrix "Are You Experienced" advertisements, is "sauced." EveryWare Development Corporation, creator of Tango, is HotSauce-enabled.

For web developers, 3D HotSauce provides a top-level way of displaying prodigious amounts of information. For users, the often daunting task of locating content - now accessed via hyperlinked indices and maps - is replaced with a "fly-through" metaphor in which information is organized hierarchically in folders that appear in the hyperlinked HotSauce viewer. The viewer itself looks like the view from the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, and manuevering through the colorful folders hanging in deep space has a gameful joystick edge.

But 3D is only one way HotSauce highlights data: Files can also be viewed in a structured, traditional outline format.

A New Way of Organizing "Virtual" Content

HotSauce MCF represents a trend in Web development: How to create order out of the chaotic world of "virtual" information storage and retrieval.

It is an obvious need: Like spelunkers, Web and Internet users must burrow to find information and are then required to organize it themselves. Unlike a library, where one can see what's available, this new medium is basically structureless.

"HotSauce is about developing a common format for the exchange of meta content," said Tankersley. "It's a move toward organization and integration - information comes in [to your computer] and just piles up. The infrastructure for managing this information is not robust."

MCF allows software to "see" the structure of a Web site; 3D and the outline format are two ways that information can then be organized for viewers. "Everyone has his own way of looking at things," says Tankersley. "We're working with developers [to produce] a lot of different ways of looking at data."

Among MCF's developers is XeroxPARC, which this week debuted InXight, a viewer based on XeroxParc's "information visualization technology." With MCF as its base format, InXight terms its meta landscape model a "hyperbolic tree browser."

Says Tankersley, "XeroxPARC is our friend."

Apple hopes to see more friends like this, which is why it is offering MCF to any and all takers. The MCF file format is openly published on the HotSauce Web page; there is no need for a license. "Anyone can use the MCF file format without us even knowing," said Tankersley.

As far as HotSauce itself, it will be available for Windows. "If we want MCF to be a standard, it has to be cross-platform," said Tankersley.

Where Innovation Begins

HotSauce has proven a tasty condiment for LuxusSoft, a German plug-in distributor and developer. And its efforts are just what Apple is looking for: firms like LuxusSoft, said Tankersley, "are where all the innovation comes from - clever small shops that get the concept and build cool little tools. They fill in the gaps."

Said LuxusSoft's Chriss Lass during a recent visit to the Macworld Online offices, "There was excitement about HotSauce, but no one was able to create their own HotSauce sites."

To help with the process, LuxusSoft created Bookmark 2X, a shareware program that uses Netscape 3.0's bookmark feature to collect and translate files into the HotSauce viewer. In alpha is X-edit, the first MCF editor. X-edit provides three interfaces, including one based on the NeXT finder interface, for drag-and-drop editing of MCF files.

More Work to Be Done

Tankersley admits that MCF has a "long road ahead of it. Setting an industry standard is a long process."

Certainly ubiquity is the way to go. To that end look for Apple's Sauce Your Site project to get underway in the near future. Using a Web crawler, Sauce Your Site will do just that: The crawler will dig and burrow through your Web site collecting and colating the data it finds, then organizing it with MCF.

"You'll have to do some hand tuning," says Tankersley, "but Sauce Your Site will definitely get you started."