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Six Degrees of Separation 

When I was eight or ten years old, I got this big gun for Christmas, or nearly did. It was a Mattel Sonic Blaster. Pump it up 50 times and you could knock out the cat from across the yard. It also made kids deaf. Recalled before Christmas, it sat in my attic for many years. Throughout my youth, I would sneak upstairs, pump it up five or ten times, and aim it at a pile of cards. It was a blast, and looking back, the excitement came from not opening it on Christmas.

This year's Web Tools awards were also a blast. With only a half an hour to make our presentation at Web98 of eight tool awards, and one Special Award of the Year, I was reminded of the words of Mark Twain. "If you want me to talk for five minutes, give me a month to prepare. Talk for an hour, well I can do that in five minutes." I put my watch on the podium to ensure that we would be finished in time for the night's next big event-a panel discussion including Mark Pauline from the Survival Research Laboratory, or SRL. You might be familiar with his work: Ten-foot-tall dueling robots, jet rocket go-carts, machines that spew molten metal, burning-man pyrotechnics...you get the picture.

Talking quickly I presented the framework for our two publications.

Born under the editorial direction of Dr. Dobbs' Jon Erickson (not enough time to mention Michael Swaine, Ray Valdés, and others), nurtured and evolved through the guiding hands of Michael Floyd. Now smurging with the primordial ooze of O'Reilly, our authors are the best, and our readers are the true developers and innovators.

The awards submission form on our Web site brought in 175 products to be considered, with a surprisingly equal distribution of 18-19 percent each among authoring, database, graphics, Java, and management tools. Security, searching, and multimedia each made up about 2-3 percent. However, our reader poll indicated that most people (59 percent) were interested in authoring tools.

Dale Dougherty explained the rationale behind the awards. "It's not about votes. It's not a popularity contest, or even a head-to-head lab test. The products are too different in nature. This is an Editor's Choice Award. We listened to our readers, authors, columnists, and the vendors themselves. Then we selected products that we believed stood out and deserved special recognition. We were looking for tools that may have taken  a slightly different approach to a specific problem, or tools that reinforced the original spirit of Web development."

With the context set we presented our awards. Best authoring went to Dreamweaver 1.2, HomeSite 3.0, and BBEdit. The database award
went to mySQL and PHP 3.0. Our favorite Java tool was JRun from Live Software. The graphic award went to ColorWorks Web 3. Other winners included WebChallenger from WindDance Networks (management), Flash3 from Macromedia (multimedia), Ultraseek Server 2.0 (search), and Stronghold Web Server (security). A special technology award went to XML, with Jon Bosak accepting. You can read all about it at webreview.com/wr/pub/wtawards.

You may be wondering what a sonic blaster has to do with the awards or Web98. In my haste to finish, I forgot my watch. I asked Michael Swaine to grab it. He did, or nearly did-there were two watches onstage, and I now have Mark Pauline's. I spent the rest of the week chasing down R2-D2, as SRL had a booth at Web98 and was doing demos on the streets of San Francisco. It all became clear at the show's closing: In the concrete jungle of the city I saw my sonic blaster reincarnate. Now 20 feet long and pointed at a 30-foot-tall hula girl tied to what looked like a house of cards, I could only think that if SRL's statement is about technological mayhem, and if it was being used
metaphorically at Web98, then our desire this year to recognize some of the original spirit and innovation was the right thing to do.


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