In 1996, 2.5 million servers are providing Web access, but by the year 2000, that number will probably be more than 150 million servers for more than 100 million users! The idea of this amazing growth hadn't really hit me until I recently heard it at Microsoft's Professional Developer Conference, which focused on the Internet and intranets.
The Internet's impact on software developers strikes you when you look at the effect it's having on Microsoft's product strategy: The company has done the biggest about-face in recent memory. As of now, all Microsoft products are Internet and intranet capable.
This strategy revolves around ActiveX (formerly, Sweeper), a set of Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) controls-based technologies that "allow a richer user experience over the Internet" (Microsoft's words, not mine). At the heart of ActiveX technology is Internet Explorer 3.0 (IE3), which supports objects according to the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) 3.0 object model. These objects can extend the functionality of an HTML page by providing one source for inserting images, video, and programs that use OLE controls (ActiveX) and Java, for example. Visit http://www.w3.org/pub/WWW/TR/WD-object.html for details about the HTML 3.0 object model.
So what can you do with all this cool technology? Not much, yet! To get an idea of its potential, you can visit the Microsoft ActiveX page at http://126.96.36.199:80/ie/appdev/default1.htm. If you want more than just to read about ActiveX, you'll have to download the ActiveX Development Kit from http://www.msn.com/download/sdk/msasdk.zip. The file is a 12MB zipped file that contains many examples and a very, very Alpha version of IE3. If you want to view ActiveX demonstrations, you must have this version of IE. Be aware that IE3 requires NT 4.0 beta 1 and is not very stable. You probably don't want it on a production machine just yet.
A how-to showcase at http://188.8.131.52:80/ie/showcase/howto_3/volcano3.htm provides many useful examples of ActiveX in action. Microsoft has extended the Web pages of the now-familiar Volcano Coffee Company to include animation, frames, and extended data input capabilities via Visual Basic (VB) Script. VBScript is an integral component of ActiveX, so you can bring many VB capabilities to the Web. You can visit http://www.microsoft.com/vbscript/ to get the full story.
If these sites aren't enough for you, be sure to visit the ActiveX Gallery at http://184.108.40.206:80/ie/appdev/controls/default.htm. You will need to download the ActiveX components before you can view these demos, but they're well worth the effort.
The Netscape Stand
Microsoft and I aren't the only ones struck by the Internet's potential. Netscape has been there all along. In fact, Netscape has become the face of the Internet.
So how does this company fit into the rush to "Internet enable" application development products? Pretty darn well. While Microsoft was busy "activating" the Internet, Netscape was hitting the SuiteSpot. (I had to say it.)
Netscape has announced a set of software packages called SuiteSpot. This flexible suite of five integrated servers uses open Internet technology to let business workgroups communicate and collaborate. The Netscape SuiteSpot is "the intersection of information, applications, and collaboration" (Netscape's words, not mine).
The Netscape people really aren't kidding when they say flexible. Consider this: SuiteSpot consists of LiveWire Pro and any combination of five of the following software packages: Enterprise Server, the Web Server; Mail Server, a Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP)-compliant mail server; News Server, an internal or external public messaging server; Proxy Server, a site access control and replication server; and Catalog Server, a full-text indexing and searching server that provides Yahoo-style directory services.
One nice thing about SuiteSpot is that by the time you read this article, SuiteSpot should be available. I wouldn't count Microsoft out, though. We just haven't heard a really firm commitment on a delivery date. (I know, I know--tell you something you don't know.)
By providing a way to publish company and product information on the World Wide Web (WWW), IBM's Internet Connection Server lets a business establish an Internet presence. This solution provides the hardware, software, and service for customers to access and use the Internet for business. Internet Connection is a component of IBM's network-centric computing strategy.
The Internet Connection Servers for AIX(R), OS/2(R) Warp, and Windows NT 4 are part of IBM's family of modular application servers--IBM Software Servers. These servers let you implement client/server applications, using modular server technology that supports multiple server and client platforms.
These servers are available for downloading from the Internet at no charge from http://www.ics.raleigh.ibm.com/icsbeta/downloadlist.htm. Program packages of these servers are also available for a fee if you want the program media and manual.
With the availability of its Internet Connection family of products, IBM is another entry in the Internet and intranet sweepstakes. This family includes the Internet Connection Server (IBM's Web server), an Internet browser, and database gateways. How many of these products will run on Windows NT is unclear, but IBM has already announced that the Internet Connection Server will. It is available for download at http://www.ics.raleigh.ibm.com/ics/icfgive.htm. You can visit IBM's Web site at http://www.software.ibm.com/is/sw-servers/internet/index.html. Watch this space for more information as IBM's Internet plans unfold.
The Desktop Battle
Now that everybody recognizes the Internet's value and realizes that intranets have even more potential, major software companies are making clear that the real battle is for the desktop. Microsoft initially overlooked the Internet and then realized that if Netscape dominates the Internet, it also dominates the intranet by default. So, as Microsoft marches toward Nashville and the consolidation of file and Web browsers, as Netscape pushes SuiteSpot, and as IBM casts its hat into the ring, be on the lookout for some interesting fights for desktop supremacy.
Off the Shelf: Internet Recommendations
Allaire Forums: A very sophisticated yet easy-to-use conferencing system that works with any Web server. I can't say enough about this product. To try it out, visit http://www.winntmag.com/forum, or for more information, try http://220.127.116.11/cgi-shl/dbml.exe?template=/Allaire/forums/forums.dbm.
CyberPilot Pro: http://www.netcarta.com/prod/cyberpro/ is cartography for the Internet! CyberPilot lets you use icons to graphically map the Internet according to what you want to see. You can publish the resulting maps and share them with other cyberpilots. You can download the beta version from http://zoomer.netcarta.com/Cppb2.exe.
Finally, if you want a glimpse of the power of client/server computing over the Internet, check out http://www.pointcast.com. You'll have to download some software, but what you get is a fully interactive news delivery system that poses as a screen saver. You can completely customize the information that it delivers to your computer. You can either view this information on PointCast's Web site or through PointCast's SmartScreen technology view the information as it is PointCast (instead of broadcast) to your system. I am running PointCast on my laptop with Windows NT 4.0 beta 1 with no problem.