How can you build an Intranet without any web servers?

Intranets have become so overexposed these days: a check on Ziff's Computer Select shows the word used over 2300 times over the past year, with 400 of these mentions occurring in the last two months. Everyone either is building an Intranet or else is selling a product with Intranet in the name.

I used to think that the term applied to those internal web servers popping up all over userland: not visible to the rest of us from the outside Internet, they serve up pages of human resources' manuals and last quarter's financials. Well, that is part of what Intranets are all about: but there are circumstances when you don't want or need a web server and you can still have a perfectly good Intranet.

Imagine the following situation, which a reader first suggested to me about her own corporate network. Take your standard NetWare file server with Windows clients. Now add IP to both sides, along with a browser. Write some HTML and make your documents on the server web-ready. Now, if users bring up these pages in their browser (using the "open file" command instead of typing in an http: address), why do you need a web server?

Indeed, you actually aren't missing much: your users can still traverse links imbedded in your documents, but they are file-based instead of web-based links. You can still load up your pages with images and sounds, provided your links refer to mapped drives on your network (file:|\\G:\document instead of http:\\servername\document). You can't do a few things: You can't run CGI programs and perl scripts, and you can't track how people move through your web since you don't have any log files. But so what -- who really has the time to write scripts and analyze these logs anyway? (I am being somewhat cynical here: I actually think logs are very important, as I've written about in earlier Web Informant's.)

I think this strategy makes perfect sense. It is also somewhat timely, given Novell's big push this week to package its various pieces of software under the "IntraNetWare" label. The key is having solid IP integration on the desktop (having Win95 and Macs help) and beginning to use HTML as your corporate document standard. Neither of these are under Novell's control, by the way.

I can see another situation where a non-web Intranet makes sense: where the center of the Intranet universe is email-based, rather than anything to do with the web and HTML. But that topic is for another day.

Self-promotion and sitekeeping dep't

In the meantime, check out my Intranet Information Page on my WebCompare site: I've put together links to a few of the better white papers and sites around the world. Yes, the buzz on Intranets is world-wide: let us not forget that.

While we are on the topic of Intranets, my article for Forbes ASAP on how to get started building Intranets appeared in their August edition this week. My favorite tidbit comes from Greg Hubbard, whose best Intranet projects were managed by artists rather than technogeeks. Something to think about.

Beginning tomorrow I am off to New Orleans covering the CA World trade show for Computer Associates' web site. I'll be the "Roving Reporter" writing articles and posting them to the site in near-real time, assuming that my Toshiba laptop with Megahertz' wireless modem and Socket Pagecard, Wynd email account, and access to the RAM Mobile network all work together as they did this week in my office in New York. I'm excited about doing this, mainly because it will be a challenge to provide information on the fly, as events happen at the show. CA will have an interesting Internet- related announcement, so you might want to check the site a few times during the upcoming days and let me know what you think.

Finally, I appreciate all your comments and feedback on last week's edition regarding the ethics of posting Oregon DMV data to the web: I will try to post a summary for all to look at soon. As I suspected, there was a very big bimodal distribution on your opinions, with little consensus on whether this was ethical or not.

This essay is composed in HTML and can be read in your browser. This is not always a simple process, and I'll be happy to provide help if I can. If you are getting this directly from me, or if someone is forwarding it to you, and you want to change that situation, let me know. Subscriptions are always free of charge. Entire contents copyrighted 1996 by David Strom.

David Strom
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