Web Informant #85, 23 September 1997
(A look back)


It is time to take a look back at our industry. It was two years ago when I began these series of essays and put up the first series of pages that is now my web site. The site got up with the help of two teenaged designers (one is now a college freshman, the other is still doing business) and pages on a Unix server at Digex. My first Web Informants had a rant about bad IBM public relations (some things never change) and spoke about the notion of how the Internet was becoming more closed with version 2 of Navigator (now Microsoft and Sun are battling it out over Java). I looked at the ethics and legality of adding links to my site (well before Ticketmaster and Sidewalk got to their lawyers) and the fact that I don't like to do downloads of new software.

Well, I still don't like downloads, and I've got lots of company with my peers who also think the notion of putting a physical CD in the mail is a good way to separate the PR pros from the wanna-bes. You can read about other PR tips and tricks for the care and feeding of the press by Esther Schindler:

Since then, my domain name has moved first to an ISP that is now out of business and now sits at Sohonet in New York City. My web server went from Unix/Apache to NT and WebSite, and then moved again to Netscape and is now running on IIS v4 and NT. WebSite itself has gone through its own transition, from an entry-level easy-to-use web server to trying to be feature-competitive against Microsoft and Netscape, with the result being less than satisfying. In my review this week in Infoworld, I talk about how WebSite is like your college freshman who returns home for his first visit and has grown up in ways that you don't necessarily approve.

My essays are no longer being sent via a perl script, but are driven from a database that works with Cold Fusion code. There are even now commercial products that will do email merges for you and send out your own newsletter (www.arialsoftware.com's Campaign is one of them that I've used).

And while there certainly has been an explosion of site management and web creation products, I still write the vast majority of my web pages using either Word or WordPad. I have yet to find any HTML editor that can work well with an existing site. But that's grist for about 85 columns that I don't intend to start now.

Two years ago, I thought about giving awards for the best and worst sites in terms of navigation, information currency, and the like. Well, I quickly realized that there were many others who could do a better job and the awards eventually died off, with all that remains of them being the directory name that previous issues are located. So those of you that have the coveted Big Ducks should keep them locked away for safe keeping.

Two years ago we had Intranets. Now we have Extranets. I'm not sure that's progress. In the meantime, I've realized that neither can be assembled out of a single product, or even a few products. The best Intranets and Extranets are organically grown, stitched together out of many pieces. The unifying fabric is the web browser.

One way to build an Intranet is to start with a menuing program that allows you to launch your other software from within a browser. I recently wrote about doing such a thing using a little-known product called IntraLaunch in my "Browser" column for Windows Sources. It is entitled, "Build Your Own Intranet Menus."

But you'll need more than menus to do any Intranet right. One thing that should be considered is how you'll read your email when you aren't in the office. Back two years ago, the best solution was to use telnet and Pine when on the road, pointing to the same Unix mail server that I got my mail using Eudora when I was back in the office. Now I use a combination of products, including the AT&T/Samsung PocketNet phone and Infinite's email gateway.

The past two years has seen this particular area just explode with new products, and indeed I can count four different kinds of products that make use of some web/email connection. You have products that offer free email accounts on their own server like HotMail.com, but use a browser to read and review your mail. You have other products like Readmail.com that offer browser-based email review but use your own POP server and account. You have gateways to LAN-based groupware products, such as GroupWise WebAccess, and you have full- fledged discussion group products that work entirely with web clients.

That's a lot of products. Here is a page of links to these and others that have browser interfaces.

Back when I started two years ago, finding someone to host your web at their premises wasn't easy. Now just about every ISP has some sort of deal going, and everyone has their own page filled with pix of the grandkids. But finding which sites offer the best tools to manage content, maintain reliable connections to their upstream provider, and have stable businesses is still just as difficult.

Two years ago Novell went into hibernation while Microsoft went into Internet overdrive. I still don't think Novell has had much of a clear vision about its future: my op/ed piece this week for ComputerWorld is entitled, "Novell: Get a clue!" about the misplaced goals Novell has for taking back network mindshare.

David Strom
+1 (516) 944-3407
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entire contents copyright 1997 by David Strom, Inc.