Where NT meets the Internet

by David Strom
for Network Computing, advertising supplement, Nov 15, 1996 While the Internet got started and grew up around Unix, it has truly blossomed under NT. The range of products for NT-based Internet servers has literally exploded over the past two years, and this pace doesn't seem to show any sign of slowing down.

Why has this occurred? Several reasons: NT3.5 was the first version of NT to offer a solid TCP/IP protocol stack and utilities to deal with IP configuration -- earlier versions had plenty of bugs and problems with their IP implementations. Second, NT has become a rock solid platform to deploy applications, something critically important to users who don't want to use Windows 95 and risk potential crashes running other applications. Third, there is a critical mass of NT developers and Microsoft has done a great job training them and providing incentives to write NT applications. Fourth, NT sales have taken off in the past year, passing Unix in popularity. And finally, NT's price tag for the operating system software itself along with the necessary machine resources is relatively inexpensive when compared to what it takes to run Unix.

So NT can be cheaper, easier, and offer more products for building Internet and Intranet applications. That's the good news. But before you go out and purchase anything, consider what kinds of Internet applications you want to deploy. Do you need more than just web and email servers? If so, then you'll need to consider how these applications will work together and what other pieces of software, such as databases and drivers, will be required. Is an external connection to the Internet important, or are you just concerned about developing your own Intranet applications? For the former, you will probably want to consider some kind of firewall or protection that can run on NT. For the latter, you'll need to consider high-performance network connections, such as 100 megabit networks, and drivers for NT.

No matter what applications you end up buying, consider the following tips: Is this application designed to take advantage of NT, such as running as a service (rather than as an application) and using other NT features such as Performance Monitor and user accounts? If not, then you might have trouble configuring and maintaining this application.

How easy is the application to administer remotely across the Internet when compared to sitting at the actual machine's console? Some products are still clumsy to administer across the Internet, making it tough when you want to leave your office and still be able to maintain your NT applications. And some applications make changes to your existing NT security and users, leaving potential security loopholes.

Getting Webbed

Probably the best place to start considering an NT Internet application is with a web server. Why? There are over 50 different software products to choose from, including the free Internet Information Server from Microsoft that is now included in every copy of NT Server. Consider the features that you'll need or must have for running your web on NT: can you easily change configurations, such as permissions to particular areas of the web "tree" to allow certain users access and block others? With some products, such as O'Reilly's WebSite, doing this from a remote location can be cumbersome, while with others, such as Netscape's FastTrack, all administration is accomplished via a web browser interface. A good place to start to look for web server features is WebCompare, which lists over 100 servers running on various operating systems including NT, Mac, and Unix.

But there is more to serving up information via the Internet than just a web server. While it seems as if the web and the Internet are synonymous, there are many Internet users that still don't use the web or don't have the bandwidth. In this case, you should look at running a gopher server in addition to your web server. Microsoft's IIS comes with a gopher server included as part of the package, and there are several web servers that offer this as well.

Once you pick your web server, consider how you will manage the content and keep track of the logs it produces. You may want to use one of the Macintosh-based content editing tools, such as WebWeaver, since they offer more features and functions than many of the NT-based products. There are several web management products available for NT, including Microsoft's own Front Page and NetCarta's NetMapper product, and one of these products may be what you need to keep track of which pages you have updated by which person.

Anyone that deploys a web server should also spend some time analyzing the log files that are produced by the server. These logs describe who has visited which page and when their visit occurred. A number of products are available on the market to examine these logs and produce various graphical reports, including WebTrends, NetIntellect and HitList.

Picking the right Intranet product mix

If you want to deploy an Intranet on NT, consider that there isn't a single product that will meet your needs. Here it is important to consider exactly which functions and kinds of applications will make up your Intranet, and finding the best product mix. For example, say you want to support Usenet-style "newsgroups " to carrying threaded discussions among your employees. NetManage makes a NT-based Intranet server that can host these sorts of discussions, along with carrying the external Usenet news feeds as well. If you don't need the external news feeds, you might be better off with products that have implemented their own discussion schemes that are web-based. For example, the Internet Factory's Commerce Builder web server comes complete with its own threaded discussion management software, and all that is required at the client end is a web browser.

Commerce Builder is fairly bare-bones, although it is extensibe with its own scripting language. If you need something more capable, then there are a number of discussion group products such as RadNet's WebShare that offer more.

What about email?

Any Internet-related application will probably involve supporting email, and there are a number of NT-based email systems that work with the Internet-standards such as Simple Mail Transport Protocol and Post Office Protocol. Perhaps the most capable is Software.Com's Post.Office, which again makes use of the web browser as its administrative interface and runs on NT.

What about file transfer and telnet?

All of these applications will require you to update files on your NT server: the trick is setting it up to do these updates via the Internet as you would do them over your internal network. This trick requires setting up NT's Windows Internet Naming Service (WINS) and Domain Naming Service (DNS) correctly, so that on a client machine you can connect across the Internet using the standard file mapping dialogs (either from within the Windows Explorer/File Manager interface or by using the "net use" commands to accomplish the same task from the command line). Another good choice is Symantec's Norton NT Tools, which comes with File Manager extensions that enable you to perform file transfers over the Internet with point and click mouse movements.

Sometimes, you'd like the ability to run command-line programs remotely, and here you have two choices: install a telnet server on your NT machine or else make use of one of any number of remote-control products that run on NT. Examples of both include Ataman's TCP Remote Login Services and Symantec's PC/Anywhere 32 respectively. The former is more useful for those that have Unix experience with telnet and similar remote commands, while the latter is more useful for those that come from a more PC-DOS and Windows experience.

NT has lots of possibilities, and there are many other products that are available that can leverage the Internet in useful ways.

Sidebar: Products with possibilities for NT-based Internets

Web Servers:

Microsoft's Internet Information Server (www.microsoft.com)

O'Reilly's Website (website.ora.com)

Netscape's FastTrack (www.netscape.com)

WebCompare (www.webcompare.com) -- comparison of over 100 different web servers


Ataman's TCP Remote Login Services (www.ataman.com)

Symantec's PC/Anywhere 32 and Norton NT Tools (www.symantec.com)

Software.com Post.Office (www.software.com)

Microsoft's Front Page (www.microsoft.com)

NetCarta's WebMapper (www.netcarta.com)

Intranet servers:

NetManage NT Intranet Server (www.netmanage.com)

Internet Factory's Commerce Builder (www.ifact.com)

RadNet's WebShare (www.radnet.com)

Log analysis tools:

e.g.Software's WebTrends (www.webtrends.com)

WebManage's NetIntellect (www.webmanage.com)

Marketwave's HitList (www.marketwave.com)


David Strom is the founding editor-in-chief of Network Computing and runs two web sites: Web Informant (www.webinformant.com), a newsletter covering web-based marketing topics' and WebCompare (www.webcompare.com), a site covering in-depth web server feature comparisons.