Untangling The Web
My Mac Magazine #31, Nov. ’97

Welcome back My Mac’ers!

The Internet boomtown is a growin’! The time has come for all of us, (not just those super surfers) to stake our claim out here in the wilds of cyberspace. Only now, you need a real interactive experience to get noticed. With so many sites popping up everyday, companies can’t afford to call a resurrected print brochure posted on the Web the new place of business. Remember, most likely you’re not the only game in town on the Web… all your competitors are just a click away. Companies need compelling points of presence out here on the Internet, virtual customer service booths where they make valuable contacts with Netizens interested in their product. For this they need interactivity. And to make sure that the data they collect from their Website is utilized, companies need to connect their site to a back-end database.

In times past, this meant hiring someone to build a bridge to carry this data. Development firms such as Square Earth, Think New Ideas and others sprung up to help aspiring Web builders. These data bridges were extensive custom programs that often took several months to complete. The alternative was learning these tools in house, but the time this would have taken was a huge drawback. Early adopter sites such as Amazon and CDnow were among the first to get the job done right–and these sites are coded almost entirely in C. And there is nothing wrong with that. C is a great language. It’s fast and powerful. But reliable C and C++ programmers are in short supply.

So how can anyone get up and moving on today’s Web?

The answer is, I suppose, a subset of Moore’s Law. Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, predicted in 1965 that the transistor density of semiconductor chips would double roughly every 18 months. This basically meant that computer chips would regularly get faster, thinner, and cheaper. The programs that rely on this processing speed grow exponentially more complex and powerful in relationship to the chips, so the faster the chip, the better the applications that are produced.

Better, more powerful applications mean that programming, once out of reach for the general public, is now available. Some of the application development tools that you can buy off the shelf will help almost anyone create a site that is robust enough to grab customers out there on the Web. Two of these tools are Microsoft’s InterDev 1.0 and Cold Fusion 3.0.

Your Webslinging buddy has been hard at work learning the ins and outs of these programs for the last few months.

Microsoft’s InterDev is, quite simply, an amazing platform on which to build your Web application. The program treats all files as objects to be embedded in Active Server Pages (.asp). Many popular sites use this technology to serve up their pages. InterDev uses file folders called “workspaces” to group together parts of the same site. The workspace is laid out in the window of the application, giving you access to all the files with one click. One of the most important parts about the product is the INCLUDE statement. Since InterDev thinks of all files as objects, you can use the INCLUDE to tell it to go and include it in your site. So you can take active X controls, Java applications, sound and multimedia files and connect them to your Web project. The nice thing about this is that you can use tools that you are already familiar with to create the HTML and use InterDev to connect it all together. Multiple users can work together in the same environment to really get everything moving.

Microsoft’s user-tool goes for about $459.99 retail.

The second of the two applications that have been taking up the bulk of my days (and nights) is a product called Cold Fusion (CF). This wonderful product is put out by Allaire Corporation.

Cold Fusion is the “fastest way to integrate browser, server and database technologies into powerful Web applications and interactive sites.” Although this comes from the companies marketing material, I’ve found it to be true. The CF interface also groups files into folder-like sections called “projects” Within these projects you can use the tag to pull other files into your project. This is especially nice when you need to reuse code. CF uses Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and/or Netscape to view your creations. You can see what all your hard work will look like just by clicking the handy Browse tab. But CF really outshines InterDev in two main areas. First of all, it gives you a great development tool called Homesite. This application contains the code for virtually every HTML tag known to man. It also has the code for all special CF tags and InterDev’s ASP tags, and you can double-click on the tag to insert it into your code. It’s fast and convenient. Cold Fusion also provides you with a Web-based server administration package, so that you can get into your site remotely. Perhaps the best part of the CF/Homesite tandem is the custom Javascripts that it can write for you. It really can provide expert looking effects for the novice Webbie.

Cold Fusion goes for $995.00 at Allaire’s Online Store. Homesite is thrown in free.

With either of these RAD (rapid application development) tools, you can really start making your cyber-house a home!

Until next time!

Brian Harniman (harnie@hotmail.com)

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