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Web Database Developer's Guide with Visual Basic 5

World Wide Web Database Developer's Guide with Visual Basic 5



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The Internet, World Wide Web, and Intranets



The world of computers and information processing is growing rapidly. At the center of this amazing growth is the World Wide Web, also known as the Web and WWW. Just a few months ago, the Web was a medium for sharing documents among people and computers via the Internet. Today, it is fast becoming a distributed development environment capable of providing information and other application resources to millions of people around the world. In addition, corporations are implementing internal Webs and Web-based applications, known as intranets, to facilitate communications and sharing of information among employees. Intranets implement the same technologies as their Web counterparts and are springing up in organizations literally overnight--in many cases, changing the way business is conducted.

This chapter gives you the background necessary to understand what all the hoopla is about and what it can mean for you and your organization. It starts off with a presentation of some Internet background and history to set the stage for how the Web came into being. Then you'll learn what the Web is, what intranets are, and the meaning of Web databases. Later sections concentrate on the benefits that intranets hold for organizations and how you can use them to meet organizational information needs. You'll also discover the advantages of developing Web applications instead of developing traditional information systems, and you'll look at the benefits from both the user's and developer's perspective. Finally, you'll see some real-world cases of how some organizations and government agencies have used intranets to meet informational needs and to solve problems.


A Little Internet Background

The Internet, in its broadest sense, can be defined as a collection or interconnection of many different networks of computer hosts, clients, and servers that collectively provide and use information and connection services. This "network of computer networks" now includes a community that literally spans the globe and counts among its members nearly every country in the world.

Computers with access to the Internet come in all sorts of makes and models and run a variety of operating systems and applications. Strictly speaking, computers connected to the Internet are those that use the Transport Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) suite, which is a common set of rules that allow a variety of systems to communicate. Computers on non-TCP/IP networks, however, can access the Internet through gateways that perform the necessary protocol translations and allow appropriate communications.

The Internet, also known as the Net, provides many standards, services, and protocols that allow individuals to access the huge number of resources available on the Net. This section provides a brief introduction and history of the Internet to give you a sense of the growth that has led to the phenomenon known as the World Wide Web.


Internet History

It might be hard to believe, but the Internet as we know it today owes its existence to the 1957 launch of a Soviet satellite called Sputnik. This event set off a chain of events that eventually resulted in the evolution of the Internet.

After the launch of Sputnik, President Dwight D. Eisenhower recognized the need for the United States to maintain technical superiority. As a result, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) was founded with the charter of being the central research and development agency for the Department of Defense (DoD). ARPA's mission was to develop imaginative and innovative research ideas--often with high risk factors, but also with potentially significant positive technological impact.

In 1969, DoD tasked ARPA to perform research and experiments with the communications links between DoD and military contractors. A primary goal was to develop communications systems that could overcome disruptions caused by enemy attacks (remember that this was occurring during the Cold War). This marked the beginning of the ARPAnet. The initial system connected four sites:

In the early 1970s, Stanford University was tasked to research and experiment with multiple-packet switching technology--a mechanism that improved reliability of communications when some network connections were down or unreliable. Subsequent research and feasibility experiments led to the development of the TCP/IP suite. TCP/IP later became a communications standard in 1983 and was added to the University of California at Berkeley's BSD version of UNIX. BSD UNIX was a primary enabler in allowing numerous computers and computer networks to be added to the ARPAnet.

In 1985, The National Science Foundation (NSF) created the NSFnet program. NSF's interest in supercomputing applications led to the requirement for high-speed communications links to connect researchers to NSF supercomputer centers. Unable to use the ARPAnet for this purpose, NSF developed its own backbone with the assistance of MCI, IBM, and the University of Michigan. From this backbone, a number of regional networks were hung.

In 1989, ARPA, now renamed DARPA (the D standing for Defense), pulled the plug on ARPAnet, and the NSFnet replaced ARPAnet as the backbone of the collection of local and regional TCP/IP networks that had become known as the Internet.


Internet and Web Milestones

Table 1.1 charts some of the significant events and milestones of Internet and Web history. Notice that the number and frequency of significant events pick up considerably as the timeline covers recent years.

Table 1.1. Internet and Web Milestones.

Year Events
1957 Sputnik is launched.
ARPA is formed by DoD.
1967 Initial ARPAnet design paper is published.
1969 DoD commissions development of the ARPAnet.
1970 ARPAnet starts to use Network Control Protocol.
1972 Internetworking Working Group (INWG) is created to promote agreed-upon standards.
The Telnet specification, RFC 318, is proposed.
1973 Ethernet idea is outlined in Bob Metcalfe's Ph.D. thesis (Harvard).
The File Transfer specification, RFC 454, is proposed.
1974 Design of TCP/IP is detailed in "A Protocol for Packet Network Intercommunication," by Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn.
1976 UNIX-to-UNIX Copy (UUCP) is developed at Bell Labs.
1981 BITNET is established.
1982 TCP/IP is established as the protocol suite for ARPAnet, and DoD specifies TCP/IP as a standard.
1983 BSD UNIX 4.2 incorporates TCP/IP.
1984 Number of Internet hosts surpasses 1,000.
The Domain Name Service (DNS) comes into existence.
1986 The NSFnet is created with a (then blazing) backbone speed of 56Kbps.
1987 The number of Internet hosts surpasses 10,000.
UUNET is founded for the purpose of providing commercial Usenet and UUCP access.
1988 The infamous Internet worm makes its way across the Net, disabling or affecting more than 6,000 hosts.
NSFnet upgrades its backbone speed to 1.544Mbps (T1).
1989 The number of Internet hosts surpasses 100,000.
"Information Management: A Proposal" is written and circulated by Tim Berners-Lee of CERN (European Laboratory for Particle Physics).
1990 DoD pulls the plug on ARPAnet.
Berners-Lee proposal is reformulated and the name World Wide Web (WWW) is coined.
Initial WWW program, a WYSIWYG browser/editor, is developed.
1991 Brewster Kahle (Thinking Machines) invents the Wide Area Information Server.
Paul Lindner and Mark McCahill (University of Minnesota) release Gopher.
Phillip Zimmerman releases Pretty Good Privacy (PGP).
CERN releases WWW library.
1992 Number of Internet hosts surpasses 1,000,000.
The University of Nevada releases Veronica.
Viola WWW GUI browser, by Pei Wei, is released and distributed with CERN's WWW.
1993 NSF creates InterNIC to provide specific Internet services, such as registration of domains.
The first version of Mosaic for X, developed by Marc Andreesen, is released by NCSA.
The White House goes online.
The National Information Infrastructure Act is passed, and government agencies start getting serious about establishing a Web presence.
1994 Pizza Hut goes online with the first widely known commercial application.
Spam takes on a new meaning as the law firm of Canter & Siegel send widespread e-mail to advertise "green card" lottery services.
The first online cyberbank, First Virtual, is established.
1995 CompuServe, America Online, and Prodigy jump on the bandwagon and begin offering Internet connectivity.
Marc Andreesen's upstart Netscape Communication Corporation goes public and wows the market with one of the highest (#3) initial public offering share prices in NASDAQ.
The NSF no longer provides domain name registration for free. A $50-per-year fee is established.
1996 Sams.net publishes The World Wide Web Database Developer's Guide.

Internet and Web Growth

The number of users on the Internet is a subject of debate, primarily because what constitutes "a user" is in question. Is a user someone just browsing, someone seeking specific information, or someone taking advantage of applications made available by others? Should intranet users also be included in the tally? Although several estimates have been made, so far, no truly accurate way to determine the number of users exists; the number you get depends on who you're talking to and what his or her agenda happens to be. The only appropriate answer is: A lot! And everyone agrees that the number is growing exponentially.

Other more objective methods exist for gauging the growth of the Net. We do know that in 1969, the number of Internet hosts was a grand total of four. By mid 1995, that number had grown to more than 6.5 million hosts, and the number of domains was approximately 120,000. Domains are simply logical collections of Internet addresses that are part of a hierarchical addressing scheme known as the DNS. This growth is depicted in Figure 1.1.

FIGURE 1.1.Internet growth.

It's estimated that at the end of 1996, nearly 9.5 million hosts were connected to the Internet, with nearly 240,000 registered domains.

The growth of the Web is also phenomenal. One indicator of Web growth is sales of Web server products for Internet and intranet use. Unit sales of Web servers for Internet use are expected to grow from approximately 100,000 in 1995 to more than 300,000 by 1998. Intranet server sales are expected to make a gargantuan leap in sales during the same time from less than 25,000 to approximately 600,000. One can only guess how this translates to number of users. Once again, the answer is: A lot! Obviously, intranets offer a great many benefits; you'll see those benefits later in this chapter.

Key Technologies and Information Services

Internet users, Web surfers, and Internet-based applications take advantage of key technologies and information service applications, many of which were developed specifically for use on the Internet. Here is a brief overview of the more popular technologies:

What Is the World Wide Web?

First of all, I'd like to make it perfectly clear that the World Wide Web is not the Internet, and vice versa. They are closely related, though. The Internet is a network in every sense of the word; the Web, however, is not only a network, it is also a distributed set of communications applications and systems software with the following characteristics:

Although the Web is not restricted to using graphical-based client programs (browsers), these are by far the most popular in use on the Web today.

As a matter of historical reference, much of what constitutes the Web today owes its existence to concepts and ideas espoused by Tim Berners-Lee, a researcher at the CERN Particle Physics Lab in Geneva, Switzerland. In 1989, Berners-Lee developed and circulated for comment a proposal for a hypertext system with the following three components:

Subsequent research and development pursued as a result of this proposal led to the creation of Mosaic, the first graphical Web browser that helped spawn the great interest in the Web.

What Is a Web Database, and Why Use One?

Like any regular database management system, a Web database is a data store or information repository that can be accessed via a query language or programming API. Unlike conventional database systems, however, with Web databases, this access is not typically performed using instructions typed at a command line or issued through interfaces that are custom designed for use on a specific computer platform.

Web databases are accessed via other Web applications--specifically, forms that are developed using standardized HTML tags (and, in some cases, vendor-specific extensions), ActiveX controls, and client-side scripts using VBScript and JavaScript. Using facilities available in HTML, applications programs on the Web server are accessed through server-side programs via CGI, server-specific interfaces such as Microsoft's Internet Information Server (IIS) application programming interface (ISAPI) or server-side scripting environments such as IIS's Active Server pages (which use Visual Basic). HTML form interfaces enable you to create applications that integrate database functionality and provide access to organizational data repositories on behalf of Web clients (that is, a user and browser). You can design applications solely for the purpose of querying a database and returning specific information--for example, a profile of the top-selling salespeople in your organization during the previous quarter. The application also can use information pulled from a database to support more comprehensive applications. Sales statistics for a chain of stores could be pulled from a database, for example, and used to perform a statistical analysis of how various sales and promotions affected revenues during a given period of time.

This capability to integrate a database into applications that can be accessed by users utilizing a Web browser is what makes a database a Web database.

Most organizations maintain a variety of autonomous computer databases that support basic infrastructure needs (such as human resources) and classic information systems (such as corporate management information systems or MIS). In most Web-based applications, these databases serve as the basic building blocks for information services. Organizations might want to use these databases in their Web applications for several reasons:

What Are Intranets?

Intranets are Web applications that are internal to organizations. These applications use Internet technologies such as Web servers; Web browsers; standard TCP/IP networks; and development tools such as HTML, ActiveX controls, client-side scripting (using VBScript, JScript, and JavaScript), server-specific APIs, and CGI programming. Like their Internet counterpart applications, intranet applications provide information and services to a number of users--in this case, the employees of the organization.

It's important to note that an intranet is not defined by any physical boundaries or geographical constraints. In fact, intranets are global in many cases. The intranet boundaries are defined by who has access to the information. This might be all employees of a company or only those members of a development team within a company. It all depends on the application and the requirements it fulfills.

Intranets have experienced an explosion in growth in recent months because they allow for fundamental changes in the way business processes are conducted. Intranet applications allow for more efficient, more effective, more accurate communications and dissemination of information, all of which contribute to greater productivity of employees.

Intranets Versus Groupware

In the past two years since Internet technologies have hit the big time, intranets have become an expanding application area for several organizations, agencies, corporations, and other businesses. Building upon Internet technologies, intranets have enabled these enterprises to quickly and fundamentally change the way in which many traditional business processes are conducted. In doing so, intranets have diverted a large share of business away from common groupware vendors and applications, such as IBM Notes. (Notes is an information manager designed to allow a group of people or workgroups to share information across computer networks, even if those people are in different parts of the world.)

Cost is the primary reason why businesses choose to use an intranet. Here are some of the factors they consider when making this decision:

Intranet Advantages

More and more, intranets are taking over and expanding some of the roles traditionally held by organizational information systems. In doing so, organizations are beginning to reap the benefits of this new technology and its applications. Intranets have enabled organizations to

Centralized Information

Organizations are finding that intranets centralize information, which means that employees can go to a single source (their Web browser) to obtain information. This is true even in organizations with widely distributed sources of information and databases. Typically, this information is the most up-to-date and accurate organizational information available.

Web technologies enable employees to see and access distributed sources as if they are one large, virtual information base. A company might have manufacturing and production information at its facilities in Texas, for example, policy information at its corporate headquarters in Boston, and sales figures and marketing leads at each of its distributors' offices around the world. An employee at any regional office could have access to information from any of these sites via an organizational intranet. Employees do not need to be concerned with where information physically resides, because it appears as though it is from a common source.

Organized External Information Sources

Intranets not only help to organize and consolidate internal information, but they also serve as platforms for organizing and presenting information that exists outside the organization. Intranet applications can maintain WWW links to a variety of information sources of importance to an organization, such as the following:

All these sources offer data and information that can improve the way an organization conducts its business or remains competitive. And with the advent of intelligent agents and automated Web-crawling informational robots, these technologies will be integrated into intranets so that employees can keep up with the latest developments affecting their organization.

Improved Cost and Time Efficiency

The use of intranets results in reductions in costs associated with creating and distributing traditional sources of internal information. Expenses associated with printing, copying, faxing, distributing, and mailing organizational publications, such as the following, are cut dramatically:

In large organizations, just the savings in paper costs often can offset the initial investment in the intranet itself. The time associated with creating and distributing this information also can be reduced dramatically, especially for publications for which the bulk of information could be drawn automatically from existing digital data sources.

Improved Information Sharing

Intranets greatly facilitate the sharing of internal information such as the following among all employees:

Faster Development Cycles

Internal information systems development often is plagued by long development cycles that result in some applications being outdated before they can be developed completely and delivered using many of today's standard development tools. Intranets are based on open-standard and Internet technologies and use development tools such as Web browsers, HTML, ActiveX controls, VBScript, Visual Basic 5, Web server APIs, and CGI programming. They also often seek to integrate with existing legacy applications and databases--a task they facilitate well. As a result, the development of intranet applications typically entails shorter development cycles, which in turn means that employees gain access to the applications faster, and the organization realizes gains in productivity from the development staff.

Promotion of WWW Page Creation

Introducing new technology to an organization often meets some resistance, especially when it results in a fundamentally new way of conducting some business processes. Intranets, however, seem to be having the opposite effect. Not only are employees embracing the technology and immediately understanding the positive impact of it, their experiences with intranets are encouraging them to develop and contribute information for internal use as well as for posting on organization's external Web pages. This results in cost reductions because others don't have to create this material. And employees begin to feel a greater sense of ownership and empowerment as they contribute.

Organizational Uses of Intranets

Intranets vary in their uses as much as the organizations themselves. Some organizations see intranet applications merely as a means to facilitate better communications and sharing of information, whereas others see intranets as an enabling technology that will result in entirely new ways of conducting internal business. This section presents some of the typical uses of intranets, including the following:

Human Resources

Human resource departments are developing intranet applications that give employees access to a variety of information traditionally handled by HR departments, including these:

Not only do such applications provide employees with up-to-date information, but they also reduce paper use, dissemination, and mailing costs. The HR staff also is less burdened by personnel requests for such information because employees now are able to immediately find the answers to many of their questions rather than waiting for an HR representative to find an answer for them.

Organizational Information Dissemination

Nearly everyone has worked in an organization where the flow of information was often non-existent, untimely, or inaccurate. Organizations that have historically depended on word-of-mouth, memoranda, newsletters, or e-mail are finding that intranets are a much better solution to disseminating information. Not only is the information controlled from a single source, but the process saves paper and publishing costs, and changes can be made and disseminated in real time (as opposed to the lengthy times involved with printing, copying, and mailing). Employees no longer need to be uninformed about organizational happenings. Not only are organizations using intranets to disseminate information, but smaller groups in the organization (even at the project level) are viewing it as a medium by which to share information. Typical uses for dissemination of information follow:

Keep in mind that for large organizations, the cost and time savings that result from disseminating information from centralized sources using intranet applications can be substantial, especially for organizations that are widely distributed geographically.

Product/Service Information

Any organization that provides technical support services for products or uses an internal sales and marketing staff can potentially benefit from using an intranet. Several organizations now are making technical information about the products and services they offer available to employees handling customer service and trouble calls. Personnel can provide better service to customers when they have easy access to databases and internal information such as the following:

And because the information is available internally to all employees, the result is a better educated and trained staff.

Employee Training

Most organizations consider training a necessity in maintaining a competitive edge and an appropriately educated staff. Yet, when it comes to funding training, many have a difficult time justifying the cost of sending employees to school or specialized courses. Intranet applications are starting to change this way of thinking. Online tutorials, seminars, briefings, and product demonstrations now can be provided to a wider number of employees at substantially lower per-employee costs than traditional classroom methods. And with the advances being made in Web-based audio, video, and multimedia technologies, as well as development tools such as Microsoft FrontPage 2.0, ActiveX controls, ActiveX documents, Active Server pages, VBScript, and Visual Basic 5, more comprehensive and functional intranet applications will begin to be implemented in the near future.

Some advantages of developing intranet training applications follow:

Project-Specific Information

As mentioned earlier, intranets are defined not by physical boundaries, but rather by who has access to information provided by the intranet. Organizational intranets are currently the most common form of intranet, but this is beginning to change. With the proliferation of low-cost personal Web servers that run on PCs, the concept of departmental and project intranets accessible only by employees in the department or project team are beginning to catch on. Some project intranets are even being viewed as temporary entities with a lifetime only as long as the project itself. Such intranets are providing project managers with secured information about budgets, labor costs, bid rates, and employees (including skills, education, resumes, work history, and salary). Intranets also provide project team members with current project-related information, such as

Some of this information also can be "rolled up" and provided for use on organizational intranet pages.

Advantages of Web Application Development

Developing applications using Web-related technologies holds many advantages over developing traditional information systems and end-user applications. This is true whether the applications are being developed for internal users on an intranet or external users on the Web. This section explores some of the benefits of applications development using this technology from both the user's and developer's perspective.

The Users Perspective

End-users are the primary reason why applications are developed. Internal users want easy access to organizational information, and external users want to use databases and applications you provide access to. It's therefore critical that you develop applications that are easy and intuitive for your users--doing otherwise will ensure that users won't use them. Fortunately, Web applications provide many benefits to end-users that aren't as readily achievable by using traditional systems-development tools. Here are just a few of the benefits:

Graphical User Interfaces Remember when applications were text-based and command-line driven? Only recently have graphical user interfaces (GUIs) become the more common means of using an application. The GUI used by Web applications is the Web browser. These GUIs make life easier for end-users by enabling them to point and click to navigate applications. This makes selecting from lists, scrolling pages of information, viewing graphics, and entering inputs far easier than non- graphical systems. Standard HTML documents read by a variety of Web browsers are rendered in a common way regardless of the browser used. This enables people to use the same application regardless of the platform they are on. A person can use an application on a UNIX workstation using Netscape at work, for example, and he can use the same application later from a home PC using Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Users can concentrate on doing their work and applying the information they receive from these applications instead of worrying about the details of making the application run. Abstraction of Applications and Query Languages HTML forms and hypertext links provide mechanisms by which the details of an application can be abstracted for the user. Users no longer are required to have detailed knowledge of the application or its input parameters and valid values to use it. Instead, they're presented with forms complete with text-entry boxes, selection lists, scrollable menus, radio buttons, and checkboxes. These user-input objects guide the user to enter the information needed to execute an application or query a database. And users don't need to know the structure or table relations of the databases they access. In fact, they might be totally unaware that a database is integrated with the application. Form-input objects are used to collect the information necessary for a database query to be constructed by the application on behalf of users. Users just need to concentrate on how they can use the results of the application to their benefit. Browser Customization The current generation of graphical Web browsers enables users to customize many attributes to suit their tastes and preferences. Here are some of the attributes that are user-configurable:

Quick and Easy Access to Information Information has no value unless users can readily access it. Countless organizations have information in computer-based documents and databases, but how do users access this information without knowledge of its existence or how it can be accessed? Web applications are addressing this critical need by providing common interfaces to under-used corporate databases in many intranet applications. Additionally, agencies seeking to provide the public with access to the volumes of information they produce are finding that relatively simple Web interfaces provide users with access to a variety of information sources previously unavailable. Not only is the information being made available, but Web database applications are being developed that enable users to perform complex searches of the information by just clicking the mouse a few times.

The Developers Perspective

Web technologies provide developers with a number of advantages over traditional development tools:

Standard Technologies Web applications are built on standardized protocols such as TCP/IP and HTTP, and on technologies such as HTML and CGI.

Using a common network protocol (TCP/IP) as well as a browser/server communications protocol (HTTP) makes life easier for developers, because they don't need to worry about the implementation details. Web servers, browsers, and the computers on which they reside already have this built-in support. Developers can concentrate on the application instead of the communications details.

HTML is not a programming language in that it does not provide typical procedural language constructs for loops, conditions, calculations, storage, and so on. You can use it, however, to present applications, render images, and provide access to underlying programs (on the server) by using CGI and Web server APIs. HTML has the advantage that it is a (relatively) standard text-based markup language that requires no compiler. Additionally, client-side scripting (using VBScript, for example) and ActiveX controls provide the capability to greatly extend and improve the interactiveness of HTML forms. Applications can be developed using any simple text editor or word processor on any computer platform. The HTML code then can be installed on any Web server from which you want it to run.

CGI is the common interface that allows application programs to be written and executed by a Web server on behalf of a Web client. CGI programs can provide access to databases as well as existing applications or off-the-shelf software tools. Note that all major Web servers, such as Microsoft and Netscape, provide an API in addition to CGI. These APIs often provide additional functionality and performance benefits over CGI. Short Learning Curves Unlike traditional programming languages, HTML is relatively easy to master quickly. In fact, several development tools, such as Microsoft's FrontPage, provide even novice HTML developers with development tools that are as easy to use as most word processors. This means that non-programmers--even end users--can participate in developing GUI front ends to applications. This capability enables programmers to concentrate more on developing the underlying applications to be run on the server. Cross-Platform Compatibility Browsers are available for nearly any make or model of computer. Furthermore, by using standard HTML, you can develop applications interfaces that will run on most graphical browsers on almost any machine. Graphical user interfaces do not need to be specifically coded for the platform on which they will run.

Web applications also leverage benefits of the client/server model of computing. Because applications reside on the Web server host (or other computers it subsequently accesses), the application is developed for a single runtime environment. This means that any computer running a browser--whether it's a PC running Windows, a Macintosh, or a UNIX workstation--can access the same applications. Ease of Integration Because HTML provides the capability to easily invoke server-side programs via CGI or a Web server API, developers only need to know how to work within the CGI/server API environment in order to integrate CGI/API programs with new or existing applications such as databases or graphics-generation utilities. This is often no more than an extension of development environments with which developers are already familiar. Databases can be accessed in CGI programs using familiar database APIs, for example. CGI/server APIs are the glue that connects HTML GUIs on a Web browser to full-fledged applications on a Web server. Rapid GUI Development Anyone who has developed applications using a windowing system, such as X Windows System, will attest that the most time-consuming aspect actually is coding the user interfaces. All the work of the application is done in the callback routines invoked from the interfaces, however. Using HTML (as well as ActiveX controls and VBScript) as a GUI development environment reverses this situation. Often, browser-based interfaces can be developed in a matter of minutes or days rather than days or weeks, which enables developers to concentrate on the development of the underlying application. The result is shorter development cycles, allowing applications to reach end users more quickly. Also, modifications and enhancements to HTML and VBScript code typically are much faster than traditional development environments.

Real-World Examples: What Some Organizations Are Doing with Intranets

Organizations have turned to intranet technologies as a solution to some of their problems for various reasons. For some companies, the need to improve communications and disseminate important information within a geographically distributed organization prompted the use of the technology. In other organizations, such as government agencies, online access to information they produce was mandated; in still other organizations, technology was viewed as a means to consolidate, organize, and better share information while realizing cost savings at the same time. This section illustrates how some organizations have implemented and benefited from intranet technology.


RESOURCE: You can find additional information on how these and other organizations are using intranet and Web technologies at the following Web locations and by performing Internet searches using your favorite search engine (try keywords: intranet):
http://www.cio.com/WebMaster/wm_cases.html

http://home.netscape.com/comprod/at_work/white_paper/index.html

http://home.netscape.com/comprod/at_work/customer_profiles/index.html

http://home.netscape.com/comprod/at_work/press_clippings/index.html 



McDonnell Douglas Commercial Aircraft Manufacturing

McDonnell Douglas (MDD), which recently signed an agreement to merge with Boeing, implements an intranet application that somewhat stretches the typical definition of an organizational intranet in that customers are viewed as part of the organization and are allowed access to the system.

MDD builds commercial airliners for more than 200 airlines worldwide. As part of its services, MDD provides aircraft service bulletins that contain critical information on how MDD aircraft should be modified and serviced. In the past, these bulletins, which averaged more than 25 pages, were printed and delivered to four or five customers per day, which resulted in more than four million pages of documentation being printed and mailed yearly. Obviously, this was a huge paper and mailing cost that MDD wanted to reduce. But that was only part of the problem. Because MDD services airlines around the world, bulletins often could take two or three weeks to arrive--an unacceptable period of time for the critical information in the bulletins.

MDD evaluated several alternative information-systems solutions to disseminate these bulletins worldwide and decided that an intranet solution was the best choice, because it was based on Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) software and industry-standard network protocols. This ensured that MDD and their customers were not locked into a proprietary system costly to deploy and maintain. MDD provides access to the service bulletins via its home page. Customers simply access the home page via their browsers and view the bulletins, which are stored in Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML) format on MDD's database. Additionally, MDD used Netscape's Secure Commerce Server to give customers access to some bulletins that contain airline proprietary information.

This intranet solution provided MDD and customers with many benefits, including the following:


U.S. Wests Global Village

U.S. West has implemented an intranet, dubbed the Global Village, that is accessible by more than 15,000 U.S. West employees. These are among the applications available to employees:

Functionality also is being added that will enable customer representatives to tap into the intranet to immediately service requests for call-waiting and other U.S. West services. The service representative will fill out online forms to enter the order and submit it to the phone-switching network applications. The result is that customer-service requests now are activated within minutes of entering the order instead of taking hours or a couple of days.

Among the benefits realized by U.S. West are improved communications, customer service and implementation, maintenance, and enhancement of some key applications by non-technical employees.

Turner Broadcasting

The intranet at Turner Broadcasting serves not only typical intranet objectives such as sharing corporate information, but it also serves as a laboratory and testing ground--a sort of internal test-marketing arena where employees preview and constructively criticize programs and materials to be released by Turner. Some of the services available on the Turner intranet follow:


Government Agencies

Government agencies, like other organizations, often have tremendous informational resources that would be of benefit to employees, but the sheer size of these agencies and the number of employees make dissemination of this information very inefficient and ineffective. Also, many agencies have employees who are distributed at various geographic locations, exacerbating the already difficult task of sharing information in a timely manner. Fortunately, Web technologies--especially the implementation of intranets--are beginning to help many agencies address these problems. Sandia National Labs Sandia National Labs' intranet gives employees access to a wide variety of information and applications. The goal of Sandia's intranet is to give employees a single virtual source of information. Some of the available information and functionality follow:


Summary

This introductory chapter provided some fundamental information about the Internet and the World Wide Web in general. You learned what a Web database is and a bit about using intranets to benefit your organization. After learning the benefits that Web application development holds for both developers and users, you saw some examples of how other companies and organizations use Web and intranet technologies to meet their specific information-systems needs.