Combined Internet and CD-ROM format will update Web data

On line or on disk?

It's one or the other for government agencies that want to make data available
digitally. But new tools are appearing that let you combine the best of both formats.

Data published on the World Wide Web can be updated at any time. Unfortunately, most
users don't yet have high enough bandwidth for multimedia, so the best you see at most
government sites is a static page with color graphics.

Publishing on CD-ROM does let you create a nice multimedia application with video,
music and charts. But data on such disks becomes outdated fast.

How about a CD-ROM that could run a multimedia show locally, while checking the
Internet in background for file updates? Most of the audio, video and text probably
wouldn't change very fast, and the bandwidth requirements for updating a few text, sound
and graphics files would be low. The CD application would just have to know where to look
for such files and how to check a directory for their dates.

Such a system needn't be limited to the World Wide Web. If an end user has a TCP/IP
connection, the CD could send a request to a specific government server that could be set
to listen to a port different from the one it uses for other Internet services.

Several companies are talking about developing this kind of hybrid multimedia
publishing arrangement. The only authoring tool I've seen to date that can build such an
integrated application is IconAuthor 7.0 from AmiTech Corp. of Nashua, N.H.

The latest version of IconAuthor, which I saw demonstrated at the recent Multimedia '96
conference in Orlando, Fla., gives you a choice of putting your finished application on a
CD or storing the pieces in various places on a LAN or on the Internet.

The event-driven interface knows where to go to find specific content. That can be on
the CD itself, or it can be a specific file with a specific owner out on the network. The
owner of the file can update it when needed, and when someone uses the CD, it will call
for the latest copy of the file.

The IconAuthor user can place individual events--such as a log-in command, an object to
be displayed or a call for a video file--on a special flow chart in building the
application's sequence. The event that tells the application to log onto a server to check
for updated materials would trigger only if the user entered a certain screen. That avoids
downloading unnecessary data.

It's a nice solution that you'll probably see more of in the year ahead.

Macromedia Inc.'s Shockwave tool probably could work the same way. Today you usually
see the Shockwave used like Sun Microsystems' Java, in standalone multimedia applets that
can be viewed through a Web browser. It looks cool, but you still face the bandwidth
issue: People don't want to waste time waiting for such big multimedia files to download.

Macromedia, of San Francisco, has Director and Authorware packages that are popular for
multimedia applications that end up on CD-ROM. Director already can save its content as a
Shockwave file, and Authorware soon will.

If you already have an animation or layered sequence of events on CD that you need to
update or replace, Shockwave could be a good way to call for that information over the
Internet and bring it into a standalone application. The user still has to wait for the
download, but if you use this technique sparingly, the user probably will stick around.

It beats having to issue a new CD every time you update your animations.

In a few years, maybe we'll all have enough bandwidth at our desks that we won't have
to worry about working around the limits of the Internet. Until then, spreading multimedia
between a CD and the Internet looks like a good solution to keep your public information
as current as possible. [t1]

Shawn P. McCarthy, GCN's software and systems editor, is an Internet explorer.

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