Build an intranet step by step for $500

Guideline 2: Write down your goals for the Web site. Consider who will use it
and how, what information you want to publish and how the site might evolve.


Guideline 3: Evaluate products from the users' viewpoint. There are three
types of users for any Web site: the webmaster who administers it, the publisher who
decides what to put on it, and the information consumer.


Let's evaluate first from the webmaster's perspective. Microsoft's Personal Web Server,
with basic functions only, is the simplest to administer.

 But it has no support that allows multiple publishers to add and change their files
themselves, so this duty falls on the webmaster. Documentation on Web pages is sparse.

 Netscape's FastTrack has a rich set of features that are straightforward to
administer locally or remotely via a Web browser. The printed documentation has few
graphics or in-depth explanations, but it does provide generally good step-by-step
instructions.

 FastTrack reduces the webmaster's load by letting multiple publishers manage their
own files. It works the same on Windows 95 and NT systems, so upgrading is easy.

 O'Reilly's WebSite Pro is loaded with features, thanks to bundled third-party
packages. It is relatively straightforward to administer on Windows 95 and NT via its
Control Panel. However, for remote administration you must have a copy on the local system
as well as the remote one, which raises the software cost significantly.

 Documentation is excellent, with many screen shots, examples and explanations in the
three manuals.  


Microsoft's Internet Information Server has features similar to those of FastTrack and
WebSite Pro. Unlike them, it is tightly integrated with NT and relies on NT's user and
group databases for access control. It can be managed remotely. Documentation, provided
only on Web pages, lacks graphics, explanations and step-by-step instructions.

 Which one is right for a part-time webmaster? For Windows 95, my choice is
FastTrack. It has good tools and promises easy future transition to NT.

 For NT, it's hard to top Internet Information Server, which comes free with the
operating system and full of features.

 Now let's evaluate from the publisher's perspective. For sites that don't require
fancy multimedia or database programming, the most important criterion is ease of editing
and updating files. I'll focus on the support facilities provided by the Web servers
themselves, not on facilities provided by any editors that may come with them.

 Personal Web Server is the weakest of the lot. It supports upload of files from
FrontPage, but access control requires a server running NT somewhere on the network.

 Personal Web Server does not support server-side includes-a facility for
automatically parsing a page and adding Hypertext Markup Language from a file or program.
Personal Web Server does, however, support Common Gateway Interface and Microsoft Internet
Server Application Programming Interface (ISAPI) programs.

 FastTrack has good facilities for maintaining a large site. It's easy for multiple
publishers to manage their files securely in their own parts of the site.

 If you add Netscape's optional LiveWire, you get both a graphical site manager,
which automatically updates links when you move page locations, and a JavaScript compiler
with database access support.

 WebSite Pro comes bundled with several support applications. But multiple publishers
must each have a licensed copy of the package to manage their updates. WebSite Pro has its
own server API in addition to ISAPI. Publishers can move Web pages and files to the server
as they do with FastTrack.

 Publishers will find Internet Information Server full of helpful facilities. Its
unique Active Server Pages let you update dynamic Web page programs on the fly.
ActiveServer Pages work with any scripting language.

 Internet Information Server, via its free associated index server, provides
full-text searching for HTML, text and Microsoft Office files. Multiple publishers can
easily manage their own parts of a site, but only if they have FrontPage.

 Which package is best for Web publishers? FastTrack edges out WebSite Pro for
Windows 95 sites because of its LiveWire option, JavaScript support, common page footer
and control of server-side includes.

 On Windows NT systems, Internet Information Server again gets the nod because it's
the least expensive and loaded with features.  


Those who plan to upgrade from Windows 95 to NT should stick with FastTrack. Its total
upgrade cost, including staff time, will be lower.

 Now for the consumer's point of view. Users who visit your Web site care about only
two things: finding information and getting it fast. That means you have to evaluate
performance and reliability.

 To do all these evaluations, I recommend organizing your criteria in a spreadsheet,
then specifying a weighting factor for each criterion. That way, the final scores will
show clearly which product is the best for your environment.

 The art is in choosing the right weights. To begin, see a sample Microsoft Excel
spreadsheet available at http://www.mindcraft.com/gcn,
which shows the criteria, weights and WebStone performance results used in this review.
The WebStone test suite itself appears at http://www.mindcraft.com/webstone.


 All the products I tested, except for Personal Web Server, could deliver more than 1
million HTML connections per eight-hour working day, under either operating system.

 The factor that most limited performance was network speed. 

My 133-MHz Pentium test system could completely saturate a 10-megabit/sec Ethernet network
before running out of processing capacity under either OS.

 One important factor doesn't show up in the table. Under heavy networking loads,
Windows 95 had many more errors than NT.

 That means your users will be frustrated by poor response on a heavily loaded,
Windows 95 site.

 Also, servers running Windows 95 tended to crash. Does that mean you have to go to
NT for your Web site? 

No, not if you have a dedicated server system and the load falls below the connection
rates shown in the table.

 So how do the products stack up? For Windows 95, FastTrack is the performance champ,
with WebSite Pro a close second. For Windows NT, FastTrack again is the leader, but with a
significant performance edge for Internet Information Server and its ISAPI connections.

Guideline 4: After you've evaluated the products for each type of user, you have
to consider which environment will give the most for your money, and which has the best
upgrade path.


Bruce Weiner, founder and president of Mindcraft Inc. in Palo Alto, Calif., has been
testing software for more than a dozen years.
 


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