Rapid tools add new dimensions to Web page development

One of the most interesting frontiers today is in rapid application development
tools for the Web. If your agency wants to respond to the president’s call for
electronic government, or if you’re working to carve out a niche for delivering
specific public services, take note of these specialized tools. They can put high-flux
databases online and enable browser-based administration.

Cold Fusion from Allaire Corp. of Cambridge, Mass., at www.allaire.com,
is becoming a market leader. Any uniform resource locator that ends in .cfm or .cfml
instead of .html indicates that a server running Cold Fusion is involved.

Although .html or .htm pages formatted in Hypertext Markup Language still prevail,
webmasters are beginning to offer other services running on the same Web server or
different ones. The new services can create pages on the fly from catalogs and databases.

When a visitor types a URL that ends in .cfml, the Web server hands it off to a server
running Cold Fusion, which relays back a database-generated custom page for the client.

CFML tags can even be embedded in HTML pages. The technology fills gaps in HTML,
supplying session variables, branching logic, loops, and error trapping and debugging
tools. I’ve seen CFML tags used in intranet development projects to construct
management tools driven by forms and buttons.

If you want to learn about rapid Web development and are familiar with Microsoft
Windows application development, check out Microsoft Corp.’s Visual InterDev Web
Solutions Kit at msdn.microsoft.com/vinterdev/wsk/default.asp.
  The kit includes a what-you-see-is-what-you-get page editor.

Here are other players in the rapid Web development game:

n NetObjects Fusion from NetObjects Inc. of Redwood City, Calif., a drag-and-drop
environment for site structuring, has controls for styles, layout, content management and
version control. Read about the NetObjects Authoring Server Suite for collaborative
development over intranets at www.netobjects.com.

n Vignette Development Center and other tools from Vignette Corp. of Austin,
Texas, let users create templates for Web pages and link them to databases without writing
code. Database tables and schemas are generated automatically. Vignette’s StoryServer
dynamically delivers archived content for sites that publish thousands of pages and
don’t want to have to redo the HTML whenever they change their page templates. Visit www.vignette.com.

n Vision Software Tools Inc. of Oakland, Calif., sells application servers with
specialized business logic architecture, as well as Vision Jade Developer Studio, which
lets programmers construct system components. Visit its site at www.vision-soft.com.

The pages displayed by your browser increasingly are going to come from machines
separate from the Web server you’re visiting. It’s easy to gauge the strength of
the trend as you encounter new URL file extensions differing from .html.

Government agencies that want to conduct electronic commerce or help citizens customize
their own reports unassisted should stay alert for opportunities to learn how all the
parts will fit together.

Shawn P. McCarthy designs search and navigation products for a Web search engine
provider. E-mail him at smccarthy@lycos.com.

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