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A complete guide to using the Internet to improve project management performance Empowered by a new generation of Internet technologies and Web applications, managers can now work together from virtually anywhere in the world and on any platform to manage and complete a project. With the help of the Internet, they can discuss the details of any project in advance, track a project's progress, adjust a timeline in real time, manage distributed teams, understand resource bottlenecks, and revise plans on the fly. In this important book, Internet expert Amit Maitra describes how to successfully exploit the power and versatility of the Internet as a tool for managing projects and processes, and how you can too. Maitra provides an overview of current Internet technologies and describes how to incorporate satellites and Internet-based project management techniques into high-technology, manufacturing, and operations environments. He presents a series of fascinating and instructive case studies that demonstrate the various successful approaches used at several leading-edge companies. Maitra provides managers with clear, step-by-step guidelines for designing, developing, and implementing Internet approaches customized to an organization's unique project management needs-and supplies helpful ideas for assessing the performance and ROI of project management Internet applications.
Making the Internet Work.
Two Themes of the Satellite-Based Internet Use.
Manufacturing and the Internet.
Satellite Internet Applications: Project Management Using ICO Global Communications Services.
TAKING NEW MEASURES.
Managing Electric Utilities.
Taking New Measures.
Glossary: Acronyms and Abbreviations.
The Internet is changing the way people in private, public, and international organizations conduct business. Global access to people, data, software, documents, graphics, audio, and video clips allow organizations to communicate with experts throughout the world, and to receive immediate support for any technical problems. Since the publication of Developing a Corporate Internet Strategy: The IT Manager's Guide in 1996, 1 the Internet has been growing by leaps and bounds. The Internet has been instrumental in ushering the era of direct person-to-person communication through electronic mail (e-mail) and group communication with electronic communication forums (user groups). Additionally, many computers on the Internet store information that is freely accessible, thereby facilitating and accelerating the process of sharing, disseminating, and acquiring information. It is beyond the scope of this chapter to provide detailed coverage of all the recent extensions in the Internet's capabilities. The reader should not think that all the recent developments have been discussed in full. Rather, this chapter investigates the Internet's major elements, as they are available today, at a depth sufficient to permit a sound appraisal.*
In order for one to use the Internet, one must first access it. Today, most organizations in the industrialized countries of the world provide Internet access to their employees. These organizations and their employees may use specialized Internet access firms, called Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and commercial online services, such as CompuServe, America Online, and the Microsoft Network. The commercial online services are increasingly integrating their own content with that of the Internet; they want to be more successful, and integration influences their decision to achieve that goal.
Access to the Internet can be provided by any local, regional, or national ISP, at whatever rates they set. Some services are expensive, so the different organizations must identify the features that are important to them. To that end, Table 1.1 identifies the various types of Internet Service Providers and their characteristics.
In general, there are three levels of service: e-mail only, dial-up access, and direct permanent attachment. Technically, there are multiple options available for securing these service levels. This section describes the six commonly exercised options. Appendix B provides more details on the hardware and software issues.
REMOTE NETWORK ACCESS OR GATEWAY OR ONLINE SERVICES
America Online, Delphi, CompuServe, Genie, MCI Mail, and some commercial Bulletin Board Services (BBS), such as FidoNet, are examples of Gateway Services. They provide limited Internet access. This type of access is not suitable for business users, because most commercial providers, as well as the BBS, are simply gateways to Internet e-mail. They are not on the Internet, and consequently there are significant delays in mail delivery, size limitations on e-mail messages, and limitations on real Internet access. This last problem may be corrected in the near future.
DIAL-UP OR SHELL ACCOUNTS
This is the simplest and least expensive way of accessing the Internet. Equipment needs are very modest for this type of connectivity. This option meets most of the needs of small to medium-sized enterprises that are not computer intensive, and it is equally suitable for some functions of larger businesses.
This type of connection is often referred to as indirect, because the dial-up connection is handled through another computer that is a part of the Internet. The process begins with a user dialing a phone number for a "remote" computer (meaning that it is other than the user's own computer, not that it is far away; it could be in the same room as the user's computer, but it would still be considered remote). After answering several questions, the user is connected to the computer's Internet connection to obtain the desired information. Users are typically billed on a per-hour basis, although some Internet providers offer flat-rate service. The advantages are low cost for users and minimal hardware and software requirements. A drawback is that some services that use graphical interfaces aren't available to dial-up sessions.
SERIAL LINE INTERNET PROTOCOL (SLIP)
This is a dial-up direct connection service that uses normal phone lines, modems, and special software packages conforming to SLIP standards. This mode of connection is superior to dial-up because: (1) SLIP can be attached to an enterprise's local area network (LAN), allowing for multiple users; (2) the users' system is actually connected to the Internet as a node, so users can avail themselves of all Internet services; (3) users need not concern themselves with the details and protocols of working with a remote host; and (4) access tools run on the user's system rather than on a remote host.
The telephone charges are modest, requiring only a normal phone line. The up-front equipment costs are somewhat higher than for simple dial-up, requiring a 486 PC or a Macintosh Quadra. In this particular setup, the service provider is acting only as an intermediate connection point, so users must have a computer with independent storage and sufficient performance to host necessary software, and a high-speed modem-- 9,600 baud minimum, 14,400 or 28,800 recommended. Users are generally billed on a per-hour basis, although some Internet providers offer flat-rate service.
POINT TO POINT PROTOCOL (PPP)
This is the functional replacement for SLIP. The Internet standard Point to Point Protocol (PPP) corrects many of the deficiencies in SLIP. For instance, PPP is faster and more stable, prompting many network providers to offer PPP as the sole access protocol for a cost-effective mechanism for corporate Internet connections.
INTEGRATED SERVICES DIGITAL NETWORK (ISDN)
This is an increasingly popular means of connecting to the Internet. ISDN represents a completely digital connection all the way from the phone company to the customer premises, resulting in a more reliable connection at much higher speeds. A basic rate ISDN line provides a digital connection consisting of two 64 kilobytes per second (Kbps) B channels. ISDN's multichannel lines allow the user to make more than one connection at a time. For example, one can talk on the phone with one of the B channels, while simultaneously using the Internet on the other. Conversely, both channels can be bonded to obtain a single 128 Kbps signal.
ISDN does not circumvent the ISPs. Rather, to install ISDN, the cooperation of both the local telephone company and the ISP is needed. The phone company must first install an ISDN line on the customer's premises. It will then install a network terminal device to convert the ISDN signal into something that the computer can use. To make the connection from the computer to the network terminal device, a terminal adapter is needed, which is the digital equivalent of a modem. Many newer terminal adapters now have a built-in network terminal device. An ISDN line is more expensive than a traditional analog phone line, but for frequent Internet users the advantages outweigh the costs.
Other options for direct connections include Frame Relay, Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM), satellite links, microwave links, and CATV links. Satellite links offer particular advantages for less developed countries of the world and warrant special treatment of the subject. Following a summary description of dedicated lines that allow direct permanent attachment to the Internet, a separate and exclusive section will discuss the topic in greater details.
DEDICATED LEASED LINES AND REGISTERING AS AN INTERNET NODE
This level of connection is designed to service a large number of users with a heavy amount of traffic. Dedicated leased lines are recommended for large enterprises or corporations because they offer complete access to all Internet facilities as a node, with virtually no limit to the number of users. This type of connection is suitable for enterprises that need to move large amounts of data, that want to publish data on the Internet, or have very demanding performance requirements.
These lines are frequently referred to as 56KB, T-1, or T-3. The costs for setting up and running a high-speed dedicated line are much higher; but they are the most powerful and flexible Internet connections.
Domain names are Internet "addresses" that are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis. To start a new Internet node, an enterprise must first contact Inter-networking Information Center (InterNIC) of Network Solutions, Inc. of Herndon, Virginia, for a domain name, as well as for fees and other pertinent information. InterNIC assigns and keeps track of all domain names in the United States. Under contract with the National Science Foundation since April 1993, it administers a registration process that includes the creation of a database which maps the names to the numbers used for Internet routing. Because of the ever increasing number of applicants, there are several weeks' delay in the processing time. Once the domain name is registered, the enterprise is able to use it.
In view of the phenomenal growth of the Internet, some access providers are seriously considering satellite technology as an option to offer customers faster access to the Internet web pages. Assuming the current trend continues, in a few years most of the material one accesses via the Internet could be transmitted by satellite.
Satellites offer several advantages over landlines in transmitting and receiving large amounts of data. The primary advantage is speed: Because there is no physical link between the satellite and a receiving station on the ground, there is no inherent physical limit as to how much bandwidth can be supplied to each customer.
The only limit to transmission bandwidth is the data capability of the satellite itself. If a customer needs more bandwidth, it is possible to provide that with almost no waiting period. A T3 (45M-bps) connection is as quickly and easily installed as a 64K-bps connection; there is no need to wait for the phone company to install a line.
Coverage area is the second big advantage of satellites, which is why people living in remote areas have come to rely on them. A connection can be established anywhere within the satellite's broadcast footprint, provided the dish on the ground is pointed at the right part of the sky. The computer user connects his or her PC to a device similar to a conventional TV signal receiver, which in turn is connected to a dish on a roof, balcony, or a yard. When the user makes an "upstream" request for a web page or sends an outgoing message, it may still go to the ISP via a conventional phone line; however, the rest is all unidirectional "downstream" download. The incoming e-mail, newsgroup postings, software updates, and audio/ video data are relayed to the user via a satellite-- at speeds that make an ISDN (integrated services digital network) line look slow.
"Interactivity" may not be the most accurate term to describe the Internet environment. What is actually taking place is a form of customized "broadcast"-- and broadcasting is a task that satellites are ideally suited for. PanAmSat, a pioneer in the broadcast satellite business, has become totally immersed in this new business, and it has become an integral part of the Internet in some areas of the world. The company now offers Internet services to ISPs and corporations, with impressive results. In 1998, Internet-related business accounted for about 10 percent of Ecorporate's income. PanAmSat's John Chesen predicts that, in the near future, as much as 40 percent of revenues could come from Internet and other data transmission services.
Another company currently offering a home-user satellite Internet reception system is DirectPC. The company's customers in North America are receiving Internet access at data transmission speeds of 400 Kbps. Customers use a parabolic antenna system, which they usually install themselves, and pay a monthly fee.
This service has a promising future because the multimedia features, including audio, video, and music, are becoming more and more common in web pages. For people who use multimedia and whose proportion of data received tends to exceed the data sent, satellite is the appropriate Internet access service.
ISPs do not provide their own content to the subscribers. Instead, they offer high-speed access and flexible software options over a wide range of pricing options, including support for obtaining a direct leased line for an organization. Finding a good ISP requires comparative shopping, using the following criteria:
CriteriaEase of Installation
Questions to Address
It is not the intent of this book to provide all technical details on this very important topic. Information systems professionals, who are specialists that address network architecture development issues, are better suited to identify the specific hardware, operating systems, and Internet access software requirements in a given environment. The author urges readers to consult the IS professionals in their respective organizations. The focus in the next few paragraphs is to identify basic requirements for the Internet connectivity.
Stated simply, for adequate performance, one needs:
Configuring the software to make the connection to the Internet is usually the most difficult part of getting online. For example, if one is making a direct connection to the Internet, the person must know his/ her IP address, Domain Name Server, and the address of his/ her gateway and host. This information is provided by the ISP, but a nontechnical person should solicit the support of an organization's internal IS technical support personnel so that the information is inserted in the right order in the right window.
In addition to the items listed above, a user must also have the following:
It is possible to have e-mail only access to the Internet, but world wide web access is desirable in order to get the most out of the Internet. Windows 95/ 98 has made Internet access very easy by providing the necessary software to connect and transmit e-mail. The Microsoft Network bundled with Windows 95/ 98 gives access to newsgroups. Like Windows 95/ 98, OS/ 2 Warp makes it simple to connect to the Internet, but the wide selection of Internet software available for Windows is not available for OS/ 2.
The key to Internet access with the Macintosh is a fast modem and the right software. There is plenty to choose from: Zterm (telecom software), MacTCP (for TCP/ IP compatibility), InterSLIP (for SLIP connectivity), Fetch (FTP program), TurboGopher (gopher software), Eudora (for e-mail), Mosaic (web browser), and Stuffit Expander (to unpack files).
Electronic mail, commonly referred to as e-mail, is an exchange of information and computer programs without incorporating postage. E-mail is very fast and thus very attractive to electronic customers! Messages are exchanged in minutes as opposed to days or even months using regular mail. With the varied use of e-mail today, businesses are taking advantage of this technology to send information to potential clients and customers. Essentially, this involves connecting an enterprise's server to the Internet, which sends e-mail using the Simple Mail Transfer Program (SMTP).
The e-mail information content could be an ongoing, specialized discussion of some sort, a regular mailing, a text file, or even software. For example, telephone conferences, not uncommon in today's business environment, are slowly being replaced by e-mail messages that are read and posted at convenient times and places. This reduces the considerable investment of time and effort in scheduling, planning, and discussion. E-mail is seen as greatly facilitating group conferencing by enabling the members to participate at various times and from various locations. E-mail derives its power from mailing lists and the software that generates them. A mailing list provides two things:
For those enterprises that do not have IS departments but find the idea of putting mailing lists to work in their businesses appealing, a service provider can, under contract, set up and maintain the list or simply provide server space if these enterprises have the in-house resources to maintain the list themselves.
The convenience of mailing lists has produced many practical and economical business uses. E-mail and mailing lists provide an opportunity for different enterprises to keep their customers up-to-date and interested in their products and services, and to respond to customers' questions as quickly as possible. Mailing lists are very cost-effective because the customers seek out the enterprises without the enterprises having to look for them.
ELECTRONIC MAGAZINES OR "E-ZINES"
E-Zines are do-it-yourself publishing that require little more than an e-mail account. Some enterprises may not need an entire magazine to market their businesses online, but the format is interesting and useful.
Discussion lists are somewhat similar to mailing lists. The major difference is that mailing lists are sent to subscribers in one batch, whereas discussion lists forward messages one at a time. Discussion lists can be helpful to businesses. IBM, for example, gains a solid marketing advantage merely by maintaining a forum that serves the needs of OS/ 2 users. A subscription to the OS/ 2 Users Mailing List provides 10 to 40 messages daily, all about OS/ 2. Subscribers respond to the person making the original inquiry or send their response back to the entire group. IBM, in turn, simply derives marketing benefits from the e-mail traffic.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ)
Because businesses are often asked the same questions repeatedly, a pre-arranged set of answers is available. When customers send individual questions via e-mail, an administrative assistant can respond immediately to a query by using the Q & A format. This promotes good customer relations, since customers regard the enterprise as highly responsive.
No discussion on e-mail is complete without referring to its equalizing effect within a corporation. E-mail has created an openness within corporate environments that until recently was nonexistent. If we concentrate strictly on the business aspect of this phenomenon, reference could be made to some significant developments.
The most common business use of Internet connectivity involves internal and external communications. By using an e-mail package over the Internet, enterprises can establish contact with branches and work teams at many locations and can have high-speed access to vendors and customers. This is a virtual community in which people who may never meet or even communicate find themselves conversing about substantive matters.
Most people now prefer to communicate by e-mail rather than by phone or postal mail, because at all levels, from CEO to mailroom clerk, they feel freer to participate in discussions about the business. A person who sends a message by e-mail is more likely to receive a quick but a thoughtful reply. At a time when the Internet offers various means of communicating, the most commonly requested/ required Internet service still remains e-mail. A note of warning: e-mail is one of the more abused services on the Internet and is the subject of industry-wide scrutiny and improvement. Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT), a clearinghouse for Internet vulnerabilities at Carnegie Mellon University, advises that the main abuse of e-mail is to gain access to other services running on the same machine. There are state-of-the-art technical solutions for e-mail security problems, but that is not the subject of this book. For those interested in learning more about these solutions, CERT Advisories, such as cert-advisry-request@ cert. org or majordomo@ great-circle. com, would be the place to begin.
Internet isn't the only system that uses e-mail. Almost any computer network will allow you to exchange messages within the network.
Several forms of discussion groups on the Internet cover a broad range of issues, including technical topics, politics, and a variety of social issues. USENET is like a local bulletin board system, where users regulate their own public discussions. The quality, accuracy, and usefulness of the information that the newsgroups generate vary widely, but there are a few newsgroups that are invaluable to network security administrators. These include sci. crypt, comp. security, alt. privacy, and comp. virus. These names suggest that the newsgroups are built on a hierarchy. The first part of any name refers to the top-level hierarchy, such as "alt" (alternative), "biz" (business), "comp" (computer-related), "misc" (miscellaneous), and "rec" (recreational). Group names include one more qualifier to differentiate them from other subgroups under the same hierarchy. There are more than 20,000 newsgroups, including many that are not carried at all sites.
USENET services are the favorites of the users, but the various alt. fan and alt. sex newsgroups are indicative of the trivial nature of the Internet. The range of topics in such groups is somewhat broad for some people's tastes, but two points should be underscored:
APPLICATIONS AND TOOLS FOR FINDING AND RETRIEVING INFORMATION: FTP AND TELNET
Although an astronomical number of things can be done on the Internet and its internal variant-- intranet-- the most well-known activities are as follows.
File Transfer Protocol (FTP)
The method used to transfer files from one computer destination to another across the Internet is identified by the initials FTP. After e-mail, FTP probably creates the most traffic on the Internet. A user can log into remote computers, search multiple directories, and retrieve and store files, provided he or she has a valid ID and password with which to log on. Thus, the user can access a wealth of databases, programs, images, and other software resources (spreadsheet files, word processing files, graphics, etc.). If an enterprise does not want users storing files on its system, it can change the permissions to read only, leaving the administrator with the sole ability to move files to the FTP directory.
Similarly, an organization can make its business available on the Internet. This entails setting up the organization's FTP server, and once the server is enabled, a portion of the organization's systems directory structure will be open to the public. An organization can set up the FTP server to allow only a few privileged users to access its data via the Internet. The more popular configuration, however, is to allow "anonymous" FTP, where anyone entering their e-mail address as a password can enter the system. Under anonymous FTP, users have restrictions. They are allowed access to part of the file system typically in public areas. This refers to the contents of a directory named /pub, for which users have access to only a few commands for retrieving files and maneuvering within subdirectories.
An enterprise should treat FTP as a potentially powerful account that should be confined to areas that cannot do damage to anything other than what is on the immediate server. This sort of limitation enhances enterprise network security. From a security standpoint, FTP is unique among the Internet services in that it requires permission for a remote host to open a local connection. In the event a user breaks out of the captive account, the intruder cannot do much damage because the enterprise server is dedicated to FTP and thus the intruder will be unable to access other machines within the enterprise network.
Telnet is a Transmission Control Protocol/ Internet Protocol (TCP/ IP) which an operator uses to connect to a remote computer and run a program somewhere on the Internet as if he were sitting at a terminal linked directly to the remote computer. The web or HTTP protocol and the FTP protocol allow a user to request specific files from remote computers, but not to actually be logged on as a user of that computer. With Telnet, a user logs on as a regular user with whatever privileges he may have been granted to the specific applications and data on that computer.
To accomplish this, the user enters the Telnet command with the remote computer address onto the user's own computer, if the user is already connected to the Internet or on to an Internet intermediary such as Delphi. A Telnet command request looks like this (the computer name is made up): telnet the. libraryat. harvard. edu. Once the Telnet command is entered, the computer runs software that uses Telnet protocol to make the connection between computers.
Like FTP, one can use Telnet in two ways: either to connect to a computer where one already has an account or to log on to a computer where the person is a stranger. If you are wondering why anyone would want to use Telnet to gain access to a computer where the user is already known, the answer is that Telnet can be a major convenience and save the individual money, especially if the user happens to be in a distant place (e. g., Taiwan) with an account with a computer service in Chicago.
Telnet is best when it allows access to computers on which the person has no account. There are some limitations that should be explained. Let us review the example of the Telnet command request mentioned above: telnet the. libraryat. harvard. edu. The result of this request would be an invitation to log on with a user ID and a prompt for a password. If accepted, the person making the request would be logged on just the same as any other user who used this computer daily.
There is a major difference between being invited into a new computer through Telnet and entering (or cracking) someone else's private files through the use of an unauthorized user ID and password. (A cracker is a person who deliberately breaks into someone else's computer systems.) With Telnet, one is asked to share other people's information in the spirit of mutual discovery. But if someone is cracking into a strange computer, that person is breaking the law.
Telnet is most often used by program developers and users who have a need for specific applications or data located at a particular host computer. The type of programs for which a person receives permission to use can vary. Programs can provide basic information like weather forecasts, or complicated scientific data on the latest in neural research. Telnet provides several services, each of which provides different forms of information.
Hytelnet allows a person to locate Telnet resources around the Internet. There are two versions of Hytelnet:
There is a note of caution about possible security breaches: Login information may be captured through Telnet. To date, few network-specific attacks have taken place through Telnet, so for safety, an enterprise should allow Telnet connections only from approved outside hosts and with tokens or plan for encryption. Below is a listing of searching and indexing tools:
Gopher. To make proper use of the Internet's millions of pieces of information one needs help. Unless a person uses special tools and services, the search for any particular information can turn into a search for the proverbial needle in the haystack. The good news is that services are available through the Internet that can help one search or organize all the billion bits of information out there in the system. Gopher, for example, is a basic menu-based system, linking files on different computers throughout the Internet. It provides access to text documents and graphics.
There are the older Internet search mechanisms which search indexes of databases for documents based on file titles, key words, or subject areas. Many servers still make good use of these tools:
Wide Area Information System (WAIS). This allows the user to narrow searches by selecting a variety of sources. "Relevance feedback" is the embedded process that discards common words, and ranks relevant documents according to the level or quality of the match, thereby improving the search.
Archie. This is used for files accessible via anonymous FTP. Indices of files located at sites across the globe are generated by Archie servers. The users then receive an appropriate Archie site name, IP address, and the location within the archive to retrieve the desired file.
Veronica. This searches available Gopher sites for information on a specific topic.
WHOIS. This was originally founded by the Defense Data Network's Network Information Center. Now it is run by InterNIC Registration Services in Herndon, Virginia. InterNIC has two unrestricted WHOIS services: a WHOIS database of users related to the networking structure and operation of the Internet; and a general WAIS database, containing global white page-style listings of other users. WHOIS is accessed via Telnet, e-mail, Gopher, WAIS, and other WHOIS clients and tools.
Netfind. According to statistics, this tool is very reliable. It is able to find 5 million+ users located within more than 9,000 domains.
Finger. This can be used if the user knows a person's domain address. All that the user has to do is type finger user@ domain or finger@ domain to view a list of users who are logged on. It is often exploited to find weaknesses in a private network. Accordingly, most commercial sites decline Finger requests.
A more recent set of searching and indexing tools includes:
WebCrawler. This provides a high-quality, fast, and free Internet search service, freely available from America Online. Go to: http://webcrawler.com.
Yahoo!. This is a hierarchical subject-oriented guide for the world wide web and Internet. It categorizes sites under appropriate subjects. Go to: http://www.yahoo.com.
Alta Vista. Alta Vista claims to search through all the words at web and Usenet sites and ranks retrieval according to the frequency of the occurrences of the search words. Go to: http://www.altavista.digital.com.
Lycos. This is an excellent guide to the Internet, providing a catalog of URLs, a directory of the most popular sites, critical reviews of the web's top sites, real-time news links and so on. Go to: http://www.lycos.com.
InfoSeek. This is another free world wide web search service jointly offered by Infoseek, Netscape Communications, and Sun Microsystems Corporations. The service is accessed via Netscape's home page on the Internet. It is fast and accurate. Go to: http://info.infoseek.com.
There are several others. All these improved services make the WWW an easy environment to browse, even though it is the world's largest library of information online.
With a talk program, a user on one computer opens a split-screen session with a user on another system; each person sees what the other person types. Internet Relay Chat (IRC) and Multi-User Dimensions (MUDs) are two such programs that facilitate real-time communication over the Internet.
IRC takes place in real-time: Users join a channel and participate in one or more discussion( s). Most channels have specific discussion topics. If someone does not like the topics on existing channels, that person can create a new topic and invite others to join in. IRC FAQ located at http://www.kei.com/irc.html provides information on basic IRC operations, along with a list of servers. Further, it directs the reader to other appropriate sites for more information.
Today, Web-based conferencing on the Internet is now a common occurrence. For example, WebChat located at http://www.irsociety.com/webchat.html is used by corporations to produce live weekly interviews, sales presentations, Internet press conferences, and corporate teleconferencing with worldwide access at every user's local dial-up rate.
Another interesting web-based system is the Sociable Web that facilitates conference sessions in which users can insert hypertext links, sounds, and images as part of their discussion text. In this realm, Ubique Ltd. 's Virtual Places represents a commercial web-based conferencing product. It is a client/ server software for real-time Internet conferencing that allows users to add graphics to discussions as well as converse by keyboard or by voice using a microphone.
MUDs allow real-time, text-based participation over the Internet. They are built around a variety of themes, fostering professional communities where scholars in a particular field collaborate. Depending on the theme on the MUD, different commands provide access to a wide variety of actions and speech techniques. To learn more about MUDs, the reader is urged to check out http://www.lysator.liu.se/mud/faq/faq1.html.
WWW refers to a system that brings worldwide Internet resources together into a seamless, interactive environment where information is easily found and retrieved. It accomplishes this by using highlighted words that represent links to other documents. With clicks of a mouse, these links, referred to as the hypertext links, make it easy to navigate through material. They also allow a reviewer to make a comment, pose a question, or clarify a point by creating additional links without disturbing the integrity of the original discussion. For example, a user may receive documents that let him or her select product sales from a list of choices. The server could then produce another page with pictorial descriptions of the products, along with pricing, an e-mail address for a sales contact, and the option to download a complete catalog.
To carry out the various operations, a number of protocols are used. Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) governs the delivery of Hypertext along the Internet, and the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) codes create and format a web document. Codes, called anchor codes, provide links within and between web documents and to other Internet protocols. If, for example, the user selects a catalog from the web page of a particular business, FTP will be invoked to send the catalog. For other requests, similar other protocols governing the respective facilities will come into play.
Facilitated by a client software called a browser, users can now open documents on hundreds of specific subjects. This software has transformed the web into a highly interactive environment where text, graphics, and even sound and video are supported. Thus, Hypertext is now a hypermedia environment that can be used for any number of things:
THE WEB BROWSERS
Hypertext-based browser, which typically resides within a user's desktop machine, is sometimes referred to as a client.
Mosaic is a browser, which was the precursor to the more advanced browsers used in today's Internet environment. This was placed in the public domain and was available free of charge from the National Center for Supercomputing Applications' (NCSA) Internet server. Mosaic relied on the TCP/ IP communications protocols to retrieve files of information from server computers. If an enterprise allowed web requests to pass through their security firewall, Mosaic could retrieve data from computers located anywhere in the world. The retrieved file could be in text, video, or sound format. When first developed, businesses found such flexibility with format very appealing. People often referred to Mosaic as the web's "killer application," because early in its development cycle it made the Internet easy, powerful, and consistent across three desktop architectures, namely, PC, Macintosh, and workstations.
Netscape's Navigator is the popular client software for enterprise networks and the Internet. It represents more than 85 percent usage on the world wide web, according to a variety of the Internet sites such as The Internet Financial Database, The Scripps Research Institute, TISC, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The navigator provides a powerful environment for creating and maintaining live online applications for use within an enterprise or across the Internet. The applications include web browsing and collaboration features such as interactive electronic mail, integrated threaded discussion groups, and support for interactive multimedia content, such as embedded spreadsheets, animation, streaming audio and video, and 3-D capabilities.
Netscape Navigator Gold is the enhanced version of Netscape Navigator. It redefines the Internet client software standard by combining web exploring, e-mail, newsgroups, chat, and FTP capabilities with support for additional new features. Such new features facilitate improved ways of communicating and conducting business within and beyond the enterprise.
Most web browsers offer a bookmark feature that can be used like an address book. The user adds, deletes, and organizes the Uniform Resource Locators (URLs), which refer to the addressing scheme for resources on the web, of his or her favorite web pages in the bookmark list, which can be organized into hierarchical categories. This hierarchical ordering is convenient for maintaining larger lists. Advanced bookmark software is also available that automatically monitors bookmarked sites for changes, eases the organization of bookmark files, and automates the export of bookmarks to HTML (web page) format. Smart-Marks offered by Netscape is a good example of such software. Refer to http://www.netscape.com.
A vast majority of graphic images on the web are in CompuServe's Graphic Interchange Format, commonly referred to as a GIF file. Or, they could be in a Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG) format. The web browser displays these images without any configuration requirement on the part of the user. However, there are other images that a web browser can handle only with the aid of additional software. Much of this software is freely available through the web. In addition to GIF and JPEG, Adobe's Portable Document Format and PostScript are also widely used. A partial list of popular graphic formats and their file extensions is provided below:
GIF .gif CompuServ's Graphic Interchange Format
JPEG .jpg Joint Photographic Expert's Format
PostScript .ps Adobe's PostScript
Portable Document .pdf Cross-platform PostScript subset Format
Macintosh Picture .pic Macintosh Picture Format
To view the Portable Document Format, it is necessary to download an Adobe Acrobat reader from http://www.adobe.com/Acrobat/. It is a free download.
Additionally, there may be occasions when one has to view a graphic image without the web browser or a document that happens to be in some other graphic format such as Tagged Image File Format (. tiff), or a Windows Bitmap (. bmp). In these situations, graphic viewer software such as PaintShop Pro or Graphic Workshop may be obtained through the web. The Usenet newsgroup: alt. binaries. pictures. d. provides excellent details on graphic images on the Internet.
Configuring the Web Browser for Sound and Video
Because standards for sound and video over the Internet are lacking, in order to hear audio clips and to see full-motion video over the web, one needs the software capable of dealing with the file format of a particular audio or video clip. Audio formats include:
Microsoft Waveform .wav Sound format standardized by Microsoft
Sun/ Nextstep .au, .snd Sound format standardized by Sun/ Nextstep
Mac/ SGI .aif Sound format standardized by Macintosh
RealAudio .ra, .ram Sound format allowing real-time audio
MPEG Audio .mp2 MPEG audio file
Sound Blaster .sbi Format for Sound Blaster sound card
RealAudio Player delivers voice data across the world wide web reliably and in real time over international connections or via capacity-constrained servers. It is available for free downloading (http://www.realaudio.com) over the Internet. For more information on audio formats, refer to ftp://rtfm.mit.edu/pub/usenet/news.answers/audio-fmts.
Following are formats for full motion video on the web:
MPEG .mpg Full motion video similar to JPEG format
Audio Video Interleave .avi Microsoft's video format
Quicktime Movie .mov Apple's video format
Digital Video Interactive .dvi Full motion video
FLI .fli Full motion video
As in audio clips, one must use software capable of dealing with the video clip. This software includes VMPEG, Xing MPEG, vfwrun, Quicktime Viewer, and AAPLAY. Readers are urged to visit: http://www.travelresource.com/help.html. This site maintains a dictionary of the different file formats with direct links to the software utilities needed to convert or play the files.
In 1996, another exciting innovation on the Internet was transforming static web pages into an interactive online application development environment. An object-oriented application development language called Java, which allows users online interactivity over the web, was introduced.
Java is now well entrenched in the Internet environment. Java helps web page designers build and run mini-applications called applets, which users download and run on their desktops. These applets, if properly designed, are quite versatile. For example, they can automatically update stock prices in real time, or show a video clip of a new product to a customer complete with updated price information and order entry forms. Netscape, the owner of Netscape Navigator (the web browser with the largest market share), is incorporating HotJava technology into the latest version of their web browsers. This bodes well for the future of Java. For information on Java programming, Java applets, and HotJava, the following sites are recommended:
Java Programming http://www.gamelan.com/Gamelan.programming.html
Java Bibliography http://www.rpi.edu/~decemj/works/java/bib.html
Wild World HotJava http://www.science.wayne.edu/~joey/java.html
Along with the introduction of Java comes the web browser plug-ins, which are another significant milestone in the evolution of the Internet environment. The Netscape Navigator web browser has a functionality-enhancing feature that provides for inline support for a huge range of Live Objects. With Live Objects, developers are able to deliver rich multimedia content through Internet sites, thereby allowing users to view that content effortlessly with plug-ins such as Adobe Acrobat, Apple QuickTime, and Macromedia Shockwave for Director in the client window. All this is possible without launching any other external helper applications. Netscape Navigator plug-ins include:
These can be accessed through Netscape Communications Homepage (http://www.netscape.com).
Microsoft (http://www.microsoft.com) has also created a development environment called Blackbird that enables developers to write online interactive applications on the web. The success of Microsoft Network and Microsoft's Internet Explorer has a bearing on the success of Blackbird.
Both Java and Blackbird have another competitor: WebObjects created by NeXT (http://www.next.com). It is more portable in that it runs on Windows NT, Solaris Sun OS, HP-UX, Digital's UNIX, and NeXT's MachOS. WebObjects has simplified the programming required to create interactive web pages.
Virtual reality systems create three-dimensional computer-generated simulations to provide sensations that emulate real-world activities. Currently, there are wide ranging applications of virtual reality that include computer-aided design (CAD), medical diagnosis, scientific experimentation, flight simulation, and entertainment, especially 3-D video games. The most widely used industrial virtual reality application is CAD. Engineers are the primary users of this application, since they test computerized 3-D models of products by entering the models themselves and examining and manipulating parts from all angles.
The use of a Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML)-enhanced web-browser would permit one to experience virtual reality on the Internet. VRML is an open standard that defines a three-dimensional object, assigns a location to that object, and manipulates the perspective to view the object. Further, the VRML standard provides specifications for making a useful link to another Internet site, putting colors and textures on objects, and showing where the lights are. WebFX is a free Netscape plug-in that serves as a VRML browser, allowing the user to move through 3-D world at web sites with VRML pages.