Database access and the ability to edit and update databases stored on a server from the client browser are poised to become the latest incarnation of the "killer application" for the Internet. In effect, the technology allows any client to call up a pre-formatted screen, populate it with data, change the data if necessary and write it back to the server. More and more vendors are developing tools to make this job easier and more secure.
At last week's Internet Expo at Auckland's Carlton hotel, Microsoft, Lotus, Informix and Borland were showing off their Internet-based database access tools. Trade shows like the expo give IT professionals the opportunity to talk to the vendors, compare products and ferret out what is hype and what is real. The expo drew more than 500 industry professionals over the three days to see the latest the technology has to offer.
Borland is on the brink of officially releasing IntraBuilder, a database application development tool for creating Web pages based on corporate data from all database sources. Intrabuilder is designed for use with leading web browsers such as Microsoft Explorer and Netscape Navigator.
IntraBuilder consists of two components: the IntraBuilder designer and the IntraBuilder server. The designer allows the user to visually create the application using a visual form designer through familiar "drag and drop" and menu-driven interfaces.
The server is an add-on for a Web server running Windows NT. The server portion runs the application and delivers data through the Web server to the client browser. IntraBuilder is Java-enabled, meaning that Java-based scripts can be executed on both the server and client.
As impressive as IntraBuilder is for the Internet, its applicability for Intranets is even more pronounced. As the richness of corporate databases continues to expand, a common browser that can access and update the various information resources will become a valuable component in any IT development project.
Informix, with its Illustra product, takes the idea of database access one step further. Illustra not only handles alphanumeric-based databases but images, spatial entities like points, lines and polygons (a key capability to support geographical information system applications) and 3D entities as well. Illustra shines with very large databases that contain data in multiple formats.
And Microsoft (remember it?), showed off Back Office, its suite of Internet-enabled products that include SQL Server, Internet Information Server, Front Page and Explorer. Back Office allows users to build, apply and manage a host of database access and update applications from remote locations. Although Back Office is designed to work in a relatively open environment, it really shines when used in conjunction with other Microsoft products. Keep your eye on Microsoft ... although it was somewhat slow off the mark, it is using its dominant position on the desktop to put it in the driver's seat with Web-based application development. And when Windows 97 (code-named Nashville) and the 4.0 version of the Internet Explorer (now in Alpha release) come out, the whole issue of Internet browsers might just become redundant.
Lotus, not to be forgotten, was showcasing its Domino server, which transforms Lotus Notes into a fully fledged Internet-based information server. Domino incorporates such advanced features as full text searches and automatic indexing, which go a long way in overcoming the information glut that can occur when too much information is thrown at the user.
The Internet is coming of age. It is being increasingly seen as a means to access and disseminate corporate information to clients and staff quickly, cheaply and easily. The wealth of product lines featured at the expo, as well as the ever-growing amount of expertise to implement the programs, is a sure sign that the technology is not just a fad but a business tool for the years ahead.