Analysis: Everyone's jostling for intranet space

Local support for intranet products is slowly picking up speed. Touted by some as the next major shift in network computing, intranets can provide a common, platform-independent interface to electronic mail, the World Wide Web, internal and external databases and digital documents. By adopting the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) as the common denominator, IT managers can build on their current investment without a major overhaul.

Many of the major IT vendors in New Zealand are rolling out their own versions of intranet enabling software. Players like Lotus, Oracle, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Sybase, Novell, Informix and Digital have all announced intranet products with varying levels of functionality. Some of these products are still in the beta stage with promises of more capabilities in the future. One reassuring fact, however, is that most of the vendors use their own intranet products in-house.

One of the more interesting products is the new Alta Vista product line from Digital which is in essence an indexing/search programme which works in conjunction with internal databases and documents. Based on the same technology that powers Digital's Alta Vista Internet search engine, the Alta Vista range will eventually include add-ons that will allow direct SQL database and electronic document access and web publishing and serving.

Oracle has also made a major push in the intranet arena. In addition to its WebServer product (already in release 2.0) and PowerBrowser client software, Oracle has launched its Network Computer company. The network computer, or NC for short, will be a "low-cost, easy-to-use, Internet and intranet appliance". Already vendors such as Apple, IBM, Netscape and Sun plan to work with Oracle to create an "open network computer architecture". Prashanta Mukherjee, Internet manager at Oracle New Zealand, sees a wide market for these machines. "Due to limited World Wide Web bandwidth, the initial market for NCs will be within corporate intranets. But as the infrastructure evolves, we will see schools and homes using this technology. We see the NC as a tool for reversing the trend of the growing gulf between the information rich and the information poor."

Lotus is making some waves with its new InterNotes Web Publisher 2.0. According to Ian McDonald, manager of Lotus New Zealand: "InterNotes provides a cost-effective method for the creation and publication of Notes-based documents both internally and externally. Using on-the-fly conversion to HTML (Hyperetxt Markup Language), forms and documents can be sent directly to the Internet." With more than 10,000 Lotus Notes users in place in New Zealand, the potential for growth in this area is tremendous.

And don't forget Microsoft. Terry Allen, the newly appointed Internet business manager for Microsoft New Zealand, points out that "Microsoft is Internet-enabling every product that is released. We want to make it easy to access, publish and manage information over the Internet and internal intranets. Our products like Front Page and Explorer are designed to work with Microsoft operating systems to provide seamless integration. We see the conversion of documents in a variety of formats to a common HTML format as the key to intranet viability."

Specialised products designed for intranets are coming on the market as well. Kaon Technologies is supporting JetMail, a low-cost client-server message solution for smaller companies. Unlike shareware email packages, JetMail provides a Windows-based solution for a variety of internal and external communication applications. Kaon head Tony Krzyzewski says: "Basic email access can cost only a few dollars a month and provide the mechanism for communicating with clients and prospects all over the country. The software takes care of most of the administration tasks, leaving the IT manager time to get on with other, more difficult tasks."

No doubt as the market matures more products will become available. No one product has all of the functionality to be a Web server, access SQL databases and electronic documents, automatically publish to the Web, track all documents in the system and manage the system itself. But that product is not far off. And a raft of competing products that do all of the above and more will not be far behind."

(Phil Parent is a Computerworld contributor and Internet consultant at Creative Design. He can be emailed at pjp@iprolink.co.nz and or contacted via Creative Design's Web site, at http://www.cd.co.nz/cd)

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