about the Internet--now meet the Intranet and its useful possibilities
by Alan Zisman (c) 1996 First published
in Business in
Vancouver , Issue #326 January 23, 1996 High Tech
this column for the past couple of weeks, you'll know that we've been
looking at ways of using new or newly affordable technology to help
businesses move from documents on paper to digital equivalents.
ago, we saw
how a new generation of page scanners can convert existing paper to
digital form and how, with optical character recognition, your computer
can read the resulting pictures, giving you something you can easily
store, or edit with your existing word-processor. Document-processing
software will index your documents, allowing you to find what you
need more easily than in traditional filing cabinets. These hardware
and software solutions are finally being marketed in packages aimed
at small offices.
software like Adobe's Acrobat which allow you to make documents
that look like your printed originals, complete with text, graphics
and page layout. These can be viewed on any computer or operating
system--Mac, DOS, Windows, or UNIX--whether or not it has your original
software and fonts. As an example, you could distribute your product
catalogue to your customers on a floppy disk, which is much cheaper
than printing a full-colour, glossy-paper version.
with floppy disks? If you're maintaining and distributing digital
documents, why not distribute them electronically? Businesses on the
Internet can make that same product catalogue available to anyone
using the network.
"hypertext markup language" used on the 'Net, allows users to create
home pages mixing text and graphics, its page layout features are
strictly limited, which can feel like a step backwards if you've paid
for fancy page design. However, Adobe has been working together with
Netscape to help overcome this, and Acrobat's PDF files can now be
viewed with the newest version of Netscape Navigator, the most popular
Web browser. This allows you to post documents on the Internet that
can be viewed with their design intact.
has been getting all the publicity, a quieter, parallel evolution
has been sweeping business networks. The same tools used in creating
and viewing a World Wide Web page on the Internet can be used within
your business's own network to create an Intranet.
can post digital documents which can be viewed internally by your
employees. Typical uses include policy manuals, price lists, technical
support, training manuals and employee lists--complete with photos,
if you wish. These can be easily updated: instead of printing revisions
and distribute them throughout the enterprise, you just alter the
version on the server.
this is your
internal network, it is much safer from outside hacking than data
posted publicly on the Internet. And because it uses exactly the same
tools as the Internet, it can be accessed by your employees through
easy-to-use (and in many cases, free) Web-browser software such as
this Intranet has been growing. Ford Motors, for example,
has 56,000 Netscape units connecting to 80 servers on its Intranet,
with plans to expand to 90,000 users soon.
Intranet trend is
mature enough that it's now being recognized as a valid market.
database giant Oracle is rushing products like WebServer (about
$5,000) and PowerBrowser (free) to market to enable enterprises to
access the corporate database from their internal Web. And Novell
is releasing Netware Web Server, to allow the existing Netware network
to better coexist with the emerging Intranet.
all this with
some trepidation is IBM. Just last year it purchased Lotus
Development, and not for its traditional products like the 1-2-3
spreadsheet. IBM paid US$3.5 billion to get its hands on Lotus Notes,
a product which has allowed corporate network users to access company
information more easily. There are currently some three million Notes
users, and with version 4.0 being released as we speak, IBM hopes
to make this an industry standard for information exchange.
lacks security and other features that make Notes more robust, it's
cheaper and easier to implement in a company with a range of computer
types and networks, pretty much all of which already support the
TCP/IP standard. And Notes hasn't been known for ease of use, while
Intranet users get by with simple-to-use Web browsers.
Ellison suggests that accounting or manufacturing applications,
where security is critical, don't make much sense on the Intranet,
but document-centred applications, like Notes-class applications,
can be moved over to the Web: "Corporations that have created Notes
networks will switch to Internet development because it is cheaper
and better for doing the same things."
to the Intranet
phenomenon, IBM is releasing InterNotes Web Navigator--a step towards
allowing Notes networks to interact with Web sites--and has announced
dramatic price drops to attract new users.