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IT-DISCUSS  December 1999

IT-DISCUSS December 1999

Subject:

More on HTML/website development tools decision

From:

Wesley Alan Wright <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Departmental Technology Coordinators <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 13 Dec 1999 11:35:08 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (124 lines)

Here is a longwinded discussion of the recent CIT HTML/website
development tools decision. I wrote it couple of weeks back in
response to a question from Nate Orshan, an old friend an the
instructor for Training and Developments's FrontPage courses. Nate
asked about the availability of "Frontpage server extensions" on
www.uvm.edu.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -- --- --- -- - -- - -- ------ -- -- -

CIT has been having an at times heated debate over HTML/website
development tools and our role in either recommending or supporting
one, another, or any at all.

During the last six years ( http://www.uvm.edu/ was launched on or
about November 21, 1993 ), various CIT staff members have looked at a
variety of web development tools. The market has been volatile, to
say the least, and the products have ranged from absolutely terrible
to simply OK. It's only been in the last year or so that things seem
to be settling out. Still, there are far more products available in
this area than in any other category of "office" software (how many
spreadsheets are left on the market today?).

In the absence of a clear direction or leadership from CIT, UVM
faculty and staff have made their own choices, and of course these
are as diverse as our community: Microsoft FrontPage (98 and 2000),
Adobe PageMill, Adobe GoLive, Macromedia Dreamweaver, BBEdit, Windows
Notepad, Microsoft Word, Claris Homepage -- the list goes on and on.

During the last year, two industry developments have prompted me to
take a reluctant leadership role. Reluctant because it is a no-win
decision that will earn me no friends regardless of what is decided.
In any case, these developments were 1) the release of Microsoft
FrontPage 2000 and 2) the purchase of GoLive CyberStudio by Adobe. My
decision -- supported by the fledgling UVM "Web Team," and only about
a month old -- was to go with NetScape Composer for the great
majority of users, and Adobe GoLive for those users who demanded, and
were prepared to use, a more "full featured" product.

FrontPage Extensions were at the heart of this decision.

Web pages created with Microsoft FrontPage 98 allow the author to use
advanced server-side functionality such as feedback forms, counters,
and discussions without programming. These features require the
presence of something called "FrontPage Extensions" on the same
server as the web pages.

All Windows NT servers using the Microsoft IIS (Internet Information
Server) web server have these FrontPage Extensions pre-installed.

CIT does not use Windows NT servers. Nor are we likely to anytime soon.

Over the last seven years or so, CIT has made a major investment of
time, money, and people into IBM's RS6000 hardware platforms and
IBM's AIX UNIX operating system. These "open" (i.e., UNIX) Enterprise
systems have and will continue to anchor CIT's strategic direction
for most of our major academic and administrative systems: the
Library card catalog, the BANNER Student Information System, and
UVM's largest web server, www.uvm.edu (note that UVM has at least 100
web servers running within the uvm.edu domain. www.uvm.edu is just
one of them). Within the www.uvm.edu "cluster" of servers, we employ
the Apache web server -- still the most widely used web server in the
industry.

Yes, Microsoft has created a version of FrontPage 98 Extensions for
UNIX systems running Apache. However, many UNIX system managers
generally regard these as a support and security nightmare. Our AIX
manager has looked at them and has reached the same conclusion. Note
that Microsoft offers no support for these extensions on
non-Microsoft systems. See http://www.macintouch.com/msfrontpage.html
for a rather biased but nonetheless interesting read on the subject.

It gets worse:  Microsoft has NOT created a version of FrontPage 2000
Extensions for UNIX systems running Apache. If your Microsoft
Frontpage 2000 web employs any extensions, you *must* use a Microsoft
server.

In either FrontPage 98 or 2000, there is mechanism that lets users
turn off features in FrontPage that do require the server extensions.
It is doubtful that we can train all Frontpage users to do so.

Given the predominant UVM web environment -- UNIX and Apache -- it is
my contention that Microsoft FrontPage represents a major support
problem for CIT at this time. If large numbers of people begin
building websites with FrontPage that can't be used on www.uvm.edu,
it's going to get ugly.

Sure, maybe the answer is for CIT to deploy a large number of Windows
NT servers to support the Frontpage users. As my supervisor likes to
say, "We support people, not software." But that isn't going to
happen: it is not our strategic direction, and we don't have the
resources (fiscal or human) to buy, deploy, or maintain such a server
farm. There is also strong evidence to suggest that Microsoft Windows
NT does not scale well: it simply does not meet the demanding needs
of an enterprise the size of UVM. Thus the growing popularity of the
Linux operating system.

There are other factors which favor Adobe GoLive over FrontPage:

1) We have a large number of Macintosh users on campus, and GoLive is
a cross platform product: identical versions are available for both
Macintosh and Windows. FrontPage for Macintosh is locked at version
1.0. It is much less strain upon our support staff to support one
product for all platforms than one for each.

2) Adobe is a large company. Like Microsoft, it will still be around next year.

3) Academic pricing is reasonable, about $125-$130 via mail order or
at the UVM Bookstore

Where does this leave you?

CIT is aware that, in the absence of any previous CIT
recommendations, many staff and faculty have already begun using
Microsoft FrontPage. Key CIT staff will no doubt continue to have
access to FrontPage 98 and FrontPage 2000 and may be able to answer
your questions, but if things go seriously wrong, be advised that
your primary support channel for this product is Microsoft, not CIT.
| Wesley Alan Wright <mailto:[log in to unmask]>                   |
| Academic Computing Services       __0__                             |
| Room 238 Waterman Building       / \ | \                            |
| University of Vermont              \77  http://cit.uvm.edu/~waw/    |
| Burlington, Vermont 05405-0160 USA. \\  http://www.uvm.edu/skivt-l  |
| Voice:802-656-1254 FAX:802-656-0872  vv                             |

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