A web centric, cross platform, web newsletter...
- Allaire releases ColdFusion 4.5
- An upclose and personal look at ASP
- A behind the scenes look at Allaire's ColdFusion.
- Apple WebObjects: The high end for powerful transactional web applications.
- FileMaker Pro: the web database for the rest of us.
- Web Site Promotion
- Server News... Introducing a free Mac Server: Quid Pro Quo
We are one of many Beta testers for Allaire and have worked with this product since mid June 1999. Most of the new features were not included with the Beta product until quite recently, but ColdFusion 4.5 seemed quite stable, (especially for a beta product), and offered quite a few improvements over its 4.01 sibling. One of the big announcements from Allaire is that ColdFusion is now available for the Linux platform, this should be quite a boost to ColdFusion sales as Linux is emerging as a powerful contender in the web server market.
There are quite a few compelling reasons to upgrade, primarily, there is better performance and reliability in the Server components and improvements have been made in several other areas. Some new tools are the Universal File Browser offering access to all of your files wether they be on the desktop or on your RDS or FTP servers. Another nice tool is the collapsible code feature that you can use to collapse sections of the code to focus on your current logic. There is better string conversion functions, clustering support for Apache, better mail integration, transaction method improvements, NT Sandbox security is now offered, and advanced security mechanisms have been improved. ColdFusion 4.5 looks to be a must have upgrade, especially in the Server versions due to increased performance.
ASP... Sometimes this technology gives me a nothing but a headache, and at other times, it solves and lays bare all of my problems at my feet. One thing for sure, ASP is a powerful web technology that is becoming fast the defacto standard for all high end web development.
I personally have mixed emotions for this technology; sometimes I feel that I will never go back to ASP development; this generally occurs during the late nights trying in vain to get something simple done. After hours of sheer frustration, I would sleep on the problem, (usually having something to do with concatenation), and dream of all of the little ways I could solve it by using ColdFusion. After little sleep and much thought, I would come back to the computer, remove a double quotation around an ASP variable, and viola! Problem solved! Time to move on...
ASP is a scripting language that is accessible to any text editor. ASP does not have a native coding environment; most ASP programmers choose Notepad to code their ASP applications. There is no context sensitive help, debugging tools, or any other helpful tools to assist the coder. ASP is not a rapid application development tool. It is true that MS Visual InterDev can be used to create ASP applications on the fly, and InterDev 6.0 has slick design time controls for ASP, but it is still not a true ASP editor- it is an integrated MS programming environment to mix different languages and functions together. ASP is programmed, and tested, line after line. I can recognize ASP immediately not by looking at any code, but by little indented comments after each block saying "'Testing: Response.Write SQL". ASP has complicated issues, such as concatenation, that require constant debugging and care. It is good practice to test the functionality of the code throughout the page. Although ASP is quite powerful, it would be nice if MS would release a better programming environment for ASP in the near future. Even with this in mind, learning ASP and VBScript will open doors and greatly enhance your web skills .
No one can call Mr. Gates dumb... some may not like the company, nor its tactics, but Microsoft has made enough right choices and have made their technologies stand apart. With ASP, Microsoft has again done what they do best; leveraging a key Microsoft technology, making it common and widespread. VisualBasic, once thought of as an inferior language only to be used to learn basic programming techniques, is steadily become quite robust and can be used with multiple application environments. Many programmers have started out, and quite a few have stayed with VB, making it one of the most popular computing languages of our time. Microsoft has also leveraged this extensive expertise by taking the core principles and logic of VisualBasic to create VBScript- the native language for ASP*.
Even if a web developer has extensive expertise in other non-Microsoft web technologies, there is great value in keeping abreast in knowledge of VB and VBScript. VBScript is a web technology standard on all NT web servers. I have applied the same techniques learned with ASP to program other back end technologies on NT. For an example, Microsoft's high end database, SQL Server, can be manipulated using VBScript. COM Objects and stored procedures, snippets of code optimizing server web performance, also can be coded using the same language and techniques learned with ASP. VBScript is becoming an all around web language that you will not want to ignore. Certainly on NT servers, knowledge of VBScript, ASP, and ADO is an essential knowledge set for any serious web developer.
ASP is the most widely used technology in dynamic web development and the same techniques learned can be applied to other MS technologies. If you have existing skills in VB, or committed to an MS platform, ASP will naturally compliment and hone your existing skill sets, your transition into the web will be seamless. If you are not familiar with Visual Basic, mastering the complications of VB and ASP will take time. But eventually you will be able to build sophisticated and powerful dynamic sites with ASP; and your time spent will be well worth the effort.
Allaire's ColdFusion is a very elegant web technology that allows for quick, powerful and dynamic web development. Although not as popular as Microsoft's ASP technology, ColdFusion has solved many of the technical issues with dynamic site development and has significant advantages in many areas.
ColdFusion uses a tag based metaphor to create dynamic database driven sites. You can mix the ColdFusion language within your HTML code to visually understand the underlying code. One advantage of being a tag based "visual" language is that you can open and edit your files with popular GUI HTML editors such as Macromedia Dreamweaver, (Macromedia has partnered with Allaire and has incorporated many Allaire technologies seamlessly with their flagship HTML editor). The other high end technologies in dynamic web development require embedding HTML within scripted programming that is not easy on the eye. With ColdFusion, your code logic can be easily understood making for easy readability and maintenance.
The coding environment of ColdFusion is basically an advanced version of the popular Allaire Homesite product. ColdFusion studio offers many timesaving features that ease the burden on the developer. It offers online help and a tag editor that can assist the developer in building complex tags. One of the most compelling features that I have found is that it offers a built in SQL editor to easily build complex SQL statements for data retrieval. ColdFusion also offers sophisticated debugging features to quickly identify problems with your code. ColdFusion studio supports other technologies such as Microsoft's ASP as well as many other coding languages.
Perhaps the greatest advantage of ColdFusion lies in its rapid application development. I have found ColdFusion to be the quickest way to develop powerful dynamic sites with little development time. Generally speaking, a ColdFusion site can be deployed in roughly 25 - 40% of the time than developing a comparable ASP site*. You can develop a scalable, dynamic and robust site with ColdFusion; quickly, and without much pain. ColdFusion also is also available for most flavors of UNIX platform as well as Windows NT.
*ASP requires 30-40 lines of code to do the same thing with only 5-7 lines of code with ColdFusion. Also, ColdFusion has eliminated some of the technical headaches found with ASP. For an example, ASP requires complicated concatenations in the code sometimes requiring exhaustive debugging- (an example of concatenated ASP code is: "" & '"variable"' & vbcrlf & vbcrlf & _ ." ). The ASP concatenation can be quite a headache for the developer!
Thankfully, ColdFusion takes care of most of the concatenations for us allowing us to focus on the logic of the code itself.
"Apple Web What!?" a common phrase I hear after mentioning this product, "Is that some... web technology running on the, um, Macintosh?" I get a freaky glaring stare directed at me... I can hear their thoughts almost out loud "Man, this guy has lost all credibility... how do I get the hell out of here... some freaking Apple technology, right!" Patiently I explain that Apple bought this technology, and it existed over four years ago with a company Steve Jobs started: Next Step". I quickly go on... "Dell started their site with it, and it is the software of choice for creating high end transactional web applications for many fortune 500 companies*". If they were still listening I would finally add: "It is an impressive multi-platform software environment that runs on Unix, NT and has not even run on a Macintosh until recently". Most of the time, the stare would fade into an inquisitive, though still skeptical look, as if they were waiting for another Mac bigot to launch into a pro-Mac tirade...
Apple WebObjects is the premiere high-end application web server. All of the most problematic high end technical issues have been seamlessly incorporated within the Apple WebObjects model. WebObjects has the most solid security model on the market, it incorporates load balancing, state management, and Java client interoperability. Its transactional processes are the best on the market- bar none. You can leverage data stored in Oracle, Sybase, Informix, OpenBase, R/3, PeopleSoft, mainframes, SAP, and ODBC databases. All of this comes in a rapid application development environment that will get your projects out the door in a snap. However, WebObjects is not for the faint of heart. Developer requirements are steep, the developer must have programming knowledge in C. And as with any premier technology, WebObjects comes at a very steep price.
If you are involved with a large enterprise company, and need the most powerful and secure transactional web server, and are willing to pay the price; WebObjects cannot be beat. As a developer wanting to get exposure with WebObjects, Apple has special pricing for a limited version of WebObjects on the NT and Macintosh Servers. For more information about Apple WebObjects see Apples site at www. apple.com
FileMaker Pro 4.0 is an very easy and elegant way to publish data on the web. FileMaker Pro is intented for small businesses to easily publish their data quickly without having to support or learn the complexities involved with the higher end data solutions.
FileMaker Pro supports two ways of publishing data on the web: Instant Web Publishing and Custom Web Publishing. Instant Web Publishing takes a quick and dirty approach - you can ready your database for the web in minutes using predefined templates for generating a table view (list layout), a form view (detail layout), and a search screen for each file. Custom Web Publishing gives you much finer control over the way your database is presented on the web. However, its not for the uninitiated - knowledge of HTML and CDML (the Claris Dynamic Markup Language) is required.
FileMaker has also included the ability to import data from Excel spreadsheets. FileMaker is a mid-level database application that you can use for your business activities as well as publishing the data to the web without having to ever exit the application. It works on both Macintosh and PC platforms making it an all around solution for the small business.
Web Site Promotion
Have you ever tried to submit your site to the Search Engines only to find your position found at the bottom of the last listed page? Web site promotion is a difficult and complicated beast. To effectively promote your site you need to first understand meta tags and the many differences of the search engines; each engine requires a different strategy to get high placement. It gets worse, to get your site listed in engines like Yahoo, you will need a perfect site, a perfect strategy, and a bit of luck to boot. There is much to learn, and you may need help.
One great resource for site promotion is The art of Web Site promotion. I turned to this site initially to learn the art of web site promotion. Even though I have since learned the process of site promotion, I find myself sometimes struggling trying to keep up with the rapid pace of change in search engine technology. 'The art of web site promotion' is a suburb site for learning the current in's and out's of site promotion, it offers a tutorial on the subject of site promotion, a bulletin board, and has free software available to help you achieve better ranking placement within each search engine.
No one is an expert in every field of web site development; thankfully however, we have a vast number of resources to turn to found on the World Wide Web. There are many experts that frequent these boards that have much to offer. For example, in the 'Art of site promotion' bulletin board, I found dozens of people that looked at my site and offered many helpfull suggestions. One person, a solution expert named 'Inachu', personally looked at my code and found a a solution to my difficult problem. I have found the 'Art of Web Site Promotion' site beneficial and current; and will use these valuable information resources whenever possible.
- If you know of a good web developer or enthusiast resource, let us know so we can share it!
Many have asked about the free and powerful Mac web server, Quid Quo Pro. It is an extremely simple and powerful Macintosh Internet server handling up to thousands of hits per day. Within hours, you can host your own robust web site on a Mac. The price is great, (free), and the ease of use and setup is very simple. It also supports many features like CGI scripts, and even has a secured server version available for cost. Of course, to host your own server, you will need a static IP, and a fast and permanent connection to the internet. I have in the past hosted, with good performance, with Quid Pro Quo on a Macintosh Power PC 7200 with as little as a 56K frame relay connection. Hosting on the Mac has a big side benefit, you do not need to worry too much about network security- the Mac is a very secure server practically immune from outside attacks. On the downside, the Mac is slower than it's Unix and NT counterparts, and one of the prohibiting factors of hosting on any platform, is the cost and maintenance of having a permanent frame relay connection.
Next week, I will review another powerful free server, Linux.
Next week, I will review another powerful free server, Linux.
Tuesday, January 9, 2001