This week's Intranet Expo in London saw vendors out to prove that there is more to Intranets than hype, and to demonstrate that there are real business benefits to be gained from the technology.
While Netscape and Microsoft bickered during the first day's so-called 'Great Intranet Debate', attendees from Europe's blue chip corporates were more interested in how they prove to an increasingly cynical board that Intranets are worth investing in.
Netscape, Oracle and IBM pointed to the reduced cost of ownership of thin client NCs over conventional PCs as one major benefit, but Microsoft's Internet and desktop marketing manager, Andrew Lees, said there was no difference in cost of ownership between a network computer and a properly managed networked PC. "The problem is that PCs are difficult to manage right now," he admitted.
"Microsoft would not have talked about cost of ownership unless it was for the Web," retorted Sam Sethi, Netscape's product marketing manager. "They would have forced people down the path of annually upgrading fatter and fatter clients."
Elsewhere at the Expo, vendors were showing business-grade Intranet products in a less contentious fashion.
PC-based terminal emulation and screen scraping may have been de rigueur in the client/server-dominated past, but now Client/Server Technologies (CST) has announced Jacada, which uses the company's rules-based technology to automatically wrap mainframe and mini legacy applications in Java for delivery to Java-based thin clients, independently of browsers, Web servers and HTTP.
Centura (formerly known as Gupta), Imperial Software Technology and Usoft (a subsidiary of Unisys) also showed Java development tools, which claim to be robust enough for mission critical transaction processing applications.
Centura's Foresight 2.0 suite enables users to migrate and scale apps written in Cobol, Cics, Powerbuilder and Visual Basic to Java-based Webs. IST's Visaj rapid application development tool is written in pure Java with full JDK 1.1 and Java Beans support. Usoft's product, codenamed Web Ruler, automatically generates Java and ActiveX applets using its Business Rules Engine, running on a Web server.
Web publishing was high on the agenda, with Softquad launching its Hot Metal Intranet Publisher (HIP), which it claims is the first publishing tool specifically aimed at Intranet content publishing. Also, Dataware Technologies announced Net Answer 2.0, which it claims is the first 'stateful' publishing server for Intranet or Internet, enabling users to build true search strategies.
Security is a question for many would-be adopters of corporate Intranets. Hewlett-Packard's answer is the US government-backed International Cryptography Framework, plus its Praesidium smartcard solutions, developed with Gemplus and Informix. Gradient's security solution, Net Crusader, spans Web-based, client/server and data centre systems with authentication and fine-grained access control.
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