Intranet Development Tools - Online Article

After considering the various styles for hypertext documents, you should examine the various tools you will need to develop the intranet. A tool is anything that supports the task you are working on. The tools for unleashing the power of your intranet are based on the existing tools for the Internet itself, which includes protocols, resource tools, and information services.

Implementing TCP/IP Networking

TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol Internet Protocol) is the foundation of the worldwide Internet. You must install TCP/IP on your network to enable intranet services.

A protocol is a set of rules for programs communicating on the network. It specifies how the programs talk to each other and what meaning to give to the data they receive. Without TCP/IP setting the rules for your network communications, you cannot use Internet technologies.

The good news is that if your organization already has access to the World Wide Web, you might already have the necessary TCP/IP structure in place. Additionally, TCP/IP is built in to some operating systems, including Windows 95, Windows NT, and most variants of UNIX.

If you have an operating system where TCP/IP is not built in and do not have TCP/IP installed, you will need to purchase TCP/IP software. Fortunately, TCP/IP software is widely available from software vendors. For example, if you want to install TCP/IP on a Macintosh, you can obtain the software directly from Apple or third-party vendors.

Note
If you plan to use a commercial browser, check to see if the software package includes the necessary TCP/IP software.

Creating Web Services with HTTP

An intranet without Web services is like a world without water. The key to the World Wide Web is the hypertext transfer protocol.

HTTP offers a means of moving from document to document, or of indexing within documents. Accessing documents published on your intranet involves communications between browsers and servers.

In a browser, such as the Netscape Navigator, the HTTP processes are virtually transparent to the user. All the user really has to do is activate links to move through your Web presentation. The browser takes care of interpreting the hypertext transfer commands and communicating requests.

Tip
To reduce time spent on training and support, you might want to select a single browser package for use on the intranet. Before selecting a specific browser package for your intranet, you should ensure the developer of the browser makes versions for all the operating systems in use on your network. If the developer does not, you might want to consider another browser.

The mechanism on the receiving end, which is processing the requests, is a program called the Hypertext Transfer Protocol Daemon (HTTPD). A daemon is a UNIX term for a program that runs in the background and handles requests. The HTTP daemon resides on your Web server.

Before setting up or installing server software, you must determine what platform the Web server will run on. Until recently, your choices were limited, but this changed rapidly as the World Wide Web grew in popularity. Today, Web server software and server management tools are available for almost every platform. And, like other software developed for use on the Internet, this software is available as freeware, shareware, and commercial software.

You will find that UNIX platforms have the most options for server software. Until recently, there was only one good choice for the Windows NT environment, but this has changed. There are now many excellent commercial and freeware choices for Windows NT. For other platforms, there is generally only one choice in server software. Having only one choice of server software for your Macintosh or Windows system doesn't mean the quality of the server software is poor. Quite the contrary, the quality of the software is often quite good.

The following listing shows the most popular servers listed according to the platform they run on:

PlatformServer Software
MacintoshWebStar (formerly MacHTTP)
UNIXApache
CERN HTTPD
ncSA HTTPD
ncSA S-HTTPD
Netscape Servers
Open Market
WN
WindowsWindows HTTPD
Windows 95Website
Microsoft IIS
Windows NTEMWAC HTTPS
Netscape Servers
Purveyor
Note
The best server software for you is most likely the software that will run on the workstation you plan to use as the network's Web server. This ensures your installation and management team are familiar with the server's operating system.

Intranet Developer's Resource Tools

Tools are an essential part of any operation. Resource tools provide the means for sending and retrieving information. There are three basic tools of intranet working:

E-Mail: Electronic mail is a great way to communicate. Think of e-mail as a way to send letters to anyone within the company instantly. Many e-mail programs enable delivery of mail to single users or groups of users. Some e-mail programs even provide ways to automate responses. Most browser packages are packaged with e-mail software.

FTP: File transfer protocol provides the basic means for delivering and retrieving files around the network. The files can be text, sound, or graphics. FTP provides a springboard for many information-based approaches to retrieving information. Many higher level tools that have friendlier interfaces use FTP or a protocol similar to FTP to transfer files. Just about every browser currently available supports FTP.

Telnet: Telnet lets you remotely log in to another system and browse files and directories on that remote system. Telnet is valuable because it is easy to use and basic to the network. When you telnet to another computer, you can issue commands as if you were typing on the other computer's keyboard. On some platforms, like UNIX, telnet is a built-in resource. On other platforms, you will need a telnet tool.

The basic resource tools are indispensable when used for the purpose that they were designed for. They even provide the fundamental basis for many high-level resource tools, but they simply weren't designed for the advanced manipulation of the wealth of information available on the Internet. This is why dozens of information resource tools have been designed to manipulate networked data.

Here is a list of high-level resource tools you might want to use on your intranet:

Archie: A system to automatically gather, index, and serve information on the Internet. Archie is a great tool for searching your intranet's file archives. Once you set up Archie services, users can access Archie resources with their browser.

Gopher: A distributed information service that enables you to move easily through complex webs of network resources. Gopher uses a simple protocol that enables a Gopher client to access information on any accessible Gopher server. Most browsers directly support Gopher.

LISTSERV: An automated mailing list distribution system. Users can subscribe to LISTSERV lists you set up on the intranet, which enables them to read e-mail posted to the list or to post e-mail to the list. Once you set up a LISTSERV server, users can join lists and participate in lists using standard Internet e-mail software. Most browser packages include e-mail software.

Usenet: A bulletin board system of discussion groups called newsgroups. Users can participate in newsgroups posting messages to the group and can read messages posted by other newsgroup members. Once you set up a newsgroup server, users can browse newsgroups and post information to newsgroups using a newsgroup reader. Most browser packages include a newsgroup reader.

Wide Area Information Servers (WAIS): A distributed information service for searching databases located throughout the network. It offers indexed searching for fast retrieval and an excellent feedback mechanism that enables the results of initial searches to influence later searches. WAIS servers are best accessed via CGI scripts, which allow users to search WAIS databases using their browser.

HTML Development Tools

Using HTML development tools, you can quickly and easily create HTML documents for your intranet. There are three basic types of HTML development tools for intranet publishing:

  • HTML editors
  • HTML templates for word processors
  • HTML converters

HTML editors have features similar to your favorite word processor and enable you to easily create documents in HTML format. Typically, these editors enable you to select HTML elements from a pull-down menu. The menu has brief descriptions of elements you can add to the document. The editor places the element in the document in the proper format, which frees you from having to memorize the format. When creating complex forms, you'll find HTML editors especially useful.

Here is a list of some of the most popular HTML editors:

MS Expression Web Studio
Adobe Dreanmweaver
Notepad ++
NetBeans IDE

HTML templates enable you to add the functionality of an HTML editor to your favorite word processor. The great thing about templates is that you can use all the word processor's features, which could include checking grammar and spelling. More importantly, you'll be using the familiar features of your word processor to add HTML formatting to your documents.

Here are several popular HTML templates:

ANT_HTML
EasyHelp/Web
Internet Assistant

Although the task of creating HTML code is fairly complex, some helper applications called converters try to automate the task. HTML converters convert your favorite document formats into HTML code and vice versa. At the touch of a button, you could transform a Word for Windows file into an HTML document. Converters are especially useful if you're converting simple documents and are less useful when you're converting documents with complex layouts.

You can find HTML converters for every major word processor and document design application, including BibTeX, DECwrite, FrameMaker, Interleaf, LaTeX, MS Word, PageMaker, PowerPoint, QuarkXPress, Scribe, and WordPerfect. HTML converters are available to convert specific formats, such as ASCII, RTF, MIF, Postscript, and UNIX MAN pages. There are even converters to convert source code from popular programming languages to HTML. You can convert your favorite programs to HTML if they are in these languages: C, C++, FORTRAN, Lisp, or Pascal.

Mapping Your Intranet in Four Easy Steps

Now that you know the basics of intranet organization, content structure, and development tools, you have everything you need to develop a plan that takes you through the creation and implementation of your intranet. The best way to start is to break down the plan into a series of steps, which ensures the intranet development process is manageable.

Here are four steps you should follow:

  1. Determining requirements
  2. Planning
  3. Designing
  4. Implementation

Step 1: Determining Requirements

In this step, you try to figure out what you need to complete the intranet design and implementation. You do this by first examining the intranet's purpose, scope, and audience.

Your statement of purpose should identify:

  • Why you are building the intranet
  • How the intranet will be used within your organization

When you examine the scope for the intranet, think in terms of size and focus. Will the intranet be company-wide? What types of documents, files, and applications will be permitted on the intranet?

Your audience for the intranet is your customer base. Your customers could include all company employees, employees in specific departments, or employees in a single department.

Here's a preliminary plan for an intranet within a specific department:

Intranet for Sales Department

Purpose
Provide support to the regional sales department. Services to include record searches of the customer databases, sales computation, order processing, and automated inventory updates.
Scope
25 computers within the sales department. All resources are to support and promote regional sales. Limited human resource data will be available to management staff.
Audience
All personnel assigned to the regional sales department.

After determining the purpose, scope, and audience, examine your reasonable expectations for the completed intranet. You translate these needs, goals, and purposes into requirements for the intranet. The basic needs for any intranet are the software development tools that will help you build the necessary intranet services. Software tools for implementing your intranet are examined in the section titled "Intranet Development Tools."

You will want to think beyond your software needs and also look at your hardware needs. Many types of computers are on the market. The IBM pc and pc compatibles have many generations of computer systems based on the different chip sets. Some pcs are based on the 80286, 80386, and 80486 chips. Other pcs are based on the Intel's Pentium chips. The same is true for Macintoshes-you might choose from a whole line of PowerMacs. There is even a Powerpc, a cross between a Mac and a pc. UNIX systems come in many configurations from Sun Microsystems' popular Sparc workstations to Silicon Graphics workstations.

Very often, the best platform for your intranet services is the platform you are most familiar with. The primary reason for this is that different computer platforms use different operating systems and it is the operating system that your intranet services will run under. If you are unfamiliar with the operating system, there will be an extended learning curve as you study both the operating system and the software your intranet runs on.

Here is a sample plan for hardware and software requirements:

Hardware
Web server: Existing 486DX/100Mhz in System Administration area
Application Server: Add service to Sun SPARC 10 file server in System Administration area
Database Server: Connectivity to existing SYBASE databases
Software
Web Server: Microsoft IIS for Windows NT
Browser: Internet Explorer 3.0
E-mail: Add-on module for Internet Explorer

Next, you should consider time, budget, and personnel constraints. If you have only 10 weeks to completely implement the intranet, you might need to hire additional team members to get the intranet finished on time. In this case, hiring a specific number of additional team members would be one of your requirements.

Here's a sample plan for the initial time, budget, and personnel requirements:

Duration
Setup and installation: 30 days
Phase-in and testing: 30 days
Follow-up training and support: 90 days
Budget
$5,000
Personnel
Management and planning: 1
Installation team: 2
Training and support: 2

If you have a $5000 budget, you will have to scrutinize every aspect of the budget to keep costs down. In this case, you will probably be extremely selective about the development tools you purchase. You will also hire outside help only as necessary. And if the budget constraints are so severe that they would materially affect the success of the intranet, you will want to ensure your superiors are aware of the situation, and possibly make a case for getting a larger budget.

Step 2: Planning

After you determine your requirements for the intranet, you should plan the intranet. An essential part of planning is determining how long the project is going to take and the steps necessary to carry you through the project. For this reason, the planning step can also be a reality check for constraints or requirements.

For example, you determine that it will take a minimum of five months to complete the intranet and install all the necessary services, yet the deadline for project completion given to you by management is two months away. Here, something would have to give and you would have to work hard to manage perceptions and expectations concerning the intranet. You might have to renegotiate the deadline, hire additional team members or eliminate certain time-intensive parts of the intranet.

The more complex your intranet, the more involved your planning will be. The plans for a small intranet could be very basic, a list of steps with deadlines for completion of each step written down in a notepad. The plans for a large intranet could be rendered in detail using a project management tool such as Microsoft Project.

Ideally, your deadlines will not be carved in stone. The best planners use windows for project steps, such as five days for planning or two weeks for preliminary design. There could be hundreds of steps, with multiple steps being performed simultaneously or a handful of steps with each step being performed one after the other. Some steps would be dependent on other steps, meaning they could not be started until certain other aspects of the intranet were completed. Other steps would not be dependent on any other steps and could be performed at any time during the intranet's development.

Tip
Part of your planning should include scheduling necessary training on the intranet and promoting the intranet to company employees. If you don't sell the employees-your customers-on the intranet, your intranet will not succeed.
One way to help sell the intranet is to develop focus groups. Using the focus groups, you can get your customers involved with the development process. Continued involvement in the intranet throughout its development and after its implementation ensures you create an intranet the customers want. It also ensures they have a solid investment in an intranet that they will want to promote and support.

Step 3: Design

The design step is one of the most critical steps. During this step you take your plans to another level of detail. You do this by determining how and where the intranet's hardware and software will be set up. For example, will the intranet's main Web server be located in the computer department or how will the software be distributed?

Use this step as a reminder to sit down with your system administrators and network personnel. You should discuss how you plan to install the hardware and software for the intranet. If there are any misgivings about the intranet, it is better to hear about them before you begin installation. If there are great ideas for improving the planned intranet, you definitely want to consider them before installation.

Tip
For a small intranet, you might be inclined to skip this step altogether. Don't. During this step, you might discover something you overlooked in planning.

Part of your design might be to use a specific section of the current network as a test bed before you deploy the intranet company-wide. In this way, you install the intranet services within a specific department or office. The users in this group are then given access to the intranet for a testing period. Based on the outcome of the testing, you would either continue with the company-wide installation of the intranet or revise your plans accordingly.

Ideally, your intranet team will work closely with the test group. During installation, and when users start using the new services, you should ensure someone is on hand to answer questions and problems that might arise. This individual or group from your intranet team should take notes and make daily progress reports. Based on the input, you could modify your plans as you proceed through the various phases of the implementation for the test group.

Step 4: Implementation

The implementation step tends to be the longest step in the development of your intranet. During this step, you install your intranet services and create your intranet applications based on the requirements, plans, and designs you created.

Note
Don't stop trying to enhance your plans once you have your intranet blueprint. The key to building a better intranet is to improve your ideas.

Summary

Learning the building blocks for creating a perfect intranet is only the first step toward implementing your intranet. Your intranet will need content, which can be organized in a variety of styles and created with a variety of helper applications. You will also need to set up basic networking protocols, like TCP/IP, and services like the WWW. Once you have selected the basic tools you need to create the intranet and considered how you will organize it, you can map it through completion.

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Comments

Shamit Kumar Tomar on 2008-12-02 22:19:26 wrote,

it would have been much better if you had split this up in two parts...... anyways nice writeup