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28

Using Windows NT as an Internet Server

So much to say and so few pages and hours to get it written. That was what first hit me when trying to come up with a single chapter that explained how Windows NT can fit into the very complex world that is the Internet. The first problem I face is that many people are not intimately familiar with what the Internet can provide. On the other hand, there are those who are great experts on the subject who would be bored with basic explanations of what file transfer protocol (FTP) sites are and what they can do for users. Also, the Internet is changing so quickly that by the time this guide is printed, a number of changes will have reshaped this electronic world.

Rather than just conclude that this is an impossible task, I decided to jump right in and provide information on the Internet as it is today and where I believe it is going. Even with the rapid changes that are occurring, you can always use the older stuff. So even if new Internet commerce standards come out after this guide is written, you still can get by with the basic discussions on the World Wide Web and then read articles to keep up with the "latest and greatest" technologies being implemented.

I start this section with some general discussion of what the Internet is and what it can do for you. I emphasize the services point of view (what it can do for you) over technology. For most users and many systems administrators, it is someone else's job to acquire the connectivity with the rest of the world. Your focus then becomes what this tool can do for you. I go over the more common services that are provided on the Internet today, although there are already several others that are coming into their own (like group conferencing drawing tools which could be really great for meetings). There are a number of good references available on at your guide store that can help you go into greater detail on the services that can be found on the Internet. Here are some good reference guides about the Internet:

    The World Wide Web Unleashed 1996, published by Sams.net.

    The Internet Unleashed 1996, published by Sams.net.

I also cover the Internet server tools that come bundled with the NT operating system starting with version 4. Yes, there are many other worthy tools out there on the market from companies such as Netscape, but I figured that this would be an easy starting point since it was bundled with NT. There are a number of services (such as a newsgroup server) that are not provided as part of this package, so I discuss them from a general perspective. Finally, I end the guide with some musings over Internet commerce and future directions.


NOTE:

The Internet is changing very rapidly. To find information on the latest advances, check current magazine articles, the Windows NT newsgroup, or Web pages of key Internet companies such as Microsoft or Netscape.


Examining the Internet

So what is the Internet? The easy answer is a series of connected networks that use the TCP/IP protocol to transmit information around the globe. Figure 28.1 illustrates the process of the Internet. This structure, although correct, gives little information about the Internet and what it can do for you. It does bring out a few key points. First, the Internet shares a common transmission protocol (TCP/IP, which is described in more detail in Chapter 7). It is also a series of networks located in most of the countries in the world that have been connected together to enable users to share information. It is amazing to me the number of academic, government, corporate, and even private computer systems that give up part of their computing capacity, disk storage space, and computer staff time to provide free resources to "strangers" out there on the Internet. I understand the commercial undertakings in which companies provide product support or conduct marketing, but the idea of giving up resources to other users is what impresses me most about the Internet culture.

Figure 28.1

A simple drawing of the Internet.

If the Internet were merely a series of joined wires and an agreement about the transmission signals, however, it would not be of much use. Much of the utility of the Internet comes from the standards used to provide information across the network. Some of these standards were developed by the U.S. government, others by universities, and some by a consensus of working groups devoted to helping the Internet evolve. New standards (such as Java from Sun Microsystems) pop up every now and then. The proponents of these new standards have to make a big effort to get their products used (often by giving them away). In a sense, the Internet is one of the purest forms of capitalism. It provides a good distribution of information, and people have the freedom to choose the product they want based on price and features. The companies that do not offer the best products tend to fade away, and new companies can move in and become big in a relatively short period of time.

You should be aware of some of the standards for exchanging information when you set up your NT Server as an Internet server. Again, these are protocols that have become popular and accepted on the Internet. This acceptance means that if you use them, you can get at information. If you do not want to use them, you can get your information somewhere else. The most common standard services follow:

  • World Wide Web (WWW): This is the hot topic in most information systems magazines. It is a graphical interface that enables you to read and download information people have stored in the standard WWW format.
  • FTP Server: This is a way for Administrators to export part of their disk storage system for access by users over the Internet.
  • Internet mail: This is a standard set of protocols that allow dissimilar electronic mail systems (Microsoft Mail and Lotus cc:Mail, for example) to exchange information over the Internet.
  • Newsgroups: If you have a complaint about life in general or need technical data on installing an Adaptec 2940 SCSI controller on an NT 4.0 Server, there are newsgroups for you. Imagine a huge number of bulletin boards that you can use to discuss various topics, ranging from technology to philosophy. The Internet newsgroups are a way of relaying topic-based questions and comments around the planet.
  • Telnet server: For those who need to allow remote users to log into their server to run programs, the Telnet service facilitates this across the Internet.
  • Gopher/WAIS: You've heard about all the information available on the Internet, but how do you find it? Gopher and Windows Access to Internet Service (WAIS) can help you find what's out there for you.
  • Domain name server: Imagine a world in which you had to remember a series of numbers such as 123.123.123.123 to identify remote computers in which you were interested. It is much easier to remember standard character patterns such as microsoft.com. Realizing this, the Internet community has developed domain name servers, which store synchronized lists of official text addresses (assigned by the various Internet governing bodies) along with their official Internet addresses (123.123.123.123, for example). You get to enter the easy-to-remember text name, and the name server translates this into the address needed to communicate with the remote machine.

In a sense, this leads to a second view of the Internet. This logical view enables you to ignore the details of the wiring (leave that up to the network professionals) and to instead look at the Internet as a series of services you have access to after you are connected to it (see Figure 28.2). In the near future, you might see Java applications added to this list. The Java standard has started to come into use in the last several months as a way to distribute mini-applications over the Internet to be run by local Java interpreters. Some say it will replace operating systems, PCs, and everything but the Internet itself and simple display devices. We'll see. The Internet can be thought of as an evolving life form—we're just not sure what it is evolving into.

Figure 28.2

The Services view of the Internet.

You also should consider the concept of an Intranet. Whereas the Internet is designed to communicate between networks, an Intranet is designed to communicate within a single network. Many companies and organizations have information that they want to distribute, but only to their people. The services described in this chapter apply equally to both internal and external uses. The only difference is that you typically control passwords or even limit access to the Internet for your Intranet servers.

If you feel that you do not understand everything about the Internet at this point, you've grasped a key basic concept: The Internet is complex and evolving. I freely admit that I do not know everything there is to know about the Internet, but I feel comfortable using it. You should at least have an idea about what the Internet is and what kind of services it provides. The next few sections cover the more commonly used Internet services in more detail, with a focus on how you can implement them on Windows NT Servers.

Examining the Internet Information Server

A few years ago, the Internet was composed of a fair number of UNIX server in government and academia. Then everyone started to get access to the Internet through their companies or through Internet access providers. Some hackers out there accessed various computers for fun and occasionally with malicious intent. That set up a wave of discussions on Internet security and how you could keep everyone connected and able to access the world without jeopardizing your critical information systems.

Several software companies sensed that PC-based servers dedicated to Internet functions might be a good way to solve the hacker threat. This solution puts a relatively inexpensive Windows NT Server at risk to penetration by non-approved users and carefully protects the systems containing your critical data by using fire walls (computers or routing devices which filter out specified types of TCP/IP traffic coming from nonapproved computers). If a hacker comes in and wipes out everything on your Internet server, you can rebuild it. Since it is not one of your mission-critical systems, you still continue production operations while the Internet server is down. Also, even if they breach security on the Internet server, they do not have access to sensitive corporate information. They only have access to inforamtion that they could have gotten off of the Internet server anyway. Windows NT actually has surged in use as an Internet server and now is challenging UNIX as a system of choice for people who want to set up servers.

Now enter Microsoft. Because the Internet is becoming an important technology, Microsoft wants to have products to serve the growing needs of this marketplace. It started with its Explorer Web Browser a few months ago and has expanded its scope to include the server portion of the network with the Internet Information Server (IIS) product. This product, coupled tightly with the Windows NT operating system, has received some pretty good reviews. Even though its current version is only 1.0 (normally, 1.0 versions are something to avoid), it has shown both stability and speed. Current product announcements indicate that it will be bundled with NT in the future, making it effectively a part of the operating system. I therefore have chosen to use IIS as the example Internet server for the rest of this section.

So what does IIS provide? Figure 28.3 shows the option selection screen in the IIS Setup procedure, which enables you to select from the various options. The three obvious features follow:

  • World Wide Web Service
  • Gopher Service
  • FTP Service

Figure 28.3

Internet Information Server features.

You might remember that you get an FTP service as part of the basic Windows NT networking package. The IIS FTP service replaces the basic NT FTP service to provide some additional control and tuning designed for a server accessible to the entire world. Another option on the Options menu that you might not connect immediately include the ODBC drivers (for Microsoft SQL Server). This feature enables you to connect your Web pages to the database and also enables you to log onto database tables instead of operating system files. Finally, you might want to use the Microsoft Internet Explorer tool, which enables you to access Web pages, FTP sites, and even newsgroups.

Installing IIS

Currently, IIS comes bundled with the Windows NT Server operating system. Also, at the time of this writing, it is available for a free download from the Internet Web site at Microsoft (www.microsoft.com)

Regardless of the source, the installation process is relatively simple—running a setup executable from the distribution media.

Four key screens appear in the setup process for IIS that you need to think about before you start the process. Of course, you need to wade through the license agreement and the screens that ask whether you want to continue. Figure 28.3 shows the first key screen. Your key decision here is which components you want to install. I generally recommend the Internet Service Manager, World Wide Web Service, FTP Service, and Microsoft Internet Explorer options on all installations (hey, the Web is hot). I recommend that you install Gopher only if you have a number of users who would rely on this service. You probably should install the ODBC access only if you plan to derive portions of the Web page content from the database or store some of the responses from your Internet server in your database. Help & Sample Files is a nice option if you have the space (it offers you some good designs for Web pages in case you do not think artistically and therefore would create technically correct but boring Web pages). Your job is to discuss with your users which options they want before starting the installation process.

Figure 28.4 shows the next key screen in the IIS installation process. It is important for two reasons. First, you have to make sure that the disk drives on which you place this information have enough room to accommodate what might become a growing Internet server. Just as important are the security considerations for this directory. You need to make sure that this directory will not be used for proprietary or sensitive information by other users of your NT Server. If you are running an Intranet server, it might be perfectly acceptable to have anyone place information in this directory. If you allow outsiders access to your system from the Internet, however, it might be better to use the NTFS file system on the drive that contains these files (so that you have some security) and to allow only one or a few users to have write access to these directories (through their network share names). Either way, you really should plan (and document for management) the policies that are going to be implemented for update access to your Internet directories so that no one is surprised later.

Figure 28.4

The IIS Publishing Directories dialog.

Now on to the third key screen in the IIS installation process (see Figure 28.5). Basically, you use this screen to replace the standard FTP service with the Internet-grade FTP service that comes with IIS. The IIS FTP service (notice all of the acronyms creeping into your vocabulary) is a little more robust and gives you greater control over your system, as you will see in the next section when setting up properties for your server.

Figure 28.5

The FTP Server Replacement dialog.

Figure 28.6 shows the configuration of services you should expect to see after installing the IIS FTP service. Your default NT FTP server will be disabled. The FTP Publishing Service is the one associated with IIS. It will be set for automatic startup and should be running. You could go into your Registry and delete the old FTP server, but I don't recommend that you do this unless necessary.

Figure 28.6

Configuring FTP services after IIS installation.

Figure 28.7 shows the final key screen in the IIS installation process for those installations with active network guest accounts. It is not a difficult question and it only has two answers (Yes or No). It does, however, open up a wealth of things that you have to think about relating to your server's security level. The guest account under Windows NT is the default account to let anyone log onto the server as long as they have the password (if there is a password) to this account. You have to be very conscious of which resources (printers, file share names, and so on) this guest account can access. I typically disable the guest account as part of installing a new server just because it makes me nervous, but there are environments in which this account is very useful (i.e. SQL Server installations). I tend to be nervous because it is a point where a hacker can enter the system and begin working out ways to penetrate system security. While thinking about security, ask yourself how many of your user accounts have passwords such as 12345, spouse names or abcde. There are hackers out there on the Internet who, if they know you have an employee named Jim Smith, will try all the common combinations and find that the logon is JSMITH, with a password of 12345. Hopefully, Jim does not have access to sensitive corporate information. The key here is to take a look at your user profiles that control security to ensure that your server is secure enough for the level of information you are storing on it.

Figure 28.7

The Guest Account Warning dialog.

As mentioned earlier, a few additional screens appear during the installation process that ask you to confirm that you really want to continue and that you agree to what the lawyers say in the license agreement. The four screens discussed in this section are the keys to implementing the Internet server that you want. It might be useful to document the options you select on a sheet of paper and to route it to your management team. This way, if trouble arises, they will be more likely to understand the situation.

Managing IIS

The installation for Microsoft's Internet Information Server is relatively easy. You now should have a functioning system, but it lacks content. When you are running an Internet server in production, you typically have two ongoing tasks. First, you have to keep your content (the Web pages, files available in your FTP directories, and so on) up to date. You might have content experts whose job it is to do this, but you should at least be familiar with the process of making and storing content (remember that many users expect the system Administrator to know everything about every software package stored on the server). The second task involves managing the security and access to the server. I discuss content for the major applications in the next few sections. The rest of this section focuses on the controls that IIS offers you to take care of security and access to your Internet server.

A logical first question is, "Where is the control utility for IIS?" It is not in the Control Panel (I guess that is a sign that it is still considered an application instead of being part of the operating system itself for now). Figure 28.8 shows the new Start Menu interface. Here, you can see how to access the Microsoft Internet Server group and, specifically, the Internet Service Manager tool—the tool you use to control the settings of your server.

Figure 28.8

Accessing the Microsoft Internet Server utilities.

The Internet Service Manager interface is typical of what you see in a number of the new Windows NT utilities—simple, with heavy use of button bars and property pages. Figure 28.9 shows this utility. The Internet services you installed are displayed, along with their status (normally, Running). In Figure 28.9, you can see that I have installed the World Wide Web (WWW) service, Gopher, and FTP services. To take action on any of these services, you need to highlight the service you want and then click one of the items on the button bar or right-click the mouse and select properties to change the settings for the service.

Figure 28.9

The Internet Service Manager.

The first set of controls you might want to use is located on the button bar. The buttons here are presented in the style of the CD player buttons. Here, clicking the right arrow starts the service running. Clicking the solid black box stops the service completely. Finally, clicking the two vertical lines pauses the service (it still is running but not accepting requests). These buttons are the big stick controls for your server (turning it on and off).

The finer set of controls comes from the property pages for the Internet services. You will see five property page tabs for the FTP server and four for the other ones. Figure 28.10 shows the first tab, which is the Service tab. You use this tab to control the time-out setting (when something takes too long, the system gives up) and the number of connections supported. It also enables you to allow anonymous connections (an Internet standard in which anyone can get in without knowing the password). Finally, for the FTP server, it enables you to take a look at the current sessions in progress.

Figure 28.10

The Service tab.

The Messages tab is available (and displayed) only for the FTP server (see Figure 28.11). You use this tab to enter text for messages that will be displayed to people who connect to your FTP site. The first message (Welcome) is displayed when a user logs in. The next message is displayed when the user exits from your site. The final message is displayed to users who are rejected in their connection attempts because the limit for the number of connections set up on the Service tab has been reached (you must be a very popular site with excellent content to run into this problem).

Figure 28.11

The Messages tab for FTP server.

The Directories tab displays the directories set up to work with your Internet server (see Figure 28.12). When you ran Setup, you specified a single directory for each of the World Wide Web, Gopher, and FTP services. In a larger Internet site, you might want to have different directories for different groups of users. You might have one directory for marketing materials (open to the entire Internet), one for product technical literature (open to the Internet), and an internal one on production schedules, for example. You can set up different directories (along with aliases that users place after your domain name when they access the data) for this material to keep things a little more organized (and possibly more secure). You also have directory listing styles for DOS and UNIX. Depending on what your people are used to (DOS for internal PC users or UNIX for most external Internet users), you can set up the directory-naming conventions.

Figure 28.12

The Directories tab.

The Logging tab in the Services Manager controls the logs kept on your Internet server (see Figure 28.13). Some Web Masters (people who care and feed Web servers) believe in infinite freedom and do not care who gets at the information or how many people are using the site. They just publish because it is the right thing to do. If you are running a site marketing corporate information, however, your marketing staff might be concerned about the number of people reading their material. Also, you might have occasional problems, such as too many users trying to connect. You can monitor this by using the logging utilities built into the IIS. As with any log, you get into concerns as to where you put the data and how large you let it become before you purge it (I have found 50MB system log files on some systems that I have worked on that no one ever read). You use the Logging tab to manage these functions.

Figure 28.13

The Logging tab.

One feature of special interest is the capability to store the data in an Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) standard published by Microsoft, which gives you access to a wide range of databases from Microsoft, Oracle, and other vendors' databases instead of a text file. This feature can come in handy if you want to develop complex reports that would be a pain to read in a text file and parse it. Instead, you can use one of the easy reporting tools on the market (Crystal Reports, for example) to make attractive reports for your management types.

The final property tab in the Service Manager is the Advanced tab (see Figure 28.14). Actually, I would have called it the Internet Security tab or something similar. You use this tab to limit access to only a certain group of computers. You must become familiar with Internet addresses and subnet masks (123.123.0.0 with a subnet mask of 255.255.0.0 limits access to all computers in the 123.123.x.x group, for example). You also use this tab to limit the number of Internet sessions (from all Internet services) to a specified number. This prevents the Internet users from weighing down the system to the point where local users are unable to get adequate response time.

Figure 28.14

The Advanced tab.

The Microsoft Internet Information Server has most of the features you would expect of any Internet server. This discussion could be generalized to give you an idea of the features you would expect in an Internet server from any vendor (some have more features and others less, but the general ideas remain the same). Regardless, you have a system that provides you with a good degree of control over access from all those strangers out on the Internet or even those on your own Intranet.

Here are a few final thoughts on the Internet server:

  • I found it really easy to set up and get working.
  • Remember that after setup, all you have is an empty system. You need to work to get quality content to make your server of interest to your target audience.
  • You should think out the services you are going to provide (your information content) and the level of security required for your server before you begin to set up your system.
  • You might want to think hard about on which server you install the Internet server. If it becomes popular, it could be quite a load on the server and allow access to a wide group of people—perhaps even the entire Internet.
  • It usually is beneficial to write out what you are going to provide and on what server, and what security measures you are going to implement on your Internet server. Most organizations have at least some interest in security and fear the Internet as a big hole that enables evil hackers to destroy systems just for the fun of it (and there are a few of them out there).

If your system works smoothly and you have planned things well, no one other than you will care about the stuff discussed in this section. They never get to see the wonderful Admin screens or care about all the work you have to go through to set up the appropriate system accounts and access policies. What they care about is the content of your Internet site: is it useful, is it easy to navigate through, and does it have visual appeal? The next couple of sections provide an introduction to the various services from the client's point of view. Looking at it from this point of view, you can see what you need to do as an Administrator to make your site useful. Remember that it never hurts to surf the Internet looking at other people's sites for good design ideas (look for copyright notices on content or graphics).

Using the FTP Server

The FTP server probably is one of the less "sexy" tools on the Internet. True, you can get tools that provide a nice graphical, Explorer-like interface to the directories located on the FTP server, but basically you are doing directory look-ups and file transfers. This leaves you with three basic functions: listing directory contents, uploading a file to the FTP server, and downloading a file from the FTP server. Depending on your Internet viewing tool, you might have to remember commands (such as get, put, cd, and ls), or you might just click the correct buttons (which is what I do these days). Figure 28.15 shows an FTP site listing some of the screen captures used in this guide.

Figure 28.15

Using Internet Explorer to browse an FTP site.

Because each browsing tool is a little different, you should consider some general guidelines of an FTP site when you are setting up your FTP site:

  • If you have a large number of files in a directory, it can be very difficult to scroll through and find the files you want. Therefore, try to organize items into subdirectories.
  • If you have too many subdirectories and a large hierarchy, it can take forever to find the files you want. Therefore, try to balance this fact against the requirement of keeping the number of files in a directory at a reasonable level.
  • Consider putting a file in the root (home) directory that gives people a map of what is stored on this FTP site and where to find things in the directory hierarchy. You usually can call this readme.txt, index.txt, or contents.txt to make it easy for people to understand what it is. ASCII text is the easiest for everyone to be able to read. (Many UNIX users, for example, do not have a Microsoft Word reader.)
  • Try to make the filenames meaningful, but consider limiting their sizes to meet the 8.3 filename restrictions of DOS if you still have a number of DOS or Windows 3.1 users on your system. Most FTP download tools perform some kind of name conversion if needed, but these converted names might be difficult to understand.
  • Remember that you can link to an FTP site from a Web page. This can give you the best of both worlds in some ways, because you can give nice detailed explanations and pictures on the Web page and then link to the appropriate FTP directory when it is time for downloading.
  • You need to mark each FTP directory to indicate whether you want it to be read-only or to allow both read and write access. Some users out there might overwrite your files with who knows what (let me just say that you would not want your mother to view what these chaotic types might upload).
  • Be aware that there are two file-transfer modes in FTP. ASCII is easiest, but it works only for text files and other files that use the straight ASCII character set. If you are in doubt or are running into problems reading the files that are uploaded or downloaded, try using Binary transfer mode, which enables you to transmit special control characters, executable applications and so on.

This section gave you a brief introduction to FTP sites. By the way, I captured Figure 28.15 from my little test Windows NT 4.0 test site. You might notice that I referenced the computer name as JOE. This worked because I do not have my little test machine on the official Internet, where I might have used a more formal designation showing the company name, for example. Also, notice that I did not specify a directory name. In this case, IIS selected the directory that I specified as my default FTP directory. The only thing I had to do to make this happen after running the basic IIS Setup procedure was to copy the files you see in the listing from one of my other directories to this default FTP directory (not hard at all). I could use Explorer or My Computer to set up a hierarchy of directories and copy a set of files into these directories also fairly quickly. All in all, it is a relatively easy process to have a fully functional FTP site.

Using the World Wide Web Server

Now onto the topic that even executives have heard about: the World Wide Web. Earlier in this chapter, you learned how to set up a Web server and some of its properties. This section shows you what Web pages look like and why people are so interested in them. Figure 28.16 shows the default Web page installed with Internet Information Server. Even this simple page shows a lot about why this is such a popular medium. First, graphics give it visual appeal (remember that only we computer types get into long, technically detailed listings). Next, you can build a complex system of documents using linkages activated by clicking highlighted key words (the underlined executive summary near the bottom left side of Figure 28.16, for example) or graphics (such as the Executive Summary pen). This page offers point-and-click access to information contained on other pages that you do not have to look at unless you want to see them.

Figure 28.16

A sample Web page.

Everyone seems to be going crazy over the Web. I like this craze because I can use the Internet to find a huge amount of information that previously would take days to get. I had to configure a new laptop computer, for example, that did not have Windows 95 drivers. All I had to do was go to the IBM Web page and download these drivers. In a matter of hours, I had all the drivers it would have taken days or weeks to acquire through other channels. You also can use Web search engines to find information about a specific topic (UPS vendors, for example) that can show you Web pages loaded with product information, prices, and contact information. Purely academic pages also are loaded with papers covering things such as object-oriented databases or even Visual C++ class libraries. I could go on for quite some time on the number of things that are possible, but you should have the general idea now that this medium enables you to present a wealth of information in a very appealing format.

So what is a Web site? The simple answer is a series of one or more Web documents or content files (graphics, files to download, and so on) located in a central directory hierarchy or available on other sites by using links across the Web. In IIS Setup, you designated a default Web directory for your Web site. This directory contains a document called default.asp that contains the text, graphics, and control codes used to generate the page shown in Figure 28.16. To make all the fancy graphics and control the display, you need to use the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), which is the standard language for the display of Web documents. A number of tools are available for you to use—from simple text editors (in which you manually insert the HTML codes much like writing software programs), to add-ins, to word processing packages (Internet Assistant for MS Word, for example) that let you define styles that match up with HTML commands, to full-fledged graphical Web-page authoring tools (creating by Netscape, Microsoft, and a growing number of other companies). Basically, you use one of these tools to turn your ideas of what you want to present to your users into the correct format to be displayed by these users' Web browsers.

Entire guides are written on Web page authoring and management. You should consider a few thoughts on Web pages that you can factor into your designs for your servers:

  • A high percentage of Web users are not using high speed links to get at the Internet. If you load a page with a large number of high-resolution graphics, you condemn these people to waiting several minutes in order for your page to load. This might not concern you if you are setting up a high-speed Intranet. Also, you can control the order in which items are loaded. I always prefer pages that load the text first so that I can at least start reading while the graphics are being loaded.
  • Web pages support two types of graphics. The first is called inline and is stored with the page itself. The other is a reference to a graphics file stored on the system. The advantage of inline graphics is that people with slow links can set a switch on their browsers to turn off inline graphics and therefore get good load times in return for living without the pictures. They cannot, however, turn off the graphics that are referenced externally. Again, you have to know what types of users you are targeting with your pages.
  • Another example of targeting your audience is setting the appropriate content. Techies looking for device drivers for a specific network card usually do not want to sit around while you download magnificent marketing photographs of your entire product line. If you are setting up a page designed for marketing, however, you might want to make it a little "sexy."
  • Never underestimate the value of links to other pages. Why re-create all the content for yourself? You can simply author in a link (think of this as a pointer to any other page on the Internet) to wherever that content already is stored. Always be careful, however, because other Web Administrators might move or delete pages without telling you. This causes your pages to display error messages when users click on links that no longer are available.
  • You also can use links for local content. A few very complex Web pages can be difficult to maintain. A larger number of simple pages enables you to swap out just the pieces that have changed.
  • Remember that you can activate file downloads from your Web pages (you just have to set the properties correctly using whatever Web-page authoring tool you have selected). It is much easier for a user to read about one of your neat tools and then simply click a button labeled Download neat.exe than to go to an FTP site.
  • Remember that you can set up a directory hierarchy under your default Web home directory. This enables you to make content directories for multiple projects or to separate download files from the Web pages themselves. If you do this with Windows NT share names and access permissions, you even can allow users to modify their own sections of the content while you maintain the master page.
  • Now for some bad news. As the Web grows, vendors constantly try to improve the tools and products. You therefore might find some slight variations in the Hypertext Markup Language used by Microsoft, Netscape, and the other Web server vendors. You need to ensure that you use the HTML constructs that your users are likely to be able to display.
  • Another neat feature of Web pages is the capability to build forms that can take in responses from the users. Scripts are written in a standard language that stores the data to text files you then can write programs for to extract the data supplied by the user.
  • Links also are available to various databases that enable you to store the data collected directly into the database and also grab data from the database for display on your Web pages. Stay tuned because this is a rapidly progressing area of Web technology.

Because this is not a guide on the Web itself, I will break off this discussion here and get on with other topics. If you think that I am more than a little enthusiastic about the Web, you're right. I can't tell you how much time it has saved me getting software or information that made my job much easier. If you think the Web is used only for transmitting GIF files, you are missing a lot of great information. Having been on the Internet before the Web came into being, I feel that it is the single greatest advance in Internet technology to date in terms of making the Internet a useful information tool.

Using Newsgroups

I read my newsgroups almost every day. I subscribe to the ones on Oracle, NT, and one that posts jobs for the Pittsburgh area. I read other newsgroups if I have a particular question that needs answered or I am looking to do some relaxing reading (try the newsgroup on making your own beer). Newsgroups are an interesting medium. They very much represent the early Internet culture of academics and government scientists who formed a network with very little corporate intervention or government regulation. In a sense, the Internet was formed by a bunch of free-speech radicals who wanted to explore how electronics could be used to freely exchange ideas.

The newsgroups are the culmination of this electronic free-speech movement. You have people complaining about everything, including each other. Mixed in with all this dialogue is a useful tool to ask questions about problems you are having from a group of users who have similar systems. A newsgroup for issues related to Windows NT, for example, is available at comp.os.ms-windows.nt.misc

I routinely browse articles posted here to view new products and to see where other people are running into problems (therefore hopefully avoiding them myself). You also can post questions and have a reasonable chance of getting a response from a techie, not a salesperson or vendor representative.

The Internet Information Server does not provide newsgroup server capabilities—at least in its current version. The Internet Explorer tool does enable you to read newsgroups as well as offer you a number of other tools (see Figure 28.17, which shows the Delrina Cyberjack newsgroup reader I prefer to use). A number of newsgroup server products are available on the Internet and through commercial sources that run on Windows NT. The key is that you link up with another newsgroup server on the Web that feeds you all or some of the newsgroups for you to transmit on to your users. It is a sea of articles flowing in all directions to keep everyone informed. Be aware, though, that there is a lot of information out there and it can take up quite a bit of computer resources in order to service this need.

Figure 28.17

A sample newsgroup (the Windows NT newsgroup).

Using the Telnet Server

Telnet is the standard terminal-access protocol on the Internet. Microsoft does not provide a standard Telnet server (to let others log into your computer), but it does provide a Telnet client (which enables you to log into other computers). Perhaps this is somewhat logical because the Windows NT command-line interface is really secondary to the windowing environment for access to system functions. Very few command-line applications are available, and the whole purpose of the NT Server is client-server access.

If you really want them, third-party Telnet servers are available for Windows NT. A couple of them are documented on the Microsoft Web page. I mention them here because you should know about this utility, even if all you do is use the Telnet client to log into UNIX boxes and VAX computers on the Internet. For these computers, terminal access enables you to run many, if not all, of the programs stored there.

Looking At Internet Commerce and Database Access

Two of the hotter topics related to the Internet today are commerce and database access. Imagine that you could purchase something by logging into your computer, selecting the items from a descriptive Web page, and then paying for it by entering your credit card number. The problem today is that your Internet transmissions get routed around the Internet for anyone to see. Someone could just sit out there at a strategic location and monitor transmissions looking for credit card numbers, lists of what you are buying and so on.

The computer industry wants to have commerce move to the Internet. Therefore, it has been working for a while on ways to make Internet commerce secure. Although plenty of facilities are available to get information from forms on Web pages, very few informed users are anxious to broadcast credit information over the Internet. If you want to use your Web server for commerce, you therefore need to keep informed on progress on secure financial data transmission standards as they evolve. Currently, a number of standards are proposed (by Microsoft, Intuit, the major credit card companies, and everyone else you would expect to have fingers in the pie), but until there is consensus and products are available on the markets and tested, most people will be leery of using the Internet to access the wonderful products you make available on your Web page.

Another development you might want to take advantage of is access between your Web server and database management systems. Most of the database and software vendors, such as Oracle and Microsoft, have developed ways for you to transfer data from the forms on your Web pages to a database. They also have worked out ways to use the content of the database to generate the Web pages seen by your users. If you just want to display a few fairly static Web pages, this might be a bit of overkill for you. If you have a lot of information in your databases that people want access to, however, this could be a good solution. This is fairly new technology, so you need to keep in touch with the current (this month's) product offerings from your database vendor. Keeping up with just a small fraction of the new technology being introduced could be a full-time job.

Using NT as an Internet Gateway

Depending on your network technology, you might be looking for a computer that serves as a bridge between all the computers on your existing network and the Internet. Windows NT can serve well in this capacity. It does not provide the complicated security features of professional fire-wall products that are out there, but it can get the job done if you are not under tight security.

The basic concept behind the use of an NT Server as an Internet gateway is pretty simple. You have an NT Server with two network cards in it. You connect one card to your Internet connection and the other card to your internal network. You then specify the NT Server as a gateway for the TCP/IP protocol on all workstations that you want to let out on the Internet. You then set up NT using the RIP (Routing Information protocol) service to transfer packets from the selected group of workstations to the Internet and vice versa. You even can locate components such as your Web server and FTP server on this Internet gateway to minimize traffic on your internal network.

Using Other Tools to Complete the Picture

There are a few tools you might want to consider adding to your toolkit before you jump off into the Internet world. If you are setting up a Web server, the first tool you might want to use is a Web-page authoring tool. Some simple ones are available, such as the Internet Assistant on the Microsoft Web page that enables you to use Microsoft Word to create basic Web pages ready for publication. More complete, full-screen Web page-editing tools also are available from Microsoft, Netscape, and a number of other vendors. It is a good idea to include some type of tool in your Web-server planning to ensure that you can produce quality Web pages.

Another consideration is an Internet gateway for your mail package of choice. These packages exist for most of the common mail packages (such as Lotus cc:Mail and Microsoft Exchange Server). They enable you to transmit mail to other Internet mail sites and to receive mail. One of the nice things about these gateways is that you get mail from many diverse electronic mail systems in your favorite mail system. Reading mail from the Internet is just like reading mail from the person in the next office.

Summary

This has been a challenging chapter to write. There is so much to cover and things are changing so rapidly. I read a statistic last year that the number of Web sites doubled every 53 days. In the face of these changes, it is useful to consider four items that probably will be a mainstay of the Internet for the next several years:

  • World Wide Web pages that provide graphical access to text, graphics, and files to download (I am downloading a file in the background while writing this article from a Web page).
  • FTP servers, which provide access to files on remote file systems for uploading and downloading.
  • Newsgroups, which are a vehicle for expressing frustration, but also enable you to get technical questions answered.
  • Internet mail services, which enable you to exchange mail with users across the Internet.

I used the example of the Microsoft Internet Information Server to show how easy it is to set up an Internet server. Although many products exist that have different controls and even some slightly different terminology, the concepts presented for IIS give you a feel for what is required for another server you might choose. I was amazed how easy it was to set up a working server. Whether you choose to set up a simple Intranet server for your group or you want to become the most popular site on the Web, many interesting tools are out there to get you going, and more are coming along every day.

Many Internet and intranet services can be accessed through custom applications that you can develop. The next chapter discusses programming in the Windows NT server environment. From this, you can obtain a feel of the options that you have to develop applications. You will need to use the application programming interface (API) that is appropriate to the Internet tools that your are using (ISAPI for IIS or the equivalent product from Netscape).

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