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((((((((((((((((( WEBREFERENCE UPDATE NEWSLETTER ))))))))))))))))) February 8, 2001

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This week in the WebReference newsletter, meet Jeffrey Bonkiewicz, an Information Specialist at the Omaha-based medical software producer, Hickman-Kenyon Systems, Inc. Jeffrey enlightens us on how to choose server-side development technologies. He provides us with three guidelines to follow and divulges many words of wisdom for Web Developers.

New this week on WebReference.com and the Web:

1. TWO NEW CONTESTS: Submit & Win NetObjects Fusion 5!, Signup & Win! 2. FEATURED ARTICLE: Do Not Go Gently Over to The Server-Side 3. NET NEWS: * On-line Flirting Leads to Off-Line Romance * Field of Stream Dreams * China Goes One-on-One With the Net

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 1. TWO GREAT CONTESTS: Submit & Win NetObjects Fusion 5!, Signup & Win

>Submit & Win NetObjects Fusion 5!

Submit your article today and you could win NetObjects Fusion 5! If your article makes the cut, and we publish it on the site or in this newsletter, you win! Jeffrey Bonkiewicz wins NetObjects this week for his article on server-side scripting scenarios. See the submission page for details:

http://www.webreference.com/new/submit.html

>Signup & Win!

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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 2. FEATURED ARTICLE: Do Not Go Gently Over to The Server-Side....

Do not go gently over to the server-side. Many important and intense activities of data processing occur on the server side. Why, then, should an information technology (IT) professional use a certain server-side language just because his boss recommends one? His boss may have good reasons for choosing a certain language, but the boss may be unaware of other technologies out there. Or perhaps, the boss may be hiding other options from the IT guy to prevent him from gaining company recognition and reputation. Whatever the case may be, you need to be aware of your options when you "go over to the server-side."

What do I mean when I say this? Well, it's perfectly OK to completely detach oneself from all emotions and to use cold, hard, reasoning and fact-based analysis when dealing with the server-side (and the client-side for that matter). However, it has become apparent in the contemporary IT realm that people, eggheads in particular, are simply too attached to their technologies of choice. Certain dynamics of love and hate are at play. For example, some of them love Microsoft. Others loathe anything Microsoft. Some love iMacs, while others play hockey with their miniscule mice. Some love ColdFusion, while others are into JavaServer Pages (JSP) or Active Server Pages (ASP). Many others are cult-classics like the good, old Practical Extraction and Report Language (PERL) or becoming one, like the relatively new PHP4 (PHP HyperText Preprocessor). Yes, this is a somewhat daunting list (and I'm sorry if I left anyone outÂ…), but it is also a manageable one. These languages and/or application server-side scripting languages are, principally tools, which work to solve business problems. On the surface, the decision appears to be a simple matter of personal preference. However, as confusing as it can be to differentiate them, there's a definitive need to delve deeper into these technologies.

Luckily there's a specific set of guidelines that an IT professional can apply to any new server-side consideration:

1) Define the business problem; 2) Analyze and weigh the pros and cons of the server-side consideration to your business problem; 3) Implement the technology of choice in order to solve your business problem.

While certainly not difficult, these three steps will serve you and your company well. Hopefully, they'll prove rewarding in the technological long run also (if, indeed, that is possible). It's no secret that Web developers, upon discovering some new technology, seem to have a propensity to become technologically biased, dismissive not only toward other development technologies, but also toward the developers who use them. Naturally, such attitudes, while both counterproductive and narrow-minded, mostly serve to muddy the waters around a more important issue, namely, the application of these technologies. It is, after all, natural to accept one and only one environment once one becomes accustomed to it (be that a city, a place of business, or a Web development IDE). Be that as it may, application of the available environments ought to be the main concern of Web developers.

Although some of the truths regarding the raisons d'etre of Web development components are self-evident, the reasons for choosing the right ones for your business aren't necessarily that clear. At their most fundamental level, any and all server-side Web development languages are simply tools to make our lives as Web developers easier (and sometimes more fun). Thankfully, most Web development languages do in fact deliver on their marketing promises; however, as it is with any component of information technology, some deliver much better than others. But, the primary step in any business's analysis of Web development tool selection is the definition of the business problem. Indeed, if there were no business problem, there would be no need to develop anything. Does the business really want to develop, using some form of server-side scripting language, application server and/or a Web-based system that glues their database(s) together with a Web front-end? Is that really the nucleus of their business problem? In a business context, what is the problem you're trying to solve? It's been said that a developer should spend considerable more time in the planning and analysis phase of the Web development lifecycle than in the actual development phase. Incorporating this heuristic into your Web development practices while simultaneously ensuring that you have a solid grasp on the business problem at hand will help you considerably with choosing the proper technologies and make it easier to achieve your goals.

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Speaking of planning and analysis, it's not uncommon for certain companies to forego the whole analysis phase of the Web development lifecycle. This is unfortunate, as it will most likely cost the company severely throughout the Web development life cycle. Embracing a product simply because an attractive and reputable name is attached to it can be a mistake (though, in some cases, it can prove blindly beneficial, too). Another common company practice that should be avoided is, bandwagon tactics; for example, just because Company X is using PERL does not necessitate that Company Y should start using PERL. Realistically, one company's PERL is another's PHP4. To continue this example, there's very little difference between PHP4 and PERL (aside from the former being a derivative of the latter). Besides, both are quite impressive in their performance numbers. (Of course, these two languages reside exclusively within the open-source community, as both aforementioned technologies are non-proprietary.)

Where should we begin when we compare ASP running on IIS to PHP4 or PERL running on Apache, you ask? The answer in a word: outsource. Avoid the manufacturers' recommendations and marketing fluff and seek out the most objective third party that you can find. Examples of these companies are CNET or ZDNet. It's safe to presume that neither of the above companies are is on the payroll of the company's. At the risk of sounding redundant, these evaluators are in the business of evaluating, the foundation of which is (or at least ought to be) objectivity. A list of questions these objective evaluators may ask includes (but certainly would not be limited to) the following: What is the learning curve of this technology? Is the code open-source? Has there been upgrading considerations or issues in the past? How well will this technology (according to the technology manufacturer) integrate with what my company is currently using)? It should be duly noted that these are all very good questions to ask of any new information technology - not just a server-side Web development technology. If nothing else, these queries will save you time, effort and money in an anxious Web development marketplace.

When it comes to weighing the pros and cons of each Web development solution, the bottom line is that you need to seek out the most objective parties possible who perform these benchmarks. You want to know who's the best, eh? Don't talk with Linus Torvalds wannabes. They'll tell you that "Ugh, there's no comparison: use PERL or PHP4 running off of Apache in conjunction with Linux." (Anyone for LAMP?) Similarly, don't talk with any MCSDs (Microsoft Certified Solution Developers) either. They'll tell you that "Uh, there's no comparison: use ASP running off of IIS in conjunction with Windows 2000." In more than one way, they're warring factions. While there's something to be said for picking a side and sticking with that side, there's also something to be said for sticking with neither side until you've established an objective basis for your own opinion. The options are there; you just need to know where to look. What's right and what's wrong? See guideline number one above. Not surprisingly, each solution has its own pros and cons. Both the above technology choices have been proven in the IT marketplace. The difference between the technologies lies in where, how and why they are best applied.

While attempting to answer the three penetrating questions is certainly a good idea, it is beyond the scope of this article. In addition, this information is not necessary to realize that weighing the pros and cons of each Web development solution against your business problem, is, unfortunately, where too many half-truths come to pass. It's quite likely that these half-truths will gain credence the longer they're around, but the fundamental rule of coding - "wrong is wrong" - applies here. You won't get your compiler (and yes, even your interpreter) to output what it thinks you were thinking or specifically what you want the Web development technology to do. Therefore, the main idea is to listen only to objective, reputable sources of information. For example, it's probably not a good idea to go to a company's Web site to see what the benchmark comparisons are for a competing product versus their own; more than likely, you will get something that is less a true presentation of the capabilities and features of two or more products than a thinly veiled appeal to ignorance. The latest contemporary example: Oracle, in a commercial on CNBC, claims to have saved themselves 1 billion dollars simply by using their own software (as opposed to using that of their competitors). While it may be true, the statement doesn't lend itself any credence since any objective person will realize that Oracle isn't exactly the most objective party when it comes to the comparing their own database products with those of their competitors.

Finally, guideline three seems straightforward enough; use the technology of choice in order to solve your business problem. However, it can be somewhat frustrating, especially when a company wants to integrate the new tool with products that it has already purchased. If you find that a particular technology suits your business problem much more than the one that your company is currently using, go to your superior and show him or her the research you performed about said Web development technology. While your boss may decide not to spend $4,000 on a new application server just because it won in the benchmark test du jour, at least he or she knows that you are making the effort to work with the technology that best suits the needs of the particular business problem. (Naturally, an experienced Web development manager would weigh other considerations besides the "mere" cost of the technology, but that would probably be at the top of their consideration list.)

In today's Web development world of cut-throat competition, "here-today-gone-later-today" information technology companies, and $10 Web developmentmagazines, it's no surprise that some of us get a bit too closeto our Web development languages of choice. However, by steppingback from the Comdex booths, rubbing your chin, keeping the above three guidelines in the forefront of your mind while getting an objective view of the array of available Web development technologies, not only will your company benefit as you will hopefully apply the best Web development technology for your company's particular situation, but you, too, will have benefited and personally progressed as a truth-seeker in an over-hyped and often fallacious IT world. You can still take this balanced fact-finding approach to heart; whether in a friendly corporate argument or in search of the Holy Grail of Web development tools, remember these two points:

1) Bicker if you must, but please, do not go gently over to the server-side. Plus: 2) Undermining a Web development solution just because you're not using it or heard it's obsolete or, worse yet, you simply don't understand it, should be an argument defeated faster than the Minnesota Vikings in an NFC Championship game.

About the author:

An advocate for objectivity and rational decision-making in all matters pertaining to information technology, Jeffrey works as an Information Specialist for a software development company in Omaha, NE. A voracious reader and information acquirer seeking the underlying truth behind both hardware and software, he holds a Bachelor of Science in Management Information Systems from the University of Nebraska. He can be reached at mailto:jeffrey@hksys.com.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 3. NET NEWS: On-line Flirting Leads to Off-Line Romance Field of Stream Dreams China Goes One-on-One With the Net

>On-line Flirting Leads to Off-Line Romance

Check out these amazing stats on online romance; it's unbelievable. http://ny-web1.businesswire.com/cgi-bin/f_headline.cgi?day0/210390039&ticker =trly|trr.ma 010208

>Field of Stream Dreams

Company offers futuristic Streaming Internet service today. Learn more about our streaming future. http://www.internetnews.com/streaming-news/article/0,,8161_582481,00.html 010207

>China Goes One-on-One With the Net

What do the most populous country in the world and the Internet have to do with each other? Find out! http://www.latimes.com/business/cutting/features/lat_chiteck010127.htm 010127

That's it for this week, see you next time.

Andrew King Managing Editor, WebReference.com update@webreference.com

Alexander Rylance Assistant Editor, WebReference.com arylance@internet.com

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