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Web Commander

Web Commander

I want... I want... I want... Seems like those childlike wants of ours never disappear, they just change slightly to match our changing environments! If you have to build a Web site, whether for internal use on an Intranet or for publication on the Internet, you want a complete set of tools. You want a Web Server program with a simple administration interface, a Browser, a Web Page Editor (or two!), a graphics program with image map capabilities and some extras for accessing databases from your site, providing search engine capabilities and supplying fill-in forms for your site's visitors to use. Perhaps you want to provide secure pages for conducting credit card business on the Web and want tools to simplify that task. But, you don't want to spend a fortune to get them.

The package comes with a well-written book of documentation containing easy to follow descriptions of every process from installing TCP/IP and getting connected to the Net to setting up your server(s) and building your pages.

Installation is easy -- a standard setup process. At the end of the installation, Setup presents the opportunity to run the Web Site configuration. With a simple six-tab dialog box, all the basic features of a server are defined. This includes a description for the site, its IP address and port, its root document directory, the Webmaster's address, virtual paths (aliases), mime types (of which all you are likely to need have been included by default) and directory browsing features. Also included are access permission rules, logging requirements and styles.

The administration tab allows you to specify users and groups of users, then allow or deny access to specific directories by users or groups. You can also grant or deny access to the site by specific IP addresses or domains (using wildcards if needed). This is also where you enable and configure logging. The extended logging capability includes referral source, client browser and other useful information beyond what is included in the basic log file. The extended log file is in a comma delimited format, most convenient for importing into a spreadsheet program for analysis.

Styles use a wizard to define a style to be applied to all documents in a specific directory and its subdirectories. The style wizard lets you specify a header that can include a graphic, a background color or wallpaper, and a footer that can include a graphic, descriptive text and an e-mail address. This provides an easy method to ensure a consistent look for a set of pages.

When the server has been defined, its settings are saved in a configuration file (.KWB). The click of a button starts the process of creating a new server. You could create a separate server for "live" and "development" sites or, if you are providing Web services, one for each domain name. This configuration file provides a very useful side benefit; it can be moved, along with its directory structure, from one machine to another as a complete, intact, Web site. How's that for a development/backup/management aid?

Once configured and running, the site is managed through the Web Commander Window (see Figure 1). This is used to start, pause or stop servers (sites) and monitor a variety of useful statistics such as hit rates, referrals, active connections, errors and general server statistics. There are three other very useful items tucked away in here.

First, under Tools/Options we find "Install Service". Almost glossed over in the book and not found by me at first, is the answer to a very important question for those of you running NT. Yes, it does run as a service!

Also under Tools are Show Tree and Tree Tools. Show Tree opens up a window with a tree structure view of the Web site for this server, together with file and server information. Branches (subdirectories) are expanded and collapsed in standard windows fashion. Documents containing hyperlinks and graphics can also be expanded to reveal the files and destinations included. Selecting an item and clicking on "Tree Tools" (or right mouse clicking) lets you open it in your favorite browser editor. The choice of each is specified in the Tree Tools /Helpers dialog.

The third item is the Security menu. Here there are wizards that greatly simplify the process of building a secure Web Server. The first wizard walks you through the steps of obtaining a security certificate; the second installs it when it is received from the issuing authority (Verisign). By adding a server on port 443 (the SSL default) and using these two wizards, you can correctly set up a secure server easily and quickly.

Web Commander also includes a wizard for creating Web pages. This is certainly a fast and easy way to create pages! It has the ability to create a corporate, personal, order form, feedback, database or even a generic Web page. In each case, it asks for basic information pertinent to the desired page, together with general questions about background colors, hyperlinks, headers and footers, and finally asks for a location in which to save the page. It is not hard to create a reasonable looking set of pages in just a few minutes with this wizard.

As an alternative to the Web Page Wizard, or to further customize the pages created by the wizard, there is the Web Studio. This is a full-featured Web editor (also known as the InContext Spider). The program has a "logical" section on the left for placing elements such as "Heading" or "Paragraph" on the page, and a "content" section on the right for entering the content of the element. There are good examples supplied with the package that help you to quickly understand how the program works. It is easy enough to use and includes a good selection of HTML mark-ups. Personally, I would like the option of seeing the resulting HTML code in full while I am working on a page. This program also appears to be a 16-bit program. The file open and save dialogs don't have long file name capabilities and wouldn't let me Save As an .HTML file! This program is an adequate starter tool, but I wouldn't rely on it for long.

The Web Map program allows for the creation of image maps based on .GIF image files. Rectangles, ovals and polygons are supported and the creation of an image map is simple. Web Map includes a useful grid function that helps to keep hot areas nicely aligned. There is also a zoom for fine detail work along with cut and paste editing.

The Web commander package also includes Excite for Web Servers and Wide Area Information Server (WAIS) tools. These tools enable powerful search capabilities for you site. Their use is well documented in the book, including step-by-step instructions. If your site is going to contain a lot of pages these search engines help to make your clients' lives a lot easier.

The book includes excellent documentation on the use of Server Side Includes (SSI), Common Gateway Interface (CGI) and the new Information Server Application Program Interface (ISAPI). There is also an appendix with some very good examples of CGI and PERL scripts, including a guest book, a questionnaire form, a bulletin board and a variety of very handy little routines.

WebCharge is an application that allows credit card transactions over the Internet. It works by calling out on a modem to obtain an authorization code from the clearing house. Configuration is simple enough but only allows for one of four clearing houses. There is no way to add details for your clearing house if you don't use one of these four (NaBANCO, MDI, VISA, TDSI). If you are in luck, however, then you can also use the manual entry screen, which allows you to enter transactions that don't originate on the Web.

In conclusion, I feel Luckman's Web Commander is very good. The Web Server itself is definitely the strongest aspect of the package. I was very impressed with its ease of use, flexibility and comprehensive feature set. The wizards come next as an excellent aid to accomplishing otherwise complicated tasks quickly and easily. There is room for improvement in the Web Page authoring area, although the included program gets the basic job done. The image mapping tool is simple to use and fills a much needed slot in the tool box. There is a lack of a graphical development and manipulation tool in the kit; a void which I would definitely like to see filled. The documentation is excellent; it is readable, informative and makes a good reference. Overall, while not exactly a "one-stop shopping" solution, it is close to it and represents a very good value; an excellent server and a good starter tool kit.

More Stories By Vince Barnes

Vince Barnes is the General Manager of Phoenix Applied Technology, Inc., an Internet Service Provider and computer services company in Kissimmee, Florida. His career spans more than twenty years of computing, from software engineering to network design. Though now primarily involved in management and strategy, he likes to continue in very much of a "hands on" role.

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