The Internet is here to stay. Its exponential growth rate has proven the point. And many government administrators are taking advantage of it. For example, the California Department of Motor Vehicles' Web site allows citizens to do everything from downloading a change of address form to updating a driver's license. Another example is the Washington State Department of Revenue's Web site that disseminates public information to its statewide audience.
Those state and local agencies that have regrouped and replanned Internet programs will be pleased to know that time hasn't been wasted. If anything, the wait may have been worth it because many software applications are beginning to mature and offer more capabilities than ever before. There are literally dozens of new applications coming to market every day, making it difficult to know which one will be well-suited for a particular Web site.
If an MIS department is ready to set up a Web site, there are some critical issues to research. "The first rule is don't become 'vendorcentric,'" said Todd Burke, webmaster for Illinois Central Management Services. "If you're looking to start a Web site, make a choice on a Web utility and server software not based on a vendor's promise but on open standards. We have tried to select the best vendor for an open-standard environment and have avoided proprietary technology. The second rule is don't underestimate the cost. Make sure to add extra money not only for proper tech support but for personnel who will manage the new technology. These are critical components to make a success out of your Web site."
Heeding this kind of advice will make the construction of a Web site much easier. Many states now have webmasters like Burke who are willing and able to lend some sage advice to any project. If your agency isn't familiar with what's available, the following Internet software will help get things started.
Long-time leader in the browser market, Netscape has recently gotten involved in developing server applications, like Netscape Enterprise Server 3.0. "Netscape has added a lot of functionality to their Web server product," said Martin LaFon, senior information systems analyst with California's Teale Data Center. "When you want end users to get the full robustness of software applications, you need advanced features."
Enterprise definitely boasts advanced features, including custom views and intelligent searches to make browsing and finding information easier. It publishes documents created in applications like Microsoft Word or HTML right from the desktop and enables users to build network-based applications deployed on Netscape ONE.
Perhaps one of its most convenient features is its content management capabilities. Users can sit at their desktops, and use Netscape Communicator to publish and update documents. This means that an individual workstation need not be set up exclusively to load documents on the server. Thus, webmasters can create a document, convert it to HTML and load it onto the Web site. And its Internet-ready access controls allow users to securely load documents and specify who can edit and view documents on the server. This permits group collaboration without compromising confidentiality. A document's integrity can be preserved in the group work environment by using the program's check-in and check-outs editing features which create new versions of documents as they are updated, providing a documentation history.
Netscape Communications Corp., 301/571-3914. Internet:
One of the primary network operating systems is Windows NT. For users who want to take advantage of Windows NT power, it might be advantageous to consider investing in the Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS), which is offered free over the Internet. "Obviously there is a war going on between Netscape and Microsoft," said LaFon. "Microsoft is giving away some of their products for free in order to compete. Right now the functionality