INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY GUIDE
Webware helps make cybergovernment a reality.
ew innovations have had more impact on the way government conducts business than the World Wide Web-the user-friendly part of the Internet in which arcane codes are replaced by colorful graphics and hypertext links enabling users to quickly access electronic files. Agencies have set up close to 1,000 Web sites providing text, graphics, audio and video information to the public, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Where first-generation Web sites were merely static home pages containing preformatted reference material, second-generation sites are interactive marvels being used to do everything from processing grant applications and issuing permits to conducting procurements and running on-line training. Joining agencies in their journey into cyberspace are dozens of companies offering products designed to make the trek easier.
Perhaps the most significant new Internet product is the new Java authoring tool by Sun Microsystems. Java is an object-oriented programming language for building innovative Internet applications. It enables computer programmers to create custom software in a fraction of the normal time by using prefabricated and reusable sets of code known as objects.
Java is platform-independent, meaning it can run on any type of computer or operating system. For that reason, it is becoming the standard for how programs are written and used on the Net. Companies are rushing out products to complement Java. Borland International, for instance, recently introduced a debugger that finds source-code errors. Applix, meanwhile, has a Java-based client-server spreadsheet.
Browsers. Even Microsoft has agreed to license Sun's authoring tool. The software giant's new Internet Explorer browser includes Java technology. And Netscape's Navigator Version 2.0 provides a scripting language for writing Java applications.
Netscape's popular browser, which is available free on the Internet, features enhanced graphics and fast downloading capabilities. It automatically retrieves and executes commands-known as applets-written in Java. Although it is the market leader, Navigator is expected to see heavy competition this year from new companies entering the browser market.
Search Engines. Net surfers also can expect to see more search engines being made available this year. These free directories, which are subsidized by advertising, help users find what they are looking for on the Web. Companies such as Architext, InfoSeek, Lycos, Web-Crawler and Yahoo use software robots to scan Web pages and form indexes that can be quickly searched.
Many startups are beginning to enter this potentially lucrative market. One such firm, Blue Squirrel Inc., is offering a search-engine unifier that streamlines Web searches. The program runs searches on many engines, then eliminates duplicate listings to create a single, comprehensive index.
Web Management. Agencies will continue to search this year for easy ways to design and manage their Web sites. A new generation of software is helping Webmasters do everything from adjust hypertext links to configure Web servers. Quarterdeck's inexpensive WebAuthor program turns Microsoft Word 6.0 into a Web editor, while WebSite from O'Reilly & Associates features a mapper that graphically identifies broken hypertext connections.
PageMill and SiteMill from Adobe Systems, along with Microsoft's FrontPage and Netscape's LiveWire, enable users to drop in content from other applications and quickly establish links to other sites. User-friendly graphics simplify home-page design and management.
Security. When not concerned about how to design or untangle their Web sites, agencies will be focused on how to protect their home pages from hackers and spies who threaten the security and integrity of data. Carnegie Mellon University's Computer Emergency Response Team, which monitors Internet security, recently reported a sharp increase in break-ins. The FBI is so concerned that it has hired reformed cyber-bandits to catch Internet snoops.
Security experts recommend that agencies monitor network traffic, change passwords often, provide audit trails and multiple layers of authentication, install virus protection, and incorporate encryption systems such as the RSA algorithm, the Clipper chip or the Fortezza card.
Companies are coming to the rescue with all types of encryption technology. Sun's new Sunscreen, for instance, acts as a firewall to intruders. Both Microsoft and Raptor Systems offer anti-hacker software. Premenos Corp.'s year-old Templar software protects electronic-data-interchange packets on the Net, while CyberCash software provides security for on-line transactions.
Intranets. Also vulnerable to security threats are internal agency networks that use Internet applications such as Web browsers and server software to link workers and provide access to databases. These intranets-built with software programs from companies such as Computer Associates, IBM and Oracle-create e-mail systems that enable workers to monitor agency activities.
Internal Web pages can keep employees updated on projects and inventory levels. Many people can work on applications simultaneously-and for a fraction of the cost of groupware. But the open technology is not recommended for mission-critical applications.