What ISPs Should Support
One of the changes that must come about as we move into using the Web for more and more tasks is in the area of the services provided by the Internet service providers (ISP).
As vendors introduce new Web-based tools, ISPs must support those services on their servers. For instance, Microsoft Corp.'s Visual InterDev 1.0 and 6.0 both require certain things on the server before you can use them to create your site. Some of these features, such as FrontPage Server Extensions and Active Server Pages, are provided only by Internet Information Server 3.0 and higher. You can get some support for Active Server Pages on non-Microsoft servers by using add-on products.
If the ISPs do not support these features, then you cannot build sites that use those features. Microsoft is working to improve this situation by providing education and information to ISPs and trying to assist them in using Microsoft technology on the site.
One of the problems comes about when you have sites that offer only UNIX or other traditional hosting services. Many times you are better off finding an ISP that started out on Windows NT and has grown up with it. There are more and more of these sites supporting NT, IIS, Access and other technologies that users might need on the server.
Why should you care about the technology your ISP is using? If you maintain the site yourself, then you must be able to use the tools that you need to build and maintain the site. For instance, if you are building an intranet for your organization and are using Visual InterDev, and you need to build an Internet site for your customers and potential customers to use, your developers should be able to use Visual InterDev to create and maintain both sites. If the intranet site is based on Active Server Pages code that also uses COM components written in Visual Basic, then you should be able to host a particular page and component on the Internet site. You do not want to maintain two different sets of code for the sites and have to rewrite a portion each time you move it from one place or the other.
You can find out about many sites that host FrontPage sites at this URL: http://microsoft.saltmine.com/grontpage/wpp/list.
Not all of these sites use Windows NT and IIS, but they all host FrontPage Server Extensions. This is one of the requirements for both FrontPage and Visual InterDev.
When you contact an ISP about hosting your external site, you should ask it questions about its support for your needs. For instance, here is a short list of questions that I would want answered:
What Web servers and versions do you support?
What databases can we use in our Web application?
Does your server use FrontPage Server Extensions?
Does your server support Active Server Pages?
Does your server support COM components?
Will your servers support Visual InterDev 6.0 server-side requirements? If so, when?
What guarantees do you provide for uptime, bandwidth and support?
What are your support hours?
Will you support our applications?
What type of monitoring do you use on the sites?
Do you support credit card processing in our applications?
Do you support e-mail features in our applications?
The Web environment is changing fast. It is vitally important that we get the message to the ISP community that we need certain features on its servers. It is likewise important that Microsoft and other vendors work with the ISPs to get them to support the features that we need. -- Kenneth L. Spencer has written several books for Microsoft Press and works for training organization 32X Corp. (Greensboro, N.C.). Contact Ken at firstname.lastname@example.org or via the Web at www.32nt.com or www.32x.com.