ASP for All

Microsoft introduced Active Server Pages (ASP) to allow Web developers to build applications on the Internet and in intranets instead of simply using HTML to build web sites. ASP scripting is important because developers can now use either VBScript or JavaScript to build server applications. This allows organizations to leverage their in-house expertise in those technologies to build applications in the Web world.

ASP is part of the Active Server platform. ASP is also part of Internet Information Server, which is included in the NT Option Pack. The NT Option Pack also includes a host of other products such as Microsoft Transaction Server and Microsoft Message Queue.

When ASP first arrived on the scene, it was an NT/Internet Information Server-only solution. Microsoft made ASP technology available to other developers and even promoted the use of ASP on non-Microsoft platforms. This has led to many Web sites around the world using ASP, most of whom are using Microsoft platforms.

The introduction of non-Microsoft ASP platforms opens this technology to organizations that have not yet standardized on NT. Chili!Soft (Bellevue, Wash., www.chilisoft.com) is one of the leading players in the non-NT ASP market. Its ChiliASP Web application server currently runs on the following NT systems: Netscape Communications Corp.'s Enterprise and Netscape FastTrack, as well as Lotus Development Corp.'s Go Webserver and Lotus Domino Web servers. Chili!Soft ASP technology is also available for Netscape Enterprise and Netscape FastTrack for Solaris.

The introduction of ChiliASP on non-NT platforms opens the use of this technology to a wide variety of organizations. Recently Chili!Soft announced the introduction of ChiliASP for IBM OS/390 and ChiliASP for AIX. These implementations of ChiliASP will allow organizations with a heavy investment in mainframes to use tools such as Visual InterDev to build robust Web applications that run on a mainframe, AIX or NT server. This introduces a development environment where different platforms can use the same server architecture.

Microsoft is continually working to extend its Web development technology beyond the vanilla ASP implementation. With the introduction of Visual InterDev 6.0 in September, Microsoft has enhanced the development and run-time features of the Visual InterDev environment. Visual InterDev 6.0 does for Web developers what Visual Basic 1.0 did for traditional application developers. The new Visual InterDev run-time software implements an object architecture on the server that lets developers use event-driven programming just as they do in a Visual Basic or DHTML application. This object-based environment is based on the Scripting Object Model, which is implemented in server-side script. Microsoft plans to move the Scripting Object Model to a set of COM objects in a future update.

The event-driven features are of particular importance. Instead of relying on HTML to post information to the server, send pages back, and so forth, the new run-time software lets the developer concentrate on the development task and the run-time software takes care of processing events. For instance, if you want your application to do something when a user clicks on a list item, you can place this code in an event and process it there. The run-time software handles everything else. This makes developing much easier and will improve the maintenance cycle, as there is less code to maintain.

The new Visual InterDev run-time software features a host of development features, including remote scripting. Using remote scripting, a developer can execute code on the server from code that resides in the browser. This cuts down on loading on the server and network, because there is less data going across the wire. It also improves the user interface, because the page never flashes in the browser. All in all, remote scripting should enable a different type of Web application that is more powerful and at the same time provides a better user experience. --Ken Spencer has written several books for Microsoft Press and works for training organization 32X Corp. (Greensboro, N.C.). Contact him at kenspencer@32x.com or via the Web at www.32nt.com.