Web-to-Host Connectivity: The Lizard Darts Around Corporate Networks

"I am not a destroyer of companies; I am a liberator of them."

- Gordon Gekko, a.k.a. Michael Douglas, in the movie Wall Street

Another "Gecko" is hitting the corporate scene, making promises of liberating corporate data, making it accessible to any device, anytime, anywhere. The new Netscape 6 browser, powered by Netscape's "Gecko" technology, is finally hitting the streets. Netscape 6 will immediately succeed version 4.7 of Netscape's current Navigator browser, skipping plans for version 5 altogether. So, how will this lizard bring new agility to Web-to-host deployments?

First of all, Netscape finally brings in some fresh competition for the heart and soul of the client side of our operations. The client side has been Microsoft's home-court advantage, and the software giant had pretty well squashed Netscape over the past couple of years. Internet Explorer (IE) is the standard browser on more than three-quarters of corporate desktops and laptops. Of course, that's what started the whole antitrust mess Microsoft is in now. There's a lot at stake on the client side. The browser has become the de facto operating system for many client machines. If Microsoft had lost on this one, the company could have quickly faded into the dustbin of IT history.

Another interesting development is that Netscape Gecko is built on open source software, meaning the code is open for anyone to use and modify as they see fit. Other major systems built on OSS include Linux, Apache Web server and Perl scripting language.

The real value proposition for Gecko is its cross-platform - and cross-device - potential. Not only will the technology run on any operating system in existence, but it will soon support any type of handheld device, Web phone or Internet appliance that enters the market. As Web-to-host deployments inevitably evolve to wireless and other client devices in the future, Netscape is in a position to become the preferred choice of IT managers. To date, Microsoft has been fumbling in this arena, and IE only runs on Windows, Mac and some flavors of UNIX. Netscape espouses a "write once, browse anywhere" philosophy, whereby developers need only write to W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) standards, and their content is accessible from any type of device running Gecko.

Another advantage with Gecko is that it's lighter, and runs faster than IE or previous versions of Netscape. In fact, Netscape claims Gecko can load Web pages 10 times faster than previous versions. If so, this provides a compelling advantage for Web-to-host connections that are often slower than straight terminal access.

Netscape is also incorporating support for JavaScript 1.5 in its browser, which is being embraced by leading Web-to-host vendors. For example, Attachmate announced that it is integrating JavaScript 1.5 into its e-Vantage Viewers. The Netscape Java-based JavaScript interpreter is used in a MacroRecorder feature that allows browser-based users to navigate host applications on mainframe and midrange systems. The browser also supports XML.

On the Other Hand

There is, however, a downside to open source software, and that is in the area of online security. "Netscape's use of open standards and its willingness to open the browser for development and customization also makes us a bit nervous concerning security issues," notes a report from Zona Research. "How users will be able to make certain that a customized browser has been developed with Netscape's consent is not addressed [in Netscape's product launch announcement]. Considering how easy it would be to access and utilize an open standards application for shenanigans of various kinds, and the sorts of chaos that denial of service and other attacks have engendered over the past year, we hope that Netscape is developing a plan for dealing with hackers and pranksters."

Of course, the browser serves at the pleasure of its master in Dulles - Netscape parent America Online. The browser will be a key feature in AOL's move into the wireless Internet. Zona bemoans "Netscape's decision to feature AOL's Buddy List and Instant Messenger functions so prominently, since AOL can hardly be considered a poster child for the open sharing of technology."

While there may be some initial concerns about new browser technology, competition can only be healthy for the client browser market. Without the browser, Web-to-host would have still been relegated to dial-up arrangments. Ultimately, the performance and viability of Web-to-host deployments are enhanced by increasing the options available on the client side.


About the Author: Joseph McKendrick is a research consultant and author whose firm, McKendrick & Assoc., specializes in surveys, research and white papers. He can be reached at joemck@aol.com.

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