Commerce Builder does it all

By David Strom

If you are looking to establish a quick and dirty Intranet server that will do more than just serve up web pages, take a careful look at Internet Factory's Commerce Builder. Running on NT, it comes with a bundle of web, web/ftp/gopher proxy, and chat servers and couples all three with a powerful macro scripting language that is fairly easy to use.

The chat server makes Commerce Builder interesting: you can establish threaded conversations easily through the use of your browser and a simple setup routine on the server side. It is not as fully featured as RadNet nor anywhere as robust as a Unix Network News protocol server, but if you just need bare-bones discussions this may be all the software that you'll need. All users access the chat room via a web browser, and add their comments via web forms. It is extremely straightfoward.

Commerce Builder's web server is setup completely through either its own Window's Control Panel tabbed dialogs or through a remote web browser connection. Not all administrative functions can be accomplished remotely, but you can start and stop the web and chat servers and configure most of the major items. The tabbed dialogs are a bit confusing at first, since some screens have almost a dozen different tabs to navigate. For example, there are separate tabs for setting up the remote administration, ODBC drivers, users, performance variables, and the like. Luckily, you won't have to mess with many of the defaults.

To show its level of integration, Commerce Builder comes with almost a dozen different Performance Monitor variables that you can track, which is about as many as Microsoft's IIS includes. In terms of its features, it supports advanced features such as "keep alives" that increase performance and response times, something not found on your garden-variety web server. And for Intranets, it has extensive access control lists, so you can limit which users will view which portions of your web site. All of this is good news.

But the real gem and centerpiece of this product is its Server Macro Expansion feature or SMX. These are a series of proprietary HTML language extensions that do everything from page hit counters to string manipulation to accessing ODBC databases. They are recognized by putting a special command at the beginning of your HTML file, and then including the various macros as part of the text of your web page. The server processes the macros when the page is requested and displays the results. It sounds simple, and apart from one fatal flaw, it is. The flaw is their documentation: while there is a separate manual that describes each macro and what it does, there are few clear examples. Overall, the explanations of the SMX syntax is incomplete or confusing, which is frustrating because the language is quite powerful.

Commerce Builder has reasonably good documentation of the server itself, and also comes with various on-line web pages that you can view to see various examples of how to run and setup the server and walk through various features.

I tested Commerce Builder on NT Server 3.5.1 on a Compaq 486/50 with 32 megabytes of RAM, which I would recommend as the minimum machine configuration for the product. There are other versions available for Power PC and Alpha NT processors and for Windows 95 machines (although the Win95 version doesn't have all the features of the NT version). Overal, the product is ideal for internal servers: it is quick to setup and simple to run.

Internet Factory's Commerce Builder v2.0 A combination web and news/chat server that can be used for Intranets. It comes with powerful macro extensions that don't require much programming to do things that most web servers use perl or CGI scripts for.

Pros: Easy to setup and configure

Cons: Macros are powerful, but lack good examples.

The Internet Factory

Pleasanton, CALIF 94566

510 426 7763

510 426 9538 fax

Price: $396 (Intel), $595 (PowerPC and Alpha)

Platforms: Windows NT (Intel, Power PC, Alpha), 95

Copyright 1996 Infoworld Publishing Co.