by David Strom
(for Connextions newsletter, 3/96)
Writing about the Web for a print publication is quite a challenge: things change so fast that sometimes one's research is out of date not only before publication but before one's article is even saved on the word processor.
Our esteemed editor asked me to do an article looking at home pages in the style of Siskel and Ebert (I paraphrase his request). I'm not so sure what this means, but I will attempt to give you a brief look at where things are going in terms of web developments from my perspective as well as some of the things I'd like to see happen with the web over the next few years.
First, my top ten list of web trends.
Nevertheless, these caffeinated applications are important, if nothing because they free us from depending on a particular computing platform and also allow for more network-centric computing and program development. Now, do I believe this will happen anytime soon? Nope.
Netscape has had some positive effects on the web: it has brought about a rapid deployment of graphical (versus text-based) browsers, innovation with respect to HTML tags and servers, and improved graphical look and feel of web pages themselves ("this page has been optimized for ..."). It has also brought about some negatives as well: a rapid deployment of overwrought graphical content, too frequent updates of browser software, and too many new tags and server extensions. All of this contributes to what I feel is the end of openness and a standards-based web, which is a Bad Thing.
An interesting corollary to this trend is that everyone becomes their own publisher. This is not necessarily a Bad Thing. Take my own case as a shameless example. I publish my own email newsletter now to a small audience of computer vendor marketing and engineering types. While I could do this before the rise of the web, having a web site to archive my back issues and provide links to other interesting places complements the overall publishing scheme nicely. The trick to being your own quality publisher is also finding the right mix of skills (editorial, production, sales and circulation) that are needed for the world of paper publishing as well.
NT web servers are also for those corporations that have relative control over their desktops and are comfortable with (pre-NT versions of) Windows. There are now over a dozen NT web servers, and I'm sure more are on their way. But more importantly than sheer numbers is the perception that NT makes a great web server by the corporate buying public. My recommendation: if you don't know Unix, don't start now for all things web. Try one of the more popular NT web servers.
But don't think that an NT box can completely replace all the functionality of a good Unix server for all things non-web (mail, network management, and net news come to mind as three services that Unix does particular well and NT is still far short on). In addition, some signs of immaturity still remain: NT web server remote administration tools are bare-bones at best. Too few Internet Service Providers offer NT web hosting services, although that will change quickly over time. And sometimes it can be confounding to have too many choices for software.
Anyway, most of these HTML editors and HTML add-ons (Microsoft Word Internet Assistant, Lotus Word Pro, and WordPerfect's Internet Publisher) don't really add much on to the process of creating, checking, and publishing HTML documents. My recommendation: find yourself a good text editor and return to the glory days of the past.
What will really help this along is TCP/IP. TCP/IP is now available as part of every new desktop operating system sold today. That's a big change -- and a big improvement -- from several years ago, when the protocol was only the provence of the truly enlightened. But we still have several potholes along the IP highway to fill in: management tools, for example, that were designed for routers and not desktops; mixing earlier versions of Windows and IP is still somewhat of a challenge; and making Winsock and Open Transport work is full employment for an entire army of consultants.
I got real insight into some of this process when I tried to buy some stuff via the Internet: shopping malls were confusing (not to mention relatively empty of patrons), incompatible forms with my browser, difficult to find stuff, overpriced shipping charges, etc.  All in all, a relatively unsatisfactory series of experiences. But this will get better, or else we will have to find some other use for the web fast.
I'd like to see Microsoft stop talking about how good it is going to be and really try to integrate its web services into NT.
I'd like to see true 32-bit applications appear on Windows 95 and NT so that I didn't have to continually be reminded of the 8.3 character file names inherited from a 20-year old operating system.
I'd like to see authoring and publishing tools work well with a wide range of web servers so I didn't have to manually arrange my content and use an ftp client as my main organizational tool.
I'd like to see a meaningful and stable HTML standard that was fully embraced by Netscape and Microsoft, so we can innovate in more useful ways than tag fights.
I'd like to see the Macintosh reborn as a web authoring platform, with all the necessary tools and integration, and ease of use that it had as a desktop publishing platform.
I'd like to see the trade press focus on something other than caffeinated applets and agents, and examine the lack of meaningful ways to transport existing content onto a web server.
And to put this all in the proper perspective, I'd like to see World peace in my lifetime.
David Strom is president of his own consulting firm in Port Washington, NY, where he works for leading-edge vendors of networking and communications products. In between consulting gigs, he is publisher, editor, and sole writer of Web Informant, a free-for-the-asking HTML-based newsletter distributed via email about web marketing for the computer industry. His web site, http://www.strom.com, contains back issues along with the usual links to interesting places on the web that he wish he thought of first. Strom's background is as an editor and writer in the computer trade press, where he wrote one of the worst articles on the InteropNet ever published. He was founding editor-in-chief of Network Computing (the US CMP version) and presently writes for Infoworld and Forbes ASAP as well as appears occasionally on CBS TV news talking about the Internet, but don't hold any of that against him.
 A more complete essay by the author on the end of openness, "Anybody Remember Open Systems On The Net?" can be found at CMP Techweb
 Check out our Webcompare list of web servers (along with a description of features).
 TeX and METAFONT, Donald E. Knuth, Digital Press/American Mathematical Society, 1979. For places around the web that offer the TEX product.
 Interactive Week magazine not only has an Intranet section, but an Intranet columnist.
 Creating Private Intranets: Challenges and Prospects for IS by the author is available here.
 Tektronix PhaserShare printer management software.
 Campbell's OnTime calendaring software.
 Tribe's WebManage routers.
 An article by the author on the on-line shopping experience can be found in Web Review magazine.
 See "In the On-Line Market, The Name of the Game is Internet," New York Times, 9/25/94.