Action ... Reaction
More Internet travelers are reserving their bookmarks for sites that respond and interact with them. Providing this kind of functionality used to be the domain of experienced programmers, but tools are popping up everywhere to make dynamic Web sites easier to develop.
For the ultimate in flexibility, you can create Java applets or ActiveX controls that automatically download from your site and run on visitors' browsers. Java, of course, is the de facto Internet programming language, offering both cross-platform compatibility and a level of security because it runs in a virtual machine on client computers. Microsoft's platform-specific ActiveX technology is less secure, since ActiveX controls are allowed full access to a client's hardware. However, it does let you expand existing PC solutions across the Internet. Even with the rise of rapid application development tools and drag-and-drop visual programming, both Java and ActiveX target experienced developers.
The simplest products let you add forms and full-text searching to your site-even if you're a novice. More advanced applications act as agents for the visitor, gathering information from external data sources and displaying the results in HTML format. These solutions can be complicated to implement, often requiring special software on the Web server. Many site-authoring tools, such as FrontPage, Cold Fusion and HAHTsite, also include interactive options.
Submit THIS 1.0 ($70; Microrim, 800-628-6990, 206-649-9500). Designed with the beginner in mind, Microrim's Submit This includes more than 100 prebuilt forms and a custom CGI script for capturing users' responses in a text file on your Web site. To analyze responses and produce reports, you manually download the text file to your PC and then import it into the supplied R:Base database. Microrim will help your service provider install the CGI script that's included.
Web Publisher 3.0 ($1,495; askSam Systems, 800-800-1997, 904-584-6590). Web Publisher brings askSam's free-form database technology to the Web. This program is a Win95 or NT server-based application that gives visitors access to full-text searchable databases, complete with custom HTML search forms and navigation controls. It involves virtually no programming and provides a great way to maintain the kind of free-form data that usually confounds traditional databases. The company offers Web hosting services.
WebDBC-Enterprise 3.0 ($1,295; StormCloud Development Corp., 206-812-0177, fax 206-812-0170). Linking your Web site to existing databases is WebDBC's forte. Wizards help you create dynamic input forms and reports. These wizards remotely look up, add to or edit your database. The program includes features like in-line Visual Basic support, session variables, file caching, and SMTP or MAPI e-mail. WebDBC-EZ can generate SQL code on the fly and connects to databases using ODBC or JDBC.
Microsoft Visual Studio 97 (Pro, $999; Enterprise, $1,499; Microsoft Corp., 800-426-9400, 206-882-8080). Microsoft's one-stop solution for Internet application development, Visual Studio 97 Professional Edition includes Visual J++, Visual C++, Visual Basic 5.0, Visual FoxPro 5.0 and Visual InterDev, a Web-application designer. Visual Studio 97 gives you the tools to create HTML pages, ActiveX controls and Java applets, and integrate them with ODBC database support into multi-tiered Internet applications.