This is the part of my software development career I like best. The work is fun to do and, more imporantly, the result is much more visible than the applications used internally by a single department of some company. Those too are important. I just prefer having a broader audience to my work.
Until I read Philip and Alex’s Guide to Web Publishing, I used to think I knew quite a bit about developing web sites. This book has given me new insight into what makes a web site effective, contrary to the advise given in some of the previous books I have read. To get an idea on how much I have enjoyed this book, consider that there are very few technical books I have read cover to cover. Of them, this is the only one I have read twice. If you are at all interested in doing web development, read this book.
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What do I want to do with the web? I like the idea Philip espoused in his book, that web sites can be reliable, have good performance and still be relatively inexpensive to develop. This runs contrary to my corporate experience which typically allowed less than desired performance and less than desired reliability. Perhaps this is due to the platform being used. My corporate experience used the Microsoft Windows NT operating system intead of Unix/Linux. Another possible problem is having to relearn the problems inherent in the combinations of each new software release. For example, using Microsoft Site Server with Microsoft SQL Server 7.0 will have a different set of problems than using Site Server with SQL Server 6.5. It is true that there will always be some teething problems caused by combining different packages, especially when they come from different vendors. Having these problems between products from the same vendor is an embarrassment.
To learn about different solutions, I experiment on my home system, which is running RedHat Linux 6.2. Some of the technologies and tools being expermented with are:
Jakarta Tomcat 3.1 Part of the Apache Jarkarta project, Tomcat is the reference implementation for the Java Servlet 2.2 and JavaServer Pages 1.1 Specifications.
AOLserver – This is America Online’s open source web server. Before AOL bought the NaviSoft company, it went by the name NaviServer. The Netcraft survey recognizes this server by a combined name like “NaviServer/2.0 AOLserver/2.3.2”. Given the name, it should come as no surprise that this is the web server software running behind all of the AOL member sites. It is also running behind the Digital City web sites. One of my favorite features of this web server is the direct connection it has to the database, providing the capability for enhanced data access performance. Built in scripting using Tcl allows for a dynamic web site. Having it packaged as open source is an added bonus.
Oracle – This is the database used by the ArsDigita Community System. At my employer, Geneer, we have used both the Solaris and Windows NT versions. The version I am installing at home is 8.1.5, otherwise known as Oracle 8i.
ArsDigita Community System – ArsDigita, the company Philip Greenspun founded, has developed this free toolkit to ease web site development. Built on AOLserver and combined with a robust database and a stable operating system platform, it makes for an effecient combination of packages, one which has proven itself to work reliably.