Technology Positioning Statement Report

3.1.3 Web-based Communications

Description: Client/server systems supporting delivery of enterprise information and applications via the HTTP protocol.

Category: 3 - Communication Technologies   Subcategory: 1 - General Purpose Communication Technologies
Old Category: Infrastructure Services Web Information Delivery


    Semantic Web


Industry UsageSC Usage
HTTP 1.1
HTTP 1.1

Performance Metrics

Cross-browser standarization; correct but lightweight HTML/XML source code; availability of mature editing tools; graphics, math and collaboration features; multimedia support.

Usage and Dependencies

Industry Usage: The global economy continues to embrace the web and be transformed by it. Likewise, information technology continues its inexorable movement toward web-based tools and services. This is causing a convergence of work, data and architectures towards Internet and web-related protocols and standards, such as HTTP, HTML, and XML.

A persistent problem is the existence of conflicting standards and proprietary software in web clients (browsers). Currently Microsoft Internet Explorer is used by about 80% of users, with Netscape/AOL taking almost all of the remainder. Each of these has several versions with different capabilities, as well as a range of settings that can be changed by end users. Also, the emergence of small-screen hand-held platforms creates a whole new set of display requirements. Developers therefore need to design software that accommodates these variations either by using a least common denominator approach or by creating customized code for each major browser type.

The solution to browser-dependence is the adoption of a universal meta-language which permits specialized markup tags to be created and interpreted in a defined way. XML is that solution. That is why the World Wide Web Consortium's committees have defined a migration path from HTML via XHTML to XML-based communications.

Now that technologies are emerging that allow desktop applications to be repurposed for mobile devices, such as Palm and Windows CE handhelds, it is important to consider the design issues that need to be considered in this scenario also. XML (in conjunction with XSL and XSLT) will separate data from presentation more completely, making it easier to modify code for a wide variety of display formats.

We should not become so distracted by these formatting issues that we forget the main goal: to permit easier access to desired information. The long-term vision involves advanced thinking about the meaning and semantics of information management -- a vision articulated by the Semantic Web group at W3C:

"The goals for semantic web advanced development include the prototying and eventual standardization of intercommunication pipelines of components consisting of parsers, data stores, proof checkers, and other semantic web processing modules. This intercommunication system will allow alternate implementations of each component to be substituted to meet the requirements of specific applications. Applications of focus are defined to be directly benificial to supporting the W3C collaborative and procedual requirements with the untimate goal of providing a basis for more effective description, management, integration and automation of web services and agents neccessary for supporting the Semantic Web. "

A particularly valuable new protocol is WebDAV - Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning, which permits client-side editing and distribution of web-based documents. This protocol is used in Microsoft's SharePoint Portal product, and will probably see much wider application in the future - after all, it approaches Ted Nelson's original (Xanadu) vision for the web.

SC Usage: SC is gradually converting its legacy business systems to web-based intranet applications built on Microsoft Windows clients and NT servers, using Microsoft Internet Explorer 5 as the user interface (IMSC). Some applications will be required to run over the Internet, which implies that they be cross-browser compliant and secure. Also, there may be some business requirements for secure extranet capabilities (e.g. use of a Virtual Private Network running over the Internet via PPTP). All types of web-based security models, and all types of browsers must be accommodated to support these business users.

On the server side, Microsoft has recently released a variety of specialized servers to augment or replace general-purpose products like IIS (Internet Information Server) and SiteServer. This will make server-side architectures more complex to deploy and maintain.

SC has a decentralized approach to providing web-based information that is directed by individual program offices. As the volume of web content continues to grow, it will become increasingly desirable to acquire web content management systems to reduce the amount of labor involved in this task.

SC Application Impacts: The SCIP (Office of Science Intranet Portal) project will further contribute to web-based access to SC systems. The SC Customer Support Center has plans to employ the Web as an information delivery mechanism.

Last Update: Valid Until:


Previous TPS Report
Design Issues in Repurposing Desktop Applications for Mobile Devices, Carl Zetie, Giga.

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