JUNE 26, 1998

Frontier blazing Internet trail

By David Morgenstern (david_morgenstern@macweek.com)

UserLand Software Inc. last week said it will move out of the scripting business and into the competitive arena of high-end Web development. Along with a raft of new features and performance boosts, UserLand's cross-platform scripting environment, Frontier 5.1, will be accompanied by a hefty increase in license fees.

The company said Version 5.1, due in July, will offer a variety of high-end Web publishing features, including an integrated Web server, tools to automate the distribution of operations and data across multiple servers, a new framework for serving content dynamically, and an object-oriented database using Extensible Markup Language.

UserLand President Dave Winer said that while the company had left the scripting business, "scripting is central to building networked applications, especially for content management. It's a feature, not a product category. In retrospect, it was always that way and we were swimming upstream."

Analysts said they were upbeat about the move.

"Frontier is very network-savvy and has a lot of potential in a cross-platform environment," said Ross Rubin, group director at Jupiter Communications in New York.

According to Winer, UserLand's Frontier will compete with high-end Web development environments, such as Inso Corp.'s DynaBase and Vignette Corp.'s StoryServer.

The update will speed some operations by as much as 400 percent, Winer said. The Mac OS version will also provide the native TCP verbs found in Version 5.0 for Windows NT.

The XML-savvy Version 5.1 will offer Remote Procedure Calls, which let managers distribute processes to remote Frontier servers and automate the distribution of files to multiple machines.

Beta tester Jason Levine, editorial technologist at New York-based Sports Illustrated, used Frontier 5.1 to build a multiserver site covering the Goodwill Games. He said the work flow can take a JPEG image and a set of captions, then route them to several Frontier Web servers that each handle the package differently.

"I can have the same database everywhere, and each one can perform different tasks, not like a dumb storage system," Levine said.

Meanwhile, the update's release will coincide with UserLand's new business plan, which switches from an essentially free, unsupported product to an annual subscription system.

Version 5.1 will be offered in four plans depending on site usage and support. The $5,999 Partner level receives architectural and design consultation; the $899 Commercial license provides access to a support database; and the $299 Personal level is aimed at noncommercial sites and lets users participate in a private e-mail list, as does a $99 academic version.

The change drew protests from Frontier's current users.

"There was some sticker shock initially, but the price isn't outrageous," said analyst Rubin, adding that most protests came from the scripting environment's "substantial hobbyist base."

UserLand Software Inc. of Burlingame, Calif., can be reached at sales@userland.com; http://www.userland.com.


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