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Client/server's future is on the Web

Story by Jerrold M. Grochow

JANUARY 02, 1996 -

I have seen the future, and it is the Web.'' I'm not sure which minister of computer science first exhorted that epithet, but today it is taking on new meaning. ``I have seen the future of corporate IS, and it is the Web.'' Traditional as well as new corporate applications will be delivered to end users via the World Wide Web that is the future.

The Internet existed for almost 25 years before anyone outside of academia and the defense industry realized it. But as soon as banks, insurance companies, newspapers and government agencies started using it to communicate with customers, the Internet took on a new role.

Starting with FedEx, which connected its package-tracking system to a publicly accessible Web page, companies began figuring out that what used to be internal systems could now be ``customer contact systems.'' For example, Wells Fargo Bank provides account balances and will soon accept payments via the Web. The Web is becoming the universal access mechanism.

Looking for a way to allow customers to check the status of their orders? Contemplating how to provide more direct support to your product clients? Analyzing strategies for making the data warehouse available to sales agents on the road? Trying to figure out how to bring multimedia training materials to your remote offices? Just put them on the Web.

The technical challenge is in merging the formerly internal-use-only strategic application with the Web, but the necessary tools are on the way. New versions of Hypertext Markup Language provide more complete and flexible graphical user interface (GUI) programming possibilities. Sun's Java and Netscape's LiveScript (soon to be combined into JavaScript) open the door to delivering full-fledged programs.

Furthermore, Microsoft announced Visual Basic Script will be available in about a year. IBM/Lotus has a product to automatically scan Notes databases and put them onto a Web server. And a product from ParcPlace-Digital lets you substitute Web servers and clients for the traditional GUI of the Smalltalk object-oriented programming language. Before we know it, every language will allow (or encourage) co-existence and substitution of local GUIs and Web GUIs.

Web browsers accessing multiple Web servers is the architecture for the next wave of client/server computing. Carry this approach a little further and we will see the resurrection of big applications running on big servers that are accessed by ``skinny'' clients running Web browsers the modern equivalent of massive time-sharing machines connected to thousands of terminals.

By the end of the millennium, we will see the start of the ``Web-connected'' society. And we owe it all to a 25-year-old networking protocol, coupled with some clever ideas on how to deliver graphics and data from CERN (the European Laboratory for Particle Physics) to the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

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