I attended Mactivity in San Jose last week and came away with a good feeling about the Mac's role in networks and specifically in the Internet. Desktop publishing certainly gets credit as the application that put the Macintosh on the map, but in many ways, the Mac's networking capabilities are more impressive. They've been present in every Mac since the beginning, and with the advent of System 7's File Sharing, have been a part of everyday life for even the smallest of Mac networks.
I hadn't been to Mactivity before, but I got the impression that in many ways the ascendancy of the Internet has given new life to the conference. A special Mactivity/Web mini-conference preceded the main show, and on the exhibition floor, roughly a third of the booths were showing Internet-related products. The sessions, even excluding all the Mactivity/Web sessions, had about the same ratio of Internet material to straight networking information.
But none of this should surprise anyone. Networking has long been a heavy-duty niche field that only interested in the folks whose job it is to set up and keep the networks running. Users don't care about the network topology or wiring scheme as long as they can share files and print to networked laser printers. However, users do increasingly care about using that same network to get onto the Internet to do things that are of direct relevance to their daily lives. Suddenly the network has reached out to the world.
Anyway, on to a few products that caught my eye.
Delphic Software was present and showing their AL*I Internet Server, which will garner as much attention for its deucedly difficult-to-type name (and I have no idea how to say it) as for the numerous Internet services it can provide. Due out before the end of the year, the AL*I Internet server includes a graphical configuration interface for the Web, Gopher, FTP, NNTP (Net News Transport Protocol, for Usenet news), SMTP (Simple Mail Transport Protocol, for sending and receiving email), POP3 (Post Office Protocol, for storing mail for POP clients like Eudora), UDP Time Server (for synchronizing clocks), DNS (domain name server, for translating names to IP numbers), and finally a BootP server. This functionality won't come cheap, though, with packages containing various module sets starting at $995 and ranging up to $1,995 for the whole shooting match.
Delphic Software -- <email@example.com>
Aiwa's DAT tape AutoLoader (marketed by CORE International) certainly won the best of show in terms of pure attention-getting, both in terms of its physical operation and its raw storage capacity. The device was on display at the Dantz Development booth - not surprising given that Dantz's Retrospect Remote backup software basically owns the backup market and is seemingly bundled with every DAT drive in existence. The AutoLoader uses a cartridge containing 17 DAT tapes, and a mesmerizing loader zips up and down the cartridge, moving tapes in and out of the DAT drive mechanism itself (another model contains two DAT drives for faster performance). There's something compelling about computer equipment that moves in interesting ways - perhaps that's the reason for all the movie scenes of tape drives spinning. Even more compelling was when Lars Holm of Dantz told me that you could put 272 GB on single, easily removed cartridge (ease of removal is important for fostering good off-site backup habits). To note that 272 GB is a lot of data is pure understatement. And although the prices sound steep, at $6,995 for the single drive model and $8,995 for the double drive model, just compare the costs of 17 separate DAT drives and a network slave to feed them tapes all night.
CORE International -- 407/997-6055 -- 407/997-9009 (fax)
Dantz Development -- 800/225-4880 -- <firstname.lastname@example.org>
ResNova Software has embraced the Web wholeheartedly with their NovaServer 4.0 product. Originally a BBS with a graphical interface provided by the NovaTerm client, NovaServer has evolved into a interesting amalgam of Internet and BBS. All of the old features are still present (email, message forums, chats and conferences, and file libraries), but some have a new twist. All messages are stored internally as HTML, and users can include HTML 2.0 code directly in messages, along with URLs that point either locally or out to the Web. The NovaTerm client can work with an optional Web add-on to enable users to browse the Web, and the client itself uses HTTP (HyperText Transport Protocol) for file transfers. Gateways for SMTP, NNTP, UUCP, and AppleSearch are also available. ResNova has addressed the current paranoia over inappropriate content on the Web by providing access controls and filtering of outgoing URL requests through a list of approved or prohibited sites or pages. (This concern is a bit less misplaced in the BBS world, where some BBS sysops have been jailed for allowing pornographic materials on their systems.) NovaServer is Power Mac-native, requires the Thread Manager on systems prior to System 7.5, and is scalable using multiple servers. Prices vary widely depending on the configurations.
ResNova Software -- 714/379-9004 -- <email@example.com>
StarNine gave me a quick demo of some of the more interesting capabilities of ListSTAR, their new mailing list manager and mailbot program (see TidBITS-258 for a brief bit on eMOD, an earlier incarnation of ListSTAR). Several features stood out. First, ListSTAR features a rule-based interface that appeared to be heavily wired for use with AppleScript, although you could also use Frontier. This means you can extend ListSTAR's capabilities in interesting ways, and StarNine was showing some of those, such as a form in WebSTAR that provided an easy interface for adding or deleting oneself from a mailing list run by ListSTAR. Simple, but effective (you wouldn't believe how many personal requests I get every day, asking to be added to the TidBITS list - I couldn't live without QuicKeys). In the future, think about more intersections between the Web and email, so perhaps mailing lists could be both centralized on the Web (which makes for more coherent management) and distributed via email (since people are lousy about continually visiting the same Web site over and over again).
Perhaps most interesting about ListSTAR for many Mac users, is that it comes in two flavors, SMTP and POP. The SMTP version of ListSTAR is a full-fledged SMTP (and POP) server in its own right, and would replace MailShare entirely on Mac mail servers, and of course requires a permanent Internet connection. (MailShare is now Apple Internet Mail Server, as the corporate naming weenies at Apple have trippingly dubbed it - at least they didn't go for "Apple Internet Server Solution for Electronic Mail.") However, the POP version of ListSTAR works like any other POP client such as Eudora, and only checks for new mail when you tell it to. Thus, any user who connects to the Internet via a modem and PPP, SLIP, or ARA could easily run a full-fledged mailing list. Performance is worse with the POP version, but that's a small price to pay for not needing a direct Internet connection. I feel that bringing this capability to ordinary Internet users without expensive permanent connections is tremendously important, since it opens up the Internet to an entire group of people who were previously prevented from helping improve the community by providing mailbots and mailing lists on specific topics. On the other hand, ListSTAR's complex configuration requirements may make it inappropriate for users with simple mail server needs.
StarNine Technologies, Inc. -- 800/525-2580 -- 510/649-4949