The press releases have been flying fast and furious in the Macintosh Web world of late, mostly on the server side of things. But, lest you think Web servers aren’t for mere mortals, read on for news of how you might find yourself running one in the not-so-far future.
WebSTAR 2.0 Appears — The main news for the week was the release of StarNine’s WebSTAR 2.0, the leading Web server in the Macintosh market. StarNine has improved WebSTAR 2.0 in three primary ways: speed, security, and new technologies.
Speed increases of two to three times in the already-sprightly WebSTAR come from two new caching methods. For those unfamiliar with caching, it’s a way of storing information in RAM or in such a way that subsequent accesses are significantly faster than the initial access. WebSTAR 2.0 includes "smart" data caching, which means the program continually monitors which files are being accessed and decides which files will benefit the most from being cached. Other Web servers have provided a manual interface to caching, but they require the webmaster to maintain the list of cached files on a continual basis. Equally as important as data caching is WebSTAR’s new file information caching scheme. One of the main bottlenecks for Mac servers is the slow Macintosh file system, and by caching file information in RAM, WebSTAR avoids the file system entirely. Overhead on the file info caching is reportedly only 500 bytes per file, so with reasonably-sized sites, it’s not a huge RAM hog either.
Security improvements in WebSTAR 2.0 come from the inclusion of WebSTAR/SSL with the basic WebSTAR package, and two additional security measures. In the past, you could restrict access to an entire site by IP number, but you could restrict folder access only by a username and password. WebSTAR 2.0 enables you to restrict folder access by IP number, falling back to username and password if someone hits an intranet site from their personal ISP, for instance. Another previous security concern was that WebSTAR would execute CGIs stored anywhere in the WebSTAR hierarchy. Someone could upload a Trojan horse CGI and execute it from any Web browser. Now, WebSTAR 2.0 only executes CGIs stored in a specific folder, which can be locked down through normal security means. Finally, WebSTAR’s username/password database now supports tens of thousands of users.
In terms of new technologies, WebSTAR 2.0 now includes a Java virtual machine, so programmers can write CGIs and plug-ins in Java. Although performance isn’t as good as a CGI or plug-in written in C, development time can be shorter and take advantage of Java expertise. Concerns about the stability and performance of Java programs are significantly reduced because WebSTAR’s virtual machine doesn’t deal with interface at all – Java-based CGIs and plug-ins are purely for processing data at the server level.
The new version sports a standard "server-side includes" feature that enables Web page authors to embed special tags in HTML documents to create dynamic pages. Although numerous products like NetCloak and CometPage already exist for this purpose, WebSTAR’s server-side include feature can call other CGIs or plug-ins and is extensible with user-created tags.
Speaking of plug-ins, StarNine is bundling a few important plug-ins with WebSTAR 2.0 (some of the features listed above are implemented through plug-ins as well). Most useful among them in my mind is one that "rolls" log files, copying the file to a new location and resetting the main log. Webmasters will appreciate a remote administration plug-in that sports a Star Trek-style interface, and another plug-in that sends email from the server rather than from a Web browser.
Upgrades cost $149 for corporate customers or $99 for education customers through 31-Dec-96. New copies remain priced at $499.
Hanging with MultiHomie — Another improvement in WebSTAR 2.0 is access to the HTTP 1.1 Host header. The implications of this support is that third-party plug-ins can work with WebSTAR to provide more seamless multihoming. In the past, Open Door Networks’ HomeDoor was the best solution for multihoming on the Macintosh, but the machine name that appeared in the user’s Web browser wasn’t the same as the name in the URL the user typed. MultiHomie, a $75 shareware plug-in from ClearInk (site licenses are available), doesn’t share this problem and returns proper URLs to Web browsers that are sufficiently modern to send the Host header. For all those who have been complaining vociferously at the Mac’s lack of true multi-homing, the combination of WebSTAR 2.0 and MultiHomie is worth investigating.
Open Door Deals — In response to the release of WebSTAR 2.0, Open Door Networks announced special pricing (through 01-Mar-97) for anyone upgrading to WebSTAR 2.0. Prices on HomeDoor, LogDoor (a real-time log analysis application), and MailDoor (which adds multiple domain capabilities to Apple Internet Mail Server) have been lowered by $40 to $80. In addition, Open Door announced a new version of HomeDoor that would provide the transparent multihoming capabilities of MultiHomie in the first quarter of 1997.
Microsoft Gets Personal — In a surprising move, Microsoft and ResNova announced that Microsoft has acquired ResNova’s Web server products: the personal Web server WebForOne, and the full-featured Boulevard. In conjunction, five of ResNova’s employees, including president Alex Hopmann and product manager Lauren Antonoff, have joined Microsoft’s Internet Platform and Tools division in San Jose, and ResNova is seeking a buyer for its NovaServer bulletin board system.
Microsoft plans to release a beta version of WebForOne, renamed Personal Web Server. Personal Web Server will eventually be bundled with Microsoft Internet Explorer. Although this may seem unusual, it’s a matter of parity, since Microsoft already has a free Windows 95 entrant, called Personal Web Server for Windows 95 (Microsoft’s naming creativity astounds!). Microsoft claims it has no plans to release a full-featured Web server for the Mac.
I’ve been talking about personal Web servers for some time; with this move it looks as though competition in the category is heating up even more. Apple has contracted with Maxum Development, makers of the RushHour graphics Web server, to create a personal Web server to be included in the Mac OS, and StarNine has a beta of Personal WebSTAR, which is essentially a modernized version of Chuck Shotton’s original MacHTTP. And of course, there are numerous other Web servers available for the Mac, including some, like Peter Lewis’s $10 shareware NetPresenz and Chris Hawk’s free Quid Pro Quo, that could be considered personal Web servers on the basis of price alone.
I certainly hope the makers of these and other personal Web servers turn their attention to concerns specific to personal Web servers, such as dealing effectively with document translation and non-dedicated Internet connections (see TidBITS-316 and TidBITS-318). It’s time to see some innovation and not merely more Web-hucksterism.