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Web CT Longevity Issues

Mohammed Shamma

Web CT is a product designed to provide a WWW interface to developing a course Web site. The actual software is based on a set of Perl CGI scripts that are invoked through a Javascript front end. For example, a typical Web CT interface looks like this:

This image is an example of the forms-based interface that allows the user to select and configure the banner for the Web site.

This method of developing a Web site is very powerful to users who are not familiar or who are becoming familiar with Web publishing. Site development time is reduced drastically as users no longer have to know HTML nor do they have to mark-up their content with HTML as Web CT handles this function on its own.

However, there are some longevity issues such as programming language compliance, file format support, HTML versioning, browser support, and interoperability compliance that should be considered when one is making the decision to go adopt Web CT as their primary development tool.

Since Web CT was written "for the Web" it utilizes interpreted Web programming languages. The primary languages used by Web CT are Javascript and Perl. They are perhaps some of the most widely used Web interpreted-programming languages. The longevity of these languages relies heavily upon their reliability, usability and interoperability with the environments in which they are used.

Perl, an interpreted language, naturally requires the existence of a Perl compiler that must reside on the same operating system. Perl compilers are available for Windows, Macintosh and UNIX varieties, thus giving Perl a wide range of interoperability. Perl is based on the C programming language, whose reputation as reliable and durable language has place considerable confidence in Perl by its users. Finally, Perl can perform much of the same functions as C, but in a much more efficient manner making it a very lightweight language.

The above graph is the result of a Perl program that was written that performs a search on AltaVista of the following languages in addition to the terms "suck" or "rules." (The terms are based on how users express, in a "basic-level" manner, their opinions of the languages) The level of darkness refers to the number of hits (higher hits = darker). A score below 1 means that the program found a high number of users that claimed the programming language "sucks" and a score above 1 means the language `rules." Of course a survey like this is questionable in terms of its methods and assumptions, but nevertheless, there is some truth to the results.

Javascript is considered an extension to HTML that was originally developed by Netscape and marketed with a similar name, due to its string similarity to Java. In order to execute Javascript extensions the Web browser must be able to run the Live Wire Compiler either as a plug-in or as a feature integrated into the browser. Both Netscape Navigator 3.0 and up and Internet Explorer 3.0 and up come with Javascript capable extensions. These browsers are both freely available. If these browsers are not the preferred browsers from the user's perspective, then the user is forced to use Netscape or Microsoft products in order to use Web CT.

Another issue with Web CT is interoperability. Eventually the developers at Web CT as well as Web CT system administrators will have to address how to use Web CT with other software. Currently any method to try and export a Web CT generated Web site to another server is very messy and require the assistance of a Web CT system administrator. And this sort of task is probably something a system administrator might not have thought about when they chose to adopt Web CT, thinking that they would reduce the amount of support they would have to offer.

Naturally, export mechanisms for Web CT generated Web sites should be developed so that previous users of Web CT are not locked into using the software. Of course this is perhaps more an issue of building a strategy alliance with some of the major software developers such as Netscape, Sun, Microsoft and Lotus.

Even though there are some concerns about the reliability and the sustainability of the languages and browser support for Web CT, the product is non-proprietary and is intended to remain that way. Web CT was built upon a freely available development environment (Perl and Javascript) and only requires software that is freely available as well (Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer). From this perspective, Web CT is no more or less sustainable than any other WWW software developer in the market today.

SIMS Web Pages Project
Last updated: May 15, 1998