Integrating Client/Server and the Internet

New business opportunities are unfolding daily, as Internet technologies become more widely adopted by IT shops around the world. Still, with Internet fever burning through the ranks of major corporations, the vast majority of development remains focused on deploying line-of-business applications in client/server environments. That being the case, many IT organizations are seizing the opportunity to merge new Internet capabilities with their client/server efforts.

IT managers are quick to recognize the potential cost savings represented by a model that proposes integrating their current production computers and applications with new Internet technologies (as opposed to scrapping existing infrastructures and starting over from scratch).

In lock step with that thinking, Microsoft's development strategy is to offer enterprise developers the tools, technologies, and support needed to bring about this world of client/server and Internet integration.

The idea is to help developers harness the power of computing on client/server networks, intranets and the Internet, and gain the flexibility needed to respond in an environment of lightning-fast technical and business change.

Microsoft's development strategy is illustrated in both the Active Platform (an open, component-based development architecture), and in Microsoft's Visual Tools, (a family of high-productivity developer tools for creating Internet and client/server applications). Developers can use these building blocks in concert to exploit opportunities created by new technologies, while deftly handling ongoing software development challenges.

The Active Platform

This part of the development strategy can be broken down into three basic subsets:

  • Active Client, where solutions are run and experienced by the user

  • Active Server, where integration between existing and new systems occurs, and where business rules are stored for easy management

  • ActiveX®, where interoperability technologies enable software components written in different languages to work together in networked environments.

ActiveX, which includes the Component Object Model (COM) and Distributed Component Object Model (DCOM), is widely known and used around the world, and is managed through an open standards organization, The Open Group.

Tools for the Enterprise

High quality developer tools are critical to a good development strategy, and Microsoft has just released the latest versions of its extensive family of tools to support client/server and Web-based software development.

Of special note is Visual Studio® 97, Microsoft's new developer tools suite, comprised of Visual Basic®, Visual C++®, Visual FoxPro®, Visual InterDev&153;, and Visual J++®. An Enterprise Edition of the suite adds technologies (e.g., Microsoft Transaction Server and Microsoft SQL Server) that are specifically geared towards enterprise development.

These days, most developers use a variety of tools for development projects. Looking at the breadth of tools in Microsoft's line, how do developers determine which tools to use when? Here's a brief description of common development needs and the Microsoft tools that fit the bill in each case:

If your developers require:

  • A comprehensive cross-language development environment: Visual Studio 97.

  • Client/server and Internet development tools: Visual Basic, Visual C++, Visual FoxPro, and Visual SourceSafe®.

  • Web application development tools: Visual J++, Visual InterDev, and FrontPage®.

  • Tools to build Microsoft Office-based applications: Microsoft Office 97, Developer Edition.

Assessing Value: Where's the Payoff?

To understand the value of Microsoft's development strategy, it is helpful to see how it addresses developers' needs and overall IT business needs.

  • Open standards. Microsoft's approach to openness is to enable choice and flexibility by supporting standards broadly adopted by its customers, including supplier-driven standards such as Java, or standards managed by formal industry organizations such as the World Wide Web Consortium's HTML.

  • Scalable applications. Scalability is important, since applications often must be modified to support greater demand, as they become increasingly useful throughout an organization. Using Microsoft's new tools, enterprise developers can build solutions that scale to accommodate many users and handle high-performance programs with access to large amounts of enterprise data. Reliable transaction support, and support for team-based development are also part of the added value.

  • Comprehensive support. Services and support can play an essential role in lowering total cost of ownership (TCO) and enabling faster deployment, higher reliability, and easier administration. To that end, Microsoft and its third party partners back the new line of tools with dedicated support, consulting and training services.

The previously mentioned ActiveX technology, with its component-based philosophy, is key to lowering TCO. Software development and deployment is dramatically faster using components, and solutions have fewer defects because component parts can be tested prior to integration.

Armed with effective tools, enterprise developers can integrate off-the-shelf business applications with individual components purchased in the open marketplace, and with reused components from within the organization. Using components, IT shops can be more nimble when faced with competitive pressures, and that can positively affect the bottom line.