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Best used before NT 4.0

Best used before NT 4.0

After Gartner recommended that companies ditch IIS (Internet Information Server), Microsoft's frequently hacked Web server, Sun quickly proffered its ChiliSoft ASP as an alternative. ChiliSoft ASP makes it possible to run scripted Web applications written for Microsoft's Active Server Pages outside their native IIS. In fact, ChiliSoft ASP runs ASP applications on most varieties of Unix and Linux operating systems and in most popular Web servers.

In theory, existing Windows Web applications can be migrated from IIS to the safer, more secure ChiliSoft ASP environment without substantial code changes. In reality, such easy migration is possible only for older Active Server Pages applications. If your Web application takes advantage of programming features introduced after the release of the Windows NT 4.0 Option Pack, ChiliSoft ASP won't be able to run it. Many of ChiliSoft ASP's missing features are showstoppers, especially for enterprise applications.

We tested the latest release of ChiliSoft ASP Version 3.6 on a server equipped with dual 1.4GHz Intel Xeon CPUs and 1GB of RAM. We loaded the server with a fresh install of Red Hat Linux 7.2. We downloaded ChiliSoft ASP as part of a 54MB bundle that included an Apache Web server, the Sun Java run time, Microsoft's FrontPage 2000 Server Extensions, and a handful of database drivers. The Apache server in the bundle is several releases behind the current version, but if you forego the bundle you'll have to manually integrate ChiliSoft ASP into Apache. ChiliSoft ASP is also compatible with iPlanet, Zeus and Red Hat Web servers.

Easy install

Sun did an excellent job on the ChiliSoft ASP installer. The entire process is scripted, including the entry of the requisite licence key (a 30-day evaluation key is available for free). When the installation process is complete, the Apache Web server, ChiliSoft ASP engine and ChiliSoft ASP Web administrative interface are ready to go. Sun thoughtfully includes several ASP samples and diagnostic scripts that make it easy to verify the proper operation of ChiliSoft ASP's components.

ChiliSoft ASP 3.6 features a helpful Web-based administrative interface. There aren't many server settings exposed via this interface, but the database tab makes quick work of adding new database server connections. The bundle includes ODBC drivers for an impressive array of commercial and open-source database managers, including Oracle 8i, Sybase 11, DB2 7.1, SQL Server 7.0 and PostgreSQL 7.0. Several of the ODBC drivers have fallen behind database vendors' latest releases. That was our first clue that ChiliSoft ASP has suffered from neglect since Sun bought the software from ChiliSoft.

Seriously dated

Microsoft has aggressively enhanced and refined Active Server Pages since Windows NT Server 4.0's rollout in 1996. Progress has followed two parallel tracks. On one track, IIS advanced from Version 3.0, the release in Windows NT Server 4.0, through IIS 4.0 in Windows NT Option Pack 4.0 to IIS 5.0 in Windows 2000 Server. Each new release of IIS brought more enterprise functionality to ASP. On the other track, Microsoft's Windows Scripting engine, encompassing the JScript and VBScript interpreters, picked up significant new features as it marched forward from Release 1.0 to its current version, 5.6.

The significance of this history is that ChiliSoft ASP 3.6's functionality is frozen at the Windows NT Option Pack 4.0 level: IIS 4.0 and Windows Scripting 3.1. A great many improvements have been made since then, some of them critical to enterprise Web applications. Most notably, the JScript 3.1 interpreter in ChiliSoft ASP lacks exception handling, which makes it incapable of detecting and handling run-time errors. The VBScript 3.1 interpreter doesn't support user-defined classes, preventing the use of object-oriented design.

ChiliSoft ASP's implementation of VBScript also lacks support for regular expressions, string pattern-matching functions that are extremely popular among Web developers. Both languages are missing the internationalisation features Microsoft added to VBScript and JScript.

Aside from its missing script-language features, ChiliSoft ASP further hamstrings IIS migration efforts by failing to support ASP transactions, an IIS facility that's critical to e-commerce and B2B applications. If you plan to move an IIS application from a cluster of Windows servers, you should also be aware that ChiliSoft ASP does not automatically track user sessions across the cluster.

Although ChiliSoft ASP 3.6 can be used to create new, albeit limited, ASP applications that will run equally well on IIS, it's highly unlikely that existing Web applications of any scope will migrate without serious difficulty. The restrictions imposed by ChiliSoft ASP make it an unlikely choice for new development targeting Unix or Linux servers; its capabilities pale compared to Java, PHP, Python and other popular Web application languages and platforms.

The bottom line

Sun ChiliSoft ASP 3.6

Business Case: This Active Server Pages engine is sold as a safer alternative to Microsoft's IIS Web server. ChiliSoft ASP can manage the migration of some older ASP applications to other platforms, but its features are pinned to obsolete versions of Microsoft Web technologies.Technology Case: ChiliSoft ASP deploys easily and handles well, but its woefully dated feature set overshadows some truly ingenious technology. At the very least, Sun needs to bring ChiliSoft ASP in for an overhaul.

Pros:

+ Faithfully emulates Active Server Pages as implemented in IIS 4.0.

+ Installs easily.

+ Web administrative interface simplifies database connections.

Cons:

- Script interpreters lack critical functionality.

- No support for ASP transactions.

- Rendered obsolete by ASP .Net.

- Several database drivers are outdated.

Cost: Single server licence with unlimited CPUs is priced at $A1008.

Platform(s): AIX; HP-UX; Red Hat, Slackware, Debian, SuSE, Mandrake, and TurboLinux; Windows NT and Windows 2000; Apache, Zeus and iPlanet Web serversSun Microsystems: 1800 628 193, www.sun.com.au.


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