The software equivalent of a mega shopping mall, Netscape's SuiteSpot collection of six slick servers, offers something for everyone. Everyone, that is, who wants to design, build, deploy, and manage a Web site without sweating the details of integrating multiple products from different vendors.
Mid-size to large organisations will find in SuiteSpot all the stability and scalability needed in an intranet information distribution system. SuiteSpot's rich, high-performance feature set can be scaled back for a small intranet, but doing this would make as much sense as using a racehorse to pull a plow.
The full SuiteSpot ensemble consists of Enterprise Server 2.0 (which replaces Commerce Server), LiveWire Pro, News Server, Mail Server, Catalog Server, and Proxy Server. SuiteSpot provides a full licensed version of Navigator Gold 2.0 for browser-deficient users. Although the Proxy Server for Unix is currently shipping, the NT version won't be available until the end of this year. The Catalog Server for Unix and NT will ship at the end of this quarter.
I tested SuiteSpot's modules on two IBM PC 750/166s machines running Windows NT 3.51 Server. With 32Mb of RAM on the server, performance was tepid. I recommend using 64Mb of RAM.
SuiteSpot makes extensive use of Windows NT's resources; consequently, Webmasters using SuiteSpot should be well versed with NT Server and Workstation. Tasks such as enabling TCP/IP support on NT Server could lead to more than a few grey hairs.
Enterprise Server 2.0, the brawny Web server component, lets you create, manage, store, and distribute all of a site's content. Also, the server's numerous tools provide competent document version control, user (audit) tracking, multilevel security, and URL link maintenance.
Comparing Enterprise Server to a standard Web server is like comparing the Concorde to a skateboard. Yet, despite its power and impressive performance, Netscape's server was easy to use.
For example, without reading the manual, I created a new Web server in five minutes. Loading the content proved equally effortless. The built-in Navigator browser provides fill-in fields for specifying document locations, port numbers, and IP address bindings.
SuiteSpot's LiveWire Pro component manages the site and its content. The Site Manager portion of LiveWire Pro provides a Windows 95 Explorer-like view of all Web sites.
Site Manager lets users restructure and manage the locations of all documents, files, and links via a drag-and-drop interface. A link regeneration feature automatically updates URL references affected by the restructuring.
Navigator Gold, which is included with each server and LiveWire Pro, includes on-the-fly, Wysiwyg HTML editing within the browser.
LiveWire Pro provides native support for databases from Sybase, Oracle, and Informix Software (A complete copy of Informix is included with Live-Wire Pro). We found linking to SQL data-bases somewhat cumbersome. ODBC support is available as well.
Easy and open
SuiteSpot supports an alphabet soup of Internet standards, including Common Gateway Interface, HTTP, HTML, SMTP, SQL, Secure Sockets Layer, and Win-CGI, and avoids proprietary translations that can evolve into compatibility headaches. You can also configure and administer SuiteSpot's server via a single console, the Navigator Gold browser.
Netscape hopes that this open architecture will persuade Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange users to jump ship, attracted by SuiteSpot's lower up-front costs. Also, the product's ease of administration may reduce the long-term cost of ownership.
From my experience, Netscape stands a greater chance of converting Exchange users, because the still-embryonic messaging product lacks the established user base and feature set of Notes.
Enterprise Server handles access and security controls competently. Aside from controlling basic access permissions, the server intelligently provides advanced functionality, such as granting full access to one set of files while denying access to another set within the same Web server.
Other features of the Enterprise Server include an Auto-Catalog, which lets you automatically index all of a site's data. Indexed files use an ASCII-based index format, which simplifies peeking into the indexes and uses disk space frugally. Once indexed, I could search a Web site using Verity's full-text search engine technology.
SuiteSpot's News Server affords companies the capability to create and manage discussion groups within their internal Web site or via the Internet's Usenet groups. I easily installed News Server, which created a link for itself in the Server Selector Screen of the Enterprise Server. News Server's versatility lets me permit or deny access to specific groups based on IP address or domain name. At a minimum, I could require that users log in with IDs and passwords.
Netscape's Mail Server further enhances information exchange. Again reflecting Netscape's commitment to open standards, Mail Server supports the ubiquitous SMTP/MIME and POP3.
Reportedly, Mail Server will also support IMAP4, which allows users to browse individual folders and message headers without downloading the entire message to the client.
Unfortunately, I couldn't test this feature, because Netscape's Navigator mail client does not yet support IMAP4.
Although the list of SuiteSpot's attributes will surely expand with the forthcoming release of Proxy Server and Catalog Server, there's no doubt that Netscape already offers something for everyone who wants to build a one-stop shop for information seekers.
The Bottom Line: Excellent
SuiteSpot is a deftly integrated array of superb server applications. It includes development, management, and design tools for creating and managing large intranets.
Pros: High-performance server; common
interface and command set for all
modules; complies to open standards;
Cons: None significant.
Platforms: Windows NT 3.51 and later (Work-station and Server); various Unix OSs.
Tel: (02) 9317 3088 Fax: (02) 9693 2629