ToyBox

by Peter Wone - GUI Computing

Got a new book called Jamsaís Internet Programming. Very timely and topical, itís also rather good. Goes through the theory from the basic, through the concept of abstraction via layering, the ISO/OSI model, how TCP/IP implements it and how to actually do things from C++ and VB3. If you want to be part of the future, get this book. Itís got the theory and the practice for the Next Big Thing.

I have long been of the opinion that the difference between mathematics, poetry and programming is purely one of application. All of these disciplines deal with the symbolic representation and manipulation of ideas and information. As often as not techniques can be lifted and applied cross-discipline. For example, I sometimes use a Karnaugh map1 for expression reduction in SQL statements, and I like to think through the formulation of database operations using set theory.

Most of you are, were or would like to be programmers. I don't doubt that you understand me when I say really good code is a joy to behold; art in its own right. Poetry, in point of fact. Iím into poetry at the moment as Iím regularly using IRC (Internet Relay Chat) and msn Chat to spend time with my love (from Montmartre, 18000kms away).

I think itís interesting that the net is providing an entirely new social context. We know of the world only through our senses. The net telescopes our senses, and because the experience is genuinely interactive it forms a new and quite real mode of social interaction.

But just what is this net? I am told regularly that they (whoever they are) ought to do a better job of running the net, and that itís not a very good service. But the net is not a service. It is several (many) networks, some commercial and some privately owned, interconnected so that they effectively form one huge redundantly linked network. Like a LAN only bigger and slower and not just a WAN, because the subnets often have quite high bandwidth.

There are organisations which sell net access. There are also organisations which permit general use of their resources via the net. Often they charge a nominal fee. People who want a managed service should look at CompuServe, AOL (Australia Online or America Online, depending on where you are) or the Microsoft Network (msn). MSN is the cheapest and user-friendliest of these, but itís in its infancy. In certain key ways msn is not so developed as the other services. But most of the issues raised by fans of the other services (or the net, for that matter) are functions of maturity and will rapidly go away, and support for Windows 95 is built in to what will shortly be the most widely used operating environment ever.

Then thereís the Web. The Web is not the net. The net is a mechanism for getting TCP/IP packets from one device to another. The Web is something people do with the net. Itís not very inspiring either. Basically a multi-platform client-server version of Windows Help, itís not bad, but, well, so what? The flow of information is largely one way and itís not built for rapid complex searches.

Which is not to say that efforts arenít afoot to fix that, but tacking bits on to the HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol, the basis of the Web) is not what Iíd call an optimal approach, and attempts to involve database engines (usually via CGI) are kludges at best.

On the other hand, if what youíre doing mostly involves disseminating information ó like publishing a magazine ó then the Web is a fine vehicle. But it isnít the net.

These arenít the only things you can do with the net, theyíre just the smash-hits so far. As people get a grip on true client-server (in the case of the net, client-server-server-server-client) architecture, there should be some really interesting developments.


1. A Karnaugh map is a formal mechanism traditionally used by electrical engineers for reducing logical expressions to minimum terms.

Written by: Peter Wone
Oct 95



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