One of the many decisions an agency must make
when considering web site development is what software to include.
These choices may have an impact on the decision whether to outsource
the programming, server storage, and maintenance of the site or
whether to host the site in house. Agencies with the sufficient
resources to maintain secure servers in house should consider the
following software needs before making related purchases.
Browsers and Acrobat Reader
Two basic pieces of software are essential for reading and downloading
files from the web. One is the Internet browser. Nearly all computers
purchased include browser software, which permits the user to access
and display Internet-compatible graphics and text contained in files
written with hypertext markup language (HTML), Active Server Page
(ASP), Java, or other Internet languages. Simply stated, the browser
is the software that allows the user to use the web.
As the features available in Internet files change from year
to year, the browser capabilities and associated plug-in
software needed to take advantage of the new features also change.
Most browsers offer free upgrades, which can be downloaded from
the Internet. It is generally desirable to upgrade the browser
software on computers from time to time, so the browsers will
operate efficiently with available file types and features.
Some agency-specific programs, such as student information systems
and financial packages, are accessed using a web browser. In these
situations, it is not advisable to permit upgrades to browsers
unless the technology staff can be certain the applications will
run on the new browser upgrade.
A browser is designed to access and save web pages; however,
not all pages are easily printed or can be viewed in their original
format. The second essential piece of Internet software, Adobe
Acrobat Reader, reads documents that have been transformed
from a multitude of word processor, spreadsheet, database, and
other file formats into a standard Portable Document Format (PDF).
The software enables the computer to display the file in its original
format and print the file in exactly the same way and with the
same quality as its native program. Acrobat Reader can be
downloaded at no cost from
http://www.adobe.com . A full version of Acrobat
used to create files, can be purchased from Adobe. Other products
are available for displaying file formats, but at the time of
release of this publication, Acrobat is the industry standard.
Communication by e-mail was one of the first uses of the Internet
and continues to be the most popular use today. Browser-based
web services available through subscription, often at no cost,
enable people to access their e-mail from any computer with an
Internet connection. Many people prefer to use an e-mail client,
a program devoted exclusively to sending and receiving e-mail
messages and graphics. Some of these programs are loaded on new
computers or are available through other means at little or no
cost to the user.
Browser based e-mail services often contain advertising in the
form of "spam," the electronic equivalent of unsolicited junk
mail. Spam received through many web-based email programs may
not be filterable, since the subscriber agrees to receive these
messages when accepting the conditions of service. Another hazard
of spam is that it can serve as a vehicle for viruses. E-mail
issues, such as whether to permit use of web-based e-mail providers,
should be addressed in the agency's Acceptable Use Policy (AUP).
The dedicated commercial e-mail programs are usually more sophisticated
and offer greater protection for the user. One of the tasks of
the needs assessment process is to determine what kind of e-mail
software will be most effective for the agency.
Virus Protection Software
The use of virus protection software is crucial for all Internet
users and users of shared files. These programs often come with
new computers, but if not, a virus protection program should be
purchased separately. As new viruses emerge almost daily, the program
should be updated frequently to protect the user and other users
who may be connected through a network or included in a list of
Virus protection software can be purchased for individual computers
or licensed for use by all agency computers. This software can
also reside on a server, with users able to update the software
on their desktop computer over the agency network.
Web Development Software
For agencies planning to launch their own web sites, a means of
creating web-compatible files is essential. Historically, programmers
wrote original source code to create most web files. Today, many
word processors and some office applications and browsers include
programs that will automatically generate the code needed to display
documents on the web (e.g., HomeSite, Front Page, Dream
More sophisticated software applications that are designed solely
for the creation and management of web sites are also available.
Among other functions, these programs can create a map of the
web site and its links, permit the user to split graphic files
for creation of special effects, split web pages into separate
panes that permit the display of multiple files on a single screen,
and automatically generate code for a multitude of other formatting
File Transfer Protocol Software
Internet files are written on a local computer and are then transferred
to an Internet server where they are made accessible on the web.
Programs that permit the easy transfer of files between local and
remote computers without opening and viewing them in a browser are
known as file transfer protocol or FTP clients. FTP software enables
a remote user to control functions for moving, saving and deleting
files over the Internet or other Internet Protocol (IP)-based networks.
Some web editors include publishing functions that permit the user
to save his or her files at the remote location; FTP software includes
features that provide more flexibility and often greater speed for
the transfer of files, including files that cannot be handled by
the web editors.
Mailing Lists and Subscription Lists
Mailing list software and subscription lists are valuable communication
tools, but they have an etiquette all their own and can be a source
of misunderstanding and frustration if users are not aware of the
potential pitfalls. For example, a frequent source of aggravation
is the general posting of subscription cancellations to an unmoderated
list. Users should know that there are at least two separate addresses
for mailing lists. One is the posting address to which all replies
and new messages are posted and from which all messages are forwarded
to subscribers. The second address is for the server site where
cancellations or requests to change parameters of the subscription
are sent. Messages posted to the server address are not seen by
other subscribers and do not interfere with discussion topics. Most
lists greet new users with a welcome message that tells them how
to access various services available through the site.
An effective mailing list server host should send an initial
welcome with a description of the procedures and addresses used
for public and nonpublic communication through the list server.
In addition, it should periodically send out a review of the procedures
and etiquette for the site. Responsible subscribers should save
the welcome file in a location where they can find it later in
case they wish to cancel their subscription or change the way
they receive messages.
A bulletin board permits the posting of information to a site that
can be accessed remotely by subscribers or others with access to
the site's address or Uniform Resource Locator (URL). Mailing list
software automatically sends new postings to all subscribers, one
message at a time or in a digest format sent at specified intervals.
The advantage of mailing lists is that new postings are delivered
directly to the subscriber instead of the subscriber having to actively
seek them out. Subscribers may be permitted to post messages to
mailing lists. Messages
sent to an unmoderated mailing list are posted automatically, while
those sent to a moderated site are posted and distributed after
review by a human moderator.
Software for a More Useful Server
If the agency plans to host its web site on its own server, it will
need software to control the server functions. A resource to assist
the agency in reviewing and evaluating server software is available
. The capabilities of Internet-based
software continue to progress in step with user sophistication and
increasing web site complexity. A few examples of the web site tools
available to educators today include software that:
- tracks access to individual files within a web site;
- permits remote access to databases for viewing and downloading
data in a format that can be analyzed and manipulated;
- assists school organizations in creating and delivering instructional
content via the Internet;
- tracks the use of curriculum standards; and
- enhances the actual delivery of instruction within schools
Agency web sites can be as simple as displaying aggregated data
in report format for viewing only or as complex as making data available
to users for download and analysis. The latter requires a database
that is configured for web connection and typically requires special
training of personnel managing the database.
Just by having a web site, many avenues to enhance the delivery
of the instructional program will be available to the agency.
From expanded resources to programs that simulate historical events
to self-paced courses, the web can open up a whole new world for
students and teachers.
For an education agency with unique needs that cannot be met
adequately by commercial software, customized software written
by a professional programmer may be a sensible option. This is
true when considering administrative or instructional programs.
Purchasing Hardware to Host a World Wide Web