what is the intranet? (1996)

Intranet explained by Roger Frost (1996)
As millions sign up to the Internet, companies everywhere, from the global giants to the local shop, are claiming their place on the World Wide Web. All are singing the “see me, feel me, click me” tune as they join what is seemingly a new gold rush.

Hype about the Internet is legion and now there’s “the intranet”. To those far outside a company network, it seems like a misspell. To those in one it’s no mere buzzword, it’s a serious part of the future.
Today anyone can connect to the ‘net and get information. It might be text, graphics, sound and if your connection is fast enough, video. In essence they can access or share masses of information, regardless of whence it came, or what application created it.

This sharply contrasts with how easy it is to do that on the company network. And if network users do find it easy to share information, be that a phone book or any type of document, it’s because someone has worked hard to make them accessible.

Enter then the intranet – a network using the same protocols (TCP/IP, HTTP and all that), as the Internet but working within the company. It looks like the Internet, it talks like the Internet and it may even connect to the Internet. The benefit is that sharing information internally is now remarkably easy.

So when there’s a need to look up a phone number, or get an expenses form or find a clip of video, people can use something like their Internet browser. They get a familiar and consistent interface instead of an array of proprietary ones. They might even do this across towns and continents, without special dial-up networking connections, but using local Internet access points.

Championing this approach to information sharing is Microsoft. Since last December, when CEO Bill Gates set his software giant almost single-mindedly on the problem, it’s been firing in all directions at the Internet. Just about every MS product is growing Internet features not least its Windows 95 platform. For example, Gates recently announced the end-of-year release for Internet Explorer 4, which will integrate their web page browser with Explorer, the hard disk ‘browser’ found in Windows 95. Code-named Nashville, this revolutionary product will turn the job of looking for information on the web, network or hard disk into a simple single task it really needs to be.

So a document for company-wide project, like those on the Internet, can sport buttons which lead in turn to the work of individuals. The new key or buzz words, ungainly as they sound, will be ‘pages with links’.

At the end of the year, MS will release Office 97 – a new, Internet enhanced version of its 25 million selling office software suite. Users will be able to create hyperlinks to each others documents, and store everyday work as if it were a Web page. The potential for this exceeds any hype.

Companies with the expertise to build custom solutions today may be able hold on to their stash of network gold for a while. But coming along shortly is a rush of new prospectors, with some pretty sharp tools, ready to level the field.

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