Today, more and more companies are making a web browser part of the standard desktop environment. Whether for internal usage only, or with access to the entire Internet, it is hard to find a corporate desktop today without some sort of web browser. A webtop is no more than a network computing architecture that allows all of a user's functionality to be delivered via their web browser. While today most pure "webtop" environments are deployed in single function, "heads down" environments like a call center, more and more functionality is being deployed via the webtop every day. This is an evolutionary versus revolutionary process. Since most corporate desktops already have a web browser today, IT departments can start deploying webtop applications at any time using existing desktop PCs. Once all the applications required by a particular user are available on the webtop, the IT organization can evaluate moving to Network Computer clients and further reduce the desktop administration overhead.
A company's adoption of web technologies typically follows four stages as shown in Figure 4-2.
In stage one, corporations begin by having an external web presence consisting of static content. Often the web page design is developed by the marketing division and corporate IT has no involvement or control other than perhaps supplying the telecommunications infrastructure. In other cases, the entire web site is hosted at an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and corporate IT has absolutely no involvement.
In stage two, corporations establish an internal web presence or Intranet. Typically, corporate IT has a greater involvement at this point, at least in providing web browsers and IP connectivity to the desktop. The IT organization at this stage may or may not provide centralized web hosting services, proxy/caching servers, and content development and management. Today, nearly all servers ship with some type of bundled web server software and virtually every desktop comes with a web browser, allowing many Intranets to develop from grass roots movements without much oversight from IT. Since the real power of an Intranet is in its content, IT organizations should probably focus at this stage on providing centralized indexing and search servers rather than on developing content.
In stage three, corporations actually start to conduct transactions and deploy applications over their Intranet. At this stage, IT organizations are typically heavily involved in developing and supporting the applications infrastructure. This is also the stage at which significant administration cost savings start to be realized.
In stage four, corporations extend transactions and application deployment out to external users. Typically, this is first done via an extranet, linking internal corporate systems with those of a few key suppliers. After gaining experience with conducting transactions via an extranet, this functionality is often extended to the corporation's entire end-user base via the Internet. Many of the first-generation external transaction capabilities were front-ended by simple HTML forms interfaces. However today, additional functionality is being provided not only by providing external transactions, but by front-ending these transactions with more functional Java technologies.