Put Web server control at your fingertips

Is it just me or are developments in the Web arena happening faster? After I came back from the Microsoft Site Builder Conference last October, I put the Windows NT Magazine Web site up on Internet Information Server (IIS) 3.0 beta. Less than a week later, Tim Daniels, our chief technology officer, returned from the Microsoft Professional Developer's Conference with a new toy, IIS K2 alpha--I believe I can safely call it IIS 4.0. With its redesigned interface and new features, IIS K2 adds some polish to an already strong application. And at first impression, I like it.

A New Look
The biggest difference I've noticed between IIS 3.0 and IIS K2 is the new Internet Service Manager (ISM) interface, which you see in Screen 1. The new interface gives you more configuration options than IIS 3.0. With previous versions of IIS, the ISM displayed the server name and the services it was running, such as WWW or FTP. You had to then select a service to view its properties. With the new interface, you can expand the server name and see which virtual servers are running. You can then select a virtual server to see all the virtual directories. Big deal, you say? Ah, but it is. With this new interface, you can now control the content of each virtual directory instead of controlling the server as a whole.

In the making-life-more-convenient department, IIS K2 puts several familiar tools in the ISM and, therefore, right at your fingertips. For example, you can now access the Performance Monitor (Perfmon) by clicking a button on the icon bar directly from the ISM interface. Clicking on this feature brings up a preconfigured Perfmon window with all the expected settings about how well your Web server is responding.

Another button under the ISM takes you to the Event Viewer application log, another takes you to the Server Manager, and another takes you to the User Manager. By reorganizing the interface, IIS K2 puts all the main tools you need for managing and monitoring your Web server in one place.

New Features
With IIS 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0, several configuration controls forced you to make changes to the entire Web server instead of on a directory-by-directory basis. One of these controls involved specifying the name of the default document, which is a file that the server sends to the browser when users include only directories in their URLs. For example, when you type www.winntmag.com, the server knows to pull up the index.html file. With IIS K2, you can now have different configurations for each of your virtual directories. This feature lets you set the default document for one virtual directory and use a different default document for another. You can also allow directory browsing in some virtual directories and not in others by selecting the check box you see in Screen 2. You use the directory browsing feature to let users see all the files or subdirectories in a particular virtual directory, similar to accessing an FTP site.

Previous versions of IIS forced you to select one level of authentication and apply it to the entire Web server. IIS K2 lets you set up different levels of authentication for different virtual directories. So, for example, you can provide anonymous access to the public portion of your Web server and still require Windows NT challenge and response in the areas you want to have more control over. You can also set up different Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) authentication for each virtual directory.

For a performance boost, you can now pool Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) connections. This feature lets you share database sessions instead of having the server open a connection each time a user makes an ODBC request. For a site such as ours, almost every page makes a SQL Server request, and this feature really speeds up the process.

Another big step for IIS is its new logging capabilities. In addition to the standard, National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), and log to SQL Server options, IIS K2 now includes a new Microsoft Binary Log format. This new format lets you decide what events to log. IIS K2 also lets you or third-party software vendors create plug-ins for your own logging modules. Microsoft provides Crystal Reports 4.5 and six ready-to-run reports with IIS K2 to enhance what's already there. The six preinstalled reports are great if you run reports for someone else or if you want to set up IIS to let other users run their own reports. Screen 3 shows IIS K2's Crystal Report interface.

If you have time-sensitive information on your Web server, you'll appreciate IIS K2's content expiration feature. With this feature turned on, the user's Web browser compares the current date with an expiration date that you specify for your content to decide whether the browser needs to download an updated page or image or use a cached version. This feature is especially handy for pages you display for short periods such as special offers or announcements. Now you can prevent users from looking at an outdated cached page served up from their machines and limit user questions about old pages.

One other key feature that IIS K2 provides is support for HTTP 1.1 (for information about the HTTP 1.1 proposed standard, visit http://www.w3.org/pub/
WWW/Protocols/Specs.html#HTTP1.1), which will include put, delete, and caching abilities. These abilities take the Web server beyond just serving pages. For information on other features that Microsoft plans to incorporate into the final version of IIS K2, see Valda Hilley's news item, "On to K2," January 1997.

IIS of the Future
IIS K2 is a very big step for IIS. Starting with its first incarnation, IIS has always been fast and stable. Then came IIS 3.0 with its Active Server Pages, which provided users with the real power and flexibility to dynamically create Web pages. With IIS K2's, multiple virtual directories, Microsoft gives the Web master real control over Web servers. You no longer have to set up your Web server to make every virtual directory act and look like every other virtual directory. IIS K2 not only gives you more control over the server, it also gives you better control at the working level of the directories. Unfortunately, if you haven't managed to get an alpha release of the IIS K2 CD-ROM, you'll have to wait until mid-1997 to get the production version of IIS 4.0. With what Microsoft has put into IIS 3.0, Index Server, and now IIS K2 alpha, I haven't seen a better combination for setting up a Web server on NT 4.0.

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