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  1. #1
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    Hi

    Sorry for posting what probably is a question with no right answer, just lots of subjective ones. My background is systems (UNIX. VMS, Windows Server) and database (Sybase, Oracle, SQL Server) admin, and my web design experience is limited to simple html, but I have spent many hours searching for an answer, only to find more questions :-). So here goes…

    I’m looking to have a web site developed (initially using a standard browser front-end, but possibly adding a mobile app in the future) for my [small] company, and I’m looking for some advice on the tools to specify (hopefully the reason for specifying the tools to be used will become apparent).

    The web app will:
    • require access control, with content and functionality restricted dependent upon the user
    • use server-side scripting to access information from a database and generate dynamic page content based on a combination of the user and the request made (probably via a form)
    • use client-side scripting for certain ‘presentation’ manipulation once the page has been loaded (eg, clicking on a legend to change the ‘view’ of the displayed info)
    • need to ‘handle’ (receive, store and distribute) a range of multimedia and document formats

    The web app will be used by ‘contributors’ to submit information (no access to view info other than their own profiles and submissions), by ‘users’ to access & manipulate the information (different users to access different sub-sets of info), and by the company to administer access and to define new submissions (ie, new pages for contributors to submit info and creating the underlying db tables to store that info).

    Ultimately, once a certain level of stability and maturity has been achieved, we would be looking to bring the project in-house (although web hosting will always be external) and have its on-going support and development maintained using existing technical staff (hopefully?).

    Whereas I believe that Apache server, PHP and MySQL could be the basic technologies used to realise the project, there are many implementations of each (different versions, distribution packages, etc) and many IDEs, CMSs, (or are these the same?), etc. And of course, there are alternative technologies (IIS, ASP.net, SQL Server, etc).

    Whereas, we want to keep costs down, I don’t want to save pennies now, only to rack up huge expenses in the future. Considering that we want to manage this internally in the future (ie, a maintenance-only learning curve), what technologies and particularly, what tools would people recommend for development?

    (Incidentally, my initial thought was with a commercial package such as DreamWeaver, but I don't know whether this does all that we want or is complete overkill).

    Thanks

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  3. #2
    Unpaid WDF Intern TheGAME1264's Avatar
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    To answer your in-house support/development question first, that would depend on what your existing technical staff knows and their own ability to be able to develop and add to the existing site. However, I would suggest that, if the staff has the ability to maintain it, the staff should have the ability to develop it. So ultimately, you're going to go down one of two paths:

    1) Your staff will develop it, in which case it will come down to what they feel they're most comfortable with and what they want to use to pull it off...in which case any recommendation from an external source is moot.

    2) Your staff won't develop it, in which case it will come down to whatever your chosen external developer prefers. Having done projects like this where people with development knowledge were aware of what I was doing and using, the usual working scenario is that developer builds the site, management or employees want features, and the tech-savvy people in the company are so compartmentalized in their own thinking and so worried about keeping their job that they don't want to touch the site at all and will go to great lengths to leave full responsibility to the initial developer. It doesn't always play out this way, but I'd say about 9 times out of 10 this is the scenario. This is why, whenever I develop anything like this, I pretty much disregard the idea that someone else might want to look at the code and develop so that I can look at it a year later and go "okay, this is where I need to make a change"...odds are that's what's going to happen.

    In other words, what a lot of this is going to come down to is "who's developing it and what do they want to do?"

    Now...as a developer, my own personal choice would be to go with ASP.net/SQL server on an IIS box. Why? I'm more comfortable with it, I hate working in PHP even though I can (which puts me in a very distinct minority, but I quite honestly couldn't care less), and I already have custom DLLs written that I can bring to projects to cut down on my development time (between 50-75%). Any type of user-based restrictions you want can be applied to it (e.g. I often use .NET for custom admins with a table that defines which pages each user has access to), and it can serve files such as PDFs as downloads, although the different browsers interpret the content type differently (e.g. one browser will by default view the file inline whereas another may ask you to save it to your hard drive).

    The other reason I would recommend an IIS box is that you can install pretty much any language or framework on an IIS box. For example, you can run PHP on IIS, although it does take a bit of tweaking. You can't, however, run ASP.net on an Apache box, and you can "sort of" run classic ASP, although it's really flaky.

    Dr*amw*av*r won't do what you want because 1) it's a development tool and 2) you can only use it to edit your end product as constructed if you build the entire site in static HTML (which won't work in your case).

    Like you said, it all comes down to choice, experience and comfort level. The one thing your question may do is incite one of those highly-charged emotional debates where everyone has their preference and "M$ sucks" and "I use Ruby because it's awesome" and "I go with Drupal". It'll be interesting to see what hornet's nest you accidentally poked with a stick, though.
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  4. #3
    Senior Member Webzarus's Avatar
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    What he said...

    Most developers for web stuff tend to be one or the other... The bulk of most apps these days are constructed based on PHP / Linux ... That's all fine and good, many are very good at what they do.

    I'm a Windows guy myself, stumbling through PHP when I have to.

    One question that I've got to ask, since you mentioned permissions and user control,
    At what level of control do you need ? Are you going to be storing any personally identifiable user information in that server ? The information you're dealing with, are there any legal requirements ?

    Reason I asked, I had a client refer someone to me that was using issue with a 3rd party contractor managing their site and accessing information. Long story short, they were a medical office that had outsourced development of an application that tied into their website. Yes, they were storing personal information on the "shared web server"... I informed them that can't do that legally, with federal regulations, you can't store even the simplest of medical records online unless you own the server and the connecting infrastructure... Also, and transaction that could be considered medical information or financial information also have rules and regulations on how to handle the information. Dealing direct with the govt also has its own set of rules.

  5. #4
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    Thanks for the prompt reply.

    My company is not an IT company and uses IT as a tool to support/enhance the business function(something many IT 'experts' fail to appreciate). As things stand today, we cannot justify a full-time web developer and our meagre (but adequate) web-offering has been constructed by inhouse staff (who have neither the time nor expertise for this project). However, we hope that in the future the business will grow (and that the web app will sufficiently enhance the business) to make this feasible. It is for this reason that the initial thought is to have this developed externally and bring it inhouse if and when it can be justified. But I fully take onboard what you say about the development routes, and happily concede that it may never come to fruition.

    With external development, though, I fear that a web developer may tout for the work insisting that 'XYZ' is the best tool for the job but actually, because that's the only one he knows, while tool 'ABC' might be more appropriate (and I'm not talking about splitting hairs, but fundamental poor tool selection).

    Also, if we are successful enough to be able to bring this inhouse in the future, I want to be able to recruit staff knowing that the skills required to take over development will not be too niche or esoteric to attract good candidates, and that the technology is robust enough to be future-proof (well, as much as any can be reasonably anticipated).

    And lastly, with my tech background, I am interested in understanding the issues so that I can tell when someone is trying to blow smoke up my rear.

    With some [limited] experience of IIS, it was an initial thought of mine but it appears that the Apache server is more widespread and appears to be supported by the majority of web-hosts. As you have explained, Apache typically (but not exclusively) rules out ASP.net. And I suppose, licensing fees for ISS / SQL Server are likely to be much higher than for Apache / MySQL commercial licences and so I'd presume that web-hosting fees are likely to be that much more expensive. I'd also guess that costs for development tools are cheaper for PHP / MySQL compare to ASP.net / SQL Server -- a future consideration (hopefully). However, as you suggest, if development time is likely to be reduced by a substantial amount, that would offset licensing costs.

    One important consideration [that you touch on] is multii-lingual support: is that much more difficult on an Apache server with a PHP / My SQL framework? Long-term, multiple languages / character sets may well need to be supported.

    Looking at tools, it seems to me that any of the popular web CMSs (WordPress, Drupal, Joomla!) would be appropriate for a PHP / MySQL implementation, whereas I presume that an MS development environment would suit a ASP.net / SQL Server one? Or are there best alternatives for this type of project?

    (And thanks for the clarification on DW.)

    Thanks again

  6. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Webzarus, post: 246843
    What he said...

    Are you going to be storing any personally identifiable user information in that server ? The information you're dealing with, are there any legal requirements ?
    Data protection is an important consideration, because there will be personal information stored. However, I beleive that a robust access control mechanism will be sufficient for it to be hosted on a UK web host, provided that the web host complies with the provisions of the DPA 1998. Something I'll double-check!

  7. #6
    Unpaid WDF Intern TheGAME1264's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Moofy, post: 246844
    Thanks for the prompt reply.

    My company is not an IT company and uses IT as a tool to support/enhance the business function(something many IT 'experts' fail to appreciate). As things stand today, we cannot justify a full-time web developer and our meagre (but adequate) web-offering has been constructed by inhouse staff (who have neither the time nor expertise for this project). However, we hope that in the future the business will grow (and that the web app will sufficiently enhance the business) to make this feasible. It is for this reason that the initial thought is to have this developed externally and bring it inhouse if and when it can be justified. But I fully take onboard what you say about the development routes, and happily concede that it may never come to fruition.

    With external development, though, I fear that a web developer may tout for the work insisting that 'XYZ' is the best tool for the job but actually, because that's the only one he knows, while tool 'ABC' might be more appropriate (and I'm not talking about splitting hairs, but fundamental poor tool selection).

    Also, if we are successful enough to be able to bring this inhouse in the future, I want to be able to recruit staff knowing that the skills required to take over development will not be too niche or esoteric to attract good candidates, and that the technology is robust enough to be future-proof (well, as much as any can be reasonably anticipated).

    And lastly, with my tech background, I am interested in understanding the issues so that I can tell when someone is trying to blow smoke up my rear.

    With some [limited] experience of IIS, it was an initial thought of mine but it appears that the Apache server is more widespread and appears to be supported by the majority of web-hosts. As you have explained, Apache typically (but not exclusively) rules out ASP.net. And I suppose, licensing fees for ISS / SQL Server are likely to be much higher than for Apache / MySQL commercial licences and so I'd presume that web-hosting fees are likely to be that much more expensive. I'd also guess that costs for development tools are cheaper for PHP / MySQL compare to ASP.net / SQL Server -- a future consideration (hopefully). However, as you suggest, if development time is likely to be reduced by a substantial amount, that would offset licensing costs.

    One important consideration [that you touch on] is multii-lingual support: is that much more difficult on an Apache server with a PHP / My SQL framework? Long-term, multiple languages / character sets may well need to be supported.

    Looking at tools, it seems to me that any of the popular web CMSs (WordPress, Drupal, Joomla!) would be appropriate for a PHP / MySQL implementation, whereas I presume that an MS development environment would suit a ASP.net / SQL Server one? Or are there best alternatives for this type of project?

    (And thanks for the clarification on DW.)

    Thanks again
    Just to clarify off the top, when I refer to cutting development time by 50-75% using ASP.net, I'm referring to the code that I personally have created for the things that I typically do whenever I build a site (data retrieval, updates, image manipulation, string functions, XML creation, legal third-party content retrieval, etc.) Others may have similar code libraries at their disposal, but I can't say that for sure. Like I said, that applies to me personally.

    I've only done a little bit with multiple languages and character sets, but from what I've done the only real considerations to make sure the letters display properly are whether the DBMS can support multiple languages since that's where the data is stored, whether CSS files can be created for the languages such as Arabic and Hebrew (I think) that are written right-to-left, and whether the fonts used on the site can support the glyphs required for them. SQL Server can handle this...I think MySQL can as well. Fonts such as Arial can handle the glyphs. Again, I'm not an expert on this, though, so there may be someone who can shed some more light on this than I can.

    The licensing for Windows and SQL Server doesn't necessarily have to be that much more expensive. SQL Server Express is free and can handle quite a heavy load, and hosting on shared servers is more or less the same; dedicated servers generally only vary by about $10-$20 a month if you can get a good host that knows how to work with you (http://www.sectorlink.com/ is one).

    http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/sqlse...s/express.aspx <-- here's the free version of SQL Server Express.

    As far as what to look for whenever someone is blowing smoke up your rear, it won't come from any specific technical recommendation or from any usage of technology...it will come from the explanation of how that technology can be used for your specific application using language specific to that application (or a lack of said explanation). If you hear an answer such as "Wordpress is the best because millions of sites use it" or "I use PHP and it's good", then you're getting generic doublespeak...and that will be the vast majority of what you hear. And believe me, you will hear it. The key will be that you will have to wade through the 99 people who give you the one-size-fits-all answers and get to the one person who asks you questions, lays out a plan for you, breaks it down, indicates an understanding of what you're doing, and will tell you how to get there. You will also come to understand something that WZ and I both know, having had to hire people on multiple occasions...there is a giant chasm between the haves and the have-nots.

    Unfortunately, I can't give you any specific examples of what I'm talking about since the specific examples of what I'm talking about because the specific examples will apply to your situation. But basically, you want a developer that will challenge you, work with you, and not always agree with you but be willing to reach a consensus with you. Much, much, much easier said than done, however.
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  8. #7
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    I keep hearing that Java is the most popular language being used today so I can only assume that Eclipse would be the tool to use if you plan on hiring new developers in the future. However, I don't seem to be able to find much evidence of this (I don't know any Java developers).

    My thought would be that, if you're looking down the road at hiring in-house developers, you would want to go with a popular language, framework and development tool. You'll open another can of worms when choosing a framework (if you decide to do so).

    Personally, I use PHP and prefer NetBeans as a development tool. I feel like DW was a waste of money but I try to use it because so many other people love it and, if you're working on a team project, you have to go with the flow.

    I also want to answer your question about IDE's and CMS's. An IDE is a tool for developing applications where a CMS is an application for managing content. Simply put, an IDE is the tool that a developer would use to create a CMS that would allow a user to manage the content of a site.
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  9. #8
    Unpaid WDF Intern TheGAME1264's Avatar
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    It's used primarily in larger houses and bigger corporate wannabe types. Neustar, for example, makes use of it.

    http://www.neustarlife.biz/job-openings/ <-- search for "Engineering - All Openings" and you'll see what I mean.

    I don't think you necessarily have to look for the popular choice when it comes to setting up this site. A lot of outfits will even take frameworks, deconstruct them, reconstruct them with the parts they need, and make them their own. I worked with an e-commerce company once that completely tore apart and rebuilt the ASP.net framework from the ground up (I think it was .NET 2.0). They had their own setup for doing things and deploying them that I guarantee no one else has, but it was easy enough to understand and begin working with, and any decent developer should be able to do likewise, even if (s)he isn't familiar with the tools used. It's not a bad idea to look for something popular, but I wouldn't consider it crucial either.
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