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IBM Introduces Web Intermediaries

A powerful new class of Web applications

SAN JOSE, California - 10 Jun 1999: -- Aiming to give Web developers and users more control over the flow and customization of web data, IBM has released a free Java-based software toolkit that enables a powerful new class of applications known as web intermediaries.

Intermediaries can monitor and modify the flow of web data between clients, servers and proxies. For example, they can produce personalized content, seamlessly connect local and remote information on the web, route web traffic, translate protocols or translate document formats. IBM's Web Intermediary (WBI) Developer Kit for Java, which can be downloaded free of charge from IBM's alphaWorks web site (http://www.alphaworks.ibm.com/tech/wbidk), provides a flexible but highly functional framework for creating intermediary applications.

"As the World Wide Web becomes a more complex arena for e-business and information management, people are tapping into it with many devices, even digital assistants, mobile phones and other pervasive computing devices," says Rob Barrett, the IBM Research scientist who led the development of Web Intermediary (WBI, pronounced: "webby"). "Moreover, businesses need to manipulate and coordinate information across many different servers. But it's impractical for Web servers to anticipate everyone's specific needs, especially as those needs change over time. Web intermediaries can provide the 'smart pipes' that automatically transform and customize a broad range of Web-based content so everyone can receive the information in the way they need it."

For example, IBM, the SABRE Group and Nokia recently announced their intention to build a "transcoding" intermediary based on WBI that selectively reformats SABRE's airline information data into a form suitable for the Nokia smart cellular phone (http://www.ibm.com/java/community/story-sabre.html) WBI is also used in Edmark's KidDesk Internet Safe to enable parents to choose the Web sites their children can access. (http://www.edmark.com/prod/kdis/).

The WBI Developer Kit contains about 80 percent of the code and all the application program interfaces (APIs) needed to create fully functional Web intermediaries. As a result, intermediaries made using the WBI Development Kit can run anywhere -- on the local client machine, a proxy server or the content server -- and in each place they provide the same programming model. It also includes five example WBI plug-in programs that show some of the myriad web intermediary possibilities:

Personal History -- Keeps a history of the user's past browsing, allows users to search this history to find previously viewed pages, creates an "automated hotlist" of the 200 pages visited most frequently, and adds shortcut links to pages based on previous browsing patterns.

Traffic Lights -- Assesses the current net speed to links on web pages as they are viewed. Red, yellow or green dots added near the links indicate that the connection speed is slow, medium and fast, respectively.

Page Filtering -- Similar to the system used in Edmark's Kid Desk, Page Filtering permits a web browser to display only the pages of specific sites.

Yahoo Category Tracker -- Retains a list of all the Yahoo category pages that are visited, permitting a rapid return to those pages without remembering the initial path.

XML/XSL -- Transcoding intermediaries convert data from one format to another, which is especially useful when the file/data format coming from the Web server is not supported by the browser of, say, a personal digital assistant. This program uses the XSL (eXtensible Stylesheet Language) to convert XML (eXtensible Markup Language) data into HTML, which can be displayed using a web browser.

The alphaWorks license allows developers to download the WBI technology for personal use and to create their own WBI plug-ins for performing specific tasks. Developers are encouraged to give feedback to IBM's Research team to help improve future generations of the technology. A commercial version of WBI is available for developers building web intermediary products.

WBI was developed at IBM Research's Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif., in cooperation with IBM's Network Computing Software Division in Research Triangle Park, N. Car. IBM released the WBI Developer Kit to encourage a wide range of Web developers to work together to evolve the application program interface (API) for intermediaries.

Technical details:

At its core, WBI is a programmable HTTP proxy server. IBM's Web Intermediary Developer Kit provides 1) a new programmable control point for building web applications; 2) a set of developer resources for building applications, and 3) a run-time environment for deploying these applications. In particular, it includes all the application programming interfaces (APIs) and documentation to allow developers to start writing intermediary-based applications as well as the code needed to manage functions common for many intermediaries, such as: network connections, sessions, HTTP and HTML. To develop a WBI application, developers only need to devise the Java code required for their specific function to plug into the WBI framework.

WBI runs on any system for which Sun's Java2 SDK* is available. It also runs on older versions of Java, including JDKs 1.1.5 and 1.1.6 and has been tested under Windows 95**, Windows 98**, Windows NT4**, and Linux. More detailed information on WBI's architecture and example applications is available at the project home page: (http://www.almaden.ibm.com/cs/wbi)

Contact(s) information

Mike Ross
IBM
408-927-1283
mikeross@almaden.ibm.com

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