Working at Home

Imagine this scenario: You get up in the morning, grab a cup of coffee, and wander out to the Living Room. You stand and gaze out the window for a few minutes taking advantage of that great mountain view. Then you casually go into your home office and start looking through your email. After you handle your email you take a shower and get dressed, sweats or jeans or shorts maybe, and you go back to your office and get down to some serious work. You break when you are tired and you eat when you are hungry. When the kids come home from school you chat with them about the day and maybe you even go for a walk with them. Later you get back on the computer for another few hours and quit for the night, satisfied with your day’s work.

Okay, everyone, you can stop crying now. And you can stop shaking your head,  saying this is impossible. With today’s technology, this is not only possible it is becoming cost effective and practical.

Today many of us have access to computers in our homes that enable us to do anything from creating a report, researching a product, to writing complex computer software. With the increased proliferation of ISDN lines and alternative connectivities being explored, we can connect with our jobs and have virtually the same access as we would sitting at a desk on site. And that office does not have to be in the same town.

Security? This does not have to be a limitation. We are learning more about computer security than ever and we are finding more ways to increase the safety of our systems.

Cost? How much does it cost you to maintain a workable environment for each of your people? If you are maintaining a site for a software developer you are maintaining software, a machine, a phone line, restrooms, an ergonomically designed workstation, and you are maintaining a location. That last one is a real key. Companies are growing and are finding that they may actually be running out of room to house their people, so they double up and cram people in and they lose productivity and they may actually lose people.

Teamwork? Have you had a chance to try out Netscape’s new version 3.0 beta software with LiveChat. I went out and talked and shared a virtual whiteboard with some person in Utah, and someone else in Texas. And this is a freebie add-on to an internet tool. You have the technology now to have cameras mounted on PCs and have people share virtual working spaces and work cooperatively online. The only thing you don’t share is bad breath.

Benefits? I bet if you promised this capability to people on only a partial week basis you will have increased worker satisfaction and a whole lot more people wanting to work for you. How about having to maintain less desk space if you have workers desk share? How about having fewer cars in your parking lot, which is probably overcrowded as it is. How about giving back to the community by fewer cars being on the road?

Sick Time? If you have an employee with a broken leg they can work at home. If they have a bad cold? The employee probably would come into work, be pretty uncomfortable and manage to pass their germs to half a dozen other people. Wouldn’t you rather they stay home? How about maternity or paternity leave? Nice option for those folks who would like to be available to their kids and still have a career. What a concept!

So, why is this not happening more? Some types of work just won’t make the transition to at home work such as factory and manufacturing processes and many services and other professions. If you have a home cleaning service, this usually means the customer’s home. And some companies are not set up yet, and may not be able to afford the type of setup that would enable their employees to work from home. Other companies may work on super secret stuff that has to be worked on behind armed guards and locked doors.

Now let’s look at the ‘bad’ reasons for not allowing people to work at home.

You don’t trust your employees and you have to have your eye on them at all times. Go Away. You have hired professionals and adults, consider treating them as such and you probably will not have the turnover you now have.

The work you do needs a centralized database. With the increased ISDN line connectivity, you can connect to your database efficiently from home. How about taking snapshots of the database to work on from your home PC? Concerned about someone accessing company secrets from this? Ask yourself this: Do you think that your secret is important enough that a person will break into your employee’s home to access their PC? Do you have armed guards at your front doors to keep people from walking in? Do you have absolutely no connection between your internal computer system and an outside connection? If you answered No to any of these, try a different mindset.

A legitimate concern is the availability of people for mentoring, or for brainstorming, or for any other cooperative task. You might want to consider how much of this really does occur and you then might want to consider a partial solution such as desk sharing: two people share a desk and a PC and work at home part of the week and at work part of the week.

Communication? Last I heard, homes had phones too, and email and internet connectivity…

Concerned about that security issue? Check with consultants in your area and find out the security risks. Don’t just assume that this type of connectivity will take your important systems down, find out the facts.

How about liability? Concerned that your employee may get hurt at home and sue you? Check with your lawyer and also your insurance companies about steps you and your employee can take. And lawyers and insurance companies, start understanding this type of business…it will only increase in the future.

Costs? You bet there will be costs to enabling off-site employees if they need computer access. But consider what you can get back: The main factor that raises envy in me and my professional peers is when one of us can work at home. It even beats out salary as the number one reason to take one job over another. And for most companies, the number one cost is their employees. Want to attract and keep the best?

There are a lot of issues to working at home. I would like to hear from companies that have made this transition successfully and would like to publish your success stories in the month’s to come. And I would also like to hear from those companies who have made a choice not to allow off-site employees and their reasons. Let’s start exploring this issue and see “Why we CAN work at home”.

That’s it, folks.

Netscape Navigator’s JavaScript 1.1 vs Microsoft Internet Explorer’s JScript

Originally published in Netscape World, archived at the Wayback Machine

Prior to Netscape implementing JavaScript in Netscape Navigator, web developers had few tools to create interactive content for their web pages. Now this scripting language gives developers the ability to do things such as check form contents, communicate with the user based on their actions, and modify the web page dynamically without the web page being re-loaded and without the use of Java, plug-ins or ActiveX controls.

Unfortunately, JavaScript was not usable by any other browser until Microsoft released Internet Explorer (IE) 3.0. With this release web developers could deliver interactive content that would at least work with the two most widely used browsers. Or could they?

On the surface, the JavaScript supported by both companies is identical. They both provide the same conditional control statements, have defined objects such as window or document,and can be used directly in HTML documents. They both support events based on user actions and support functions in a similar manner. However, this article will demonstrate that though the languages may look the same on the surface, there are differences that can trip the unwary developer.

JavaScript Objects

To understand the differences between the two implementations of JavaScript you must examine the objects both support. As an example, with Navigator 3.0 Netscape provides a new object image which is an array (defined as images that contains the images in the document currently loaded. This object allows the developer to change the images of a document without re-loading the document or using Java or other technique. With this capability the developer can write the following JavaScript code section without error:


sSelected = "http://www.some.com/some.gif"
document.images[iIndex].src = sSelected

This code will change the src property of the image that is contained in the array at the index given in the variable iIndex. If this variable contained the value 2, the 3rd image as loaded in the document (the array indices begin at 0) would be changed to the image located in the given URL. An example using images can be found here.

Running the same example with Internet Explorer will result in a alert message that states that “‘images’ is not an object”.

Other examples of objects that are defined for Netscape Navigator but not for Microsoft Internet Explorer are:

  • The Area object, which is an array of links for an image map that allows the developer to capture certain events for the image map that can be used to provide additional information to the user. With this, the developer can capture a mouseOver event to write out information about the link in the status bar.
  • The FileUpload object which provides a text like control and a button marked with “Browse” that will allow a reader to enter a file name. The JavaScript can then access the name of the file.
  • The Function object which allows the developer to define and assign a function to a variable which can then be assigned to an event.
  • The mimeTypes Array of supported MIME types.
  • The option object which is an array of the options implemented for SELECT and which allows the developer to change the text of the option at runtime
  • The applet object, which is an array of Applets in the document (read-only)
  • The plugin object, which is an array called embeds that contains the plug-ins contained in the document (read-only)
  • The plugins array, which is an array of plug-ins currently installed in the client browser

At this time there are no JavaScript or JScript objects defined for Internet Explorer that are also not defined for Netscape. However, as JScript is an implementation script for IE and Microsoft has defined their own IE scripting model, this could change in the future.

JavaScript Object Behavior and Ownership

Internet Explorer may not have additional objects but it has defined a different hierarchy and ownership for some of the objects that are used by both it and Navigator. All objects are contained within the window object in the IE scripting model, which can be viewed here, but not all objects are owned by window with the Navigator model, which can be viewed with the JavaScript Authoring Guide. The object Navigator, which is the object that stores information about the browser currently being used, is an example of an owned object by window in IE but not in Navigator.

This will not present an incompatibility problem between the two browsers as the developer will usually not preface the object with the term “window” as the following code demonstrates:


<FORM NAME="form1">
<input type=button value='press' onClick="alert(navigator.appName)">
</FORM>

The above code will work with both browsers.

The differences between the ownership can become a problem when an object is owned by different levels of objects. An example is the history object, which is owned by the windowobject in IE, but by the document object in Navigator. When used in the current window and document, the object will work the same as the following code will demonstrate:


<FORM NAME="form1">
<input type=button value='press' onClick="history.back()">
</FORM>

The reason the same code can work for both is that window is assumed for both IE and Netscape and document is assumed for Navigator, at least in this instance because history is also an object in its own right. In the case of a document being opened as part of a frame, the differences then become noticeable. The following code will work when the document is opened as a frame in IE, but will not work in Navigator:


<body>
<script>
function clicked() {
history.back()
}
</script>
<FORM NAME="form1">
<input type=button value='press' onClick="clicked()">
</FORM>
</body>

Clicking on the button from the code above will work for IE. The previous document in the History list will be opened, but the same code will not work for Navigator. Clicking on the button will result in neither a change of document nor an error. Prefacing the history object with parent will enable this code to work with both browsers.

JavaScript Properties

Even when IE and Navigator share a common object and a common object ownership, they can differ on the properties for an object. An example is the document object. The properties for both implementations are the same except for an URL property for the Navigator implementation and a location property for the IE implementation. However, if you examine both properties, they are identical! Both contain the URL of the document. Both are read-only. The following code will work with Navigator, but results in an empty Alert message box for IE:


<FORM NAME="form1">
<input type=button value='press' onClick="alert(document.URL)">
</FORM>

According to Microsoft documentation, the equivalent for IE would be to use document.location.href. However, though this does not result in an error, it also results in an empty alert box. The following code achieves the desired results and, happily, works in both browsers:


<FORM NAME="form1">
<input type=button value='press' onClick="alert(location.href)">
</FORM>

The above example does demonstrate another area of caution when using the JavaScript language: this language is unstable in both environments and is changing continuously. Don’t assume something will work because the documentation states it will, and don’t assume it will work the same on all operating systems. Both browsers can have different behaviors across different operating systems, sometimes because of operating system differences and sometimes because of bugs that were missed during testing on that specific OS.

JavaScript Methods and Events

A web developer can find ways of working around differences in objects and properties, but working around differences in methods may not be so easy. When we develop we expect a certain behavior to result when we call a specific function and pass to it certain parameters. With Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator, the best case scenario is that we can use a pre-defined object method with both browsers and have the same result. The worst case scenario is that the method works with both browsers, but the result is different.

An example of the best case scenario is to use JavaScript to validate form field contents which have changed or to use these contents to calculate a value used elsewhere. Calling a JavaScript function from the onChange event to process the changed contents as demonstrated below will work with both browsers:


<!--- Form fields
<p>Item Quantity: <INPUT TYPE="text" Name="qty">
Item Cost: <INPUT TYPE="text" Name="cost"
                onChange="NewCost()">
Total Cost: <INPUT TYPE="text" Name="total" Value=0>
…
<!--- Function
<SCRIPT LANGUAGE="javascript">
<!--- hide script from old browsers

// NewCost will
// calculate cost of qty and item
function NewCost() {
        var iCost = parseFloat(document.Item.cost.value)
        var iQty = parseInt(document.Item.qty.value)

        var iTotal = iCost * iQty
        document.Item.total.value = iTotal
        }

The above will work as expected with both IE and Navigator. When the user enters a quantity and a cost, the onChange event will fire for the cost field and a JavaScript function called NewCost() will be called. This function will call two built-in JavaScript functions, parseFloat() and parseInt(), to access and convert the form field values. These will then be used to compute a total which is placed in the total field.

So far so good. Another JavaScript function in the web page will be processed when the user presses the submit button. This pre-defined button style will normally submit the form. The developer can capture the submission and perform validation on the fields. Coding this for Navigator would look like the following:


<FORM NAME="Item"
        ACTION="some.cgi" onSubmit="return SendOrder()">
…
<!--- Function
// submit order
function SendOrder() {

        // validate data
        if (document.Item.Name.value == "") {
                alert("You must enter your name")
                return false
                }
        return true
        }

Capturing the onSubmit event will allow the developer to call a function to process the form fields. If they choose, they can perform validation in this function. If the validation fails, say the user did not provide a name, the function notifies the reader and returns false, preventing the form from being submitted. If the user did provide a name, the function would return true, and the form would be submitted.

Following the documentation that can be found at the Microsoft site, the developer would expect something like this to work for IE as well as Navigator. It does, to a point.

With IE the onSubmit event is captured and the SendOrder() function is called. If the user did not enter a name value, an alert would occur. The behavior is the same for both browsers at this point. However, if the user does provide a value, Navigator would then submit the form and a follow-up form would be displayed. This does NOT occur with IE IF you are testing the page locally, probably due to a bug missed during the testing. It does work if you run the web page documents through a web server.

However, without knowing that the difference between the two results was a matter of document location rather than document coding the web page developer could have spent considerable time trying to get the same behavior for both browsers.

Aside from the differences already noted, the browsers may process code in a funtionally identical manner and yet perform quite differently. This can be demonstrated with another popular use of JavaScript which is to open a secondary window for some purpose and to maintain communication between the two windows. This is widely used by Netscape for their tutorials.

Both browsers support a property for the window object called opener. This property can be used to contain a reference to the window that opened the secondary window.

The following code demonstrates using JavaScript to open a secondary window and to set the opener property to the original window:


<HTML>
<HEAD><TITLE> Original Window </TITLE>
<SCRIPT LANGUAGE="JavaScript">
<!--- hide script from old browsers
// OpenSecondary will open a second window
//
function OpenSecond(iType, sMessage) {
        // open window
        newWindow=window.open("second.htm","",
                "toolbar=no,directories=no,width=500,height=300")
        // modify the new windows opener value to
        // point to this window
        if (newWindow != null && newWindow.opener == null)
                newWindow.opener=window

        }
// end hiding from old browsers -->
</SCRIPT>
</HEAD>
<BODY>
<H1> Open a new Window and get information</H1>

<FORM NAME="CallWindow">
<p>Click to open Window:
<p>
<INPUT TYPE="button" NAME="OpenWin" VALUE="Click Here"
        onClick="OpenSecond()">
<p>
</FORM>
</BODY>
</HTML>

The above HTML and JavaScript creates a simple document with one button. Pressing the button opens a new window (creates a new instance of the browser) that does not have a toolbar or directories and is set to a certain width and height. The HTML source document that is opened into this new window is “second.htm”.

The HTML and JavaScript in the secondary window is shown below:


<HTML>
<HEAD><TITLE> Information</TITLE>

<SCRIPT LANGUAGE="JavaScript">
<!--- hide script from old browsers
// SetInformation
// function will get input values
// and set to calling window
function SetInformation() {
        opener.document.open()
        opener.document.write("<BODY>")
        opener.document.write("<H1> Return from Secondary</h1>")
        opener.document.write("</BODY>")
        opener.document.close()
        opener.document.bgColor="#ff0000"
        window.close()
        }
// end hiding from old browsers -->
</SCRIPT>
</HEAD>
<BODY>
<p><form>
Click on the button:<p>
<INPUT type="button" Value="Click on Me"
     onClick="SetInformation()">
</CENTER>
</FORM>
</BODY>
</HTML>

This code will display a button labeled “Click on Me”. Pressing this button will result in the document page for the original window being modified to display the words “Return from Secondary”. The JavaScript will also change the background color of the original document and then will close the secondary window. When run in Navigator, the sample behaves as expected. Not so, however, with IE.

First, when you open the secondary window in IE you will notice that the document in the original window seems to blank out for a moment. In addition, the secondary window opens at the top left hand side of the desktop with IE but opens directly over the original window with Navigator, no matter where that original window is.

When you press the button that modifies the original document, IE does modify the document with the new header, as Navigator does, and the background on the original document will change briefly. However, when the secondary window is closed the background color of the original document returns to the original color!

What is worse is that running this sample for a few times with IE will cause the browser to crash! How soon it will crash seems to suggest that resources are not being freed, or are being freed incorrectly. Whatever the cause, this behavior should make a developer feel cautious about opening up a secondary window within IE.

Solutions to working with both Internet Explorer and Navigator

JavaScript is a useful tool for creating interactive content without using Java or some other technique. As we have seen, problems arise out of the incompatibility between Navigator and IE. What are ways to avoid these problems?

  • Code for one browser only. This is not really a viable solution. While Netscape Navigator is the most popular browser in use today, Microsoft Internet Explorer is gaining quite a following. Using Navigator-only JavaScript that will limit your web page’s audience.
  • Code only to the least common denominator. By limiting the JavaScript to that which works for both Navigator and IE, developers will have access to most of the functionality they need. However, with this approach developers will need to be aware of the gotchas that have been discussed in this article. In other words, the developer has to test with both browsers; the tests will have to occur via the web server as well as run locally; the tests should be repeated several times to ensure that no adverse effects show up over time; the code should be tested with all possible environments.
  • Code for each browser within the same page. This is actually my favorite approach though it will require more effort by the developer. Both browsers will process JavaScript labeled as <SCRIPT LANGUAGE=”javascript”>, however only Navigator will process script labeled as <SCRIPT LANGUAGE=”javascript1.1″>. With this approach, the developer can place JavaScript common to both browsers in a SCRIPT tag labeled with “javascript” and Navigator specific code in a SCRIPT tag labeled with “javascript1.1”. To add in IE specific code, the developer would probably want to use VBScript code or use the tag JScript whenever applicable. At this time, JScript is implemented for scripting with events only, not as a language specification for the SCRIPT tag.

Summary

JavaScript is a very effective tool, and a relatively simple method for adding interactive content to a web page. With version 3.0 of Internet Explorer, using JavaScript is viable for both of the most popular browsers in use. However, developersneeds to be aware of the differences between Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer and should test thoroughly with both before posting the page to their site.

Scenario: Internet Zoo

Page and source archived at Wayback Machine. Note, background images were cool in 1997. As for the comment, “The system needs little in the way of security and will reside on a machine totally isolated from any other system”, well, all I can say is those were the days.

The Scenario is a non-profit organization, a mythical city zoo. It represents an online web application that displays static HTML pages and provides for simple queries to a database. No online ordering is occurring, no updates are being made to a database, and no persistent information needs to be maintained between the pages.

This scenario assumes that the organization has not installed a web server. Based on this, this section, and the ones to follow, provide the steps needed to obtain a domain, set up communication protocols, prepare the computer and install and configure the web server.

The system needs little in the way of security and will reside on a machine totally isolated from any other system.

Note that the examples for this approach use Java classes that are not built into the browser, or the standard Sun class library. If you do not have these classes installed on your local machine, they will be downloaded from this server. And this server is not the speediest in the world. What I am trying to say is “Yes. Do take up knitting.”.

Source Code

The source code for the examples in this scenario can be downloaded from this page. Note, though. that the code is not supported by the author, and the author is not responsible for problems that might arise from the download. Now, on that cheerful note (and I am sure you all are breathless with anticipation about the download), grab your source:

A simple solution to a complex problem

Any information system group that has a client base that is split geographically will have a problem with distribution: how do you notify the clients that a new version of the tool(s) they are using is out, what the version contains, and how to upgrade.

You can automate the upgrade process by using tools that determine that the application a person is accessing is now out of date and upgrading it accordingly. The problem with this approach is that the user will not have control of when the upgrade is occurring and may be wary of an update that they know nothing about.

You can take a more passive approach by sending an email or memo out to all of your clients that an update has occurred to the application and they then can access the update on a certain sub-directory. The problem with this is that unless the update is fixing a problem that the client specifically wants or asked for, they may not be as willing to take the time to make the upgrade to their own installation, and then you in the IS department are now faced with trying to support multiple installations using multiple versions of your product. Additionally, the application user will then have to find this upgrade, download it on their own, and install the upgrade, a multiple step process which can generate problems.

Is there a simple solution? There is a simple possibility.

Many companies are interested in porting applications to the Web in some form of an internal intranet just for this problem. Unfortunately as many IS departments are finding out, most applications will not port to the web that easily. However, this is not the only way the web can be used to solve migration and upgrade problems.

Another approach is to use techniques such as Server Side Includes and to use the concept of the personalized user page. This is a web document that the user will open every morning. The contents of the document have been personalized for the user and presents information from categories that they have chosen. A case in point is that a person who works with Group A in Department 1B for Division J for Company XYZ. They will have a web page that contains new information pertinent to Company XYZ at the top, then information pertinent only to Division J next, information for Department 1B next, and finally information for Group A.

A Server Side Include (SSI) embeds a command line in the HTML document given an extension which is usually .shtml or .stm (the webmaster can determine what this extension is). This type of extension tells the web server to parse the web document for SSI commands before sending the document to the browser. An example of one of these commands is:

<!–#include file=”company.html” –>

This SSI command will instruct the web server to open the file called company.html and load the contents of company.html at this point.

The advantage of this approach should be fairly obvious: the information is specific to the interests and needs of the individual and is presented in such a way that they can examine it for the entire day if they need to; the information can include links to other documents if the person wishes to pursue more in-depth knowledge; and the document can be saved using most browers SaveAs capability. In stead of a flurry of emails which may or may not contain information that is relevant and that can be ignored and difficult to follow or read you have one document that contains all the information.

Another advantage is that no programming is required, and the information for each department can be maintained by each department. Group A maintains the HTML document that is specific to them. If there is no new information a blank HTML document or one containing the words “No New Information” can be given. Division J can maintain their own HTML document, and so on. With the many many simple to use HTML tools this should not be a solution that requires programming intervention.

While presenting a unified approach to information presentation, each group maintains autonomous control over what information is presented.

For our distribution problem, if IS has upgraded software that is in use throughout Division J, a notice can go into the Division J section that a new version of the software is being created, what bugs it will fix and features it will add. When the software is ready, a link can be inserted into the document that will allow the person to download the upgrade with one click of the button. The user can then double click on this file as soon as it is on their machine and the upgrade process can occur.

What is the advantage of this technique over others? The information about the upgrade is presented in the same format and in the same context as the upgrade itself. Information about the upgrade and the upgrade itself are only given to those who are impacted by it.

How can this solve the multiple version problem? After all the user can continue to ignore the upgrade notice and continue on their merry way. Well, this is where the concept of something called a Netscape Cookie comes in.

A Netscape cookie, implemented by both Netscape and Internet Explorer browsers, is a tiny bit of information that is stored locally on the client’s machine and that can be accessed by the browser when a specific web document is loaded. When the document containing the information about the upgrade is loaded, this value is set for the first time. After that point every time the person accesses their personalized web page the cookie is accessed and the value is incremented or decremented. Information can be printed out to the effect that they have so many days to make the upgrade, and this value is decremented for each day.

If they make the upgrade, the cookie information is destroyed and the reader will no longer get the count down.

With additional sophistication, one can create the page in such a way that the download no longer shows once they make the upgrade. To use this approach, persisten information about what HTML documents one specific person will see is kept in a file on the server. When the person logs in and gives their user name and password this file is accessed. Instead of an HTML document the person accesses a file that is called index.cgi. This application will access the file containing the person’s preferences and the information is then used to determine how to build the page the person will see. The application does this by opening up the individual HTML documents that make up the person’s preferences and printing them back to the browser, in turn.

With this approach, after a person makes an upgrade their personal preference file is accessed and the entry that contains the upgrade information is removed. Not only will the person receive timely information that is pertinent to their needs, they will receive content that is dynamic and also matches their choices.

Finally, if the person still does not upgrade by a specific date an email can be generated automatically that will be sent to the IS department informing them of this information.

A link file containing sample Perl script that demonstrates the CGI based approach and that demonstrates the use of SSI can be found here.