October 20, 1997
Seybold Report on Internet Publishing
Vol 2, No 2
DataChannel’s company literature calls ChannelManager "a business framework for managing the proliferation of Web content," a means of creating a "private brand" for industry, corporation, department and employee business rules and stamping that brand onto the desktop. At the company’s offices in Seattle, Pool discussed how all of this might come to be.
The product manages content, presentation and application for distributed workgroups (Figure 2). With the browser as the desktop and the Internet providing the network, you can think of ChannelManager as the system administrator’s console, but one that demands an ordinary-mortal level of technical proficiency. If you can browse the Web, you can subscribe to a ChannelManager channel. If you can point and click, you can rearrange the menus, tabs and other items on your interface.
To manage content, presentation and behavior independently and on the fly, clearly you must store the elements separately, yet integrate them in software. Pool says that DataChannel could have represented both data and software in Java, but he chose XML for the data representation because it represents a higher level of abstraction, one that keeps the data neutral to the software.
Three main functions. Content management is the core function of this software. "Content" can be pushed or pulled by the administrator or by users. Notification options for pushed content range from "in your face" (interrupting whatever is in the foreground to display the new information) to "do not disturb." These options (and all else mediated by ChannelManager) are configured by query, network availability and user profile. Anything accessible by a URL—whether by direct link or by query—is within reach of a content channel. It can apply to HTML pages, news feeds, Netscape or Microsoft Active Channels, documents, images or even corporate data repositories.
Software, in the form of Java applets and applications, also can be pushed onto group or individual desktops through the same channel-management framework. The Open Software Description (OSD) proposed by Microsoft and Marimba (http://www.microsoft.com/standards/osd) uses XML metadata to describe software components distributed over any network. To ChannelManager, OSD is just another form of XML metadata, and the applications are just content for another push channel.
The third function is to manage users and groups. Each group and each user has a presentation profile that drives the client user interface. The presentation profile can be updated manually through the DataChannel user interface or dynamically based on queries or push notification.
ChannelManager administrators add and delete individual users; set up hierarchical groups of users; and then assign access, content, presentation and notification behavior for these individuals and groups. Pool did not set out to build workflow software, but by building in the central administration of the data-driven desktop, enough of the features of workgroup and workflow software are present to position DataChannel as a potential lynchpin for distributed workgroup applications.
Content, presentation and administration are all driven by URLs. URLs may point to a database or a news feed, or may carry an SQL query or a CGI request. When a URL is updated or any modification is made to the database (e.g., a user profile changes), a send notification request is made by the client user to the server, a new item is created in a channel, and SQL transactions take place between the ChannelManager server and the repository database. ChannelManager updates content at least once in 24 hours; more often if you prefer.