Single Computer Intranet

OK, the term intranet is not absolutely correct in the way described below, but how could I catch your eye otherwise. The idea behind this article is simple: Use the same technology that stands behind an intranet to better organize your data on a standalone computer.

Specifically, this translates to installing not only a Web-browser (you have done it already), but a little Web-Server, too. There are some around for various operating systems. A lot of them are even free. And they do not require you to have a power computer. The only prerequisite is a multitasking operating system. But even a semi-multitasking OS, like Windows 3.x, is suitable when you are not too much demanding.

What are the benefits of this approach? First, you can make your view on a lot of your information identical to that on the Web. You manage all your addresses via the browser. They actually are managed by a script for your server (these scripts or programs you have to write). With your browser you point to your "home" page on your computer and via it you get access to the rest. But things are not limited to that. After some short time you might find that sending faxes is a nice task for the server, too.

Second, you can easily add links to important data or files to your "home" page. This, combined with the possibility to add comments of arbitrary length to the link, is much better than all file naming conventions. Never again you wonder under which filename and where on your disk you stored that article about Bill Gates and the Belgian pie. Somewhere at a convenient place on your "home" page you put a link to the file and add a comment like: "Bill Gates hit by a pie while visiting Belgium - great fun, with pictures!" When you are looking for that article a year later you will find it easily again, because of that descriptive comment.

If you take the "shortcut" to not install the server you loose the ability to execute scripts - at least to a certain extent. You still can embed in your pages something like JavaScript or Java, but that is all. No Perl, no Tcl, no any other programs. But you gain on another side: You can easily modify your page(s) with the built-in editor of your browser. To me, a compromise makes most sense: install the server (for the scripts), but access your "home" page and others with continually changing content directly by specifying the drive, path and filename on your disk. Remember, you can put any reference to any resource on the Web (including your server or disk(s)) in a local file. By clicking the link you will see the page. Here is a link to the file C:\AUTOEXEC.BAT) on your computer, not on this server (it is running Unix, of course). Don't forget to specify the protocol explicitely when you want to point to a local file (HREF="c:\autoexec.bat" will not work as this defaults to access via http. HREF="file://c:\autoexec.bat" is what you must write.)

After you got used to manage your data from within your browser you will never want to miss it again. Shortly after creating the first pages and linking them together you will ask yourself how you could do without it before. And you have another advantage: When you write your scripts in a highly portable language like Perl you can switch the type of your computer almost at any time. The only prerequisite for the new one is that you can execute the scripts and you can get a server and a browser for the platform. But with both of them available in source code this will not be a stumbling block. So, when your computer crashes too often, you can throw it out of the window after you transferred your scripts to a more reliable architecture and/or operating system.

© Paul Elektronik, 1998-2002