Infoworld: WebDAV Comes of Age

Rohit Khare Rohit@KnowNow.com
Fri, 19 Oct 2001 21:20:10 -0700


[Woo-hoo! I wish I could email this five years backwards in time to
whenJim first tiptoed into this tarpit! :-) --RK]

    =20
WebDAV protocol comes of age=20
By Cathleen Moore=20
October 12, 2001 1:01 pm PT

INCUBATING IN THE standards process for several years, the WebDAV
(Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning) protocol -- designed to
add interoperability and collaborative capabilities to the Internet --
has been steadily making its way into the everyday tools of business
users and stands poised to transform how users interact with the
Internet.

WebDAV is a set of extensions to the HTTP protocol that allows users to
collaboratively edit and manage files on a remote Web server. Whereas
the Internet historically has been limited to display and download
capabilities, WebDAV embedded in software and systems promises to turn
the Internet into a writable medium capable of supporting collaboration
and distributed file sharing.

The protocol, which is still being refined and tweaked through the
Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) standards process, has some
features that include locking and unlocking capabilities to prevent the
overwriting of changes, XML properties for the storage of metadata, and
namespace manipulation capability copying and moving data. To ensure
security, WebDAV adds SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) technology and wraps
all transmissions in 128-bit encryption. Other important features that
are being developed include version control and the ability to set
access control lists.

Among the many potential applications of WebDAV, secure Web-based file
sharing holds the biggest promise for business users, according to Bill
North, director of research for storage software at IDC in Mountain
View, Calif. "Multiuser access to common sets of file-oriented data ...
eliminates many opportunities for inconsistencies and error in the
information and at the same time improves the efficiency of the people
working on data," North says. "In a worldwide [around-the-clock]
environment, that is really big advantage."

For example, multiple remote workers using WebDAV-enabled systems and
software can collaborate on shared documents wherever they are as long
as they have Internet access.

Other potential uses for WebDAV include editing contents of a document
management system via the Web and virtual product development across
distributed enterprises, according to observers.

The protocol is just now at a stage of maturity, providing useful
function in products that are currently hitting the market, North says.
A diverse array of vendors are embracing WebDAV across applications,
software, servers, and OSes.

Xythos, a San Francisco-based provider of file management software,
built its WFS (WebFile Server) software around WebDAV, enabling the
system to work across all operating systems and platforms, according to
Jim Till, vice president of sales and marketing. "In WFS, we enable the
secure sharing of files across the network so you get the same level of
safe file sharing you have in a LAN stretched across the Internet
regardless of the connection. This makes it easier to work together in
different times and through distance," Till says.

Oracle, meanwhile, currently supports WebDAV in iFS (Internet File
System) and plans to add WebDAV functionality to Release 2 of its Oracle
9iAS Portal product, due by the end of the year.

WebDAV support in the portal will allow functions such as file
manipulation, access, editing, and saving. "We see this protocol as an
up-and-coming technology. It will likely someday surpass FTP because it
has richer services," notes George Demarest, director of database
marketing at Oracle in Redwood Shores, Calif.

Microsoft for its part has built WebDAV support into its many products,
including SharePoint Portal Server, Office XP, and Windows XP, which is
due to be formally rolled out this month. WebDAV support integrated into
Windows XP is notable because it enables any application running on top
of it to be WebDAV-enabled as well.

Other OSes from Apple and Novell are also taking advantage of WebDAV's
collaborative functionality. Apple baked WebDAV support into its
recently released Mac OS X, and Novell has included WebDAV capabilities
in NetWare 5.1 and NetWare 6. Introduced last month, NetWare 6's WebDAV
functionality was deepened with a new NetStorage feature that provides
Web access to files on a NetWare server.

Another vendor leveraging WebDAV is San Jose, Calif.-based Adobe
Systems. The newest edition of Adobe Acrobat, Version 5.0, takes
advantage of WebDAV to allow users to collaborate on and edit PDF
documents via the Web.

Using the WebDAV functionality embedded in Acrobat 5.0, a user viewing a
PDF file can upload comments and edits to a shared data repository,
which can be tapped by and added to by other workers connected to the
Web server.

One Acrobat user, London-based communications equipment vendor Marconi,
plans to leverage WebDAV functionality in Acrobat 5.0 to streamline the
process of editing product documentation. The current process of
compiling comments and edits from companywide experts on multiple
subjects requires the document author to merge comments and then conduct
meetings to resolve conflicting edits and feedback.

"If we can use WebDAV to allow reviewers to see every one of the
comments and be aware of conflicts as they are being posted they can
save time in the review and edit process and resolve issues
immediately," says Beverly Hrablook, director of global digital assets
at Marconi, in Irving, Texas.

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