In early August 1996, SoftArc announced FirstClass version 4. This will make any FirstClass server completely accessible from the Internet for Web access, email, Usenet News and directory services. Many educational users of FirstClass have been clamouring for these features although some like Web access are now available through third party vendors.
Virtually all FirstClass features will be available over Internet connections. An organisation will be able to publish any or all of its FirstClass communication system on the Web. Email messages, conferences, directory services, calendars, database forms, etc. will all be available through standard Internet browsers, as well as through the traditional FirstClass Client. Users will even be able to use Eudora or other Internet mail clients to log into their mailboxes.
FirstClass 4 will also offer an extensive visual development environment with complete platform-independent development tools with an intuitive graphical interface and easy-to-learn BASIC syntax. Users can use these to create add-ons such as workflow applications and desktop tools. FirstClass 4 will also have better links to industry-standard ODBC or SQL databases. Also new to FirstClass 4 (and, one suspects, driven by competition from Microsoft Exchange) will be calendaring features, integrated with existing email and collaboration functions.
It is still not clear whether the FirstClass 4 client will be able to act as a "lightweight" Web browser, a feature many users have asked for. SoftArc have not made a public commitment to this yet but agreed that it is "under consideration". This might imply that the FirstClass server would have to have proxy WWW server capabilities.
FirstClass 4 will be available in early 1997, not just for the MacOS and Windows xx platforms of the previous release but also for DOS and Unix, which should please many universities.
In a move reminiscent of Microsoft, SoftArcs World Wide Web server, www.softarc.com, is now being powered by pre-release versions of FirstClass 4. However, showing SoftArcs traditional loyalties, further information is paradoxically not yet available on this Web site. Full details can be found only on SoftArcs public-access FirstClass bulletin board, SoftArc Online (but details of this are on the Web site).
A list of college and university sites using FirstClass for teaching is maintained on the LearnTel Web server. Contact LearnTel if your site is not there.