Web Educational Support Tools Ltd have announced a new release of their WEST software. WEST is a suite of WWW-based applications running on a Macintosh server for running classes over the Internet. It supports delivery of WWW pages, and also email and simple conferencing facilities, all accessed via any standard WWW browser.
The new release of WEST has several key enhancements:
it is claimed to be two or three times faster, by using a "new integrated database engine;"
it supports multiple-choice tests and "fill in the blanks" questions, including choosing questions randomly from a list;
it has a new file architecture which makes it more compatible with delivering course content on CD-ROM and/or Internet;
it now supports multiple classes with multiple content and students able to take more than one class.
The company claim that on a powerful Mac (such as a PowerMac 9500 server), more than 100 simultaneous users can be supported if courses are predominantly text-based, dropping to around 50 for graphically-rich courses.
One should view such figures with caution, because the concept of "simultaneous user" for a WWW-based system (which as the technocrats know is stateless and HTTP-based) is most unlike that for a bulletin board system (which is connection- oriented and TCP/IP-based). Note also that the Mac operating system (and until recently also its TCP/IP support) imposes severe limits on the number of simultaneous users for Mac-based systems.
In answer to many user queries, the company have also announced that the WEST software will be available on Windows NT and WWW servers by the summer. We predict that these servers are likely to be able to support many more WWW users than the Mac server.
Our view is that WEST is an interesting product which is now showing signs of maturing into something that can be used in industrial-strength teaching applications. There are some interesting technical challenges ahead for the company if it is to fight off the challenge of groupware/WWW teaching systems from bigger players (such as Microsoft Exchange, Notes and FirstClass) and produce a high-performance system in a portable way. In particular, the CGI scripting interface for building WWW applications is an inefficient methodology, yet is currently the only portable way of doing so. Particular servers such as Microsofts NT WWW server have more efficient ways of building applications, but at the cost of portability.
For more information:
Tel +353 1 706 2480
Fax +353 1 269 7262