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CoffeeLink: A Double Shot of News on Java
An Easy Way to Introduce the News, But There are Other Costs
April 13, 2000
The starting point with a product like Burton Computer Corp.'s CoffeeLink News Server is that not all news servers need be Usenet servers. In fact, CoffeeLink's design is predicated on the idea that news servers can be used for specialized and controlled messaging in a corporate setting--particularly within an intranet or extranet. CoffeeLink has been kept lean, simple, reliable, and inexpensive precisely to appeal to business users who want Usenet-style messaging (e.g., newsgroups, topics, threads, and media distribution) without the complexity of a server for Usenet feeds.
Written entirely in Java, CoffeeLink is as portable as the nearest Java Virtual Machine (JVM) that is compatible with JDK 1.1 or 1.2; but in reality the only "officially" supported platform is Red Hat Linux 6.1 with IBM JRE 1.1.8 (or higher) or Sun JRE 1.2.2 (or higher). (You can download an evaluation copy here, but be warned that this is not Open Source software.) In practice, this includes just about any server that has run Java in the past two years. Installation requires a correct JVM be available (i.e., one that is on the set path). In general, news servers should not be difficult to install, as they are not very complicated programs. In practice, many are best described as finicky.
CoffeeLink is neither difficult nor finicky. Installation and configuration took all of fifteen minutes, and that includes testing the server with both Microsoft Outlook Express and Netscape Navigator.
CoffeeLink server runs in two modes: in a GUI window, which is useful for monitoring the server; and a background mode, which will provide better performance. CoffeeLink follows the most current NNTP protocols, including the Common NNTP Extensions, as defined by the IETF. For managing the server, Burton Computer has done a nice job with the Server Control Panel, which simplifies the processes of creating newsgroups, managing users, and tuning the server.
CoffeeLink's message repository uses a Java relational database, and there are no formal capacity limits. However, CoffeeLink should not be expected to carry very rapid or heavy traffic. On the other hand, Burton Computer does not represent this as a heavy-duty system, but rather one for more targeted (and presumably smaller) groups of users. CoffeeLink automatically produces a zipped (compressed) backup of the news database--a nice and potentially crucial feature.
Users access CoffeeLink newsgroups through almost any NNTP-compatible viewer (typically those in browsers or e-mail programs). For controlling user access, CoffeeLink has a detailed role-based authorization system. Under this system, each user is allowed multiple roles and selective access to newsgroups. However, the product has no filtering capabilities to screen out spam or other forms of unwanted messages. This may be a lesser problem for organizations evaluating the product for their intranet or extranet, but would still a be desirable capability.
CoffeeLink is well designed for its target market-basic newsgroup messaging for corporate intranet and extranet applications. For its price of $250, the product provides an inexpensive and effective medium of communication.