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Frontier, Manila or Radio?

A better title for this topic may be Frontier, Manila ... and ... Radio. Userland products are not a zero-sum game. See my November, 2000 DominoPower article, How Userland's Frontier Can Revolutionize Content Management for an earlier look at this subject.

    Frontier As Host

Frontier has served as Userland's flagship database, scripting, web development, web serving, publishing and writing environment for more than a decade. Listing some, not all, of its major components, offers a snapshot of this product's ambitious reach.

Frontier gives you a tightly integrated web development and hosting server that can handle hundreds or thousands of individual web sites.

  Manila For Content Management

Manila is an end-user content management application built on Frontier.

You can use Manila to publish calendar-centered weblogs. By contrast with Radio, Manila supports multiple human editors, discussion forums, comment editing, email notification when articles are published and a variety of other features derived from Frontier's underlying architecture.

Note that you cannot run Manila unless you already own Frontier. Similarly, you cannot run Manila in Radio at all.

   Radio A Descendant and Departure

Radio comprises a substantial subset of Frontier designed for hosting, serving and a single website in a weblog format.

Radio can also be viewed as a spin-off of Manila minus multiple editors and workflow tools. This is a bit misleading since Radio's use case and user interface diverge markedly from Manila.

Most of Frontier's database, scripting, web development, web serving, publishing and writing components are fully available to Radio users.  They are hidden behind the Radio desktop application's user interface to avoid confusing end users.

When I say "available", I mean available. With the exception of a few primitives, nearly all of Frontier and Radio's own code can be inspected and - if you are brave enough - tweaked, changed or entirely rewritten.

Let me be more specific about website development. Like Frontier, Radio offers a StaticSites tool you can use to create dozens or hundreds of individual websites. While a weblog is nothing more than 'just' a website organized along a time-axis, your Radio weblog is the (single) user-interface tuned website visible to you when you install Radio out-of-the-box (emphasis on 'visible').

By contrast, you would/will use StaticSites to create any number of 'classic' websites. Radio out-of-the-box does not offer you the opportunity to host these on their Community Server but you can use FTP to publish a static site to your own public Internet server(s) just as you would if you created a web site in another vendor's product. Or, you can use StaticSites to publish website content to your own local personal computer - one more personal knowledge management mechanism.

Two Major Platforms

Since Manila is a Frontier application, we could view Frontier-Manila and Radio as two separate though overlapping platforms.

Frontier-Manila takes the role of centralized hosting server while Radio behaves either as a personal desktop server communicating with other desktop servers and/or as a client to centralized hosts - Frontier and other.

I use the word platform advisedly. Both Frontier and Radio can serve as the base for full-blown application development. Manila is only one of many conceivable Frontier end-user applications. Radio's browser-based end-user interface is only one of many conceivable interfaces.

Historically, Userland's developers turn variously to enhancing Frontier-Manila, Radio and/or both depending upon the business and technical requirements native to each major product. While Frontier features migrated into the initial release of Radio, some Radio features are now migrating back into Frontier.

In sum, Radio is both a descendant of Frontier-Manila as well as a distinct departure. 

Since Userland - rather uniquely among software vendors - does not permit business calculations to trump technical concerns (that is, what is best for its users), expect these products to track Userland's (and our) growing understanding of the Internet and collaborative computing.

Userland delivers two different platforms because we need two platforms.

Check That: Three Major Platforms In Two

Oops. I forgot to mention the Radio Community Server.

This still-emerging application has been made available for free by Userland to purchasers of either Frontier or Radio. In a nutshell, it allows you to run your own Community Server. This is ideal for corporations, those managing private workgroups or anyone who wants to create and manage their own Radio community just as Userland does.

Since it is still somewhat raw, I would recommend you get a good handle on Frontier or Radio (especially Frontier) before you dive in here.

More on this from me soon.

So What Do I Do?

If you are new to Userland and want to understand the company's overall product philosophy as well as participate in the latest-and-greatest Userland venture, purchase Radio. For forty dollars, it's a steal.

If you need to host multiple websites yourself and want greater visibility into the underlying development environment, including many tools and scripts contributed by the user community over the years, choose Frontier.

If you require a content management system that supports multi-editor workflow, choose Manila (that is, Frontier-Manila).

If you are a long-time Frontier user or wandering in from another blogging community, Radio is Userland's leading edge for exploring RSS, XML-RPC, SOAP. WSDL and other initiatives germane to next-generation blogging.

Whichever choice you make, most of the documentation and lore that applies to Frontier will apply to Radio as well.

Guessing the Future?

While Frontier is much more expensive than Radio, it is very reasonably priced for its intended purpose. Though Frontier's development has lagged behind Radio somewhat during 2001, I expect this to change markedly in 2002.

Frontier provides the historically proven platform that Radio needs to fulfill its technical potential to coordinate peer-to-peer workgroups and inter-community communications.

Though I am a relative newcomer to the Userland community (circa 1999), I can attest to one vital matter. Userland is passionately committed to its products and the future of the Internet.

Note that phrasing particularly.

Userland's carefully chosen position as a commercial vendor is relevant here as well. There are a range of interesting and useful open-source or shareware publishing products out there. Some may endure for the next decade or more but most will be held hostage to the energy of their creators and the harsh realities of real life. Like eating.

Userland's survival potential is an order of magnitude greater than some of the other cool stuff out there. The company has the track record to prove that.

Many vendors devote themselves to the future of their products but skate dangerously - and manipulatively - around the Internet's centrifugal whirlpool of challenge and confusion. They try to mold the Internet insanely to themselves. Userland, by contrast, adjusts its products to the demands and dynamics of that whirlpool.

As someone more committed to the Internet platform than to Userland's platforms (a stance Userland respects), I like that strategy.

(All-time major disclaimers: I reserve the right to complain about Frontier and Radio's many inadequacies and to demand absurd enhancements suited to me personally. I have no access to any of Userland's present or future product strategies or tactics though I wish I did. I claim a historical knack for inaccurate analysis that goes back more than two decades. Read and apply at your own risk. On the other hand, feel free to cut me in to all benefits that accrue from your decision to purchase these products).

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Copyright 2002 © Russ Lipton.
Last update: 4/9/02; 8:07:44 PM.
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