Questel-Orbit, a France Telecom subsidiary and leading intellectual property and science-technology search service, has brought the full array of its databases to the Web. The new QWEB interface supports full functionality by offering the full command structure of Questel-Orbit's software. The company has added a high-speed Questel-Orbit Internet Protocol Network to support higher speeds and greater security. Though the Internet Protocol Network can support intranet connections and carries special institutional pricing options, the lack of end-user focus in the design of Web-based services would confirm Questel-Orbit's contention that its target market remains professional searchers and knowledge workers with heavy demand for their data.
David Dickens, director of patent products at Questel-Orbit, said that the QWEB interface makes all of Questel-Orbit's 100 databases covering patents, trademarks, technical and scientific information, and chemistry available through the Web. Four years ago, the company began offering QPAT, but only for patent files. All features available over the traditional search software now appear in the QWEB interface, including the "Print Legal" and "Print Cited" functions. Menus support users in building and saving search strategies, e.g. a database menu by subject. Searchers also have the option of an expert mode. They can prepare scripts offline and upload them complete, line by line, or in any order. The interface can export sessions—including images—straight into word processing software in RTF format.
The new QWEB interface particularly supports fast, high-quality display of images such as logotypes and patents drawing. Searchers just click to view integrated images, including a link to very high quality TIFF images. QWEB provides additional security with SSL search encryption. A "Remember My Details" option lets users store user IDs and passwords for automatic use.
Searcher Nancy Lambert from Chevron Research (and "Better Mousetrap" columnist for Searcher magazine, covering patent and sci-tech searching) looks forward to speedy downloading of images. According to Lambert, downloading chemical structure images integrated into files has been endurable, but "downloading Derwent images takes forever."
All Questel-Orbit users can access all the service's databases via QWEB through the Questel-Orbit server located in France. No changes in access rules or pricing are connected with QWEB. (For a current copy of the Questel-Orbit price list, go to the Web site at http://www.questel.orbit.com.) QWEB works with Netscape Navigator 4.x or above, or Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.x or above, with Java script enabled. A screen resolution of 800x600 pixels or higher is recommended.
The new Questel-Orbit Internet Protocol Network can substantially speed up searching on the service through its high bandwidth. According to Dickens, the service offers true 56K speeds. Connecting to search services over open connections usually offers only a fraction of the posted speed. The security system first encrypts data and then transmits it over Questel-Orbit's private network. The service operates worldwide through dial-up access using a modem or ISDN line, shared routers for groups of users, or permanent network connection accessing through a router and a frame-relay link. Prices run from $10 a month for secure telnet operations to individuals to $200 a month for corporate connections.
Since the pricing structure at Questel-Orbit still depends on connect time, one wonders whether the speeding of response time offered by QWEB and the Internet Protocol Network could worry database producers like Derwent that rely on royalties. One would hope that the improvements could expand the market for online searching and make up the difference in volume. However, the lack of end-user design work in the QWEB interface would seem to restrict the attraction of Questel-Orbit's Internet Protocol Network for intranet planners to only those rare institutions with communities of professional patent or sci-tech searchers.