The WWW Immersion Process of a Big Corporation: The CFE Case

Graciela Valencia <>
Networking Solutions, Silicon Graphics, Mexico

Horacio González-Vélez <>
Networking Solutions, Silicon Graphics, Mexico
EE Department, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Iztapalapa, Mexico

Juan-Carlos Belair <>
Networking Solutions, Silicon Graphics, Mexico
Tel.: (525) 662-0322, Silicon Graphics de México (525) 480-3500
Fax: (525) 662-6942, VoiceMail: 58838


In this paper we describe the process of migrating a hypertext CD to HTML and publishing it on the Web. Also, we show how interesting it can be for a company that uses 3D applications to have some of its data much more available. Then we mention the implications this may have for educational and cultural processes in Mexican society.


The Federal Commission for Electricity (CFE) is the Mexican state-owned agency in charge of producing electricity for all of Mexico. Founded in 1937, it has some 70,000 employees in 570 power-supplying plants, generating 137 gigawatt-hours, with sales accounting for $3 billion in the last year. CFE has fast-growing computing needs becase they must keep the pace with such a big corporation. CFE has computing equipment from almost any vendor one can think of.

In 1994, CFE produced An Introduction to CFE [2]. This multimedia CD contains a presentation with statistical information about CFE. The main objective of this material was to portray the social mission of CFE; it was aimed at newly hired internal personnel and K-12 students in the country. Therefore, the CD was made in the most universal format, i.e., PC-readable format.

In 1995, with the expansion of the Internet and the Web [1], CFE decided to migrate its material to the Web in order to have a better way of updating it and have a larger set of readers. The whole project was evaluated by several commercial and academic organizations, and Silicon Graphics in Mexico (SGI-M) was chosen.

Basically, CFE needed a fast conversion of its current material and a safe path for having everything published in the future. Reliability and easy access were two key issues in the process.

CFE wanted well-tested hardware. We intended to use the following:

We describe the entire conversion process and what to watch for when working with a corporation of this size.

The first approach: Static and scattered information

In the beginning SGI-M contacted the people in charge of the CD [2], i.e., the Multimedia Development Center, MDC (Centro de Desarrollo de Multimedia).

The MDC had collected all the information, which consisted of articles published by the CFE. Their job was basically to format and compile the information in a way that users not really familiar with computers would be able to benefit from it. These users were essentially new hires and transfers inside CFE In a few words the developers of the CD had to come up with a really intuitive GUI to facilitate the access of all the information. This meant designing the GUI and also programming it all.

The way the information was stored ranged from simple and plain text to short movies, going through images, audio and even some quizzes. The content of such information was diverse: historical texts, photographs of different power plants from around the country, a set of diagrams explaining the way the plants worked, television advertisements, internal information about the CFE, statistical graphs about power generation, etc.

The purpose of such work was to distribute the information evenly to all CFE employees so they would know who they were working for and what they should expect of their company.

The CD was supposed to be in Windows 3.1 format so that users wouldn't have to install any complicated things, just click on an icon for setup and on another one to run it. The PC configuration was intended to be quite standard except for some additional items such as an audio card, speakers to improve the audio quality, and of course a CD player. These already reduced the "All employees" approach to an "All employees having a CDROM."

After all this, the MDC had to print and distribute the whole set of CDs around their offices.

One can imagine that by the time it was received by the users, some of the information was obsolete. This was a big inconvenience due mainly to the whole process involved in the design of the application, the recollection of the information, and the manufacture of such a product, and of course to the size of the CFE.

This project, from the beginning through distribution of the first set of CDs, required around one and a half years, and the CD was going to be presented during the CFE annual technology meeting. Our part in that project was to show our HTML version at the meeting.

The MDC group handed us the CD a week before the beginning of the show, so we didn't have much time to work on it. This was a good opportunity to show how easy it was for us to put all the information in a much more accessible and flexible format, and of course to reduce costs too, especially due to the short amount of time we needed to do something similar in HTML. By that time CFE was already thinking of putting out a second CD with their latest information. The people in charge of this project knew that the amount of information CFE generated was tremendous--enough to release a new CD every month, which was impossible because of to all the work involved. So the solution was to have a server and to update the data when needed.

Migrating to HTML

With one week ahead of us we started taking the information out of the CD, i.e., text, images, audio and video.

Because there was a lot of information, we needed to be familiar with all the CD to be able to put it together in HTML [1]. The look and feel were intended to be pretty much the same, although we managed to simplify some of it. We must mention that the Web approach was not new to CFE [7].

Our steps were the following:

1- Images:

The images had to be either in GIF or JPEG format because these are the HTML standards for handling images. So we had to do the conversion from BMP format to GIF in this case. For that we used ImageWorks, an image tool provided with Irix 5.3. This part was achieved without any trouble.

2-Audio and Video:

Here the steps were different. No conversion was needed; it was enough just to copy the files from the CD to the server, but some other tasks were to be done.

First, we had to change some configuration files (mime.types and .mailcap, for Unix environments) on both client and server files in order to recognize the format AVI of the data.

Second, we had to look for an application that supported the AVI format to be able to see and hear the data on the side of the client. For an SGI client we used xanim [8], which had only to be compiled to work. For a Wintel platform, the application that reads AVI files comes with it.

After this, we put all the information together using Webmagic [4], the SGI HTML editor. Webmagic allowed us to create all the pages, the links and some other fancy features such as imagemaps, forms and backgrounds without having to write a single line of HTML. Much of the time that we saved was due to this tool. Just by executing simple "drag & drop" and "Cut, Copy, Paste" operations, we converted into HTML the data stored on the CD in a very short amount of time. If this task were to be done with 100 percent handcrafted HTML we wouldn't have been able to finish.

Finally to show how easy it was to update the data, we created with CFE some pages during the meeting with new information CFE had collected after the printing of the CD. This was really important to the people of the MDC because although they were surprised how fast the data in the CD were turned to HTML, they were not sure how much time it really took us to create a page until we did it "live" with some of them sitting next to us.

Also with this we were able to reach a greater number of employees than with the CD. Here all the employees running a Wintel Platform with an HTML browser were able to benefit from the information, and the knowledge needed to better understand CFE would have been accessible to a much wider range of people.


Besides the introductory CD that was to be translated to HTML for the meeting, Silicon Graphics was also contacted by the CFE's Power Plant Designing Team. This team was using a PC-based 3D tool to design their plants, and they needed us to make these designs friendlier, interactive, and platform-independent and, hence, easily accessible to anyone interested in the subject. For instance, any top executives who wanted to see part of a project without having to go to a specific machine just had to use the PCs already available in their offices.

When the project arrived, we decided to approach it from an experimental point of view, considering that there were several steps involved, mainly in the data translation process. The translation from Micro Station file format to DXF file format was done by the same CFE, who made the material available to us in PC media. By means of SGI tools, we translated these data to Irix format, making it 100 percent workable in our environment. Using the data translator DxfToIv that comes with WebSpace, the SGI VRML [0] browser, we now passed from DXF to IV the Inventor [6] file format, developed by Silicon Graphics.

Once we were able to work in Inventor format, we were almost done. As we know, VRML 1.0 is based on the Inventor file Format. The last step was to use WebSpaceAuthor [5], the SGI VRML editor. This application can read IV files and manipulate them before saving them in a VRML 1.0 compliant file. WebSpaceAuthor and the data translator allowed us to generate a VRML file without having to write any VRML code at all.

The process itself was surprisingly simple and quick, despite the complications we feared at the beginning. When we showed the final work, the people at CFE were very pleased and amazed, especially regarding the fact that for the first time, they could interact, in real time, with their material. Using a VRML browser, they were able to fly through the power plant without having to predefine viewpoints or anything; they just had to point where they wanted to go.

Our main goal was to simplify the designing of the plants without displacing the material and technology CFE already had, besides making it available to a larger group of people who don't always have the possibility or the need to access and interact with these materials through the usual original format.

Additionally, we designed a simple standard training plan to teach the basics of HTML page design in order to enable final users to employ this language in a productive way.

Lessons learned


[0] Ames, A.L., Nadeau, D.R., and Moreland, J.L. The VRML Sourcebook. John Wiley & Sons, 1996.

[1] Berners-Lee, T., Cailliau, R., Luotonen, A., Nielsen, H. F., and Secret, A. The World-Wide Web Communications of the ACM 37, 8 (August 1994), 76-82.

[2] Comisión Federal de Electricidad. Introducción a CFE: Una presentación multimedia. Compact Disc Version 1.7. Available through Subdirección de Administración y Finanzas, Unidad de Capacitación y Desarrollo, Av. Thiers 251- 3o., 11590 México, D.F. MEXICO

[3] Neider, J., Davis, T., and Woo, M. OpenGL Programming Guide. Addison-Wesley, 1993.

[4] Silicon Graphics. WebMagic Pro Author. Technical Manual version 2.0. (1995). Available through Silicon Graphics, 2011 N. Shoreline Blvd, Mountain View, CA 94043 U.S.A.

[5] Silicon Graphics. WebSpace Author. Technical Manual version 1.0. (1995). Available through Silicon Graphics, 2011 N. Shoreline Blvd, Mountain View, CA 94043 U.S.A.

[6] Silicon Graphics. The Inventor Toolmaker. Addison-Wesley, 1995. ISBN: 860-0107-002.

[7] Web link. CFE-Matico. CFE in the Northwest of Mexico.

[8] Xanim Web page: