CMC Magazine: December 1998

A Trend in the Electronic World

by Robley Curtice

One problem in electronics commerce has been the expertise needed to operate the new systems, which engendered an expensive elite to manage it. Looking for more efficient ways to work with such systems has been the task of software developers. We had this firmly in mind when we attended the recent Miller Freeman’s Web Design & Development Conference (Web’98) in San Francisco.

Our first stop was an overall perspective on the World Wide Web by Jakob Nielsen, a Sun Microsystems distinguished engineer, who had several sizzling predictions in his keynote speech: "WEB 2003: A Five-Year Perspective on the Future of the Web." First, he foresaw the Web as "…the (absolute) medium of the future." The Web, he pointed out, is doubling in population every year and will reach a 100 million population by the turn of the century. By that time, he continued, your Thanksgiving turkey will come with an an URL that describe how to cook it! We know that this sounds like a simplistic example of Web use, but it illustrates how ubiquitous the Web will become. He further said that Websites will go from the present 2 million (est.) to a 100 million, generating vigorous employment for the U.S. And finally, in a real stretch, he gave the print medium only ten years more of life before cybermedia puts it out of business, which is an interesting speculation.

The first indication we saw of the use of new software to simplify tasks was in, which adds video to a Website without plug-ins or special server software, from GEO Interactive, Woodland Hills, California. Previous to this software, adding video to a website was so complex that only an expert engineer could accomplish it, usually using a small extraneous software program (called a video plug-in) like RealPlayer, or Microsoft’s Netshow. Next we saw demo’ed a program that novices could use with very little training, GoLive, which is similar to Macromedia’s program Dreamweaver. GoLive is for high-end graphic artists and Web developers who need a visual interface for the creation of Dynamic HTML, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS1) and advanced JavaScript all for use on Netscape 4 and MS Internet Explorer 4. And, further, GoLive takes a chance on Mac by releasing its new update to CyberStudio 3 only for the Mac platform (the Windows version

will follow this summer).

The fascinating story behind GoLive is that the pioneers who developed this software, Sharon Carmel, Tzur Daboosh and Eli Reifman, who developed interactive media delivery over networks and CD-Roms, invented the technology to further battle simulations for the Israeli army. They took this expertise and then applied it to create digital compression and media delivery technologies specifically for the Web. The resultant technology (utilizing Java) was called Emblaze. Time Warner and Virgin Records have signed early adopter agreements with the company, and in October of 1996 Geo Interactive floated an initial public offering that gave the company a valuation of $160 million. Six years after the army they are a company of seventy-seven developers.

Another trend towards simplification is Java. Because of the "Java Wars," it is difficult to correctly gauge how the language is progressing. Microsoft, who just recently lost a judgment in the "wars," says Java is only a language and not a platform. We have noticed that when Microsoft employees repeat this mantra they use precisely the same words! A Java object database management system that caught our attention was demoed by Larry Altston, vice president of marketing of Object Design. ObjectStore is an object database management system that reduces the amount of source code by up to 25-50%, supports new data types as quickly as they are defined in Java and C++, and is currently out-performing relational and object-relational databases by most measures. The application is written in Pure Java, satisfying all Sun’s requirements for that appellation. Southwest Airlines was able to deploy their ticketless airline reservation program, Home Gate, in under six months by using ObjectStore to eliminate the need to write code between two technologies that were meant for each other: Objects and RDBMS. And Lucent Technologies claims that the application is the only database that is able to support large access networks with hundreds of megabytes of data and hundreds of thousands of telephone lines. Another win for Java!

A further example of the simplification trend is Drumbeat 2.0 from Elemental Software. Constructing Web sites that search and update databases and generate new custom pages was a daunting task previously with the service of database expert besides the Web site designer required. Drumbeat 2.0 allows integration with ODBC databases, building fully customizable Active Server Pages (ASP) including logic, queries and coding. Rich interactive functionality and multimedia effects are also part of Drumbeat’s repertoire. Just recently AT&T invested a two-million dollar equity in Elemental Software and plans to integrate AT&T technologies into Drumbeat SmartElements which then can be dragged and dropped onto Web pages and made to communicate with other elements buy selecting interactions from pull down, plain English menus. Technologies mentioned are click-to-dial directions, anonymous voice chat and conference calling controlled from the Web. Microsoft Internet Information Server or one of the other ASP-compatible serves that builds database driven apps is required. Watch for future examples of this trend toward lightly trained persons performing the work of highly technical engineers.

Robley Curtice (, a San Franciscan, is an early-retired teacher who haunts West Coast technical conferences searching for the 21st Century Killer App.

Copyright © 1998 by Robley Curtice. All Rights Reserved.

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