It only seems like yesterday that ?push? was touted as being the most labour-saving technology since the television remote control. But now it is being disparaged as a waste of time and - more importantly - bandwidth.
Push technology was introduced by Pointcast in 1992 to deliver news over the Internet when PCs are idle. Although push has not achieved the superstar status of search engines, user organisations say it is helping them carve out successful niches.
Users prefer to use the technology to distribute information rather than applications. Computer distributor Ingram Micro, for example, uses tools from push provider, Marimba, to send updated prices to resellers, while disk drive maker Seagate does the same for its field salesforce.
Marimba says there are four business categories for push vendors: content aggregation and advertising; knowledge management; publication subscription; and application distribution and management.
Pointcast falls into the content aggregation and ad category, while companies such as Back Web and Diffusion deliver information outside corporations.
Publication subscription delivers realtime data to specific employees, such as messaging financial information to traders. Companies including Tibco Software play in this market.
Marimba is active in the application distribution and management category where the vendor distributes, updates and maintains the data within the corporation and across the Intranet, Extranet and Internet.
With the latest release of Castanet - version 3.0 - Marimba has a much stronger application distribution story to tell. What was once a technology intended to lead legions into the Java revolution, the technology is now a supporter of Microsoft's Windows.
Back Web is also finding some big name customers including a deal in which Cisco Systems uses Back Web technology to keep sales people posted on prices.
Its newest release, the third in less than a year, continues to define what it believes push is and how enterprises use intelligent software. Version 4 is the culmination of its acquisition of Lanacom Technologies.
Back Web?s two major products include the Polite Server and the Infocenter client-server. The Polite Server enables companies to distribute information in a targeted, but ?polite? way wth total bandwidth control. The Infocenter Server allows companies to gather and filter information from a variety of sources.
And what of Pointcast, the original push firm? According to Zona Research analyst, Ron Rappaport, "If you take a look at Pointcast, you'll see a company that's responded to the market. They had to become very sensitive to what it was that customers wanted."
Pointcast specialises in broadcasting personalised news and information to business consumers. This year Pointcast delivered a caching manager to address criticisms of bandwidth hogging.
The company is on an expansion roll and will open offices in Europe within the next six months, with an initial focus on the UK and Germany. Pointcast expanded in Japan last October.
Push technology can be a real timesaver and could become a standard mode for disseminating information. But the question is, when? And will the technology be mature, scalable and secure?
According to a recent report by market research firm, the Gartner Group, the "cultural and technological hurdles that preclude the widespread use of push technology within the enterprise will be cleared only gradually through 2000." By 2001, the independent push vendors will have been acquired or will be out of business.
"The vendors of push technology have released new versions of software that can support critical business processes," said Gartner analyst, Maureen Fleming. "However, push represents a new, bandwidth-intensive way for enterprises to operate and should be implemented only when there is an alignment of corporate objectives with up-to-date worker desktops, networking infrastructure and back-office functionality." Zona Research too is predicting further consolidation, pointing to reports that Pointcast is looking for a buyer rather than pursuing an initial public offering. Zona also expects remaining players such as Marimba and Back Web to pursue similar paths either by consolidating or partnering.
Push vendors spent the early stages of their product rollouts addressing the raw underlying technology of push, but now they stress the solutions the technology brings. Still, according to analysts, issues such as security, access control, encryption and certificate management all need to be addressed for any truly secure, long-term solution, especially one that uses the Internet.
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