The Internet is on the verge of being part of everyday life, but major changes need to be made before it can become a mainstream utility, according to John McFarlane president of Solaris Software.
?We are at an interesting junction in the evolution of the Internet,? McFarlane told delegates at Ebusiness World in Boston. ?While all companies know it is now all about making money, a lot has to be done collectively to bring the Net forward.?
It is predicted that by 2002 more than half the devices used to access the Internet will be non-PC based. However huges demands will be made on the network and the livelihood of service providers.
?The next big breakthrough will be mass market acceptance of the Web and by 2003 over 50 million will be using it,? claimed McFarlane. However, for this to become true, the Internet must become a utility. It must reach the stage where it is taken for granted, much like the water, electricity and phone services today.
The user interface also needs to be developed, ?We need a low cost front end, transparent back end and it must be readily accessible,? said McFarlane. He used the example of how we can dial a phone number without needing to understand how the phone system works.
The combination of these elements is what McFarlane terms ?Web tone?. ?These are critical for the Internet, as a ubiquitous mainstream service, to survive,? he said.
The general opinion seems to be that Windows will not feature prominently in this model, ?Windows is not the answer, it has served its purpose,? said McFarlane. There will be a major shift as people will be able to access the Internet and other information from a range of devices, such as using a smart card to access personal information from any kiosk.
As the information will be delivered from the host to a range of devices it will put great strain on the network, ?I envisage a world where we don?t buy an application from a software company, but where it is hosted on the network.? Because of this, each service becomes mission critical and the reputation of the service provider will be constantly at stake.
?ISPs will have to adapt to this increasing demand. They will find it hard to keep up with an expanding subscriber base and must therefore spend a lot of time hardening their servers against hackers,? McFarlane said.
Service providerss will face more challenges to make money as they realise there is no profit in merely providing access. Customers will demand more for their #10 per month, ?Companies must move from providing access to creating new value added services. These include a universal inbox, business outsourcing and Web hosting. Business services is one of the biggest money making opportunities.? said McFarlane.
McFarlane warned that there is great threat as well as opportunity for any company acting as ?middlemen?. ?Everyone knows there is money to be made companies must be aware that there are tough decisions ahead. ISPs that stay with access will go out of business, those that move to hosting and value added services will survive.?
To get more people accessing the Internet from anywhere, companies must cater for individual needs and McFarlane sees a huge revenue opportunity for a cross over of services. ?Convergence with telephone companies will be the next major breakthrough,? he said.
McFarlane urged companies to look at more innovative ways to deliver services to this new range of devices, ?I expect to see new ISP services where customers can access email, and so on, from a central site. A kind of one-stop-shop where all messages and other information can be accessed by voice, text, and so on.?
This idea of a personal Web space of users was addressed earlier in the conference by Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee (VNU Newswire, 3 September). It is an area on the Web where customers can keep both private and networked information, safely and securely, which can be accessed from anywhere in the world.
The space could also be used to notify the user of relevant events and, according to McFarlane, some companies are already moving towards this, ?Portals have this as a goal,? he said.
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