The Internet as an operating system, Battle of the Intranet White Papers

We view the Internet as the fourth desktop operating system we have to support after Windows, MacOS, and DOS.
-- Rick Kreysar, VP Marketing for McAfee, at this week's PC Expo

To some extent, Rick is right: the Internet has become a new desktop OS, and savvy vendors such as McAfee have begun to include Internet support in their products. I think this is an important trendlet, and at the show this week I got to see a taste of other products that have begun to extend their desktop focus into the Internet. Even Andy Grove is promoting the concept. Grove mentioned in this week's Fortune cover interview: "The Internet is like a 20-foot tidal wave coming, and we are in kayaks....It is going to lift you and drop you. We're just a step away from the point when every computer is connected to every other computer...."

Having the Internet as a new desktop OS presents all sorts of problems: drivers that don't work with particular applications, longer development cycles for developers who are still supporting other platforms, unpredictable wide-are performance, and managing a mixed operating system environment for corporate network administrators. To some extent, you can give credit to the Unix guys here: they have the jump on all of us in terms of understanding how the Internet works and writing the better apps for it.

A good example is with a new Seattle company, XactLabs, that offers backup using an off-site maintained data store that is accessible via the Internet. I haven't tried it out yet, but the concept is sound and similar to something that I've cobbled together on my own with a few different products and techniques. The notion is to be able to replicate your data from your desktop or LAN server over the Internet and have it just sit there, in case of disaster or accidentally deleted file.

I've been having my own backup blues these days. Ever since the music store downstairs had a fire that knocked them out of business last summer, I've been using Dantz' Retrospect backup software to backup my Macs, Windows and NetWare machines. The trouble is the support for Win95 is still stuck in beta, and I have been looking for something easier that doesn't require me to remember which tape to bring in from home. I'll let you know my progress.

The battle of the Intranet white papers

Within the past week Netscape, Microsoft, and Lotus have all had "Intranet strategy briefings" for reporters. The latter two held actual events, while Netscape held forth with a paper on vision and product roadmap. Microsoft put together the best repurposing of their existing products, Lotus had the best web site in terms of being able to examine the information without needing to go the event, and Netscape had the best future promises for products.

Best commentary: analyst Michael Goulde from Patty Seybold's office was quoted in this week's Communications Week saying that "Microsoft is playing chess while the rest of the industry is playing hockey." For a complete list of where you can find these white papers on the web, check out my Intranet Information page.

For a more cynical perspective, Wired magazine put Intranets at the fourth position on their hype list this month, calling them "a clever kind of shell game going on in MIS departments.... With some quick sleight-of-hand, client/server solutions are disappearing and centralized mainframe systems are coming back. Except this time they're called Intranets."

The most interesting quote of all though was John Dodge's leadoff column in this week's PC Week, saying that he and Mike Moeller came up with a new definition of Intranets as "client/server done right and done fast." I like that one alot: it gets across the real impact of Intranets.

Speaking of PC Week, columnist Peter Coffee gives lots of credit to Netscape, saying that they are "in the business of making holes through the wall that used to stand between users and data.... It's now beginning to puncture the wall between users and applications as well." And that is perhaps the best summation of where the Intranet is at these days.

Awards, Sitekeeping and self-promotions dep't

No awards this week, although I'd give Lotus' Intranet site the nod in terms of doing the best job, web-wise, on the Intranet white paper scene. You can find all sorts of information easily, including customer testimonials and even copies of the Freelance presentations given at their NYC-based briefing.

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David Strom
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