And Then There Were Three...
Sun Microsystems, Microsoft and Netscape emerged as the key innovators in 1995
P> Every year, Washington Technology assembles a panel of judges to select the best new information technologies introduced into the systems integration market the previous year. The panel this year consisted of C.Y. (Chip) Bumgardner, vice president at BTG Inc. ; Hank Philcox, chief information officer, DynCorp; Ray F. Cherry, director, advanced systems applications, CACI International; and Jude E. Franklin, vice president, chief technology officer, PRC Inc. These individuals get paid to evaluate new technologies for companies that build complex information systems for public- and private-sector clients.
In addition to their three selections, we have also chosen two products as editor's choice awards. These awards go to Informix Software Inc. for its Universal Server and to Digital Equipment Corp. for its 64-bit AlphaServer. The editors at WT deemed both products as key enabling technologies for the many advanced applications customers are attempting to build.
Finally, in the spirit of Edison, we have selected a new and relatively obscure product called Instant Index for honorable mention. This product comes from the mind of a brilliant inventor in Ashburn, Va., who has developed an automatic text indexing technology that blows the electrons off the competition.
A puff of smoke emerged from 8500 Leesburg Pike at 7:02 p.m. on April 19, 1996. Here, in the heart of Washington's high-tech community, a panel of four judges concluded a two-hour effort to name the most important information technologies introduced in 1995.
They discussed dozens of candidates, but in the end three technologies emerged: Netscape (now in its third generation), Sun Microsystems' Java programming language and Windows 95.
Some technologies were more innovative and others more technically elegant. But none had nearly the impact on the systems integration market as these products. Though many panelists criticized the technologies they eventually chose, they also realized that by the yardstick of market impact, they could choose no others.
The lesson here may be the old clich? that customers are always right -- regardless of whether they want the best available technology. If the customer wants a system using Java applets, Windows 95 clients and Netscape browsers, then the integrator should figure out how to make it all work.
We excerpt below our panelists' discussion, which covers everything from advances in encryption to Iomega's removable Zip drives. Their comments also provide insight into technology thinking at some of the more sophisticated integrators in town.
Hardware is Boring...
Cherry: I rejected hardware, which is all boring. The Pentium could have gotten a prize. Power PC -- that's just all the Mac bigots striking back.
Philcox: The 330 megahertz Alpha -- I don't know how boring that is. That's pretty impressive.
Cherry: It's cool, but it didn't actually impact us. And the reason it didn't was that we have an NT-on-Intel kind of mentality -- for better or for worse for our servers. What would probably impact us more would be the Quad Pentium servers rather than the Alpha. Now I think Alpha's cool -- personally.
Philcox: That's why I mentioned that my first choice was the Quad P-6s.
Cherry: But the Alpha could get it next year. More of the software is supporting Alpha. My list: Windows 95 came out last year. That had a tremendous impact on us. Borland's Delphi came out last year. On the cool people of the company, it had a tremendous impact. The reason it had tremendous impact on the cool people was that Visual Basic and all the rest of that stuff was not particularly strong object-wise. Java got my booby prize. And Secure Sockets (from Microsoft). Two-way paging was interesting, but it didn't really make a big difference. You could see it emerging last year, but in the business that we do, it hasn't made an impact yet. Oh, we have to add Netscape to that list.
WT: So most of what we're talking about here is software?
Cherry: The only hardware I would put down is the BMW 735I -- for all the people who made a million dollars in Internet pursuits last year. If you look at the list that we have, except for a couple of things, we didn't mention any hardware.
Philcox: Most of what we've got here are software developments and tools. [With all these tools and security] the Internet is becoming an alternative for wide area communications.
Cherry: Actually, it's becoming an alternative for telephones as well. And that happened last year. It's almost like Internet: The second Wave. Internet kicks butt. Internet takes over. All our ideas are centered around security, ubiquity, costs going down. You know, some of our customers are throwing away some of their WANs and just going straight to TCP/IP. And they're hooking up a T1 line and saying forget all this other stuff.
Philcox: You can buy a $9.95 hookup from CompuServe and open up your whole telecommunications capability if you can deal with the security issue.
Cherry: And as long as you have CompuServe, they issued a kit about a month ago to do your own Web page. The software [isn't very good], but the concept is very strong.
WT: Maybe the story here is that the Internet wins?
Cherry: The intranet threw away the LAN because everything became TCP/IP-based -- both inside the company and then going outside the company and between companies. That's what was so nice about Windows 95 -- everything was TCP/IP. We've been throwing away most of our other interfaces. I can't even remember what they are because TCP/IP has taken over as the dominant standard.
Philcox: That's right.
WT: So we should give the award to the Advanced Research Projects Agency for developing TCP/IP?
Franklin: There are a lot of reasons why you should give ARPA a lot of things.
Cherry: Internet is like the telephone is now. It is the No. 1 focus of all the security. Its protocol -- TCP/IP -- has become dominant. The good question would be, 'What will follow Internet?' You want the answer? Data is dirt cheap right now, at $235 per gigabyte. Next year or two, communication throughput is dirt cheap.
Franklin: This time next year, the whole Telecommunications Act and some of the repercussions will start coming through. I think it will be a big deal.
Cherry: There's another trend for next year. There's hardware and software being built for intellectual property sales. You send electronic money, you get a chapter of a book. After you buy 8 of 12 chapters, you own the whole book. I think that problem [will] be solved next year. That [will] be a real interesting trend to watch.
Franklin: You also must start thinking about some of these tools helping in a couple of areas. Things [must] happen in the man-machine interface to start to improve it. There are a lot more people who don't know how to use a computer than do. Even people who have Ph.D.s in computer science really don't want to do the nasty work anymore. They did it once, they got the Ph.D., and to hell with it. They want to do easy things. I don't read any manuals. I expect to have everything very easy. It should be so that my wife, the nurse, can jump on it and start to use it. [Today] it's Windows, icons, mouse, point-and-click. We've got to do better than that. That's 20 years old.
WT: What are your production selections, Mr. Bumgardner?
Bumgardner: I had Netscape as one and two -- both versions. One, because it was the first mass-produced browser that's technically viable. The second version because it really turned into a development platform. And I had Java as third. Another one that may not in itself be significant, but because it was the first was the Vocaltec Internet phone. Most everything else dims in comparison. Just as an example, I've got Windows 95, NT, Iomega Zip drive...Windows 95 -- from my point of view -- it's the first one that's sort of usable. It's almost as easy as the Macintosh. Apple's dead. Short them and Novell. They waited too long to jump on the [TCP/IP] bandwagon.
WT: What about Windows 95?
Cherry: In the place I work, the No. 1 thing about Windows 95 that everybody likes is that it's easy to hook up Internet applications. And also -- to avoid Novell software, that's another reason we like it.
Philcox: That's a reason we like Windows 95 -- particularly those plug-and-play things....
Cherry: Plug and pray.... The No. 1 thing at our shop is really the Internet connectivity.
Franklin: I would almost put the Internet technology package as an umbrella. I just came from a group of guys in the intelligence community. Other than their fear of the virus part of it, they were very enthusiastic about the fact that they could bundle [Internet technology] together real fast.
Cherry: But notice the people who are enthusiastic about Java don't know [anything] about software. There's never been a single big application in Java. And if there ever is one, it won't work because it's too slow.
Philcox: What is fascinating to me is that Java as a product has warts all over the place. The concept of downloadable software applications, of machine-independent download, was what Java achieved.
Cherry: It's like the Gartner Group. Gartner [looks at] the early adopter [of new technology]. The early providers make the money. Then the technology goes down the toilet, but they're all millionaires.
WT: But as a practical matter, your companies face demands from customers for the hottest, greatest, next big thing, and Java is perceived as that.
Philcox: Right. Java right now is perceived as that.
Cherry: We're actually under contract to deliver Java code.
WT: So Java gets an award?
Philcox: My feeling is Internet as a broad category [should be chosen]. There are probably some sub-categories that deserve some attention -- like Web browsers, security products. Java fits in as the Web page development tools....
Franklin: Search engines, too. One of the problems we're looking at in a research and development program is an intelligent navigator for the Internet. We're kind of afraid that the way the technology is going, we [won't] beat the commercial people. We're not going as fast as they are. We'll need to look at a boutique kind of add-on.
Cherry: There is another big trend that started last year. Data warehousing started to take off. Remember all the AI [artificial intelligence] guys that kind of disappeared in the woodwork? They're back... in part [with] data warehousing, which is taking the old data in funny formats and mining it to get into the data warehouse format. My prediction for the next year is that the AI people come back as part of the data warehousing trend.
Franklin: One of the specifics I didn't talk about is a thing called intelligent agents that's really an important, hot research topic. But people are seeing it being applied now to do intelligent searches, in retrievals, in all kinds of interactive applications.
WT: Which other technology areas do you think are interesting now?
Philcox: There are some really interesting search engines. That category is one in which there could be some really dynamite products. This new issue of removable storage [is also critical]. The Iomega jazz drive that's come out now with one gigabyte of removable storage really changes the whole storage issue for a lot of us.
One thing that I thought was an interesting development was global positioning satellites. You can actually attach a device to an object and track it in real-time, regardless of where it goes.
Cherry: All of a sudden, security and the Internet have taken off. Remember the acquisition Microsoft wanted to make that didn't happen? Well, there are about a half dozen banks on the Internet now. That's what security's bought you.
Philcox: It's not mature enough yet, but next year you'll see security take off.
Cherry: Mixed with standards. My prediction is that Microsoft -- the next version of the Windows office products -- I bet everything will be linked in [with security]. And what's interesting is that Notes has supported RSA [security standard] for a long time. Which not only gives you encryption, it gives you the non-repudiation, digital signatures and all the rest of that public key stuff. Clipper ought to be a major booby prize. It hasn't died yet. They're still talking escrow. What they have finally done is agree that perhaps what is more feasible is the commercial key-escrow concept. You allow a company to manage its own certificate system rather than have the government have the escrow key.
Cherry: Isn't [Stephen Walker, president of Trusted Information Systems, Glenwood, Md.] involved in that?
Philcox: TIS, yes. They are offering that with their gauntlet firewall package.
Philcox: That is a really neat concept that TIS has come up with. There ought to be some recognition of that in the security arena because firewalls are an important issue. There are a lot of people developing intranets right now. But they're afraid to hook it up to that Internet gateway. The firewall offers one means of getting around it. Ultimately, I think the answer here is digital signature, end-to-end encryption capabilities.
Cherry: Microsoft announced last week a security development kit, and they're teamed with RSA to do this. Which means the developer can all of a sudden have all this secure stuff working on his computer, which ties into security standards. Also, another thing to take into consideration [is that] Mastercard and Visa agreed on a security standard. So all of a sudden, you have standards coming together on the Internet. You have almost free tools supporting it. The technology of the year clearly has to be Internet. And our computer police are going crazy. They don't want to support anything new. And last year, everything came out new.
WT: That must be good for the integrators? Things are complex again.
Franklin: It is.
Cherry: Hey, our customers are demanding all sorts of things they read in magazines. And they're getting a chance to get them this year, as far as the Internet goes.
WT: So let's come to agreement here: If you had to choose three particular products, which of the ones we've discussed would they be? Is Netscape one of them?
WT: Windows 95?
All except Franklin: Yes
Franklin: The Mac in me just can't say yes. Intellectually, yes. But the soul says no.
Bumgardner: I don't care what you guys say, but Java's going to be there, too.
WT: So are we all agreed that Netscape, Windows 95 and Java are the winners?