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Hafner, Katie. A fix for info overload: has surfing the Net become a
     full-time  job; sit back and relax while new software does the
     legwork for  you. In Newsweek Oct 21 1996, v128, n17, p49(1). 


Imagine that every time you wanted to read the sports page of your    
favorite newspaper you first had to walk to your local library, go to 
the periodicals room and then wade through an index of week-old       
editions until you found the one you needed. Then you had to wait 10  
minutes or so while the librarian found the time to go to the actual  
newspaper and physically move it to a table where you could read it.  
The Internet was supposed to make getting information easier - and    
faster. But in practice, using the Web can be so slow and awkward     
that you might wonder why you ever invested in a modem.               
                                                                      
Last week, Marimba Inc., a white-hot Silicon Valley start-up,         
launched a new technology that promises to end the long waits and     
frustration that often make surfing the Net about as exciting as      
watching the tide change. The company is riding a trend to "push"     
information at Internet users, instead of forcing them to go out and  
download it themselves. The best-known of these so-called push        
services today is the PointCast Network, which works like a screen    
saver - only instead of flying toasters, you get up-to-the-minute     
news. Marimba's technology, a software product called Castanet (get   
it?), will let any company create a "channel" of information - giving 
the wired masses the information they want, when they want it.        
                                                                      
Net users are definitely pulling for the push concept. More than 1.5  
million people have already signed onto PointCast's free service      
since its debut in February. After you've downloaded a small piece of 
software - similar to a Web browser - onto your hard drive, PointCast 
in effect knows where you live. The software contacts the PointCast   
server in Cupertino, Calif., which in turn sends a more or less       
continuous stream of data containing headlines, weather, sports       
scores, stock quotes-and, of course, ads - to your PC. Once this kind 
of two-way contact is established, it's not unlike traditional        
broadcasting - tweaked to exploit the interactivity of the Internet.  
You tailor-fit the frequency of updates and type of news to suit your 
needs. For people who "subscribe" to the service from work, where     
corporate T1 lines often provide a 24-hour open spigot of Net access, 
tuning into the PointCast Network can be just like turning on your    
radio and letting it play in the background an day.                   
                                                                      
It's a great idea, and several companies - relative unknowns like     
Intermind, BackWeb, Free-Loader and Cognisoft among them - are        
prepared to run with it. But Marimba, formed eight months ago by four 
renegades from Sun Microsystems' original java development team, may  
have the best answer. The Castanet technology will allow any company  
to offer a PointCast-like service, without being tied to PointCast    
itself. With Castanet, Marimba sells companies a "transmitter" for    
sending out information. Users install a Castanet "tuner," then       
select from different "channels." MGM Interactive, one of the early   
testers of Castanet, plans to offer seven entertainment programs      
including multi-media soap operas on its channel.                     
                                                                      
One of the most intriguing aspects of Castanet is that it can deliver 
actual applications - and update old software on the fly through the  
Internet. This is a much more difficult task than just sending bits   
of text, sound and video to your PC. What this means is that a        
company like Smith Barney could, for example, send you a software     
program through the Internet that allows you to take advantage of its 
sophisticated number-crunching tools to manage your personal stock    
portfolio. Three months from now, the company could update the        
program with the lastest algorithms - installing itself automatically 
on your hard drive. New features, like an investment-trend tracker,   
would seem to magically appear the next time you booted up.           
                                                                      
The best indication that Marimba's on to something is that Microsoft  
is already knocking on its door. "What we've talked to them about is  
exactly what's on our Web site, no more, no less," says Marimba       
president Kim Polese. But, she adds, "it's conceivable that the timer 
could be bundled with Internet Explorer ... or Netscape Navigator."   
In plain English, that means your sports section may soon be "pushed" 
to a desktop near you.                                                
                                                                      
COPYRIGHT 1996 Newsweek Inc.