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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.