Looking to services to drive the Internet forward

Are Web services the key to the future? Everywhere we look, the IT industry is embracing these solutions. Taking some of the load off the application developer’s back and turning this load into services – freeing levels from the applications. Recently, Compaq’s new leadership has come out in support of Web services, and in support of Microsoft’s .Net in particular. New chairman and CEO Michael Capellas took time to visit Toronto recently and Victoria Berry, ComputerWorld Canada products editor, had the opportunity to gain some insight into Compaq’s view on services and other issues affecting the IT industry.

CWC: You’ve come out in support of .Net, calling it the next generation of the Internet. What stands out about this service over others provided by companies such as IBM or HP?

Capellas: What .Net says is that I’m going to take a lot of general services that all applications will require in order to use the Web effectively. For example, when you sign on .Net has a component that allows you to do personalization. It says, “Hi, it’s Michael again,” as you sign on the Web and it knows all the different personal settings, so the personal settings are done in the .Net layer, freeing all that development or customization to be done in the application side.

It will do the first initial screening of security, so it will have a security layer on the front end that application lies to security based on personalization – freeing a security level from the application, it will allow a series of content management – so that some of the caching that needs to be done to deliver things high in graphics will be done independent of the application layer. So what has been done is there’s a series of services which sit in front of the applications, which allow people to roll out Web infrastructures more consistently because you’re not worried about all the different things to do in the application. And application developers can do what they do best and concentrate on functionality of the application and not so much about services.

CWC: How will .Net add to the user interface in Web computing?

Capellas: .Net will manage the user interface better. Richer user interface with the acknowledgement that as we start to write applications, the presentation, how the customer sees it, whether on a BlackBerry, on a cell phone on a pocket PC, it will manage that layer as well. The final piece on that side is it will accept and understand that the application will now be split on different nodes so it will have the ability to manage the application level a little better.

This really is the wave of the future when you have a whole variety of Internet access devices, you have a layer that manages the interaction of that device with the Web itself, you have the application and on the back end you have the big heavy engines which manage the data layer. This is how we’ll design applications in the future. You’ll move huge amounts of new types of things -specifically video streaming. The way we built traditional applications you can’t stream video so you have to use another vehicle to distribute it.

As a former application developer, it’s been the holy grail of application development to load as much of the general services off the application developer and allow as much of that load to be used generally, and then to be able to take the application and say I want to be able to run a piece of the application on all these different servers and I don’t have to worry about scaling an individual server. Different pieces may reside on different pieces of the server.

CWC: You said that content will drive the next generation of the Internet. Which kinds of content do you see as key?

Capellas: Let’s talk about video streaming. For a consumer it’s going to be video movies on demand. It may be peer-to-peer communications where you have instant communications through four-inch video as opposed to instant messaging. In the commercial space, we’ll want to continue to stream video conferencing to large groups of people. This has still not been accepted as great cost savings potential.

We’ll want to be able to stream training videos. There is no question that a user interface is much more effective with four-inch video than can be done on the Web. Things like being able to have a machine operator sitting on the floor asking how to load the next set of tooling. Or if I’ve got a particular problem I can talk to an engineer. There is a possibility of using video to have an expert surgeon in Australia assist in a surgery taking place in the United States. The use is about personal and professional applications. You don’t see Web pages getting simpler – with the use of HTML, XML, Java. The use of simple text is finding it’s way along with the old green screen. I think people will look to audio streaming. The integration of call centres, where you are navigating through screens and then want to speak with someone – we can have audio streamed from the call centre.

We need to put a lot more media on the Web. The library of congress, all manuals on-line, with pictures and assembly instructions.

We are going to want to be able to do the other things we do in Internet speed, and why not? We haven’t even started to tap putting all the stuff and knowledge we have out on the Internet.

Why would you put a CD in the box and have someone install it? There is higher cost and more time and more mistakes, I think it will all become Webified.

CWC: Compaq has noted that it is making a move away from the desktop. As the company falls in line with that philosophy, what kind of role will Linux play?

Capellas: I think there’s no question that Linux from a volume play will continue to have a role in development community, especially in education. It will also have an application role in terms of low cost Web servers. There’s a role in the market for it. This market is clearly customer driven and there is demand, particularly around more departmental level and more development level types of activities. I don’t think it’s a natural incompatibility to say we will support Windows platforms particularly in the commercial environments and Web developer environments and then also support Linux in the more educational and the lighter and more departmental-based services.

CWC: You identified some key areas for focus in the future, including security and privacy. What is Compaq doing to ensure its place in these markets?

Capellas: Compaq has long had a domain heritage in security that comes out of our knowledge of how to run stock exchanges. Nothing requires more in-depth security. We tended to build that knowledge into our high end platforms.

We’re positioning ourselves and trying to influence various government agencies, to get commonality among their approaches to security and privacy. There has to be some education, some commonality driving privacy standards. We’re also building into each one of our application layers security layers. Whether storage, server, wireless or palm level.