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Author: peterwenker Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: of 549  
Subject: question: 'net based computing Date: 3/5/2000 10:48 PM
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Hello,

I'm imagining an "important, emerging industry" that I would like to participate in from both consumer and investor points of view. I'll describe it below, and then I'm going to ask for your help: I need to know if there are any companies anyone knows of operating in this space. Just one thing: as you read this, please don't conclude I'm looking for "Application Service Providers" too quickly, because I'm pretty sure that's not what I'm looking for, for reasons I'll outline later. OK, here's what I'm looking for:

Consumer-oriented, Internet-based computing is an emerging industry that I believe will displace the PC-based computing model. The problem with the PC model is that it chains electronic documents and programs to a physical location: wherever your PC is sitting. As a result, the document you're working on at the office isn't accessible from your home PC, unless you mail it to yourself, put it on a disk, etc. (inconvenient, and besides - if you forget a document you're stuck). What's needed is a mechanism that provides access to all your programs and documents, no matter what device you use to access them, and no matter where you access them from. This would make people's lives easier and more productive by enabling them to have access to their electronic documents and programs no matter where they are.

(The laptop PC does not solve this problem, because nobody wants to lug a laptop around; they're still too big. The Personal Digital Assistant model does not solve this problem, because sometimes you just gotta have a bigger screen and a real keyboard/mouse.)

There are four enabling technologies needed to bring about this industry:
1. An Internet-based, globally accessible filesystem
2. A mechanism to separate the content of electronic documents from the presentation/device used to view/interact with them
3. Internet based applications
4. An Internet-based "desktop"

Details:
"An Internet-based, globally accessible filesystem":
This just means a mechanism consumers can use to:
a) store their electronic documents in an Internet-accessible location
b) retrieve their electronic documents from any Internet device
...so instead of saving to the c: drive on your PC, you'd save it to a computer somewhere on the Internet, e.g. /INTERNET/docstorage_com/joeschmoe/joe_doc1.txt. In this example, there's a company (I just made up the name) called docstorage.com that specializes in storing
electronic documents on computers accessible over the Internet. To open the document later, you'd click on an "Internet" icon and navigate to the file same as you do with Windows Explorer.

2. "A mechanism to separate the content of electronic documents from the presentation/device used to view/interact with them":
This technology is already developed and deployed: it's called Extensible Markup Language, or XML. It's an enhancement to the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML),
the language used to create Web pages. XML is different from HTML because it allows the programmer to separate the content of an Internet document from its presentation. That means a Word document will have all the whiz-bang, full-screen formatting if it's opened with Windows, and it will appear as a simpler, text-only document if it's accessed with a smaller device like an Internet-enabled cell phone or a pager. The ramification of this technology is that any electronic document can be viewed with any computing device.

3. "Internet based applications":
The problem with PC-based computer applications is the consumer has to install, upgrade and de-install the programs herself. This costs time and is often a frustrating activity. Also, applications available on an office PC may not be available on a home PC, or they may be different versions, etc. What's needed is globally accessible (Internet-based) computer applications, so you can always have your favorite word
processor no matter what computer you use. I envision a company that hosts these applications on their Internet-accessible computers, and collects fees from consumers that use or download them. In addition, these companies could allow programmers to "post" applications on their site. The programmers would get a fee when a consumer uses their application, and the business would get a portion of the fee. (For you techies, this could all be CORBA or RMI-based.)

4. "An Internet-based 'desktop'":
Basically this is a personalized Web site you log into when you want to work with your computer applications. It replaces the PC desktop with an Internet-based place to store "bookmarks" for your browser (ever bookmark a site at the office, then want to access the site from your home PC - but you couldn't access the bookmark from your home PC, because it's physically stored at the office PC?), browser "cookies" (ever notice your home PC doesn't know about the URL's you've visited using your work PC?) and also has links you customize for news, weather, sports, stock info, documents you commonly work with, email, etc.

So far I'm not aware of any company that's attempting to group all these technologies into a cohesive whole, but different companies are attacking parts of the puzzle:
1. You can store documents at yahoo.com, driveway.com, some others, although the interfaces are clunky and it takes a long time to store the documents.
2. You can store favorite Web links at hotlinks.com, some others.
3. Java-based applets are becoming more and more powerful, and are a mechanism that can be used to supply applications to PC's on the fly. This may one day be a powerful enough mechanism to supply word processing programs, etc. to Internet devices.
4. XML use is spreading rapidly
5. Consumers have had the capability to create customized Web pages for some time now, although none that I'm aware of can replace everything the PC desktop currently accomplishes.

I hope will all come together soon, because I want my phone numbers, my work documents, my Internet bookmarks, everything - accessible to view and manipulate no matter where I am - so I'm sure lots of others do as well.

OK, here's why I think I'm not looking for "Application Service Providers": they seem to be focused on outsourcing big business applications for big businesses: Accounting, Human Resources, Enterprise Resource Planning, Warehousing etc. What I'm looking for is a company or group of companies that are after the "little" applications: word processing, spreadsheets, personal financial software, games etc.

Mostly what I'm looking for is companies that make everyday Office-type applications dynamically accessible from a Web site, and collect fees from consumers that use them either over the Web site or by downloading them. (It's important that the applications are dynamically accessible, because that means a subscriber could open up a favorite word processing program and manipulate his documents from *any* compatible computer - at a friend's house, hotel room, airport etc.)

If they also allow independant programmers to post applications on their site and share in the revenue from their usage, that's a plus.

Can any of you good folks help me by identifying any such companies? Thanks --Peter

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