The power-user of the future will be mobile and nearly spam-free; he or she will communicate and collaborate seamlessly with friends and colleagues, sending text, multimedia files and even spectacularly rendered photographs across secure wired and wireless networks as quickly and easily as sending an e-mail is today. Think Flash Gordon meets Inspector Gadget.
That's the vision of the future offered up by a number of innovative products, including several showcased at the recent Demo 2003 conference. These products ran the gamut in enterprise and consumer computing, including products for e-mail and collaboration, security, managing IT assets, device computing and multimedia.
As always, the flashiest technologies were more consumer-focused. But there were plenty of exciting developments in the enterprise space as well. Although the overall start-up climate may be bleak and the enterprise-software space still is ruled by very large companies, there's still plenty of room for smaller players to make some noise. For example, Euclid, San Jose, Calif., a leading provider of IT management applications, offers BizSmart Service Blueprint, a tool that organizes and consolidates information to facilitate decision-making and create a more cost-effective IT environment. BizSmart's dashboard is an automated iconic console that can be personalized, providing CEOs, CTOs or IT staff with business-centric views of IT services and changes.
Palo Alto, Calif.-based VMWare solves a similar problem with a different methodology. Its VMWare SMP product allows multiple processors to run over a single OS and common memory and I/O resources. By enabling companies to deploy its database, ERP, e-mail and other applications in secure virtual machines, VMWare is fulfilling its vision of "making it useful to bring full virtual machines to industry-standard hardware and operating systems," says VMWare president and CEO Diane Greene. "We're helping our enterprise customers save up to 75 percent of their operational costs."
VIEO, an adaptive application infrastructure management (AAIM) company out of Austin, Texas, unveiled its VIEO 1000 AAIM appliance, which weds application-aware networking hardware with intelligent AAIM software, delivering a product that tracks, monitors and reallocates network traffic. At the Demo show, VIEO vice president of marketing Steve Harriman detailed a scenario in which an online children's retailer offered a promotion that drew unprecedented traffic to its site, crashing it and the company's online store. Placing the VIEO 1000 on the network made the resource adjustments automatically, provisioning additional Web servers and bandwidth. "Even though their traffic increased tenfold, the network's performance stayed within acceptable levels," Harriman says. "It optimizes resources instead of just monitoring them, and it saved the company about $600,000 in revenue in a 24-hour period."
Meanwhile, San Francisco-based Laszlo Systems is helping the Web realize its long-awaited collaborative promise. Its Presentation Server couples desktop usability with the robustness of server-based deployment to create a more fluid Internet. "The Web wasn't designed to accommodate applications; it's built around linked pages and documents," says Laszlo founder and CTO David Temkin. Presentation Server provides a console that includes all users' tasks into a single window, enabling them, for example, to conduct a chat session or play an MP3 file without exiting the browser and opening an application in another window.
The last link in the chain of new enterprise software products is Web services. San Mateo, Calif.-based Dorado's Realtor ChannelMaster is a demand-chain management tool that combines the steps of a real-estate transaction, thus increasing revenue for each member in the process. What starts as a lead for a real-estate agent can flow into a mortgage application, credit-card approval and appraisal request, all conducted over a secure environment.
"Before this, the systems were adjacent but not together, so you couldn't flow a customer's mortgage information into real-estate marketing sites," says Joe Jennings, Dorado president.
Similarly, AptSoft, a Burlington, Mass., maker of business-process management (BPM) software, coordinates isolated IT systems and helps companies to react fluidly to business developments. In one example, the notice of a bank customer's request for a change of address could notify its mortgage department, which could inquire whether the customer was interested in buying a mortgage; or an employer change could trigger the bank's investment department to offer an IRA rollover. "Why couldn't this happen before? Data," says Barry Briggs, AptSoft CTO.
Other products at the show addressed messaging and collaboration. Bloomba is an e-mail program from San Mateo, Calif.-based Stata Labs that resolves e-mail overload and spam, primarily through an enhanced-search feature that makes it easier to index and locate e-mail using specific search terms. The program also has a "spring cleaning" feature that gets rid of unwanted e-mail quickly and easily. "E-mail clients have been pretty stagnant for the past 10 years, but we save people 15 to 20 minutes a day," says Stata Labs founder and CTO Raymie Stata. Also promising in the collaborative space: Lincoln, Mass.-based Kubi Software's Kubi Client, a solution that helps co-workers share documents, contacts and tasks all across e-mail.
Another much-discussed topic was spam prevention,a problem that will cost corporations almost $10 billion this year. Two entrants into the antispam camp: Mail Frontier's AntiSpam Gateway filtering product for the enterprise, which creates and tracks profiles based on messaging patterns; and Cloudmark's Authority, which uses a predictive Bayesian engine to help stop spam at the e-mail gateway.
Wireless networks also have enormous potential. Navini Networks, Richardson, Texas, offers its WAN PCMCIA card, and San Francisco's Vivato has developed a 2.4-GHz Indoor Wi-Fi Switch, which has a range of up to 300 meters.
Although some have bemoaned the state of innovation, the truth is, it's as strong and focused as ever,and some of these new technologies may just be the Next Big Thing.