The Future Of The Web - InformationWeek
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10/14/2005
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The Future Of The Web

Speeding up Route 101 on a sunny October afternoon from Mountain View, Calif., to San Francisco, InformationWeek reporters Aaron Ricadela and Thomas Claburn hurried back to the office after hearing Google talk up a new partnership with Sun Microsystems. With Ricadela at the wheel, Claburn banged out a news story on his laptop. The reason for their rush: The next few days were booked with press conferences and back-to-back meetings. Fifteen conference-issued meals and 30 cups of coffee later, the

The Old Web Meets The New

Tuesday, Oct. 4, 10:30 a.m., the Computer History Museum, Mountain View, Calif.

I fall in with a gaggle of reporters, public-relations handlers, and computer-industry types filing into a packed ballroom at the Computer History Museum. Scott McNealy, CEO at Sun Microsystems and a prominent member of the industry's old establishment, and Eric Schmidt, CEO at Google, the industry's high-flying company, are about to uncork the details of a new partnership. Camera crews gear up to capture the press conference. Internet pioneer Vint Cerf, who joined Google last month, sits in the front row, dignified as usual in a three-piece suit. He stands and gives the audience a wave.

For an aging Unix vendor most famous for its Java development language, it has come down to this. Desperate for revenue and to reclaim some excitement for Sun, McNealy turned to an old friend, former Sun executive Schmidt. Sun, they explain, will include Google's Web-search toolbar with every download of its Java run-time environment, and Google will promote StarOffice, the productivity software Sun bought six years ago to try to compete with Microsoft.


Scott McNealy, Sun's CEO, and Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO

Scott McNealy, Sun's CEO, and Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO

Photo Courtesy Sun Microsystems
Schmidt worked at Sun from 1983 to 1997. The gig at Google puts him at the top of the heap--Google's rapid-fire development style and investment in everything from search engines, desktop apps, and wireless networks to Internet phone calls and even scientific research with NASA has the industry watching. The company probably comes the closest to the idea of a next-generation Internet that's not just a collection of Web sites but a global computing platform for application and information distribution, supplanting the traditional client-server model.

"This is a big deal," McNealy says of the partnership. "We, a long time ago, were pretty hot. We were the dot in dot-com. ... We want to get it back." (Later that day I check their stock prices: Google, $318; Sun, $4.)

They bring onstage Sun co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim, a tall, sandy-haired German who invested $100,000 in Google in 1998 and rejoined Sun two years ago. Bechtolsheim shows off Sun's new Galaxy, which he calls a "hot" server that smokes Intel-based machines. "Cool," McNealy corrects him. It's the low power consumption that Sun hopes Google will find appealing and purchase by the truckload.

After the event, I head down to the museum lobby with my colleague Tom Claburn to meet with Google group product manager Sundar Pichai. We ask what productivity software Google's employees use. He looks at his PR person. She shakes her head sideways. He declines to comment. We ask about Google's plan for weaving together its scattershot projects. He responds, "We truly believe in bringing information to users in as many forms as possible." I get the sense that Google managers aren't asked how their projects fit a larger strategy. --Aaron Ricadela ([email protected])

Users In Control

Tuesday, Oct. 4, 4 p.m., InformationWeek's West Coast bureau, San Francisco

I meet with Steve Ellis, the founder and CEO of Pump Audio LLC, who's in town for Web 2.0, a conference focused on the development of a next-generation Internet that starts the following day. To use Web jargon, Pump Audio is a content aggregator: It licenses independent artists' music to companies such as HBO, IBM, MTV, and Nike for use in television and multimedia projects.

"There are a lot of great and talented musicians out there who have no opportunity," says Ellis, a sharply dressed British expat.The average half-hour television show has 30 pieces of music, Ellis says, and not all of those compositions can come from expensive, name-brand stars. A former musician himself, he launches into a discourse about recording artists getting screwed over by record labels.

One of the things that's interesting about Pump Audio is its open business model. A defining characteristic of the next-generation Web ideal is that users control their data. Musicians seeking Pump Audio's representation can submit their music at no cost and retain ownership of their publishing and master copyrights. But it's not totally open; Pump Audio selects which musicians get on the site. "You can't just have any old rubbish up there," Ellis explains. The arrangement is nonexclusive, so artists can continue to seek other deals. This is decidedly contrary to the norms of the music industry, where musicians often are locked into long-term, exclusive contracts and generally sell the ownership of their music for advances paid back to their record company out of future revenue.

Pump Audio already represents about 10,000 tunes, and that's just the beginning, Ellis says. "There's an explosion of great content." --Thomas Claburn ([email protected])

A Different Kind Of Web

Wednesday, Oct. 5, 4 p.m., the Argent Hotel, San Francisco

It's opening day of Web 2.0 and the hotel conference room is filling. Conference co-chairman Tim O'Reilly has certainly built up buzz around the conference, even rationing the press passes. I'm in the hotel bar waiting for things to kick off, sorting through the program. In addition to the standard book of speaker bios and session blurbs, O'Reilly has written a 12-page treatise on what version 2.0 of the Web really means. While inhaling hotel-bar pizza, I try to digest its contents.

Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly & Associates; Gary Flake, Yusef Mehdi, and Ray Ozzie of Microsoft; and John Battelle, at the Web 2.0 conference

Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly & Associates; Gary Flake, Yusef Mehdi, and Ray Ozzie of Microsoft; and John Battelle, at the Web 2.0 conference

Photo by James Duncan Davidson/O'Reilly Media Inc.
If you take O'Reilly's analysis at face value, the "Web 2.0" is about lots of things that client-server computing, or even the Internet, for the most part, hasn't been. Instead of pages that load, it's about sites that feel like software. Instead of software that runs in a browser or on a cell phone, it's about apps that span devices. Instead of being all about content from Web producers, it's about content being produced by people everywhere: blogs, wikis, digital photos. Web 2.0 is about viral marketing instead of advertising, though that sounds suspiciously like 1999. And it's about the power of networks and the ability to deliver better results as more people use a service (think Google's search, Amazon .com's ratings, or Technorati's blog commons).

If you're in the business of buying, writing, or managing desktop or Internet software, you would care about whether this vision will fully develop. You might also remember there are a lot of people at this conference who care about puffing up the idea of a Web 2.0 to attract venture-capital money to their latest projects. --Aaron Ricadela

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