Too much Sun? Vendor off mark on web services

Blame it on the Los Angeles smog. Sun Microsystems' presentation at this month's Spring Internet World of its 'Next Wave of the Net' was wrapped in the kind of technology haze that belies the reality of everyday IT and business.

Blame it on the Los Angeles smog. Sun Microsystems' presentation at this month's Spring Internet World of its "Next Wave of the Net" was wrapped in the kind of technology haze that belies the reality of everyday IT and business.

That's strange, because George Paolini, Sun's vice president of marketing, served up a clear analysis of where seb services for corporate users is headed.

It's as if he gave great driving directions but in the end, never had the correct street address.

On the software front, it's obvious we're moving from big applications to service components, which is changing the way software is developed and deployed.

We're witnessing a move from multiple platforms to a network of shared services incorporating technologies such as Bluetooth and WAP. Finally, there's hope for some basic protocols for the delivery of web services using TCP/IP, network file sharing, HTML, SSL, LDAP, Java and ebXML.

As a result, you might assume that IT vendors like Sun would grasp that we desire incremental IT change and improvements rather than some new layer of file access.

Indeed, the popularity of cellphones, pagers and PDAs should push efforts for network standards, giving IT managers the access and control they enjoy on the desktop.

How, then, to explain the business appeal of Sun ONE Webtop, part of the "Next Wave" strategy?

It's designed as a standard browser with nothing installed. Paolini showed how to access Word and Excel files; the files can be exchanged, modified and generally used as if the application were installed, all in real time.

It's a web service, but where's the pressing need?

Moving from a read-only to a read-and-write internet is a tech high-five, but what's the monetary or management benefit to IT? Imagine the potential problems of having to be online in order to use a basic word-processing application.

Instead, can't web services focus on policy-based provisioning tools and automated help desk functionality, with better security and tracking tools that integrate with legacy systems? How will accessing Word and Excel files make intranet and server management easier?

It just isn't essential, and while perhaps Paolini sees IT managers roaming the country worrying about how to get rid of desktop applications, most are fielding phone calls, attending meetings and answering e-mails.

His demonstration showed a road warrior armed with nothing more than a Palm VII or a WAP-enabled phone accessing Word and Excel documents in real time.

But that's the current problem.

Vendors are trying to sell to end users, who are easily wooed by newfangled technology. We swallowed new technologies in the '90s because end users said, "We need this for our job."

It's time to start using what we have, rather than embracing a new networked application strategy just because that's what Sun can deliver.

Pimm Fox is Computerworld US' West Coast bureau chief. Contact him at pimm_fox@computerworld.com.

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