PointCast becoming the outcast

The instant, online PointCast news service is running fowl of system administrators who are wondering where all the bandwidth has gone.

Dan Tulledge, an IS manager at AlliedSignal, doesn't mince words when it comes to PointCast. "PointCast is the most insidious application we've seen," Tulledge says. So much so that the Morristown, New Jersey, company -- like many of its peers nationwide -- has forbidden its users from running PointCast.

But his opinion might change. PointCast is a free service that beams nearly continuous news updates over the Internet to off-the-shelf PCs that run Windows 3.1 or better. To view the updates, users just need free software distributed over the Internet by PointCast.

So why the vendetta? PointCast is a bandwidth hog. Every PointCast user has a more-or-less continuous connection to the Internet that provides quick updates of headline news and financial reports. End users love the immediacy. But some information systems managers hate the product; they says a few hundred PointCast users on a corporate network can create enough bandwidth demand to grind the entire network to a halt.

None of that has escaped the attention of PointCast in Cupertino, California. Company officials say they hope wary IS managers will soon start looking upon PointCast as their best pal. The company is readying I-Server, a server-based version of PointCast. I-Server is designed to run inside the corporate firewall and drastically reduce bandwidth requirements for the service.

Cutting the bandwidth demanded by its namesake product could be a big help for PointCast. In a recent study by Zona Research, about a fourth of 110 IS managers contacted said they had developed company policies for regulating PointCast use. Three quarters of those IS managers with PointCast policies simply ban or discourage use of the product because of bandwidth problems.

But with I-Server, rather than having one stream of data coming through the firewall to each PointCast user, the data goes to I-Server inside the firewall and I-Server distributes the data to end users. All that occurs under the control of the company's IS department.

And I-Server can be custom-configured to deliver company news to employees along with the global PointCast mix. The product will be available this week at a cost of US$995. It runs on Windows NT.

I-Server won't affect the way end users use PointCast. PointCast works in the following way: At intervals, the desktop software goes out on the Internet to the PointCast server and downloads news updates. The updates can be viewed by using PointCast's proprietary client software or by loading the information into the Windows screen saver.

With I-Server, the desktop system looks for information on I-Server inside the corporate firewall -- rather than out on the Internet.

PointCast offers several "channels," one each for headline news, news from any of several local newspapers, weather and lifestyle news.

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