Experts debate Internet future

A panel of experts at Seybold San Francisco 1996 agree that the popularity of the Internet is straining the infrastructure, but disagree on whether it would, or even should, be fixed.

A panel of experts at Seybold San Francisco 1996 agree that the popularity of the Internet is straining the infrastructure, but disagree on whether it would, or even should, be fixed. "We haven't got the will to solve the problem yet," Robert Norton, typographic engineer at Microsoft, says. "New people are coming in faster than people are getting bored with it."

But at this time, network overload is not the biggest problem facing the future of the Internet, Norton says. "The Internet won't suffer as a failing of infrastructure. It will suffer as a failing of content," he says, describing Web sites as "static" and "self-indulgent."

"The Web has been abandoned by so many people who don't have time to burn," he says.

Joining Norton on the sceptical side of the debate was Mark Stahlman, president of New Media Associates who criticises efforts to turn the Internet into a next-generation TV-type entertainment medium. "PCs have not been an economic boon," he says, adding that PCs have resulted in a decline in productivity, not an increase. The reason personal computers "have been successful is because they make life more amusing," Stahlman says. "This is all really about entertainment."

But, "attempts to turn the Internet into a television network will fail," he says. "Not for the technology, but because people won't want it."

Defending the Internet and the direction it is taking was John Gage, director of science at Sun. He argues that the Internet is making life easier and more fun for people, that the infrastructure limitations will be overcome and that so-called Internet devices will help breathe new life into the global network.

The Internet community will increase bandwidth and "get the pieces together because the demand will be so high", he says. "One of the reasons this will be fixed is because it alters the economics of retail -- banking and moving money."

Contributing to the bandwidth problems is the way ISPs (Internet service providers) are connected to each other through crumbling plumbing, according to Kim Polese, CEO of Marimba. But the ISPs and others will band together to resolve the issue by "retrofitting" the Internet pipelines, she says. And "people will get smarter in the way they use the bandwidth".

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