Web searches to gain smart user interface

Web sites capable of running intelligent interfaces that automatically adapt to individual user preferences may come a step closer this week with the launch of a developer's kit from new Californian company Selectica.

Web sites capable of running intelligent interfaces that automatically adapt to individual user preferences may come a step closer this week with the launch of a Java-based developer's kit from Santa Clara, California, start-up Selectica. Selectica's toolset draws on an artificial-intelligence technology to provide flexible, adaptive database access.

The company's forthcoming SRx development tools are based on object-oriented data access engines. The engines allow developers to deploy applications that execute transactions against existing back-end databases but present the data through flexible, customisable interfaces that immediately change depending on a user's selection criteria.

For example, a network manager could browse a vendor's site and explore the relative cost of particular network scenarios configured with different numbers of routers, switches and hubs. The user interface could automatically adjust to graphically display those scenarios in a variety of formats, and, once the final selection was made, the purchase could be entered in a relational database.

The start-up will initially target developers of Web applications, such as electronic commerce applications, who until now have been trying to develop these types of capabilities primarily using low-level C++ and Java code.

Selectica's SRx engines include the SRx Pro client-based Java applet and its SRx Lite client-side subset, as well as the SRx Server as the server-side Java application. Next month Selectica will ship a software developer's kit based on SRx Pro.

"We provide developers with an API into the knowledge base, along with examples and specifications for how the knowledge base should be organized," says Sanjay Mittal, chief technical officer of Selectica.

The company's first product, the SDK-100 SRx Developer's Kit, consists of the SRx Pro client engine, a Java-based graphical user interface toolkit; a client-side SRx API for graphical front ends created with other tools; an ODBC API, and a knowledge-base API. A server-side software developer's kit will enter beta testing in October and ship in December. The SDK-100 is priced at US$10,000 for a developer license and US$5000 for additional licences.

"It could have merit in Internet commerce," says Stan Dolberg, an analyst with Forrester Research, a market research company in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

However, the tools market's current heavyweights agree that there is a need for intelligent toolsets. "We understand that it's an important aspect of Web application design and there's more to be done on that side," says Bill Bartow, the development tools product marketing manager at the Powersoft Business Group of Sybase.

"The challenge for a start-up like Selectica is to clearly define a solution to a specific problem," says Clay Ryder, an analyst with Zona Research, in Redwood City, California. "In general, this kind of artificial-intelligence, rules-based interface could also benefit network configuration and management, help desk and HR applications," Ryder says.

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