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One That Did and One that Did Not

By: Scott Bradner

In the last few weeks two companies made announcements that showed both the promise and problems of the corporate understanding of the Internet.

Digital announced that you can now place orders for its full product line via the Internet. Digital (it's not DEC anymore), like some of its competitors, has been using the Internet to communicate with its current and potential customers for quite a while. Over the years I've solicited and received many quotations via the Internet from the Digital sales people assigned to Harvard. Fortune magazine (in a quite good story on the use of the Internet by business in the March 7th issue) reports that Digital sold over $5 million worth of computers to people who had accepted their offer to take a remote test drive of an Alpha workstation via the Internet.

Given that background, ordering via the Internet is not all that surprising a development, but a welcome one none the less. As of now, this service is just for research and education customers but I hope that it will expand as they realize that commercial Internet connectivity is already here and growing. Speaking of growing, the demand has been so high in the two weeks since the announcement that Digital has already had to reengineer the support for it and use a new address (telnet to

Ziff Davis announced that they would be launching ZiffNet. In all of the announcement stories in all of the trade journals I did not see one mention of the Internet. Remember, this is the same Ziff Davis that brings you Networld + Interop, the quintessential TCP/IP and Internet trade show. Now I'm surely not going to knock the trade show, and much less the tutorials since I get a cut whenever someone takes mine, but you would think that a company with as much in-house Internet expertise would have built a new service around the Internet. They may have, and the message just did not come across in the announcements but it seems like a bit of an omission.

This represents two extremes. On the one hand we have a company that is doing what it can to adapt to the new paradigms available to business today and on the other, a company that seems from its product announcement to be daunted by the challenges and decides it would rather build its own environment than explore the boundaries of what exists. (This reminds me of an old headache commercial that had a hook line of "Mother, please! I'd rather do it myself.")

Clearly, as I've said before, security and other issues make the business use of the Internet, and the touted "Information Highway" that it is growing, a non-trivial venture. But it will be just these companies that face these challenges who will be the winners of the information future. Rupert Murdock understood this when he chose to invest in Delphi, a bulletin board that was, and is, aggressively expanding its Internet ties, over a number of others where the Internet was 'something out there' that they did not understand.

Not all colonizers of the information highway will be winners; it is still quite easy to build a gas station on a cul-de-sac. But those technology companies that are reluctant to explore will have a hard time when they finally wake up.

Gee, I wish they would stop paying those Olympic 'sportscasters' by the word.

Disclaimer: (from Ran Atkinson) Opinions expressed are only those of the author. His employer has not endorsed these personal opinions and the author is never authorized to speak "officially" (whatever that means).