IT & Web Deleopment - In Search of the Killer App

Here's a game that should get your imagination going.

What will be the next "killer app"? This would be the application that would turn the IT industry around, give it the flash and bite that it had a few years ago.

One definition of a killer app is: A program that gives average people the capability to use technology to solve everyday problems and enrich their lives. E-mail was the first of these. Its usefulness has been demonstrated clearly by its being embraced across the entire spectrum of computer users. Another killer app, according to some people, was the Web browser.

But what is today's equivelant? Some say it will have something to do with wireless; for example, something called RadioCar. In this scenario, you tap out your current location on your PDA, plus a password, then maybe a credit card number, and within a half-hour, a shiny new rental car drives automatically up to you.

In other words, the true killer app would be one that enables wireless and net connection to be available everywhere and anywhere.

Or, is the killer app something that drives new technology rather than something that uses old technology? This would be an application that millions of people just have to own and that requires faster and faster machines to run. It's an application that would cause entire industries to be built around it. (Phew!) 

Still other killer app possibilities are in the realm of household networks and home entertainment.

Many of these possibilities involve wireless technology. In fact, companies like Microsoft and HP are almost betting their futures on wireless. Below are some examples of what's currently available. Please note that Web Server Times is not endorsing or recommending these products, but rather reporting their features for informational purposes.

MS Windows Mobile 2003 

This operating system from Microsoft is designed for PDAs and includes built-in support for both BlueTooth and Wi-Fi technologies. It was released on June 23 and supports the MS .Net Compact Framework which "will allow developers to target Pocket PCs with the same tools they use to build applications for Windows."

However, according to a report from Internet News,"The worldwide market for handheld devices declined in the first quarter of 2003 due to sluggish demand from businesses and consumers alike." Why? My guess is that some people grew tired of the novelty.

Welcome to "cooltown" 

HP is looking toward the future with its R&D focused on a wireless, always-on environment. The company is demonstrating their research in a project called cooltown (note lower case).

cooltown is a virtual environment "where everyone and everything is connected to the web through wired or wireless links." It can be "experienced" in several international locations, including Geneva, Toronto and London. HP describes the centers as "a living demonstration of how technologies can combine to transcend ordinary business practices...[and]how e-services might profitably transform their business models and can experiment with new ways of turning vision into commercial reality." In fact, much of the technology used to create the cooltown environment is available today.

(It should be noted, however, that much of what you see at the cooltown centers is simulated rather than built on actual applications. According to HP, the actual implementation will depend on what the customer specifically wants.)

And what is HP getting out of this? The stimulation of new growth areas in technology, in which the company would supply the e-services, infrastructure, appliances and support. In other words, a suite of killer apps.

BlueTooth has been creating a lot of excitement, but mostly theoretical. Microsoft currently supports the wireless manufacturer with its keyboard and mouse. But Bluetooth sees its future as much more vast and enconpassing than just desktops. The BlueTooth technology can be used for household networks to automate refrigerators, doors, vacuum cleaners and so forth. Thus, BlueTooth's clientele would extend beyond the IT industry.

Tiny OS 

If you're technically inclined, you might look into Tiny OS. It's an operating system that's currently in the experimental stage, being developed by the University of California. As its name implies, it's only 200K in size and designed to fit into the smallest of wireless devices. You can download it for free from UC Berkeley or SourceForge.

The Security Issue - Again 

If the wireless industry really does produce the next killer apps, then there are going to be some major security issues.

One company that's addressing wireless security is Bluefire. Their application, Mobile Firewall Plus, "provides a fast, compact firewall that is portable across a range of PDAs, is optimized to run on small, low-power devices (via patent-pending compression technology) and provides network-speed protection. The solution operates over multiple communication protocols, including IP and 802.11 to provide always-on, device-level security."

Bluefire carefully notes. however, that their firewall does not solve the 802.11 and WEP security problems which are associtated with transmission privacy and remote authentication.

If these are the current plans for the killer apps of the future, then maybe we can look forward to the kind of virtualized environments depicted in Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report." Taking place in 2054 (in case you haven't seen it), the film depicts, among other things, a commercial environment in which hand-held electronic newspapers constantly update news reports, cereal boxes broadcast ads to you while you eat breakfast, and holographic voices greet you as you enter a department store. How do they know your name? By performing a retina scan on your eyeballs.

PointCast: The Rise and Fall of a Killer App 

Does anyone remember PointCast? It was a screen-saver that periodically updated news , weather and financial reports - all from web feeds. At the time (early 90s), it was going to revolutionize business, not just the IT business.

PointCast was driven by "push" technology which quickly became a buzzword in the industry. According to the March, 1997 issue of Wired magazine:

"Remember the browser war between Netscape and Micrososft? Well, forget it. The Web broswer itself is about to croak. And good riddance. In its place...PUSH!

"Push media will penetrate environments that have been media free - work, school, church, the solitude of a country walk."

PointCast is gone now and no one hypes push anymore, but you can read about their demise at:Wired or Business Week.

This leads me to conclude that just the developing of the killer app isn't the whole story. For example, the app's company should have some solid allies within the IT industry. PointCast, at its height, had Bill Gates wanting to be bundle it with Internet Explorer, but the company let the deal pass, and also rejected a bid from Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

Even a killer app has to be marketed and people must be convinced that it really will turn their world around. If people aren't convinced of that, then the killer becomes the corpse.

By: Roy Troxel


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