People Who Need People
The shelf life of hype is short. The concept of online exchanges -- Web-based marketplaces where big companies can buy their supplies -- was all the rage at the beginning of the year and has already gone through major changes. It turns out huge corporations such as auto makers and hospital chains value the human element of buyers haggling with salespeople and aren't eager to switch to an impersonal online environment. Suppliers, meanwhile, worry that they will lose out to whatever competitor offers the lowest price. Another part of the problem is excess enthusiasm. Multiple exchanges often chase the same market -- there were 15 competitors in the chemical industry alone at one point earlier this year. Analysts estimate only 200 to 300 will ultimately survive among the 800 to 1,400 online exchanges now operating or announced.
Personal computers sit idle most of the time. Even when spitting out a spreadsheet or surfing the Web, most of a PC's processor cycles are left unused. Now Silicon Valley has decided that Peer-to-Peer computing, a new way to share tasks through networks, is the antidote to waste. A P-to-P system splits up big computing jobs and spreads them around the network, making use of excess horsepower.
P-to-P's biggest booster is Intel Corp., which is eager to sell more Intel-driven PCs as an alternative to powerful computer servers that don't use Intel chips. Intel says it has used P-to-P internally since 1990, and hasn't had to buy a new mainframe computer since 1992 despite rapid growth. But skeptics are concerned P-to-P could slow down computer networks and compromise security. Intel concedes that both issues still have to be resolved.
One Database, with Equal Exposure for All
Move over, search engines -- there's a new game in town. A techno-powered partnership including Microsoft and IBM aims to build a central, no-cost database where businesses can describe themselves and their offerings through a standardized registration form. By searching the Universal Description Discovery and Integration database, buyers will be able to quickly locate the products and services they need, rather than relying on conventional Web search engines that return hundreds and even thousands of irrelevant hits. By the end of next year, the founding partners hope to turn UDDI over to a non-partisan international administrative group. Microsoft says the initiative will help small businesses compete on line, "because UDDI treats information provided by all companies that register in exactly the same way," and gives all participants equal exposure
Linux Gets a Babysitter
Linux, the once-hot operating system, isn't quite living up to expectations. Developed by a loose coalition of volunteers, Linux has a firm foothold running Internet servers maintained by networking professionals. But those same professionals are reluctant to put the upstart OS on desktop PCs, in part because Linux doesn't have established names standing behind it. Now Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, IBM, NEC, Silicon Graphics, and other industry heavyweights have formed the Open Source Development Lab, a Linux testing center due to open about now in the Portland, Ore., area. The lab will be a resource for developers to test Linux-based hardware and software on a wide array of computers and networks. Perhaps just as important, the lab gives Linux a needed infusion of "adult supervision" by providing a facility where Linux can prove its merit through industrial-strength testing.