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The Invisible Internet

Tomorrow's Research

Message Number: 

Where is the Internet going? Why, it's going away.


This interesting take on the coming ubiquity of the Internet and its

implication for all of us is by Ed Zander, president and chief

operating officer or SUN Microsystems.


Rick Reis

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------------------- 964 words --------------------


By Ed Zander

President and Chief Operating Officer

Sun Microsystems

As COO, Ed Zander is responsible for the day-to-day business

operations, overseeing all of Sun's product divisions, manufacturing,

marketing, and world-wide field organizations.



People always ask me where the Internet is going. And I must admit I love to

watch their facial expressions when I say quite definitively, "It's going


The Internet is going away in the same sense that electricity and plumbing

did in the 20th Century--out of sight and out of mind.

When electricity and plumbing first infiltrated daily life, people had to

dig their own wells, install their own pipes and generate their own

electricity. Today, of course, utilities and licensed practitioners do this

for us.

Fortunately, the Net will evolve the same way.

In the years to come, people will do almost anything they want through

simple appliances, hand-held devices, autos and cell phones. And for the

first time in the short history of the Internet, they won't have to download

software or configure devices. This means the act of tapping into the


will become such a non-event that it won't merit mention.

The Net will assume an always-present, behind-the-scenes quality. No longer

will you tell a friend, "Get on the Internet and compare airfare to Bora


You'll just say, "Compare air fare to Bora Bora." Who today ever says,

"Activate the plumbing and pour me some water"?

And like plumbing, the Internet will be everywhere, but largely invisible.

This vision of the future stands in stark contrast to the one offered by

skeptics who say the Internet will become an invasive nuisance, something of

an annoying gnat of the digital age. They predict the Internet will buzz

around your face 24-hours a day, pestering you with unwanted queries,

requests and data until you are so frazzled that you streak naked into the

woods with plans of never returning.

What these skeptics don't understand is that the Internet will evolve into a

tool that is no more invasive than the electrical socket in your bedroom.

Consider that electricity is more prevalent than ever, but we only use it

when we want to, and never has it been more user friendly than it is today.

No one today ever says, "That electricity is everywhere, and it's driving me


The Internet will assist us only when we've requested help. Otherwise, it

will butt out.

In many cases, the Internet will bypass humans altogether, allowing devices

to communicate with each other. Your sprinkler system will modify its

settings based on weather service data, your dishwasher will search for

times when electricity is cheapest before washing a load, and your house

will help your hotel room preset the temperature, music settings and TV

channels. And you'll never even think about it.

In business, the invisible Internet may be even more prevalent. Some factory

computers, for instance, already update the shipment lists of their

suppliers, requiring no human involvement and giving employees more time to

tackle other responsibilities.

In other cases, the Internet won't actually be invisible, but will seem like

it. This is because you won't have to upgrade software, you won't have hunt

down and reboot a PC and you won't have to wait until you step out of a car

to use the Net. The Net will pulse through your walls, your dashboards, your

mobile phones, your pagers, your refrigerators--all of it out of sight and

mind until you need its assistance. Just like electricity, and just like


In the global economy, there is a great incentive to make this so. It's

called survival. Companies planning to succeed in today's economy are

hustling to make their products and services less invasive even as the Net

becomes more pervasive. They will offer you wireless services that provide

assistance based not only on your personal preferences but on your

ever-changing proximity to other services. If you want, for instance, the

Net will tell you when you're standing a block from a bookstore that is

offering a 20 percent discount on a new novel by your favorite author.

Companies also are making sure that tapping into the Web today isn't a

chore. In a three-year campaign to unchain Web users from their desks, for

instance, manufacturers are expected to boost yearly sales of Web-ready

mobile phones and PDAs to 360 million units--35 times more than current

levels. Meanwhile, thousands of families are testing out Whirlpool's

Web-ready refrigerators and washing machines. Ford and General Motors have

announced cars that access online road maps and read you your e-mail. And

service providers are creating a world in which you'll never think about the

software that pulls up your portfolio as you sit in a traffic jam. All of

this will make the Net easier to access, and simpler to use.

For consumers, the advantages of the invisible Net are monumental. Unless

you enjoy spending hours pecking computer script into a PC, the invisible

Net will spare you from having to deal with operating system installations,

esoteric manuals and skyrocketing IT costs. The boiler room of the Internet

will hum far away in massive datacenters around the planet, tackling most of

the IT problems you are forced to address today.

Of course, we're not quite there.

The Internet hasn't yet matched the telephone system's level of

availability, penetration and reliability. But believe me, that will change.

Every year, general networking and bandwidth metrics improve. And every day,

the Net grows by 2 million new Web pages, 200,000 new access devices and

150,000 new users. The portion of companies making more than 10 percent of

their sales online will go from 14 percent today to 61 percent in a few


All of these developments are intensifying the push for an Internet that is

more consumer-friendly, easier to access and 100-percent device-agnostic. In

other words, an Internet that is invisible. And only then will many of us in

technology think we've done our jobs.