After riding the swell of hype surrounding personal digital assistants (PDAs) for as long as it could, General Magic is trying to catch the latest technology wave by recasting its PDA operating system and agent software for the Internet.
Today, the beleaguered company, which has racked up losses of more than $74 million since its inception in 1990, unveiled its turnaround plan at an event in San Francisco. The new strategy transforms, or at least dresses-up, the Magic Cap OS as Net appliance software. General Magic is also now providing development and server software for its Telescript agent-technology, so that Web sites can implement it in their Web sites.
Telescript is a networking technology that lets users gather information and perform tasks automatically, such as making airline reservations or executing stock purchases. The Telescript programming language was designed from the ground up as the basis for network agents, but until now the technology was tied closely to proprietary online services and the lagging Magic Cap OS. Because of the dizzying amount of information available on the Net, General Magic's agent technology could help revitalize the company if it becomes popular with Web sites.
"Browsing and navigating are immensely frustrating and non-productive," said Bob Kelsch, president and chief operating officer of General Magic. "By automating the Web [with agents], that tedious navigating experience is turned in to a productive experience."
To make that so in the real world, General Magic today shipped Tabriz AgentWare, a $4,995 Unix software package that allows companies to add Telescript agent applications to their sites. A development tool, Tabriz Agent Tool, is free and comes with a set of software components for building agent applications. The company also today acquired a Windows NT developer, Conterra Software, to speed the creation of an NT version of Tabriz AgentWare, a beta version of which is expected this fall.
But General Magic is not abandoning its PDA OS, which runs on Motorola's Envoy and Sony's Magic Link devices. Instead, the company shipped a $49.95 Internet e-mail client and Web browser, called PrestoLinks 1.5 and PrestoMail 1.0, which the company hopes will make Magic Cap devices attractive as Internet and intranet devices.
"We built [Magic Cap's original e-mail software] out of proprietary standards," said Andy Hertzfeld, co-founder of General Magic. "Through the Presto mail package we've gotten Magic Cap to embrace Internet standards."
General Magic is also trying to make its Magic Cap for Windows more Net-savvy, announcing plans to bundle Microsoft's Internet Explorer Web browser with the next version of the software package as well as built-in access to America Online.
Additionally, General Magic announced today that it is putting new fax modem software called SoftModem into the hands of OEMs. SoftModem uses a handheld computer's central processor instead of a dedicated digital signal processor so it should reduce the cost of adding communications capabilities to portable devices, General Magic said.