NEW YORK--The Netscape Communications Developers' Conference came to a close today on a visionary note with a keynote speech from Eric Schmidt, chief technology officer of Sun Microsystems, who pondered the future of the Internet and its impact on culture.
Rather than the product pitches and demonstrations that are standard for keynote speeches at IT conferences, Schmidt discussed several trends sweeping the Internet, including the movement towards "pushing" or automatically sending information out to users' desktops.
"The Net will change from a pull system to a push system," Schmidt said, referring to examples such as Netscape's In-Box Direct program, which distributes multimedia Web pages from publishers such as the New York Times over email rather then requiring a user to manually visit a Web site. Similarly, PointCast automatically filters and automatically displays news and financial information through a specialized browser.
Schmidt said the Internet is starting to meld network models from different industries. On the Net, the IT industry--based on the concept of a shared, interactive network--coexists with the broadcast model of the entertainment industry and the point-to-point communications model of the telecommunications industry, Schmidt said.
Schmidt also peppered his speech with wry observations on topics ranging from network bandwidth to the significance of personal Web pages.
"Cable modems are like network heroin," he said, referring to the addictiveness of high-speed connections to the Internet. But Schmidt was not optimistic that cable modems and XDSL technologies would become ubiquitous anytime soon though.
Commenting on personal Web pages, Schmidt joked that in the future, people's self esteem may be based on the number of hits they get on their own Web sites.
"The desire for intrinsic recognition is fundamental to humanity," Schmidt added. "The Web gives you not 15 minutes of fame, but continuous fame."
But Schmidt's prognostications aren't to be taken too literally, after all, he says, no one understands the Net. "The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn't understand," he said.
And although much of his speech was philosophical rather than political, Schmidt couldn't help but talk about one of his company's chief contributions to the Net: Java. He estimated that there are currently 30 million computers running the Java Virtual Machine. "This will be the fastest adoption of technology in history," he said. "Java represents the programmer's definition of freedom."