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Internet

The problem of push

With the shipping of IE 4.0, both major browser makers now are ready to push. But are their customers also ready?

    With the shipping of Internet Explorer 4.0, both major browser makers now are ready to push. But are their customers also ready?

    Microsoft (MSFT) and Netscape (NSCP) have signed up a slew of high-profile content providers such as Disney, ABCNews.com, Fox News, Travelocity, and National Geographic to create IE 4.0 shakes industry IE 4- or Netcaster-specific push channels, but the real test of the power of push is corporate adoption. Both companies are encouraging businesses to create their own push channels for internal distribution of information to employees' desktops.

    According to Microsoft's own survey, about 60 percent of its corporate beta testers are either "uninterested" or are "undecided" at the moment about push. The other 40 percent "have an interest," but it's unclear how many are actually deploying or going to deploy their own channels. Nevertheless, the company finds the results, which it reported earlier this month, encouraging.

    Netscape said it is in the process of conducting customer research and has no specific numbers yet. "Netcaster is out there and our corporate accounts are looking at how to deploy it," said group product manager Julie Herendeen. "From the time they decide they're interested to the time they implement is long, about six to nine months."

    That corporate caution can translate into slow adoption, according to one system integrator who helps large companies get Web-related services up and running.

    "A lot of companies don't turn around on a dime and implement," said Craig Froelich, senior technology consultant at Webvision, whose clients include Disney and Toshiba. "They like to wait for the technologies to be on the marketplace. They don't want to be guinea pigs."

    Another integrator had a harsher assessment. "Push seems to be a lot more hype than reality," said Robert Aitchison, manager of servers and services at Data Systems West. Of the company's approximately 50 clients, "we haven't run into any screaming for push channels or for doing development."

    Netscape's Herendeen agreed with the criticism to a certain extent. "There has been a lot of hype on the consumer side that it would turn your desktop PC into a TV, but there are still a lot of content and network bandwidth issues to work out. But on the corporate side, the solutions are there."

    For example, both IE 4.0 and Netcaster come with administration kits that allow a corporate network manager to lock certain channels in or out.

    Companies that refuse to standardize on one browser or the other will have to develop two versions of each channel, because Microsoft and Netscape have different technological approaches. IE 4.0 channels use the Channel Definition Format (CDF) to deliver information to the desktop. Netcaster channels use HTML, JavaScript, and Java archive files.

    "It also becomes an issue when our clients need to share info beyond their network," said David Feldman, the manager of the Web and database division at system integrator Dynalog Technologies.

    One Internet content provider, however, said the parallel development wasn't so difficult. "There was some reengineering to do, but a lot of stuff transferred over," said Jordan Kurzweil, manager of Fox News Internet.

    Kurzweil stressed that his site is designed to be browser-agnostic. Lots of people out there have both browsers, and we don't want to lose any of them."

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