Myriad are the ways in which technological and economic experts propose to assist you with the Internet, as I discovered at the Spring Internet World convention held the week of 10-Mar-97 in Los Angeles. They want to give you access, give you faster access, restrict your employees’ access, give the outside world access to you, restrict outside access. They want to push, help you push, sell to you, help you sell, help you gather information, advertise for you, advertise to you. They want to teach you about it, teach you to program it, teach you to use it effectively, sell you books and magazines about it, and teach you to make money from it in dozens of ways from ISP to entrepreneur. They want to host conventions about it, and sell you CDs about the conventions. Everyone from cataloguers to meteorologists has a site for you to visit, and you in turn are supposed to brighten your site with powerful software, professional design, dynamic response, and high-bandwidth innovations.
It was fun in that exhausting way that these conventions are; and I learned a thing or two. The convention struck me as indicative of how the Internet largely remains little more than a tentative state of mind. There can’t be many true experts on Web site design or how to make money on the net, because the former (aside from being a moving target) has existed only briefly, and the latter is a complete mystery [except, perhaps, to X-rated sites, which according to recent media reports are an extremely successful example of Internet commerce -Adam]. So, the idea that such people exist and can pontificate to us – and that we will pay them to do so – is the product of a kind of self-hypnosis.
Indeed, the entire event seemed a smoke-and-mirrors affair; especially compared to Macintosh conventions. Attendance the first day was meagre: aisles that, at a Macworld Expo, would have been shoulder-to-shoulder one minute after opening time, were nearly empty. At talks, sound systems were muddy, projection facilities were unreliable. Email stations were rows of PCs poorly configured and so tightly crammed together that you couldn’t move the mouse. Nearly every demonstrator bemoaned the abysmal Internet access (another IBM triumph – remember the Atlanta Olympics?). In contrast to a Macworld Expo’s feverish emporia, few booths had anything physically for sale: most were selling a dream, a hope, a future business relationship.
As a Macintosh partisan, I instantly found myself a minority in an alien world. Here, Apple was but a minor player, and everything had an unfamiliar slant, starting with all the demos on PCs – including General Magic’s Magic Cap under Windows – and extending to the unaccustomed non-Apple philosophy that predominated. Watching someone from Microsoft smugly demonstrate how Internet Explorer and the operating system will be so tightly integrated that the webmaster will determine what applications the user can see from the desktop, I barely refrained from saying that if my computer ever did that to me I would hurl it out the window.
Apple CEO Gil Amelio’s keynote speech was the first good performance I’ve seen from him – intelligent, coherent, even dynamic, recalling the legend of the dying swan’s terminal song. His choice of four pieces of software historically representative of the Mac’s unique importance – PageMaker, HyperCard, Director, and Frontier – seemed to me one of Apple’s more perceptive self-assessments. I may not have agreed with everything he said (Apple is betting the farm on gaining 15 percent of the Web server market share? how?) but I did feel for once like defending his right to say it. And the demos, especially of Frontier and of QuickTime 3.0, were stunning.
I also attended a talk on Apple and Java, where the speaker was somewhat hamstrung both by the approach of Black Friday (then only four days away – see TidBITS-370) with its attendant unknowns and by Apple’s general Java uncertainty. The present situation is reflected by Mac OS Runtime for Java, but the future is expressed as a vague diagram in which Java looms as a mysterious third beside the Blue Box (System 7 and its heirs) and the Yellow Box (OpenStep). I admit to bemusement as to the wisdom of this, since if Java becomes a full citizen the Mac OS may lose its distinctiveness and hence its appeal. I did come away feeling friendlier to Java than previously, at least.
Amidst all the glitter, I found two sites that particularly impressed me with their promise. SemioMap makes a Java applet and a search tool which coordinate to provide an MCF-like visualization of related topics on the Web (or any other data collection). StockSmart is a living advertisement for Java and for Oracle Corporation; even if you don’t care about stocks, this is a fine and generous presentation of live, searchable data.