Sunday, November 02, 2003

Telirati Newsletter #15

Among the insights here are the comparison of the scale of telephony and computing. Although the Internet has grown faster than wireline telephony, the large-scale comparison is still valid today, especially in measuring mobile communication against computers: More than 400 million new mobile handsets each year, and billions of mobile subscribers versus 100 million PCs and hundreds of millions of INternet user. And, since I now work on mobile entertainment products, the roughly hundred-to-one ratio of mobile handsets to game consoles is an even more startling comparison, espcially when considering that connectedness among game consoles, even if it quickly reaches 100% of all game consoles sold, will always remain a tiny fraction of the globally available, mobile, and globally connected numbers of mobile handsets.

Newsletter #15: Feedback works

Some of the feedback I have enjoyed the most over the course of creating this newsletter has been with a friend who works for Microsoft in the role of (I wish I thought of this description) the “Ollie North of the anti-Java effort.” From him I have received a reliable stream of sometimes outrĂ© but often prescient views on the course of the conflict between COM hegemony and Java incursion. It has been well worth the effort to field the occasional over the top claim that no one would want a layer over Win32 (What, then, is COM and the MCFs or AFCs?) in order to obtain a clearer understanding of just how completely the future of server environments, and server software development, is dominated by NT.

As a result a balance has been reached between my attraction to newness (e.g.: I wrote a book on Macintosh programming when the Mac first came out) and his partisan position on the subject. This, from his point of view is no doubt made easier by the fact that Microsoft has really achieved every realistic goal in containing Java. They have watched Java proponents wheel from “Java everywhere” to “Java on heterogeneous servers” (What heterogeneous servers?) to some undefined position now as Java has yet to gel with any ISV products. Java will be the pixie dust sprinkled on Web pages to make them more interactive, and this is something Microsoft can live with. Although Microsoft’s spirit of winning every battle is well illustrated by the doomed attempt to compete with Java in this role with ActiveX.

The future will then look like Web pages made active through Java applets, forming the interface to server systems built largely out of distributed COM objects on NT servers. The typical call-center console, for example, will be a collection of Web pages. Microsoft will be pleased that server software is safely their domain to dominate as it grows into the most economically important software of the next several years. One does not know yet how completely Microsoft accepts this outcome: How well will Microsoft support creation of Java enabled Web interfaces? Another way to look at this question is: Is Microsoft succeeding with Visual J++, or have they lost Java developers’ confidence by flirting with non-standard Java? The answer to this question reveals the degree to which Microsoft has assimilated the result of the Java struggles. The answer right now is: not completely.

The other most fertile area of feedback has been the overall state of computer telephony. When I first set out to create a computer telephony product, the promise of the future was one where standards would make the de-coupling of hardware and software possible. In this future, VARs and integrators would sell mix-and-match combinations of telephony software and voice processing hardware. PBX-integration would have been driven below the hardware API layer, and voice-processing cards would compete on performance. The biggest disappointment of computer telephony is that this future did not arrive. The greatest question of computer telephony is what will come along to take another shot at expanding the market.

Let’s take a step back and recall why it is important computer telephony succeeds: 65 million people in the U.S. are on the Internet. Most of them use it for e-mail. I don’t know the Internet numbers worldwide but 100 million might be a good guess. Now consider that 2.5 billion people have reasonably good access to telephones. If we guess that of the 100 million Internet connected people 25 million surf the Web to any significant extent, it means that the population able to interact with computer telephony systems is 100 times larger, that is two orders of magnitude larger, than the population able to interact with Web-based systems. Two orders of magnitude is a big enough multiple to spend some effort reaching. As we create more and more server-based, Web-delivered applications, the question of bridging off-Web participants into these applications becomes a serious matter of total market size. In the race to dominate a segment and scale up faster, those off-Web consumers, even if they are not as rich or hip as your digerati friends, still have, on aggregate, a heck of a lot of buying power. Call centers, IVR, and fax are the tools for reaching out beyond the Web. Now computer telephony has to come up with some answers about integrating server-based Web applications with the telephony-based tools we have been reaching customers with since the first salesman picked up a telephone.

Copyright 1998 Zigurd Mednieks. May be reproduced and redistributed with attribution and this notice intact.