This interesting take on the coming ubiquity of the Internet and its
implication for all of us is by Ed Zander, president and chief
operating officer or SUN Microsystems.
UP NEXT: Getting Recognized - The Not So Easy Task for Women
------------------- 964 words --------------------
THE INVISIBLE INTERNET
By Ed Zander
President and Chief Operating Officer
As COO, Ed Zander is responsible for the day-to-day business
operations, overseeing all of Sun's product divisions, manufacturing,
marketing, and world-wide field organizations.
People always ask me where the Internet is going. And I must admit I love to
watch their facial expressions when I say quite definitively, "It's going
The Internet is going away in the same sense that electricity and plumbing
did in the 20th Century--out of sight and out of mind.
When electricity and plumbing first infiltrated daily life, people had to
dig their own wells, install their own pipes and generate their own
electricity. Today, of course, utilities and licensed practitioners do this
Fortunately, the Net will evolve the same way.
In the years to come, people will do almost anything they want through
simple appliances, hand-held devices, autos and cell phones. And for the
first time in the short history of the Internet, they won't have to download
software or configure devices. This means the act of tapping into the
will become such a non-event that it won't merit mention.
The Net will assume an always-present, behind-the-scenes quality. No longer
will you tell a friend, "Get on the Internet and compare airfare to Bora
You'll just say, "Compare air fare to Bora Bora." Who today ever says,
"Activate the plumbing and pour me some water"?
And like plumbing, the Internet will be everywhere, but largely invisible.
This vision of the future stands in stark contrast to the one offered by
skeptics who say the Internet will become an invasive nuisance, something of
an annoying gnat of the digital age. They predict the Internet will buzz
around your face 24-hours a day, pestering you with unwanted queries,
requests and data until you are so frazzled that you streak naked into the
woods with plans of never returning.
What these skeptics don't understand is that the Internet will evolve into a
tool that is no more invasive than the electrical socket in your bedroom.
Consider that electricity is more prevalent than ever, but we only use it
when we want to, and never has it been more user friendly than it is today.
No one today ever says, "That electricity is everywhere, and it's driving me
The Internet will assist us only when we've requested help. Otherwise, it
will butt out.
In many cases, the Internet will bypass humans altogether, allowing devices
to communicate with each other. Your sprinkler system will modify its
settings based on weather service data, your dishwasher will search for
times when electricity is cheapest before washing a load, and your house
will help your hotel room preset the temperature, music settings and TV
channels. And you'll never even think about it.
In business, the invisible Internet may be even more prevalent. Some factory
computers, for instance, already update the shipment lists of their
suppliers, requiring no human involvement and giving employees more time to
tackle other responsibilities.
In other cases, the Internet won't actually be invisible, but will seem like
it. This is because you won't have to upgrade software, you won't have hunt
down and reboot a PC and you won't have to wait until you step out of a car
to use the Net. The Net will pulse through your walls, your dashboards, your
mobile phones, your pagers, your refrigerators--all of it out of sight and
mind until you need its assistance. Just like electricity, and just like
In the global economy, there is a great incentive to make this so. It's
called survival. Companies planning to succeed in today's economy are
hustling to make their products and services less invasive even as the Net
becomes more pervasive. They will offer you wireless services that provide
assistance based not only on your personal preferences but on your
ever-changing proximity to other services. If you want, for instance, the
Net will tell you when you're standing a block from a bookstore that is
offering a 20 percent discount on a new novel by your favorite author.
Companies also are making sure that tapping into the Web today isn't a
chore. In a three-year campaign to unchain Web users from their desks, for
instance, manufacturers are expected to boost yearly sales of Web-ready
mobile phones and PDAs to 360 million units--35 times more than current
levels. Meanwhile, thousands of families are testing out Whirlpool's
Web-ready refrigerators and washing machines. Ford and General Motors have
announced cars that access online road maps and read you your e-mail. And
service providers are creating a world in which you'll never think about the
software that pulls up your portfolio as you sit in a traffic jam. All of
this will make the Net easier to access, and simpler to use.
For consumers, the advantages of the invisible Net are monumental. Unless
you enjoy spending hours pecking computer script into a PC, the invisible
Net will spare you from having to deal with operating system installations,
esoteric manuals and skyrocketing IT costs. The boiler room of the Internet
will hum far away in massive datacenters around the planet, tackling most of
the IT problems you are forced to address today.
Of course, we're not quite there.
The Internet hasn't yet matched the telephone system's level of
availability, penetration and reliability. But believe me, that will change.
Every year, general networking and bandwidth metrics improve. And every day,
the Net grows by 2 million new Web pages, 200,000 new access devices and
150,000 new users. The portion of companies making more than 10 percent of
their sales online will go from 14 percent today to 61 percent in a few
All of these developments are intensifying the push for an Internet that is
more consumer-friendly, easier to access and 100-percent device-agnostic. In
other words, an Internet that is invisible. And only then will many of us in
technology think we've done our jobs.