SAN FRANCISCO (02/14/2000) - Most early Web-based applications target businesses, but CMeRun is designing a service for consumers.
CMeRun is among a new breed of application service providers, which provide applications over the Internet instead of on CD or floppy disk. Unlike downloadable software, ASP applications are stored on a remote server.
The approach has pros and cons. The big negative is that you must be online to use a program. But you can grab that application from any Internet-enabled computer. Also, someone else worries about upgrades; you don't need to download fixes or order a new CD.
Corporations with high-speed network connections are well suited (and the first targets) for the ASP model. The structure simplifies upgrades and maintenance, pleasing network managers. Adoption has not been significant, but corporations typically evaluate a new technology carefully before switching.
CMeRun is the brainchild of an early proponent of ASP, Cameron Chell. The first three applications his company will bring online are Microsoft Money, Microsoft Works suite, and Corel WordPerfect Office suite. These three won't be available until June, and Chell says more are on the way. Software vendors will set the costs, but Chell expects you'll be able to use the applications for $5 to $10 monthly.
"Eventually, I think companies will want to give the applications away just as they do free e-mail now. It's worth it to them to get the users," Chell says.
CMeRun is negotiating many consumer Internet sites to host (and underwrite) the applications. For example, you might be able to log into Yahoo Microsoft Works, Chell says.
What's It Worth to You?
Free or ultra-low-cost software will be key to CMeRun's chances for success, according to Greg Blatnick, an analyst with Zona Research.
The kind of programs CMeRun plans initially, like Microsoft Works, have a low perceived value for many consumers because they're often bundled with new systems, Blatnick says.
It's the flexibility to run the programs from any Net-connected PC, or even let someone else use your PC to run their applications, that's attractive to many consumers, Chell says. When you sign up for CMeRun's programs, you'll also get 100MB of free storage for data. And you can always save your work to your local PC.
Chell claims dial-up connections will be adequate to run applications. "The software can scream on a 28.8 connection. It just has to be a good connection," Chell says. He says even an older computer will suffice, with a good connection.
CMeRun is just beginning beta tests. An ASP version of Microsoft PowerPoint runs fine in the lab, Chell says. But he concedes the latest computer games, with their high interactivity and heavy graphics, aren't ready to be Web-based.
"It's going to require a lot more bandwidth than there is available now, and massive computer power in server farms, for this technology to be available to large numbers of people all at once," Blatnick agrees. "CMeRun is very early.
But they are in the right place, where most of the key and largest technology companies believe things are headed."