DEMO - Demo searches for next big thing

Panelists at IDG Executive Forum's Demo conference on Tuesday offered a reality check on the "state of innovation," given the current negative economic climate.

The majority of time during the show's onstage demo sessions Monday and Tuesday was devoted to products in the search, productivity, security, spam, and entertainment categories, but panelists discussing the prospect of a "next big thing" kept circling back to the topic of networks.

The panelists put forth an upbeat view of the IT industry's commitment to innovation, singling out Wi-Fi and distributed networks as areas that will continue to be areas of investment.

John Patrick, president of venture capital firm Attitude, and a former IBM Corp. executive, talked up Wi-Fi, citing the emergence of mesh networks and technologies that can deliver wireless data to speeding trains.

"It will be the Internet itself that changes things," he said. "The last mile is really being broken down."

Dan Bricklin, founder and CTO of Trellix, weighed in noting that Wi-Fi's strength is its ability to work in a non-centralized fashion. Networks that can scale quickly and easily will help IT build robust technologies for the whole enterprise infrastructure. "We have to build things that are non-brittle," he said.

Les Vadasz, executive vice president and president at Intel Capital, said Wi-Fi is a different paradigm than the cell phone service model that sells an integrated device and network. "I would like to buy a transport separate from an application service," he said.

It was Mitch Kapor, chair of the Open Source Applications Foundation, who took the contrary position, arguing that it's not yet clear if the money to be made from wireless or network-based technologies will be absorbed by incumbent carriers, leaving startups out of pocket. Kapor argued that innovation will also be stifled in the short term given the venture capital community's "enormous conservatism." The next big thing will most likely come from someone outside the conference room, he said. "It starts by someone doing something incredibly obscure."

Demo Executive Producer Chris Shipley said she was increasingly optimistic about IT innovation, given the companies exhibiting at the conference. And this was despite her summary of IT's status quo: "We're an industry riding around in an ambulance hoping we don't end up in a morgue."

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