Opinion: The ultimate Internet

After decades of growth, we are now about 5 percent of the way into what the Internet has in store for our business and personal lives. Soon, 1 billion people will be using the 'Net, empowering themselves to get what they want, when they want it, from wherever they are. Expectations for on-demand e-business are expanding by the day.

An on-demand e-business has integrated all its processes so that it presents one face to the customer. Buy it online and return it to the store. Buy it at the store, return it via an online request and then ship to a centralized location.

On-demand e-businesses enable "click here" to initiate a service-call chat session or video window with an actual person. On-demand e-businesses do not have the words "fax this form." They don't pretend to be global businesses and then say to call a toll-free number "9 to 5 Central Standard Time." On-demand e-businesses offer a people-oriented and user-friendly integrated experience for all parties involved - employees on the intranet, suppliers, customers, partners, analysts and prospective constituents.

On-demand e-businesses will not have achieved 24-7 by making everything redundant, but rather will have used autonomic computing capabilities to achieve the effect of redundancy. This effect of redundancy will come from virtualization of resources, and intelligent and automatic sharing of those resources. A fully integrated e-business will gain cost advantage by creating an on-demand operating environment that lets it expand capacity on the fly to meet unexpected needs of customers. Ultimately most on-demand e-businesses will become computing utilities or use one. Few, if any, truly on-demand e-businesses exist at this stage, but the early adopters are beginning to emerge.

E-businesses will be helped a great deal by the continued rapid evolution of the Internet. Each day we get closer to a new phase of the Internet that will make today's version seem primitive. Not only will this next-generation Internet be orders of magnitude faster, but it also will be always on, everywhere, natural, intelligent, easy and trusted.

Fast and reliable connectivity finally is appearing, and the competition to provide it is beginning to heat up. Cable, telecom, satellite and the power grid are each threatening the other, and the result will be more speed, improved service and lower prices. More important than the speed is the always-on connection, which will increase propensities to use online services - and also increase expectations.

The effect of Wi-Fi is bigger than coffee shops and train stations. With Wi-Fi chips in handheld devices and the rapid adoption of voice over IP based on Session Initiation Protocol, the Internet becomes everywhere, and a voice conversation becomes just one of the many things you can do while connected. Long-distance will no longer mean anything. Wi-Fi soon will be as secure and as fast as today's wired Ethernet. Advanced antenna and radio technologies will ensure ubiquity. With more people always on and having adequate bandwidth, information-oriented

e-businesses will lead the charge for the re-emergence of the application service provider.

Web services are enabling a global-application Web, where any and all applications can be linked together seamlessly. Not only will you be able to use points to pay for hotel reservations online, but also to designate from a check box on that same hotel Web page the airline from whose frequent-flier program the points should be deducted.

It soon will be clear that Linux is not about "free." It is about achieving scalability, reliability and security. The world will remain heterogeneous, but the underlying operating systems need to be open so that all can see how they work and contribute to them. The open source model also will mean more rapid innovation.

Security will no longer be the biggest issue - authentication will. The need is urgent. People have an unmanageable number of IDs and passwords. Digital certificates will let people, computers, handhelds and applications interact securely in a distributed Web of trust. With a redesign of e-mail protocols, we also will gain confidence and control over those with whom we communicate. Corporations will share knowledge internally and externally through syndicated Weblogs.

The potential of the Internet is much greater than meets the eye. As the Internet evolves, it will become so pervasive, reliable and transparent that we will take it for granted. It will be part of our lives and, more importantly, begin to simplify our lives.

Patrick was a founding member of the World Wide Web Consortium and the vice president for Internet Technology at IBM until retiring in late 2001. The author of Net Attitude, Patrick now writes, lectures, serves on boards and shares his thoughts via a Weblog at patrickweb.com.

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