Net Buzz

FRAMINGHAM (04/18/2000) - Spend six years working on a software project while the world hurtles along at Internet speed and you had better have something boffo to show for the effort.

Bob Young, CEO of an MIT-spawned startup called Curl, promises nothing less than a revolution in both the way Web content is delivered and how it performs when his 115-employee company lifts the curtain sometime this quarter.

Such grandiose claims are rightfully sprinkled with plenty of salt. However, Curl's lineup of investors and advisors does include such marquee names as Michael Dertouzos, director of MIT's Laboratory of Computer Science, Tim Berners-Lee of World Wide Web paternity fame, and Steve Ward, another MITer/co-founder who has led the undertaking since Curl's 1994 inception as a research project. Spun out of its academic cradle two years ago, Curl has harnessed oodles of brainpower and recently landed $42 million in venture capital to grease the transition from blackboard to marketplace.

So what's all this firepower targeting?

Well, like most prelaunch start-ups, Curl is guarding the details. But Young says they're cooking up "Internet infrastructure software" that will dramatically enhance the overall Web experience in a variety of different ways when it ships by year-end.

"The kind of functionality that you are used to on a desktop machine, Curl will deliver in a Web systems architecture," says Young, a former venture capitalist and IBM executive. "If you're trying to deliver a Web application today, you really can't get quite the capabilities or the richness or the attractiveness or differentiation that you'd like. Curl will be a natural addition to what you're doing."

The opportunity for Curl, he says, springs from the pell-mell manner in which the Web has developed. "Because of that you have a whole array of technologies that you use to attempt to deliver Web content, but because they all came from different places and different times and were trying to solve different problems, they are all very different from each other and generally incompatible," he says.

Curl will complement rather than replace those technologies, although customers will be able to build Curl-based systems from scratch, Young adds.

"It really is a universal platform in that it covers the full range of functionality from markup languages through object-oriented programming," he says. "It will take several years to roll everything out, but the first step will be immediately usable and offer a level of functionality that you can't get today."

This exchange sums up Curl's ambition.

Buzz: "You're not looking for a market here, per se, you're looking to change the way things are done."

Young: "Right."

And that relationship is too cozy, even by Washington standards.

A day after the story broke last week, Reed promised to stop lobbying Bush in behalf of Microsoft, although his company will continue to represent Gates and the gang. In Washington that amounts to a full retreat. In the rest of the country, it's called a distinction with little difference.

But here's why the two-day tempest is notable: Anyone worried about the long-term impact of judicial meddling in the high-tech industry - such as in the Microsoft case - should be paralyzed with fear over the prospect of Washington's paid lobbyists and elected politicians imposing their will over that of judges.

Lobbying a columnist costs nary a dime. Try buzz@nww.com.

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