New year ushers in new wants, wishes on cyberspace front

January is a good time to take a look ahead. Here are some things to watch—and
wish—for in the coming year:


Why not develop a similar seal for government sites? Some agencies take weeks to
respond to e-mail from citizens. Others do not update their Web sites often enough to
identify correct contacts. What’s needed is a minimum standard for federal Web site
maintenance and a seal to show who meets it and who is asleep at the wheel.


Dingell sees FCC as a bottleneck to congressional efforts at telecommunications
deregulation. He pushed for passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 but believes the
goal of spurring long-distance and local telephone competition has slipped.


Is the problem at FCC, though? Assistant secretary of Commerce Larry Irving, a point
man for the administration’s Internet and telecommunications policy, has criticized
local phone companies for stalling competitive practices. This should be a good soap
opera.


One plan under consideration would let local telephone companies and large corporations
build high-speed WANs through separate affiliates, sparking competition in regional
Internet services without greatly threatening local phone companies. State and local
governments would benefit from the cheaper services.


Microsoft Corp. still rules the operating system market, but AOL-Netscape controls the
most online eyeballs. Better make sure your Web site is tweaked for proper viewing by
AOL’s browser. And take a serious look at the Netscape affinity portal product, which
places news headlines and Web search capabilities on your local Web server along with
other content about your organization and its services.


Designed for corporate customers, the portal product could easily adapt itself to
agencies, highlighting their services and making it easy for citizens to find what they
want. A problem in the making: If the joint venture is successful, AOL could face its own
antitrust suit in years to come.


This is the forward edge of a broad trend toward cheap, single-function Internet
computers that don’t need all-purpose OSes. If the Oracle-Sun business computer can
finally get rid of the Unix downside of being more expensive and tougher to manage than
Microsoft Windows NT, we may see the tide flow away from NT.


Look for Linux to become integrated into more task-specific products, from Net switches
to front-end boxes on legacy servers. It’s a favorite among Internet server makers
who need to ramp up multiple servers at a competitive price.


It’s going to be an interesting year. Stay connected.


Shawn P. McCarthy is a computer journalist, webmaster and Internet programmer for
Cahners Business Information Inc. E-mail him at smccarthy@cahners.com.

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