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December 1, 1998

APPLIANCES ARE THE PCs OF THE FUTURE, ANALYSTS SAY

By CBR Staff Writer

Merrill Lynch analyst and author of the report Appliances: The Next Hardware Category Steve Milunovich held a gathering of the faithful – venture capitalists, CEOs and analysts – in Palo Alto on Monday. While the appliance market is gaining credibility every day, Milunovich observed that it is: still clearly missionary selling for most of you. Missionary zeal was indeed the order of the day. Mark Tolliver took the opportunity to clarify the role of Sun’s Consumer and Embedded Group, created in April, as a logical way for Sun to unite customer interest in its e-commerce and internet device technology. We had a number of groups going in random directions, Tolliver said, there were such scattered responsibilities that it clearly made sense, from an external perspective, to unite them. He also talked up Sun’s Jini, explaining that it is a Java application that creates an infrastructure in which things – actually Java software objects – can meet and exchange information about themselves. Apparently Jini’s strengths are that it creates the illusion of a driverless environment, that it can move code around in a very safe way, that it is self-cleaning (meaning there is no Windows registry) and self-healing (meaning that any failure is local). Tolliver’s group includes various Java operating systems for the consumer and embedded market, including JavaOS, Personal Java and ChorusOS, the real time operating system Sun acquired last year. Questioned about the latter’s role, Tolliver quipped: ChorusOS is the core of what Windows CE would like to be. All in all, Tolliver feels Sun is unusually well-placed to take advantage of the appliance revolution, however unlikely its form. I think you should pay attention to the screen phone marketplace, he said, basically because it goes in the kitchen. President and CEO of the market’s darling, Network Appliance Inc, Dan Warmenhoven, had a similarly culinary metaphor for his company’s filers, describing them as the data refrigerators of the future. NetApp tackles the appliance problem with a custom kernel, which lets it add features like snapshots. These snapshots of the file system are saved hourly, so that in case of lost data, users can go back to the last saved version. Having come up with the technology, NetApp’s next big challenge is, as Milunovich’s opening remark indicated, to penetrate the volume market. Hence the recent OEM agreements with Compaq and Dell, Warmenhoven explained (CI No 3,533). The day ended with a panel of experts. Don Norman, author of The Design of Everyday Things who has recently turned his pen to appliances in a book called The Invisible Computer, observed that today’s technology had grown up by accident, leaving it with a horrible historical legacy which the appliance model promised to correct. John Humm, CEO of Whistle Communications, showed off his company’s IntraJet, an extremely simple-to-use mail, web and intranet server, fax, router and firewall in one. With computers, you’re amazed when they work, he said. with appliances, you’re pissed when they don’t. Finally, ex-HP bigwig Dick Watts gave a glimpse into his new venture, Converge.net. No product yet, but Converge.net looks to be aiming at an even higher-end market for network-attached storage than NetApp. With so many heavyweights offering so many options, the rosy future of the appliance marketplace is looking more and more like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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