Doug Michels is executive vice-president and chief tech-nical officer of the Santa Cruz Operation (SCO), a vendor of Unix products for the Intel platform. He has gone on record as claiming that Unix has won the battle for the desktop because Unix will be the driving power behind the next wave of computing - NCs and the Internet. IDG's Paul Zucker and Ian Yates caught up with the fast-talking guru of GREP during a lull in proceedings, and talked about NC, the Internet, Microsoft and the worldIDG: Do you think that the main penetration of Network Computing is going to be within intranets or in consumer devices like the Web-TV?
MICHELS: They're separate things. You can look at the home market separately from the enterprise market and they're both interesting. And if they both take off they feed each other, but they really are different.
If you look at the home, especially in the US, everyone wants to be on the Internet. Now that around 36 per cent of homes have PCs, that many people can get on the Internet, but that's pretty much as high as you'll get on the Net that way. There are two interesting home technologies coming: the NC and the Web-TV device. The Web-TV has a box you attach to your TV and in the US you pay $US20 a month for access. The company effectively preloads all the web sites and prepares the text and graphics so you get VGA quality on your TV.
You have a smart card in the box, so you have an identity. You can buy stuff and they know just who visits each site. In the US we're starting to see advertisers put their URLs in the hidden scan-lines of the TV ads, so you can just hit a button and go straight to the advertiser's Web site. The device even does picture-in-picture so you can keep watching TV while you're surfing.
IDG: So how does SCO fit into that scenario?
MICHELS: If everyone in the world is using the Internet to visit the suppliers, then we provide the systems that tie into the corporate databases and information systems. If you're a bank and you want people to bank from home, or you're a pizza shop and you want to take orders, or you sell anything by mail order, you probably need us to make things happen.
IDG: What are the trends for Net content and advertising?
MICHELS: One of the best things about the Internet is that it's a great equaliser. You can't tell how big someone is on the Net. On the Internet no-one knows you're a dog, or a two-man com-pany operating out of a basement even.
There will soon be so much more advertising on the Internet. And the beauty is that the ads can be tied to the content. When I pay to put an ad in a paper I may be paying for 10,000 impressions and yet I'm only targeting a couple of per cent of the readers. So basically if I'm paying $1 an impression, I might really be paying $50 per person who matters. If you can narrow it down to people who need to see my ad, then I'm willing to pay much more per hit. The equivalent is that where I might only put one ad in a print publication, I might put twenty in an online one. And for that matter, I'm even advertising in the archives, though of course, the ad copy can keep on changing according to my needs.
I can even do things like say: "Look, my budget is limited. Stop when it's used up." I can have coupons in my ad and the contents depend on what people have looked at on the Net before they get to my ad.
IDG: When are we going to see "agents" that go out and select the sort of things we'd prefer to be seeing?
MICHELS: I'm quite sceptical about these so-called artificial intelligence applications. Are editors obsolete? Hell no! People will still have a need to have material presented in a coherent way. There will be many more magazines, of course, because what used to be a magazine section will become a separate magazine. There isn't the cost of printing and mailing, so why shouldn't we have the range?
And you don't even have to remove pages that aren't popular. It physically costs you to add a page in print, but disk space is ridiculously cheap for online publishing. In fact, publishers will get some more ad revenue if that page triggers some ads!
IDG: Are we going to see people surfing the ads instead of the editorial content?
MICHELS: Sure. Quite often when I'm looking for something, I'll use print publications like that, scanning the ads. But then, once an ad has caught my eye, perhaps I'll want to go to some reviews on that product, so I'll go back into the editorial.
IDG: What's happening with Bill Gates. Does he think Microsoft can ignore the NC?
MICHELS: No, Bill Gates understands the NC really well. Bill Gates is a really smart guy. He understands that the NC is a huge threat to Microsoft and he'll do everything he can to get in the way of the NC, just like he did everything he could to get in the way of the Internet. Here's the issue. You'll see things coming out of Microsoft that look like NC.
You'll see very light versions of Windows. And you'll see Microsoft attacking cost of ownership such as putting management software on the servers to manage client updates.
The biggest problem with Windows is that it still costs $US9,000 a year to support a single Windows PC in business. Is it really worth putting that on the desk of a receptionist who only makes twice that in salary?
IDG: So will Gates' stripped-down Windows solve that problem?
MICHELS: It may or may not. Clearly he knows he has to stop that problem. In order to stop the NC he has to solve it. And he's said that the first imperative is the Internet, and the second is cost of ownership.
Those are the two areas where he's been caught out of sync with the needs of the customer. He effectively admitted it.
Now why can't he just embrace the NC and say: "Look, we'll make NT a great server for the NC." That's what he eventually did with the Internet.
IDG: Given that Gates won't want to lose his most lucrative area - business applications - what does he do?
MICHELS: For business, Microsoft takes in almost $US500 per seat and $US300 each year after that. That's effectively a tax levied by Gates. Sales of NT are worth nothing compared to that. The problem with the NC is that it threatens that income. So, they have to force you to make the NC really Windows. It didn't cost them anything to embrace the Internet . . . it will cost them the future, but nothing now. This one fundamentally threatens their core business, in a profound way. They'll fight to the death until it's clear they can't win.
Don't forget, Microsoft pays for its existence with its share price. It pays its employees way under the average and gives them lots of shares. If the shares don't keep going up then the good people all leave.
Microsoft could rewrite Office to run on the NC, just like Corel is doing, and outsell Corel. If it does that, it legitimises the non-Windows market. The day they do that they've given up.
Stallion bolts back into local market
SYDNEY - Stallion Technologies is looking to strengthen its position in the Australian marketplace, with a range of new products in the low end of the remote access market. "Being an Australian company we have never taken advantage of the Australian marketplace," says Stallion president and CEO Bill Kiely. "We really didn't pay attention to the MUAs or the Com Techs."
Kiely said Stallion will be changing its local distribution model slightly, with Com Tech to take on a fulfilment role in bringing the products into the country, although MUA and other companies will continue to distribute the products.
Vital to Stallion's growth is its EasyServer II remote access product. Kiely says Stallion can offer solutions significantly cheaper than its nearest rival, Shiva, and will be aggressively targeting the Microsoft NT marketplace.
"How do you take your application and allow your users to work from home with full capability running anything from any of the various networks in the office either locally or in a WAN?" asked Kiely. "We believe the EasyServer product and Stallion's commitment to that remote access marketplace will provide good solutions to allow customers to implement true remote access network computing."
Kiely sees an untapped marketplace at the low end of the remote access marketplace. "We really will hit a revenue stream that nobody can touch for six to nine months in a market that is ripe. You just don't run into those opportunities, but now we get to do it with stable technology.