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Net Gain

How emerging information technology benefit the people

by Gary Suen, John Hopkins University

Nothing in this world is growing as fast as the Internet nowadays. Once the Internet was primarily a playground for research scientists, computer professionals and a small bunch of university students, it is now home to educators, authors, lawyers, legislators, financial analysts and people from all walks of life as well.

Since the concept of the World Wide Web was introduced two years ago by the research lab at CERN, which is also called the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, the Web has turned into a huge information database.

Look at what you can get from the Web now: people with a computer and a Web browsers can easily access everything from online newspapers to live radio programs to journals on the latest scientific development. It will not be long to see people who do not even have a home in the real world have a homepage somewhere on the Internet.

Certainly the Internet excels in bringing people closer together. It redefines the concept of communication and information. The mass media is not limited to telephone, TV or facsimile anymore. Information is no longer the privilege owned by a small group of elites in the society. Through the "information superhighway", information and data is made freely available for people who access it, no matter who they are or where they are located.

"Where do you want to go tomorrow?"

One of the questions you probably will ask is: Can Internet go any further in the future? The answer is yes, definitely. Recent improvements in secure data transmissions through World Wide Web has turned it into a safe exchange square. Pretty soon online shopping will become as common as mail order. Rather ordering by phone or "snail mail," the new crop of Net shoppers can buy what they want with just a few mouse clicks and pay with their credit cards or other forms of digital currency that is going to be available.

For security, private information will be encrypted during transmission to avoid possible hacking by third parties.

Battle of the Giants

With the launch of Windows 95, Microsoft has entered the business of Internet by introducing its own Web browser, Internet Explorer. The final release of version 2.0, which fully supports Netscape extension such as tables, also added a few proprietary Microsoft extensions such as inline WAVs and AVIs, client-side image-mapping and watermarks. It has also announced that the development of Web server based on Windows NT is underway and will be available early next year.

Lotus, now a subsidiary of IBM, is trying to hold on to its current customers by releasing InterNotes, a system that adopt its famous information-sharing Notes program to the Web.

Netscape Corporation, already the biggest winner in the Internet industry so far, tried to maintain its momentum by putting out its next generation of Netscape Navigator, also numbered version 2.0.

The new version, due in December, will include tools for development of Web applications, email, Usenet newsgroup and "plug-in" programs such as Adobe's Acrobat document reader, Real Audio Player, VRML (Virtual Reality Markup Language) browser, and Quicktime movie viewer.

Competitions for the leading role in future computer business will be more and more intense over the next few years.

"Disposable Software"

However, none of these technologies are as influential as the research on new software standards that many computer programmers and software designers are doing now. In no doubt "Web- executable softwares" will soon become the biggest player in computer industry, just as how Windows softwares dominate the market now.

Java, a network computing language developed by Sun Microsystems Inc., is certainly the most important breakthrough in World Wide Web technology since the invention of Mosaic, the first- ever graphical Web browser.

Based on C++, Java is an object-oriented language, which means data and software needed to use them are merged together into so-called "objects", and thus allows users to access and run softwares through the Internet.

Another key attribute to the success of Java is its platform independence. The same software written in Java is executable in all existing and even future computer operating systems.

The barrier between different computer systems will soon be eliminated. Software developers will no longer have to build separate unique packages compatible to Microsoft Windows, Macintosh and UNIX systems.

Currently the major application of Java is limited to tiny programs known as "applets" that turn plain World Wide Web sites into lively, fancy, sophisticated pages the include animation, background music, rolling stock tickers, little spreadsheets and small interactive games, just to name a few.

Computer users with the newest Netscape Navigator (version 2.0) or Sun's similar package, called HotJava can now experience the magic of Java.

What's more, this is not all what Java can do. The possibilities are simply limitless. Just think about how it will change the game rule of the whole software industry: you no longer have to buy and store tons of softwares in your own hard drive. What you need to do is to purchase, or rent, the little bits of softwares for specific tasks when you need them. "Java turns the Internet into a giant processor." (Business Week, December 4 1995)

The concept of "disposable softwares" will grow and become the major trend. Upgrades can be done immediately over the Net, and the best of all, those softwares are universally compatible: you will be able to use the exact same program no matter if you are using a PC, a Mac or a workstation. This also allows easy sharing of data with users of different computer systems. "Write once, run anywhere", as Sun says it.

What is the `Net Gain?

Of course, it is too early to predict who's going to win in this battle of software revolution; but one thing is for sure: the day where the computer industry is dominated by a few giants is now over. The new era has just begun. The one who benefits most is surely computer users like you and me.

Resource guide:

For people who wish to get the latest news bits from the forefront of information technology, check out The Computer Network, more commonly know as "c|net". This free service provides up-to-the-minute computer news and product reviews. C|net also produces a cable TV show on the USA Network that brings what's online into the good old Tube.

For those who want to know more about Java language, please visit the official Java site. It should provide useful information for developers and end-users who want to get hold of the latest development of Java language.

Gary Suen is a Biomedical Engineering major at Johns Hopkins University. When Gary is not Surfing the `Net, he also goes to classes, eats, and sleeps.

This article is first in the "Campus America" series. The Moment will bring you engaging articles submitted by students from universities across the country. Keeping checking here for new developments!

Java: Programming for the Internet

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