Poised to take the Internet beyond just surfing and browsing, a trend known as the X Internet stands to be the next wave of connectivity.
The X Internet is a network through which a user's computer takes a more active role in the communication process. Instead of just downloading files, computers on the X Internet download lots of little programs that tell the machine what to do.
While traditional Web browsers download pages and pages of new material, the X Internet downloads a minimal amount of files necessary to update what is already running on a user's client device.
Rebol Technologies, Ukiah, Calif., is developing software for the X Internet. The product it sells is like a virtual private network (VPN); it allows a group of individuals to have access to each other's information and share constantly updated files.
“We knew this was going to happen sooner or later,” said Carl Sassenrath, chairman and chief technology officer of Rebol. “Now it's really getting interesting and exciting. About a year and a half ago, we realized that a lot of folks needed to be able to work more closely together than they do with the Web. The Web's a really good technology for brochures and a lot of shallow relationships for brief information.”
But, Sassenrath added, the ability to view other people's work in real time allows for more efficiency. Rebol allows users to share all sorts of different files, and even take advantage of dozens of Rebol's own efficient applications such as calendars, instant messengers and meeting programs.
Without using a browser, the X Internet and Rebol's software give users the ability to directly modify everything they see on their screen within any program that the users share. In turn, other users can benefit from the changes they each make.
Equally beneficial, however, is the communication that takes place between the machines.
“When you log in, the conversation has started with the server … ‘What new things do you need?’ So, maybe there's an update to the instant message capability, or you have presence management and you can see who else is around. You get that information downloaded into your device, and you don't need to download it again.”
A few people in the software business were unfamiliar with the X Internet, but there's a chance they may know it by a different name. Prophet 21 Inc., Yardley, Pa., which is providing a similar real-time community network for its users, said the idea is feasible.
Doug Levin, executive vice president of Prophet 21, said the same concept has been brewing in the electrical industry.
That sounds like, really, the evolution of the Internet… having the machines talk to each other from a business application standpoint,” he said.
Levin likened the X Internet to some of the software that his company sells.
“Let's say… I'm a supplier, and as a supplier I need to get price information out. So, in the past, what I would do is send paper or books out … and then more recently I would let distributors download it off of my Web site. But now, I actually can send this (electronic) agent out with the pricing information and it would go to the different systems and update their pricing in their proper format.”
Sassenrath said that the X Internet is particularly well-suited for distributors and suppliers because of the close nature of the relationships.
There are several reasons why large groups of people aren't taking advantage of the X Internet just yet.
One is that companies using software like Rebol's tend to limit their X Internet network to smaller groups. They enjoy the security, and don't want to let just anyone into their own private network.
Another factor that is holding back the X Internet is that there is simply no standard. Different software companies produce varieties of the X Internet that are incompatible.
A third reason that this kind of software isn't more prevalent has to do with the business model that companies like Rebol are using. Essentially, Rebol charges a one-time fee of $100 per user of its software. So, getting it out to the masses is not as easy as downloading something from Shareware.
However, Rebol is currently working with StreamCast Networks, Nashville, Tenn., on integrating Rebol technology into their network of users.
StreamCast created Morpheus, the widely used file-sharing program popularized by its ability to share music and video files in a similar fashion to Napster.
By spreading Rebol software to StreamCast's millions of users, Sassenrath said a standard for the X Internet could easily materialize.
“It'd become a standard pretty quickly if 20 or 30 million people had it on their systems,” he said.