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Computer Scientist: Current Info Management is Obsolete

NEW YORK -- Software and the modern desktop are dead. Even the newest, most cutting-edge products are pointless. That is the message that Yale University professor, computer scientist and author David Gelernter had for a modest audience as Thursday's keynote speaker at TECHXNY.

Why didn't somebody tell Microsoft Corp., Oracle Corp. and the teeming masses of companies that have been born since the '70s, or more appropriately, since 1984 when Apple Computer Corp. made the desktop a commercial, computing phenomenon?

Because for Gelernter, who exhibited prescience in 1991 when he predicted the Web would become a business medium in his book "Mirror Worlds," the history of the Internet has yet to be written. He and the company he formed, New Haven, Conn.-based Mirror Worlds Technologies Inc., have created software they call Scopeware, which could obivate the need for the current desktop set-up of files, folders and applications.

Calling the current, and according to him, archaic, desktop set-up to "virtual Tupperware" that gets stored in a fridge (the ole icebox being the computer, of course), Gelernter said it was a great creation 17 years ago as popularized by Apple, but lacks the efficiency that his more narrative information management philosophy may provide. Simply, he feels the advantage of streamed file distribution eliminates the clutter of desktops and keeps info in what centralized narrative.

In his presentation, he demonstrated Scopeware as a series of information files that stream to the desktop, which is actually more suited for mobile Net devices such as personal digital assistants (PDAs), Web-enabled cell phones and myriad other wearable wireless devices (an arena mired very much in its infancy in terms of public consumption). Scopeware is written in Java and the Web browser user interface is based on a combination of JavaScript, DHTML, and HTML generated using Java Server Pages (JSP) and Java Servlets. Palm, Blackberry/RIM and cell phone interfaces are based on HTML and WML.

How does the application function? While he peppered his lecture with numerous cultural witticisms, he also showed portions of his Scopeware site and read from them:

"Imagine a world in which every information asset in your life was treated like an email," Gelernter said. "In this world, every message, office document, Web bookmark, appointment, MP3, and scanned image that you created or received or that was saved to a network folder you have access to would be captured automatically in a big combination "Sent/Inbox" and arranged in order of receipt. In addition, every information asset would be displayed on your desktop with a thumbnail picture so you could see its first page, a summary of its content, and facts like who it belongs to and when it was created. Along with this display would be options to edit, forward, reply, copy, or delete the document and more."

The stream is updated in real-time, (think of the latest story popping up on a press release aggregation site such as PR Newswire.com), in what Gelernter called the "now line", or the present. New documents send older documents back to the "past" where they are kept on deck for easy access. Hence, Gelertner's narrative motif.

Gelernter hopes to propagate his company's products through distributed computing, or the get-it-while-it's-hot peer-to-peer model, where everyone would be able to share their narratives with anyone they chose.

An accomplished academian well known for his publicized account of how he survived an attack by the technology-despising Unabomber, Gelernter presented more as a technologist than as a businessman, which would perhaps would explain why he stuck to the technology rather than strategies as to how Mirror Worlds may depose the applications giants of the world.

Actually, there is no hostile intent to the current software establishment; Gelernter said products such as Scopeware could, like many evolving Web products (see Microsoft's .NET), work with existing apps by sitting atop desktops in layers. The scientist closed his extremely forward-looking lecture with the idea that technologists should go back to basics and "get it right" to help the Web evolve.