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Online San Diego

From the June 27, 1997 ComputorEdge (Issue 1526)

By Jim Trageser

Last month, at the invite of Terri Masters, I went and spoke to the Oceanside Macintosh Users Group. They'd invited me after the North County Times ran a small article announcing my new job: online editor of the Times in charge of putting the paper onto the Internet. (Apparently the fact that I write this column convinced the powers that be at the Times that I do, in fact, know something about the online world – I knew this column was going to get me in trouble ...)

One of the topics the folks at the Mac group seemed most interested in was what was the future of the Internet. I had no pat answer, not having ever been asked before. But it got me to thinking a bit – heck, I've certainly got a professional stake in the issue.

What I told them was that I really have no idea, except that it will be far different than it is now. In the 12 years since I first went online, the Internet has exploded in the number of users and computers on it, and has gone from being a text-only environment to the multimedia World Wide Web.

So what's in the future?

Here's where I think it's headed: Three developments will dramatically change the electronic landscape in the next five years, so much so that the Internet will effectively compete with traditional broadcast media -- TV and radio stations:

1. The next generation of home computers will take a quantum leap forward in computing power, thus expanding the scope of multimedia capability.

2. Hookup speeds for home Internet access will increase exponentially, allowing massive multimedia files to be downloaded quickly.

3. Finally, the truly revolutionary aspect will be the portability of the Internet as the prices of both laptop computers and portable phones continue to plummet, allowing people to inexpensively access their Internet account from their car – or anywhere else.

Now that Apple has introduced a 300 mhz Power PC Mac, Intel is bound to follow suit. Within two years, we'll be seeing 500 MHz, 64 meg RAM machines on the market for what 200 mhz , 16 meg RAM PCs cost now. Heck, video cards now carry as much RAM as a standard PC five years ago. And in that same time period, we should start seeing true 64-bit operating systems on home computers. All that power translates into incredible graphics and sound -- enough to give HDTV a run for its virtual reality money.

But it takes a lot of bandwidth to transfer those massive multimedia files. Slow telephone lines have been the biggest bottleneck in the drive to improve the look and feel of the Internet – but that's changing already. With both Cox and Southwestern Cable now offering high-speed Internet access in San Diego County, the telephone companies are going to have to start upgrading their lines in the very near future in order to stay competitive. This will have the effect of raising the standard online connection speed -- meaning more realtime video on the Web, for instance. That might not sound like much, but think about it: For the price of a video camera, anyone can host their own TV station, continuing the democratization that cable started (Can we say "Trag's World"?). And startup companies with rather modest backing will be able to take on the established TV stations without the expense of an FCC license or broadcast equipment – as has already happened with online radio stations (check out using RealAudio.

Tying it all together will be laptop computers hooked up to cellular or PCS portable phones. With that in place, the Web will be able to compete with the broadcast media in terms of offering news, music and entertainment to commuters in their cars. There will be nothing to stop a local company with a Web site from offering real-time traffic updates via an audio stream or a startup company from running a rock station with RealAudio feeds. (And while it may make the safety-conscious cringe, laptop computers could serve as portable TVs on the road.)

The FCC won't like the loss of control, but who cares? It's going to be a more wide-open, more free world, and the bureaucrats may have to get honest work.