A year ago, push technology was hawked as the future of the Internet. This fall, the picture was different: Ross Rubin, an analyst with Jupiter Communications, used the occasion of a Jupiter push conference to point out how muddled the scene had become: "Push is a victim of its own success."
But it seems the rumors of push's death were exaggerated. Monday at Comdex, the computer industry's biggest dog-and-pony show, a forum called "Push Technology: paradigm or waste of time?" attracted a standing-room-only crowd of mostly corporate professionals eager to find out how push could solve their problems.
Once vaunted as the "active" successor to the "passive" browser, and a way to make the information network more like a TV network, push is finding its second life as a tool large corporations can use to save money.
Presently, corporations are using push to continuously update software, keep employees up to date, and broadcast timely information to corporate customers. Push vendors would like to expand the technology to target individual users more effectively, to be smarter about bandwidth usage, and to take information from a broader variety of sources, such as legacy databases.
Jupiter's Rubin sees light at the end of the tunnel for BackWeb Technology Inc., Marimba Inc., and other push vendors. "Certainly the complications of updating software are far beyond that of updating new content throughout the day. But it seems like a natural evolutionary step for those companies."
Large organizations, and not just businesses, have already put push to use in some impressive ways. Marimba recently struck a deal with Ingram Micro Inc. in which the computer distribution giant will use Castanet to extend its intranet to corporate customers.
BackWeb Senior VP Tony Davis told Monday's audience that the Department of Defense uses his company's technology to keep its virus protection software continuously up to date.
The best example of push's current limitations -- and its future promise -- to emerge from Monday's discussion was the case of Primark Corp., a diversified information vendor with interests in finance, weather (including natural-disaster information), and other critical information. Primark uses push for a few uses, such as sending instant financial analysis information to corporate customers.
But according to Primark CTO Robert Brammer, push hasn't reached the point where it can be relied on for the company's most critical services.
"The current technology is extremely limited compared to what we would like it to be," Brammer said. He noted that for information such as natural-disaster data, which Primark supplies to television networks, current push technology can't guarantee delivery. For the same reason, Primark relies on a variety of proprietary networks -- not the Internet -- to get its information out.
And current push standards wouldn't be able to send out information from many of Primark's databases, simply because the formats aren't supported.
But in answer to the question posed by the forum's title, Brammer affirmed push's promise. "We have been able to make money using push, and I certainly don't consider that a waste of time," he said.