Push technology fumbling toward ecstasy?

On Monday, a handful of industry experts will gather to consider -- or reconsider -- a development that, a year ago, was hailed as the Internet's Next Big Thing: "push" technology. The skeptical mood of the roundtable, as reflected in its title ("Push Technology: Paradigm or Waste of Time?

On Monday, a handful of industry experts will gather to consider -- or reconsider -- a development that, a year ago, was hailed as the Internet's Next Big Thing: "push" technology.

The skeptical mood of the roundtable, as reflected in its title ("Push Technology: Paradigm or Waste of Time?"), is a big change for push, but the same epigram might be applied just as accurately to this year's discussions of several once-hyped Internet technologies.

At the same time, other promising trends and innovations, from broadband connectivity to extended intranets, are cropping up to give IT managers pleasant dreams and, hopefully, add to their employers' bottom lines.

The push debate will likely revolve around a decisive trend that's emerged recently. With the two major browsers having essentially taken over the market for pushing content to users' desktops (putting many small push startups out of business), what's left for the other pushers out there?

For companies maintaining intranets -- and extended intranets linking them to partners and clients -- the answer is software distribution and updating.

Eli Barkat, president and CEO of BackWeb Technologies Inc., one of the push event's speakers, will doubtless put in a word or two about how his company has shifted its focus from consumers on the Internet to corporations and their private networks.

Such consumer-oriented companies as bookseller Amazon.com, online auctioneer Onsale, and virtual travel agency Travelocity are looking to another form of push for keeping their customers connected: multimedia E-mail. John Funk, CEO of E-mail publisher InfoBeat, and another of the push panelists, echoes analysts' opinions: that there's a future for push at a variety of levels.

"The client platforms such as Marimba and BackWeb work best inside an enterprise, where you can control the deployment and you're trying to have a variety of information and content mixed in, but that's not for everybody," Funk said. "There is no magic bullet, no one-size-fits-all."

"One size fits all" is pretty close to the "Write once, run anywhere" battle cry that once rallied the legions around Sun Microsystems' Java programming language. Java's multiplatform flexibility should make it ideal for the burgeoning E-commerce market, but experts don't expect to see any inordinate caffeine influence this fall.

"Java's playing as much of a role in E-commerce as any programming language," said Vernon Keenan, a senior analyst with Zona Research Inc. in Redwood City, Calif. "Java interfaces on a client, or Java logic on an app server -- there's some appeal to that, because lots of clients and servers run Java. But it's not the magical elixir some folks thought it was a year ago."

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