Survivor's Guide to 2004: That was Now, This is Then

Publisher Fritz Nelson takes a trip down memory lane with his look at the technologies, people and companies taht laid the groundwork for IT today.

December 19, 2003

20 Min Read
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In my Aug. 7, 2003 column, I mentioned several companies that have gone the way of the PDP-11, including the fabulous SNA gateway vendor Rabbit Software. Many of you responded with enlightening anecdotes about Rabbit and its eventual demise. I learned that Rabbit coined and patented the term middleware, that the company was nearly purchased by Novell and that it eventually merged with Tangram, which still exists, though it finally discontinued the Rabbit product line in 2001.

And lest we forget that it's people who drive these changes, consider one Yakov Rechter, who wrote the TN3270 spec, which was, of course, among the death knells for SNA. Rechter is now involved with another promising technology: MPLS.

TCP/IP brought the birth of FTP Software, Quarterdeck, TGV, Wollongong, WRQ and other companies whose heyday was in the early '90s. Ultimately, though, Microsoft took care of many of these companies (and by "took care of," I mean "ate alive"), and Cisco took care of TGV and some others.

Cisco's nemesis in those days was Cabletron, which, instead of going with the consolidation trend, tore itself apart at the seams, creating Aprisma, Enterasys and Riverstone. Former Cabletron CEO Craig Benson is now governor of New Hampshire. His partner, co-founder Robert Levine, is said to have driven around sales meetings in a tank, in full army regalia. I've also heard that the two bosses loathed long meetings, so they put tall tables in their conference rooms--and no chairs. Cabletron may also be remembered for its Secure Fast Virtual Networking--think VLANs on steroids. Ah, the good old days.

And how about MCI, the carrier that was gobbled up by WorldCom, which had also eaten CompuServe, UUnet and others? WorldCom at first shed the MCI name and its stodgy long-distance phone company legacy. Recently, though, New Age service provider WorldCom changed its name back to MCI to rid itself of WorldCom's stodgy bankruptcy image. And guess who's at the helm now? None other than Michael Capellas, formerly of Hewlett-Packard, which gobbled up Compaq, where he'd served as CEO.

Round and round we go. Ten years ago, Novell bought USL (Unix Systems Labs) from AT&T. This year, Novell bought SuSE Linux. David Strom, technology editor of our sister publication VARBusiness and founding editor in chief of Network Computing, says this may be déj vu all over again ( "The main thorn in the side of Linux these days is SCO, which has its roots in the Canopy Group, a private venture-capital firm that grew from the house that Ray Noorda built. If you recall, Noorda was the CEO and chairman of Novell in the 1980s and early 1990s. Noorda was behind the first effort to buy USL from AT&T." Talk about irony.

So, in keeping with this issue's "Survivor" theme, we put together the following roster of technologies, people and companies that meant a lot to the IT world and, in some cases, still do. Add your own anecdotes here.

Gone and Forgotten

Digital Equipment Corp.'s Alpha processor. One of the earliest 64-bit chips, the Alpha promised to cure cancer, bring world peace and save DEC's butt. But, like all things DEC, it ran only on DEC platforms and other select Unix platforms. Compaq kept Alpha going after it bought what was left of DEC, but HP finally pulled the plug late last year. Much ado about next to nothing.X.400. Remember X.400? This exciting, even revolutionary telecom standard, born around the time people were starting to put e-mail addresses on business cards, was supposed to make us all instantly reachable by e-mail, regardless of location, mail system or transport. Each X.400 address was about 1,100 characters long.

General Magic's Magic Cap. The Apple Newton was years ahead of its time, but Magic Cap, from the Apple spin-off General Magic, was light-years ahead. Using the company's Telescript software-agent technology, it let you order flowers, make dinner reservations and check stocks on the Web "automagically." General Magic eventually moved into voice recognition, among other things, and finally called it all quits in 2002.

OpenDoc. This cross-platform technology, developed jointly by Apple, IBM, Lotus and others (but not including Microsoft), was designed to let users write custom software that could run in a single document. We hear there are some tinkerers out there still using it.

Ipsilon's "cut through" switching. Ipsilon claimed it would change networking dramatically by combining the best of ATM and IP on a router backplane. Its cut-through switching technology actually made it into an RFC, but the only other vendor that believed in the technology was Nokia, which in 1997 bought Ipsilon. Nokia partner Check Point Software Technologies then put the routing technology in its firewall.

Multiprotocol over ATM. Another failed attempt to marry ATM and IP.Forgotten but not Gone

Wireless DSL. Sprint and WorldCom both spent big bucks on MMDS-band licenses in the hopes of rolling out wireless Internet access to the masses. But the technology fizzled, mostly because it required line of site, which made installation challenging, but also because the modems cost an arm and a leg.

Bluetooth. Overhyped, maybe, but it's been incredibly successful worldwide, and for good reason. It may not perform as well as 802.11 performs for LAN applications, but it does the trick for simple connectivity and cable replacement at relatively low data rates over limited distances.

Token Ring. It's been reincarnated twice, first as FDDI and more recently as RPR.

Push. Once touted as the essential Web content-delivery technology, with Pointcast leading the charge, push technology eventually found its raison d'tre as a software-distribution tool.Network Computers and NetPCs. Sun and others said these terminal-style machines would replace desktops, remember? NCs, along with their cousin, thin-client software, now fill a vertical-market niche.

Best of the Rest

Novell Appware. Where, oh where, is Appware? Gone, presumably, but Novell is banking on the adoption of Web services to push sales of its exteNd application server, the rebranded Silverstream application server it acquired in 2002. The IDE (Integrated Development Environment) is geared toward RAD (Rapid Application Development) and Extreme programming. Novell hopes developers will help usher exteNd into the data center.

Iridium. Chairman Robert Galvin and other Motorola execs needed a big, expensive project, and the 88 low-Earth-orbit satellite venture called Iridium filled the bill. But building ATM switches into satellites? Talk about your planned obsolescence!

Privacy Enhanced Mail. A gallant try.Virtual Reality Markup Language. VRML was going to change the way we view the Web. Yeah, right.

Bulletin-board services. Slaughtered by AOL and other online services.

PC Jr. Maybe the chiclet keyboard did it in.

IBM's Microchannel bus architecture. Sometimes IBM can't set the industry standard.

ESDI drives. Wiped out in a SCSI attack.PKI. The applications just didn't come.

Iomega's Jazz and Bernoulli drives. Who needs 'em?Vint Cerf, Tireless Mover and Shaker

Yes, the Internet has changed the world, but its arrival wasn't some "Where were you when" event. The Internet emerged gradually, and it continues to evolve, perhaps ultimately to serve as the cornerstone of all communication. So it should come as no surprise that Vint Cerf, one of the Internet's founding fathers and a leader in commercializing it, continues to this day to lay the groundwork for its future.

It wasn't until 1988, 16 years after the first public demonstrations of Internet technology and about five years after NASA, DARPA and other government agencies began to rely on it, that Cerf walked into Interop with then-3Com CEO Eric Benhamou and found himself incredulous at the mammoth vendor exhibits there. After calculating the show costs, he realized there had to be a better way for companies to market their products and brands. So he persuaded the Federal Networking Council to let him connect MCIMail (which he had helped engineer) to the National Science Foundation backbone. By 1989, there were three commercial Internet service providers--PSINet, a spin-off of NYSERNet; UUnet, a nonprofit; and Cerfnet, run by General Atomics.

The rest, as they say, is history. E-mail became the first commercial killer Internet application, Microsoft built TCP/IP into its operating system, and Berners-Lee and friends created the World Wide Web.

Cerf sees voice over IP as one of the first modern technologies beholden to the Internet for its existence. "This is the first time [VoIP] has really caught on," he says. "We have a tumultuous 10 years in front of us." He sees entertainment as another "disruptive" but positive force, citing Sony's claims that all its consumer devices will be Internet-enabled by 2006.

Cerf also has been a big proponent of IPv6, which, despite years of gloom and chatter, hasn't taken off in the United States. He blames the failure of IPv4 on the "dangerous" trend toward NAT (network address translation). "We need to get back to an end-to-end address space," he says, especially with the onslaught of voice, mobile applications, entertainment and grid computing. "I want to see a large and inexhaustible address space." He points to significant IPv6 deployment in Japan, which has started rolling out Internet-enabled automobiles, and in Europe.

Cerf spends a lot of time these days at MCI, where he's senior VP of technology strategy and is helping the company ready itself and its customers for grid computing. "Switching packets isn't going to be the best margin business," he says. To that end, he's working with Microsoft, HP and IBM and envisions a day when third parties can build application services into MCI's network. Previously, as senior VP of architecture and technology, he helped the company advance its VoIP services, and he's been a leader in getting security elements put on the MCI backbone.Cerf also is a visiting scientist at Jet Propulsion Labs, where he's working on standards for space-based, interplanetary communication. He's involved in building a new protocol stack that allows for "lots of impairments; stuff moving, like planets and satellites," not to mention latency and bandwidth considerations. In fact, this new stack must work in a store-and-forward mode to account for all these characteristics. The goal is to create a standard set of protocols that can be used for all space missions. Two recent Mars missions have used the link layers of this stack, and by the end of the decade, if things go according to plan, the Mars Communication Orbiter will use the full interplanetary stack.

Cerf kills the rest of his time serving as chairman of the board for the politically charged ICANN, where he's led the way since 1999, promoting technology-training classes for developing countries and support for RFC editing, among other things near and dear to his heart.

Carl Malamud, Father of Internet Talk Radio

You're probably familiar with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, but does the name Carl Malamud ring a bell? NBA referees might not want to thank the man who ushered in the age of Internet radio, which led to Cuban's founding the lucrative Malamud was the driving force behind some other truly amazing accomplishments as well.

This Fulbright-Hayes scholar, who was a Network Computing writer and a compelling industry speaker in the early '90s, was also authoring books, conducting seminars, and doing research and consulting for the Federal Reserve, the Department of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other government organizations.

Carl Malamud

click to enlarge

Malamud created the Internet's first radio station, Internet Talk Radio, in 1993 as part of Internet Multicasting Service, a nonprofit corporation. "We started a public radio station," Malamud says. "We always said others should start commercial stations. Cuban and [RealNetworks chairman and CEO Robert] Glaser both did good work."

But Malamud went on to do so much more. He created the Internet 1996 World Exposition (, raising nearly $100 million to build the infrastructure. He also wrote a book on that experience, with a foreword by the Dalai Lama. He served as a visiting professor at Keio University in Japan and at MIT's Media Lab, created the first EDGAR archives of SEC filings, and started up Invisible Worlds, a now-defunct company that developed the XML-based transport protocol BEEP (Blocks Extensible Exchange Protocol), which became an Internet standard.

Malamud is married now, with a 2-year-old child. He's training to be a volunteer fireman and is working with his wife on artistic projects. But he's also back in the throes of the technology industry: In addition to writing, he's working with the Internet Software Consortium on DNS security and other projects (see He just can't stay away.Dan Lynch, Tech-Community Visionary

Dan Lynch gave us Interop, which eventually became the NetWorld+Interop trade show we know today. He also founded CyberCash, a payment-processing company that was at the heart of the Internet's evolution into a commercially viable entity. Although he hasn't moved completely away from technology, he is enjoying the, er, fruits of his labors, growing grapes at the winery he bought in St. Helena, Calif.

As director of computer facilities at SRI International, Lynch led the team responsible for transitioning the ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) to TCP/IP. He did a great deal of implementation and troubleshooting; in his words, he "helped the inventors [of the Internet] make it work." He believed the technology being used by the ARPANET would "take over the world," but he didn't see that start to unfold until the first Interop, in Santa Clara, Calif., in 1988.

In fact, this first show, officially dubbed "Advanced Computing Environments," consisted mainly of training and interoperability demonstrations. The idea was for companies building connectivity software and equipment to get together and "hook their stuff up," Lynch says. About 50 vendors participated, and some began referring to the event simply as "Interop." There were 5,000 attendees that first year. Lynch says his epiphany came when three propellerheads from Ford dragged a company executive over to show him how the private network created by Apollo, Cisco, Proteon, Sun, Wellfleet and others could benefit the automaker. "See, it works," they said, persuading the exec to sign a purchase order on the spot.

Back then, the industry needed to build itself as a community, so vendors could learn from one another and users could determine what they needed to buy, Lynch says. He hasn't been to a trade show in years now, he says, but he suspects there's still a need for community.

Lynch went on to create CyberCash, which went Chapter 11 in 2001 and auctioned off its North American payment services operation to VeriSign--but by then it had broken technology and regulatory barriers and paved the way for electronic commerce, waking the banking industry in the process.

Since 1995, Lynch has worked primarily as a private venture capitalist. He's considered investing in wireless technology because "it's fun," he says, but has resisted the temptation because he believes the wireless market will ultimately undergo consolidation, leaving just a handful of players standing. He's also been doing work for charities, such as Camp Venture Creek for kids, spending time with his children and grandchildren, working at his winery and investing in restaurants, "mainly so I can get reservations," he says.Hayes
Ah, the modem. Nothing could beat the sweet sound of modulation, then connection. And Hayes was the lead singer.

In some sense, it still is. Hayes no longer exists as a corporate entity, but Hayes analog modems are still being sold, by Zoom Telephonics, a subsidiary of Zoom Technologies, which acquired the Hayes name and assets from the bankrupt vendor in 1999. The Hayes brand always did well in the United Kingdom, and it remains strong there; the Hayes Micro Secura and Optima lines are still volume products, according to the company, and Zoom Technologies has expanded into cable and DSL modems, as well as Bluetooth and digital cameras.Banyan
Technology bigotry has served us well. It's given us a cause to champion, technology that's often superior, and something to hold over the heads of Microsoft and other big players. At one time, it was Apple and Banyan; today, it's Apple and Linux.

Banyan's story is remarkable in that the company may truly have been ahead of its time (unlike those companies that just claim to be ahead of their time). Founded in 1983 by former Data General exec David Mahoney and his cohorts, Banyan, like many other high-tech vendors, started life as a hardware and OS player. Indeed, company officials claim Banyan's was the first network operating system and directory service around. Its Vines NOS eventually competed with Novell NetWare, 3Com 3+ LAN and Microsoft LAN Manager, among others. But its real legacy was StreetTalk, a directory service extraordinaire copied by both Microsoft and Novell to even greater commercial success. Banyan's roots are still alive and well in ePresence, a service company now being purchased by Unisys.

Banyan went public in 1992, but then struggled in creating a market that got Microsoft's and Novell's competitive juices flowing. It purchased Beyond Inc. in 1994 for the BeyondMail product line, to diversify its offerings. But unlike Microsoft and Novell, Banyan failed to market itself broadly and develop a solid channel strategy.

In 1997, Bill Ferry replaced Mahoney as CEO and began to engineer a turnaround. Banyan bartered its technology for equity stakes in several pre-IPO companies. It also began to transform itself into a services company geared around its core assets: technology, customer loyalty and a host of directory consultants. By 1999, it was armed with plenty of cash and talent. In 2000, it took online directory public, adding even more black ink to the balance sheet.

As the whiz kids of the dot-com era introduced full-service firms like Razorfish, Scient and Viant, says ePresence senior VP and general manager Scott Silk, Banyan was forced to re-evaluate and refocus on its core strength: directories. EPresence began to focus on consulting, managed services and integration around that technology. The Banyan products were phased out.And then the crash came. But ePresence survived, and the trend toward identity management created a niche for ePresence's expertise.

The Unisys acquisition, expected to be complete this month, is an all-cash deal, and the service arm of ePresence will be branded "Unisys." This will give ePresence the name recognition and stability of a huge global presence, with international delivery capabilities and a security focus that will include identity management, Silk says. The main competitors: IBM Global Services and the part of PriceWaterhouseCoopers that IBM did not acquire.

Peer-to-peer networking began not outside the firewall, not between individuals and not over the Internet. It began on the LAN, in the 1980s, when Artisoft, a print server and PC clone vendor founded by Jack Schoof, developed LANtastic. Like others, Artisoft was quickly humbled by Novell's peer-to-peer offering, NetWare Lite, which was followed by the ascendance of Microsoft Windows 95 with its peer-networking capability.

In the 1990s, Artisoft refocused on networking hardware, modem software and computer telephony. More recently, it sold off assets, reduced its work force and turned its attention to the network-based voice market.

Best of the RestProteon. First among multiprotocol router manufacturers, Proteon changed its name to OpenRoute in 1997. Two years later, it was acquired by Netrix, which became NX Networks, a VoIP service provider that filed for bankruptcy in 2001., a privately held communications technology developer, bought the company's assets the following year.

Madge Networks. Robert Madge had a vision, and that vision was Token Ring, which had a good run and served as forerunner to today's RPR. The Madge Networks founder also envisioned videoconferencing, which has yet to hit its stride. In addition, he pictured a services company, Madge.web, which would offer networking, voice, VPN and Web hosting; that company lasted a while before being discontinued. Now Madge Networks thinks wireless is the next great thing; the company recently announced upgrades of its WLAN Probe 2 and Probe Monitor. Who knows what comes next?

KnowledgeWare. Headed up by former Minnesota Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton, this software vendor was eventually sold to Sterling Software, which in turn was sold to Computer Associates in 2000. Meanwhile, in 1999, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil suit against former KnowledgeWare executives for financial fraud. The court levied fines and penalties that totaled $100,000 for Tarkenton alone.

Borland. Borland was born as--surprise--Borland. Remember its Quattro spreadsheet software? How about its purchase of dBASE maker Ashton-Tate? And Microsoft's purchase of FoxPro, which squashed the dBASE part of Borland's business? Borland changed its name to Inprise in 1998, but in 2001 changed it back to Borland and started focusing on Java development.

Marimba. This company's goal was to push everything from stock quotes to operating system updates across mobile phones and mainframes with equal abandon. But when the bubble burst, Marimba became a desktop-management vendor, and dances on.Fritz Nelson is vice president/group publisher of the Network Computing Enterprise Architecture Group. He began his illustrious career with Network Computing as a freelancer writer way back in the early '90s. Write to him at [email protected].

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