John Patrick is Vice President of Internet Technology at IBM and has championed many Linux-related projects there. In spite of the hokey title of his new book, Net Attitude, Patrick’s ideas about the Next Generation Internet (NGi) and Linux defy its decidedly unsavvy niche and its seemingly bad timing.
Roy Christopher: Having worked online and having been entrenched in Web culture for the past several years, reading Net Attitude, I felt like the choir. Who is your intended audience?
John Patrick: The target market is for people who have not been entrenched in Web culture. Non-technical management needs to know both where the Internet is headed and also about the cultural aspects of the Internet if they want to be successful using it as the new medium in the months and years ahead. We are only about 5% or so into the impact that we will see from the Next Generation of the Internet.
RC: The recent dotcom fallout has left a trail of bad business plans, duped investors and vast hesitance and doubt. Net Attitude seems to be aimed more at existing companies than dotcoms. Is this an accurate observation?
JP: Yes, it is targeted at established companies but not exclusively. Many dotcoms recruited people from existing companies who were quite experienced in finance, marketing, distribution and other disciplines but not necessarily experienced in the Web culture. Net Attitude will hopefully help executives and companies change the way they think about the Internet and the Web.
RC: You contend that the Next Generation Internet (NGi) will become a lot of things (e.g., fast, always on, easy, trusted, etc.). The current internet is already a majority of these things, but explain how it will become “natural” and “intelligent.”
JP: Everything is relative. Is the Internet fast? Not for most people. Is it always on? Yes, for cable modem and DSL users but that represents a tiny percentage of users. And so on. The NGi is evolving day by day. A year from now things will be different and in five years they will be very different. The book tries to portray the key trends in each of the areas.
The Internet will become much more natural as language translation, voice recognition, and natural language computing evolve. We will begin to think of the Web as a realt-time. multi-lingual, intercom where a person can ask a question of customer service in the language they are most comfortable with. The question will get routed to the most knowledgeable person on that particular question who will answer it in their natural language, and then the questioner will hear the answer in their language.
The web today is made up of billions of web pages. They all have nice formatting but they don’t have context. A new standard called XML will enable web pages to be ‘tagged’ with context – things like customer number, part number, invoice date, policy number, etc. The tags will make the pages easier to find and easier to interact with. As the tagging gets more prevalent then servers will be able to interact and perform transactions with no human intervention. The result will be faster service for all of us. There are still a lot of cases in the world where you order something and then you see “delivery will be in 8-12 weeks.” This is because of the faxes and forms that still exist. The book goes into all this in a lot more detail.
RC: In your eyes, what does the world of Linux need to do next?
JP: Linux is on the right path toward becoming a more mature operating system. It is evolving nicely and pervasively. IBM is supporting Linux on all of its computing platforms from the ThinkPad to massive supercomputers. IBM even built wrist watch which runs Linux. It is becoming more mainstream everyday — with companies like Winnebago and Korean Air utilizing it in their business. Real companies with real things to do are turning to Linux because it has such a wide base of support and it is very reliable. IBM is helping Linux to evolve as fast as possible.
RC: Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to mention?
JP: We have many exciting projects going on at IBM. Two of particular note and tightly related to the Internet and the NGi are Grid computing and autonomic computing. Grid computing is an open source effort that enables large numbers of computers to be tied together over the net and then to be able to operate as a single virtual computing environment. This will allow for massive scaleability. Over time it will mean lower cost of computing and more importantly more flexible computing. Autonomic computing will enable all those computers to become self-managing and self-healing. The combined result will be that companies will be able to e-source much of their computing to a Grid computing environment or build a Grid computing environment of their own. IBM has taken a leadership role in this area and is prepared to be a technology partner with companies around the world to take advantage of these new developments.