Mosaic marks a milestone

In the future, you may go to sleep safe in the knowledge that your alarm clock is monitoring the weather and the traffic and deciding just when it needs to wake you up, allowing you maximum snooze time.

?That individual device can now decide because it has access to the information,? Microsoft's Rick Rashid said Tuesday at the University of Illinois.

Information you need, culled and applied the way you need it, available on all kinds of devices, wherever you are, was a big theme at a panel discussion during a UI symposium commemorating the 10th anniversary of the release of Mosaic, the first widely used graphical Web browser.

The National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the UI developed the software, which helped start the Internet boom in the 1990s.

The series of ideas that resulted in Mosaic ?truly changed the world,? said UI Vice Chancellor for Research Charles Zukoski in introducing the panel Tuesday night.

?It's hard to imagine life before the browser,? said Russ Mitchell, a UI alumnus and former managing editor for Wired magazine, who acted as moderator for the discussion.

More than just the Internet, Mosaic and the growth of the Web ?really brought computing to the masses,? Mitchell said. ?They could see that it was useful to them.?

How will people be using it all 20 years after Mosaic?

Vinton Cerf, known as one of the fathers of the Internet for co-developing the key protocols on which the network runs, said the open nature of the system will go a long way toward determining its future, because the network allows clever people to continually add new features.

?Its future will be determined more by the users than it will by the people who provide the underlying service,? said Cerf, MCI senior vice president for architecture and technology.

Rashid, who heads the Microsoft Research Group, said wireless technology and cheap mass-storage capacity will be significant factors in the way people use computing devices and networks tomorrow.

Already, there are ?changes in the way people interact with each other because of wireless technology,? which can provide constant access to information users want and the ability to communicate anywhere, Rashid said.

?It has really changed the fabric of how people get their work done,? he said. Not to mention the way they settle arguments: ??Is this right?' There's somebody going online to get the information and checking.?

Ray Ozzie, a UI graduate and developer of Lotus Notes, said the communications and collaboration potential of the Internet has barely been tapped.

Ozzie's Groove Networks is one company working to create such functionality with what he called ?social software - software that enables people to work together. There's a long way to go. We're just at the beginning.?

Meanwhile, storage capacity is rapidly heading toward a point where a terabyte of space of your own will be standard issue, Rashid said. That's enough to hold all the conversations you could have in a lifetime, all the photos you've ever taken or six months of TV programming.

?Now there's this incredible storehouse of information,? which can be made available anywhere via the Internet and the Web, Rashid said. ?It's going to change the way science is done. It's certainly going to change the way education is done.?

NCSA Director Dan Reed characterized the future as an ?infosphere? that will move with us like the cloud of dust around the Peanuts comic strip character Pig Pen.

That raises a number of issues, the panelists agreed, not the least of which is whether we always want information following us and just how much of it we want to make available publicly, Reed said.

Among other concerns are the security and dependability of the system and its capacity - bandwidth - to handle the demand, which is currently lacking in most homes in particular, the panelists said.

You can reach Greg Kline at (217) 351-5215 or via e-mail at kline@news-gazette.com.

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