Digital Dashboard Isnt Ready for Junkyard

By John Taschek  |  Posted 2002-04-15 Print this article Print

What happened to the digital dashboard? It was supposed to be a key part of the presentation layer in Microsoft's DNA.

What happened to the digital dashboard? It was supposed to be a key part of the presentation layer in Microsofts DNA. Then, although DNA died and was reborn as .Net, the dashboard idea sat on cinder blocks like a beat-up old Buick, never to be heard from again. Only one thing is certain—the word dashboard makes it excessively easy to mix automotive metaphors.

Now it seems the dashboard is re-emerging, stealthily but surely. In fact, based on some of the finalist entries for Microsofts TechEd show last week, the dashboard looks quite powerful. Its not, however, an exceedingly different idea from one thats been around for two decades.

In fact, nearly 12 years ago, Bill Gates set the tone for the dashboard with his famous "information at your fingertips" keynote at the Comdex trade show. Back then, perhaps less than 25 percent of the U.S. population had personal computers, and most of those were running DOS. There was no Google, no Yahoo, and information clearly wasnt even close to our fingertips.

Still, the idea struck a popular chord and spurred the notion that PCs might be more than electronic character flippers. Computer vendors had been promoting the notion of enterprise information systems for years before Gates delivered that Comdex keynote in 1990. It was a notable goal limited by the technology at hand.

Eventually (in 1999), Gates came up with the idea of the "digital dashboard." It sounded a lot like the famous Hewlett-Packard Dashboard utility that was sold to Borland and eventually became part of Sidekick, which became a wholly owned subsidiary of Motorola, which eventually let the Dashboard idea die.

Microsofts digital dashboard was not a utility as much as a design goal and a series of tool kits. As we all know, tool kits never die; they just get moved from home to home. This time, the dashboard is camping out in the Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server territory.

In addition, it has found its way into several enterprise portal and business intelligence vendors strategies, including Plumtree Softwares Web services (see to access an overview) and Business Objects reporting suite.

The digital dashboard notion has been labeled as a tool kit to build departmental document management and reporting solutions, which isnt far from where it is today. But Ive seen some solutions that carry it further, including one used internally by H&R Block that shows just how powerful the dashboard concept is.

So why wont it catch on? Write to me at

As the director of eWEEK Labs, John manages a staff that tests and analyzes a wide range of corporate technology products. He has been instrumental in expanding eWEEK Labs' analyses into actual user environments, and has continually engineered the Labs for accurate portrayal of true enterprise infrastructures. John also writes eWEEK's 'Wide Angle' column, which challenges readers interested in enterprise products and strategies to reconsider old assumptions and think about existing IT problems in new ways. Prior to his tenure at eWEEK, which started in 1994, Taschek headed up the performance testing lab at PC/Computing magazine (now called Smart Business). Taschek got his start in IT in Washington D.C., holding various technical positions at the National Alliance of Business and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. There, he and his colleagues assisted the government office with integrating the Windows desktop operating system with HUD's legacy mainframe and mid-range servers.

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