Roundtable, pg

By eweek  |  Posted 2002-11-18 Print this article Print

. 2"> eWeek: Are others interested enough in the Tablet form factor to be evaluating it or at least researching at this point?

Brorson: At the University of Minnesota, weve looked at the Tablet for nearly a year now. Once the [operating system] is actually released, well probably have a better idea of where the support for applications is going to be. But right now, I would say that there is less optimism than there was a year ago.

Calabrese: As a replacement for the laptop, it isnt an appropriate tool. I think its a good supplement for 30 percent of the folks that would normally carry laptops.

Inks: I think its a poor replacement for a laptop.

Wilson: Im a little more intrigued by the wireless display technology and think more people will latch on to that once they see it.

eWeek: At USA Today, Gary, youve been looking at whether people would rather read content on paper or get it in some kind of electronic form. Is the Tablet PC going to be the delivery vehicle that gets people reading their newspaper on a screen through a wireless link instead of reading it on paper? Is it finally the delivery device of next-generation news?

Gunnerson: Weve been tracking these kinds of technologies all the way through e-books and everything else, and they just dont catch on. They seem to be a nice niche product for a while, and some people enjoy them, and then it kind of fades away.

I think there are places where Tablet PCs make unbelievable sense.

eWeek: Such as?

Gunnerson: Order entry, forms-based tasks, where youre checking things off and writing things in.

eWeek: Michael, at AdSpace Networks, youve been looking at relatively advanced and specialized technologies for delivering rapidly changing content into stores in the form of your signage and so on. Are you looking at things such as the Tablet PC technology, flat screen or digital paper?

Skaff: In terms of the Tablet PCs, we are very interested in the small form factor because were looking at a couple of different designs for how we deploy these systems. One of them includes a local PC, and if its local to the display, were very interested in a small form factor.

eWeek: When we talk about all this stuff thats needed to handle transactions, push content out to devices and so on, the thing that I always think about is whats down in the basement in terms of the server room. Larry, whats on your radar at Nordstrom in terms of scalability and reliability issues? What are the technologies that youre watching for the next year?

Shaw: Most of what were doing is basically replacing older hardware with new, rolling upgraded hardware in our store locations.

eWeek: Whats driving that upgrade cycle?

Shaw: Age, primarily. Our replacement cycle is about three years.

eWeek: Whats going on the new systems?

Shaw: Windows 2000 in our stores. Were using Solaris on the back end for most of our new merchandising applications. Our primary network for supporting users is still Windows 2000. Were also rolling out our point-of-sale network on Windows 2000.

eWeek: Is there anything happening in terms of trying to make servers more of a large, dynamically allocated pool of capacity instead of having to try to anticipate capacity on more of a point-by-point basis?

Shaw: Were doing that to a limited degree. We are looking at where we have concentrations, like the Seattle area. We are looking at going to SAN [storage area network] in those areas to concentrate storage rather than the number of discrete servers at our data center.

Most of our locations are fairly loosely connected with low-speed wires and dont really make storage of centralized data practical for those. So from a file/print/data point of view, we still maintain a single file print server at each store to store the data for that location and then back it up at night to a central facility.

eWeek: When you talk about those distributed devices—file and print servers or network-attached storage and SAN devices—where theyre really just a pretty focused box, are any of these appliances that youre looking at running Linux or other lower-cost operating systems?

Shaw: No.

eWeek: Is that by choice, or it just hasnt happened yet?

Shaw: In most cases, the server is also providing user validation for that location, so its the local Active Directory source and global catalog for our centralized Exchange servers, as well.

eWeek: Is there anyone who is making any significant efforts to evaluate or adopt any of the open-source technologies?

Brorson: Smaller enterprises that I work with outside the university are looking in that direction, especially as the Office-type applications have improved, whether its OpenOffice or StarOffice. I certainly see companies that are now asking whether they should [consider open source], and a year ago I didnt even hear that asked.

eWeek: So the idea is gaining traction, if not yet actual adoption?

Brorson: True.

Calabrese: We use Linux-embedded software in some of the products we make. Also, with some of the OEM components, we develop in a Linux environment on a desktop, which then begs the question of, If youre working on developing a product in Linux that will be embedded in one of our software or hardware systems, on your laptop, should you have to have a dual-boot to receive your e-mail, or would you rather receive your e-mail while youre working on a product in that same environment?

To further it, if Im developing a Linux application and I also want to get my e-mail and I want to maybe send copies of this application to other people, then I also have to work within the same environment that the rest of the corporation works in. E-mail, you can expect, will have Word enclosures and Excel enclosures. So, now, for every Linux-based development station, Ive got to have a full productivity suite so that engineers can communicate. And should it be dual-boot, or should we use an open-source version of the productivity suite?

eWeek: I guess thats a still-unanswered question?

Calabrese: Its a question that were trying to find the best answer to.

eWeek: Are there particular alternative productivity suites that youre evaluating?

Calabrese: At this point, nothings really cropped up. Were trying to see whether we can go down this track because, again, you take the example one step further: These engineers who are developing in Linux may not be here at corporate headquarters. I may have a guy working from his cabin in Maine with Linux on his machine, and he wants to VPN in. Now I need a Linux firewall, and I need a Linux-based VPN client.

So all the tools and services that I provide and Im comfortable with in the Windows environment have to be replicated. So its not just a matter of whether we introduce StarOffice but can we introduce at exactly the same time the full complement of services for Linux?


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