Digital Dashboard Isnt Ready for Junkyard

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 www.eweek.com/links 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 john_taschek@ziffdavis.com.