Whats Driving the IT Client

Opinion: By listening to auto owners' telematics demands, developers can find pointers on how to deliver a better desktop experience.

IT providers love to associate their products with the satisfying experience of driving a well-tuned sports car. We hear about "dashboards" and "cockpits" for the enterprise information user; we read about database "engines" and even laptop "airbags."

Fair enough. After all, the desktop metaphor is 21 years old this month, if we date its arrival in the mainstream with the debut of Apples Macintosh. The novelty is gone, and who wouldnt rather take a spin in a Shelby Cobra rather than a swivel chair?

But auto drivers know what they want from the burgeoning industry of telematics, or in-car information and entertainment systems. If desktop and laptop IT wants to wrap itself in the mantle of purposeful and stimulating travel, then it ought to be willing to take on the challenges that drivers are issuing to automakers and telematics providers.

For example, drivers want integration of function rather than proliferation of similar devices and tools. Rather than having one wireless phone in the car and another that they carry the rest of the time, drivers want Bluetooth or other technology to combine the advantages of both. Likewise, the enterprise user wants to get away from managing multiple message stores and work product repositories. Web application developers should avoid creating redundant systems; they should instead use Web services and other means of making core-function subsystems play many complementary roles.

Drivers also want to take advantage of Internet connectivity to get real-time, personalized data feeds such as information on specific traffic conditions or fuel availability along their intended route. Many Web sites offer a poor and clumsy approximation of this capability, but too few offer ways of putting an automatically updating status display on a client device. Yes, we can leave a Web site open in a browser and hit "reload" when we want to see the current situation, but wouldnt we rather have a broader array of downloadable Java applications that dont take up so much screen space or user attention to do a better job? Microsofts Longhorn "sidebar" makes some moves toward integrating this kind of capability into the desktop environment, but I dont want to wait that long and I dont want to be limited to that one vision.

Auto owners are also asking the telematics industry for remote diagnostics and maintenance alerts that are based on actual telemetry feeds from the vehicle, rather than arbitrary criteria like the number of months since the last service was performed. They want, not merely static map-based navigation, but real-time traffic information. PCs and other Internet clients are already doing rather well in providing support and services like these, but Im not yet satisfied with the detail that I can get about which update processes are asking for what resources at any given time. Looking at the Windows Task Manager, and trying to figure out which cryptically named process is taking up a lot of CPU time, isnt my idea of a great driving experience. Anything thats happening on my machine should give me some clear picture of what its doing, why its doing it, how I can interrupt it, and how I can disable it.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read about the innovations on display at last weeks International Consumer Electronics Show.

What I dont want enterprise IT vendors to do, though, is answer the call of the prospective telematics customer for more in-car entertainment. I dont want to be entertained in my journey: I want to be given the information that I need, and the support that my hardware and other systems require, to choose my destination and get me there.

The eWEEK Excellence Awards for 2004 are now accepting entries. The deadline for submitting entries is Jan. 31, 2005. For more information go to www.excellenceawardsonline.com.

Tell me whats revving your IT engines at peter_coffee@ziffdavis.com

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