Startups and other small companies are rapidly transforming innovative ideas into tangible Internet products, looking to fill the gaps left by the industry's major software developers.
At Internet World in New York this week, attendees will find dozens of new services and products debuting for World Wide Web site authoring, security and electronic commerce from small startups, many of which didn't even exist at last fall's conference.
The main reason? Entry barriers to the infobahn are nearly nonexistent, with new vendors easily clearing traditional distribution channel hurdles. With lower costs, no need to fight for retail shelf space and a seemingly endless need for innovation, new products abound.
For IT managers, the challenge is finding legitimate technology in a sea of hype. But for many sites, innovative small companies are critical for keeping up with their ever-changing intranet infrastructures and for filling the gaps left by Microsoft Corp., Netscape Communications Corp. and other giants.
"Whatever add-on I go with now will be obsolete in six months," said Richard Warren, vice president of information services at Judd's Inc., in Strasburg, Va. "When I need new capabilities, I'll either already be onto the next version or using a different vendor."
Some of the innovation, which will be on display at Internet World, is strikingly simple. For example, Answers.com, a Web service debuting at the show, matches technical questions with industry specialists, who find the answer within 24 hours.
Similarly, Packeteer Inc., of Campbell, Calif., has created a hardware/software device that allows Web managers to assign network capacity to incoming and outgoing Internet traffic based on defined priorities. PacketShaper, which sits between the Internet access router and Web server, lets network managers create and enforce policies for assigning Internet and intranet access priorities.
While these two startups have carved out new niches, others are expanding existing areas. The following is a rundown of some hot products at Internet World:
Web authoring tools. One startup that has caught fire is NetObjects Inc., of Redwood City, Calif., which will release Version 2.0 of its Fusion World Wide Web site authoring software. Among its more than 100 new features, Fusion 2.0 includes a WYSIWYG frame editor and new APIs to enable third parties to create add-ons for the authoring tool.
Hoping to realize similar success is San Francisco's RandomNoise Inc., which will introduce new Web site creation software called Coda. The software lets developers create an entire Web site in Java and more easily integrate applets at the server level.
Also, Net Perceptions Inc., of Minnetonka, Minn., will debut GroupLens, a package that tracks a user's click stream and customizes a site in real time.
Security. Security First Technologies, in Atlanta, is debuting Troy, a tool to prevent network users from downloading or installing unapproved software on their PCs. Troy enables IS managers to create and distribute a list of approved software throughout the enterprise.
A longtime freeware vendor, Pretty Good Privacy Inc., of Redwood Shores, Calif., will jump into the commercial market with PGPweb, a plug-in that can block Web sites from automatically installing a Web browser "cookie"--a tag that identifies a return user.
Blocking Java and ActiveX controls is the focus of Cleveland-based Finjan Software Inc., which will ship SurfinShield 2.0, a desktop-level firewall that searches for malicious Java applets. The product will gain the ability to monitor Microsoft ActiveX controls by early 1997.
Server software. Kiva Software Corp., of Mountain View, Calif., will make its debut this week along with its first products, Kiva Enterprise Server and an accompanying SDK (software development kit). A middle-tier application server, Enterprise Server distributes intranet applications as objects over multiple servers and provides transaction-processing capabilities, management and load balancing.
The SDK works with any C++ or Java development tool to build applications and automatically distributes them as objects.
Electronic commerce. CertCo, a spin-off of Banker's Trust, also will make its debut at Internet World, along with a beta version of a product that enables micropayments over the Internet. The New York company also will introduce certificate authority software to enable banks to issue digital signatures. Both products will be commercially available to banks, content providers and users in the first half of 1997.
Messaging and groupware. BackWeb Inc., of San Jose, Calif., will debut Version 1.1 of its namesake information distribution software. New to the product is support for Java on its server and client, as well as support for Windows 3.11 and Windows NT 4.0. Ten new content providers also are announcing plans to use the BackWeb service.
Novita Communications Inc., of Sunnyvale, Calif., will unveil NovitaMail, an HTML client that incorporates graphics and multimedia into messages, including video and audio clips, live links, and Java applets.
Additional reporting by Paula Musich, Paula Rooney and Talila Baron