Network: When in doubt, a good analyst will focus on a small number of areas, concentrating on selected islands of clarity, while avoiding big picture predictions that are certain to be wrong in six months' time.

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Snowstorms and Gigabit routing switches were the hot topics of the recent Forrester Forum in Boston. Rising to their established reputation as the ultimate prophets of digital commerce, the Forresterians put together a line-up of top rank superstars like Java-Queen Kim Polese from Marimba, and Jim Barksdale, chief executive of Netscape, to do some tea-leaf reading about future Internet trends.

Helping us to spend our IT money wisely has so far been a firm domain of the Gartner Group, but if the Boston 97 conference is anything to go by, Forrester is emerging as a competent contender in the battle for corporate analysis budgets. Times are difficult for the Internet trend readers, with no standards in place and too many vendors in the rapidly changing market. When in doubt, a good analyst will focus on a small number of areas, concentrating on selected islands of clarity, while avoiding big picture predictions that are certain to be wrong in six months' time. That was exactly the Forrester strategy, with good coverage of a few carefully selected areas, and diplomatic answers on the broad, less certain issues.

Kim Polese, chief executive of Marimba, delivered a vision of the future of "push" technologies, firmly focusing on application management and promising to get us out of the misery of everybody in the team working on a different version of Word for Windows. If Kim gets her way (and it appears that she has a bit of a reputation for taking the geeks on paradigm- shifting, Java-enhanced trips), we will be able to get new software updates at the "push" of the Marimba button. Voila, and all my team will be able to send spreadsheets to each other without the usual irritating process of checking who has moved to Office 97 and who is still in the dark ages of Excel from three upgrades ago.

Polese has completed her dramatic transformation from a sexy, blonde, geek icon to a very business-like persona and dismissed push content like Pointcast as frivolous and unworthy of serious IT leaders' attention. Instead, application management of software upgrades is her new Holy Grail. My vote is for her vision of real push technology use, as we all know the costs of not getting the updates in sync with the whole team at the same time.

However, according to Forrester, for that you need to finish upgrading the desktop and pony up your network by investing in Gigabit routing switches. It was encouraging to hear the moans of pain from the American attendees, as we came to the realisation that most large US companies are as behind with the infrastructure investment as we are on our small island.

We also heard from the Netscape leader Barksdale, who is firmly betting on electronic commerce to the point of forking out $33m for full control of e-commerce product Actra, previously co-owned with GE. Jim's vision of all our future purchases being made online was backed up by the numbers from Amazon. The biggest online bookshop makes $300,000 per employee, in contrast to $90,000 per employee of the shop-based Barnes and Noble booksellers.

These figures can inspire many a retailer and Barksdale will be there for you, selling the tools for the e-commerce heaven. So far a firm industry standard, Netscape electronic commerce products in alliance with Oracle database appear to be winning the race for the future e-cash till suppliers. Netscape's leader also commented that since this is becoming a serious business, and your e-shop has to be "always on", 24 hours per day, seven days per week, the implication is that the future hosting will need to be done by so-called Web farms.

Located at Internet service providers, Web farms are simply the only way to get the best value for money and top bandwidth with top security provision without breaking the bank. Thanks for telling us, Jim. This had the small UK contingent gloating and smirking because, due to higher staff costs and lower accessibility to Unix heads, we had to go out of house all along. There are very few e-commerce services in Britain that ever went on the home-based hosting trip, and those that did probably regret it deeply. So, at times it is good to be behind, as the Americans only now have cottoned on to the fact that Web farms like those of Easynet or Global are the centers of e-trade.

Another UK winning point was the business model for e-commerce, which Forrester predicts will develop on the basis of Amazon-style syndicated selling via different Web sites. Fewer banners and pure advertising but more revenue-split deals will follow. Content Web sites will become "virtual franchisees" that carry some of the e-products.

On the hardware front, Toshiba's Portage small laptop (only 1kg) won the hearts and wallets of the summit attendees.The Portage has only a slightly smaller than usual screen, and a keyboard that feels extremely comfortable. For home users the killer app must be the Web TV+, only just announced by Microsoft. Despite the recent wave of Microsoft-bashing, the creatives from Redmond didn't get too depressed and produced a set- top box for your TV that delivers video on demand, is fully interactive and does not need a satellite dish or cable. Content is transmitted via a terrestrial TV signal, a solution patented by WebTV that fully justifies the $400m that Bill Gates paid for the company last summer. Forrester analysts had a demo of a music video accompanying the online music shop. The product was very watchable and playable, demonstrated top quality of signal and a great flexibility of design, which will delight interface designers for consumer services.

The bad news is that, according to Microsoft, WebTV+ will not be shipping in the UK till later next year. So if you want full interactivity and video on demand now, move to San Francisco or wait for wireless technology to develop enough for your mobile phone to converge with your telly. Meanwhile, as Christmas gift panic season is coming, mail me with your reviews of the latest toys and gadgets to eva@never.com

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