At Demo Fall 09 in San Diego, more than 60 startups and a few veteran outfits strutted their stuff before a skeptical audience of venture capitalists, tech aficionados, and journalists. A lot of sexy and innovative technology was on display this week, most of it targeting consumers. Even if your mission in life is solving down-and-dirty IT problems, several ideas deserve attention.
In particular, outstanding solutions were presented that addressed videoconferencing, Web security, and e-mail management. Plus, I can't resist reporting on an advancement in acoustic science that turns the wimpy audio produced by ultra-thin LCD TVs into rich, powerful stereo sound.
How can a big, influential show like Demo produce so little technology geared to the enterprise? According to Chris Shipley, who has been executive producer of Demo for 13 years, the answer is simple: "Enterprises aren't spending." And if they're not spending, venture money isn't flowing in that direction. What's more, the rise of smartphone and location-based services, plus the social networking wave, are sending venture money and entrepreneurs in the direction of the consumer market.
Video collaboration on the cheap
Hewlett-Packard is hardly a startup, yet the giant computer maker was permitted to show off an innovative videoconferencing and collaboration product it calls SkyRoom. It allows up to four Windows nodes to link over a standard business network using relatively inexpensive hardware and software -- a huge advance over traditional systems costing thousands of dollars.
With HP SkyRoom, users can share any type of application supported on their PC or workstation, including office documents, streaming video, and interactive 3-D applications -- and videoconference at the same time. The video engine is multithreaded; it compresses and encrypts the information before sending it to the participants, where it is decrypted, decompressed, and updated. In this way, network traffic is reduced, latency and bandwidth requirements are reduced, and the need for dedicated networking hardware is eliminated, the company claims.
HP will include the system without charge to buyers of selected workstations and sell the software (cameras and microphones are extra) for $149.
Web security on the fly
Users of the New York Times Web site (including me) had a rude shock earlier this month when a bit of malware masked as an anti-virus program staged a drive-by attack. Since the attack appeared to last for a while, I'm guessing that the Times' IT staff simply didn't know about it. That's the kind of customer-unfriendly incident that Silicon Valley security vendor Armorize Technologies claims to stop in its tracks.
To minimize false positives, HackAlert actually moves suspicious code to a "sandbox" where it is prodded until it does -- or doesn't -- do something malicious. If it does, the alert goes out.