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Vonage Adds To Internet Revitalization

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The New Internet; After Years Of Little Change, The Internet Is Going Through A Revitalization, Once Again Offering Innovation And Competition

January 8, 2005

By Cade Metz

First came the Boom. Then came the Bust. And when the dust cleared, the Internet found itself in a bit of a rut. In the nineties, as countless users logged on to the Internet for the first time, we learned that it was a place marked by unfettered innovation. We were spoiled by a seemingly infinite number of dot-coms ready to introduce new products and new ideas that would make the Internet even better. But then the wheels of change came to a halt, and we spent the beginning of the 21st century working with limited choices.

Most of us surfed with Internet Explorer, searched with Google, chatted with AIM, and shared files with Kazaa. We waited in vain for something new and different. But the Next Big Thing never arrived.

Then came 2004, and suddenly innovation was everywhere. Mozilla released Firefox, the first serious challenger to IE in years. A start-up called blinkx offered a new approach to searching the Web, letting you find information without using keywords. Vonage freed the Internet phone from the confines of the desktop PC, reinventing the telecom industry. And apps like Grouper and Qnext turned the Kazaa craze on its head, letting us share not with the world at large, but with people we know and trust-friends, family, and colleagues.

The upstarts haven't replaced the old favorites-that will take some doing-but they've given us more options, and they've fostered all sorts of healthy competition in the marketplace. By the time you read this, Opera will have released its latest browser, which lets you surf the Web with voice commands. (This isn't a new concept, but it is one that has yet to catch on.)

Much like blinkx, several other companies are combining Web search capabilities with desktop search tools. The Internet phone business is so big, even traditional telecoms like AT&T are offering broadband Voip solutions. And private file sharing is becoming the best way to keep in touch with your friends and family.

For many years, we've heard talk of Internet2, which will be a complete overhaul of the Net's physical infrastructure. Internet2 won't be mainstream for a few years to come. But with new services and new innovations like these, the way we use the Internet is already changing rapidly. This is the new Internet.

Browser Battles: Round 2

Firefox debuted on November 9, after months in beta, and immediately revived the browser wars. According to, a Web research firm based in Amsterdam, Mozilla browsers now account for 7 percent of the market, up a full 5 percent since late spring. And, yes, IE's share dropped that very same amount, from 94 to 89 percent.

"With Firefox, we've seen a tremendous surge in interest over the past six months, both in the consumer space and in the business space," says Stephen O'Grady, senior analyst with the Massachusetts research firm RedMonk. "And, for the first time in quite a while, an alternative browser is capturing a great deal of developer interest as well."

Built on open-source code, the new browser is significantly faster than IE at many things and, in many ways, easier to use. Its tabbed interface lets you juggle multiple Web pages in the

same window. A Smart Keywords tool gives you instant access to word definitions, stock quotes, and weather updates. And independent developers are introducing all sorts of extensions (or add-ons) for the platform, including search toolbars and music players.

Many businesses are adopting Firefox because they feel it is more secure than Internet Explorer. "So many small firms are strongly suggesting that their employees make the switch," says O'Grady. Among other reasons, hackers are simply more likely to target IE, since it's far more prevalent.

Can Firefox actually overtake Internet Explorer? That's yet to be seen. "The real question is whether Firefox can sustain its success," says Rob Enderle, the former Forrester Research PC and Internet analyst who runs his own research firm, the Enderle Group. "There isn't really a big, fully funded organization behind Firefox. Much of the organization behind it is merely volunteer." That said, Firefox has taken a step in the right direction, reintroducing competition into the browser market.

Searching for a Better Search Tool

Even bigger changes are afoot in the world of search. Microsoft unveiled MSN Search late last year, hoping to challenge Google's hegemony. And Google continues to introduce new services left, right, and center. In September, the company debuted Google Local (, letting you instantly search the Web for information specific to your particular location. You can ask for, say, all the bookstores in your ZIP code. The service will list them and even display a map, showing where each store is located. Forecasting the next killer search feature, other popular search sites, including Ask Jeeves and Yahoo!, have recently launched similar tools.

But so many other companies are building groundbreaking tools of their own. "Search is clearly the Internet's Next Big Thing," says Enderle. The Singapore-based BIGontheNet is offering a nifty little browser utility called p-ZOOM that automatically sorts search engine results into various categories, making it easier to find what you're looking for.

And then there's blinkx. Billing itself as "the smartest thing on your computer," this free application lets you search without typing a single keyword. All you have to do is open a file, e-mail message, or Web page, and the app will automatically search for related data. Moreover, it's smart enough to search not just the Web, but all the data stored on your desktop.

This is a breakthrough, because for so many years, searching a system sitting halfway across the world was easier than parsing the machine right in front of you. blinkx is putting an end to this irony, breaking down the barriers between PCs and the Internet. Several other vendors, including Google with its Google Desktop Search, offer similar tools for searching your files and e-mail, merging your personal data with all the information available online.

Meanwhile, companies like Microsoft and Yahoo! are revamping their traditional Web search tools, and Yahoo! has licensed X1's search technology to build a new desktop search. MSN Search now uses its own search engine, instead of getting results from Inktomi, and the search is now smarter, allowing you to ask questions rather than just looking up matches to keywords. For reviews of the latest Web browsers and search tools, visit and

A Cheaper Calling Plan

The Internet phone, also known as Voice over IP (VoIP), is nothing new. An Israeli start-up called Net2Phone launched the first consumer Voip service in 1996. Without paying a penny, friends and family could call each other from their desktop computers, talking into PC microphones and listening on PC speakers. It was an impressive technology, but was a bit ahead of its time. Net2Phone couldn't catch on with the general public because Voip services just weren't suited to the dial-up connections that most people were using in the nineties. And there was the inconvenience of having to boot your computer to make a call.

Then Vonage introduced a service that let you use regular phones with Voip technology. It cut costs-and cut them drastically-by routing calls over your broadband connection, but you no longer had to boot your PC to make a Voip call, you could receive incoming calls, and you could use a conventional phone number (rather than having to arrange times to connect online).

The service debuted in 2002, but 2004 was the year it really took off. The company was so successful that dozens of imitators soon hit the market, including telecom and cable giants like AT&T, Cablevision, and Verizon. According to Jon Arnold, an analyst with the research firm Frost & Sullivan, more than 300,000 people now have paid subscriptions to broadband Voip services, and the number is growing rapidly.

At the same time, desktop Voip hit the big time with the debut of Skype, which provides free phone calls over a worldwide peer-to-peer (P2P) network. It is run by two of Kazaa's founders and, though it lacks the sound quality and conveniences of Vonage-like VoIP, it's now used, in Arnold's estimation, by over 4 million people.

Sharing With Friends

The rise of private P2P hasn't received quite as much hype. But its effect on the way we use the Web could be just as big. People like tapping into enormous public P2P networks through eDonkey and Kazaa-which give them access to a vast range of songs, movies, and other entertainment-but they also need a way to trade personal data, exchange files with people they know, and share information, without having to fear the watchful eyes of organizations like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

Some apps, like PiXPO and OurPictures, let you swap photos with friends and family. Others, such as Grouper, Qnext, and LapLink's ShareDirect, let you swap all sorts of files, from digital images and music files to Word documents and PDFs. And the beauty is that you needn't upload your files to a Web site or attach them to an e-mail message. In true P2P fashion, files are transferred from desktop to desktop.

We're still waiting for Internet2. But the Internet has already undergone a mini-renaissance. The new browser is here, as are the new search, the new VoIP, and the new P2P. And, chances are, this is only the beginning.

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†AK and HI residents pay $29.95 shipping. ††Limited time offer. Valid for residents of the United States (&DC), 18 years or older, who open new accounts. Offer good while supplies last and only on new account activations. One kit per account/household. Offer cannot be combined with any other discounts, promotions or plans and is not applicable to past purchases. Good while supplies last. Allow up to 2 weeks for shipping. Other restrictions may apply.

1Unlimited calling and other services for all residential plans are based on normal residential, personal, non-commercial use. A combination of factors is used to determine abnormal use, including but not limited to: the number of unique numbers called, calls forwarded, minutes used and other factors. Subject to our Reasonable Use Policy and Terms of Service.

2Shipping and activation fees waived with 1-year agreement. An Early Termination Fee (with periodic pro-rated reductions) applies if service is terminated before the end of the first 12 months. Additional restrictions may apply. See Terms of Service for details.

HIGH SPEED INTERNET REQUIRED. †VALID FOR NEW LINES ONLY. RATES EXCLUDE INTERNET SERVICE, SURCHARGES, FEES AND TAXES. DEVICE MAY BE REFURBISHED. If you subscribe to plans with monthly minutes allotments, all call minutes placed from both from your home and registered ExtensionsTM phones will count toward your monthly minutes allotment. ExtensionsTM calls made from mobiles use airtime and may incur surcharges, depending on your mobile plan. Alarms, TTY and other systems may not be compatible. Vonage 911 service operates differently than traditional 911. See for details.

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