In a perfect world, every computer, application, system and network would communicate with one another, easily exchanging data files, automatically translating foreign data and effortlessly performing complex transactions. Companies could use technology to support new projects aimed at boosting profits, find the right business partners faster, and create new, more information-rich relationships with customers and suppliers.
But such hopes remain a fantasy, just one of the many promises of the Net the business community is still waiting for. The fact is that companies still have networks and systems that can't talk to each other, thanks to a general lack of standards over which languages they should use. Technologies based on Internet Protocol, experts hoped, would allow companies to create universal applications for a wide variety of business transactions, communications and processeseverything from internal communications and intercompany document exchange to supply chain management. Unfortunately, while HTML is fine for building Web pages, just try using it to tell a computer to give certain Web browser users access to your centralized accounting program, and you'll hit a brick wall. Want to link large-scale e-business systems that require new connections for sharing data between a variety of mainframes, servers and operating systems running in separate companies? Dream on. Need to support a new marketing sequence with people from departments who have never worked together before? Forget about it. And if you're looking to develop applications that can run on any system that speaks IP, you'll find that, sadly, the widely hyped "write once, run anywhere" promise of various applications toolsmost notably Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Javahas so far proved to be elusive.