UniForum '95 Plenary To Examine New Ways of Computing

Experts will be steered away from the same old issues

The future of open systems is a topic that's been explored many times. But at UniForum '95, moderator Alan Paller plans a new approach. "In prior years, what the experts focused on was the future of UNIX-UNIX vs. Microsoft Windows NT, the future of workgroup computing, OSF vs. X/Open, and that kind of thing," Paller says "That's just too short-term and those are the topics that everyone has an opinion on. We want to open up people's minds to ways of computing that they hadn't thought about, so they will go out of the room saying, 'I hadn't thought about that, but I'm going to explore that because it might be a future for me.'"

The plenary, "Experts Predict the Future of Open Systems," is scheduled for Wednesday, March 15, the second day of the main conference, to be held in Dallas, TX. Paller, director of open systems for Computer Associates International, Islandia, NY, says the names of the panel members have not been announced, but the invitation list includes those he classifies as visionaries rather than heads of large corporations. "I don't think we care what the presidents are willing to say publicly," Paller says. "I think we care what they think the future is, but vendors can't tell people what the future is because they'll stop buying the present."

In addition to the panel members on stage, the session will feature video clips of those who have things to say but couldn't attend the conference, Paller says. Then the panel members will have a chance to comment on the taped comments.

Paller says the discussion will focus on "open systems with a lowercase O and a lowercase S. I think lowercase open systems is what we all mean by computing in the future, where computers interact smoothly with all other computers and all networks fit together. So I think the future of open systems is the future of computing and information systems. We don't have to limit ourselves to the narrow side of open systems."

The definition of open systems that Paller likes is "information systems that allow people to get the information they need when they need it."

The discussion will be technology-based, not philosophical, with questions on communications bandwidth, content-based computing, multimedia, the national information infrastructure, massively parallel systems and others. "We're trying to put all the buzzwords people hear about in context," Paller says. "We'll say what happens when substantially all books are available on-line. When does that happen, what makes it happen, how does it affect the industry, and how does it affect users? These are all things that you've heard about, but you just heard them as throwaway lines. What this panel will do is say what that means."

In general, Paller hopes the panel members will be "people who are shaping the next generation of technology, deciding what life will be like in the connected society. We're going to try to take people beyond the current constraints, meaning that we're not looking for linear extensions of what they've already seen. How will technologies impact people, how will that change business, and what will the new technologies be? What are people building now that are going to be available in four or five years that will alter the way we live our lives, and what will the alteration be?"