RTCAH: Revolution coming in data retrievalA couplet for...


January 31, 1994|By STEVE AUERWECK | STEVE AUERWECK,Staff Writer

RTCAH: Revolution coming in data retrieval

A couplet for the Information Age:

"How do I search thee?

"Let me count on WAIS."


Techniques for sharing information across data networks, nurtured in relative obscurity in computer labs and across the Internet, are bursting into bloom commercially.

Last week's Demo '94 computer conference in Palm Springs, Calif., saw two giant forces in the information business make parallel announcements of products that typify how data retrieval will be revolutionized in the next few years.

From Apple Computer Inc. came word that its AppleSearch system will break free of the constraints of local area networks to roam data bases across the world using the Internet. And Dow Jones & Co. said it will "publish" material from a variety of sources, including the Wall Street Journal, over the Net (see below).

Apple and Dow Jones were partners, along with the supercomputer maker Thinking Machines Corp. and KPMG Peat Marwick, in a research group formed several years ago known as the WAIS (pronounced "ways") Consortium; WAIS stands for Wide Area Information Server.

The group started with a standard called Z39.50 from the National Information Standards Organization in Bethesda, designed to specify how one computer should query another for material from a data base of text. From that core, aimed primarily at libraries, they refined details and wrote an initial program, which they distributed freely over the Internet.

Scores of researchers latched on to that material and developed it further for use at colleges and in government. Today, there are more than 400 WAIS "servers," or machines holding data bases, in more than 12 countries.

The idea beyond WAIS searching is that users should be able to enter important terms without worrying about the formal logic required in older systems. A server will present a likely list of documents, any of which can be used as a model for future searches.

It's a technique that appeared in AppleSearch with its introduction last September. The core software in AppleSearch was licensed from Personal Library Software in Rockville, which makes text-search packages for a number of platforms.

AppleSearch uses "Reporters," software tools that are set up to scurry around a network at regular intervals, gathering updates on topics that concern their masters. With the Internet version, scheduled to be released around the end of the year, those searches can be worldwide.

Apple spokesman John McCreadie pointed out that the result can be lower costs for those who pay higher rates for prime-time access to services.

While Mr. McCreadie was not willing to delve into Apple's long-term strategy, he conceded that the company is evaluating the profit potential of other systems that have grown on the Internet.

Dow Jones boosts ways of using Internet

It was a coincidence that Dow Jones also chose the Demo '94 conference to announce its plans for selling financial news services through a variety of Internet tools, including WAIS.

Dow was in on the WAIS approach at the beginning, having decided in 1986 to offer a service based on free-form text queries. It decided then to use a radical idea, buying a Thinking Machines computer with thousands of processors working in parallel.

The resulting service, DowQuest, evolved into DowVision, through which the company distributes the text of the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times News Service, its own news services and press releases over leased lines to large business, which can then make the material available on internal networks.

Last week, Dow Jones said it will join with WAIS Inc., a company that was born from the original consortium, to distribute DowVision as a subscription-based service over the Internet.

Dow Jones spokeswoman Paula R. DiLeo said the company hopes to start up the service by July or August. Pricing isn't known yet but will likely be based on a flat monthly fee.

The service will also be accessible through two other tools that have undergone meteoric growth in Net popularity in the past year.

One, Gopher, is a standard scheme for getting to documents by way of a tree-like arrangement of menus. The other, Mosaic, is a software package from the National Center for Supercomputing Applications in Illinois that organizes its documents as "hypertext," in which a term can serve as a pathway into a related document.

Earth Satellite gets SkyView workstation

Earth Satellite Corp. in Rockville has taken delivery of the first workstation in Unisys Corp.'s SkyView system, which will provide detailed weather data to customers ranging from forecasters to farmers.

Users on the new system are able to view weather information, such as radar data, lightning data, the National Weather Service's services and satellite imagery, all fed to the windowing terminals from a Unisys mainframe in Kennett Square, Pa.

At Earth Satellite, Lawrence J. Heitkemper, director of the CropCast Division, anticipates using the new workstation to support weather products such as flash-flood and severe-storm forecasts.

In analyzing potential for floods, the division will integrate Landsat satellite data showing the vegetation, soil type and slope of a piece of land.

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