Internet tire kicking

Among other things, the Internet has been called a blessing (by telephone companies), a new-age marketing tool (by marketing managers), and a World Wide Waste of time (by many frustrated users). Despite the initial hype promoted by Netscape (Mountain View, CA) and now Microsoft (Redmond, WA), the Internet and, in particular, the World Wide Web, has become, as science-fiction author Michael Crichton says, "the largest shopping mall in the world."

Internet tire kicking

Andy Wilson Editor

andyw@pennwell.com

Among other things, the Internet has been called a blessing (by telephone companies), a new-age marketing tool (by marketing managers), and a World Wide Waste of time (by many frustrated users). Despite the initial hype promoted by Netscape (Mountain View, CA) and now Microsoft (Redmond, WA), the Internet and, in particular, the World Wide Web, has become, as science-fiction author Michael Crichton says, "the largest shopping mall in the world."

Few image-processing and vision-systems companies use the Internet effectively. Some of those that do can be found each month on our Wilson`s Websites pages. Unfortunately, most companies use the Internet simply to promote their products--products that the systems integrator cannot evaluate by reading a written specification, whether on paper or in electronic form. This is akin to using (and paying for) a telephone to receive junk mail messages.

Internet is interactive medium

However, a few companies are realizing that the benefit of the Internet is not its ability to merely broadcast messages to millions of people. Rather, such a medium can be used interactively. For software and hardware companies involved with image processing, use of such an interactive medium should be an absolute necessity.

Rather than personally evaluate software, many developers of imaging systems send test images to OEM suppliers hoping they can solve specific problems. This is especially true in the development of machine-vision systems, where every system presents its own particular problems. The OEM supplier then spends hours trying to solve the customer`s problem, whether this results in a sale or not. But, image-processing software could easily be ported to run interactively as a Java script. With on-line help and documentation and the ability to download test images, the customer could personally interact with the software.

If every OEM software vendor provided such a service, customers could easily evaluate image-processing software packages. But the benefits would not stop there. Often imaging code is written in C and compiled for RISC, CISC, MIMD, SIMD, or pipelined image processors. Using the Internet, processor developers and hardware manufacturers could place virtual systems on-line, allowing developers to download and run image-processing code. Rather than purchase the hardware, developers could benchmark software on various processors or processing boards under a variety of operating systems. Unfortunately, this concept has been slow to emerge, with only one software company (Khoral Research; http://www. khoral.com) and one third party (TechOnline; http://www.techonline. com) providing such capabilities.

Perhaps the underlying problem is with the mentality of using the Internet. Even with the fastest Internet access, most engineers prefers hands-on design. Dealing with remote hardware or software will require new ways of thinking about design--and even faster Internet access. To promote the idea of interactively programming and developing virtual systems, OEM hardware and software vendors need to tackle these issues. When such systems do become available, it will be much easier to evaluate and develop image-processing systems. But for now, the best way to evaluate either hardware or software is to kick the tires. That`s too bad.

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