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Net Gains: The Web of the Future

From Java to internet gaming, what’s next on the web

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More and more, Internet technology resembles New England weather: If you don’t like it, just wait, because it’ll change in five minutes. Here’s the hardware and software likely to affect surfing conditions this spring.

CABLE MODEMS
Hate to wait when pulling large files off the Net? Soon you may be able to download that Teri Hatcher or Brad Pitt photo in no time, thanks to special modems now being tested by cable-TV operators. The new boxes can transmit data hundreds of times faster than standard telephone modems.

DO-IT-YOURSELF RATINGS
For parents not content with the telecommunications bill and current cyberscreening products to keep Junior away from alt.sex.whatever, an industry group under the auspices of the World Wide Web Consortium is creating standards on how to rate content available from newsgroups and websites. The Platform for Internet Content Selection will let anyone set up a ratings system that can be shared by subscription. And that, says spokesman Brian Ek, is only the beginning: ”Some systems being worked on will be able to assess a site based on the percentage of flesh tone on a page.” Sounds good: You wouldn’t want a close-up of Michael Jackson’s face to shock your system.

INTERNET GAMING
Total Entertainment Network (http://www.ten.net) and others are perfecting systems to let gamers do battle over the Net. So if you have the Terminal Velocity flight simulator, you can crash your plane into another pilot’s anywhere in the world.

JAVA
Finalized in late January, this hot new programming language promises to transform the Web from pages you look at to programs you run. With a Java-equipped browser — such as Netscape Navigator 2.0 for Windows 95 — you’ll be able to watch zippy animations, play demo versions of videogames, even visit graphical chat areas so responsive that virtual pigeons will fly away if you get too close.

SOUND AND MOTION
A growing number of websites are offering real-time audio and live video that don’t have to be individually downloaded before they play back. RealAudio 2.0 (found in a preliminary form at Atlantic Records’ Tori Amos site, among other places) is scheduled for official release in March. Meanwhile, VDOnet and Xing Technology are delivering video to home surfers, though the picture can be fuzzier than Don King’s hair.

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