Trade group referees in world of new...


Trade group referees in world of new media

Amid the brick and cobblestones of 18th century Annapolis, Philip Dodds is shaping the course of media for the 21st century.

Mr. Dodds is executive director of the Interactive Multimedia Association, a not-for-profit trade group that's assuming the role of referee in the free-for-all world of new media.

The IMA's list of corporate sponsors includes giants of the computer industry: IBM, Apple, Digital Equipment, Intel, Microsoft and Lotus, among others. But the very nature of multimedia is bringing other industries into the picture, such as publishing, broadcasting, consumer electronics, telecommunications and entertainment.

Although the group was rooted in nuts-and-bolts technology when it was founded in 1987, "we found ourselves unwittingly acting as a common ground . . . connecting representatives of various industries," Mr. Dodds said.

He and his staff of about five people on Maryland Avenue focus on three areas:

* Compatibility. The goal is to establish ground rules so disparate hardware and software will work together smoothly. Hot topics include data exchange, "scripting" languages, multimedia network services, digital audio and interactive video.

* Intellectual property. "The creation and acquisition of multimedia is fraught with licensing issues," Mr. Dodds noted. "We don't have a multimedia equivalent of BMI or ASCAP."

* Forums. Last week, the IMA formed the first of what it dubbed its "Media Convergence Forums," designed to bring together leaders in various industries to examine technical, economic and legal hurdles to multimedia publishing.

As the forums were announced, Joe Harris, director of information technology for NBC Broadcasting, said, "I see the IMA playing a critical role as a facilitator and educator for the different camps involved."

Help is on the way for phone chores

Is your office phone system out to get you? Do you quail at the thought of setting up a conference call or call forwarding ("Press #74 followed by *82 . . .")? Help is on the way, in the form of the Windows Telephony API.

It may not sound any simpler, but the new scheme from Microsoft Corp. and Intel Corp. means you'll soon be able to use a personal computer with Windows software to handle chores such as setting up conference calls or managing voice mail.

API stands for "application programming interface," a way for any software package to link up with useful portions of the Windows programming. The new specification already has the support of 40 companies, including software developers, telephone-switch manufacturers and network providers.

Microsoft and Intel say it will open the door to audio and video conferencing through PCs, and to systems that intermix voice and data. The goal, they say, is to insulate computer users and programmers from the specific PC hardware or telephone system being used. Among the companies supporting the scheme are Lotus Development Corp., Northern Telecom Ltd. and Siemens A.G.

Borders are getting blurrier between PCs

Turnabout is fair play.

A few weeks ago, word began circulating that Apple Computer Inc. and Novell Corp. were planning software to give a Macintosh look to IBM PC compatibles.

Now, Microsoft has signed a licensing agreement with Insignia Solutions Inc. to allow its Windows software to run on other platforms, including the Macintosh and Unix machines.

Further blurring the borders between machines, Sun Microsystems Inc. said it has a new software package, called Wabi, that will allow Windows software to run on Sun workstations as well as other Unix computers.

Microsoft said last week that it is licensing out the Windows programming, as well as rights to logos, the Windows visual design, and the like.

While some would liken putting Windows on the Mac to carrying coals to Newcastle, the plan must sound good to Windows programmers, who would get an expanded market with little time spent on software conversion.

Penril acquires Datability Inc.

Penril DataComm Networks Inc. of Gaithersburg announced Friday that it had acquired privately held Datability Inc. of Carlstadt, N.J., in a tax-free reorganization.

Penril agreed to pay about 1 million new shares of stock and assume some of Datability's debts. Penril's stock closed at $4.38 Friday, up 6 cents.

Datability makes a variety of devices to connect networks and systems. Henry Epstein, Penril's chairman, said, "Datability's LAN product line is an exceptional complement to Penril DataComm Division's high-speed bridges and routers."

Datability, with sales of $22 million, has plants in New Jersey and Massachusetts.

Now you can get greeting card that talks

Miniature multimedia, anyone? Voice Technologies, a new company in North Miami Beach, goes the musical greeting card one better.

Founder David Krop came up with the idea of a talking card. Push a button, and a microchip records 10 seconds of your voice. The cards sell for $10.

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