It's all in the mind.

The idea behind the WebHawk is to provide an embedded and low-cost solution for mobile professionals to maintain communications via a private network that uses public and/or private communications services worldwide. The card can act as either a client or as a server, or can simply be used by other applications as a modem. If need be, the card can be removed from a laptop computer and with an ac adapter, can be left connected to a telephone line to operate in a stand-alone mode. The design also can be incorporated into other devices such as handheld personal data assistants (PDAs).

Menagery is creating two software technologies to achieve what it calls universal interoperability (UIO). The WebHawk includes full Internet protocols and a complete ISO network model, including a full TCP/IP stack. It is based on the universal resource locator (URL) and is compliant with both the common object request broker architecture (CORBA) and Microsoft’s ActiveX.

In addition, the software includes an architecture called AgentCy that enables users to create private and secure mobile networking. AgentCy defines an extension to CORBA called personal request broker (PRB) that supports intelligent agents called “flyers.” Flyers can be sent to other AgentCy-enabled sites to actively search for and retrieve various types of information.

The PRB is a distributed live object software bus that combines both client and server functionality by providing equal object services to individual and work group users without dependence on a network server. Each PRB platform is capable of autonomous, self-hosted operations with remote PRB clients, direct operations with a local host (i.e., plugged into a PCMCIA slot), or simply as a PCMCIA ISDN or analog modem.

PRB platforms aggregated in a workgroup form a self-contained infrastructure. PRB applets can execute on any host that includes a PRB, in much the same way as Java applets can run on any Java virtual machine. Some of these applets can be flyers. A user may dial up either a server or another user’s WebHawk, send a flyer and then log off. The flyer can perform whatever operations it is told to do at the other site, such as a doing a complex search of a database and putting together a report. The flyer would then dial back, send the results and log off, greatly reducing connect costs if the medium is a long-distance telephone line.

All copies of the device (expected to cost individually about $500) will be licensed to the customer. A network manager will set up the firewall and security with passwords and encryption keys. The manager can also set up web pages on the devices and on a corporate server if there is one. In effect, however, two WebHawks properly registered and encoded can form a private network that can connect over public channels. No other unregistered WebHawk or any other user can access that virtual network. One example of use could be that a traveling employee might leave the WebHawk attached to his hotel telephone line while taking his laptop along to a meeting. He would first send an update to the web site on the company server giving the telephone number. Anyone accessing the server could click on the link to his page and be connected. The employee could either dial into the WebHawk during the day and check messages with his browser or plug the card in on returning to his room and view his pages with the browser. While the first incarnation of the technology is in the WebHawk PC card, it lends itself to a wide variety of vertical applications such as privately networked appliances and instruments. Any device that is PRB-enabled can be accessed from another PRB platform and any human interface with an agent-based component interface can become a network computer system.

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