Robert Cringely has posted his predictions for the world of technology in 2004. As always, he has interesting things to say. Whether or not they will happen, of course, is another story; Cringely is visionary, but he is too optimistic sometimes. Anyway, read on for my take on the individual predictions:
1) It will happen late in the year, but Microsoft will make a bold run for video game leadership. Sony and Nintendo have both chosen IBM's Cell Processor for their next-generation game consoles. This is a processor that does not yet exist and for which nobody can fathom how to write games. While the two Japanese companies scratch their heads, Microsoft will be trying to make inroads with game developers and introduce its own next-generation machine. In the long run, though, Microsoft won't succeed in taking the gaming lead.
I think Microsoft has been trying to expand into the console market for some time, and that the Xbox has gained them a sizable foothold. Due to my unfamiliarity with the various benefits and shortcomings of the various consoles (the only console I have ever owned is a SNES, and I only had one game), I will assume that Slashdot's periodic posts on how the Xbox is failing in Europe and Japan are (partially) correct and agree.
2) We still won't see a big example of cyber-terrorism simply because nobody has figured out how to actually kill people that way. When it comes to terrorism, all that matters are body counts. We will, however, see dramatic growth in cyber-extortion and plain old theft.
Unless some of our political leaders start having their identities stolen (props to the first person to steal Bush's credit card and buy him weapons of mass destruction), nothing notable will happen.
3) Despite new anti-spam laws, we'll still be plagued with unsolicited commercial messages, especially using Internet Messaging protocols. Look for new and unenforceable laws in this area, too. As for old fashioned spam, it will continue to cram our inboxes, making a good business for third-party anti-spam products and services while making e-mail pretty much useless for reliable communication. Microsoft will see opportunity here and propose new protocols to replace SMTP and POP3. They may even offer those protocols as Open Source, but there will be a catch. With Microsoft there always is.
SMTP and POP3 will not be replaced anytime soon, I think. If Microsoft does decide to create new mail protocols, they would have to make the standard open (can protocols really be "open source?") to encourage implementation and adoption. Otherwise, it would certainly fail.
4) Continuing the security theme, look for lots of software companies to abandon support for old products and platforms. From their perspective, they already have your money, so continuing support is just a cost center for them. And if they stop support, you just may replace that old computer or application with something new, generating additional software sales opportunities. This means Microsoft giving up support for old OS variants and hardware, but it also means the same from security companies like Network Associates and Symantec. More and more old machines will become vulnerable, and there may appear a new kind of attack using just antiquated personal computers. Never underestimate the power of a Pentium-90 with a grudge to settle.
Oh, Windows 98. I had to reinstall it on my little sister's Powerspec 2020. This six-year old machine was my first personal (as in belonging solely to me) computer. It still runs (albeit slowly, with that 200 Mhx Cyrix processor), but the onboard video died (about a year after we got it) and the hard drive crashed (just this past August). It also had its memory upgraded to 128 Mb and a 56k modem added.
And it has many untold grudges (or maybe that is just me, having been forced to use that computer all through high school). However, malicious software writers look for easy, plentiful targets. Pentium 90s (the vast majority are probably running Windows 95) are the former, but probably not the latter. Thus, I disagree.
5) The SCO debacle has created a crisis within the Linux community. They pretend that it hasn't, but it has. This will come to a head in 2004 with either the development of a new organizational structure for Linux or the start of its demise. Linux has to grow or die, and the direction it takes will be determined in 2004.
This is an extremely vague prediction (What shape will this "new organizational structure" take? How do you judge the "start of a demise?"), and thus is extremely likely to happen.
6) As for SCO, they'll continue to make noise until the middle of the year, at which point the legal case will implode and the company will give up. By that time, the company executives, insiders, and major investors will have all sold their positions at a handsome profit. This was never more than a stock scam, pushing the price of SCO shares up by more than 15 times. The clever part is how they used a legal case to make public claims that would have caused serious regulatory problems in any other context. We'll see more of this ploy in the future.
SCO was one of the major tech stories of 2003. Having been exposed about it ad nauseum, I do not want to hear another word about it.
7) 2004 will be a crucial year for streaming media. First, there is the Burst.com case against Microsoft. Burst will win unless Microsoft settles first, which I think will happen. If Microsoft buys Burst or takes an exclusive Burst license, it could mean the end for Real and Apple, both of which also are infringing Burst patents. Someone is going to come out of this a big winner. I just don't know who it is.
The Burst.com case does not seem to be getting very much media coverage (outside of Cringely's Pulpit, that is). If it is really such a big deal, Microsoft will surely buy Burst, and use it as leverage against Real (which is currently in litigation with Microsoft) and Apple.
8) In the U.S., 2004 will see the start of the very digital convergence predicted by Al Gore back in 1996. Old Al was only eight years too early. What will drive this convergence is consolidation within industry segments and increased competition between industry segments. Comcast will continue to suck-up other companies, as will SBC and Verizon. Every cable TV company will move toward offering telephone service, and telephone companies will try to respond by offering greater broadband content, whatever that means. Clearly, the advantage here lies with the cable companies, but that is just for now. And don't forget the electric utilities, which will slowly start to roll out their own data offerings late in the year. This is really a 2005 story, but it will start in 2004.
I half-expect to Cringely to use the exact same prediction when 2005 comes: This is really a 2006 story, but it will start in 2005.
9) The U.S. IT industry will see some real growth except for Hewlett- Packard and Sun, which will continue their declines. Dell will start to compete in new market segments and those might drive some of their low end products (MP3 players, especially, but also possibly TVs) into the retail channel. Dell service and support will suffer, but the company will still do well.
This will certainly happen, unless something dramatic happens to save HP or Sun, or to crush Dell. I do not really like any of these companies, so I welcome their demise.
10) Cisco will not only maintain its leadership in networking, they'll make big inroads into managed storage against companies like EMC.
I do not keep up on the latest managed storage news, so I will decline to comment.
11) WiFi will be bigger than ever, of course, but progress and service will both be spotty. What's needed is a new business model for WiFi aggregation. I will offer that model in this space next week. Some smart company might just take it up and kick butt.
With Cringely, you continually get the idea that if you listened to him, and tried his business ideas, you would become rich. I continually am attracted (I could become rich!) and repelled (If this is such a good idea, why isn't he doing it?) by this.
12) Wal-Mart's entry into the music download business changes everything, and will undoubtedly take the leadership away from Apple. This wouldn't bother Apple if Wal-Mart would support its file standards so Wal-Mart music can play on iPods, but that won't happen. In order to compete for what really counts (iPod sales, not music downloads), Apple MIGHT start to support other file formats. No guarantee on that. What IS guaranteed is that Apple will introduce a cheaper iPod using flash memory instead of a hard drive. Oh, and for next Christmas expect a video iPod, which is essentially a hard drive with a dedicated DV encoder/decoder and a FireWire interface. You'll be able to record video direct to the hard drive then edit from that same drive, completely eliminating tape. The logical follow-on from Apple would be a complete QuickTime video camera, but I don't see that until 2005.
I wrote about iPods and Wal-Mart yesterday. Wal-Mart's music store, like Napster and a host of others, uses the Windows Media Audio format. It would be nice if the iPod could play this, but I am personally more interested in Ogg Audio support.
13) No Apple G6 in 2004, and the company won't sell nearly as many G5s as it hopes.
Apple computers are prohibitively expensive. Enough said.
14) IT outsourcing, as covered ad nauseum in this column, will become a political issue in the 2004 U.S. Presidential campaign. Whichever candidate comes out in opposition to outsourcing will have the advantage. And they'll be correct, though the extent of real damage to the U.S. economy and IT industry won't be apparent to those bozos for several more years. As for the touchscreen voting scandal, nothing will be resolved or improved. Don't get me started.
I was reading something about this on one of the blogs on the Clark Community Network (sidenote: had I been in Massachusetts, instead of en route to Florida, I would have gone to that pancake breakfast). Since Gephardt has already come out in favor of protectionism, and the economy is looking like it will become a major issue in the election, I think this is likely.
15) Microsoft will open its wallet here and in Europe, settling a ton of lawsuits, paying billions of dollars, but though the money will flow, no lessons will be learned on any side. Nor will Bill Gates achieve this year his dream of winning a Nobel Peace Prize. I am not making this up.
Ah, Microsoft lawsuits: they never end. If Gates were to expand his charitable donations into more "sexy" arenas than AIDS and education (like, say, giving free copies of Halo to Hamas in exchange for a ceasefire), he might just get it.