The next century is just twelve months, 52 weeks, 365 days, and however many minutes and seconds there is left of your New Year's Day. In 1999 we are all going to be looking to the future a lot. There will be plenty of talk about what kind of world we want to live in in the next century, talk about how the Internet is going to change the world beyond recognition, and more talk about how all this talk is just a lot of talk. But one thing we do know -- computers and the Internet will play a central role in shaping the world of 2000. In the final countdown to Y2K, ZDNet offers twelve new year resolutions for the people who have the most influence over computing and the Web -- the computer and Internet industries.
1. If it needs a cable, put it in the box
There is nothing more frustrating than getting a new piece of kit out of the box only to discover that you don't have the right cable. Too many companies do this, and there is no need for it. Far better to supply the cable with the kit. Even if it costs a little more, the time and hassle savings make it well worth it, and the user will love you for your thoughtfulness. New year's resolution number one is for hardware manufacturers - if it needs a cable, put it in the box.
2. Better not faster
The cult of speed for speed sake is not delivering real rewards to computer users. This year, software designers should make a start at harnessing the increases in speed and power that are being won on the hardware side, to build leaner, simpler to use computers. The whole picture is being distorted by the marketing folks, who keep demanding new features to sell the next version of the software. Time for the software designers to just say no. Any software engineers reading this should practice the following phrase for use the next time their boss asks about new features. "No, I don't want to add any additional features until I've made the current feature set perform better". Now, that wasn't too difficult was it.
3. Time for PCs that can talk, and listen PCs are pretty stupid machines. They don't know who you are, they don't even know you are there really. You could argue that an automatic hand dryer in a gents toilet is a more intelligent machine than that 450MHz beast on your desk, because at least the hand dryer knows you are there. Speech synthesis and speech recognition technologies are now on the threshold of delivering big improvements to the way computers do things, and give us information. The resolution for the PC industry is to recognise this opportunity and double the R&D money going into speech synthesis and understanding. 4. Less features, but ones that work better Most of you are familiar with the statistic that on average people use only about five percent of the features of an average software application. This is a crazy waste of time and resources from everyone's point of view, and stops us from making real gains in the usefulness of computers. Far better to do a few important tasks exceptionally well, than to attempt to do everything for everybody in every possible situation. Resolution number four is to cut down on the number of features in software applications, but to make those that remain work in a delightful way.
5. More bandwidth vicar?
With traffic on the Internet doubling every hundred days, and email and other Web services offered at no charge this trend is certain to continue. Combine this with a growing demand for 'fat', high-bandwidth content,like streamed video, Internet radio, and image- rich shopping sites and it is plain to see that the bandwidth crunch is coming. I am going to cheat and include two resolutions in this section - one for the industy, and one for the users. Internet and telcos your new year resolution is to start the roll out of high-bandwidth technologies now. They have been tested enough, are proven in the field, and should not be held back to protect outmoded cash cow technologies. And for the users - your new year resolution is stop expecting to get everything for nothing. If we want 'always on' high-bandwidth connectivity from any device, anywhere in the world, we are all going to have to pay for the infrastructure to deliver that.
6. Stop lying
Hype doesn't help. Computers are good with words and numbers and they are reasonably OK at communicating and creative work. That is it. They can't talk to you, think, hope, cheer, deliver ironic observations, or make you a cup of tea. Resolution number six is to nail the two big lies that computers are cleverer than humans, and that your life is incomplete without them. Honesty, as always, is the best policy.
7. Start co-operating
Prime Minister Blair has started a fashion for repeating things three times to emphasise a point. In this tradition I will parrot co-operation, co-operation, and co-operation - as the three things that we want to see more of in the computer industry. Co-operaton is needed on most things, but especially on standards. This is crucial, as we try to define the digital building blocks for the next century. Open standards on the Web, open standards in computing, open standards in e-commerce, this is the mantra to chant that will help us build a better wired world.
8. Be brave
There is a tendency for people to believe that the computer and software industry has been completely sewn up. That Intel and Microsoft have the whole business by the balls, and that this status quo will remain for ever more.This is a false and dangerous notion. False because there are countless examples in the short history of the computer and software industry where apparently unassailable dominance has been reversed. It is dangerous because if people start to believe that there is nothing left to strive for, then the spirit of innovation and achievement is diminished, and we really do have something to worry about. Things can change, things need to change, and things will change.
9. Finish it before you launch it
The computer and software industry is getting away with murder in this area. They get away with it because we let them. Why do we? Pharmaceutical manufacturers can't do it, car makers can't, plane makers can't and I rather suspect that whatever line of employment you are in, you can't get away with delivering half-finished work either. So, new year's resolution number nine is aimed at both the makers and users of computer hardware and software. As Harry Enfield would put it, "Oi, Microsoft, No". And for us users - for crying out loud, don't put up with it.
10. Create access to technology
One particularly discriminated against group are the disabled, who are often denied access simply because of the lack of thought on the part of software engineers. The computer industry's new year's resolution number ten is to take a leaf out of the architects book, and start designing hardware and software, just like modern buildings, that consider the needs of the disabled at the design stage. Access also needs to be improved for school children, so new year's resolution number ten (part two) is for computer and software manufacturers to sign up behind the government's National Grid for Learning project.
11. Stop pretending
Stop pretending that you care about customer support - whilst switching the whole thing to Web or automated phone systems. We still need human beings to talk to when things go wrong? And another thing, how the hell am I expected to use the Web to fix a problem with my PC when my PC is broken.
12. Careful with that acronym
OK, you are going to invent new things and you are going to need to call it something. Please resolve to explain all technologies in plain English -- and just because you know what an acronym stands for don't assume that the rest of the world does too. And think on this - If you can't describe something in a few simple sentences, how useful is it really going to be?