Predictions for 2009

2008 should have been better than it was - but 2009 is likely to be a lot worse with little progress and most of the big tech players just fighting for survival.

What happens to worldwide IT in 2009 depends, I think, almost entirely on what happens with the American economy.

Personally I think the odds strongly favor a deep recession stretching at least into 2010, the collapse of international law as China, Iran, and Pakistan move into the vacuum left by the withdrawal of American power, a further economic shift away from the United States, and ultimately a bout of hyper-inflation on the Carter era model.

If so most of the technology companies will be fighting for survival with the "winners" being those who adapt best to the new international realities and the primary losers being American employees working for these companies and their major corporate customers.

Dell could, I think, prove to be the walking dead man here: Apple should be fine if they don't have a leadership change, HP and IBM are deeply embedded in government and largely supra-national in outlook, while Sun has exactly the low energy, high performance, portfolio people should be looking for - but may not be willing to make the marketing changes needed to sell them.

Sun is an odd case: by any reasonable standard the company should be a big winner next year: in particular with respect to storage markets, web services markets, and HPC markets. In practice the company is often its own worst enemy: unable to cope with people manipulating its stock, unwilling to tell the mid market about its products, and collectively baffled by the tsunami of ignorance characteristic of the IT press writing for the Wintel industry.

On balance, therefore, I expect they'll muddle along: appeasing Wall Street through periodic layoffs instead of doing a leveraged employee buyout; selling to big customers and those willing to jump high hurdles for technical gain instead of going after the mid market; and making a success of the forthcoming "Rock" release despite being unable to tell most of their market most of why the thing is exciting.

IBM is another company with enormous potential for change - but economic turmoil is, particularly for a true multi-national like IBM, a bit like headlights to a deer and I expect little change in the bitter infighting going on in that company.

On the other hand it's remotely possible that the incoming American administration does sensible things: repealing CAFE and SOX, explicitly and somehow believably repudiating their health care nationalization ambitions, and triggering an economic boom by investing heavily in nuclear energy and Gingrich's "drill here, drill now" program.

If so we should see a rising tide raising all boats - with none of the big guys going under, significant new job opportunities opening for IT people everywhere, and the accelerated movement of manufacturing (and IT) jobs from Asia back to the United States.

Either way, however, senior IT management will be largely unaffected in terms of its ideas: some new acronyms will become popular as signposts to IT nirvana and some old ones will drop by the wayside, but the end of the year will see the same people doing the same things in the same ways as last year.

On that same basis Microsoft and Intel will get Windows 7 and "Nahelem" into the market: lots of people will sell them to each other, and they'll be significantly better than what came before - but their only impact on IT cost and user productivity will come from the contribution they make to furthering Data Processing's takeover of the Windows culture. As this moves further downscale it will push more and more IT "amateurs" to the sidelines - and further consolidate the 1970s glass room computing model for mid size and smaller companies.

That will, I expect, drive some business managers to embrace time sharing as a solution and some former Windows support people to Linux - in the former case because corporate data processing can't control the time sharing account and in the latter because going Linux defends their x86 loyalties without invoking the horrors of MacOS X. That will be good news for people selling Linux netbooks (bigger iphones without phones) but have little longer term impact as these people either adapt to the demands posed by Wintel centralization or find other, probably non IT related, roles.

Another trend that will first continue and then collide with economic conditions involves the use of video on computers. Economic conditions mean that few companies will invest in the bandwidth infrastructure that got so badly over built a few years ago -and is now being stretched to its limits. As a result there will be a lot more complaints and frustration as people promised, and paying for, 10MBS and up get much less and ultimately respond by reducing demand for network downloadable (or viewable) video.

But it's not all doom and gloom: one consequence of reduced funding for key military R&D will be a flood of new civilian applications as the people involved find other roles. I'd expect, for example, that the nano analyzers now nearing testing for use in civilian airports (spotting the particulates that embed in the skin and lungs of anyone near a chemical explosion such as a gun shot) will spawn a wide range of related devices for use in health care, environmental monitoring, school security, and fire protection. Similarly, advances in robotics, recognition, and communication should soon give us things ranging from a robot that sits out on your driveway and cleans off new snow as it falls, to locks that stop others but effectively disappear as impediments to your movements and the commercial viability of personal "on-star" services monitoring your health and safety.

Overall, I think, 2009 will prove a fine fullfillment of the fortune cookie curse: "may you live in interesting times" - because, no matter what, the times are going to be "interesting."