Reflections: Nathaniel Forbes

There's no compelling reason to own a PDA today; there are only excuses. -- Nathaniel Forbes, director of Forbes Calamity Prevention
Written by Staff , Contributor

Nathaniel Forbes
Nathaniel Forbes, director of Forbes Calamity Prevention, is holding out for a reason to use a PDA

Q. What was the biggest IT news in 2006?
My headline would be "Browsing: Cultural Learnings of Microsoft for Make Benefit Glorious Empire of Google". It was apparently big news that controlling the Web browser is a few zillion dollars less rewarding than controlling the Web's content. I figured everyone learned that lesson back in, oh, say...the 15th century when Gutenberg published his first Bible.

What is the No. 1 issue that you think the IT industry should band together and address collectively?
Ease-of-use of almost every Web site, but they can start with the business banking Web site of my local bank. It's clear to me that no one at the bank has ever actually used the Web site. I'm praying for a chance to sit in on a board meeting while the bank's CEO tries to demonstrate the site to the bank's directors. They're all over 50 like me, and I know they won't be able to read the inscrutable commands and nanoscopic font size any better than I can. What a laugh! I guarantee that customers' ease-of-use would become a design priority overnight.

What is the one technology that you'll be watching closely, and why?
Personal Digital Assistants. There's no compelling reason to own one today; there are only excuses. An electronic address book is an excuse, not a reason. An electronic calendar is an excuse, not a reason. A mobile phone is compelling, and that's why Microsoft has been trying desperately to bolt PDA functions onto handphones. That's only worked so far because most people don't use the PDA functions.

VisiCalc was the reason to buy an Apple II computer in the 1970s. WordPerfect was the reason to buy a DOS computer in the 1980s. MS Office was the reason to buy a Windows PC in the 1990s. And PDAs need a reason. I don't know what it will be, or when it will appear, but it will be small, simple and probably blindingly obvious, so I keep hoping to think of it first.

What would you like to see from tech vendors in 2007?
"Simple Gifts". You know, like in the traditional Shaker hymn: Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free... When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed.

More BCP insights from Nathaniel in his BCP Confidential blog.

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