The revolutions of 2001

Indeed, the first part of the Internet revolution is over, as seen by the disappearance of numerous dot-com's. The Net economy is now moving to B2B and peer-to-peer computing and automated machine-to-machine communications.

We might as well face it: The PC revolution is pretty much over. Oh, PCs will continue to be the primary way we create information for and access the Internet, and they'll continue to get faster, less expensive, and more popular.

But the revolution promised by the PC -- that of computing power for everyone -- has pretty much come to pass.

The first part of the Internet revolution is over as well. The Net has become an accepted part of life today, at least for most Americans.

But does that mean the computer technology revolution is over? Absolutely not. New advances are coming, with many set to burst out in the year to come.

The Internet Revolution, Part II
The decline or disappearance of numerous new dot-com companies has convinced many people that the Internet revolution is over. And if you're talking about a revolution where people saw growth at all costs as paramount, without attention to business models or profits, you're right. That movement is over. The Internet is now entering a new stage -- a new revolution.

We've already moved from sites that were aimed at the business-to-consumer (B2C) market to those aimed at business-to-business (B2B) markets. Now, we're moving to applications that do peer-to-peer computing and that are automating machine-to-machine communications.

In the second Internet revolution, most businesses will rethink how to take advantage of Net technology. This will require an expansion of their internal network capabilities and connections with the outside world.

Lots of new technology will power the new infrastructure these companies are going to need. This includes larger and faster servers, often delivered via lots of clustered machines. We'll see better and more reliable network connections, using more optical network switches, and Gigabit Ethernet to connect the servers within an organization. All this is inevitably going to lead to huge management requirements -- for managing the equipment, ever-more-complicated applications, access to the network, and access to information among employees, customers, and suppliers.

I believe managing all this information may be the most challenging problem facing IT organizations in 2001.

The New Applications Revolution
The next big revolution will come in the applications that all this connectivity will provide. It's easy to believe that more and more applications will move away from PCs and onto servers, and, in fact, off of corporate servers and onto the servers of big application service providers (ASPs).

Already, ASPs offer everything from accounting to sales and contact management to time and billing to project management. Some of these services are from start-ups, such as NetLedger (read review) or (read review); some are from new parts of companies, such as's time and billing solution.

Vertical professions are enjoying new services, such as the new Adobe Studio, designed to help customers share data. We're seeing companies like Critical Path Software offering outsourced e-mail, and a variety of firms offering productivity tools like Microsoft Office over the Internet.

I expect we'll see a lot more of this over the year to come, not because such alternatives cost less (I suspect many won't) but because they are easier to get up and running on quickly -- and then maintain.

The Peer-to-Peer Revolution
Big, smart servers won't be the only things driving computing in the year to come. Expect to see more activity on the client side. Notebook computers keep growing as a percentage of the total number of PCs, and people want to be able to work in situations where they have slow network connections, or none. Besides, as long as companies have powerful clients, they might as well take advantage of them.

Some of this client use will come in the form of new peer-to-peer (P2P) applications, such as Groove, which I covered in the previous issue. Also, some clients will be used with new collaborative tools, such as Alibre Design, which lets multiple organizations work together on engineering drawings as part of a global supply chain.

We should also see traditional productivity applications take advantage of "pooled" clients. For instance, the next version of Microsoft Office offers many ways to collaborate on documents via a shared Web site and XML.

The Broadband Revolution
Another revolution is coming, this one driven by the increased speed of network connections. Already, most large businesses have fast Internet connections, and increasingly, home users will be relying on them as well. Surveys show that many PC Magazine readers already have cable modem or DSL connections. We expect more home users to catch on this year, despite the various glitches and inconveniences some local telecom firms have caused. Alternatives such as satellite and fixed-point wireless are visibly growing as well.

This will result in a change in the kind of Web-based applications we see. Already, I'm getting 700-Kbps streams of data delivered reliably over my cable modem. I expect that will lead to things like more video streams, both for entertainment and for business purposes.

I also believe the shared broadband access will drive not only home networking but also the proliferation of multiple connected devices in the home, going beyond PCs to include a new generation of Internet appliances.

The Wireless Revolution
Perhaps the most discussed revolution is the delivery of more information via wireless infrastructures.

We're beginning to see more and more mobile devices with built-in Internet connections. Already, many new mobile phones have built-in wireless Web connections, but the usage of such features has generally been disappointing. I'd chalk that up to slow connections and lousy screens, but both of those aspects will improve in the year to come.

In 2001 I expect to see new phones with better screens and built-in Bluetooth (for connections to laptops and other devices), along with a move toward faster connections. Still, really fast wireless wide-area-network connections, such as GPRs, and so-called 3G wireless phone systems seem farther off.

Also on the horizon are more wireless applications that transmit data in small chunks, as well as those that use rudimentary speech recognition and text translation to deliver Web-derived information anywhere and anywhen.

The Mobile Revolution
The increase in connectivity will affect all sorts of mobile devices beyond the phone as well. In the hand-held space, we'll see lots more wireless solutions, as things like the Palm VII (read review) evolve, and add-ons such as the Novatel and OmniSky modems for both Palm and Pocket PC hand-helds. On the notebook side, we're seeing those companies and Sierra Wireless offering wireless PC cards, with services such as Ricochet promising much faster connections (up to 128 Kbps) in many more markets by year's end.

In the meantime, we'll make do with wireless in-building systems driven by the growing adoption of Wi-Fi (802.11b) solutions and the oft-delayed appearance of Bluetooth devices. I expect a lot more public places will deploy wireless LAN solutions. We've been using a wireless LAN for years in our PC Magazine offices, and everyone who visits is immediately sold on the solution. I also expect to see laptops with both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi solutions built in (sometimes simultaneously), along with Bluetooth mobile phones.

Meanwhile, notebook PCs will get better battery life (at least, if you're willing to trade off performance), driven mainly by Transmeta's Crusoe CPU and the competitive response to it from Intel and AMD.

The Missing Revolution
So we're poised for quite a few revolutions in the year to come -- from machines to applications to connection services. This is all very exciting.

Yet as far as computing has progressed, it still hasn't changed enough to meet our expectations. PCs still crash; we'd like to think Microsoft's Whistler (read review), Apple's OS X (read review), and the new Linux kernel and applications will help, but I'm still skeptical. Most applications are still far too hard to use. And things like real speech recognition, context identification, and superior management of all the information at hand still remain in the far distant future.

In short, for better or for worse, we're still a long way from the future many of us expected when we first saw 2001: A Space Odyssey.