The year that was

Reviewing the year that technology stood still
Written by Paul Murphy, Contributor on

On the good news side - I'm going to live forever.

Makes me wonder how long it will be before access to porn becomes a health rights issue in elder care.

On the humor side: when I glanced sureptiously at my watch an hour into my son's school Christmas concert, his grandmother scandalized the assembled grade two parents around us by "muttering" (loudly enough to be heard across the auditorium) "No, your watch hasn't stopped."

Ya, you're right -I'm stalling; so on with what I don't want to do: the review of last year's predictions.

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.

Batting 1000, I'm sorry to say.

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.

Still batting 1000.

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.

Oh boy, I think I got the company right; but totally missed the attack from inside that very nearly killed it. Not in my worst nightmares did I think they'd be forced to sit out a year while IBM made hay and Intel published lots of claims about catching up.

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.

Umm: the good thing about predicting that the sun will rise tomorrow is that it raises your percentage accuracy.

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.

"Remotely" wasn't remotely the right word - it really seems that given some set of choices, Mr. Obama and friends enthusiastically pick the one that does the most damage to American community contructs - meaning the economy, democracy, personal freedom, and the rule of law.

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.

A work in progress - and one that will continue next year.

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 work in progress - and again something that will continue next year.

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.

Yep, that's happening, and getting worse. Oddly (for a cynic) I missed google's strategic response: trying to get government to manage consumer bandwidth allocation to their benefit.

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.

Not soon, and probably not made in the United States.

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."

I'd be a lot happier if I'd been a lot more wrong; but, bottom line, what can I say about 2009? It was the year technology took a breather: the tech leaders got stopped, the tech marketers struggled out catch up products, and the Obama/Pelosi assault on American values, American education, and American freedoms continued.

So maybe I was right the first time: juvenile humor really is about as good as it gets - so, what do you get when you a cross a vampire and a snowman? frostbite. And what do you get when you cross a palm with social coin? serious trans-national concern over the fate of an open source database, of course.

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