One of the odd things about the Internet boom was the way it got the entire technology industry focused on one story -- the impact of the Net on everything else. After that bubble burst, there was a collective crisis of confidence. Nobody, to use Michael Lewis' phrase, could spot the New New thing. People tried setting up nanotech, mobile telephony and Wi-Fi in that starring role, but none really fit the bill, and all seemed uninspiring after the massive disruptive change created by the Net.
Things have finally moved on. When I talk to people in the industry, nobody asks me about the next big thing -- people have figured out that there really won't be another Internet along any time soon, and that in fact we're still working out what to do with the first one.
At the same time, other themes are emerging. Technology investment has picked up, the IPO market has picked up, and tech is more interesting than it's been for the last three years. Here are six of the best stories we see shaping up at ZDNet UK. They're not the New New thing, but they are news. We look forward to following these stories for you.
1. Microsoft Matters
Whether you're a fan or foe, there's no doubt that Microsoft is going through big changes. The open-source movement's argument that maybe free software is of more use than the stuff you have to pay for is beginning to bite. The EU monopoly ruling also hurt, but an even bigger challenge is that Microsoft has had to postpone it next major upgrade to Windows, Longhorn, set for release in 2007, in a bid to put the rest the claim that it has neglected the security that IT managers demand from true enterprise systems. Microsoft is showing signs of doubt, perhaps for the first time since the challenge from Netscape during the browser wars of the 1990s. Yet this time it doesn't have one opponent to rally against, but must face a host of distracting problems, from licensing issues to security scares.
2. The War Against Malware
We're all fed up with spam, with viruses, and with worms. I don't know about you but this is one issue that hits the ZDNet UK team where we live. We all have bulging inboxes where the rising tide of spam is pouring in through the gunwales: it's overwhelmingeveryone's networks. There's a global conflict going on between the the spammersand the corporations, and we find ourselves in the position of war correspondents monitoring the asymmetrical struggle between the conventional forces of corporate security, those attacking corporate and consumer networks, and the legislators. Spyware, zombie PCs, phishing, organised crime: it's getting tough out there.
3. Going Unplugged
We're seeing organisations finally begin to sweat the detail of going truly wireless. Wireless is something you really have to get involved with to understand. I have a Wi-Fi network at home, and when I switched it on, proud to be the First Kid on My Block to get such a cool toy up and running, the first thing I saw was the other networks my neighbours had set up. Wireless technology is going to get faster as new kinds of high speed data services evolve, such as 4G, and it's creating new security problems that require innovating thinking – including secure wallpaper that allows mobile calls to penetrate, but blocks Wi-Fi signals . And as faster networks evolve, security will continue to be an issue.
4. Broadband Britain
Lots of stakeholders have an interest in cheap high speed networks, yet although Britain is doing well in comparison to many other countries, there is still a long way to go. In the UK, BT's stranglehold over the last mile is slowing things down and a lot of people want to know when and if things are going to improve. People want more and cheaper connectivity, and there's a confusing tangle of politicians, regulators, and business interests that dictate the way public networks are built. BT has ambitious plans for the future, and wants to build a network for the 21st Century, but some people in remote areas are still finding it a struggle to get basic connectivity.
5. Streaming Software
On-demand software is back in business, with several high profile IPOs set for this year. Salesforce.com has already gone out, and RightNow Technologies has filed its S1 paperwork in preparation to float. The conventional providers of CRM and ERP software are all Web-enabling their technologies, trying to bring the convenience and simplicity of a browser interface to the complex world of business applications in a bid to fight off this strategic threat from vendors like NetSuite. Microsoft has high hopes here with its Great Plains and Navision mid-range applications, as well as an extremely ambitious plan to migrate its entire suite of products to a single code base nick-named project Green. At the same, the revelation that the company had seriously considered merging with SAP during the ongoing Oracle and PeopleSoft merger trial has raised fascinating questions about Microsoft's ability to compete at the high-end of this market on its own.
6. Google Grows
John Battelle's influential search blog notes that at the Wall Street Journal Executive conference in June Microsoft's Bill Gates joked about the buzz that Google has been generating, and it's not hard to see why. Microsoft has been forced to tweak its own search offering and give MSN search a plain and simple opening page - just like Google. The launch of Google's free email service Gmail continues to cause a stir and seems extremely popular with our readers -- ZDNet UK's TalkBack has been inundated with people trying to blag Gmail accounts. And that's despite the privacy concerns raised by some observers unhappy with the way Gmail targets advertising against its users' messages. The company is planning an IPO which it hopes will rewrite the rules for technology investing by allowing smaller investors to get a piece of the action. Its S1 papers filed in preparation for the IPO give a tantalising glimpse into the scale of the technology platform it has built to manage the world's searches. If you combine the potential for a platform which has the scale and performance of what Google is already doing with search, and with the trend towards hosted applications, it becomes clear that Google has the potential to be a disruptive force in computing beyond what it has already achieved in search.
So that's six of the best from ZDNet UK. Do these themes resonate with you, and if not, which others do? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.