Technology's five-year flights, flops

Mark Hollands looks at how technology will change in Australia over the next five years

To many future gazers, a light to shine on the future of technology requires the answer to this question: who will win – Microsoft or Sony?

It is an intriguing puzzle that assumes it is necessary for either to be victorious, and that it is impossible for a third company to challenge to these corporate giants of America and Japan.

The leaders of business computing – IBM, Cisco, HP and others - do not rate consideration. That’s because the battle for technology supremacy is not focused on the boardroom but our living rooms.

Consumer demand is already influencing technology inside business, as individuals buy their own handheld computers and e-mail-enabled mobile phones, and then demand corporate support for them.

The fashion-setting designers of consumer electronic companies, such as Sony and LG, are now beginning to influence technology choices, a mantle held a decade ago without dispute by IBM.

These companies are increasingly tapping into the opportunities emerging from wireless technologies, which are giving us all more choices about how we fit work into our lifestyle, or vice versa.

With start-ups such as Unwired and Personal Broadband Australia now offering wireless broadband access, it is naive of any IT manager to believe they can or should resist this consumer trend.

Wireless does not just create mobility, it also moves Internet access from a fixed point to any room in the house. This is where the next generation of technology will be shaped over the next five years.

The games console is seen as a window through which new technologies will enter our homes. The first real move in this direction has been Microsoft’s Xbox Live, designed to allow gamers to play each other across high-speed connections.

Take-up has been slow simply because too few Australians have broadband and those who do rely on a fixed line that is rarely in the living room alongside the TV and the games console.

Over the next five years, Microsoft’s Media Centre will make a significant impact when it is finally released in Australia, providing homeowners with a platform from which to truly create a digital lifestyle that goes beyond the whizz-bangery of home theatres.

Through to 2009, music will be a driving force in technology. Mobile phones will become the conduit for music downloads, replacing gizmos such as the iPod and other music players being touted by HP, Dell and a myriad of copycats from Taiwan.

Phones, with built-in billing systems courtesy of the telcos, will be the perfect device to download DVD-quality sound, allowing users to return home and transfer the music to their media centre, which can then pipe tunes to any room in the house using the wireless network and wireless speakers.

Video over broadband is already being trailed in South Korea and Japan, so by 2009 it is hoped that mature services will have arrived in slow-go Australia, transforming viewing habits and traditional patterns of marketing. The latest step on this journey has been the recent launch of the Foxtel digital service.

Leisure pursuits will dominate our digital lifestyle, so the prospect of the living room also being the workroom is a long stretch for 2009. Old habits die hard, and the study will live on.

Old habits will remain in business, too. Price will continue to be the key motivator for purchasing decisions, and demands for corporate transparency and governance will remain or even escalate.

Companies that are now investing in the concept of the service-oriented architecture, tying together applications from the front and back office, as well as embracing numerous Web services, will be reaping the benefits.

Numerous technologies, which have already been forecast by their creators, will be sufficiently mature for commercial application. Bluetooth will more than likely have given way to ultra-wideband, while many companies will have embraced Unified Communications policies to allow staff to access any data from any location.

Speech recognition software will be almost everywhere we turn, from televisions to ticket machines. New services will appear, such as “Location Aware” which will be supplied by telcos to douse the fears of parents with teenagers.

Technology to support mobile computing will have advanced significantly by 2009. Standards such as 802.16, also known as Wi-Max, will provide city-wide coverage for users.

Meanwhile in the hardware arena, power-smart devices will emerge. Micro fuel cells from the likes of NEC, Sony and Toshiba should be ready alongside screens with organic, light-emitting diodes – a brilliant invention that uses natural light, rather than batteries, to power screens.

These technologies will make notebooks and various permutations of tablet and handheld computers the obvious choice for consumer and business user alike. The desktop, just like a traditional desk phone, will be going the way of the dinosaur.

While 2009 may seem a long way off, it is a sobering to think one of the main activities in an IT department will be the installation of (and training for) Microsoft’s next-generation business computing platform, Longhorn.

For those who would do anything to avoid that experience, Linux on the desktop should be a viable and entrenched alternative.

Mark Hollands is principal of the new IT research company, ITR

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