IS Survival Guide: Millenium Predictions

SAN MATEO (01/31/2000) - MANAGEMENT SPEAK: We have many ideas about how the site would be used and what tools would be effective. We think it best to let the site evolve around those who use it.

TRANSLATION: We have no idea what we want to do. Come up with a system that will do it.

-- This week's anonymous contributor provides a typical system requirements specification.

I watched a bit of an infomercial for The Bible Code. It was pretty funny.

Supposedly, the authors have decrypted a complex scheme through which the Bible predicts specific events. The infomercial presented large numbers of past successful predictions as proof. Here's a shocker: It didn't include one prediction for the future (at least in the segment I watched).

Predicting the past is easy; predicting the future is tougher.

This month we've been reviewing predictions made in this column. Let's wrap it up.

Nonsuccess of the Network Computer. Larry Ellison's original idea -- that a system using Java for its OS, downloading Java applications from servers for execution, would supplant the PC -- continues to go nowhere.

New Definition of Network Computing. More a hope than prediction, I described a return to the idea of dynamically assigned, completely portable processes. I'm still hoping (Java's increasing focus on the midtier leads to optimism), but so far it's still way too hard to reallocate processes around the network.

Americanization of American Culture. Two years ago I predicted the Internet would strengthen Americans' heritage of semianarchic individualism. One year ago I presented Jesse Ventura's election over two empty suits as evidence of the trend. This year an empty suit seems less undesirable. I still think the prediction will be borne out, but will be accompanied by reinforcement of the natural resentment many Americans have for verifiable information and tight logic. Because the Internet makes fact and fabrication virtually indistinguishable, it will let anyone rationalize any nitwit notion at all.

Globalization of American Culture. I also predicted that other cultural influences would diversify Americans' ideas in some uncomfortable ways, using the greater comfort some other cultures have with erotica as an example. How about it? Abercrombie and Fitch sent out a highly provocative catalog. Critics loudly complained because a scene from Eyes Wide Shut, in which Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman did the nasty on-screen, was digitally altered to hide the details. I could claim victory, but I won't -- this doesn't appear to be an Internet-based phenomenon. Evidence? Just for giggles I looked for porn on a few search engines. Few of the sites had foreign domain names, so I guess we can lay claim to being sex merchants to the world, and not the other way around.

Internet 1.5. This was my name for enhanced ISP services, such as guaranteed quality of service within an ISP's network. This seems to be happening, but without much visibility so far. Look for 2000 to be the breakthrough year, with a division of the ISP market into small, low-cost commodity providers and large, value-added networks.

IP Telephony. I still think this will be huge, but I disagree with the industry mavens who say it will be "driven by the applications it enables." What applications? Everything IP telephony offers has been available for years through CTI (computer-telephony integration). What will drive IP telephony is its lower cost, easier management, and availability from the data vendors with whom IS is most comfortable. What may kill it is the odd prominence of Windows NT as a platform. Telephony requires "five-nines" reliability. NT isn't a five-nines platform. Look for migration of IP telephony to more reliable platforms. Also look for Lucent Technologies, Nortel Networks, and Cisco Systems to help Microsoft fix NT's reliability.

Linux. So far, big success as a server and still a fringe player on the desktop, as foretold -- 2000 won't be the year for Linux on the desktop, either. Has it become "just another Unix" as I predicted? Not yet ... not yet.

But as Linux succeeds, it's becoming a corporate play, and the hobbyists who made it succeed will increasingly find themselves the objects of corporate America's traditional expression of gratitude: derision and indifference.

Write to Bob_Lewis@compuserve.com, or join his forum on InfoWorld.com. Bob Lewis is a Minneapolis-based consultant at Perot Systems.

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