2003 Opening with Fresh Ideas

If you are reading this, congratulations. You survived the worst of times and are ready to look ahead to brighter days. As 2002 comes to a close, I think it’s safe to say that for most of us, the year at least lived up to what we hoped: it was better than 2001, if only by the narrowest of margins.

I started writing about technology trends back in 1989 and I’m as optimistic today as I have ever been about some of the fresh ideas and trends that are gaining momentum.

Peace on Web Standards
Let’s start by remembering some of the progress we’ve made. Only a couple of years ago, web technologies were embroiled in standards clashes. Competing standards for DHTML, JavaScript, Java and rich media complicated every attempt to do an ambitious site design. Today, the de facto standard-setters are Microsoft for page display, Macromedia for rich media and Adobe for complex document display. In client-server development, there’s plenty of choice among platforms like JSP, ASP and WebSphere. But developers can choose their server. They’re much better off working with a predictable browser. Standards battles will always be with us, and Microsoft’s push for XDOCs may ignite new conflict. So let’s enjoy the peace and tranquility on this front while we have it.

Turmoil in Ecommerce
Online retailing has gone through a boom and bust cycle not seen in the U.S. since the great gold rush of 1849. Fortunately, 2002 was a year of recovery. Holiday retail sales suggest that Web shopping is settling into a sustainable period of growth.

Unfortunately, the marketing side of ecommerce is faced with a growing problem. Email has become an essential part of the sales and marketing cycle, but it’s under assault from fly-by-night spammers. Today, the problem is acute only for the most active email users; but recent studies suggest that if the problem is not solved, email will soon lose its overall effectiveness.

Give credit to AOL for waging a difficult fight against one of the most aggressive practitioners. But more work is needed. Corporations who leave their mail relay servers unprotected are part of the problem, too. Education about good neighbor permissions-based marketing practices is part of the solution. Fighting spam is good business; this is a battle worth waging.

Broadband Fights the Odds
One reason why online retailing is booming: it was a year when broadband made significant inroads into homes even as satellite broadband crashed and DSL began to fade. Cable broadband is finally rolling out as a mass market platform. That helps ecommerce in the short term but it’s a dangerous situation for the long term. If consumers don’t have real choice, growth will stall. Blame the FCC and it’s anti-competitive rulings for creating yet another telecom mess. FCC Chairman Powell talks about competition but his actions protect the monopolies. Independent DSL providers are fighting for survival. Let’s hope they make it.

Open Source Ascendant
Open source software had its own boom and bust cycle but 2002 was a year when Linux began to hit its stride, not on the desktop, but on servers and in a way few would have predicted. The world of “big iron” is discovering the advantage of open source development in complex systems. Take a look at IBM’s financial results and you’ll see the transformation. DB2 is a hot product, twenty years after it was first introduced. This is no small achievement; DB2 generates a significant portion of IBM’s $12 billion in annual software sales. Open source is here to stay all right.

Wireless: an Overnight Success, Yet Again
Wireless data delivery has been the next big thing for several years now. Like all significant technology shifts, this transformation will be years in the making before we reach the promised land of pervasive computing. Still, 2002 stands out as a year when we made some big leaps forward. Widespread deployment of 802.11b networks in the home and office was a lightning bolt that few people saw coming. Expect even greater 802.11 deployment in 2003 and look for the gaps between 802.11’s broadband hotspots to be plugged with 3G narrowband. By this time next year, dual-mode wireless access will be a reality for millions, thanks to the expected release of Intel’s wireless-friendly Banias CPU.

All things considered, 2003 is shaping up to be an exciting year, indeed.

Gus Venditto is the editor-in-chief of the internet.com and Earthweb networks.

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