RealTime IT News

BitTorrent, 'Gi-Fi,' and Other Trends in 2004

Thanks to a never-ending supply of sharp minds and energy in the information technology industry, innovation will keep on marching ahead in 2004 -- good economy or bad. (But a good economy sure helps.) Editors from internetnews.com and across Jupitermedia have compiled a list of ideas/trends/innovations to watch in 2004.

BitTorrent - The Next Wave of P2P
The original file-swapping site Napster made peer-to-peer networking a star. Later, swap sites Kazaa and Morpheus found ways to market it. Now comes BitTorrent to push peer-to-peer technology to new heights in 2004. In the enterprise IT sector, where bandwidth wastage hurts the bottom line, BitTorrent adds a new twist to the upload/download technology.

Instead of just allowing file-sharers to grab content from each other's systems, BitTorrent targets the bandwidth nightmare by stripping digital files into tiny shreds. When multiple users request and trigger a download, the pieces of the files are then uploaded around the network and reassembled locally by the recipient's machine, much the same way the red-hot VoIP technology works.

Early adopters see BitTorrent as an excellent solution because it provides very fast downloads while consuming a relatively small amount of server resources. Instead of things slowing down as more and more people are using the system, it actually speeds up. In 2004, we'll see a major spike in BitTorrent usage as software vendors, movie companies, and online gaming sites embrace the new peer-to-peer concept to large file transfers.

The next wave of P2P technologies won't stop with BitTorrent. Look for open-source P2P streaming standards and technologies to evolve and cut the costs for businesses.

Serial ATA - A Rising Star in Storage
Once considered obsolete, this data transfer technology is something of a phoenix rising from the ashes. Serial ATA is quickly phasing out Parallel ATA technology, which is slower, sensitive to interference and more likely to produce messy wire tangles.

Serial ATA cables are much thinner and only use about seven wires per device, instead of the 40 used by Parallel ATA. Fewer wires, means smaller connectors, which in turn means more space on hard drives, paving the way for smaller PCs and other small form factor machines. Serial ATA is also speedier than Parallel ATA, operating at a bandwidth of 150MB/s, a 13 percent improvement over Parallel ATA.

Bottom Line: there will be an industry-wide move to new hard drives, controllers, and connectors based on Serial ATA, squeezing SCSI out in some circles as the technology of choice. Serial ATA II will debut in 2004 offering 300MB/s of bandwidth. Serial ATA III will double that bandwidth throughput by 2007. Also, look for a consumer-focused storage device on retail shelves in coming months.

Telcos Embrace VoIP
What a difference a few short years make. Just the other day, the VoIP business was left for dead. PhoneFree and DialPad and a slew of Web phone start-ups disappeared and those that remained have rejiggered their business models to stay viable. Fast forward to 2003 where broadband penetration in the U.S. has created a brand new market for high-quality VoIP and, needless to say, the old school telcos want a slice of the pie.

Qwest, AT&T are already pursuing large scale VoIP rollouts while start-up Vonage continues to score deals with ISPs for its consumer and small business-focused offering. Net2Phone , a VoIP pioneer has just raised funds to bankroll a franchise program for cable companies to offer phone service on existing cable lines. With Verizon and SBC waiting in the wings with VoIP tests of their own, 2004 is shaping up as the year when VoIP goes truly mainstream.

DRM-Protected Online Music:
Finally, after years of stumbling around in search of a business model for online music, the record labels and technology partners appear to have struck gold. Apple's iTunes, Roxio's Napster 2.0, RealNetworks' Rhapsody and a host of smaller players have discovered a gold mine in hawking DRM-protected downloads or fee-based subscription services.

In 2004, look for increased activity in digital music with Loudeye's new off-the-shelf technology creating virtual music stores on just about every high-traffic Internet destination. Think of Loudeye's move as the music equivalent of the popular matchmaking business where companies like Spring Street Networks have put online personals services on hundreds of third-party sites.

The increased buzz around online music (and digital content) will lead to new hardware/software offerings to take advantage of consumers' acceptance of DRM . The music labels will grudgingly make additional concessions to sweeten the pot for retailers. But some problems with DRM compatibility, particularly in the networked home, will hurt the sector.

Micropayments - Is This The Year?
The micropayments sector has been in a state of flux since the late 1990s. Business models have been chopped and changed more times than an NFL roster and the dot-com bust has seen its share of micropayment victims. Yet, through it all, the likes of eBay-owned PayPal , smaller electronic payments providers BitPass and Peppercoin have carved a niche as legitimate players in the micropayments space. The skeptics continue to pour cold water on the micropayments concept but the concept keeps proving itself, in smaller ways, that are adding up, year after year.

With the success of online music and the gradual trend to push Web content behind the premium curtain, the micropayment market is opening up at a dramatic pace. With some minor tweaks, micropayments technology providers could flourish in 2004, or at least see some revenues start to add up.

Blogging on Steroids
If you were caught off guard by the wild popularity of blogs in 2003, wait till you see what 2004 has in store. The next wave could be dubbed blogging-on-steroids -- as blogging technology is merged with wikis (blogging "best-practices" sites) and integrated into social networks (the Friendsters of the world) to create a truly-connected world of online journals, Web collaboration and personals networking.

Researchers at Microsoft are already testing a networking tool called Wallop to explore how people share media and build conversations in the context of social networks. The word around the industry is that Google will hook its Blogger software to a Friendster-type network (via an acquisition?) to tap into the ever-more-connected, open-standard-driven computing world.

In 2004, the evolution of the weblog/wiki/personal network will make a huge impact in the way information is shared on the Internet. Doubters need just look at the way the heavyweight politicians have embraced blogging to take advantage of the conversational nature of the technology.

RSS Hits the Enterprise
The rise of the blog in 2003 spawned a major market for RSS , the XML syndication format that allows publishers to shuttle content to news aggregators. RSS (Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication), first developed by Netscape in the 1990s, is used primarily to syndicate news content but in the new year, enterprises will embrace the technology to update events listings, project updates and corporate announcements. Now that Atom, a competing syndication standard, has been released, it's a safe bet news feeds and syndication will not be limited to text or images. In 2004, as spam continues to clog e-mail servers, look for RSS readers/aggregators to extend beyond the desktop -- and on to cell phones and PDAs.

Wi-Fi Gets (More) Mobile
Now that the hype has faded somewhat and strong business models are emerging in the Wi-Fi space, look for new laptops, PDAs and cell phones to integrate the wireless standard in 2004. The dramatic growth in Wi-Fi will come in the first quarter when mobile phones with embedded Wi-Fi capabilities hit the market. On the enterprise side, a single device integrating a telephone, Web and e-mail access, contacts and meetings -- all connected by Wi-Fi will be a godsend. Look for Research in Motion and Palm's HandSpring to make the most noise when Wi-Fi goes mobile.

On the consumer side, 2004 will see a gradual decline of the fee-based Wi-Fi hotspots due to slowing demand. On the flip side, high-speed ISPs and telcos like Verizon, EarthLink, T-Mobile will move towards freeing up Wi-Fi access as a customer service/retention tool.

Is There Room for 'Gi-Fi'?
In November 2003, technology researchers at NewLans Inc. presented a tutorial to the IEEE 802 LAN/MAN Standards Committee Plenary Meeting outlining a new standard to cover the potential use of millimeter wave frequencies for use in enterprise WLANs with gigabits-per-second capacities. NewLans, headed by serial entrepreneur Dev Gupta, plans to use a frequency range recently opened up by the FCC on the 56GHz band to offer 2 Gbps on a wireless LAN.

If Gupta succeeds, the 'Gi-Fi' protocol could make big news in 2004 as enterprises come to grips with the reality of what 2 Gbps can offer in comparison to the Gig-E wired LANs deployed today. Think of the wireless possibilities: file transfers, video-on-demand, high-resolution video conferencing, data mining, and on and on.

Search Goes Offline
When Google makes a move, any move, pay close attention -- even if it's offline. The search technology giant is heading offline with a Google Print experiment that indexes excerpts of popular books and funneling printed material into regular online searches. The move is a clear response to e-commerce superstore Amazon.com's creation of A9 to invest and develop e-commerce search technologies.

The early indications are that offline catalogs, books, periodicals, magazines and all printed material could eventually be available via a regular Web search. This could be the year we see it all come together, especially with powerhouses like Google and Amazon.com involved.

Time For Good Viruses?
In the summer of 2003, when the Blaster and Sobig worms wreaked havoc on corporate networks, it was clear that malicious virus-writers had moved beyond e-mail attachments to exploit security vulnerabilities without a user-triggered activity. The threat of cyber attacks was made worse because users (mostly consumers) never applied security patches that were available for months. So, is it time to fight-fire-with-fire? Is it time for the industry to launch benevolent viruses to thwart attacks and even forcibly apply patches to vulnerable systems?

There is a growing school of thought in the industry that says good worms to deal with Internet security are inevitable. In 2004, look for the debate to heat up with privacy advocates opposing any such move. However, proponents of good worms will argue that users who neglect to protect systems from vulnerabilities are putting others at risk since compromised machines are being used in malicious attacks.

Privacy's Privations Extended in 2004?
Look for data security and privacy to become more important to consumers and corporations in 2004, as new privacy laws take effect (California), and consumers start to weigh what is more important to them: the convenience of digital devices that help ease their passage through society's tollbooths and beyond, or the privacy-privation of having one's every move tracked by some digital eye *somewhere.*

The Firewall War
Computer/Internet security issues will remain on the front burner in 2004 as Microsoft puts the finishing touches to the security-centric Windows XP Service Pack 2, due out in the second quarter. Included in that service pack is a major overhaul to the embedded Internet Connection Firewall (ICF) which, for the first time, will be turned on by default on new PCs.

The ICF makeover effectively makes it a robust firewall on all new PCs and could be a blow to companies like Symantec and McAfee that depend on subscription-based firewall services.

Once the Windows XP SP 2 is launched, look for rumblings from security software vendors that a bundled (and robust) firewall on new computers would put a major strain on business.

IM: Get Thee Behind a Firewall
Look for instant messaging to increase its footprint in the workplace during 2004, with businesses budgeting for enterprise-grade management and security solutions. Over the past year, the darling of the teenage set has become a hit among Wall Street traders -- causing headaches for network admins, since consumer IM operates through most corporate firewalls and without IT's knowledge.

A Big Release Year for Microsoft
Every year is a big release year for the world's largest software company, that's true. But 2004 could prove to be a pivotal year, and not just because its Windows operating system monopoly worldwide is under assault on a variety of fronts.

But that alone is plenty to keep it busier than ever in 2004. While it works to settle European Commission anti-trust charges over how its digital media player is integrated in the Windows operating system, Microsoft also has to find a way to entice enterprise customers to spend more money and migrate to its latest Windows XP platform.

The same is true for its Office 2003 productivity software suite that it released in October, along with new server software that customers would need in order to experience the full range of Microsoft's collaboration tools in the latest release. This, while OpenOffice.org and other open source software such as the Linux operating system find new fans, especially among governments and municipalities looking to upgrade their creaky networks while holding down costs.

Plus, Microsoft is slated to release during the first half of 2004 the beta of its next-generation development platform, Visual Studio .NET, now code-named "Whidbey." Running on a similar schedule is its database application, SQL Server, code named "Yukon," both of which will be radically changed as a prelude to its next-generation Windows (code named "Longhorn"), now widely expected in 2006. Those are just a few items on its to-do list, but enough to signal that Windows' next version -- and its timetable for release -- is riding on what Microsoft can accomplish in 2004.

Linux Continues to Gain
This could be the year that Linux finally gains the mainstream credibility that it has sought for so many years. Once the tech recession hit in 2000, the hype over open source appeared to fade away, making room for small but steady advances in the enterprise. As 2004 dawns, the corporate sector is seeing Linux and open source for what it is: a legitimate, cost-saving platform with its own set of strengths, and weaknesses.

While Linux on the desktop will remain elusive for the immediate future at least, look for the open source operation system to enjoy heady gains in the server and embedded markets in 2004. Linux's popularity will continue to alarm Microsoft and the software giant will batten the hatches for a good old fight for the hearts and minds of enterprise customers.

The Year To Sort Our CAN-SPAM
Had we not gone to war, spam might have been the issue of 2003 and beyond. The CAN-SPAM act, effective Jan. 1, is far from a final answer to the problem. Yet the fact some ground rules finally exist is a relief to the online industry, particularly legitimate marketers and publishers. The Act remains very much in a formative state. Recommendations and determinations will be made throughout 2004 and next regarding a Do-Not-Spam registry; labeling requirements; wireless spam; even defining a commercial e-mail's purpose. Expect the issue to stay front-and-center. Web professionals will lobby, while pols will leverage this popular issue to remain in the limelight -- and in office.