High-Tech’s 2006 Crystal Ball

With 2005 winding down, it’s time to look into the crystal ball and see what the future holds in various areas of high-tech.

Will it be a case of What was old is new? A glut of new innovation? Or will it be a smattering of both?

Will the European Commission really start fining Microsoft $2 million-plus per day?

As is the tradition around the internetnews.com virtual newsrooms, we’re lining up predictions for the year in IT. Some may seem obvious, but some go out on a limb to keep things interesting. Absolutely, we guarantee this might or might not happen.

Google Gets Evil

That is, the most darling search engine in the world loses its geek chic and continues to make business decisions that set it on the portal path. As plugs for AOL begin to show up all around the site, search-engine marketers will start to badmouth Google for not playing fair.

Google will use a similar stern hand with those who’d like to mash up its Web services ; some startups will have privileged access, while others will be summarily booted out.

The big changes to come may even cause strife in the highest echelon, driving one or both of the young founders out of their corner offices.


The View on Vista

Microsoft has confirmed — over and over — that it will ship Windows Vista, its next-generation operating system, in the second half of 2006. To some, that means no later than December 31; No one is holding their breath.

Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox said that Microsoft has missed the, um, window through which to get partners on board to ship. He points out that OEMs and ISVs needed information about SKUs last summer.

Meanwhile, analyst firm Directions on Microsoft said that one of Redmond’s biggest challenges would be convincing enterprise customers that Vista, and Office 12, which will follow, are must-haves.

Even as Microsoft readies the new era of collaborative computing, in which the rich client connects to the smart server to run applications that can share XML data, it will continue its new direction: Windows and Office Live. Ad-supported, Web-based applications for e-mail, spreadsheets, Web design and corporate messaging will move Microsoft into the sexy on-demand category.

On Demand

And that brings us to one of the biggest software stories of the year: On-demand software, also known as hosted or software as a service (and formerly known as the ASP model), received nods from analysts who forecast significant penetration into the enterprise software market.

Scalability issues, such as Salesforce.com ‘s recent outage, will continue. But small to mid-sized companies will continue to be attracted to the low monthly fees and outsourced administration that hosted applications offer.

Thanks to the availability of platforms and tools from companies, including Salesforce.com and Microsoft, with its Windows Live, hosted applications will continue to proliferate and worm their way closer to basic enterprise systems.

Meanwhile, search startups will flow and ebb with the tide.

HP Will Buy EMC

Okay, so maybe this is a stretch. But think about it: Lump some of the most sophisticated, cutting-edge storage and software with some of the best high-tech services money can buy and you’ve got … well, you’ve got another IBM.

Bocada CEO Mark Silverman, whose modest Bellevue, Wash., company makes storage management software in Microsoft’s looming shadow, thinks it could happen.

“The fallout will be huge, both to the HDS relationship, as well as all of HP’s storage software,” Silverman said in a recent interview. However, it will enable HP (and EMC) to leverage HP services to try to compete with IBM.”

Silverman said HP doesn’t have much of a storage product portfolio or strategy, while EMC isn’t exactly known for providing services.

“EMC has to get bigger and grow outside of storage,” Silverman explained. “They created products with high price points, but I credit them with making storage central to IT decision-making.”

Silverman also said that the acquisition rate in the past few years has taken its toll on the independent storage channel, with smaller players being sucked up into EMC’s, IBM’s or HP’s solution sets.

Chips Double Up

Consolidation was also big in 2005 in data centers, as companies looked to cut the number of servers they use. In this vein, dual-core processors were a great selling point for AMD-based servers, and Intel quickly followed.

In 2006, we’ll see dual and multi-core systems become the norm in both desktop and servers.

More importantly, virtualization and other software will come along that actually shows why there’s a benefit of having more than one core to do the processing. And every time PC companies tout the virtues of dual and multi-core, Sun Microsystems will be right there to cheer them on and tout its own new eight-core UltraSparc T1 servers.

While IT departments have been tapping virtualization to make better use of servers, desktops will start to benefit as well in the coming year.

“Pretty soon it will become as easy to have multiple operating systems on your desktop as it is to have multiple applications without a performance penalty,” said Margaret Lewis, senior software strategist at AMD.

Look for enterprise desktops to start including a standard set of virtual partitions for such things as legacy applications, personal files and apps, as well as virus protection that screens the system from infecting other users on the network.

IPv6

At some point in 2006 the IPv4 address space will become exhausted. That means no more IP addresses will be available. Nada, zip, zilch. Will that cause a run for the hills? Will the Internet collapse? Hardly. The U.S has the lion’s share of all IPv4 addresses and Network Address Translation (NAT) &npsp;usage is ubiquitous so the event won’t cause a great deal of commotion in this part of the world.

For the rest of the world, it’s another story. IPv6, the next generation of IP with a seemingly infinite number of available IP addresses, is already beginning to take hold in Japan and China. Adoption of IPv6 will undoubtedly accelerate dramatically in 2006 in many part of the world.

The US Federal Government has already begun its march toward IPv6 but enterprise or consumer adoption is nearly non-existent. It’s hard to tell at this point when enterprises will jump on the IPv6 bandwagon, but it is clear that in 2006, the issue will become harder than ever to ignore.

Contributing Writers: Clint Boulton, Tim Gray, Colin Haley, Erin Joyce, Sean Michael Kerner, Susan Kuchinskas, Roy Mark, David Needle, Catherine Pickavet, Jim Wagner.

Page 2 of 2

Browser Wars II

And you thought it was all over with the crushing defeat of Netscape at the hands of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) in the 90s.

Despite IE’s continued world dominance in market share, expect to see a lot of renewed competition in the browser industry. (Ever expect to see the words “competition” and “browser” in the same sentence again?)

The three mainstream Windows-based browsers — IE, Firefox and Opera — are all coming out with major upgrades in 2006: Firefox 2.0, code-named The Ocho; IE 7; and Opera 9, code-named Merlin.

And while UI improvements and new widgets in the browsers will certainly get an excited giggle out of technophiles, it’s the stuff running under the hood that will bring the biggest changes to the way Internet surfers view Web pages.

For years, Web development has been stymied by the lowest common denominator in browser development, namely IE. While Firefox and Opera have a growing number of Web standards in its code, which allows developers to create more dynamic and interactive Web pages, most of the world still uses IE. Microsoft’s browser has been idling somewhat since the launch of IE 6 in 2001 (Windows XP SP2 doesn’t count, it was mainly a security update).

Expect to see Web pages next year that take advantage of some of the Web standards getting incorporated into the browser: notably in HTML, full support for CSS1 and pieces of CSS2.

Opera’s CEO Jon von Tetzchner said the Web standards inclusions in the next upgrade by his company, the Mozilla Foundation and Microsoft are good for everyone and creates some welcome competition. Opera 9 will support XSLT 1.0, XPath 1.0, Web Forms 2.0, Web Apps 1.0 and others.

“All of this is going to be pushing the limits of what you can do with browsers, and it’s hotter than it has been for quite some time,” he said. “Obviously, Microsoft hasn’t done too much in the past six, seven years, so them coming with a new browser is excellent news.”

Time For Integration

There will be a serious period of software integration following recent purchases in the software space, particularly in identity management and applications, thanks to such vendors as Oracle.

In 2005, Oracle bought ID management players Oblix, Thor Technologies and OctetString, as well as business applications makers Retek and Siebel Systems.

HP just picked up Trustgenix and BMC acquired Calendra and OpenNetwork.

All of the deals made the year exciting to watch, with nary a week going by without insiders wondering what might be purchased next. And so begins the drudgery: Integrating disparate code bases into entrenched portfolios.

While Oracle and HP have left the door open to future acquisitions, expect a quieter year in terms of purchases, as developers crunch ones and zeroes to form-fit new software into their companies’ portfolios.

And A-Politicking We Go

The White House. In 2004, President Bush set a national goal of affordable broadband access for all Americans in three years. In 2005, the president didn’t once publicly utter the word broadband, what with the Plame investigation, Iraq and other distractions throughout the year. There’s no reason to believe that will change much in 2006.

Congress. Unlike the White House, Capitol Hill lawmakers will mention broadband over and over again, as it will play well on the campaign trail. Like the White House, though, little will get done about spyware, data breach notifications or telecom reform. What little tech-related legislation that does get passed will have little or no impact. When you think of Congress boldly going forth on technology policy, think CAN-SPAM.

The FCC. In the face of no direction from either the president or Congress, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will continue to press forward in its muddled way on Voice over IP and spectrum issues. Of course, each ruling by the FCC will be challenged in lengthy court delays by whichever ox is being gored. Just think more years of the dreaded regulatory uncertainty.

The Year of UWB

Could 2006 be the year that Ultra Wideband starts to make personal area networks happen in the home for tech-savvy and media-loving consumers?

If Freescale, the semi-conductor spin-off of Motorola, has any say, it will. The company has said it hopes to see UWB transmission rates hit a full gigabit per second, and it hopes to get its chipsets in more devices in 2006.

Plus, after two wireless networking industry groups, The WiMedia Alliance and the MultiBand OFDM Alliance Special Interest Group (MBOA-SIG), merged in 2005, some of the squabbling over formats and protocols could be streamlined for products to ship.

Then, there’s that 802.11n high-speed spec for the somewhat competing Wi-Fi wireless networking standard. UWB supporters say both have their place, but that UWB is better-suited for home networking and zipping media from one TV to another device.

UWB’s transmission rates, at 40 to 50 megabits per second, as well as its ability to support networking via the Bluetooth standard, puts it in a position to make headway in the home in 2006.

Then There’s WUSB

We also think wireless USB (WUSB) will be the most “visible” new technology of 2006. There are countless billions of peripheral devices connected by USB cables. With WUSB, all those cables could disappear. The WUSB specification which was formalized in 2005 and is backwards compatible with existing USB connections. That means the countless billions of USB peripherals have a simple wireless upgrade path. The first WUSB devices are expected by the second quarter of 2006. Look for the technology to gradually displace Bluetooth and Infrared as the dominant wireless interconnect for personal devices and peripherals.

Rhymes With Jive

Speaking of digital homes, where better to make use of broadband and VoIP than in the living room?

Those who haven’t heard of Viiv by year’s end will be few and far between. Intel is planning a huge multi-million-dollar campaign for its new consumer brand for computers designed for the so-called digital living room.

The prediction here is that we’ll finally see some interesting designs for home PCs based on the Viiv spec, which includes Microsoft’s Multimedia Windows Media Center Edition software.

Certainly we’ve come a long way from the Web TV fiasco, but 2006 will not be the year consumers flock en masse to get a Viiv in their living room. Why bother when all the fun’s in the den where the new Xbox 360, or even PlayStation 3 when it ships this spring, reside?

Built-in surround sound, slick design, the latest Intel dual-core processors, remote-control access, and other nice touches, such as QuickResume, will attract a healthy niche of early adopters for Viiv. But Intel is hardly promising the moon out the gate:

“We think we’re just touching the tip of the iceberg with what’s possible,” said Eric Kim, the chip giant’s chief marketing officer, in a recent briefing on Viiv.

And as Viiv pushes forward, a plus for business users: some of the innovation will no doubt eventually find its way into enterprise desktops. It would be nice, for example, to be able to just turn your PC instantly back on with Viiv’s QuickResume feature.

Dollars For Video On Demand

Other media battles lurk in the digital arena, too.

Telcos may be battling cable providers and their “triple play” of video, data and VoIP services, but cable also has to battle the satellite cable providers.

They will look to make more money from video on demand in 2006, as more programming is made available and more cable subscribers switch over to digital cable. For now, VOD isn’t making as much money as cable providers had hoped, but Web publishers are seeing ad dollars where video on demand sits on their sites.

So where does that leave the Baby Bells to compete with cable in the triple-play derby? They’re already upgrading their older DSL and fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) networks for just that.

SBC’s fiber rollout plans are, well, rolling out, and Verizon has said it will spend $3 billion to roll out fiber in the next two years. Watch the VoD race heat up in 2006.


SCO v. IBM Keeps Going, And Going, And Going

This is not so much a prediction as an acknowledgment of the inevitable back-and-forth nature of the Unix company’s years-long lawsuit against Big Blue. Internetnews.com expects to see a lot more paperwork.

The SCO Group filed suit in 2003 against IBM , claiming the software giant misappropriated some of its licensed Unix code to beef up the Linux kernel.

Like a deranged legal Energizer bunny, lawyers from both sides continue to pump out motions and responses to motions as they wend their ways through the discovery phase of the trial. The paper trail is likely indecipherable to anyone who isn’t:



  • a. an IBM lawyer
  • b. a SCO lawyer
  • c. one of the many enthusiastic IBM supporters at Groklaw.net

Discovery isn’t expected to wrap up until March 2006, three years after the original SCO complaint, with the SCO/IBM trial set to begin February 2007.

As to what to expect, anything is possible. While public opinion suggests SCO’s best option is to settle this before it goes to trial based on the lack of evidence presented so far — if IBM would allow that at this stage of the game — executives at the company are still gunning for a trial.

Darl McBride, SCO president and CEO, said during the company’s fiscal fourth quarter 2005 conference call last week that they’ve made good progress during the discovery phase of the trial so far.

While the courts have denied a few requests, he believes they have established a sound basis for their claims, finding what he says are 217 “separate and distinct” disclosures of its Unix code by IBM.

“We believe we will have a compelling case to be presented at trial in early 2007.”

Other Open Source Picks

Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise 10 is expected to debut early in the New Year and Red Hat Enterprise Linux version 5 is expected mid year. Though others like the DCC Alliance and Mandriva will continue to try and challenge the Linux duopoly it’s unlikely that they’ll make much headway in 2006.

Calls for a new development branch of the Linux kernel will likely intensify as the 2.6 kernel continues to grow larger and larger. OpenSolaris and Solaris 10 will likely be more virulent competitors to Linux than they were in 2005 causing more than a few existing Solaris users to rethink Linux migrations.

Contributing Writers: Clint Boulton, Tim Gray, Colin Haley, Erin Joyce, Sean Michael Kerner, Susan Kuchinskas, Roy Mark, David Needle, Catherine Pickavet, Jim Wagner.

News Around the Web