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'Net Insider

Predictions with the world in mind



Network World, 01/10/05


The editors asked us columnists to focus our first column of the new year on our predictions for the future of the corner of IT that we each cover. For me, that would normally entail a bunch of flip and/or sarcastic observations of current corporate technological assumptions and the technical realities that will stress those assumptions in the next year or two. But I found it hard to be flip in light of the earthquake and resulting tsunamis in South Asia that ended 2004, so I'll do the best I can.


My first prediction is that corporations, at least outwardly, will continue to ignore the world around them. A quick and decidedly non-scientific survey of a number of the Fortune 500 corporations' Web sites shows that, for most of them, it's business as usual. Only a few, including Microsoft, Wal-Mart and Dell, bothered to acknowledge the South Asian disaster and include links to relief organizations. Only one that I found, Apple Computer, took almost all business content off its home page to focus on how people can help.


On the positive side, I only found one site, (ITT Industries), that exploited the events to highlight its own products (with no link for donations).


For what it's worth, I think a corporation that's not a member of its community is not living up to its responsibilities.


Speaking of the 'Net, 2004 showed its power in political (and humanitarian) fundraising, in political discourse, in corporate and political whistle-blowing, in public investigation (say goodbye to Dan Rather). This power will only increase this year, and in the years to come. Corporations that attempt, as some did, to stifle Internet-based discussions of their failings rather than to focus on fixing them will suffer the fate of increased focus on the failings. Note to corporate PR people: Treat the inevitable "YourCompanyNameSucks. com" Web site as a resource to hear what your company is doing wrong (so it can be fixed), not as a target for the legal team.


By some accounts 2004 was supposed to be the year of enterprise VoIP and of storage over IP. Neither quite took off in spite of the fact that in both cases, a full range of products is now available. I doubt that 2005 will prove to be the year either. I'm sure there will be a number of additional big, high-profile conversions to VoIP and that storage over IP (for example, iSCSI) will represent a recognizable fraction of the market. But I expect it will be a few years before either will be the default path.


Based on an AOL report, maybe 2005 will be a year when spam reduces as an issue (no thanks to the CAN-SPAM act). It is possible that 2005 will see the average rate at which Microsoft patches its software will start to exceed the average rate of new exploits, but I'm not holding my breath.


In any case, Internet governance efforts, user-hostile mergers, federal and state regulators, law enforcement demands, open source proliferation, and the forces of nature and man will ensure that 2005 will not be boring.


Disclaimer: Harvard is closing in on having had 400 chances to make annual predictions, but there has proven to be little science in its effort, and the above are mine, not the university's anyway.