Looking Forward to 2007


No, these aren't predictions. I won't do predictions, but that that doesn't stop me from doing educated guesses and trying to figure out what I would realistically like to see come to pass next year.

Apple

In Mac land, there are some things that people are already taking for granted next year: the iTV, Leopard, and the other thing, for starters, plus the usual menagerie of fantasy projects that Apple is, oh so sure to be developing somewhere.

Well, as far as I'm concerned, I'm only really looking forward to Leopard.

The iTV looks pretty nice, but the IT industry's way with "media extenders" (or STBs, or whatever you care to call a box that plays digital video these days) is to cripple them first and put up with user complaints later, so unless Apple can pull another iPod-like business model out of their metaphorical hat - and considering the way the iTunes music store evolved - I expect it to be pretty useless (or maybe even impossible to get) outside the US.

Incidentally, last year I wrote pretty much the same thing concerning the PS3, and I was right about it being pretty much useless too. I had forgotten about that when I ranted about consoles.

And I'm even trying to be moderately skeptical regarding Leopard itself. Mac OS X has seldom evolved in leaps and bounds - beneath the thick cover of polish and Hype, it's been a mostly incremental process, and it remains to be seen whether there will be any really big UI changes (me, I'd love to see it go all NeXTy-retro, but a more "unified" look seems more likely to be in the cards).

As to .Mac, well... I have written before about how Apple botched it, and John Siracusa's recent piece shows there's still a lot of resentment towards it. All I can hope for is that it actually works next year, and that the cash I threw at it is worth something.

The Linux Land Of Confusion, and Other Options

Anyway, there's a lot more besides Apple-land and the media wars. For instance, I'm curious to see what the Fedora folk will do, considering that even staunch supporters like myself have found Ubuntu to be a pleasant surprise and find Fedora Core 6 underwhelming.

I fully expect Free Software zealots to continue doing themselves (and the distros they infect) a disservice and carry on being Linux's Achilles' Heel, either by crippling hardware support for licensing reasons or by simply not getting Usability (or, worse, by stubbornly refusing change - the GIMP is a case in point).

Hopefully BSD and other alternatives will take advantage of the mess and make some inroads (although I find things like PC-BSD and Haiku to be overwhelmingly minuscule niches within a niche).

Vista, however, is another story. Despite everyone and their dog ranting about how expensive, late and complex it is, I expect it to make significant inroads in big corporate customers (who will roll it out along with hardware refreshes and muscle down the license costs to something bearable). Might not happen this year, but the rest of the world is very likely to follow, with XP becoming the new Windows 98.

As to the vision of the web-enabled OS, or the wishful thinking regarding a Google Office suite... I'm not really into the "software as service" angle (I'd rather bet on OpenOffice and their ilk), but there are two things brewing that might help it come true:

The Disruptive Angle

As far as I'm concerned (and considering I can't write about the real interesting stuff), there are going to be two major disruptive technologies (or shifts in existing technology) next year: virtualization and pervasive broadband.

Virtualization isn't really news - I've been using VMware since version 1.0, and OS-specific resource partitioning schemes (such as BSD jails) have always made it plain that resource sharing and application separation are good things.

What is news is the way it's evolved past infra-structure into a near-commodity and spawned actual business models, with companies beginning to distribute (and sell, and support) pre-packaged solutions as virtual machines.

I expect that this will turn into an IT shell game of sorts as companies start getting wise to the benefits of having vertical applications running in their cosy little VMs and simply copying them across to faster hardware (or pay more to their hosting center) when they need more capacity.

If you've ever read Accelerando, this is eerily reminiscent of one of the underlying assumptions of the book.

It will, however, have to become a true commodity technology to have any kind of broad impact, and I expect the likes of Microsoft to churn out something to demonstrate (once again) that Linux, even having a number of different virtualization alternatives right now, is too fragmented to take advantage of such a momentous opportunity to become truly relevant.

As to pervasive (mobile) broadband, It's here now. What is disruptive about it isn't the technology itself - it's the deliciously unfathomable way people will end up using it, and the little pockets of turbo-charged Darwinian evolution it will create around what we now call Web 2.0 and spawn something even stranger than YouTube. You just wait.

Business 2.1

I have this theory that the truly momentous changes next year in technology won't have anything to do with technology at all. Don't get me wrong, they are bound to take advantage of all I've mentioned so far (virtualization, mobile broadband, software as services, etc.), but the truly interesting stuff will revolve around refining business models.

Over the past couple of years, we've seen Google launch hosted services (mostly consumer-oriented, but they've also been pushing their core platform to big-ticket customers), Amazon (and others) selling raw CPU 'slices', Advertising models being rebuilt from scratch, and oddball "business boosters" like the Skype-eBay deal (which, as far as I'm concerned, seems to be souring a bit) and YouTube-Google.

Sure, there's the iTunes Store runaway success (and its surrounding haze of wannabes) and tentative steps towards shifting the media industry to a direct-download model, but I don't see those as being interesting in and by themselves - it's just evolutionary pressure, and even with direct-to-DVD movies, game console tie-ins and movie downloads, it won't be groundbreaking - merely an obvious survival strategy that is years late. I leave the media shift to the media people, and am content to watch in the sidelines until (if ever) I get embroiled in it.

The gist of the matter for me is that Web 2.0, in and by itself, is bunk. The social angle is useless without an underlying business model, and that will be the hard truth no matter how much Ajax you scrub in or bandwidth you use for rinsing it. As an economy, we've barely scratched the surface of what Business 2.0 really is (as in, besides a trademark for a magazine), and my guess is that next year we'll be issuing the first set of patches to avoid it going bust.

So what I'm really looking forward to next year is watching business models evolve. The technology is irrelevant (although I will, for obvious reasons, look more closely at Web-centric and Apple-centric issues in public and telco-centric issues at work). What really matters is figuring out a way sustain things.

And that is something that not even Google has licked yet.