Did 1997 Stand Still? Looking Forward While Looking Back

In preparing our annual State of the Technology Industries diatribe, I thought to look back at what I penned one year ago.  It seems that, in many respects, time stood still.  Imposssible, you say.  The industry now moves on Internet Time.  Let me clarify:  the industry did indeed make tremendous progress.  But that seems to have occurred despite itself.  This year, we are changing our perspective: rather than go company by company, we look to the The Desktop to ease us into the year.  In a related article, we’ll review our 1997 musings and see how things panned out.

THE DESKTOP
The desktop computer is perhaps the most important interface that one has, and will continue to have, over the next few years.  Despite promises of body-networks and the like, the average computer user will sit himself before a computer workstation and be saddled with its brief but illustrious user interface history.  With the court’s permission, 1998 should see the advent of Windows 98 and NT 5.0.  For starters, limited self-healing features and self-administration with the attraction of multi-user Windows may make for a more centralized and more easily managed environment (read: significantly lower costs for both hardware maintenance and support).  Both OSes will benefit from a common addressing scheme for hardware, the Windows Driver Model, making upgrades from Windows 98 to NT 5.0 a possibility.  [The most recent Windows 98 beta that arrived at my desk hinted that it has a Windows 3.x migration facility; unfortunately, I don't have any Windows 3.x machines left to try this out on that would support Windows 98's hardware requirements).

1998 will also be a make-or-break year for Java, which is the apparent main alternative to Windows.  A new Java Development Kit (JDK), combined with significant recent product introductions showing a committment to the platform (Lotus' eSuite for one) may signify that Java is now ready for prime time.

For Apple, 1998 may be a true crossroads.  Rhapsody, its multithreaded, multi-tasking, cross-platform OS, will offer developers yet a third alternative to Windows.  Although Rhapsody does not pretend to achieve Java universality, its ability to run on Intel, PowerPC and Alpha will be a plus, since its development environment also runs under NT.  Will the wait Be worth it?  Or will Mac users flock to Be insead of waiting?

Will the hardware be up to the challenge?  Memory prices continue to decrease dramatically, making the possibility of 128 Mbyte workstations reality for some.  [Of course software developers are aware of this and already seem to be increasing minimum memory requirements without recognition that the installed user base of machines has yet to upgrade to 32 Mbytes.]  Intel continues to offer its Motherboard-of-the Month Club option and one of these days the underlying architecture will catch up to the speed of today’s supersonic microprocessors [didn't we say that when 80386's were introduced as well?].

1998 should also be a do-or-die year for diskless network computers and their variants.  Will these turn out to be cheaper and more easily managed the their larger PC cousins?  Or will they turn out to only be a (significant) 3270 upgrade path?

So what’s missing in the Desktop Environment.  Ah, yes.  Bandwidth.  Coming this year:
Gigabit Ethernet at a pricepoint that is implementable
Rotorouter for the Router – better intelligent switching to eliminate bottlenecks
One agreed-upon standard for 56 Kbps modems (ok, this is wishful thinking but we better agree on something before 56 becomes too slow)

THE LARGER PICTURE

1998 should be the year of what we at The Basex Group have named the “Virtual Corporate Community”.  Wipe that smirk off your face:  the picture you should have in your mind right now is not a bunch of funny-looking avatars lurking in The Palace talking about politics or sex.   To learn more about this phenomenon, please click here.

Did 1997 really stand still?  Of course not.  1997 was a year for clarification and regrouping.  But the future picture is much brighter.

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.  This article originally appeared in the Basex Online Journal of Industry and Commerce (BOJIC).

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