It wasn't a great year, but 2004 saw the bruised and bloodied tech industry struggle to its feet and begin to fight again.
It was the year of offshoring, voice over IP (VoIP) and iPods. Microsoft opened up about its security vulnerabilities while software vendor SCO Group sued Linux users. Sun Microsystems didn't go under (as I predicted), but rather kissed and made up with Microsoft, which is almost as bad.
Spam proliferated and viruses showed no signs of abating. Laptops came pre-wired with Wi-Fi networking capabilities and the BlackBerry became the addictive drug of choice for ex-yuppies.
In what is a more mature industry, there were fewer disruptive technologies, but plenty of new trends emerged to keep us interested. Here are 10 that I predict will occupy our attention in 2005:
1. A new skills crisis -- Just when it appeared that outsourcing, consolidation and cost-cutting has cast the IT job market into permanent free-fall, the trend reverses itself and skilled job candidates become rare again. The reason: Hype over offshore outsourcing has driven many workers into other fields, but the number of jobs being lost overseas is really far less than the alarmists led us to believe. Salaries start to climb, much to the relief of beleaguered IT veterans.
2. Linux pressures the desktop -- Two years ago, I said that Linux on the desktop was a nonstarter, but a lot has happened since then. The popular Firefox browser started the ball rolling in 2004. Now, in 2005, several vendors release desktop environments that mimic the Windows interface, establishing Linux as a low-cost alternative to Windows. The trend builds slowly, but the adoption of Linux as the desktop standard by a major U.S. government agency juices the trend. By year's end, Linux approaches 10% market share of new desktop operating system sales. Microsoft isn't exactly under siege, but the lights start burning late in Redmond.
3. The great search wars -- You think Google is great? You ain't seen nothing yet. Microsoft and Yahoo will slug it out with Google for search supremacy next year, while a host of startups will get funding to bring new search technology to market. By year's end, expect search engines to do a better job of interpreting your needs as well as searching images, maps, libraries and who knows what else. The best part? It's all free to the user. This is gonna be fun!
4. The year of RFID -- It's a tide, not a wave, but the advance of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags on business supply chains is inexorable. Giants like Wal-Mart and the Department of Defense have held firm on their commitments to make the technology part of their operations, and major chip makers are ramping up production for the anticipated order deluge. Security and privacy concerns stoke lingering worries over RFID deployments at the consumer level, but in the warehouse, this standard is really coming of age.
5. Oracle struggles to assimilate PeopleSoft -- The painful takeover battle ended when PeopleSoft's board acceded to shareholders' wishes and accepted Oracle's hostile offer. However, the hard work still lies ahead. Oracle, which has never completed a takeover this big, struggles to integrate PeopleSoft's gentle culture with its take-no-prisoners style, while an opportunistic SAP exploits fear, uncertainty and doubt to pick off prospective PeopleSoft customers.
6. Apple in play -- The progenitor of user-friendly computing hits its stride with new iPod models and the G5 desktop computers in 2004. Now, larger, consumer-focused tech firms want to get in on the action. Potential acquirers include Sony, Hewlett Packard and Dell, but someone makes a bid for Apple in 2005.
7. Spyware becomes public enemy No. 1 -- While virus activity hasn't slowed, spyware has emerged as the new bugaboo of corporate information security. A more sophisticated and dangerous public enemy than viruses, spyware lurks inside a user's PC and transmits data to destinations unknown. And like cockroaches, spyware is almost impossible to exterminate once it infects you. The public's attention has been focused on viruses since the worldwide Michelangelo virus scare of 1992. However, a spyware attack of similar ferocity hits PC users in 2005, alarming the public, generating demand for antispyware tools and forcing Congress to pass another meaningless law.
8. Tiered storage comes of age -- Storage today comes in as many flavors and prices as ice cream, and tiered storage makes the most of that. The idea is nothing new: Automatically move data to the lowest-cost storage device possible, depending on timeliness and importance. Vendors are yielding to market demand and integrating low-end and high-end storage within the same device. This eventually leads to information lifecycle management (ILM), where data is matched to the appropriate media throughout its useful life. Expect to hear a lot about new products in the tiered storage market in the coming year, as the market moves toward the ILM goal.
9. BPM takes center stage -- Oh, gawd, another flash-in-the-pan management acronym? Maybe so, but business process management appears to have the kind of momentum that business process re-engineering had in the early '90s. Gartner estimates that more than 100 vendors are now selling software that enables businesses to monitor and fine-tune their business processes, and some early adopters are reporting 200% and 300% ROIs. I'm always skeptical of IT fads that promise to change the corporation as we know it, but this idea will have a good strong run in 2005.
10. Red Sox win second consecutive World Series -- I can dream, can't I?
Quick takes: Hosted software services continue to grow, but the industry loses luster as limitations of the model become clearer. … Don't hold your breath waiting for WiMax to take over the wireless world with its promise of multi-megabit speeds and miles of coverage. There's no real-world evidence that it works very well. … Is service-oriented architecture just the newest term for object orientation? Maybe, but even though the idea is nothing new, you'd better become familiar with SOA, this next hot Web services acronym. … If Gateway is still in business under its own name at the end of 2005, I'll be amazed. … Alarm over IT organizations' lack of attention to compliance issues will continue to proliferate in the press, but CIOs will be distracted by more pressing tactical issues.
Are these predictions a sure thing, or are they a shot in the dark? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know your thoughts.