Friday, June 18, 2004

Tech Forecasters Accuracy - Right Up There with the Weather Bureau?

Because of my job, and because computer technology has always fascinated me, I read a bunch of technology trade magazines, follow several geek sites, and track a bunch of RSS feeds. (I used to check the Usenet, but you already know that story.) Every day there's some impending monumental breakthrough, announced with great fanfare at this conference or that show. Columnists are forever predicting incredible changes coming in the industry that will totally change the way we do things.

Yeah, right.

Take a look at a few examples of impending monumental change, radical paradigm shifts, and end-of-IT-as-we-know-it crystal ball gazing.

Demise of the Desktop Computer Industry
"The desktop computer industry is dead. Innovation has virtually ceased. Microsoft dominates with very little innovation. That'’s over. Apple lost. The desktop market has entered the dark ages, and it's going to be in the dark ages for the next 10 years, or certainly for the rest of this decade. ... Eventually, Microsoft will crumble because of complacency, and maybe some new things will grow. But until that happens, until there'’s some fundamental technology shift, it'’s just over."
Source: Steve Jobs, interviewed by Gary Wolff, Wired, February 1996, p. 102. Unless, of course, Apple hires you back, and Bill Gates invests a pile of money in Apple.

Rise of the Network Computer
" At some point in the near future, Compaq and other PC makers will start to produce a new kind of computer, called something like the "Internet Surfer," priced at about $500, but limited in functionality to Web browsing and 'maybe to games,' predicted Bob Stearns, a Compaq VP. Compaq, "the leading PC manufacturer," and Intel, "the leading chip maker," are jointly committed to making the PC more pervasive than the TV set, added Compaq's VP of technology and corporate development."
Source: "Compaq VP Predicts $500 'Internet Surfer' PC," Newsbyte article, October 16, 1995 Compaq? Who's Compaq? The price point is right, but I'd say we've got more than "limited functionality."

"Network computers will not replace PCs as PCs didn't replace mainframes. But network computers will be the center of the world. It will happen very, very fast."
Source: Larry Ellison, "New Model on Info Highway," USA Today, November 15, 1995, p. 2B Define "fast", Larry.

Some Other Doozies
 
An outfit called Diamond Technology, in 1999, looked back at predictions made in 1995. They don't look any better now than they did then.

No. 5: Digital cash - Yes we've got Paypal and some governmental program cards, but the fact is, we're still using the ol' Visa card to charge stuff, whether on the 'Net or at the store.

No. 4: The doomsaying about America Online - They said it was going down any day in 1995, and they've been saying it ever since, but Paw is still shootin' the AOL.

No. 3: The "network PC" or "thin client" - Larry was wrong in 1995, and he stayed wrong.

No. 2: The various predictions on the number of users of the Internet - Predictions were for 30 million by 1999, when in fact the number had reached 100 million, most of whom were using AOL (well, not really, but it would have been appropriate).

No. 1: "Push" technology - I even bit on this one. Apps would be delivered from a server to the desktop using Java-based tools, automatically updated, or even removed, all with little or no user intervention. There's still a huge industry in software that tries to figure out how to efficiently deliver apps to users, and none of it is using "Push". Pointcast was enough to kill this.

They also had some honorable mentions:
-The demise of Apple (again!)
-Yahoo and Amazon.com, among others, would flame out (well, they didn't, but scads did, so the prediction was actually pretty good).
-Java would remove the need for operating systems such as Windows and could put Microsoft out of business.

Microsoft out of business? Isn't that where we started?