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10 Things for 2005

I've never done a list before, so that is both my motivation and my excuse. I apologize in advance to those who have had more than enough of lists during this season. If it turns out miserably, I promise I'll never do it again. I'll title this list, "10 Things That Should Happen in Technology in 2005, Even Though They Probably Won't." This list features my ideas for stimulating innovation in technology. While we don't necessarily have to start another technology boom (followed by another technology bust), innovation is our lifeblood; without it, technology would be just like any other business. Innovation brings excitement and growth, both of which drew me to technology in the first place.

And because I'm a wordy SOB, I have to say something about each of them. To keep this to a length that doesn't scare away most readers, I'll include five items on my list today, and five next week.

1. The Java platform embarks on a simplification effort.

Even the most experienced Java developers think J2EE using EJBs is too hard, especially for applications that don't need enterprise scalability. There are several free/open source and commercial frameworks that attempt to address this complexity, but few if any use J2EE in any approved fashion.

Sun and the JCP should take the hint. Sure, Java needed to be enterprise-capable in order to survive and thrive, and early attempts at rich Java clients weren't particularly promising. But managed code execution technology has improved enormously since then, making it one alternative that should be developed further. And even with Web-based multitier applications, there should be something between the JSP/servlet and the EJB.

2. Microsoft announces plans to break up into three separate and competing companies.

Microsoft claims to be an innovator, but everyone knows that the products it releases are simply its own versions of products that have already been proven in the market by smaller competitors. There is a reason for this. While the company has among the best R&D efforts of any technology enterprise, it simply can't bring anything to market if it won't result in revenues of at least a hundred million dollars.

However, a Microsoft split into three equally competitive parts wouldn't need a hundred million dollar business in order to bring exciting new technologies out of its lab. And because all of these parts have been instilled with the Microsoft competitive spirit, they would compete fiercely with one another, innovate unabashedly, and bring many more of those innovations to market.

3. Gadgets once again become simple, elegant, and useful.

I have a midrange cell phone less than a year old, and it makes calls pretty well. And it's also an address book, game machine, timepiece, and even Web browser. Somewhere in there is also a GPS receiver. It probably has features I've not yet discovered. It doesn't have a camera, or Bluetooth. It certainly doesn't double as a PDA. I don't think it does SMS, but I can't say for sure.

Adding established features to existing devices doesn't qualify as innovation in my book. Cell phone manufacturers and wireless service providers are catering to an increasingly smaller percentage of people who use most of those features. Granted, the cost of the features is trivial, but those features remain inaccessible and unused.

Instead, let's have some real innovation in mobile devices. I don't know what that is, but it must be something more than heaping still more features onto ever-smaller form factors.

4. Bandwidth becomes universal, and universally inexpensive.

Whether it is delivered by cable, wi-fi, digital cellular, or other means, bandwidth is the next key to innovation in technology. It is comparable to the interstate highway system built across America in the 1950s; better, actually, because while so much of America was connected, many places were also isolated.

As for the universally inexpensive part, just keep it away from the telcos. If you haven't already, I encourage you to read David Isenberg's essay, "The Rise of the Stupid Network." The gist of David's thesis is that bandwidth is inherently inexpensive, and that the value is in the intelligent endpoints (this is contrary to his experience with the telcos, which attempt to add intelligence to the network).

5. Commercial Web services businesses start to take off.

This builds on the previous item. We haven't seen too much of commercially available Web services yet, except for some specialty services such as realtime stock tickers supplying cell phone users. But there is a lot of potential here to deliver some really good data and services—flight schedules and bookings, directions to wherever we want to go, even entire storefronts with goods and services ready to be bought.

The business models, including nominal fees for subscription services, don't look that bad, and we have both the client technology and the bandwidth to deliver some really kickin' stuff. And I'm not talking about music or video; the only reason we're so excited about those is that the Internet has managed to break the stranglehold of content distributors.

Posted by Peter Varhol on 01/03/2005

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