Predictions That Flopped in 2003

Mixed in with the traditional New York holiday scents of burnt chestnuts and overheated pretzels is the faint smell of a tech industry recovery.

Many predicted this slow road to wellness, but the track record on technology predictions in 2002 for the soon-to-depart 2003 was just as spotty as ever. Here is my second annual random review of technology predictions for this year.

Following a year littered with the corpses of failed dot-coms, tech companies and high-tech hopes, 2003 predictions from pundits big and small seemed to gather at the poles of ultra-cautious and fantastic. The reality was more of a fastball down the middle with a little spin at the end.

The Aberdeen Group did a remarkably good job of predicting the big tech issues of 2003: spam, identity theft, and e-mail security. But Aberdeen, like many others, missed the growing problem that content piracy would become and the proactive RIAA stance (like using IP information to prosecute alleged pirates), and the Motion Picture Association of America's anti-piracy campaign.

Former InfoWorld columnist and current PBS tech personality Robert X. Cringely made some interesting predictions last year.

Half-Right Prophesies

He was not alone in opining that HP/Compaq would continue "its long slide into oblivion." I heard similar comments from many of my tech-savvy friends. However, HP spent the past year diversifying and shipping industry leading products like its Media Center PCs and PDAs.

I will make a mini-prediction for 2004, though, and say that HP needs to wake up to the fact that any handheld that isn't also a phone and camera will be doomed next year.

Cringely, like others, saw Linux throwing Microsoft into panic resulting in reactive marketing. Some of that happened, but no one predicted the Linux community all but self-destructing thanks to infighting that turned litigious (SCO, IBM, the GPL — what a mess).

Microsoft's Palladium security initiative did, as Cringely sagely predicted, go away — sort of. It didn't die as much as become reborn under a new, unpronounceable name — NGSCB (Next-Generation Secure Computing Base). When Microsoft releases Longhorn sometime in 2005 or 2006, we'll see and hear much more about this somewhat complex trusted-computing solution.

And Cringely was only half right when he predicted people becoming less worried about viruses and more upset about spam. Spam is now a problem of epic proportions, but some of the most powerful anti-spam products we've ever seen flooded the market this year, and I see the industry making serious progress in the war.

What Really Shook the Web in '03

No one predicted the one-two punch of Blaster and SoBig last August, even though Microsoft's growing lists of security-mandated updates should have been major warning signals. Those powerful virus attacks probably had a bigger impact on technology than any other events of 2003.

Cringely also talked about the Internet becoming an agent of social change, though he couldn't quite say how. This was remarkably prescient.

I wrote earlier this year about the flash mob and Friendster phenomena. Both use the Internet either partially or completely to bring people together and even create powerful social groups — that may occasionally do completely unreasonable or irrational things.

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