% fortune -ae paul murphy

Trying to predict 2008

The IT word for 2008 will, I think, be either "continuation" or "consolidation" as existing trends become more obvious to more people and little new enters the market. Herewith, however, some predictions I hope not to be apologizing for next December.

At the top of the list of continuations is SCO. No matter how the legal action pans out, it will continue to dominate direction setting in the Linux community - and until or unless IBM gets its collective head straight on the issue and cleans house, the polarization this case has led to will continue to undermine Linux legitimacy.

Oddly, however, the number one Linux influencer for the year may turn out not be SCO, Torvalds, IBM or any of the currently more visible Linux distributions. Instead, the Linux community may find its second chance at the kind of public tipping point that would give it widespread credibility and mass media supported desktop appeal coming from Negroponte's OLPC (one laptop per child) project.

The reason for this has nothing to do with any of the OLPC project's stated goals - in fact, the project is intended to give under-privileged third world children a better chance at education and economic participation, but will actually reduce their opportunities because they'll mostly just go to people committed to preserving existing local power structures.

Basically what's important about the OLPC has nothing to do with its nominal purpose and everything to do with the intended interface. Ultimately traceable to David Gelernter's "Lifestreams" model, this is not just a remake of Apple's evolution of the original work done at Palo Alto, but something new - and probably as appropriate to home computer usage as Sunview and CDE are to systems administration. As such it's both a threat to Microsoft and a critical opportunity for Linux: get the OLPC accepted for use among the least privileged and most ignorant in the United States (almost all of whom are orders of magnitude better off than their third world counter-parts) and their success could easily trigger enormous mass media support for Lifestreams on Linux for the rest of us.

It could happen in 2008, or it could not - money is largely rational and thus roughly predictable, but politics, media enthusiasms, and do gooder fads are not.

And on that same basis I think Sun will get "Victoria Falls" out on schedule and is somewhat more likely than not to get its "Rock" chip sets out by late summer, early fall - because I think the changes now expected to delay "Rock" until early to mid 2009 are ultimately more tied to commercial/strategic considerations than technical ones.

Meanwhile, Microsoft's inability to transcend simple minded x86 programming will continue to drive wintel back to the gigahertz race while delaying the move to PPC - with HP taking a bigger hit from dollar devaluation than Dell and the acceleration of existing trends to an iPhone/Sun Ray style of computing becoming more and more obvious as Microsoft's inertia grinds down its wintel partners.

Among other things Microsoft's organizational limitations will mean that we'll probably see lots of press hype about advanced Intel products like a 32 core wafer running on micro-watts, but no significant products because Microsoft can't get the software working well enough to matter and a half dozen demo sites running Linux do not amount to an industry tidal wave no matter how heavily hyped.

Key management trends from last year will continue - although I think we're starting to see some push-back against the absurdities of PC/mainframe style virtualization and no-one will figure out what SOA means in 2008 either. What will happen is that the emphasis on "security" will get worse as more auditors train up on 1920s data processing control models and company legal departments get heavily into the act.

The outsourcing reversals and repatriations going on now will, I think, continue; largely because they're driven from oil related dollar devaluation. As a result I expect to see a minor gold rush in IT hiring -and that spells good news for American IT workers as increasing numbers of legal visa holders choose to go home and more and more illegals either get deported or take pre-emptive flight.

As a side-effect, IT worker shortages could lead to an upturn in the market for less labor intensive technologies - i.e. all major flavors of Unix: Solaris, MacOS X, and Linux.

However, the U.S. can absorb an economic adjustment like this a lot better than most of what used to be western Europe can. There the combination of immigration rules simultaneously working against retention of the more educated and in favor of illegals with little beyond unmet expectations, children, and religious fervor will (I think and barring a recession), cause severe problems for IT hiring managers. Oddly France, because of its commitment to nuclear power and political response to the riots two years ago, may become the hot spot for IT investment in the EU - not something anyone would have imagined possible in 2005!

One odd side effect, particularly in Britain, may be to further limit IT innovation as demonstrated allegiance to technology choices made for high cost (and failure prone) government IT projects plays an increasing role in determining hire-ability among career IT people.

Similarly, what's going to happen with respect to time sharing and social networks won't be anything new - existing trends will merely continue to strengthen the former while weakening the latter, at least until (or while) current structures get replaced.

Beyond that? its an election year in the United States and you'd think that would lead to some focus on E-voting - but it won't, at least this year. What's going on is that existing e-voting technologies are absurdly vulnerable and everybody knows it, but the democrats file nearly all election related lawsuits in the United States and they liked the results last time, so nothing's changed since - and nothing will unless the Republicans win big in November - and then the changes will come in 2009, not 2008.

So, bottom line? I expect lots of continuations and consolidations from last year - making it a bit boring from a bleeding edge perspective, but overall promising a good year for people focused on improving IT productivity.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.