Tech’s 10 Trends

Business Week writes about Churchill Club’s Seventh annual Top Ten Technology Trends dinner, and the ten trends identified:

1. Web services will evolve and create new businesses
2. Patients will demand online medical records
3. Corporate computing won’t see big changes for at least five years
4. The next big tech innovation will come out of China
5. Blogging and other online content will force traditional media to change
6. California will lead the world in embryonic stem-cell research
7. Text messaging will become more pervasive
8. New consumer technologies will appeal to more than just young hipsters
9. Every consumer-electronic product you own is about to become obsolete
10. Utility computing will keep tech spending strong

Barron’s adds:

Always a crowd-pleaser, a panel of four tech experts predicted trends that should take hold over the next two or three years. The panel included Kleiner Perkins venture capitalist John Doerr, whose most recent mega-hit is Google; CNET pundit Esther Dyson; private-equity investor and Barron’s Tech Forum veteran Roger McNamee; and Accel Partners venture capitalist Joe Schoendorf. The moderator was AlwaysOn founder Tony Perkins, who co-founded the original incarnation of Red Herring magazine.

McNamee has traditionally been the panel’s lone voice with a perspective on public markets (he is a founding partner with Integral Capital Partners, a Menlo Park hedge fund that was seeded by Kleiner Perkins), but his recent diversions with a rock band and a private-equity partnership, Silver Lake Partners, has him less focused these days on public-market trends we can all profit by.

Still, he made the most unpopular — but probably most poignant — prediction of the evening: There will be no major waves of enterprise-technology spending equivalent to the 1990s’ for another five years. There will be nothing to match the evolution of Windows in the early ‘Nineties, the introduction of Enterprise Resource Planning in the mid-1990s, and the Y2K build-up of 1999, he said.

Yet Accel’s Schoendorf found a silver lining in McNamee’s cloud. The venture capitalist said that whenever “Silicon Valley” declares a trend over or a market kaput, it usually means that the opposite will actually be the case.

Schoendorf added: “This is actually a good, bullish sign.”

[via Doc Searls] IndexedForever has more details.

Jobs vs Gates

The New York Times writes about the battle between Apple and Microsoft in online music and which is likely to extend into other forms of entertainment:

The iPod, Mr. Jobs boasted at the event, has become the “Walkman of the 21st century.” It dominates its market in a way that no Apple product has done in a generation, raising the possibility that the company is becoming more than just a purveyor of computers with high design and low market share. If Apple continues to ride the wave of digital consumer electronics products, it may become the Sony of the 21st century.

For that to happen, however, Mr. Jobs must do what he failed to do last time: prevail over his old nemesis, Bill Gates, who sees entertainment as Microsoft’s next great frontier. Microsoft is working hard to make sure that the iPod is less like the Walkman and more like the Betamax, Sony’s videocassette format that was defeated in the marketplace by VHS.

In many ways, the story sounds eerily familiar. As was the case in computers, Apple has sprinted ahead in the music market with an innovative product, elegant design and tight links between its hardware and software. Plodding along after it is a vast army, organized by Microsoft, of rivals that may be less skillful than Apple but offer a broader array of options and cheaper prices.

Microsoft’s Search Engine

Forrester has a commentary on Microsoft’s recently launched search engine:

  • The technology: It’s just good enough. In initial testing, MSN’s new search engine delivers search results that are as good as other engines. With 5 billion documents, the index is in range of its competitors. The engine also has a few innovations in the interface that give users more control–such as its Search Builder feature, which narrows search results by freshness and popularity. These are interesting features, but ones that will be quickly copied by other players.

  • The impact: It keeps MSN users loyal. While Microsoft generates significant traffic from its portal and Hotmail users, only 40 percent of online consumers who use MSN at least weekly also use it most frequently to search the Internet. The company’s primary goal will be to persuade non-MSN searchers to come back into the fold. Once the new algorithm comes out of beta and is integrated into the site, look for extensive marketing and promotions to encourage people to give it a try.

  • The potential: MSN can now innovate in crucial search areas. Competition in the search field will be a battle for the loyalty of each site’s core users–and all of the search engines will use desktop search, local search and personalized search to tie in users. Having its own search algorithm will allow MSN to finally innovate in these areas that will define the future of search.

  • WSJ adds:

    The fight illuminates a new reality of the high-tech industry: Searching is the front door to much of computing, and whoever stands at the door controls vast influence and riches. In earlier eras, computer users had other primary entry points: the PC’s operating system and then the Web browser. Microsoft built its fortune by seizing dominance in both of those markets. Now it wants to expand that beachhead to searching.

    Google is coming into battle from the other direction: It could extend its influence over searching into other basic computer functions and thereby threaten Microsoft’s grip on PC software. Google, in addition to introducing the hard-drive search feature, has begun offering an e-mail service on a test basis that challenges MSN’s Hotmail. A Google spokesman declined to comment on its strategy for competing with Microsoft.

    There’s a third key combatant: Yahoo, currently No. 2 in search and owner of a broad portfolio of Internet services from free e-mail to fantasy football games. At first taken by surprise at Google’s rise, Yahoo has staged a comeback over the past two years, spending more than $2 billion to buy search-engine companies. One of its big customers has been Microsoft, which has paid to use Yahoo’s search technology on its MSN site. Microsoft and Yahoo also split the revenue from advertising linked to the results of MSN searches.

    MSN knew it would be hard to match the power of Google’s search algorithms, which had been refined over years and could return reams of results. So MSN focused on what it thought were its own strengths.

    By integrating Encarta and MSN Music, MSN was able to tap into services that it owns and that Google — being a pure search engine — doesn’t have. Over time, such services can be used to collect data about a customer that Microsoft can use to improve search results for him. Yahoo has said it will follow a similar path.

    The Near Me search feature, meanwhile, taps into what Microsoft sees as its core skill — basic computer science — since it involves marking the geographic location of hundreds of thousands of Web pages. By typing in “dry cleaner near me,” the service would list dry cleaners located close to the searcher. Microsoft argues that services that use phone-directory data as a basis for their location-based searches offer more limited results.

    One yet-to-appear feature that Mr. Gates has been pushing for is an Internet search that can include results from subscription Web sites. If a consumer subscribes to an online magazine, for example, a search of the open Web could pull up articles from that magazine.

    Walter Mossberg’s comment: “Google is still my search service of choice, but Microsoft has arrived in search and will be a more and more attractive alternative.”

    Real-Time Search

    John Battelle takes a look ahead: “This scenario involves several elements already in place search technologies, mobile phones, and the Universal Product Code system and some more fanciful, but nevertheless feasible technological and business model innovations…The implications of search breaking out of the PC box and making real time information available at the point of purchase has been discussed in plenty of places, I am sure, and probably with far more prowess than this simple scenario. It has also been the failed business model of several Web 1.0 companies. But somehow, with recent developments in local and mobile search, it seems much, much closer to happening now.”

    Jeff Jarvis Interview

    Excerpts from a Corante interview:

    The means of media are now in the hands of the people.

    The people we used to call consumers, readers, or viewers (let’s call them citizens now) will take more and more control of what we used to call media (I don’t know what new name to give it, but now it’s as much about conversation as it is about consumption). The elements of this upheaval:

    * Control: I say the most revolutionary invention in media was not the Gutenberg press but the remote control. It and the cable box, the VCR, and the TiVo enabled us to control consumption of media — and we took advantage of that. Bad TV died; good TV rose in the ratings; HBO was born; TV exploded; TV improved — thanks to the good taste and newfound control of the American public.

    * Creation: Now come tools that let us create media: blogging software (which is merely history’s cheapest easiest publishing tool connected to history’s best distribution network) and all those neat things that come with Macs today. They allow us to make text, photo, audio, and video media. And what we make has value. Jonathan Miller, head of AOL, told me that 60-70 percent of the time spent on his service is spent with content created by his audience. That’s where the money is.

    * Marketing: At the same time — thanks mostly to Google and blogs turning links into assets with tangible value — we the people have the ability to market content; we do every time we link to it. Jon Stewart’s blockbuster appearance on Crossfire got a few hundred thousand viewers on CNN but ten times that online thanks to the links of Fark and bloggers.

    * Distribution: And the means of distribution are getting cheaper and faster: BitTorrent shares the cost of distribution across the network; RSS automates it; broadband will soon be part of the public infrastructure like roads or even a fundamental right like voting. So look again at Stewart on Crossfire: That segment didn’t need carriage on a cable network with big clearance to be seen by millions; it got there via BitTorrent and iFilm.

    So now anyone can control, create, market, distribute, find, and interact with anything they want. The barrier to entry to media is demolished. Media, always a one-way pipe, now becomes an open pool. And, most important, the centralization of media — the marketplace, the network, the monopoly — is replaced by a decentralized universe. This changes everything. It changes the relationships. It changes the economics. It changes the power.

    One tangible result of this is nichefication of media. Some would say that’s a bad thing; they wail about the death of great shared experience of American media. But the truth is that the shared experience lived only from the ’50s to the ’90s as the growth of three networks resulted in the death of competitive newspaper towns and we lived in a world of one-size-fits-all media. That is over. Now you can find the content that suits your needs. And that’s good. That’s about control. Which leads me to…

    Jarvis’ First Law of Media: Give the people control of media, they will use it. The corollary: Don’t give the people control of media, and you will lose.

    Whenever citizens can exercise control, they will. Today they are challenging and changing media — where bloggers now fact-check Dan Rather’s ass — but tomorrow they will challenge and change politics, government, marketing, and education as well. This isn’t just a media revolution, though that’s where we are seeing the impact first. This is a chain-reaction of revolutions. It has just begun.

    TECH TALK: CommPuting Grid: Recent Developments (Part 2)

    In a recent article (October 18, 2004 issue), Business Week wrote that grids were going mainstream: Grids allow processing jobs to be split up and farmed out over a network to many computers so the work can be done fast on any machine that’s available — and organizations can trim their hardware and labor costs. For years most grids were used for scientific research. But that’s changing. Analysts say 300 to 500 grids have been set up by — or for — businesses in the past year or so. And more are on the way. Of 149 large North American companies surveyed recently by Forrester Research Inc., 37% have set up grids, and 30% are actively considering it.

    The article added: The dream is to tap into grids as we now plug appliances into outlets. That goal is years off. The technologies are immature, security must be improved, and all the standards aren’t yet in place. This will be one of those advances that takes many years to make its full impact felt. But for many corporate computer users, it will be worth the wait.

    In a recent survey on IT, The Economist wrote that the next thing in technology is the conquest of complexity.

    Steven Milunovich, an analyst at Merrill Lynch, another bank, offers a further reason why simplicity is only now becoming a big issue. He argues that the IT industry progresses in 15-year waves. In the first wave, during the 1970s and early 1980s, companies installed big mainframe computers; in the second wave, they put in PCs that were hooked up to server computers in the basement; and in the third wave, which is breaking now, they are beginning to connect every gadget that employees might use, from hand-held computers to mobile phones, to the internet.

    The mainframe era, says Mr Milunovich, was dominated by proprietary technology (above all, IBM’s), used mostly to automate the back offices of companies, so the number of people actually working with it was small. In the PC era, de facto standards (ie, Microsoft’s) ruled, and technology was used for word processors and spreadsheets to make companies’ front offices more productive, so the number of people using technology multiplied tenfold. And in the internet era, Mr Milunovich says, de jure standards (those agreed on by industry consortia) are taking over, and every single employee will be expected to use technology, resulting in another tenfold increase in numbers.

    Moreover, the boundaries between office, car and home will become increasingly blurred and will eventually disappear altogether. In rich countries, virtually the entire population will be expected to be permanently connected to the internet, both as employees and as consumers. This will at last make IT pervasive and ubiquitous, like electricity or telephones before it, so the emphasis will shift towards making gadgets and networks simple to use.

    As we look ahead, the question is: can the technologies used for grid computing be deployed not just to provide supercomputing to corporates and institutions in the developed markets, but basic computing for users in emerging markets.

    Anurag Shankar wrote: Grid computing is the ultimate ‘killer’ technolgy. It holds the potential to do no less than to bring down barriers between countries and to join the world in the community that it actually is – most people just don’t realize it yet.

    This is where our story begins. How can we use the developments in grid computing to create a utility that can deliver all the services that network computers need for as little as $2 (Rs 100) per user per month?

    Tomorrow: LAN-Grid

    Continue reading