TECH TALK: 2003-04: Looking Back

The end of a year is a time for review and reflection, a time to look back to how things were. And as one year gives way to next, it becomes to time to think ahead to what will be. In this series, we will do both look at the year that has been and look ahead to what the next has in store for us. I will take two different perspectives: one, a global view, and second, an India-centric view. [Before I begin, a big thank you for all those who wrote in to the request on my blog asking for suggestions your inputs have been extremely useful in helping me put this series together.]

2003 was a year which saw technology companies start looking to the future with hope. Technology spend in the key markets is starting to rise again. What we are seeing is a divergent track recovery: even though corporate spending is still largely flat with signs of an increase forthcoming, consumer spending on new technology for the digital home and self is on the upswing. More encouragingly, innovation at the startup and small company level continues to thrive, even though venture capital funding is still not easy to find at the early stage. Asia has become an engine of growth and cost reduction the economies of China and India are booming, and the process of outsourcing manufacturing and services to these countries is accelerating. The surprise has perhaps been the rapid rise of India in offshoring as companies globally look to wring out further costs from operations.

2003 was the year we had Dow 10K, Nasdaq 2K (almost) and the Sensex 5K again, as the stock markets anticipate a tech and general recovery. The year also saw the deeper penetration of networks from the social variety (in the form of social networking sites that connect us to each other, jobs and business opportunities) to the wireless kind (WiFi and cellular). Our gadgets are becoming better and more multi-faceted: the cellphone-PDA combo now can double as a digital camera, music system, gaming device, and computer running our favourite applications. The digitisation of industries, especially in entertainment continues witness the online music stores that are proliferating (and more interestingly, it is the computer companies like Apple, Dell, HP and Microsoft who are leading the charge), television is getting time-shifted via TiVo, and movies like the Matrix and Lord of the Rings series merge reality with compute-generated characters and graphics to create amazing sequences. Voice is flowing on IP networks, and as broadband proliferates, online gaming is immersing us in new worlds, especially in countries like South Korea.

2003 also saw some bottom-up technologies gain traction weblogs for publishing (powered by RSS for syndication), Linux support from governments and a ringing endorsement from Novell with its purchase of Suse and Suns misnamed Java Desktop System, wireless access points creating connectivity in public places, SMS for person-to-person communications, and social software in the form of wikis and weblogs helping harness tacit knowledge in organisations. The year also showed us the downside of some of the technologies we use as spam shot through the roof and viruses continued to do damage.

If 2002 was about picking up the pieces from the crash, 2003 was about laying the foundation for a new future. Starting tomorrow, I will offer my picks for the 10 technologies and trends that either showed promise, made the news and/or made a difference in 2003.

Tomorrow: Digital Life

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.