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With 2005 behind us, it's time to look into the crystal ball and see what the future holds in various areas of high-tech.
Will it be a case of What was old is new? A glut of new innovation? Or will it be a smattering of both?
Will the European Commission really start fining Microsoft $2 million-plus per day?
Google Gets Evil
That is, the most darling search engine in the world loses its geek chic and continues to make business decisions that set it on the portal path. As plugs for AOL begin to show up all around the site, search-engine marketers will start to badmouth Google for not playing fair.
Google will use a similar stern hand with those who'd like to mash up its Web services (define); some startups will have privileged access, while others will be summarily booted out.
The big changes to come may even cause strife in the highest echelon, driving one or both of the young founders out of their corner offices.
The View on Vista
Microsoft has confirmed -- over and over -- that it will ship Windows Vista, its next-generation operating system, in the second half of 2006. To some, that means no later than December 31; No one is holding their breath.
Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox said that Microsoft has missed the, um, window through which to get partners on board to ship. He points out that OEMs and ISVs needed information about SKUs last summer.
Meanwhile, analyst firm Directions on Microsoft said that one of Redmond's biggest challenges would be convincing enterprise customers that Vista, and Office 12, which will follow, are must-haves.
Even as Microsoft readies the new era of collaborative computing, in which the rich client connects to the smart server to run applications that can share XML data, it will continue its new direction: Windows and Office Live. Ad-supported, Web-based applications for e-mail, spreadsheets, Web design and corporate messaging will move Microsoft into the sexy on-demand category.
And that brings us to one of the biggest software stories of the year: On-demand software, also known as hosted or software as a service (and formerly known as the ASP model), received nods from analysts who forecast significant penetration into the enterprise software market.
Scalability issues, such as Salesforce.com 's recent outage, will continue. But small to mid-sized companies will continue to be attracted to the low monthly fees and outsourced administration that hosted applications offer.
Thanks to the availability of platforms and tools from companies, including Salesforce.com and Microsoft, with its Windows Live, hosted applications will continue to proliferate and worm their way closer to basic enterprise systems.
Meanwhile, search startups will flow and ebb with the tide.
HP Will Buy EMC
Okay, so maybe this is a stretch. But think about it: Lump some of the most sophisticated, cutting-edge storage and software with some of the best high-tech services money can buy and you've got ... well, you've got another IBM.
Bocada CEO Mark Silverman, whose modest Bellevue, Wash., company makes storage management software in Microsoft's looming shadow, thinks it could happen.
"The fallout will be huge, both to the HDS relationship, as well as all of HP's storage software," Silverman said in a recent interview. However, it will enable HP (and EMC) to leverage HP services to try to compete with IBM."
Silverman said HP doesn't have much of a storage product portfolio or strategy, while EMC isn't exactly known for providing services.
"EMC has to get bigger and grow outside of storage," Silverman explained. "They created products with high price points, but I credit them with making storage central to IT decision-making."
Silverman also said that the acquisition rate in the past few years has taken its toll on the independent storage channel, with smaller players being sucked up into EMC's, IBM's or HP's solution sets.
Chips Double Up
Consolidation was also big in 2005 in data centers, as companies looked to cut the number of servers they use. In this vein, dual-core processors were a great selling point for AMD-based servers, and Intel quickly followed.
In 2006, we'll see dual and multi-core systems become the norm in both desktop and servers.
More importantly, virtualization and other software will come along that actually shows why there's a benefit of having more than one core to do the processing. And every time PC companies tout the virtues of dual and multi-core, Sun Microsystems will be right there to cheer them on and tout its own new eight-core UltraSparc T1 servers.
While IT departments have been tapping virtualization to make better use of servers, desktops will start to benefit as well in the coming year.
"Pretty soon it will become as easy to have multiple operating systems on your desktop as it is to have multiple applications without a performance penalty," said Margaret Lewis, senior software strategist at AMD.
Look for enterprise desktops to start including a standard set of virtual partitions for such things as legacy applications, personal files and apps, as well as virus protection that screens the system from infecting other users on the network.