Five IT headlines you won't see in 2005

TechRepublic Vice President Bob Artner makes a few anti-predictions for the coming year.

For some reason, the beginning of the year brings out the closet prognosticator in many of us, resulting in entirely too many Nostradamus-wannabes unleashing their predictions on an unsuspecting public. I'll confess to being guilty of doing the same, safe in the knowledge that no one would actually check up to see how my guesses had fared.

This year, I'm going to take a different approach. Rather than try to predict which technology is going to explode this year, or which products will become must-haves, I'm going to tell you five things that won't happen during the next 12 months.

What will happen in IT this year? Who knows? But to paraphrase the lyrics of Ira Gershwin, the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble…but none of these things will come to pass in 2005.

(1) Linux becomes a force on the desktop

I'm tempted to make this an annual anti-prediction. In July, 2002, I wrote:

"When I read pitches from Linux vendors these days, I'm reminded of an article I read years ago about alternative energy sources. An expert was asked about the possibility of harnessing nuclear fusion as a practical energy source. "Nuclear fusion is the energy technology of the future, but it's 20 years away from commercial use. And if you ask me the same question 20 years from now, I'll tell you the same thing - that it's 20 years away from commercial use."

That's the way it is with Linux on the desktop. It's just over the horizon, exactly where it was last year and where it will be next year. I'm not saying it always will be, but the PC world is still a Windows world.

(2) Filtering software finally beats spam

AOL's recent announcement that daily spam messages to its customers dropped significantly, coupled with a 75 percent decline in AOL customer complaints about spam, have led some to conclude that effective filtering is winning the battle with spammers.

Would that it were true. Unfortunately, spam-filtering on its own only provides incentives for spammers to send even more mail, and devise ever-more artful ways to disguise their messages. In my opinion, the best thing AOL did this past year to limit spam was to actually prosecute a suspected spammer. If I was working the latest "Free Rx Online" scam, the fact that AOL helped put someone in jail would get my attention.

In the long term, the only way to beat spam is to provide real authentication, on both ends. I think this is going to require a combination of hardware and software. The other solution is to actually require either the sender or receiver to pay the actual costs of an individual message. As many have noted before, e-mail is different than snail mail in that the latter requires the sender to pay the cost of postage, while the former puts many of the costs on the receiver. Some have proposed changing the model somehow so that the sender of each e-mail message will be assessed a micro-fee. I'm not sure that will be practical – or even desirable. (Personally, I get lots of useful newsletters that would presumably stop publishing if they had to pay a fee every time they sent out an e-mail.)

Authentication, on the other hand, could really make a dent in spam, by making it possible to truly identify who is sending each message.

(3) RSS becomes the next Killer App

Don't get me wrong—I like RSS feeds. TechRepublic supports Really Simple Syndication, and many of our members use it everyday to access the newest content on the site. So I'm an RSS fan.

Where I draw the line is with the claims of some RSS enthusiasts that these feeds are going to supplant traditional Web sites. An RSS feed can be useful in letting you know the latest information on a particular topic or from a particular publisher or blog. However, when I read that people are going to use RSS readers to do their own aggregation of many sources on a particular topic, I become skeptical. Isn't that what Google News does? And do I really think I'm going to be better at it than those guys? Besides, doesn't that path lead to an RSS viewer that's just as cluttered as your e-mail Inbox?

(4) The IT spending "slump" ends

I think this kind of prediction (which has been trumpeted relentlessly every few months for the past three years at least) has a faulty assumption: that the current level of IT investment is somehow below its normal level. A better way to phrase this prediction would be: "Organizations return to throwing buckets of money on technology with no regard to ROI or business needs."

When you put it that way, it seems less likely, doesn't it? I don't know about the stock market, but Alan Greenspan's phrase "irrational exuberance" is a perfect way to describe a lot of technology spending that was done at the height of the boom. Since then, we've had a couple of years of draconian spending cuts in technology spending. The modest increases we're seeing now aren't a signal that the floodgates are starting to open, just that the sector has worked through a lot of its overcapacity, and spending increases are returning to more usual levels.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that IT is a mature industry. In fact, the phrase sounds like a contradiction in terms. On the other hand, we're not going to be partying like it's 1999 again, either.

(5) Offshore outsourcing becomes a hot political issue

One could argue that offshore outsourcing is already a political issue, but it certainly isn't a big one, and I don't think it's likely to become one in the next twelve months. In fact, if I were in the prediction business, I'd predict that several huge offshore outsourcing deals fall apart this year.

But then again, I'm not in the predictions business.

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