At the risk of being lambasted this time next year for my outrageously incorrect predictions, I’d like to share my forecast for 2001. I think there’s value in making what seem to be reasonable assumptions about things that will happen in technology during the following year. At best, these assumptions may help you in your personal or corporate planning in the months to come. And at worst, they’ll give you something to laugh about.

Here are some of my predictions for 2001.

The Bear market will result in failures of E*Trade competitors
When the market was in a constant state of upward movement, it all seemed so simple: Get an online trading account, throw a few thousand dollars in, pick a technology stock, pocket more thousands of dollars. Well, now that the bear is loose, I think people will close down those accounts and either move to mutual funds through banks or insurance agents or search for brokers who can help them invest more wisely.

Online brokerages like E*Trade will have to look more like these same banks and insurance companies and give users a compelling reason to keep managing their funds online. By the end of 2001, there will be no more than three or four major online traders standing, and all of them will look more like online banks than online stock managers.

The big ASP and data center shakeout
By the middle of next year, you should expect the failures and/or acquisitions of many large, public ASPs. They’re already getting a severe beating, and a few months down the road, the competition from software manufacturers moving into the hosting space and the hardware manufacturers getting into the data center business will squeeze any remaining product-focused ASPs out of business.

If you want to see which ASPs will survive, look for two things. First, the funding for the ASP should come from private or institutional sources and not from the public markets. Public ASPs were constructed to survive in a free-money environment and will have a difficult time surviving when they have to reorganize to be profitable.

Secondly, ASPs that think software manufacturers will sit idly by while services become a commodity that only the ASP can sell are fooling themselves. ASPs must find a way to differentiate themselves through the automation of business processes and not simply the rental of other people’s software products.

I believe that software manufacturers like Microsoft and Oracle will tire of giving away large chunks of hosting and last-mile business to the data centers and will acquire some large, national data center providers as distribution points for their products. National or large regional consulting companies seeking to become full-service providers will also attempt to purchase regional data center operators with one or two locations. The ASP and AIP (applications infrastructure provider) landscape will look vastly different at the end of next year.

The movement toward server-centric computing will accelerate
The reason for the consolidation of ASPs and data centers is the continued acceleration toward server-centric computing. The over-performance of Intel-based desktop hardware and software has many companies reevaluating their ROI. How many employees really need a 1.5-GHz Pentium 4 with a 40-GB hard drive and 256MB of RAM or an Office suite with 50,000 features? Businesses will move rapidly toward less-sophisticated terminal devices (cell phones, handheld devices, lower-powered PCs running graphical display software) instead of perpetuating the desktop upgrade cycle.

The only thing keeping the fat desktop alive is the slow, wired network link. Once high-speed, wireless networking is readily available, there’s no reason not to have the processing take place on a centrally managed server. This wireless networking capability will be available inside the building walls next year and outside the following year. If you’re not evaluating wireless local area networks and server-centric computing options (local or hosted), you’re going to miss out on one of the best ways to cut costs and increase productivity.

Home and nonprofessional video will come of age
Does server-centric computing mean the PC will go away? Not necessarily. But the PC will be repositioned as a high-end processing device. What will it process? I believe it will primarily be video. Next year, manufacturers will release the hardware and software that allows us to manipulate video like we manipulate data files today. The 1394 or FireWire port will become standard equipment on all PCs. By the end of the year, DVD recorders will be standard equipment on all PCs, and available bandwidth and compression will support usable video streaming for the home and the nonprofessional videographer.

The requisite off-the-wall prediction
No list of predictions would be complete without the one from left field. Here’s mine: Microsoft will embrace Linux as a distribution platform for its .NET technology. Microsoft can’t continue its revenue growth by relying on Windows as its only distribution platform. One easy way to get a slice of the UNIX revenue pie is to port the .NET Common Language Runtime (CLR) to Linux. This would allow Linux developers to write code in any language (not just C++ and Java) on Windows platforms and then deploy that code on inexpensive Linux servers.

This strategy will allow Microsoft to move more rapidly toward their .NET services vision by accelerating the development and deployment of these services on the Internet. More importantly, the .NET CLR will become to the Internet what Microsoft Windows was to the PC—a unifying set of standards that allows developers to leverage their application code across a large number of users while the system software takes care of all the mundane system tasks. In the ’90s, the mundane tasks were GUI rendering and device management. In the ’00s, the tasks are object integration across systems and processes.
Do you agree with these predictions? Have some of your own? Tell us in an e-mail what you think next year will hold for technology or start a discussion below.