A smooth segue to year's end

The most sensational piece of technology I encountered as 2003 galloped by was a new mode of transport. Unfortunately, that probably means few IT staff will be able to justify getting one on the company account.

The most sensational piece of technology I encountered as 2003 galloped by was a new mode of transport. Unfortunately, that probably means few IT staff will be able to justify getting one on the company account. On the other hand, if your employer is engaged in high-tech product development, they absolutely should have one to get an appreciation of design genius.

Worked out yet what I’m talking about? It’s the Segway, the latest invention of American Dean Kamen. A couple of Segways have been imported by a Tauranga-based engineer who wants to cash in on their novelty value by hiring them out at company functions. (Go to

www.segwayhire.co.nz and you may yet be able to nab them for your Christmas party.)

For those who haven’t heard the Segway hype (type Segway into Google and you’ll see there’s been plenty), it’s a two-wheel device that the operator stands on, gripping a “mast” that controls its direction. Speed is determined by body position: lean forward and it accelerates to a top speed of about 20km/h; leaning back brings it to a halt, and puts it in reverse. None of this happens abruptly (although a software bug, since corrected, caused a few mishaps); multiple gyroscopes and microprocessors ensure a smooth ride.

That may sound like it came off the brochure, but the reality is even better. Despite looking like a lawnmower, the Segway rides miraculously. On carpet, at least; one was brought up to the

Computerworld office and all those who had a go were impressed, although perhaps not quite ready to pay the $8000 price. It glides, turns on a dime, doesn’t pollute and Kamen is convinved it’s the answer to congestion on city streets.

I know, it’s not an IT product, and doesn’t deserve all the attention. The fact is, though, that information technology has not been able to serve up anything this year that matches the Segway for excitement. There’s been a new desktop application suite, which promises useful new functionality; and a new server operating system the main promise of which is greater scalability than its predecessor. As is normal, there’ve been revisions of countless other applications and items of hardware. But nothing has come along of Segway significance.

Chances are you’re not too dismayed. After all, new products strain budgets and bring all sorts of upheaval in their wake. What we’re seeing more of is the steady deployment of technologies which have been around a few years -– wireless networks, for example, and thin client implementations. Linux is also making incremental gains, and web services-type applications are also spreading.

It’s been more a year of talk than of technology: SCO talking about blowing Linux out of the water; the government talking about ending the spam scourge; the government talking about providing broadband to the regions; TUANZ talking about real telecomms competition and overpriced mobile services; and the government, once again, talking about creating a $10 billion ICT sector.

We’ve done our best to report it all fully and fairly, and we’re happy to say that our surveying suggests we’re doing a reasonable job of it. Research carried out for us by ACNielsen shows

Computerworld to be the preferred source of information on IT among a sample of 500 senior managers with IT purchasing responsibilities. We’re gratified to hear it, as we’re sure our advertisers will also be. Advertisers might also be interested in the survey’s finding that 70% of the sample plan to invest in security, anti-virus and/or spam control solutions in the next year.

For all the lack of new product excitement, IT is guaranteed to remain at the operational heart of organisations and the economy generally. If your bean counters are showing signs of weariness toward IT investment, you might point them in the direction of an

OECD report of last week. It congratulates us for growing quite nicely in the past decade, but urges greater IT spending if productivity is to be lifted into the top half of OECD members. Tell the boss it’s for the national good.

And for your personal good, have a relaxing break.

Doesburg is Computerworld’s editor. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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