2002: Doing was better than watching

The moot was 'doing IT is better than watching IT' and, you'll be pleased to know, the affirmative were judged the winners. It wouldn't have said much for the state of the industry if the outcome had been the opposite.

The moot was "doing IT is better than watching IT" and, you’ll be pleased to know, the affirmative were judged the winners. It wouldn’t have said much for the state of the industry if the outcome had been the opposite. Yet the way the past year has been, it may not have been that surprising if the negative view had prevailed.

The occasion of the debate was the annual meeting of the New Zealand Software Association and providing the evening’s entertainment were four IT doers -- a developer, a systems integrator, a services provider and an investor -- and four watchers -- three journalists and a PR person. The audience showed enough faith in itself to vote for doing IT rather than watching IT. That despite the devastating wit -- and catalogue of IT disasters -- paraded by the IT watchers.

It was a close vote, though -- measured by duration of clapping and loudness of boos -- which I don’t think can be put down entirely to the watchers’ debating skills. More likely the absence of a ringing endorsement for doing IT sprang from the same origin as the muttering heard during pre-dinner drinks. The muttering revolved around the difficulty of finding good paying work, locally at least. The picture appeared to be slightly better overseas.

Which probably only serves to highlight the signficance of the government’s ICT Taskforce draft report, given hearty endorsement at the AGM by association president Rollo Gillespie. Gillespie thought it a sound document "rooted in commercial reality".

He makes the point that size counts in software development, which goes against the popular idea that the internet makes it possible for even the smallest developer to foot it with those with established distribution channels. According to Gillespie, that only holds true in niches. In the market for business software, large companies like to deal with large companies.

Not only that, but large software companies -- and he mentions Microsoft -- make much healthier margins than small ones. In a year when Microsoft’s licensing model has been transformed, lifting its margins still further, most IT managers are well aware of that.

While there was muttering among some AGM attendees about how the year has gone, Gillespie thinks it’s been positive for most. He contrasts that with the gloom emanating from ITANZ, the group representing IT vendors. The difference might be accounted for by the fact that big government projects have dried up somewhat, he says.

How’s the year been in technology terms? In February, I took a stab at a pair of technologies -- mobile and thin-client computing -- that I thought would flourish in 2002.

A pretty safe bet, I admit. Citrix, the thin-client software company -- oops, server-based computing, I mean -- has had some spectacular successes. Mobile computing, for its part, has benefited from the spread of wireless data services. I’ve been trying out Telecom’s CDMA cellular data service, which is great, particularly since it’s a free trial. Coverage can be spotty, however.

Let’s not forget Linux. And in case I was going to, one of the affirmative in the "doing v watching" debate mischievously remarked that Linus Torvalds was clearly Computerworld’s de facto publisher, so ready were we to advance the Linux cause in our pages. A low blow, but it failed to connect. Linux is advancing the cause on its own, as demonstrated by Air New Zealand’s commitment to the OS this year.

Remember, if you have nothing to do one rainy day during the holidays (please, no!), you could express an opinion on the ICT Taskforce report. You have until the end of January to email ict@industrytaskforces.govt.nz, or send a postcard from the beach to ICT Taskforce Have Your Say, PO Box 2878, Wellington. (For a copy of the report, go to Industry Taskforce.)

Have a great break and we’ll be back on January 20.

Doesburg is Computerworld’s editor. Phone him with editorial suggestions on 09 302 8763. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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