A Look at What's Coming in '98

Don't worry -- nobody else is either. Somehow 2000, the U.S. Justice Department, too few programmers and too much Internet have crept up on users and vendors alike.

Microsoft Corp. certainly isn't ready for the mauling it's about to take from the Justice Department's antitrust pit bulls. U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson has already all but called Microsoft's lawyers liars for claiming no one can safely strip Internet Explorer from Windows 95. This one will get ugly fast.

And don't expect the U.S. Congress or an appeals court to leash Jackson or muzzle the Justice attack dogs. Bill Gates eventually will learn that struggling against that consent/decree noose just pulls it tighter but he won't figure it out in 1998.

And Microsoft's big fight with Sun over Java? Call it a no-contest. Microsoft no longer needs Java, and Sun won't need Microsoft once Sun's Java Activator lets users plug standard Java into Internet Explorer. You'll see a settlement of the megafoes' lawsuit by December. But once free of its Java license, expect Microsoft to quickly release a Visual J++ compiler that generates native Windows programs from a language that looks a lot like Java.

2000 fixes will slog forward, but the big 2000 fight will pit corporate lawyers and lobbyists against regulators who want companies to reveal their 2000-fix plans and budgets. The corporate side will manage to block a mandatory 2000 line item in 1998 annual reports, but stockholders won't be happy -- and class action specialists will sharpen their knives.

The programmer shortage will hit everybody hard, but it will hit government agencies the hardest. They can't cough up big bucks like the private sector can for top talent or consulting help. Watch for state agencies especially to go begging for information systems help this year.

Lawmakers will keep trying to rein in Internet porn and encryption without success. A new Communications

Decency Act will make it through Congress but not the courts.

And though software vendors will keep building weak encryption into their commercial products, anyone who really wants strong encryption -- like crooks and spies -- will be able to get the technology easily enough.

Asia's economic bust will wreak havoc with software vendors -- who were counting on the Far East for big sales growth this year -- but will rain cheap memory chips on hardware vendors.

Until consumer-product companies start selling lots of things that take lots of RAM (like digital TVs and DVD players), expect new PCs stuffed with gargantuan amounts of memory.

Expect boatloads of bloated software designed to fill up that memory, too -- and plenty of puzzled industry analysts who can't figure out why Windows 3.1 still reigns on most corporate desktops.

Small World Wide Web sites will make money, and big Web sites will run in the red. And most consumer electronic-commerce dollars will go to a lot of companies that are too small to make it out of the "other" slice on the pie chart.

IBM will keep renaming its mainframes "large enterprise servers" or "high-volume transaction engines." Sun and Sequent will match Big Blue buzzword for buzzword when peddling their own steroid-enhanced servers.

Oracle will discover that -- gosh! -- its main business really is database software, not network computer hardware, after all.

And in everyone's favorite guessing game, Apple still won't get a new CEO. Nobody wants the job, and

Apple's board wants Steve Jobs.

Besides, Apple spent the last half of 1997 without an official honcho, so what's the rush?

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