What do you
want first, the good news or the bad
or My Viewpoint and
Welcome To It,
by Daniel Will-Harris
(Predicted as of May 96
and updated November 1998) The future is an ever-changing
target. Just two years ago no one predicted the explosion
of the Internet. No technology has taken hold so widely
so fast. Because the Internet changes distribution, always
one of the most difficult and costly parts of commerce,
it changes the world. And it changes it faster than
anyone would have dreamed. What seemed like a logical
chain of events ten years ago now looks quaint or even
And while predictions
are a dangerous business (it's too easy for people to
tell when you're wrong), I've been predicting computer
trends for years, and have almost always been right
(while simultaneously almost always being wrong about
high tech stock fluctuations). So I'm not going to let
the danger stop me.
It's a client/server
world. The big companies are the servers and we become
their clients in more ways than one. Oracle and Sun's
push to cheap "net stations" is only ostensibly
about cheap access to the Internet. Look ahead more than
12 months and you see it's really about a radical
change in personal and business computing. It's about a
change from "automobile"-like computers which
all run on their own to mass-transit-like networks where
everyone shares resources (which, in the case of
information, can provide more power and freedom than it
does in the world of transportation).
It's about a change from
a large expenditure up-front for hardware and software to
a continued expenditure to "rent" your software
(and even your hardware).
It's also about stripped
down client computers that force their users to be
dependent on a few large, multi-national server
providers. Nothing's ever free, and while these changes
will have advantages, they'll come at a price. Here's
what I see happening in the not too distant future.
- Most people never
buy a computer, they use their TV and a rented
- If you do buy a
computer, it will be small and cheap.
- Instead of paying a
large sum up front for your software, you pay a subscription
fee every month, as you do for your cable TV
- Your software is
always the latest version.
- Your files are
always available to you no matter where
you are (even when you don't have your own
- Files will all
share a handful of common file formats so they're
- You can use any
new software at any time - because you're merely
- The low-cost,
low-power hardware makes you dependent on
outside network systems. If you get a busy
signal you can't even write a note. If their
system crashes and they lose your work they're
not liable. If one of their networks goes
down, millions of users are simultaneously without
computing power. If your phone line goes down
you're out of luck.
- Most users
won't even have disk drives to store their
personal data, which means that privacy
can become a problem, even "secure"
systems are not as private as your own computer
with the modem turned off. Being international,
some governments may have the right to read and
index the files of their citizens-or even anyone
on the system, creating countries that do for
demographics what the Swiss now do for banks, or
countries that do for illegal data what illegal
arms dealers now provide.
- Most users
may end up with fewer software choices
because the big three networks are not unlike the
big three TV networks-each network has more power
over what software users get to use.
- The bills never
stop--networks will try to charge you by
the minute or the byte--there'll be as many
subscription choices as their are phone plans,
with 1,000 times the small print. Businesses may
actually find this new method more expensive than
the old one, as site-licenses are less attractive
for networks than they were for boxed software
- The three major
networks will fight for your business the way
that phone companies do now. This will be great
for competition and annoying at dinner time when
salespeople interrupt meals with video phone
calls. It will also be confusing, and eventually
expensive, as some people feel compelled to join
more than one service to access the various
programs they want.
"networks" replace software stores as we know
them. Here's what could happen.
the Microsoft Network will remain number one
because of MS's expertise in consumer software
and marketing. Microsoft will buy small software
companies the way you and I buy bread at the
market, and this will give them an enormous
library for their users.
Microsoft will also have been smart in its
connections, and its deals with NBC and
Speilberg's "DreamWorks SKG" will give
it the edge in entertainment. Because Microsoft's
stated goal has always been "a computer on
every desk and Microsoft software on every
computer," their pricing will be so
aggressive that they will always be the least
expensive service, making up the difference in
Windows will become scaleable from the wristwatch
to the desktop, with everything including
microwave ovens in-between. Don't laugh. ActiveX
is just the prelude to apps that can run natively
on the desktop and remotely via client/server and
it's a modular strategy that will prove highly
effective by allowing the company to move in
almost any direction, and many directions at
- WOL: (November
98) - If AOL and Netscape really do merge, there
will be a new on-line giant that covers both the
web and a proprietary service. WOL (World OnLine)
will have to also get ino the set-to-box market
and fast, but it has the resoures to do so.
- "The Oracle"
will be number two in subscribers. Oracle will
work closely with cable and phone companies to
try to make their technology ubiquitous. They
could purchase the Newton division from Apple and
make it the core of their WebStation technology.
It's small size and light weight, combined with
it's infrared port made it the perfect web
interface/TV/Cable remote control device. The
lack of a keyboard and good handwriting
recognition will be a decided plus a mass market
where most people can't type.
Adobe will merge with Oracle to combat the ever
powerful Microsoft. Motorola will take over Apple
bit by bit to ensure that there is still a big
market for their chips. Motorola then works
closely with Oracle to fight Intel and Sun.
Then with Adobe's publishing expertise, Apple's
marketing expertise and Claris Software for
application, Oracle will have a total package of
experience in home, school, and consumer software
which they otherwise lack. Apple's long-touted
"ease of use" advantage becomes a
non-issue as all systems become more
point-and-click. Instead, the Oracle will work
hard to make their system faster (if more
expensive) than Microsoft's, and Apple's famous
Industrial Design know-how will create web
station hardware that fits every decor, from
Colonial to Star Trek. The push will be a
class-based "up-scale" approach to try
to make their system less "plebeian"
and more exclusive-the Lexus of computers.
Sun" will be Sun's network for users who
are currently using workstations. It's still
faintly possible that Sun will buy the Newton, or
all of Apple, in which case they will do what
I've just said Oracle will do, in which case
Oracle will focus on cable TV and video-on-demand
is the International Business Network, run by
IBM. Their expertise in business solutions serves
them well in the business market, which they've
focused on because of their lack of experience in
the home market.
and "O" - Both Microsoft and
Oracle will offer premium-price,
premium-performance options for business
customers who may end up paying by the second for
neural-net-super-computer power and performance.
Both companies will spend years trying to
trademark single alphabet letters.
is the Third Party Organization, an open
Internet-based group of small commercial and
shareware groups that can't find a place on a
major network. 3PO helps foster new software and
gives narrow vertical market software an outlet.
These programs are mostly written in Java, but
because this network isn't as fast as the
commercial networks, many of these programs
require more memory or processing power on the
host web stations, meaning they're out of the
reach of most of the mass market.
Because each network
wants to make it harder for you to switch to a
competitor, each network will use their own file formats.
All three will support VR.
- Ole! Microsoft
will use an object-based OLE container with an
icon that looks like a bullfighter and support
for the new Olfactory-OLE to tap the sense that
other VR systems have ignored.
- Juggler. Oracle
will use OpenDoc enabled Acrobat with a very cute
animated icon that can have your own face on the
juggler and support their proprietary adults-only
- Matrix. IBN
uses an OS/2 container called Matrix with a logo
that looks not unlike Novell's new node logo,
since IBM will have purchased Novell.
The good news is that to
make it easier for people to switch, each network will
work very hard on their format converter so that,
eventually, conversions will be accurate. The bad news is
that the file formats will be ever-changing in an attempt
to block the competition. Your files stored on their
network will automatically be updated to the new file
format (without you having to do a thing), thereby
continuing to make it harder for your to switch services.
Just as in life, not
everyone will fit neatly into the categories that the
networks will provide.
- Color ink-jet
printers will be the #1 accessory. With cues from
high-end ink printers like Iris, the best home
printers will become photo-realistic. Epson's new
printers already fit this description for under
drives" will be the second most popular
peripherals, with each major service licensing
their own brands that all share a common format
to aid in compatibility.
will be shorthand slang for "VR Kits"
which include VR add-ons that are lightweight and
unobtrusive. Glasses will be the size and weight
of current eyeglasses. Gloves won't be required
(as hand placement can be sensed by sensors), but
high-end touch-gloves add feel-feedback. Oracle's
sX Kit comes up with stimulating new uses
for feel feedback system.
- Parental Control:
Parents will be able to see a log of everything
their kids have done, and read their digital
diaries the way they now read their written ones.
Parents will love this. Kids will hate this,
especially because it requires retinal scans
which are difficult to get past. When kids do get
past (or visit the station of a friend with
obliging or uncaring parents), their own parents
can still see a log of their activities, since
they're based on an individual, not a terminal.
As always, kids will tend to know more about all
this than their parents, so more than a few
parents will lose their homes to bad investments
made by their kids without their knowledge or
- Peripherals will
mostly come in the form of PC Cards (formerly
known as PC MCIA) so they can be added without
having to open the computer.
- Some users will
still require high-powered, self-contained
workstation computers for scientific and graphic
design work. These workstations can work
self-contained, or can distribute data processing
between their own multiple processors and the
- Ultra-high-res LCD
and Plasma screens will provide increased
workspace and resolution. The CRT will be mostly
obsolete because of its size, weight, power
consumption, and magnetic radiation.
Professional users will be especially security
sensitive, and all their transactions on
the net will be super-encrypted using custom
chips. This will require special net
subscriptions (at an extra charge, of course).
While the Supreme Court will rule that computer
data can only be decrypted if a search warrant
has been obtained, a 12-man ultra-conservative
group called "The Dirty Dozen" will try
to pass the same legislation every year that
would require the FBI to constantly decrypt,
scan, and index all data from all
citizens. Similar local rules have been
consistently found unconstitutional, so the 12
are working on a constitutional amendment.
Finally, anytime I say
anything remotely positive about Microsoft I receive hate
mail telling me I'm everything from an idiot to a dupe of
Satin. I'm neither, I just give credit where it's due,
and would never underestimate a company I
not-entirely-jokingly call "The Borg."
For a November 98 update
on this, click here.
Most companies are
corporate "institutions." Microsoft is more
like a corporate organism. Institutions have a rigid,
self-perpetuating organization. Microsoft is more like a
natural organism in that it has a constantly shifting
organization designed to perpetuate the company, not the
individual departments of the organization.
In an institution, a
single department can bring down the entire unit because
they're looking out for their own good, not the entire
institution's. In Microsoft, individual departments are
expendable if they are not working in the best interest
of the entire organism.
ingrown and outdated because they loathe change.
Organisms are constantly eating from the outside and
digesting the results, making the outside world a part of
them. This keeps them outward looking and constantly
changing, based on what they've taken in from the outside
When institutions hit
the top of their field, they tend to rest on their
laurels by saying, "it's always worked in the
past." But like other organisms, Microsoft's goal is
continued life, through whatever means are necessary.
Kill or be killed if necessary. It can never rest or
depend merely on what worked in the past. It constantly
has to be on the offensive, if not predatory.
Love them or hate them,
Microsoft is a new kind of company that's not going away
in the foreseeable future (unlike those who underestimate
In the past, Microsoft
seemed invincible--both because of their technology, and
because of their marketing prowess.
But in the past few
years, Microsoft's intense fear and paranoia have worked
against it (and the consumer), and instead of working to
make their products better and prices lower, they've
worked to destroy their competition. In doing so, they've
hurt themselves, as well as the market.
Windows98 is a prime
example of where Microsoft went wrong. Microsoft claimed
that adding the Internet Explorer to the interface was
creating a more seamless integration between the
customer's computer and the internet.
But the reality was that
putting IE on top of the Windows interface just added
another layer--both of complexity and things that could
One example of how truly
un-integrated it is can be seen when you try to edit one
of the custom "web pages" that IE can create to
display the contents of your hard disk. If you choose
edit, you're thrown into the plain ASCII, non-WYSIWYG
ridiculous--and even advanced users can't figure it out.
If you try to use the WYSIWYG editor that's included, it
can't properly edit these files either, and the results
then no longer work and can make your files seemingly
This is not
integration, this is not streamlining, this is not
a true "inovation" or improvement in the
interface or user experience. This is Machiavellian
marketing manipulation, designed to help no one but
Microsoft gain market share.
Unless Microsoft puts it
focus on better products that really help the
customer (not just helping Microsoft), then it's going to
lose it's lead just as IBM did to Microsoft.
to start being more honest and less disingenuous.
Microsoft's current whine of "innovation" rings
hollow. Yes, Microsoft has innovated in the
past, but it's also done a lot of borrowing. And Windows
98 is a perfect example of how totally devoid of
innovation they can be except in the marketing
If Microsoft truly did
more innovation and less whining about how
"we must be free to innovate," then everyone,
including Microsoft, would be better off.
November 2001: Totalitarian
Lately Microsoft has been treating its own customers like enemies. XP's new "activation" system which requires to register, and re-register when you change your computer hardware is nothing more than a blatant copy-protection scheme.
The only one that's protected is Microsoft, who can now charge people almost $100 per computer to upgrade their operating system. In the past, people could buy one copy and install it on multiple computers (important, since many people now have several home computers). They can't do that now. They can just get Microsoft's "generous" discount of around 15% per additional copy.
In the era when new computers can cost $500, Microsoft's pricing is totally out of whack with the rest of the market. And Microsoft's strong-arm tactics in trying to force corporate customers to upgrade, at huge expense, will, in the end, backfire on them.
Software is important, but why pay a fortune for Microsoft office when you can get the compatible Star Office for free. Businesses can't continue to fork over unreasonable sums of money to Microsoft when they can get the same thing for free. First it's Office, then Windows itself can be replaced by free Linux.
What's important to Microsoft?
One thing that's clear is that security is not important to Microsoft-they've proven this repeatedly.
Clearly Microsoft's own security was important enough with XP for them to institute the "activation" feature (basically forced registration--though some marketing person should win an award for coming up with the term "activation.") And so they got that feature done.
But what about their customers' security? Not very secure, even their credit card numbers. Here's an example.
I'm sure all the smart programmers they have could have made things secure if someone higher up had said, "Hey, guys, this is absolutely vital." But clearly no one did, because it wasn't important to their bottom line.
Microsoft seems to only try when it has competition. XP's TV ads are all about music and video editing, as if many people did these things. Few people do, but the Mac ads all featured this, so Microsoft felt it must be important and was able to copy it. MSN is there to compete with and try to squash AOL. MS doesn't seem to like trying as hard as it must when it has competition. It's much easier just to kill off the competition and then coast.
The thing is--as much as tech people complain about AOL, AOL is actually very user-centric. They have free 800 tech support that's easy to reach and good. If they were giving away their service and charging $23 a month for tech support that alone would be worth it. My niece uses AOL and I had questions when I was helping her, so we called and it was among the best tech support I've ever seen.
And that's something MS refuses to copy. Why? Because they really don't give a crap about their customers. AOL may be big and getting a little bit scarier every day, but they do care about making customers happy, because they see this as the key to their success and growth--which it is. And when they buy web sites, which they do regularly (like www.mapquest.com and www.moviefone.com ) they actually make them better. Why? Because they'll make more money that way.
Microsoft's vision doesn't appear to be about about pleasing customers so that they'll buy more and MS will make more. Lately Microsoft has seemed more totalitarian, like Communist countries that didn't want to let citizens outside their borders, for fear they'd run away.
That's just what MS does. It tries to trap customers within its borders because it's pretty sure they would run away if given a chance. And what kind of attitude is that? It's totally one-sided and self-serving, and in the end it just makes MS get more and more desperate to prevent choice because all they are thinking about is their own survival.
I think that, in the end, just as most communist countries fell apart, so will Microsoft. You can't trap people forever. Sooner or later they will see something better and take the risk required to escape.