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Weekly Column

Why I Get the Big Bucks: Bob's High-Tech Predictions for 2001

Status: [CLOSED]
By Robert X. Cringely

It's that time of the year when every pundit, would-be pundit, false pundit, anti-pundit, or just your everyday goofball with a weekly column typically takes his shot at predictions for the year ahead. Only this particular January, the usual pundits are lying low because punditry is getting harder and harder to do well. The road ahead is shrouded with fog and it is darned hard to predict anything with certainty. So instead of writing biting and satirical looks at the year ahead, most of my compatriots are writing biting and satirical looks at the year just past, all the while hoping nobody will notice that's what they are doing. But not me. I'm the goofball mentioned above and I'm too set in my ways to do the safe thing.

But first, while I struggle to think of ANYTHING worth predicting, let's look at how well I did last year. This is another area where I'd keep my mouth shut if I had any sense, but honesty runs in my family. So does larceny, which makes for a deep internal conflict.

You'll find a link to last year's predictions in Links of the Week. But if you don't want to bother going there, I'll give you the short version here.

I said Jeff Bezos of would not repeat as Time's Person of the Year. Given that there have never been any year-on-year repeats, that one was easy. I was right.

I said Microsoft would not settle with the Department of Justice. I was right.

I said Y2K would not be a big deal. Remember this column appeared December 30, 1999. I was right.

I said there still wouldn't be a new Amiga computer in 2000. Correctamundo.

I said PC prices would continue to drop because we'd pay for them through services, advertising, applications and such. To be fair, I think this didn't really happen, so I was wrong.

I said Intel and Microsoft would peak in their influence in 2000 and go into a slow decline. You might disagree, but I think I got this right.

I said Dell would continue to be a bigger player than Compaq. I was right.

I said bandwidth would continue to get bigger and cheaper as DSL and cable modems were rolled out. They did and I was right.

I said streaming video still wouldn't be worth watching. It isn't. I was right.

I said digital television would enter a period of confusion as the industry tries to figure out what to do with it. While more stations are on the air all the time, I'd say the confusion over HDTV versus multicasting versus enhanced TV is only growing. I was right.

I said the market would continue to rise though Internet companies would have to start showing profits or they'd be clobbered. While I might try to claim this as a win my resolution this year is to be more honest, so I have to admit I got this wrong.

I said computer crackers were going to cause some serious damage and predicted they'd try blackmail. Well "I Luv You" cost hundreds of millions and a few Russians tried to sell back the credit card numbers they had stolen, so I'll claim to have got this right.

I said Sony would take on Microsoft and at least appear to win for awhile. Given the PlayStation 2 mania at Christmas and Microsoft's holiday sales bust, I'd say I got this one right.

I said Steve Jobs would sell Apple. Steve wishes he had sold Apple, I'm sure. I was wrong.

I said 2000 would be Cisco's year. I was right.

I said Wall Street would shift its attention from high-tech to biotech. Well the market shifted, of course, but I don't think biotech boomed that much. So I got this wrong.

I predicted movement toward trading in synthetic securities. I always was ahead of my time. WRONG!

I predicted the rise of commercial telepresence, which now appears to be years away. What WAS I smoking?

I predicted the return of writing letters and sending them by post. Oh well, it was a nice dream.

The final score says I got 13 predictions right and seven wrong. I can live with that.

So now to my predictions for 2001. Reviewing last year's effort shows I should have made fewer, stronger predictions, so this year I'll go with only 10 and you can bet none of them will use the term "telepresence."

Intel and Microsoft will continue their slow decline. Both companies act as tracking stocks for the PC industry and simply must reflect the fact that the sector is maturing and unit sales have probably peaked. Take a look at how Paul Allen has effectively bailed out of Microsoft. And look at how both companies are seeking non-PC sources for future growth (Microsoft's X-Box game system and Intel's MP3 player).

The Napster craze, which I certainly didn't predict last year, will continue, though perhaps without Napster, itself. No, the company won't go out of business, but its move to embrace commercial legitimacy and royalties for copied music leave space for some other application to arise from the open source community. Maybe its Gnutella, maybe it's something I've never heard of, but we'll see lots more action on file sharing. As a result, CD-RW and MP3 players will continue to be a bright spot in the hardware business.

But the same probably can't be said for broadband, which will continue having troubles. The DSL companies are caving, cable modems will lose their luster as more customers share the party line, and from my experience trying to get a Starband satellite connection, space-based Internet is at least another year away for most of us.

Microsoft WILL settle with the Department of Justice. This will happen because the Court of Appeals will start peeling back the more severe parts of Judge Jackson's ruling, because the DOJ under John Ashcroft will give Redmond a better deal than it might have got under a Democratic administration, and because Microsoft will want very much to clear the decks before the X-Box intro. No, I don't see a break-up, but rather another consent decree with oversight for a period of years. Business as usual.

The feared recession, if it happens at all, will be over by the third quarter as the stock market picks up steam again. But don't look for Internet companies or even PC companies to lead the resurgence. By the same token, the dot-com bloodbath should subside by mid-year. By then, a couple thousand companies will have died and the others will have found ways to make money. It will be a more sober, but also more realistic, industry.

There still won't be a new Amiga Computer, again. Or, for that matter, ever. Sorry.

Linux will continue its spectacular growth as a network and server operating system, but not (yet) as a mainstream desktop platform. Sure, Eazel will bring out its improved desktop, but I just don't see these machines reaching the mainstream, which is to say my Mother, in any quantities in 2001.

The answer to every problem with the Internet will continue to be "pay more money to Cisco." At current prices the stock is a bargain.

But the same can't be said for Apple. OS-X will generate some enthusiasm and the machines will finally get faster, but absent some new product direction that none of us have heard of, there simply isn't much good news for Cupertino. I'm still hoping for a sale.

And finally, the Cringely franchise will expand in 2001 with a new show, a new book and a bet-the-farm move into streaming video. I'll let you know a year from now whether any of it paid off.

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