Last year we had two movies about animated ants. What are the chances?

We also had two movies about comets hitting the earth. This was less of a coincidence because with all the end-of-life-as-we-know-it Y2K predictions, a few movies about the end of the world were inevitable. Next year we’re almost sure to see at least one movie built around a Y2K premise, complete with elevators plummeting, planes falling out of the sky, nuclear power plants exploding, and all the rest of the doomsayers’ prophesies, acted out by special effects created by Y2K-compliant computers.

That’s my first prediction. This is a New Year’s column – what did you expect?

Before this year’s new predictions, let’s get a quick update on the ones I made last year:

Prediction: The triumph of American culture here in America as citizens embrace our rich heritage of individualism and disrespect for authority.

Progress: Jesse Ventura beat two empty suits to become governor of Minnesota.

Prediction: The globalization of American culture due to the Internet … our culture adopting mores and attitudes of other cultures.

Progress: Americans care more about Bill Clinton’s performance as president than his sexual indiscretions.

Prediction: The personal digital assistant, or PDA, takes off.

Progress: At Comdex this year there was more energy in the Palm area than the rest of the show put together. PDAs have become mainstream devices; Palm claims 10,000 developers, and Oracle even has a version of its database that runs on the durned things. IS, predictably, is ignoring the PDA and (new prediction!) will continue to do so until it’s too late.

Prediction: The decline of Microsoft.

Progress: The signs are everywhere. PDAs are taking off but Windows CE is not. Linux is hot specifically because it’s an alternative to Windows NT Server. The AS/400, once relegated to the scrap-heap, is a hot item for the same reason. Novell is surging; Novell Directory Services has credibility while nobody expects much from Active Directory 1.0. And I know nobody who cares anything at all about Windows 2000.

Prediction: The death of the network computer.

Progress: There’s lots of interest in Microsoft Terminal Server (courtesy of Citrix, which came up with the idea) except for the pricing, which makes it stupid. There’s virtually no interest left in desktop systems that run the Java Virtual Machine as their native operating system.

Hey, I like making predictions! So here are a few more for next year.

Prediction No. 1: A new definition of network computing will take hold. Client/server always was a software partitioning scheme, not a hardware architecture – client processes request resources, server processes deliver them. In an ideal network computing architecture these processes are not only portable, as in the Java model, but can be dynamically assigned to the most logical host based on available bandwidth and processing power. It isn’t a new idea, but this year people will pay attention to it. (More likely they won’t, but I can hope, can’t I?)

Prediction No. 2: Internet 1.5. I don’t think much of Internet 2. I have a simple formula for predicting the failure of a new technology: No easy migration path = failure. So far I haven’t heard anyone address migration issues between Internet 1 and Internet 2.

Internet 1.5 is the term I use to describe the services large ISPs are just starting to offer, providing guaranteed quality of service within their own networks. Where the Internet not only can’t guarantee quality of service but probably shouldn’t, single ISPs can. For premium pricing, they can route traffic within their own backbones wherever possible. That, combined with virtual private network technology, will lead to the consolidation of WANs and the Internet into a single connection.

Prediction No. 3: IP Telephony will be huge. It’s just too easy a sale: “What are you paying for long-distance service? Imagine you aren’t anymore.” IP telephony will explode once Internet 1.5 is commonplace.

Prediction #4: Linux becomes just another Unix. The Internet lost its charm when big business discovered it. The same will happen with Linux. Linux will wipe out SCO and Unixware and gain ground against NT, but will lose its soul in the process.

These are trends, not events. Expect to see signs of them in 1999. And if you don’t … ask me again in a year. Unless, of course, the world ends.