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Predictions redux 2001 (first appeared in InfoWorld)

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It’s 2001. We’re supposed to have a self-supporting space station, a permanent outpost on the moon, and a psychotic computer running a manned mission to the moons of Jupiter. Had we not lost interest, it might have happened. Instead, our interest in cyberspace exceeds our interest in outer space. Am I the only one who thinks something is fundamentally wrong?

Maybe not. According to research performed by an organization called Virtual Society, reported in The Register (www.register.com), there are 28 million ex-web surfers in the United States alone — actual reality appears to be making a comeback.

Quite a few pundits have expounded on the ultimate importance of the Internet, some ascribing to it a level of significance unparalleled since the invention of the printing press. Last year, I challenged that position as being highly exaggerated. It appears I’m not alone.

Yes, with the advent of a new year, it’s time to review old predictions and make new ones. Let’s start with the review:

Prediction: Rather than the gratitude they deserve, the hard-working programmers who prevented a Y2K disaster will mostly receive unemployment.

Result: Pretty much as predicted. Ignorant, self-appointed voices of outrage declaimed the whole Y2K situation as a hoax. Meanwhile the staffing strategy known as “rolling layoffs” — firing programmers with “old” skills while simultaneously recruiting others with needed new ones — has increased in popularity.

Prediction: PCs won’t be replaced by fat network technologies. They also won’t gain much in new functionality, nor will the user interface improve dramatically. They will, however, increase in reliability.

Result: While PC sales are off this year, that’s probably an indicator of economic jitters coupled with market saturation, not abandonment of the platform. Meanwhile, Windows 2000 is “an order of magnitude” more reliable than NT (translation: It has one more to go before it’s as reliable as its competitors). And Apple is, finally, nearly ready to release Mac OS X, which, due to its BSD UNIX core, will be far more stable than prior Mac OS releases.

Prediction: Java won’t turn into the dominant language for all application development. It will find a niche as the mid-tier language of choice in n-tier OO/client/server development projects, and will continue to be used to extend browser functionality. Its performance deficiencies compared to compiled languages will continue to constrain its value.

Result: On target thus far. Java is popular in the mid-tier, nobody has yet released a significant commercial application written in pure Java, and Java continues to be slower than compiled C++. Microsoft’s impending (translation: indefinite release date) of C# and HP’s jump onto the Microsoft.NET bandwagon may further impede Java’s progress. (On the other hand, I’ve predicted failure for the Microsoft.NET scheme — but it doesn’t have to succeed to hamper Java in the marketplace.)

Prediction: Within two years, Java will either be turned over to a standards body or Sun’s Java allies will start to de-emphasize it.

Result: Neither has happened yet. One year to go.

Prediction: A long-shot, that Macromedia will turn its Flash/Shockwave/Director combination into an application development platform.

Result: I have seen an actual application (a sales force automation package) written with Macromedia tools. If nothing else, I’m not wrong yet.

Prediction: Linux will be very successful in as a server technology; far less successful on the desktop.

Result: Linux adoption as a server platform is growing faster than Windows 2000. Linux’s desktop marketshare is still miniscule.

We’ll continue reviewing past predictions next week.