10 Predictions for 2006

An IDG News Service reporter offers her picks for the year's top IT stories.

1. At Odds Over Offshoring

Furious debate over the offshoring of IT jobs and services jobs will continue, sparking another round of state and U.S. federal "protectionist" legislative proposals early in the year. Most of those proposals will wither and die. Economists and policy analysts will argue back and forth about whether IT jobs are indeed being "lost" to India, China and other nations or whether the movement is predictable churn in a global economy. The thousands who continue to be laid off won't care to hear the debate, since they will have already formed their opinions about what is going on and why. ("Corporate greed" will be the answer for many of them.)

2. Open-source Under Attack

Hackers will successfully launch an attack on a widely used open-source application (Firefox?). Although it will be quickly patched and not lead to the sort of turmoil and damage that has occurred with other major attacks on proprietary software, it will make those who use open-source software realize that they really do need to update and apply patches expeditiously. Otherwise, Sober will continue to spawn variants and security will remain a top concern.

3. Gaming Console Battle Royale

Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Co.'s Revolution game consoles will prove to be worth the wait in long lines and will globally outsell Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360 by a wide margin. The Xbox will find more favor in the U.S., but even there it will lose its luster when the competing consoles hit the market. Game Boy Micro will be to the handheld gaming market what the iPod Nano is to the MP3 market -- having one will be a universal sign of cool.

4. Vista Makes a Splashy Debut

Speaking of Microsoft, the software monolith will frequently make news, as it does every year. The company is putting extreme pressure on itself to deliver Windows Vista on schedule, so expect the operating system to be available on a PC near you by this time next year. Microsoft also hopes Vista's launch will make a huge splash, so don't be surprised if the company coaxes an aging rock band out of retirement to perform at its inaugural event. But if Windows history repeats itself, even shipping Vista a year later than Microsoft first planned won't make the operating system completely foolproof -- expect Patch Tuesday to be busier than usual in the months following the release. Business users may be hesitant to adopt Vista until some of the bugs are worked out.

5. Open-source Grabs a Foothold

Linux will make more inroads on the desktop, and in governments, schools and other public institutions that don't have much money to spare as they increasingly turn to open-source software as an option. An increase in the number of people using open-source at work will lead to more interest in open-source use among home PC users, who will spread the word that it really is easy to use. Proprietary software companies, grudgingly or not, will get with the open-source program, so to speak, and by the end of 2006, they will -- publicly, at least -- no longer be arguing about the merits of open-source.

6. Patent Law Reform Hits a Boiling Point

Research In Motion Ltd. will largely prevail in the re-examination of NTP Inc.'s patents in the infringement case brought by that company , but not quite enough to avoid an interruption in RIM's popular BlackBerry service. Because of the popularity of BlackBerries among lawmakers, their aides and others who work the corridors of Washington, the need for patent law reform will be pushed to the fore, and by year's end there will be something close to progress in that regard.

7. Google's Dominance Grows

The Google-ization of the Internet and, therefore, the world will quicken in 2006. Competitors will try to keep pace. Google Inc. will lose some of its luster as a consequence of it becoming more diluted -- spreading more into services -- but it will ably cover missteps well enough that it will dominate as both a search engine and an Internet empire.

8. AOL Goes on the Block

America Online Inc. will be bought. We don't know who will buy it, but mark our words that it won't be part of the Time Warner Inc. empire by the end of 2006. Also -- and we know this one is a given -- the trend of major multibillion-dollar acquisitions will continue, with the software market continuing to consolidate and IP communications and telecommunications markets also ripe for deals. Our crystal ball sees deals on the order of the 2005 acquisition of Siebel Systems Inc. by Oracle Corp. and eBay Inc.'s purchase of Skype Technologies SA.

9. Multitasking Consumer Devices Are Hot

In the consumer market, vendors will keep talking about "convergence." Users won't care what it's called -- they'll just keep pushing demand for mobile phones that also work as cameras and organizers, but they will also keep buying ever-cheaper digital cameras in droves. At home, they'll come around to IPTV, but slowly, and plasma TV sales will pick up. And no matter where they go, users will carry their trusty MP3 players, with ever-older folks among those who are never without their tunes.

10. The Year of the Blog

One word: blogs. The blog craze will make the Internet an ever more interactive medium and a hot global social-networking scene, leading far too many people to spend way too much time online. (You know who you are!)

Elizabeth Montalbano in San Francisco contributed to this report.

What's on tap this year in IT? See the complete Forecast 2006 special report.

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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