t DevX we’ve dubbed 2004 the Year of the Document. And one technology?and only one technology?gets the credit for putting the limelight and a bit of excitement back on the lowly document: XML.
This is the year that XML schemas move into the mainstream. It’s also the year that “schema wars” begin. Microsoft has taken a bold step by making Word and Excel read and save well-formed XML files and releasing the schemas those applications use. This move could backfire easily though, because now any application?including competitors such as OpenOffice?can create Word files. Obviously, many will. The battles will occur not over schemas themselves, but over which schema will become dominant. Whatever happens, translation between the various XML formats will be much better and more robust than translation between the applications’ proprietary formats has ever been. And that means document-level interoperability the likes of which we’ve never seen before.
New capabilities in document interoperability will naturally fuel tremendous interest in document sharing and exploitation. Documents (also frequently called unstructured data) are the most neglected asset within any organization. In 2004, document data no longer has to be lost once the document is closed. And email no longer has to be the primary tool for document distribution. Like it or not, this will be a huge opportunity for Microsoft. New Office extensions such as SharePoint Portals Services (to expose and share documents across workgroups) and InfoPath (to lessen reliance on documents by creating flexible form-based data entry) will create a huge surge in new third-party Office development.
Now if it’s truly going to be the year of the document, there’s a little bit of house cleaning that will need to come around. The world sorely needs a better read-only printable document format. Hardly anyone likes reading PDF files, but nearly everyone is comfortable with Word. By the end of the year, Microsoft will challenge Adobe’s PDF document dominance, perhaps by integrating its Word reader application into IE, making it cross-platform, teaching it to read WordML and ExcelML documents, and letting it begin displaying content before completing a download. This battle over document viewing won’t be short or easily won?Adobe likely has its own XML innovations on the horizon?but expect the status quo to get battered around a bit in the near future.
Of course, document-level interop isn’t the extent of the excitement that 2004 holds in store. Not even close. Here are the rest of our predictions for the year ahead.
Java and Linux
The Eclipse project will continue to move toward the forefront of Java development. The JCP doesn’t move fast enough to keep up with the pace of technological innovation, nor is it sensitive enough to developer’s needs. IBM, which has shrewdly co-opted both Linux and Java, will become increasingly at odds with Sun unless Sun, which is facing an increasingly dismal financial future, changes its spots.
The JCP, in general, will wane in importance and influence as Java vendors are forced to undertake creative means of expediting the slow-moving open standards process, though it will remain firmly entrenched as a governing body. We see this week’s announcement of the Java Tools Community as a step along these lines, despite the fact that the two organizations are fundamentally cooperative.
As Java tools vendors look to lower the barrier to entry for Java app development and nab Visual Basic and C++ developers–as well as the thousands of new developers spawned in emerging markets such as India and China?before they migrate to Microsoft’s Visual Studio and .NET Framework, the market for Java visual development tools will heat up. Java Studio Creator and BEA WebLogic Workshop are just the beginning. With millions of developers at stake, look for other vendors to follow suit in ’04.
Linux will continue to make inroads into Windows desktop share of government computing. This will happen regardless of anything Microsoft can show concerning long-term costs, because governments, faced with the Hobson’s choice of begging for money to buy licenses for familiar software or getting free unfamiliar software, will be forced to opt for the free software nearly every time. This will have the happy side effects of greatly improving Linux’s usability for average, non-technical workers and of reducing Microsoft’s licensing costs for everyone, but will also make interoperability even more important.
Hacking and security problems will become a serious problem in the open source community for the first time, causing a small flurry of FUD that should be quickly quelled?for the most part. We’ve seen the beginnings of that already late last year when Debian’s core servers were hacked, and early this year, when the new Linux 2.4 kernel was upgraded to fix several serious vulnerabilities only one month after it was released. These incidents are only the first overture in a series of growing pains for Linux as it gains a mainstream business clientele, and responds to the demands that go along with it.
This year, the Mono project will become reasonably complete, giving .NET developers a way to begin creating applications for Linux. Few will take advantage of it though.
Browsers: Nothing happening here folks, except the enormous, colossal, stupendous waste of resources that may be incurred by Microsoft’s loss in the Eolas patent lawsuit. Fortunately, the patent office has agreed to reevaluate that patent, and we think the patent will ultimately be withdrawn.
In a fair world, Eolas would agree to take $100 million rather than the $500 million awarded, the major browser manufacturers would agree to share payment of the fine, the patent office would withdraw the patent, and Microsoft would back off from making its pre-announced changes to IE. Unfortunately, the world isn’t fair, greed is rampant, and everyone will pay the price.
Microsoft will release an alpha version of a “Flash-killer” application. It won’t seriously challenge Macromedia’s Flash MX in its first incarnation, but because Microsoft will build the player into Longhorn and integrate development with Visual Studio, Flash will eventually (not this year) primarily become a non-Windows development tool.
Web programming and desktop programming will continue to merge, becoming increasingly alike. Microsoft started this trend with the second version of Visual InterDev, and it came to fruition in .NET. Java devotees gain JavaServer Faces, so developers on both major platforms can work along the same models. Non-browser applications, already far more prevalent than browsers, will continue to gain ground as Microsoft and Flash provide richer clients with increasingly robust Web connectivity capabilities.
Java and .NET will continue to gain ground. VB.NET programmers will surpass VB classic programmers for the first time by the end of the year. The LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) platform will grow even more popular among Web programmers.
Developer salaries will increase on paper, but only because the lower paying IT jobs will continue to move overseas. Government intervention won’t stop the outflux?developer unionization is the only answer. Only when companies who outsource IT jobs find themselves cut off from domestic IT expertise will they quit outsourcing. If you’re planning to get a job in IT, study application integration , which is both more difficult to outsource than other development tasks, and will provide job opportunities for many years to come.
Memory and performance will continue to increase. The average size of applications (not counting their framework dependencies) will diminish for the first time since computing began, as frameworks and OSs provide increasing levels of reusable code.
Broadband penetration will approach 50 percent in the U.S. Wireless broadband connectivity will not reach pricing levels affordable by average individuals this year; nevertheless, broadband wireless will continue to expand rapidly in areas where cable and DSL access are not available. A few businesses will take the leap and invest in wireless LANs as their primary network, rather than simply as a supplement to the wired LAN, proving that wireless connectivity is finally sufficiently reliable and secure to transcend its status as a futuristic or niche technology.
Apple will gain market share this year, because it has the coolest platform around and because many will become fatigued with the constant security finger-pointing between the Windows and Linux tribes, adding cachet to the Apple brand?but Apple will fail to take advantage of this popularity spike.
The cost of consumer electronics will drop noticeably this year and Apple, among others, will be forced to lower prices.
Vendors will continue to search for the killer app that will drive volume sales of high-end cell phones to the consumer market. The most promising item?the camera phone?will continue to be nothing more than a gimmick due to poor quality, and that won’t change until 2005 when megapixel camera phones become cheap enough?and thus drive demand for more cell phone bandwidth capability. Meanwhile, the real killer app opportunity will be in the corporate environment, where developers are eagerly adopting improved tools to mobilize boring but vital corporate apps for field forces.
Intel will hang tough at least for this year, resisting calls to release its rumored 64-bit Pentium extensions to compete with AMD. The immediate motive is to avoid undercutting the Itanium sales effort, but the long-term motive will turn out to be Intel’s perception of limitations in the Pentium architecture’s performance headroom that forced it to endure the pain and expense of a lengthy transition to the Itanium. (See, for example, the rumored 150-watt power consumption of one of its upcoming 32-bit chips.)
To add your own predictions to ours or to dispute and discuss the issues in this commentary, please join the discussion in the Talk to the Editors forum.