This is it: my last column for eWEEK. After nearly 300 product reviews, 400 columns and thousands of meetings over the last 11 years, its time for me to call it quits. Im taking a position at a CRM vendor located in San Francisco. Its a big change, but its really no bigger than the changes—technical and economic—that weve all gone through in this incredible industry.
It seems a lifetime ago that I started at Ziff Davis in 1992. At that time, I had chalked up what seemed like an eternity—actually five years—in IT and other computer-related positions.
Although PCs were then 11 years old, it wasnt until the 1990s that they became full-fledged business tools for the masses. The corresponding investment in the technology has led to phenomenal changes in bandwidth, processing performance and applications. For example, at the
Department of Housing and Urban Development, I remember it taking nearly 4 hours to download an 800KB file, and that was using the high-speed Telebit Trailblazer modem. I once was required to know the different protocols for modem communication. Who remembers Kermit, Xmodem and the like? Today, that same 800KB file takes about 4 seconds on a broadband connection, and no one cares whether its over FTP or HTTP.
Back in 1992, there were some dominant players that some people felt were too powerful for the industry—like Novell. With huge market share and an apparent lock on the reseller channel, Novell was a powerhouse. The dominant word processor, meanwhile, was WordPerfect. There were training classes to explain things like using Shift-F7 to print documents. Lotus 1-2-3 was a killer app.
Things changed frighteningly a year or so later, when, coming off a failed merger with Lotus a couple of years before, Novell purchased WordPerfect in its ill-advised quest to confront Microsoft.
Other changes had more to do with business culture. In 1990, as an ordinary IT guy, I stood 15 feet from Bill Gates in a room of 200 people at the FOSE computer show in Washington. Just two years later, a no-name Excel product manager was greeted with cheers worthy of a rock star from a thousand people, just for showing off a new version of Excel.
Today, CEOs travel with entourages and bodyguards and live in fear of users—on whom their livelihood depends. Some CEOs have bodyguards in their own buildings, an odd but understandable need these days. These CEOs simply arent allowed to live normal lives or run normal businesses. Theyve become too important, and theyve lost touch.
There has always been a battle between good and evil. When I got into IT, Microsoft was the good guy, and IBM was the evil empire. Within a few years, the roles had reversed, and the editor of Ziff Davis Medias online Microsoft Watch wrote a column titled “At the Evil Empire.” The company is rapidly losing that image due to good PR and uncommonly good competition.
When it comes to technology, the past decade proves its impossible to predict the future. Just 10 years ago, the Internet was mainly an academic network. No one could have predicted the meteoric rise—and subsequent decline—of Netscape. Today, people are wondering if IT is in its last days. Theres a certain amount of truth to this outlook. Interest in IT as we have known it is waning as some elements descend to the level of commoditization. But as I said in last weeks column, IT still matters. Theres plenty of passion in this industry, and I have the messages—responses to my columns—to prove it.
Taking a longer view, smart people who are skilled in technology will always afford a competitive advantage. It doesnt matter if the technology is creating the long bow, sharpening blades or managing a database. What does matter is that there is a climate for these intelligent people to develop those competitive tools.
Its impossible to predict the future in technology, except for one thing: There will be surprises. Im looking forward to them. You should be, too.