Pennant Fever Grips IT

Opinion: How will the top tech teams do in the upcoming season? Eric Lundquist offers his predictions.

Ah, baseball. OK, im a fair-weather fan, as likely to head for the refreshment stand as to stay seated for nine innings and watch every pitch. But that doesnt stop me from listening to the commentators make their early picks of the teams likely to make a run for the pennant. Despite the overriding truth of the statement that on any given day, any given team can win, that doesnt stop one and all from pointing out the wisdom of their picks and folly of those choosing other teams. Full disclosure: The Red Sox have won their championship, and that means Boston fans will be content with the seasons outcome for another 86 years.

But can that same sports commentary be applied to the current technology industry lineup? Why not?

Microsoft. A perennial powerhouse but lately off its game. While it certainly has the money to bring in the superstars, it doesnt seem ready to rally for an end-of-the-season race. In fact, Microsoft recently said it will sit out this season and, instead, will offer up its starting operating system next year. I remember sitting next to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at a Seattle Mariners baseball game. He is a knowledgeable and—big surprise—vocal baseball fan. Hes shown he is ready to shake up the Vista lineup, and I cant imagine that sitting out a season is going down well in Redmond.

Hewlett-Packard. It traded its superstar CEO for a less-well-known team player out of Dayton, Ohio—former NCR chief Mark Hurd. At NCR, Hurd was a "Moneyball"-type manager, keeping stats and managing to the number. That worked well at a smaller club, but managing to the number and also coming up with a plan to grow the franchise can be an exercise in contradiction.

Dell. The company is sticking with the game plan from last year, which is a lot like the game plan from 2004, which is very similar to the game plan for 2003. If consistency is the hallmark of winning teams, then Dell gets the pennant. If game plans run out of energy at some point as new teams, new technologies and new rules come into play, then Dell has to go back to the game book.

Lenovo. Japan beat Cuba 10-6 to win the first World Baseball Classic held in San Diego March 20. Going into the Classic, there were two big questions being asked. One was, "What in the world is the World Baseball Classic?" And the second was, "Will anyone even be in a position to give the U.S. team a decent game?" Surprise, surprise. Anyway, baseball is now a world game and so is the technology business. Lenovo has to prove that it can not only bring manufacturing prowess to the field but also develop the world-class communications, channel and advanced development skills needed to be a major-league player.

The up-and-comers. The most enjoyable games I see are at the minor-league parks, which, in my case, often mean the Lowell, Mass., Spinners. You get right near the action, dont spend a fortune bringing your family to the park and you get to see the players who will eventually come to command major-league respect.

If you want to see the eWEEK picks for the next round of superstars, take a look at our finalists for the eWeek Excellence Awards. These players include some well-known names but also companies offering products that will have a big impact in the coming years. More important, these companies were picked by a combination of our expert analysts (the eWEEK Labs staff) and our panel of expert customers (the eWEEK Corporate Partners). These companies in 19 categories have done what many baseball teams talk about at the beginning of a season but too often let fall by the wayside as the season continues. These companies actually produce products that stand out from the crowd and are truly innovative. Now that is a major-league accomplishment.

Editorial Director Eric Lundquist can be reached at