Ups and Downs Bear Watching

Opinion: Vendors, users grapple with good and bad as 2006 dawns.

Im writing this before I head out to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, but my expectations are strong for lots of products that will first appear in the consumer arena and make their way into the corporate world.

Flat-panel monitors, which no exec would now do without, first appeared in the consumer space before making their way into the corporate world. The same is true for USB devices, comprehensible user interfaces and reliable computing systems. Consumer electronics have to meet the criteria of being inexpensive, attractive and reliable. Keep your eye on to see which picks we make for consumer products that will cross over to the corporate world.

/zimages/4/28571.gifRead more here about the business products being shown at CES.

Another high point that bears mentioning is the competitive environment the Internet fosters. While the number of global Internet users is often contradictory, it seemed to be about 1 billion as of November. Building a system that can accommodate millions of new users and new technologies such as blogs and Podcasts and remain resilient is truly one ongoing and remarkable technology development.

As the new year gets under way, it is worth reflecting on this ever-expanding network. It is also worth reflecting on the competitive environment that the Internet has fostered. At the turn of the century, it seemed Microsoft, IBM and Dell were set to rule the technology roost for the next 100 years. Now Microsoft is running to catch up with Google, IBM will have to match service offerings from India and beyond, and Dell is watching over its shoulder as China becomes not only a fast-growing market but also a fast-growing competitor.

As 2006 began, there also were some low points. The state of information security seems to be taking a few steps backward. The Windows WMF vulnerability made news not for its seriousness (which was considerable) but for largely being treated as yet another Microsoft security malfunction. As an Orlando Sentinel article mentioned, 2005 may have set the record for security breaches. The year wrapped up with Marriott Vacation Club International reporting that the personal data on 206,000 time-share owners, customers and employees was at risk. A high-tech break-in? No, once again, an unencrypted backup tape was missing.

/zimages/4/28571.gifRead more here about the Marriott mishap.

Other low points included the inability of Web services-based tech vendors to keep their networks running. suffered an outage that it compounded by not detailing the nature of the problem, while services, including Ask Jeeves Bloglines, Six Aparts TypePad and others, had systems with more ups and downs than a roller coaster. The ability to create scalable and reliable systems is still an art. Web services companies that champion open systems should also be open to sharing the problems their systems are encountering. Maybe those Web services companies should keep Red Gate Softwares automatic IT excuse generator at hand which, while not solving the problem, can help create vague answers to real problems.

And I wouldnt want to let a recap of recent events pass by without one acknowledgment. As the year ended, John Diebold died at 79. In an era when the title of "business visionary" is much overused, it was absolutely appropriate for Diebold. From his 1952 book "Automation" onward, Diebold was visionary in his ability to see how business practices could be improved and made more efficient through the use of computer technology. When he first talked about using computers to automate tasks, store records and build computer networks, those concepts often were discounted. Of course, he was right, and he deserves to be remembered as one of the first strategists to match computer technology with business needs.

Editor in Chief Eric Lundquist can be reached at