Watch-Worthy Trends

Linux, VOIP and Web services show they're here to stay.

When is a trend for real? When a vendor gets behind the trend—from the president to the parking lot attendant—and when customers ask for the product instead of having it forced on them. I spent last week at a string of vendor meetings in Silicon Valley trying to distinguish the trends that will stick from the trends that will slip. Here are the stickers.

Linux everywhere—at least as an alternative. The SCO lawsuit, which alleges too close a bloodline between Unix and Linux, is having no effect on companies that offer a Linux-based platform. Microsoft (which isnt the most popular company in Silicon Valley) is not making much headway with the developer community in getting it behind the Windows standard.

Silicon Graphics—a trailblazer in proprietary, high-end graphics—wavered on the precipice of market-chasing miscues but found its footing in an industry-standards approach. By allowing and encouraging the development community to build the underlying operating system, the companys developers and marketing executives can concentrate on building an application layer that customers want. Silicon Graphics current focus includes media, scientific and engineering segments, which were original strengths for the company.

Many Silicon Valley companies are allowing the wide (and wild) Linux development community to build the operating system and are taking that base as a starting point. This activity is not based on altruism. As the folks from Business Objects pointed out to me, customers are requiring vendors to outline their Linux strategy. In addition, in an area where the effects of outsourced, offshore software development is much on the minds of the locals, developing for the business application layer makes tremendous sense. It is difficult to build business applications from across the world; priorities and requirements can change as quickly as the stock market moves up and down. Sorry, Bill Gates, Linux is here to stay.

Voice over IP. Maybe its wrong to say this technology is in your future because it is increasingly here right now. Even just a few years ago, the joke about VOIP was that it was a technology that was in your future and always would be. Thats no longer the case. Companies such as Polycom are retooling their products and services for a VOIP world. Telecommunications operators, which have had a love-and-fear relationship with VOIP, are now coming around in a big way. Qwest Communications (I know, its in Denver, not Silicon Valley) is at the forefront of offering a range of VOIP services, from consumer through business. VOIP services will be part of customer business plans this year.

Web services. We all knew Web services were going to be great. All the vendors told us so; they just couldnt define what Web services were. Now companies as diverse as Polycom, for conferencing services;, for CRM services; and VeriSign, for security services, are moving from promise to products.

The next step will be for customers to figure out how to build a mix of in-house legacy applications, subscription-based services and portals that display the interaction of those new business models into a comprehensive and comprehensible technology infrastructure. Web services work, and customers are adopting them as part of their operations.

Fixing broken technologies. The final trend that is here to stay involves fixing technologies that are broken but have become an integral part of a companys operations. The primary one getting attention is corporate e-mail. E-mail is probably the most used and most reviled technology product at any company. It is a carrier of viruses, is always present and intrusive, and is difficult to manage. Companies such as IronPort are trying to fix the corporate e-mail dilemma. Maybe after that it can take on instant messaging as another technology never designed for corporate consumption that is now pervasive and needs repair.

eWEEK Editor in Chief Eric Lundquist can be contacted at