Peering into the crystal ball — for 1998

(Editor’s note: ‘Tis the season for bold prognostication. In that spirit, Paul McNamara provides us his Can’t-Miss Predictions — for 1998.)

1. Prediction: Compaq to buy DEC.

The skinny: Fresh off last year’s acquisition of Tandem Computers, Compaq will look to get its grubby little paws around the detritus of Digital Equipment Corporation. Why is anybody’s guess, but that’s what insiders are whispering.

Long-term outlook: CEO Eckhard Pfeiffer won’t have to worry about the Y2K problem (oh, you haven’t heard?) because his shopping days are numbered. HP’s said to be sniffing around Compaq, by the way, although it’s difficult for me to believe the company’s old guard would entertain such nonsense.

2. Prediction: Internet to lose its innocence.

The skinny: In a first-of-its-kind case, a California jury will convict a U.C.-Irvine dropout, Richard Machado, of sending threatening and hateful e-mail to students of Asian descent. His first trial ended deadlocked, but this time he’s looking at up to a year in jail.

Long-term outlook: Law enforcement’s no-nonsense approach here will pay big dividends down the road as the ‘Net remains a beacon of civility leading society into a utopian 21st Century. (The holidays make me so optimistic.)

3. Prediction: FDA to give Viagra the, uh, thumbs up.

The skinny: Granted, this isn’t technology in the classic sense, but government approval of the first treatment for male impotence will mark a momentous scientific achievement. Smiles and snickers to ensue.

Long-term outlook: Copycats will abound, as will television ads — yes, really — and the general public eventually will learn the meaning of the word “priapism.”

4. Prediction: Apple to introduce “iMac.”

The skinny: My mole in Cupertino says it will look like an egg and come in multiple shades of translucent plastic, if you can believe it.

Long-term outlook: The iMac will revolutionize personal computing and spawn legions of — let me coin a phrase — fanboys. But Steve Jobs despises product leaks almost as much as he does being mocked, so I fear my mole may find trouble.

5. Prediction: U.S. to sue the pants off Microsoft.

The skinny: This one’s been brewing for some time: An antitrust action for the ages will see Microsoft crying Uncle Sam, while the company’s critics — virtually everyone who doesn’t work there or own stock — scream for a Bell-like breakup.

Long-term outlook: Seriously, I’m expecting to see Bill Gates frog-marched down the courthouse steps when this one is over … sometime around 2018 or so.

6. Prediction: Congress to pass Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The skinny: Congress will approve the DMCA by a unanimous vote and President Clinton will sign it into law, because, well, everyone favours copyright protection.

Long-term outlook: The only possible trouble with this one that I can foresee would be if someone were to launch a Web site that allowed anyone and everyone to post video clips of whatever they pleased. That might get sticky.

7. Prediction: Netscape to go on the block.

The skinny: Who’d want to buy Netscape? I mean in 1998? Good question. Makes no sense, so naturally the first name that comes to mind is AOL.

Long-term outlook: Death by a thousand paper cuts.

8. Prediction: An AltaVista killer to emerge.

The skinny: You’re thinking no way, what with AltaVista attracting 80 million hits a day and all, but there’s talk of a couple of Stanford guys and their amazing search engine called Giggle or Gargle or some such that’s creating Hollywood-style buzz in the Valley. I know a guy who knows a guy who’s seen a demo, and, well, how do I get me a piece of the IPO?

Long-term outlook: This is going to be huge, people, so I’m going way out on a limb here: In 10 years tops, this company — Google wouldn’t be a bad name — will dominate the Internet, make billionaires out of those Stanford guys and, get this, the name itself will become a verb.

Good thing no one ever checks back on these predictions.

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