Y2K will be a non-event, the open source movement will fizzle, the Internet stock bubble will burst on Monday, Nov. 8, 1999, and a gigalapse of the Internet will occur in 2000, according to Robert Metcalfe.
Metcalfe — the founder of 3Com, inventor of Ethernet, IDG columnist and technology pundit — outlined his “seven obnoxious predictions” during a keynote address to close the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)’s WWW8 conference in Toronto on May 13.
Metcalfe’s first prediction — that the Internet stock market will plummet by “thousands of points” on Nov. 8 and remain down for a year — was qualified by his admission that he has insufficient knowledge of the stock market to actually make such a claim. He implied jovially that the prediction was conceived largely to upset an audience of venture capitalists he had spoken to on an earlier date.
The second prediction was that the roll-over to Jan. 1, 2000, will be a non-event.
“I have two proofs for this,” Metcalfe said. “First, are computers ever reliable? People are used to their computers breaking” and going on with life anyway, he said. Metcalfe quipped the second proof was that because New Year’s Eve will be a Friday, “we are going to have the entire weekend to fix it.”
The third prediction was also more of a humorous observation than serious forecast: Metcalfe said drug stores will begin to serve cappuccino. By way of explanation, he said Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble haven’t killed brick-and-mortar bookstores because people go to bookstores not only to buy books, but to meet people and to drink cappuccino. Therefore, he surmised, since people don’t go to drug stores to browse, Internet drug stores will kill brick-and-mortar ones unless the latter begins to sell cappuccino to draw customers.
Fourth, Metcalfe predicts between one million and two million direct access Internet hook-ups will be made in 1999 through devices such as cable modems, which he said would continue to lead in that market.
The fifth prediction is that the growth of the Internet will drop and no longer be an annual doubling. He said the growth rates of connected hosts has dropped already from 100 per cent to 60 per cent this year.
As for the open-source movement, Metcalfe’s sixth prediction is less than hopeful.
“I’m rooting for open source, but I think it’s going to fizzle just like Unix did in the ’80s,” Metcalfe said.
“The PC is as dead as the punch card. Microsoft has peaked…it’s just been a really long peak…[but] it’s not Linux that will take desktops from Wintel, it’s something we don’t know about yet…Linux will never overtake Wintel even as Wintel declines.”
Metcalfe explained the PC will be replaced with network computers, mobile devices and Internet devices. His reasoning for the impending fizzling of the open source movement is that the movement “is against everything that works,” including multinational corporations, intellectual property and capitalism. He said people in the open source movement also fight amongst themselves too much.
The seventh and final prediction was a re-hashing of the prediction he made in 1995 when he said a gigalapse of the Internet would occur in 1996. Metcalfe calculates outages by multiplying the number of users times their hours of denied access, so a kilolapse would be a loss of a thousand user hours and a gigalapse would be a billion lost user hours.
Metcalfe explained that he did not claim in 1995 that the Internet would go away, but that there would be a devastating outage. He said a megalapse did occur, but because he was off by a factor of 10, he literally ate his column (blended into water) at the 1997 WWW6 conference in Santa Clara, Calif.
“Many of the susceptibilities I worried about before are still there,” Metcalfe said at this year’s WWW8, explaining the Internet still relies on seven name servers “maintained by crabby volunteers,” and no organization has come forward to keep the Internet up and running. Therefore, he said, the gigalapse he predicted for 1996 will actually occur in 2000.
Despite shouts from the WWW8 audience to commit to eating his column or even his shorts if the prediction does not come true, Metcalfe made no such promise.
Aside from the seven predictions, Metcalfe also theorized that banner advertising will decline because it is proving to be unprofitable. He surmised that people will have to start supplementing the cost of the Internet through a pay-as-you-go structure, as yet undefined.
Metcalfe also commented on the conference’s opening keynote by W3C director Tim Berners-Lee — whom Metcalfe jokingly referred to as the Duke of URL — agreeing that people should not be worried about the emergence of Internet 2.
“People are worried that Internet 2 won’t connect to Internet 1…but I’m not worried about that,” said Berners-Lee during his keynote, explaining they will be connected or, if worse comes to worst, a new labelling system will be created to bridge between them.
Berners-Lee strongly advocated what he dubbed the Semantic Web. “The Web is supposed to be a universal space. We have to be minimal in our design. The technology should be a bland space” and not tied to specific cultures, Berners-Lee said.
Furthermore, he called for better programs to help non-technical people post to the Web at will.
“As you can read things, so should you be able to write. As you see things, you should be able to edit them,” Berners-Lee said.