End of year: Top predictions for 2006

Boldly going where we should know better than to go, we humbly offer our top predictions for IT in 2006:

-- Furious debate over offshoring of IT jobs and services jobs will continue, sparking another round of state and U.S. federal "protectionist" legislative proposals early in the year. Most of those proposals will wither and die. Economists and policy analysts will argue back and forth about whether indeed IT jobs are being "lost" to India, China and other nations or whether the movement is predictable "churn" in a global economy. The thousands who continue to be laid off won't care to hear the debate as they will have formed their opinions about what is going on and why. ("Corporate greed" will be the answer for many of them.)

-- Hackers will successfully launch an attack on a widely used open-source application (Firefox?) and although it will be quickly patched and not lead to the sort of turmoil and damage that has occurred with other major attacks on proprietary software, it will make those who use open-source software realize that they really do need to update and apply patches expeditiously. Otherwise, Sober will continue to spawn variants and security will remain a top concern.

-- Sony's PlayStation 3 and Nintendo's Revolution game consoles will prove worth the wait in long lines and will globally outsell Microsoft's Xbox 360 by a wide margin. Xbox will find more favor in the U.S., but even there will lose its luster as the competing consoles hit the market. Game Boy Micro will be to the handheld gaming market what the iPod Nano is to the MP3 market -- having one will be a universal sign of Cool.

-- Speaking of Microsoft, the software monolith will frequently make news, as it does every year. The company is putting extreme pressure on itself to deliver Windows Vista on schedule, so this time next year expect the OS to be available on a PC near you. Microsoft also hopes Vista's launch to be a huge splash, so don't be surprised if the company coaxes an aging rock band out of retirement to perform at its inaugural event. But if Windows history repeats itself, even shipping Vista a year later than Microsoft first planned won't make the OS completely foolproof -- expect Patch Tuesday to be busier than usual in the months following the OS release. Business users may be hesitant to adopt Vista until some of the bugs are worked out.

-- Linux will make more inroads on the desktop, and governments, schools and other public institutions that don't have much money to spare will increasingly turn to open-source software as an option. More people using open source at work will lead to more interest in open-source use among home PC users, who will spread the word that it really is that easy. Proprietary software companies, grudgingly or not, will get with the open-source program, so to speak, and by the end of 2006 they will, publicly at least, no longer be arguing about the merits of open source.

-- Research in Motion will largely prevail in the re-examination of its patents in the infringement case brought by NTP, but not quite enough to avoid an interruption in its popular BlackBerry service. Because of the dominance of BlackBerries among lawmakers, their aides and others who work the corridors of Washington, D.C., the need for patent law reform will be pushed to the fore and by year's end there will something close to progress in that regard.

-- The Googleization of the Internet and, therefore, the world will quicken in 2006. Competitors will try to keep pace. Google will lose some of its luster as a consequence of it becoming more diluted -- spreading more into services -- but it will ably cover missteps well enough that it will dominate as both a search engine and an Internet empire.

-- America Online will be bought. We don't know who will buy it, but mark our words that it won't be part of the Time Warner empire by the end of 2006. Also, and we know this one is a given, but we offer anyway the wisdom that the trend of major multibillion-dollar acquisitions will continue, with the software market continuing to consolidate and IP (Internet Protocol) communications and telecommunications markets also ripe for deals. Our crystal ball sees deals on the order of this year's acquisition of Siebel Systems Inc. by Oracle Corp. and eBay Inc.'s purchase of Skype Technologies.

-- In the consumer market, vendors will keep talking about "convergence." Users won't care what it's called -- they'll just keep pushing demand for mobile phones that also work as cameras and organizers, but they will also keep buying ever-cheaper digital cameras in droves. At home, they'll come around to IPTV, but slowly, and plasma TV sales will pick up. And no matter where they go, users will carry their trusty MP3 players, with ever-older folks among those who are never without their tunes.

-- One word: blogs. The blog craze will make the Internet an ever more interactive medium and a hot global social-networking scene, leading far too many people to spend way too much time online. (You know who you are!)

(Elizabeth Montalbano in San Francisco contributed to this report.)

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