Back to the future

It really is hard to believe how quickly things change in IT. Unless you see it in black and white, it can be quite hard to fathom the distances travelled, yet we take them in our stride every day.

Most of us have heard of Moore's Law (it started life as an observation by Gordon Moore in 1965) that each new processor has about twice the capacity of its predecessor, with the chip release time between 18 and 24 months. Moore reasoned that if the trend continued into the future, computing power would rise exponentially over shorter periods of time.

Many of us just take this for granted, and looking at the processing power we can now get on the desktop, and even in notebook systems, we just accept this as the technology cycle of life. Certainly, there have been plenty of times this Law has been trotted out to the IT press to explain why the latest and greatest doodad gadget is the must-have solution for business (and even world hunger), before it quietly slips out the back door as yet another over-hyped technology.

Next month is the 20th anniversary of IBM's launch of its PC, and if that seems a little scary, cast your mind back to 1976 when Apple launched its Apple 1 - with not a hint of translucency to be found. There is nothing like a trip back in time to see where we have come and what has been accomplished in over 30 years, and if you take a look at the brief history of the consumer OS market, you may just see that this market isn't stitched up yet. What better way to see where it is all going than to look at where it all began?

Many companies spruik their vision of the future in order to drive the market in the direction they want to us to take. Microsoft, with its vision of personal computing, and as the leader in the consumer software space, is no different.

This year sees Microsoft launching yet another new OS, in October: Windows XP. This follows two OS launches last year, of Windows Me in September and Windows 2000 in February. While Microsoft is tying in a whole new future, and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer says it is time to "bet the company", many people still wonder what the whole new Windows experience means.

One Salon (www.salon.com) reader, reminiscing about the first time he saw Windows, gives a pretty good summation of how computing, and the Windows world, used to be.

"I remember seeing the first versions of Windoze 2.x. At least you could somewhat do work with it (it was smart to load Windoze ONLY when you needed it, and run on DOS most of the time). Windoze 1.x was completely unusable."

Ok, now back to the future, and ask the person in the street what XP is (let alone Office XP, Microsoft's game console Xbox, or Windows XP) and the most you will get is a confused shrug.

Aggravating this market ambivalence, most of the folks who would normally shell out their hard-earned cash aren't shelling it out - at the moment. Between the tech-wreck and the struggling Aussie dollar, the IT industry is in a lean time, with spending on retail software one of the hardest-hit areas.

Of course, Microsoft has realised that the future of selling software is not just in flogging boxes off a shelf. It knows that consumers are getting tired of the cyclic updates and upgrades - which is why one of Microsoft's first windows to the future is here, now, in Australia. The introduction of its subscription model in Australia is the first step toward the service-based, online model that Microsoft envisions for its users, which, let's face it, are most of us. Considering the state of the software market at the moment, it may be a gamble worth taking.

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Amanda Conroy

PC World
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