Here’s to a boring year

Business as usual never sounded so good.

After sloughing through various predictions for the coming year, I’ve noticed a certain lack of excitement about the prospects for the industry in 2002 — and that’s a good thing. With all the bad news of late, we could do with a bit of a break.

In

the face of economic uncertainty and concerns over safety and security, pundits seem to be approaching the future with sober minds. There are even a few cautiously optimistic predictions.

Take IDC‘s top 10 list, for instance. The Framingham, Mass.-based analyst firm foresees modest growth overall for the IT market: four to six per cent in the United States, six to seven per cent in Europe. As well, it expects 75 million Windows XP licenses will ship this year, but the new platform won’t push hardware sales or capture first-time users the way Win 95 did.

For its part, Gartner Group Inc. forecasts more job losses and vendor consolidation in IT for 2002, not exactly rose-coloured-glasses thinking. However, the soothsayers are also predicting growing consumer e-commerce, increased demand for security products and services, and continued implementation of customer relationship management in the enterprise.

There’s a sense of give and take here. Simply put, uncertainties will continue, but there will be areas of growth and innovation. Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that (just take a glance at Gartner’s shopping list of reports for 2002, covering vertical markets, technologies, business practices and whatever else they could come up with), but I’m describing a general mood here. Safe, sober and cautious are all words that spring to mind, and that’s comforting.

Of course, I’m of two minds about these relatively conservative forecasts. I used to relish predictions that the enterprise resource planning market would hit 48,000 per cent annual growth rates, as well as that perennial Gartner plug for wearable computers. They made for great press as they would inevitably be held up to criticism, ridicule or plain incredulity.

This year, that’s changed. Sure, IDC still champions Linux in the enterprise, predicting 2002 will be a “”breakout year”” for the underdog operating system. For instance, “”Now it seems clear that Linux has become a viable alternative for enterprise use,”” reads the press blurb.

Still, it feels like IDC is just going through the motions, giving us the usual hype, setting us up for the latest round of Redmond-baiting. Frankly, in the wake of 2001’s corporate capsizing and last fall’s tragedies, it’s hard to step back into the fray.

Even slashdot reflects this new sobriety. Amidst the debates over open source, civil liberties and funky hardware, this Web haven for techies has tempered some of its rough-and-ready diatribes with discussions over bigger issues.

For instance, earlier this month, the site ran a lengthy discussion over an asteroid that “”nearly”” hit earth, holding the potential to destroy a country the size of South Africa. Of course, that sort of apocalyptic news always gets folks’ attention (451 posts, at last count).

But prior to the asteroid debate, another discussion appeared, concerning reports that the sun will not engulf the Earth as predicted and burn it to a crisp, in about, oh, 7.5 million years from now. It seems we’ve bought ourselves another 200 million years, according to scientists at Sussex University in England.

That, too, is comforting.

johnsaunders@sympatico.ca

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