AHEAD OF THE CURVE: Vendors to watch in 2004

AHEAD OF THE CURVE: Vendors to watch in 2004

I am, for now, free of habitual vices that would diminish my ability to work or to stand upright. But I get the shakes if I go too long outside the company of people who talk way over my head.

I could raise my IQ by 30 points if I spent one day per month at Sun, Nokia, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), IBM, Apple, Intel and Transmeta. Fellow analyst, P.J. Connolly, is hooked up with another vendor on my watch list, Novell, and he’s got that ground covered better than I ever could. At any rate, those seven vendors are on my list for 2004. It isn’t an exclusive list, but these outfits are generally willing to drag one of their mad scientists into a conference room to confuse the hell out of me. With them, I get that rare experience of understanding a speaker who is speaking in Martian. I don’t put quotes around what they say — which occasionally gets a magazine writer in trouble — but I write about the thoughts the musings of very smart people shake loose in my head. Sometimes it takes days or weeks for me to make connections. My decision not to rush that process is the key I sought for years. I don’t cram anymore. I listen, and then I wait to understand what I’ve heard.

The relevance of the vendors on my watch list might not be clear. Many of them are doing work that seems beneath the radar of the reader. Actually, these vendors all have one thing in common: They’re doing work that has, or soon will have, a dramatic impact on organisations that rely on technology and the people who work in those organisations. Some of the vital technologies being built and refined by these companies may have limited visibility now. But these inventions will become building blocks for larger inventions and solutions.

I’m not talking about tweaks and slightly shifted perspectives on technology that we already use every day. I want to see new core technologies that get me fantasising about the emergence of solutions that don’t currently exist. The barrier to the creation of these new solutions may be technical. The world needs Transmeta’s Efficeon and Apple’s Power Mac G5 to bring it into the next epoch of computing. It needs massively converged portable platforms from Nokia, embedded hardware from Intel and AMD, and ubiquitous Java from Sun. Each of these vendors is running wild experiments underground — some of which I can deduce from “we’re not ready to talk about this yet” discussions I’ve had with vendor technologists and a few projects that I can see directly. Cultural barriers also delay and obscure important technology, and identifying these barriers is an important part of my job.

I’m jazzed about the coming year because at the tail-end of 2003, vendors started thawing technology that spent the recession in the freezer. I expect to be amazed and dumbfounded on a regular basis. The effort to stay ahead of the curve doesn’t make for a leisurely ride. It’s a top-down, skid-off-the-road, first-time-behind-the-wheel experience. And that is my vice.

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