Hit and miss predictions

Hit and miss predictions

I've been a little behind in my column topics this year. (No doubt some of my readers would say I've been a big behind in my recent column topics.) Be that as it may, I planned to do a January column scoring the accuracy of my past predictions, but I am only just now getting to it. (Sorry to disappoint anyone expecting me to follow up with the tired old joke about procrastination, but I'm saving that gag for a future column.)Although I advocated intranets a year before the term was coined, I was one of the last to recognise the larger implications of two related technologies: Web browsers and Java. And here's another blunder: although I hoped technology would beat hype, OS/2 didn't squash Windows 95. It is little consolation to devoted OS/2 users that I correctly insisted that IBM would continue to support and develop OS/2 despite relentless pleas from pundits that IBM should (or would) pull the plug on OS/2.

The crystal ball

The prediction that Windows 95 would start to show serious instability six to 18 months after its release was a cinch, considering Microsoft's brain-dead approach to handling DLL files. I almost filed this column without boasting of my prediction that Windows NT 4.0 would represent a major step backward in stability from Version 3.51. Fortunately, NT was gracious enough to jog my memory with a blue screen of death before I could finish.

My favoured component model, OpenDoc, continues to push up daisies even as the CORBA object standard (on which Open-Doc was based) thrives over DCOM. Being late to recognise the significance of Java, I did not see that OpenDoc would die from being cross-platform.

The Internet demands platform-ignorance -- quite a different thing. Fortunately, I learned the Java lesson in time to declare ActiveX DOA as an Internet technology. I also pegged Microsoft's intent to co-opt Java the very day the Redmond company announced its intent to license it.

Many of my predictions were fulfilled in Internet time.

Microsoft came through for me a week after I predicted the company would switch to a thin-client strategy because the NetPC isn't a credible alternative to Java-based network computers, and Zero Administration for Windows simply is not credible. (Although I would like to pretend that my consistent success forecasting Microsoft strategies is due to preternatural talent, Bill Gates has become so predictable it takes effort in order to be wrong.)Speaking of quick fulfilment, I had to rewrite a column predicting that Hewlett-Packard would respond to the Digital/Compaq/Microsoft alliance by promoting network computing. I read about the fulfilment of that prediction in the local paper the day after filing the story, and now HP is pushing Java.

My favourite wins were the unexpected ones. When I suggested that Linux could become a mainstream OS back in 1995, I got letters from a few college students and some guy who thinks he's Dennis Hopper. When I wrote about Linux as an IP multiplexer recently, I was flooded with mail from business professionals. Linux now has awards under its belt, has processed graphics for the movie Titanic, and has several other testaments to its entry into the mainstream.

The biggest and best

But of all the predictions I've made over the years, I am most proud of this one: CNN ran a story this January stating computer science enrolments are down. Students just don't like the nerd image. Well, back in 1994 I made this forecast: in 1997, three million students will switch majors to computer science when a CNN poll shows programmers have only a 3 per cent chance of contracting a social disease. In 1998, those college students will abandon computer science after a CNN poll shows that programmers have only a 3 per cent chance of getting a social life. Dang, it was just a joke, and I even had the year right.

What about you? I foresee that you will tell me some of your successful predictions by sending e-mail or visiting my forum.

Former consultant and programmer Nicholas Petreley is editor in chief at NC World ( Reach him at

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