Magazine article Management Review

Browsing the New Year

Magazine article Management Review

Browsing the New Year

Article excerpt

Here's how industry experts expect technology to evolve in 1998.

Whether you toil for a service firm, a manufacturer or a company that defies easy categorization, technology affects how you do your work. Day by day, you browse on the Internet, crunch numbers on a spreadsheet or send and receive e-mail.

From a daily vantage point, it can be difficult to see how things are changing in the world of computers. That's why Management Review decided to highlight technologies that will affect the typical employee in 1998. Easier said than done. Nominations flew in from companies, mainly high-tech" firms wanting to tout their latest products. Undoubtedly a better uninterruptible power supply will help improve someone's life, but is it really cutting-edge?

Casting that caution aside, here are what members of the computer industry, including consultants, vendors and other observers, say will be the hot technologies and trends in the coming year:

* Mighty morphing technology. "Convergence" is a very popular term these days in technology circles. It refers to the combining of previously separate products into one-in-all giz-mos. Because of convergence, people will see the boundaries blurring between PCs, phones, pagers or whatever.

"You'll see hand-held units that combine all sorts of functions," says Jim Barry, a spokesman for the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association, in Arlington, Va. "You've already got cell phones combined with pagers. You'll have more of that. It will be hard to tell whether something's a computer or a fax or a pager or all of the above."

Along those lines, within a year or 18 months we could well see what Carol Kovac, vice president of technical strategy and worldwide operations for IBM Research, Yorktown Heights, N.Y., calls "smart phones." These phones will feature computer screens that can display e-mail or other data.

Even personal digital assistants, such as Apple's Newton, IBM's WorkPad (formerly the PalmPilot) and other hand-held devices, are moving from not-ready-for-prime-time status to the forefront. In the case of IBM-compatible units, the new version of Windows CE, which is the operating system for these hand-held wonders, is "really letting them come into their own," says Peter Krass, senior managing editor-features at Information Week, a newsweekly for information technology managers.

* PCs that are faster, more powerful and less expensive. That combination has been the personal computer's marching orders since it debuted in 1981 with the IBM Personal Computer. And it's as sought-after today as it was back then. It all begins with Intel Corp. releasing a new, faster, better central processor to power the PC. Then companies can design software to take advantage of the increased computing capability.

Owning the latest and greatest PC means that you'll be able to use the latest and greatest in software. Of course, companies can't afford to replace all their PCs at the drop of a new processor. But the rapid pace of PC development (and the dropping prices) does mean that more of us will have computers and more of us will be given the opportunity to upgrade, says Christopher Goodhue, vice president and research director for personal and network computing platforms at the Gartner Group Inc., Stamford, Conn.

* Messages that draw on more media. The digitalization of information is shaping the way we communicate. It's becoming easier and more mainstream not only to send an electronic message (e-mail) but to have that message include text (here's my marketing report), sound (a drum roll to indicate how important it is) and visuals (a graph that shows the skyrocketing sales of your new widget or maybe a digitized photo of the widget itself).

IBM futurist Kovac refers to this development as "when media worlds collide." The hope is that these multimedia epistles will do a better job of getting a message across because they can drive home the point with sound and images in addition to good old text. …

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