16 Nov DEMO 2006: A sea change is coming
With less than three months until DEMO 2006, the screening and selection process for the next conference’s demonstrating class is well under way. A bit more than one-third of the class has been identified, and I’ll be busy until Christmas sifting through hundreds more applications to bring the total number of new products introduced at February’s DEMO to 70.
Typically, at this point in the process, I begin to get a sense of significant issues and trends that will shape the technology market over the next year or more. This time around is no different; it’s becoming clear to me that we’re about to encounter a major inflection point in information technology. What that is, exactly, I’ll save for the DEMO keynote, and yes, I do intend to spark your curiosity so that you’ll register for the conference before the end of the month, when prices go up.
Why should you trust that DEMO will reveal some significant trend, and take the leap that something important is going to happen at this next event? Because that’s what DEMO has been doing consistently for the past decade and longer.
The first DEMO conference I hosted in 1987 featured two particularly interesting products: one was the first Web-based application, HotOffice; the other, the first Web application server, Kiva. At the time, some attendees questioned the viability of using the client for a server-based application. And they were probably right to question it. Broadband connectivity was spotty, the browser had limited functionality, and the page-based metaphor was slow compared to desktop applications. Those limitations were overcome in a relatively short window and ASP-based software took off.
That trend line continued. On Sept. 9, 2004, I shared this perspective in the opening keynote of DEMOmobile 2004:
“Certainly, we are moving to a new paradigm in computing. . . The [mobile] device is the end node of a connected system of computing. A system that is larger than mobile devices, or even wireless networks. A system that fundamentally changes the way applications and data are delivered to the point of interaction. A system that profoundly affects the architectures and opportunities of computing from the enterprise to the home. A system that I call service-based computing.”
Other people began calling this Software as a Service (SaaS). Last week, in a leaked memo to Microsoft top execs, Bill Gates called it a “sea change.” According to the AP story, Gates said the “ ‘services wave’ will be very disruptive.”
Maybe Gates should have come to DEMO; he would have had a 14-month head start – at least – on his call to transform product architecture and delivery at the world’s largest software company.
The question now, of course, is whether Microsoft can, once again, turn the giant ship and re-architect not just its software, but its entire business model. That’s a pretty tough act for any company, and made tougher still by the market’s distrust of the software giant and the very nature of service-based computing. The switching costs are low and more creative, nimble competitors can grab market share before a contented market leader notices the shifting momentum. Indeed, the challenge for software providers in the service era is that of constantly re-inventing itself and its products – not something that happens on multi-year development cycles with massive engineering teams.
It would be foolish to count Microsoft out, but a safe bet that its absolute influence in the market will be diminished. Indeed, a wise market watcher will keep closer eyes on the likes of Google, Yahoo, and a hundred other emerging companies that don’t need to re-invent themselves to seize the opportunity.
I point this out, of course, because it is critical in today’s market – and to point out the prescient nature of DEMO. Over the past 15 years, DEMO got it right more than it missed the mark. Sure, the conference will have some interesting speakers and memorable late-night networking. The real reason to come to DEMO, though, is for the ideas – the ideas that are exemplified in products.
This column was reprinted with permission of Network World Inc. All registered trademarks are owned by IDG. More information can be found at http://www.idgef.com.
IDG. All rights Reserved
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.