Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/12/27/2007_hot_air/

Feel the burn: in the aftermath of year's biggest hype

Connected, pumped, and conceptual

By Phil Manchester

Posted in Software, 27th December 2007 00:02 GMT

Every year, companies and individuals in the IT industry - mostly CEOs and those in marketing - spew vast quantities of unmitigated hype. In line with this year's rise in global temperatures, the past 12 months saw a spike in recorded levels of hot air.

Reg Dev hung about after the initial hype had passed to discover what happened next.

Something's dying, and it ain't the phone

William Gates III generally gives good value, and 2007 would not be complete without Windows Vista. He kicked the year off with a speech at the annual gadgets Mecca the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada, by hyping the new age of Windows Vista and how it would bring in a new era of "connected experiences'".

The mighty subsequently tumbled, and Microsoft spent much of 2007 defending Vista from criticism and disappointing sales figures.

In May, Gates went out on a limb to boldly predict the demise of the desktop telephone while launching the all-in-one desk, PC, and phone concept called Surface. Last time we checked the desktop phone was not just thriving but evolving as an IP device.

Bill Gates, ladies and gentlemen, still fine tuning his prophesising skills, having barely mentioned the internet in his 1990s tome The Road Ahead, forecast the death of spam by 2006 and backed the TabletPC.

The biggest business that never was

In many ways 2007 was the year that mobile phones truly mutated into portable computers and became an important new development platform.

Having been fingered for causing brain cancer in previous years, mobile phones were this year blamed for the demise of bees - although the real culprit turned out to be boring old fungus.

However, it was Palm - one of the first into the portable computing market and expected to thrive on the convergence of mobile comms with computing, that helped excite people during the summer. Palm launched, to widespread expectations, the Folio - a device that Palm was betting would become its third major business.

Palm founder Jeff Hawkins went as far as to describe the device that was neither phone nor laptop, but rather a lap-top-sized email and calender device, as "the most exciting product I have ever worked on". Which wasn't saying much for the PalmPilot that really did galvanize an industry and helped open Microsoft's sleepy eyes, leading it to action with Windows CE.

Following a universal panning, though, Palm unceremoniously binned the Folio. It also spent the remainder of the year trying to explain away delays in upgrading its Palm operating system.

iPhone enters Jobs' reality distortion field

Unquestionably, the year belonged to Apple's iPhone. As is the Apple way, the company let others sing its praises while remaining precociously silent. Randall Stephen, CEO of iPhone partner and carrier dinosaur AT&T told news comic USA Today: "We use this term a lot at AT&T - we think the iPhone is a 'game changer' in our industry. It will change how people think about these handsets."

Other fans provided a breathless, minute-by-minute countdown to the iPhone launch.

At the beginning of the year it looked as though Apple might have to give its much hyped iPhone a new name when Cisco threatened to sue. The issue was resolved quickly and the iPhone launched in the US at the end of June.

Despite being well received by fanboys, Apple soon cut the price and was forced to pacify irate fashionistas with a refund.

Some estimates expect sales of three million units by the end of 2007, although they had reached only 1.4 million by the end of October.

Apple, meanwhile, caused frustration to developers big and small by not allowing anyone outside Cupertino to write code to the local software or hardware and forcing people to endure needlessly time consuming re-writes to make applications work with the iPhone Safari browser. All eyes are now on next February and whether the planed iPhone SDK can convert pent-up curiosity into applications.

When is a phone not a phone? When it's a Gphone

Nothing succeeds on the Silicon Valley meme scene more than hype, especially when a big sexy name is involved. Commentators and cheerleaders will mob the smallest suggestion of an event, rapidly converting it into pseudo fact. Into this came Google's Gphone.

While Apple's plans for the iPhone were largely what everyone expected, Google's much-anticipated device turned out to be something completely different, leaving the bitter taste of disappointment in many mouths.

Speculation about the Gphone first surfaced in March and rumbled on through the summer.

When Google finally fessed up, it turned out not to be a phone at all but a "platform" based on Linux. Underscoring how far Google's platform - called Android - has to go, at least in terms of practical uptake, was the fact that that Google's new Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) promoting the platform lacks backing from the world's biggest handset manufacturer, its biggest cell phone operator and - arguably - one of the industry's most influential providers of software. That's Nokia, Verizon and Microsoft, to you Eric.

IP, litigation, and Linux

Linux and open source were never far away from the headlines. Microsoft General counsel Brad Smith took the FUD baton from boss Steve Ballmer this year, alleging Linux violated 235 Microsoft-owned patents. Once again, though, Microsoft took no legal steps to enforce its patents, but did convince a number of lesser Linux vendors to sign patent protection pacts in the guise of interoperability deals.

Another Linux blowhard fared less well. Santa Cruz Operation (SCO) finally bowed to the inevitable having started the year denying it was on the verge of bankruptcy.

The court ruling in favour of Novell and IBM in August, though, finally tipped SCO over the edge.

Database developer EnterpriseDB, meanwhile, found itself struggling with the open source business model. It started the year bullishly with predictions of growth and plans to oust Oracle, but ended the year with news of layoffs.

Why try harder when you're number six?

Hewlett Packard (HP) turned round what started out as a pretty unpromising year with charges of pretexting dropped by the California courts.

This reverse of fortunes did not stop HP from embarrassing itself elsewhere. First, in April, HP proclaimed the death of IT and heralded the new age of "business technology" - or BT. Industry was not roused by this call to action.

Then, plucked from the "nebulous statements" folder, came a short-lived claim HP is the world's sixth-largest software company, as HP tried to prove it is serious about software.

For most developers, HP means one thing: a reliable PC. No wonder the claims produced this reaction, and HP's claims were quickly filed into a new place: the corporate memory hole.

HP's statements had accompanied a flurry of acquisitions with HP buying Opsware, SPI Dynamics, Bristol Technology, and Peregrine. Like BEA Systems chief executive Alfred Chuang, though, we're still waiting for HP to buy BEA for $21 a share after Oracle passed.

Software waiting to get serviced

The other main software story of 2007 was the successful rise of software as a service (SaaS). Companies such as salesforce.com and Opsource showed the SaaS model can work and the release of a GPL licence to cover SaaS operations confirmed its growing role.

More significant, however, were those that failed to make it to the SaaS party. SAP talked big: equating its planned A1S service with a "concept car", while also promising to deliver the service at the beginning of the year.

As the year ground on, the only thing that came from SAP was more teasing through slideware, talk of trials with about 20 companies, and the grand unveiling of a new name - Business ByDesign.

After four years, 2007 produced more promises from SAP, a heap of speculation from SAP followers, but no new hosted service.

Microsoft's Steve Ballmer got all "pumped up" and predicted a "real snowball effect" in relation to Microsoft's Dynamics CRM 4.0, which would include the hosted version called Dynamics CRM Live. "We're pushing the transformation to SaaS as fast as anyone around," he said.

Generally, Microsoft made plenty of noise but produced nothing of substance until the dying days of 2007 when it - finally - released to manufacturing that long-awaited Dynamics CRM 4.0 with Dynamics CRM Live. Over to you SAP.

Nobody likes a smartarse... bitch

The most tragic fall from grace in 2007 was, of course, the 23-year-old CEO and co-founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. Having generously taken scads of cash from middle age VCs and tech companies, wooed brands like Coca-Cola all eager to suck up to kids, and got developers downloading Facebook APIs like crazy, the balloon deflated in spectacular fashion.

Not only were his various schemes to accumulate users' personal data exposed and the original idea behind Beacon abandoned, but details about his dealings with the Winkelvoss brothers were posted on the web for all to see.

All this barely weeks after Zuckerberg ushered in nothing less than the next 100 years in advertising with Beacon. Funny, but somebody else once talked about a new era, only that one was supposed last 1,000 years.®

Additional reporting by Gavin Clarke.