Two Tech Predictions for the New Year (or So)

Okay, first a disclaimer: none of this speculation comes from “insider information” I’ve gotten as an employee of W3C; but being surrounded by the swirl of standards, I suspect I may have picked up on a zeitgeist. I’m interested in seeing how well my predictions play out.

Prediction 1: Microsoft will merge its browser and office platforms

That’s what I would do if I were them. Right now they are in a bit of mindshare competition with online apps, like Google Docs; as Web apps transition to the desktop (like, the downloadable desktop GMail client), Microsoft will take their core competencies (the desktop Office suite) and make it more Web-friendly. They’ll take advantage of the fact that desktop apps are often more robust and speedier, and tie in the chief benefits of Web apps: distributed authoring, ease of deployment, and ubiquitous availability. To enable the latter, they also make a Office-lite Web app, sold as “software as a service”, for those who’ve bought the real product (though of course it won’t be as good as their desktop version); they might open this up in the razor-and-blade sales model.

They will merge two of their products, SharePoint Server and Exchange Server, into a sort of portal/wiki thing that ties into their new Office Browser. They will probably integrate chat (MSN, or whatever) into the whole thing, so you have some uber-communications suite: email, chat, collaborative distributed document creation, and all that enthralling office goodness.

This could be IE8 (or IE9), or a totally new product, but it will probably be a new version of MS Office. It will be their typical monolithic entry into the agile Web space. And of course, it will use OOXML as a native format.

Why I’m wrong: I think this would be smart, but the different divisions of Microsoft actually compete for resources. I wonder if they could play nicely together for long enough.

Update (25-01-2008): I’m actually going to Microsoft next week to talk about standards stuff. Maybe I will get an inside scoop.

Prediction 2: A cross-platform browser based on WebKit (but not Safari) will supplant Firefox

WebKit has a cleaner, faster (if less complete) engine than Mozilla, and it’s already been reused by Apple for Safari, Nokia for their mobiles, Adobe for Apollo (I think), and by Google for Android. But all those are controlled, as far as I can tell, by their name-brand deployers.

I think a new, more open repackaging will happen. It will be standards-based, and truly open-source, from the engine on up to the executable. It will implement Widgets (as being specified at W3C), so that people can make simple desktop applications based on common Web technologies. But the key enhancement will be a new, cleaner, lessons-learned, easier-to-author Extensions platform. Extensions, in my mind, are the most brilliant thing about Firefox, allowing slightly-above-average users to create new features for the browser, or to use features added by others; this gives great community buy-in. But it will be even easier to do in this new browser; this will probably necessitate a new XUL-like language, too, so people can add chrome, or it might just be in the form of script APIs. But what would be even smarter is to have the Extension editor, and Widget editor, built right into the browser, so making a new theme or feature or widget is as point-and-click as possible, with common tasks encapsulated (though for advanced enhancements, some scripting will be needed, in a smart editor with code completion).

Oh, and it will have SVG support.


Why I’m wrong: This is just my dream browser. Browsers are a hard market to break into, because there’s established competition, and you’re not making a product you can sell… you have to give it away. There’s already a lot of momentum around other efforts. But this is the browser I want. Too bad I’m so lazy.