If we want to predict which technologies are going to change the world, it will probably help if we give some study to technologies that already have. Herewith the first step in building the Technology Predictor Success Matrix.
These are presented in no particular order. All they have in common is that most reasonable people would conclude that they are “winners,” i.e. have had a substantial and long-lasting impact of the practice of information technology.
SQL/RDBMS · No controversy here, I think; the assumption that most significant data stores will be relational is basic to modern Information Processing. There are exceptions: most significantly, the vast oceans of data still living in prerelational stores like IMS and ADABAS. Going forward, perhaps all the people who are betting on building new kinds of databases for XML will be right. But for right now, the mainstream is relational.
The history is pretty simple: the ideas came out of the academic world, the implementations out of industry, and this arena is now de jure governed by an extremely bureaucratic and formal ISO standardization process.
Unix/C · I’ve presented the Unix operating system and the C language together because they arrived together and each is substantially influenced by the other. By Unix, I mean of course a large number of distinct operating systems which are nonetheless remarkably similar. At one point “Unix” was mostly BSD on Vax, then it was mostly SunOS on Sun, today it’s increasingly GNU/Linux-flavored; but to a workaday programmer toiling away in C, it all feels pretty well the same.
Unix started small, in the back rooms at Bell Labs, and the pundits have frequently predicted that it would be swept away: by VM/CMS, by VAX/VMS, by Windows NT (or “Cairo” or Win2K or whatever). But it’s still with us, under whatever level.
Open Source · I can’t remember anyone predicted the remarkable success of Open Source software, and I actually can’t imagine the prognosticatorate having done so. I certainly didn’t.
For the purposes of this series I’ll ignore the difference between Open-Source and Free; this doesn’t mean they aren’t real, just that Free implies Open-Source and the difference isn’t material in this context.
PC Client · I’m one of the few who’ve been in this business long enough to remember when the Personal Computer was new and controversial; I distinctly recall an executive of a telco whose R&D lab I was working at saying they were putting the kibosh on people installing their own PCs until the logistics of the “Micro-to-Mainframe link” were worked out; this would have been 1986 or so.
When I talk about “The PC” I’m obviously heavily influenced by the Wintel flavor since, after all, what most PCs are.
WWW · The Web, unheard-of in 1990, dominating the mainstream ten years later; as dramatic a sea-change as our industry has seen in my memory. Whatever you think about it, it’s here and it works and there’s no sign of it going away any time soon.
Java · Given that the initial marketing pitch was as a language to animate Web pages, and that the initial implementations were severely bad, it has to be seen as remarkable that Java has proved to be as important as it has. The position that Java has established at the center of Enterprise Computing has probably become unassailable, and its influence, near as as I can tell, is still on the up-curve.
XML · Well, my name is one of those on the front of this one so I’m obviously biased, but I don’t think it’s controversial to say that XML has lodged itself pretty firmly in the architecture of networked information systems, which basically means all information systems, these days.
Next... · The laundry-list of Loser Technologies, which probably has a bit more entertainment value than this one.