My Wired News Wishes for 2004

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Tim O'Reilly
Dec. 31, 2003 05:22 PM
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Michelle Delio of Wired News asked a bunch of geeks what we wished for in 2004, and what we thought would really happen. My answers are on page 2 of the story.

Unlike many of the people interviewed, I actually have hope that many of the things I wish for will happen. But a few of them are beyond the pale of probability (especially the one regarding software patents.)

Since Michelle had to edit my answers down, I decided to publish my complete original comments here, with a couple of links added:

  • I wish that Apple would take the best practices of the individual iApps, and make them consistent across the whole suite. For example, why does iTunes support Rendezvous for local area sharing, but iPhoto does not? We need some equivalent to the original apple human interface guidelines, updated for the network era, to state a vision of the consistent behavior expected of internet era applications. These best practices include Rendezvous (zeroconf) for local area discovery and sharing, scriptability, exposing data via web services, consuming data via web services, consistent cross-application integration and services. Apple's a smart company, so I really hope I'm not spitting in the wind on this one; there's no good reason why we shouldn't see some progress on this front announced at MacWorld, and I hope more will come throughout the year.

  • I wish that Nat Friedman (of Novell/Ximian) would finish up Dashboard for Linux, and that everyone from Apple to Microsoft Longhorn would copy his ideas, since Dashboard is one of the smartest user-centric innovations I've seen in a long time. (Dashboard instruments applications for data sharing, so that when I'm in an app, my dashboard automatically shows me related data from other apps, so that when I'm reading someone's email, their other contact info is automatically retrieved from my address book, any recent search results (including photos of them) are displayed, and in general, I see as much appropriate context as my dashboard can find.) I want it. Unfortunately, Novell's got a lot on their plate, and innovation may have to wait in the queue behind various kinds of integration and catchup efforts.

  • I wish that the various web services data vendors (including Amazon, Google, EBay, Salesforce.com, and many others) would realize that they comprise the building blocks of a future "internet operating system", and act accordingly, engaging with each other to interoperate. It seems to me that the original Unix/Linux architecture, and the architecture of the internet, are based on a model of "small pieces loosely joined" (to quote David Weinberger). Web services can also operate on this model. However, there are alternate visions, including .Net and J2EE, in which there is a quest for "one ring to bind them all." There's a history in our industry in which application vendors mark out new territory, but then lose that territory to someone who figures out how to control that space with platform-level APIs. If instead, we can consciously keep to the current open standards model of the internet, we will continue to leave opportunities for new innovations, and new market entrants. Unfortunately, I worry that the competition between Amazon, Google and EBay will lead them rivalries that make them forget the foundation of their success in the open internet. (But I'm hopeful that the companies in question are smart enough to avoid this trap.)

  • I wish that Microsoft, Adobe, Macromedia, Intuit, and other companies saddling their users with product activation would go back and study the lessons of the early 80's, when product activation met with such user revulsion that companies that tried it lost market share to those that didn't. As Lao Tzu says, "fail to honor people, they fail to honor you." I'm pretty sure that this wish is going to come true -- the only question is when, and how much additional legal baggage (DMCA and sequels) will be in the way before the industry gets its collective brains back, and throws off the fear-mongering by the content industries that sent them "like half-witted Gadarene swine" (to quote P.G. Wodehouse) back over this fatal cliff. I'm not saying that some level of content protection and identity management isn't appropriate, but we need some sanity, and we need to assume that users basically want to do the right thing.

  • I wish that Adobe, Macromedia, and other leading PC software vendors would port their products to Linux, since we're just about at a tipping point for Linux on the desktop. I remember this great quote from Warren Buffett, which went something like this: "Sometimes Mr. Market offers his wares cheaply, and sometimes they are dear. I've never understood why people hate to buy them when they are cheap, but rush to buy them when they are dear." Linux application market share is cheap right now, so that makes it a great time to enter the market. My guess, though, is that most folks will wait till 2005 or later, and then be rushing to catch up to the leaders who moved early.

  • I wish that the USPTO would make it a requirement that any software patent application be accompanied by source code that demonstrates the invention in question. The original tradeoff in the patent system was that you gave up your trade secrets -- teaching everyone else how to do your invention -- in exchange for a limited monopoly on your invention. This one stroke would restore some balance to the patent system, since it would force companies to choose between real disclosure and patent protection, rather than having their cake and eating it too. Of course, it would also help if the patent office made companies sign an affidavit that they had actively searched for prior art, rather than following the current "don't ask, don't tell" approach. Of course, anything so reasonable is unlikely, because there are so many entrenched interests here that Washington resembles a taffy pull between those interests far more than it reflects an attempt to find real solutions to what is becoming a very serious handicap for software innovation.

  • I wish that applications that manage contact information (from Outlook to Palm organizers and cell phones to Apple's Address Book) would stop making Roach Motels, and make it easy and consistent to share data. There's usually export and import, but it has all kinds of selective lacunae designed to keep the user locked in. I'm thinking that as we move into the next decade, we're going to find more and more of our data locked up in application data stores that others control, that companies are going to find that keeping their users' data is a good way to keep their users locked in, and that as a result, we're going to end up with a "free data" or "open data" movement analogous to today's open source movement.

  • I wish that MapQuest or maps.yahoo.com (Vicinity) would open up a free or low cost API to their data. I also wish that they would take a lesson from Amazon and let users annotate the data and build out additional value on top of their sites. I'll bet that the first company to do this is the one that ends up the winner in the highly important geolocation server space. Right now, my money is on Microsoft's mapinfo. Even though they don't have the high internet application profile of the others, they do have a web services API. They charge a lot for it, but at least they know that geolocation is an important platform capability for the coming Internet Operating System.

  • Rael Dornfest, author of Google Hacks and the mobilewhack weblog adds: "I'd like to see consumer mobile devices--palmtops, hiptops, and handsets--scriptable. It was scripting that drove the Web, taking it from a static online catalogue of content to an operating system. Gaining simpler programmatic access to the contacts, calendars, and other assorted user-data; bluetooth, messaging, image capture and minipulation on the phone will open up the mobile to the people prototyping the next generation of applications." I agree completely with Rael. Scripting opens up development to users, letting them show vendors where they want the technology to go, filling in the gaps between the vendor's paid offerings. It's an incredibly important part of the open source landscape, and one that doesn't get enough attention. As Hassan Schroeder, Sun's first webmaster, once said, "Perl is the duct tape of the Internet." Where's the duct tape for my cell phone?

Tim O'Reilly is the founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media Inc. Considered by many to be the best computer book publisher in the world, O'Reilly Media also hosts conferences on technology topics, including the O'Reilly Open Source Convention, Strata: The Business of Data, the Velocity Conference on Web Performance and Operations, and many others. Tim's blog, the O'Reilly Radar "watches the alpha geeks" to determine emerging technology trends, and serves as a platform for advocacy about issues of importance to the technical community. Tim is also a partner at O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, O'Reilly's early stage venture firm, and is on the board of Safari Books Online, PeerJ, Code for America, and Maker Media, which was recently spun out from O'Reilly Media. Maker Media's Maker Faire has been compared to the West Coast Computer Faire, which launched the personal computer revolution.

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