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Things Have Never Been Better! Seriously!

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February 3, 2009 -
by John C. Dvorak

Despite the positive attitude of HP and IBM, by all indications this year will be worse than last year. Why? Because the AFC won the Super Bowl and the stock market declined in January—both indicators of a crappy year in the financial markets. Commonly called coincidental indicators, which have nothing, in reality, to do with anything connected to a long-term trend, they're both right over 90 percent of the time.

Combine the two and you have a double whammy of bad news. The irony is that, if sheer number of products is the determining factor, we in the computer world have never had it so good! But a superabundance of products is bad news in itself.

A large part of the problem stems from the fact that we've never been allowed to absorb all the good ideas that have come and gone because of what began with the Internet boom of the late 1990s.

It was Internet time. Things were moving faster than ever. But the only thing moving faster than ever now is the discarding of good ideas. They're coming and going too fast, before they can be marketed and absorbed.

There is not a person reading this column who doesn't have a favorite product or Web site that simply disappeared without getting the attention it deserved. This is because the public keeps jumping from one bandwagon to another.

Even Microsoft suffers from this malady. Whatever happened to the cool Active Desktop feature as it was implemented in Windows 95? I recall one version of that operating system having a huge icon bar at the bottom that looked very similar to what eventually showed up on the Mac with OS X.

One of the problems, I've concluded, is that there are actually too many cool products in development and in the wild. And they're in every category. And in too many cases, the best ones are buried within a pile of similar products. One or two get all the attention, and 30 others go by the wayside. While this process is a natural one with high-tech software and hardware, within those 30 dead products are very interesting ideas and implementations that end up lost and eventually forgotten.

And now because everything has moved to the Internet, it's almost impossible to find those waning products—or even sites that document the products. For example, one site maintains a database of all the content management systems (CMSs) ever released, with a great checklist of features so you can pick and choose which ones you want to evaluate for a blog or whatever. How many people even know exists, or have a clue as to how many of these CMS lash-ups there are?

Let's examine a few. Hmm, one called WebGUI seems to be getting the most attention. This thing has a lot of features and could be handy for a simple site. And others look promising. Golly, there's JAWS here too, at; it seems to be a user favorite. Personally, I've never heard of it, but it seems to be getting traction.

Now I have to extricate myself from the site. Visit it and you'll see what the problem is: The balkanization of app development can be traced to the doorstep of the Open Source movement. Everyone is trying to get into the act!

Is that a good or bad thing? In the long term I can't say, but for now, it does leave us with a lot of options—as evidenced by the CMS Matrix site. But is it better than the good old days when Lotus, WordPerfect, Microsoft, and a few other commercial operations ruled the roost? I don't think so.

The current scene is watered down by too many small companies that cannot get any attention except amongst a small cadre of users. But isn't this the reason to prefer small business over big business? Yes and no. When businesses fragment to such an extreme that they cannot afford to function for long if they lose one crummy customer, then it's a problem. It's also no good if the business is so small that the one guy who is running it gets bored and decides to stop. This little problem seems to happen all the time in the tech world. And it is getting worse.

On the other hand a bonanza of cool software products, many of which are free or dirt cheap, stacks up all around us. This includes software and hardware. There is probably more code available to the public now than ever before…if we can just find it, that is. The fact is, as the little CMS Matrix exercise showed, things are very positive for the computer scene. Never better, in fact.

So what are we whining about?

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