I’m still trying to wrap my mind around all the barn-burning assertions made by Forrester Research CEO George Colony at last week’s 2011 Forrester IT Forum in Las Vegas. Colony, whose job it is to analyze IT market trends and predict the future — accurately, one hopes — blew the doors off by basically saying the PC is dead, the Web is dead and the cloud is dead even though it hasn’t even fully evolved yet.
So what’s the future? Apps, says Colony. Apps on steroids. His thinking is that software running on PCs is completely antique and that Web and cloud-based apps — think Google and Facebook — are dependent on an Internet infrastructure that isn’t necessarily scalable and reliable.
Because there’s power at the center (Web servers) and power in the hands of the end user — in 1993 the iPad 2 would have been among the top 30 supercomputers in the world, he notes — the best way to build the future is to send apps to end users and let them connect back to the center for services. This system, he says, is what Apple has already perfected and that others are scrambling to emulate.
Look around, and you can sort of see the trend. Google’s Android app efforts are successful and growing, and “app stores” are popping up all around, from Blackberry to Mac. Still, when most of us think of apps we think of Koi Pond and Tetris. It’s a bit of a leap to imagine big fat mission-critical business apps working in quite the same way. I’d certainly expect them to become full-fledged cloud based apps first, apps like the ones we’ve seen from providers like Salesforce.com, for example.
Any tech company that accepts Colony’s hypothesis will have to reevaluate the very nature of its business. HP and Dell are in big trouble, he says, unless they rethink what PCs are supposed to be in the app-centric future. SAP and Oracle can thrive as long as they create good apps and supporting infrastructure and price it all correctly. Facebook is too Web-centric and therefore doomed. Microsoft could be well-positioned to reinvent itself around this model, but not with its current leadership. Hear that, Steve Ballmer?
It sounds to me like Colony really really loves his iPad and his passion may be clouding, or at least accelerating, his judgment. Prognosticators have to prognosticate something in order to get paid, and so this kind of earthshaking prediction come along, sometimes leaving us confused in its wake. I, for one, would like to hear more about why he thinks cloud-based applications are so fatally flawed. I sit here with my powerful PC and interact every day, and I expect to do a lot more of that in the future, not a lot less. It could be that my view of the horizon only goes out about five years or so, while Colony looks 10 years and beyond. Fair enough. Ten years ago no one was accurately predicting the touch-screen revolution we’re now living through.
Ultimately, the one truly safe prediction in our industry is that things will keep changing, and that change will come faster than we can sometimes handle it.“You wouldn’t be in this business if you didn’t like change.” Colony said. “If you don’t like change, you should get out of this business. These are the moments we all live for. You have to live for this. It’s never a simple way to live, but it’s reality.”
Okay, and have a nice day!