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Gartner's predictions leave plenty for Microsoft to worry about

Lots of people are keying in on the research firm's guess that Apple will double its U.S. share, but also worth noting are forecasts that we'll be traveling without laptops and renting our business software.

Let's start with a disclaimer. Five-year forecasts are nearly always wrong and I have no reason to think Gartner's will be any different. Things tend to happen much faster or much slower than people initially forecast.

That said, if Gartner is even close to on point, there are plenty of trends that could be worrisome for Microsoft. First and foremost is the research firm's prediction that Apple will double its U.S. and western Europe market share by 2011.

Also of concern to folks in Redmond should be some of Gartner's other predictions. One is that a whole lot of us will start leaving our laptops at home. Gartner is estimating that the rise of pocket-size Web surfing products at around $400 means that by 2012 half of traveling workers will be able to leave the notebook at home. Helping that trend is the fact that it is growing easier to store your data and settings on the Internet and access them through any Web-connected device.

This should be a wake-up call to Microsoft. The company has been slow to compete in this area. Many of the most sought-after products, such as Apple's iPhone or Asus' Eee PC do not use Windows. Also, with Vista, Microsoft has created an operating system that requires more hardware, while the trend for these devices are to use slower, more energy efficient processors, along with more limited capacity flash memory.

Also of note for Microsoft watchers, Gartner predicts that within five years fully 80 percent of commercial software will include elements of open-source technology.

"Many open-source technologies are mature, stable and well supported," Gartner said. "They provide significant opportunities for vendors and users to lower their total cost of ownership and increase returns on investment. Ignoring this will put companies at a serious competitive disadvantage."

On the software-as-a-service front, Gartner is estimating that by 2012, businesses will be spending a third of their application budget on subscription products, as opposed to product licenses. The firm also believes that forward thinking businesses will start buying their IT infrastructure as a service.

"Increased high-speed bandwidth makes it practical to locate infrastructure at other sites and still receive the same response times," Gartner said. "This trend to accepting commodity infrastructure could end the traditional 'lock-in' with a single supplier and lower the costs of switching suppliers."

Among its other predictions, Gartner is predicting a huge rise in 3D printers, ever more environmental focus and a trend of businesses bowing to end user demand for a larger number of hardware and software purchases. What do you make of Gartner's guesses? Which are spot-on and which are off-base?