2008 Predictions, 2007 Predictions Redux

As has become a blogs.tedneward.com tradition, 'tis time to offer up my predictions for the technical year 2008, and, more importantly, revisit my predictions for the technical year 2007 and see how close to the mark I was. (As usual, I'll simply offer up commentary and my own opinion--you're free to draw whatever conclusions you like about my abilities as a prognosticator.)

First, the predictions from 2007, in retrospect:

  • THEN: General: Analysts will call 2007 the Year of the {Something}, where I bet that {Something} will be either "ESB" or "SOA". They will predict that companies adopting {Something} will save millions, if not billions, if only they rush to implement it now. They will tag this with a probability of .8 in order to CYA in case {Something} doesn't pan out. (Yes, I've read far too many of these reports--I'm personally convinced that each of the analyst companies has a template buried away in their basement that they pull out each time they need a new one, and they just do a global search-and-replace of "{Something}" with whatever the technology du jour happens to be.) NOW: Wasn't this the Year of the ESB?
  • THEN: .NET: Thousands of developers will horribly abuse WPF in ways that can only be called nightmarish, thus once again proving the old adage that "just because you can doesn't mean you should" still holds. WPF's capabilities with video will prove, in many ways, to be the modern equivalent to the "blink" tag in HTML. This will provide some author with a golden opportunity: "WPF Applications That Suck". Alan Cooper will re-release "About Face", updated to include WPF UI elements. NOW: Well, it wasn't Alan Cooper, but Charles Petzold re-released his classics, updated for WPF. Fact is, WPF hasn't seemed to penetrate all that deeply into the programming world, so maybe this is better as a 2008 prediction, now that Visual Studio 2008 is in the hands of developers.
  • THEN: .NET: Thousands of developers will look to Redmond for an answer to the question, "Which should I use? BizTalk, Windows Workflow, or SQL Server Service Broker?", and get no clear answer. NOW: How many presentations at DevConnections, VSLive!, TechEd, and other .NET shows addressed this exact question? How much guidance from Microsoft was there on the subject? 'Nuff said.
  • THEN: Windows: Microsoft will try, once again, to kill off the abomination that was called the Windows 95/98/Me line of operating systems, and will once again have to back off as industry outcries of protest (on behalf of little old ladies who are the only ones left running Windows 95/98/Me and probably haven't turned their machine on in months, at least not since the grandkids last visited) go ballistic. NOW: Granny Schottenwilkins in East Duluth, Minnesota died last year, so maybe next year Microsoft will finally have enough momentum to kill Windows 16-bit.
  • THEN: Windows: Ditto for Visual Basic 6.0, except now the outcry will be on behalf of developers who aren't capable of learning anything new. Sun will use the resulting PR to announce Project YAVKRWMITT (Yet Another VB Killer Really We Mean It This Time, pronounced "YAV-kermit") on java.net. Meanwhile, efforts to make CLASSPATH into something a VB 6 guy actually has a prayer of understanding will go quietly ignored. NOW: Apparently Microsoft had enough problems getting Vista adoption going, so they didn't bother trying to kill VB 6 this year. Meanwhile, Sun continues to build NetBeans to attract developers from "across the fence", except now its Ruby developers. (Apparently somebody finally showed Simon Phipps what VB 6 code really looks like, and he made the prudent decision to leave it in Microsoft's hands....)
  • THEN: Java: JSR 277 will continue to churn along, and once the next draft ships, publicly nobody will like what we produce, though quietly everybody will admit it's a far cry better than what we have now, and when it ships in JDK 7 will be adopted widely and quietly. NOW: We shipped a straw man implementation, which so far as I can tell, nobody bothered to look at, probably because it was a source patch on top of the OpenJDK bits, which nobody else knew how to build....
  • THEN: Java: Thousands of new ideas and proposals to extend the Java language in various ways will flood into the community, now that developers can start hacking on it for themselves thanks to the OpenJDK. Only a small fraction of these will ever get beyond the concept stage, and maybe one or two will actually be finished and released to the Web for consideration by the community and the JCP. Thousands more Java developers craving Alpha-Geek status will stick a "Hello, world" message into the compiler's startup sequence, then claim "experienced with modifying the OpenJDK Java compiler" on their resume and roundly criticize Java in one way or another by saying, "Well, I've looked at the code, and let me tell you....". NOW: Numerous language-extension projects emerging on Sourceforge and java.net, none of which appear to have any code behind them... What's it say on your resume, by the way?
  • THEN: .NET: Somewhere, a developer will realize that SQL Server 2005 can be a SOAP/WSDL XML service endpoint, and open it up as a private back-channel for his application to communicate with the database through the firewall "for performance reasons" (meaning, "So I can avoid having to talk to the app server in between my web server and my database"). With any luck, the DBA will kill him and hide the body before anybody can find and exploit it. NOW: "Body of dead developer found underneath raised floor in server room. Story, at 11. In related news, WhizzBang Corp filed for bankruptcy, owing to the complete collapse of their stock after news of their entire customer base personal details database being discovered on the Web was made public...."
  • THEN: General: Yet Another Virus That's Microsoft's Fault will rip through the Internet, and nobody will notice that the machines affected are the ones that aren't routinely administered or receive updates/patches. Companies will threaten Microsoft with million-dollar lawsuits, yet will fire none of their system administrators who lovingly lavish whole days tuning their Linux IRC servers yet leave the Windows Exchange Server still running Windows NT 4.0. NOW: Surprisingly, this didn't happen. Either we're shockingly bland to the viruses ripping through the Internet now, or else the virus creators are falling behind the anti-virus defenders, or else the viruses have learned to lay low, waiting for the master signal to go off simultaneously.
  • THEN: General: Interest in JSON will escalate wildly, hyped as the "natural replacement for XML" in building browser-to-server connections, owing to its incredible simplicity in expressing "object" data. Folks, JSON is a useful format, but it's not a replacement for XML (nor is XML a replacement for it, either). What made XML so popular was not is hierarchical format (Lord above, that's probably the worst part of it, from where we as developers sit), nor its HTML-like simplified-SGML syntax. What made XML interesting was the fact that everybody lined up behind it--Microsoft, Sun, BEA, Oracle, IBM, there's not a big vendor that didn't express its undying love and devotion to XML. I sincerely doubt JSON will get that kind of rallying effect. (And if you're going to stand there and suggest that JSON is better because its simpler and therefore more approachable for developers to build support for themselves, quite honestly, I thought we were trying to get out of developers building all this communications infrastructure--isn't that what the app servers and such taught us?) NOW: Well, JSON continues to be of interest to those who are also hand-writing their JavaScript code on their web pages, which means that to the top-of-the-web-pyramid ubergeek, JSON is "clearly the right way to go", while the rest of the industry just doesn't give a damn so long as the code works.
  • THEN: General: Interest in Java/.NET interopability will rise as companies start to realize that (a) the WS-* "silver bullet" isn't, (b) ESB, XML, and SOA are just acronyms and won't, in of themselves, solve all the integration problems, and (c) we have lots of code in both Java and .NET that need to talk to each other. This may be a self-serving prediction, but I got a LOT of interest towards the end of this year in the subject, so I'm guessing that this is going to only get bigger as the WS-* hype continues to lose its shine in the coming years. NOW: It got bigger, then drained away. I guess either the world figured out their story here, or everybody's busy rewriting all their apps in Ruby.
  • THEN: Ruby: Interest in Java/Ruby and .NET/Ruby interoperability is going to start quietly making its presence felt, as people start trying to wire up their quick-to-write "stovepipe" RAILS apps against other systems in their production data center, and find that Ruby really is a platform of its own. RubyCLR or JRuby may be part of the answer here, but there's likely some hidden mines there we haven't seen yet. NOW: JRuby now runs faster than the native Ruby interpreter. IronRuby (the logical successor to RubyCLR) looks to do the same for the CLR side, plus we get a dynamic language runtime out of it. Ruby may be the best language running on somebody else's platform in 2008.
  • THEN: Languages: A new meme will get started: "JavaScript was that thing, that little toy language, that you used to do stuff in the HTML browser. ECMAScript, on the other hand, is a powerful and flexible dynamic programming language suitable for use in all sorts of situations." Pass it on. If you get it, don't tell anybody else. (Don't laugh--it worked for "The Crying Game".) It's the only way ECMAScript will gain widespread acceptance and shed the "toy" label that JavaScript has. NOW: And now ECMAScript 4 is coming, with a whole new set of features that make even the Ruby guys shiver in anticipation.
  • THEN: Languages: Interest in functional-object hybrid languages will grow. Scala, Jaskell, F#, and others not-yet-invented will start to capture developers' attention, particularly when they hear the part about functional languages being easier to use in multi-core systems because it encourages immutable objects and discourages side effects (meaning we don't have to worry nearly so much about writing thread-safe code). NOW: It grew, and it continues to grow. New languages in general are being released (see Clojure, Jaskell, dynalang, and others), and lots of them are incorporating functional language concepts. If you've never programmed in Haskell, now's a good time to learn, because those concepts and syntax are fast making their way towards you...
  • THEN: Languages: Interest in Domain-specific languages will reach a peak this year, but a small backlash will begin next year. Meanwhile, more and more developers will realize that one man's "DSL" is another man's "little language", something UNIX has been doing since the early 70's. This will immediately take the shine off of DSLs, since anything that we did in the 70's must be bad, somehow. (Remember disco?) NOW: Apparently people haven't made the connection yet. Give it time, give it time...
  • THEN: General: Rails will continue to draw developers who want quick-fix solutions/technologies, and largely that community will ignore the underlying power of Ruby itself. The draw will start to die down once Rails-esque feature ideas get folded into Java toolkits. (Rails will largely be a non-issue with the .NET community, owing to the high-productivity nature of the drag-and-drop interface in Visual Studio.) NOW: In the Java world, see Grails. In the .NET world, see the new MVC container for ASP.NET. In both worlds? Sit back and chortle at how each side chases the other, and quietly look for the best of both. Look like a genius. Retire to Caribbean country on your luxury yacht and supermodel girlfriends.
  • THEN: Java: Interface21 is going to start looking like a "big vendor" alongside BEA and IBM. I was talking with some of the I21 folks in Aarhus, Denmark at JAOO, and one of them casually mentioned that they were looking at a Spring 2.1 release somewhere in mid-2008. Clearly Spring is settling into eighteen-month major-version release cycles like all the big (meaning popular), established software systems have a tendency to do. This is both a good thing and a bad thing--it's good in that it means that Spring is now becoming an established part of the Java landscape and thus more acceptable to use in production environments, but it's bad in that Spring is now going to face the inevitable problem all big vendors face: trying to be all things to all people. This is dangerous, both for Interface21 and the people relying on Spring, largely because it means that Spring faces a very real future of greater complexity (and there are those, myself included, who believe that Spring is too complex already, easily on par with the complexity seen in EJB, POJOs notwithstanding). NOW: Spring hit the 2.1 release earlier than 2008... sort of. They actually went one step better, deciding that the next release of Spring isn't a "2.1", but a "2.5". (Apparently Microsoft marketing isn't the only one who likes to jerk around version numbers.) When combined with their re-branding as "SpringSource", they're just a re-org away from being a Real Corporation.
  • THEN: General: Marc Fleury will get a golden parachute from Red Hat (at their request and to their immense relief), and hopefully will retire to his own small island (might I suggest Elba, la petite corporal?) to quietly enjoy his millions. A shame that the people who did most of the real work on JBoss won't see a commensurate reward, but that's the way the business world works, I guess. NOW: Has anybody paid any attention to Fleury since his "extended paternity leave"? Maybe it's just me, but the Internet has been blissfully quiet the last half-year or so....
  • THEN: General: Some company will get millions to build an enterprise product on the backs of RSS and/or Atom, thus proving that VCs are just as stupid and just as vulnerable to hype now as they were back in the DotCom era. NOW: I think I jumped the gun on this one. Unless, of course, you think about Flickr and Twittr as extended RSS/ATOM feeds....
  • THEN: General: Somebody will attempt to use the phrase "Web 2.0" in a serious discussion, and I will be forced to kill them for attempting to use a vague term in a vain effort to sound intelligent. NOW: Tim O'Reilly must be dipped in lemon juice after being subjected to two dozen papercuts for creating this term. I actually heard somebody who should have known better ask, "So how do I log on to this Web 2.0 thing?" Apparently he got it confused with Internet2 (which is a boondoggle in its own right by this point.)
  • THEN: Web clients: Ajax will start to lose its luster when developers realize the power of Google Maps isn't in Ajax, but in the fact that it's got some seriously cool graphics and maps. (Or, put another way, when developers realize that Ajax alone won't make their apps as cool as Google Maps, that's it's the same old DHTML from 1998, the hype will start to die down.) NOW:  Have people started building real apps with this stuff yet? Everything so far looks like demos and research prototypes to me....
  • THEN: XML: Somebody, somewhere, will realize that REST != HTTP. He will be roundly criticized by hordes of HTTP zealots, and quietly crawl away to go build simpler and more robust systems that use transports other than HTTP. NOW: Anybody? Anybody? Bueller?
  • THEN: XML: Somebody, somewhere, will read the SOAP 1.2 specification. H.P. Lovecraft once suggested, loosely paraphrased, the the day Man understands the nature of the universe, he will either be driven into gibbering insanity, or flee back into ignorance in self-preservation. Ditto for the day Man reads the SOAP 1.2 spec and realizes that SOAP is, in fact, RESTful. NOW: Paging Mr. Davis, Mr. Scott Davis, please answer the white courtesy telephone...
  • THEN: Security: The US Government will continue its unbelievable quest to waste money on "security" by engaging in yet more perimeter security around airports and other indefensible locations, thus proving that none of them have bothered to read Schneier and learn that real security is a three-part tuple: prevention, detection, and response. NOW: Paging Mr. [DELETED], Mr. [REDACTED] [DELETED], you have a [INSUFFICIENT CLEARANCE]....
  • THEN: Security: Thousands of companies will follow in the US Government's footsteps by doing exactly the same thing. (Folks, you can't solve all your problems with cryptography, no matter how big the key size--you just end up with the basic problem of where to store the keys, and no, burying them inside the code isn't going to hide them effectively.) NOW: Anybody had a look at some of these "secure" website approaches recently?
  • THEN: Security: More and more rootkits-shipping-with-a-product will be discovered. We used to call it "getting close to the metal", now it's a "rootkit". With great power comes great responsibility... and, as many consumers have already discovered, with great power also comes a tendency to create greater instability... NOW: Rootkits, extensions, call it what you will, but they're growing all over the place....
  • THEN: General: Parrot will ship a 1.0 release. Oh, wait, hang on, sorry, I bumped into the crystal ball and accidentally set it to 2017. NOW: Parrot is all but dead, near as I can tell. Too bad, too, but maybe if they'd had a more realistic approach to building a unified type system....
  • THEN: .NET: Microsoft will ship Orcas (NetFX 3.5). (Sorry, crystal ball's still set on 2017. Trying to fix it...) NOW: They shipped. 'Nuff said.
  • THEN: .NET: Vista will surpass Windows XP in market penetration. (Let's see, almost got it set back to 2007, bear with me... There. Got it.) NOW: They wish. Cue Vista SP1. 'Nuff said.
  • THEN: General: I will blog more than I did this year. (Hell, I couldn't blog less, even if I tried.) NOW: Well....
  • THEN: General: Pragmatic XML Services, Pragmatic .NET Project Automation and Effective .NET will ship. (Wait, is the crystal ball still on 2017...?) NOW: I wish. 'Nuff said.

Next, my predictions for 2008:

  • General: The buzz around building custom languages will only continue to build. More and more tools are emerging to support the creation of custom programming languages, like Microsoft's Phoenix, Scala's parser combinators, the Microsoft DLR, SOOT, Javassist, JParsec/NParsec, and so on. Suddenly, the whole "write your own lexer and parser and AST from scratch" idea seems about as outmoded as the idea of building your own String class. Granted, there are cases where a from-hand scanner/lexer/parser/AST/etc is the Right Thing To Do, but there are times when building your own String class is the Right Thing To Do, too. Between the rich ecosystem of dynamic languages that could be ported to the JVM/CLR, and the interesting strides being made on both platforms (JVM and CLR) to make them more "dynamic-friendly" (such as being able to reify classes or access the call stack directly), the probability that your company will find a need that is best answered by building a custom language are only going to rise.
  • General: The hype surrounding "domain-specific languages" will peak in 2008, and start to generate a backlash. Let's be honest: when somebody looks you straight in the eye and suggests that "scattered, smothered and covered" is a domain-specific language, the term has lost all meaning. A lexicon unique to an industry is not a domain-specific language; it's a lexicon. Period. If you can incorporate said lexicon into your software, thus making it accessible to non-technical professionals, that's a good thing. But simply using the lexicon doesn't make it a domain-specific language. Or, alternatively, if you like, every single API designed for a particular purpose is itself a domain-specific language. This means that Spring configuration files are a DSL. Deployment descriptors are a DSL. The Java language is a DSL (since the domain is that of programmers familiar with the Java language). See how nonsensical this can get? Until somebody comes up with a workable definition of the term "domain" in "domain-specific language", it's a nonsensical term. The idea is a powerful one, mind you--creating something that's more "in tune" with what users understand and can use easily is a technique that's been proven for decades now. Anybody who's ever watched an accountant rip an entirely new set of predictions for the new fiscal outlook based entirely on a few seed numbers and a deeply-nested set of Excel macros knows this already. Whether you call them domain-specific languages or "little languages" or "user-centric languages" or "macro language" is really up to you.
  • General: Functional languages will begin to make their presence felt. Between Microsoft's productization plans for F# and the growing community of Scala programmers, not to mention the inherently functional concepts buried inside of LINQ and the concurrency-friendly capabilities of side-effect-free programming, the world is going to find itself working its way into functional thinking either directly or indirectly. And when programmers start to see the inherent capabilities inside of Scala (such as Actors) and/or F# (such as asynchronous workflows), they're going to embrace the strange new world of functional/object hybrid and never look back.
  • General: MacOS is going to start posting some serious market share numbers, leading lots of analysts to predict that Microsoft Windows has peaked and is due to collapse sometime within the remainder of the decade. Mac's not only a wonderful OS, but it's some of the best hardware to run Vista on. That will lead not a few customers to buy Mac hardware, wipe the machine, and install Vista, as many of the uber-geeks in the Windows world are already doing. This will in turn lead Gartner (always on the lookout for an established trend they can "predict" on) to suggest that Mac is going to end up with 115% market share by 2012 (.8 probability), then sell you this wisdom for a mere price of $1.5 million (per copy).
  • General: Ted will be hired by Gartner... if only to keep him from smacking them around so much. .0001 probability, with probability going up exponentially as my salary offer goes up exponentially. (Hey, I've got kids headed for college in a few years.) ;-)
  • General: MacOS is going to start creaking in a few places. The Mac OS is a wonderful OS, but it's got its own creaky parts, and the more users that come to Mac OS, the more that software packages are going to exploit some of those creaky parts, leading to some instability in the Mac OS. It won't be widespread, but for those who are interested in finding it, they're there. Assuming current trends (of customers adopting Mac OS) hold, the Mac OS 10.6 upgrade is going to be a very interesting process, indeed.
  • General: Somebody is going to realize that iTunes is the world's biggest monopoly on music, and Apple will be forced to defend itself in the court of law, the court of public opinion, or both. Let's be frank: if this were Microsoft, offering music that can only be played on Microsoft music players, the world would be through the roof. All UI goodness to one side, the iPod represents just as much of a monopoly in the music player business as Internet Explorer did in the operating system business, and if the world doesn't start taking Apple to task over this, then "justice" is a word that only applies when losers in an industry want to drag down the market leader (which I firmly believe to be the case--nobody likes more than to pile on the successful guy).
  • General: Somebody is going to realize that the iPhone's "nothing we didn't write will survive the next upgrade process" policy is nothing short of draconian. As my father, who gets it right every once in a while, says, "If I put a third-party stereo in my car, the dealer doesn't get to rip it out and replace it with one of their own (or nothing at all!) the next time I take it in for an oil change". Fact is, if I buy the phone, I own the phone, and I own what's on it. Unfortunately, this takes us squarely into the realm of DRM and IP ownership, and we all know how clear-cut that is... But once the general public starts to understand some of these issues--and I think the iPhone and iTunes may just be the vehicle that will teach them--look out, folks, because the backlash will be huge. As in, "Move over, Mr. Gates, you're about to be joined in infamy by your other buddy Steve...."
  • Java: The OpenJDK in Mercurial will slowly start to see some external contributions. The whole point of Mercurial is to allow for deeper control over which changes you incorporate into your build tree, so once people figure out how to build the JDK and how to hack on it, the local modifications will start to seep across the Internet....
  • Java: SpringSource will soon be seen as a vendor like BEA or IBM or Sun. Perhaps with a bit better reputation to begin, but a vendor all the same.
  • .NET: Interest in OpenJDK will bootstrap similar interest in Rotor/SSCLI. After all, they're both VMs, with lots of interesting ideas and information about how the managed platforms work.
  • C++/Native: If you've not heard of LLVM before this, you will. It's a compiler and bytecode toolchain aimed at the native platforms, complete with JIT and GC.
  • Java: Somebody will create Yet Another Rails-Killer Web Framework. 'Nuff said.
  • Native: Developers looking for a native programming language will discover D, and be happy. Considering D is from the same mind that was the core behind the Zortech C++ compiler suite, and that D has great native platform integration (building DLLs, calling into DLLs easily, and so on), not to mention automatic memory management (except for those areas where you want manual memory management), it's definitely worth looking into. www.digitalmars.com

See you all next year....