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Tech predictions gone wrong

Kevin Fogarty | Oct. 23, 2012
The computer industry and the customers it serves have proven to be extraordinarily slippery during the past 45 years.

"There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home." -- Ken Olsen, founder, Digital Equipment Corp., 1977, in a speech to the World Future Society

Computer? Nope, not anymore. Tablet, smartphone, smart appliances with embedded operating systems, connected TVs and multimedia centers? Sure. Computers? Not so much anymore.

"Within five years, I predict [the tablet] will be the most popular form of PC sold in America." -- Bill Gates, Microsoft co-founder, in a 2002 speech at Comdex introducing the Windows Tablet PC and its (required) stylus

With this statement, Gates popularized the prediction that is right in principle and disastrously wrong in detail. Microsoft and Apple had both tried repeatedly to create a practical, popular tablet, failing completely until the first iPad shipped in 2010. Tablets are currently selling at a rate of about 17 million per quarter. Of the 117 million units that IDC predicts will ship this year, only 1% run a Microsoft operating system. IDC predicts that the introduction of Windows 8 (Windows RT for tablets) will quadruple that rate. That means Microsoft's market share could surge to 4% -- while Apple sits comfortably at 60%-plus.

"The subscription model of buying music is bankrupt. I think you could make available the Second Coming in a subscription model, and it might not be successful." -- Steve Jobs, in Rolling Stone, Dec. 3, 2003

Apple launched the iTunes music player and the iPod it supported in 2001; it launched the iTunes online music service in 2007. By 2012, iTunes held 64% of the music subscription market, equaling 29% of all music sales in any medium, generating a projected $8 billion in revenue for Apple.

"Two years from now, spam will be solved." -- Bill Gates, 2004 World Economic Forum

Spam still consistently makes up more than 90% of all Internet email, though botnet takedowns during 2011 dropped that number to 71%. According to online security firm Incapsula, 51% of all Internet traffic now comes from non-humans, once you add up all the spam, traffic from DDoS apps, botnets, content scrapers, search engines, ad servers and network overhead from DNS and other address servers.

"This antitrust thing will blow over." -- Bill Gates, at a meeting of Intel executives, 1995

The "antitrust thing," did blow over. Eventually. It started with a 1991 FTC investigation of whether Microsoft was abusing its monopoly power over operating systems, ended with a settlement and consent decree 1994, reopened a short time later for charges of violating the consent decree, went to trial in 1998, and concluded with a final (negative) judgment in 2002.

In its 2008 annual report, Microsoft wrote that the U.S. Department of Justice and 18 states participating in that "antitrust thing" put constraints on Microsoft's business practices and marketing of its operating systems -- constraints analysts credit with helping to pull Microsoft out of its dominant position and making the computer business more competitive.


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