Louderback: Top Stories and Predictions for 2005, 2006

Around this time of year, you can't crack a magazine, newspaper, or Web equivalent without seeing a "Top Ten Stories of Last Year" article, or a "Ten Predictions for Next Year" story with so-and-so's prognostications.

Realizing that your time is valuable, I've decided to combine both into one. Let's envision 2006 events as an extension of the top trends of 2005.

Interactive: 2005 Timeline.

Here, in no particular order, is my list of the ten big stories of 2005 that will morph into the top trends of 2006.

DRM Discontent Tsunami

Sony's lamebrain flirtation with rootkit-based digital-rights-management software was just the tip of the iceberg. Users will revolt over restrictive DRM that keeps them from enjoying the video, movies, and music they've legitimately purchased.

Expect many DRM schemes to crumble within days of introduction, and newfangled media, such as HD-DVD and Blu-ray, to arrive stillborn.

What you buy counts! Reject DRM-encumbered devices and media — only buy devices and media that put you in control.

What happens if we don't? As my friend and top blogger David Berlind says, "The result, if we continue to buy into these silos of incompatible content-consumption technologies by voting for them with our dollars, will leave many in the future wondering who made the mess. Answer? Look in the mirror."

The Public Switched Telephone Network Is Dead

Verizon spent much of 2005 wiring Long Island and other locales with fiber to the curb, and it ended the year in a catfight with local cable operators.

By the end of 2006, we'll be writing the eulogy for the old-fangled circuit-switched public phone network that served us so well for almost a hundred years.

My friend Dave Burstein, editor of DSL Prime, says this will make most local switches obsolete and will doom telcos that aren't putting money — and fiber — into the ground. When those that do reach your house, you'll get video, Internet, phone — and a lot more bandwidth.

Google Crash Coming

By the end of 2005, Google's stock was closing at over $400, a flurry of new services had been released and newly energized competitors AOL, MSN, and Yahoo! were playing catch-up. But 2005 also saw the beginning of the Google backlash.

In 2006, Google will bypass Microsoft as the most hated (and feared) company in tech. The eerily accurate Mark Anderson, founder and publisher of the influential Strategic News Service newsletter, thinks Google is headed for a big fall.

"If one Chinese (or MIT) guy comes up with a better search engine, they are out of business in 20 minutes ... literally, the whole thing could just go poof."

Cisco Becomes PC Vendor

Back in November, Cisco bought video set-top box vendor Scientific Atlanta. "So Cisco bought yet another company. Why should I care?" you say. Because set-top boxes are now full-on computers, with hard drives, operating systems and annoying interfaces.

Sure, cable companies have been the only customers so far, but when you combine Scientific Atlanta's TV-top computers with the wireless and retail expertise of Cisco division Linksys, you get a whole-home media network with storage, Internet access, gaming, and more — available at CompUSA or BestBuy for cheap. This is Dell's worst nightmare.

PC Shakeup

Speaking of Dell, the company stumbled in 2005, missing its numbers for the first time in a long time. HP, for the most part, revived itself after the long, dark interregnum presided over by Carly Fiorina. And Lenovo purchased IBM's PC business, throwing the laptop market wide open.

What's on tap for 2006? Dell will continue to lose market share; HP will quietly improve its position; and nimble vendors, including Acer and Toshiba, will feast on Sony, Lenovo and Dell leftovers. But until Microsoft Vista comes out, sales will be soft. Why? Next item, please.

Consoles Battle for the Home

Microsoft's big news for 2005: The Xbox 360 released on time in November. Sure, the graphics are good, but at $400 and with worldwide shortages, the company will barely meet its targets in the winter. Even Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer had to wait in line for one like the rest of us.

Sony's PlayStation 3 will ship in Japan by May, but won't make it to the U.S. until later in the year. It'll be expensive, too, and hard to develop for.

Expect Nintendo's delayed Zelda title to be the must-play game next spring, but unless the Revolution is a home run, Nintendo will fade by the fall.

That will allow Sony and Microsoft to battle it out for the console crown. And many tech fans will buy one or both, rather than a new PC.

It's too early to call a winner, though, as Sony's console is still vaporware.

Nintendo Wins Handheld Gaming Market

When it comes to handheld gaming, the story is much different. Sony's overpriced PSP continues to lag, as a steady stream of warmed-over PS2 games port over.

Nintendo, using a double-barreled attack that features the fashionable Gameboy Micro and the quirky but innovative DS, will continue to win over the market. Riding a wave of great content, including Mario & Luigi, Mario Kart DS, and Animal Crossing, Nintendo will remain on top as 2006 comes to a close.

HD Takes Off

In 2005, the price of flat-panel LCD TVs dropped below $1,000 for a decent 32-inch set. That led to a huge spike in sales, and this will accelerate in 2006. The new game systems demand large flat screens, more and more programming will be available in HD, and prices will continue to drop.

By April, you'll be seeing 37-inch flat LCD TVs for under $900, which will generate explosive sales. And 40-inch set will slip under the $1,000 barrier by the end of the year as an HD frenzy grips the U.S.

You Take Center Stage

Remember client-server computing — where an intelligent client system coordinated with smart servers? The dumb browser killed off that model, but it came back in 2005, with a nifty new name — Web 2.0.

New asynchronous ways of building Web sites mean easier-to-use sites, more power, more interactivity and more cooperation among different sites.

Expect a new wave of customized sites to sweep the Web, as blogs become old hat. It's all about how you personalize your experience — from adding tags to photos in Flickr to modding that boring beige PC case into R2-D2 or a breadbasket.

Oprah and Dave

Who could've believed it! On December 1, Oprah appeared live on "The Late Show With David Letterman," drawing one of the most intractable showbiz feuds to an end.

But by the end of 2006, it'll be seen as the start of a trend. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs will open up a restaurant in West Seattle, Rupert Murdoch and EchoStar's Charlie Ergen will share satellite space to bring HD to the masses, and Larry Ellison, Tom Siebel (Siebel Systems), Craig Conway (formerly of PeopleSoft, now with Salesforce.com), and a ukulele-swinging Marc Benioff (Salesforce.com) will form a barbershop quartet called the Oracles, singing carols at Palo Alto's nondenominational holiday celebration.

Seriously, if Oprah and Dave can get together, anything can happen!

Copyright © 2005 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Ziff Davis Media Inc. is prohibited.