Apocalypse now

Novell is doomed, but not this year. Its reprieve is due largely to fleet-footed management and Microsoft's tardiness in delivering Directory Services.

Likewise, Netscape is also doomed.

Pretty soon IS managers will realise that they can get all the functionality they need from Internet Explorer at no cost. I know this because I've just been through the exercise myself. Netscape's sales these days are still predicated on the fact that big companies hate having unlicensed software on their desktops. So for now they're willing to cough up for all that phantom Netscape gear that has been downloaded in the last three years.

Apple is doomed. No qualification required.

It's not all gloom though.

Bill Gates, you will be relieved to learn, will get richer and more powerful. Microsoft has arbitarily decided to scrap concurrent pricing for its software around the world. That means corporates will have to start picking up the cost of software on every desktop, not simply estimating how many users might be logged in at a given time. When you're a monopoly you can get away with economic crimes like this.

Speaking of monopolies, Intel will get bigger, faster, richer, stronger. Even if network computers go ballistic, which is looking increasingly less likely as the model comes under scrutiny, they will still need chips to run. Unlike its Wintel partner, Microsoft, Intel is more of a benevolent fascist, with CEO and Time Magazine Man of the Year Andy Grove fighting the demons of competitive paranoia in the absence of real competition.

The next great monopoly, Cisco, like Intel, will weather any storms in the coming months. Last year it held the line (which is another way of saying it dominates its market) while 3Com emerged as the key contender, and Bay slipped back a little.

Cabletron threw the acquisition dice at last, abandoning its long-standing policy of growth from within when it acquired Digital's networking business in November last year. It's too late though, to really make a difference at the top end of town.

Of all the key markets, the hardest to call is database. Informix looks doomed. After a dreadful year of falling sales and financial incompetence (if that's all it was) it's hard to see how it can crawl back in the next 12 months to any sort of sustainable position. Acquisition has to be a real chance and if you like a punt, bet on Microsoft picking up the tab. Gates needs enterprise credibility in the database space, and SQL Server won't give him that, at least for a couple of years.

Sybase no longer looks doomed, although it no longer poses a serious threat to Oracle's database hegemony. Only one company threatens Oracle's leadership and that's Oracle itself. The company runs the risk of losing its core business focus with Larry Ellison's obsessive pursuit of Bill Gates. After all, how many more distractions can this guy invent for himself.

The first reader to find fault in any three of these predictions in exactly 12 months time wins a carton of their favourite frosty beer, courtesy of yours truly. And believe me, you will need it to make sense of 1999.

Andrew Birmingham is the CIO of IDG Communications and is a former editor-in-chief of ComputerWorldAndrew_Birmingham@idg.com

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