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7/7/2006
06:15 PM
John Soat
John Soat
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IT Confidential: Innovation Be Damned--Party Like It's 1999

Americans don't want technology innovation; they want fast cars and bulky operating systems.

Most Americans hate innovation. Or maybe they fear it. They darn sure don't like it. If you doubt that, let's take a hard look in the mirror.

On the culture front, what's the most popular movie at the box office these days? Superman Returns. Hey, there's an innovative story line. To put an even finer point on it, this movie is repeatedly referred to as "retro" in its approach and style, as if a movie about a 70-year-old comic-book character could be anything but. Another example of cultural regression: DaimlerChrysler said it will manufacture a new version of the quintessential 1970s muscle car, the Dodge Challenger, "Hemi" engine and all. Swallowing the retro concept whole, the new version doesn't simply resemble its predecessor, it looks exactly like it. They probably still have the original steel dies at the manufacturing plant.

On the consumer electronics front, a new survey by Harris Interactive says only a small minority of cell phone users in the United States send pictures (18%) or video (3%) over wireless networks. While a sizable minority sends text messages (39%), most cell phone users (60%) have never availed themselves of those services. A phone is for talking, damn it! Don't try to confuse me.

On a separate note, consumer-electronics manufacturers take too much credit for innovation, especially these days. Two of the most popular consumer-electronics devices aren't even close to that. Apple's iPod, for anyone with a memory, is nothing more than a digital version of the Sony Walkman; the real innovation is the iTunes business model, which many in the media biz have been fighting tooth and nail. And while the most significant innovation with regard to RIM's BlackBerry handheld computing device is portable e-mail, when all is said and done, e-mail is still e-mail. If the BlackBerry automatically filtered, ranked, and responded to my e-mail, that truly would be innovative.

On the business technology front, a recent InformationWeek cover story pointed to a survey taken by Accenture in which only 6% of U.S. companies say they want to lead in adopting newer technologies, compared with 15% in Europe and 19% in China ("A Culture Of 'No'"; informationweek.com/ 1095/techinnovation.htm). And what's the most popular IT strategy these days? Centralization, consolidation, control. Sure, there are solid security and regulatory reasons for it, but does the phrase "glass house" have any meaning for you? I'm anticipating a retro craze for actual glass-enclosed data centers, lab coats standard issue.

What could be more retro than Microsoft Windows? It's 2006 and here we are, anxiously awaiting another new version of the most ubiquitous operating system in history. Anticipation is building; Microsoft has so many people wishing to test the new system, Vista, the company has to limit the online downloads for fear of overloading the Internet. At the same time, there are repeated delays, features are being dropped, there's confusion and hand-wringing over application compatibility. Microsoft is even convulsively reorganizing its executive ranks. It feels like 1999 all over again. Or 1993. Or 1990. It feels like home.

So party like it's ... No, I can't say it. But you can, in an industry tip. Send it jsoat@cmp.com or phone 516-562-5326.

"The News Show" is both retro and innovative at the same time. It's retrovative. Watch it at noon EDT every weekday, at TheNewsShow.tv.

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