The first personal computers featuring speedy reduced instruc tion set computing, the RISC-based PowerPC chips, are scheduled to roll out in the next few weeks.
This development is widely regarded as having the potential to break Intel's hold on the computer chip market and Microsoft Corp.'s PC operating system dominance.
It will be fascinating to watch the various strategies and counterstrategies connected with the PowerPC chip unfold.
The subject of much attention in 1993, the Internet appears likely to have a significant business impact in '94.
Books about the Internet are flying off bookstore shelves, and audiences have flocked to seminars and workshops teaching people how to use the Internet.
Information providers are beginning to make their offerings available via the Internet: The Securities & Exchange Commission is offering its financial information databases (including such things as 10-K filings), and organizations like Dow Jones and Dialog announced plans to make their information services available via Internet connections.
Services have sprung up that offer to help companies make commercial use of the Internet, shrink-wrapped software has been coming onto the market with claims of providing easier access to the Internet and there even have been services that offer tours of the Internet and the opportunities it represents.
Lisa Thorell, analyst at Dataquest, San Jose, Calif., pointed out that as access to the Internet becomes easier and it becomes a more viable alternative to commercial on-line services, this will ratchet up the pricing pressure on America Online, CompuServe and Prodigy.
The cost of conference room- to-conference room videoconfer encing has been plummeting.
Market researcher and consultant Tim Bajarin, president of San Jose, Calif.-based Creative Strategies Research International, pointed out that not long ago the cost was about $100,000 per site; it hit $20,000 last year and is going to drop below $10,000 this year. At that point, it will become feasible for many more customers to use the technology.
Videoconferencing will be augmented by a wave of application- and file-sharing software that is coming onto the market. These programs allow users to log onto each other's systems and, for example, simultaneously work on the same spreadsheet together.
This dovetails nicely with videoconferencing technology, and it seems likely 1994 will see a big boost in interactive collaborative computing.
Look for explosive growth in shipments of "smart" handheld devices, which include high-end organizers, personal digital assistants , personal communicators and handheld CD-ROM products (intelligent books).
Although many industry observers expressed disappointment with the capabilities of the wave of such products that hit the market in the latter half of '93, a just-released forecast from LINK Resources, New York, points out that PDA devices like the Apple Newton and Tandy/Casio Zoomer nonetheless shipped 160,000 units and set the stage for the more advanced second generation that will be rolling out in 1994.
The new crop of electronic notepads and PDAs should successfully expand into a variety of industrial markets.
As sales of the mobile units grow, opportunities will emerge involving additional services aimed at PDA users. In 1994, the communications and personal organizations capabilities of these products-not their much discussed handwriting recognition-will drive their popularity.
CD-ROM software distribution.
Several major efforts have been launched recently to distribute software via CD-ROM discs.
The idea is to pack a large number of programs and software demos onto the high-capacity CDs, then distribute the discs for consumers to test-drive.
Many experts are skeptical about the success of these efforts. Dataquest analyst Bruce Ryon, for example, pointed out that people like to examine the information on product boxes and to peruse printed manuals rather than get information in an electronic format.
Should this mode of distribution turn out to be viable, it could reshape the software sector by opening up a wide range of new opportunities for smaller software developers and for more specialized applications.