Gartner’s high-tech hype radar

Plus, IDC report puts open source at the center of innovation and savings

Gartner, the 900-pound gorilla of IT research firms, has something to say about seemingly everything. With 1,200 analysts and 3,700 associates, Gartner pretty much covers the waterfront. But in sifting through its carefully qualified predictions and oh-so-nuanced magic quadrants, my eyes usually glaze over.

That’s not the case, however, when it lets down its hair and gets wacky, like it did with its 2006 “Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies." This is Gartner’s annual look at the stuff coming down the enterprise pike and how far it is from becoming reality.

This year’s hype cycle is divided into three major themes: the “real-world Web,” or objects with the capability to interact with their surroundings; Web 2.0; and application architecture, including “disciplines and technologies” to enable business applications to “continue to mirror business requirements more directly.”

Of the 36 that made the cut (either because Gartner views them as having great potential impact or being significantly under- or overhyped), I recognized most of the usual suspects (wikis, location-aware apps, sensor mesh networks, folksonomies, and so on).

But what about collective intelligence? Offline AJAX (Asynchonous JavaScript and XML)? Speech-to-speech translation? Corporate semantic Web? Augmented reality? Gartner provides detailed explanations for these and many more. What would be cool would be to be able to click on the technologies and pull up mini case studies of companies experimenting with them — an AJAX rollover would also work.

The challenge with this exercise, which attempts to map future technology adoption across a 10-year period, is that Garnter must change it every year. So unless somebody finds the cure for cancer, really the only thing that changes much is the nomenclature. But that’s cool — it’s just another tool to figure out which way the wind is blowing. Did I mention semantic weather-vaning? Maybe next year.

Vicious, but good for you:  IDC has an intriguing report on the long-term impact of open source software. Although at $3,500 I couldn’t afford the report (it wasn’t simultaneously released under the GPL), what I gleaned from the press release is that IDC thinks open source is a huge deal — but for different reasons than you’d think.

Based on surveys of 5,000 developers in 116 countries, IDC calls open source “the most significant all-encompassing and long-term trend that the software industry has seen since the early 1980s,” and it predicts that open source will unleash “vicious price competition.” But the biggest impact, claims IDC, will be on innovation — “extending the useful life of software assets and saving customers money.”

Interestingly, and plausibly related, Microsoft last week announced it will be releasing an authoring environment at the end of the month so that any teenager in his or her room can easily develop games for the Xbox and Xbox Live platforms. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Microsoft’s top Xbox exec said, “Our objective is to engage Xbox 360 users in the creation of games the way sites like YouTube have given rise to countless amateur movie makers.” Open innovation is already commonplace on the Web and on the leading enterprise platforms. But in the race for the final two killer-big environments (mobile devices and living room appliances), will the big players truly embrace the open source model? Or try to co-opt it? Either way, they’re hearing the footsteps.