12 industry disaster scenarios

The end of the world may or may not be nigh, but in the tech industry, many of these possibilities could easily become reality

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Disaster scenario No. 4: Legislation against municipal fiber is enacted
The Man is at it again. Just like the early part of the last century, when utility companies tried to prevent the public sector from bringing electricity to poor people (unfair competition) and avoided bringing it themselves (poor people can't pay), Time Warner, Comcast, Verizon, and the rest are working with your state representatives to pass their "model legislation" to stop municipal fiber.

When the U.S. government brought electricity through the Rural Electrification Administration, it quickly saw unprecedented economic growth. Within a few years, most of the systems became profitable because the people who benefited from electricity became richer. With recent political change in North Carolina, even my state has now passed a law making it harder for municipal fiber to bring high-speed Internet to rural communities.

This kind of nonsense is a terrible problem for people in rural communities. Not only won't the state deliver high-speed Internet, but localities themselves are prevented from doing so. Someone needs to tell Time Warner and various state legislatures it isn't the 1930s anymore.

Disaster scenario No. 5: Oracle buys MongoDB; IBM buys Couchbase
While MongoDB isn't the only document database in town, it's certainly the best-funded and most widely deployed. Couchbase is the most obvious Pepsi to MongoDB's Coke, with a well-financed effort by open source and database veterans as it transitions from key-value to document with the impending 2.0 version.

We haven't seen too many open source IPOs recently, which means MongoDB and Couchbase are likely to get big and fat and acquired. While Couchbase, written in Java, is complementary to the suite of technology Oracle acquired with Sun, there's a reason I think Mongo would more likely go Oracle: It pays more for its open source acquisitions than IBM does.

If Oracle merely bought MongoDB, those of us who didn't want to pay Oracle rates would go to Couchbase. But yikes, what if IBM bought Couchbase around the same time? We'd be left with with the lesser-funded open source database upstarts and a lockdown of the fastest-growing and most exciting part of the industry.

Disaster scenario No. 6: Applesoft
No, I'm not talking about the historic brand Apple used for software. I'm talking about the nightmare that would be the Apple-Microsoft merger.

A few years ago this would be unthinkable, but with Apple's traditional hardware and software now a relatively less important part of its business, and Microsoft's dismal returns in the mobile space, this looks less like a regulatory nightmare than it once did. Sure, the Europeans would complain for possibly a whole cycle while Microsoft and Apple bought a few elections, but eventually the merger would go through.

The result would be a behemoth that would breathe new life into Microsoft's consumer business and give Apple credible plays in the cloud and server market. Applesoft's hardware would still be "cool" for fanboys, and Windows 9 could have a powerful new kernel. Distributors would be nervous, but Applesoft could always spin off its laptop hardware division. For developers, this would significantly reduce our real choices and create a powerful, locked-up market.

Disaster scenario No. 7: Oracle starts charging for the JDK
Oracle could start requiring license fees for the JDK from everyone but desktop users who haven't uninstalled the Java plug-in for some reason. This would burn down half the Java server-side market, but allow Oracle to fully monetize its acquisitions and investments.

Sun tended to create markets but never really figured out how to create products people wanted to buy. When I worked for JBoss, I felt Sun was an evil bully trying to tax us; in retrospect, it wasn't half as mean as it should have been. Oracle tends to destroy markets to create products it can fully monetize. Even if you're not a Java developer, this would have a ripple effect throughout the market.

As for alternatives: Node.js is in its infancy, Python won't conquer the world, Perl is something we're unlikely to go back to, and PHP is ... PHP. Ruby is the most likely beneficiary, but Oracle could laugh its way to the bank. I actually haven't figured out why Larry hasn't decided Java should go this route yet. Some version of this scenario is actually in my company's statement of risks.

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