Predictions for 2000

Cowhide computers, Russians in Redmond and other tech possibilities for the new year.

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Technology has permeated most every aspect of our lives — but the engineers and entrepreneurs who’ve introduced us to such innovative masterpieces as robotic dogs and Bob are tireless. Looking forward to a new year that will surely bring further evidence of their ceaseless creativity, we hereby salute some great ideas for the future.

Computer couture

As we leave the gray depths of the 20th century for the Bondi Blue sky of a radiant future, we’ll be thinking really different. Look for beige computer boxes to be replaced by a rainbow of colors, as computer manufacturers partner with candy and cereal makers. Don’t be surprised when Dell starts a Froot Loops line and Emachines, furiously looking for the Gen-Y angle, starts selling a Pentium III-powered Starburst line. Big Blue, of course, will launch a new line of ThinkPads in five tangy flavors: blueberry, blueberry, blueberry, blueberry and, yes, blueberry.

But don’t think colors will be enough for true fashionistas. Gateway will abandon plans for a line of laptops decorated with its trademark Holstein splotches, opting instead for genuine cowhide coverings. But it will be the Be operating system that really comes into its own. BeOS creator Jean-Louis Gassie will team with fellow Frenchman Jean Paul Gaultier on a new BeOS-powered machine decorated with superfluous and scary-looking belts and buckles.

‘Cuz pets can’t drive

Inspired by that hand-puppet pooch singing “Spinning Wheel” on TV, e-commerce entrepreneurs will unleash a pack of pet portals across the Web. By late spring we’ll be reading of violence spawned by the 25 new pet-supply sites: pet portal representatives will come to blows in public parks as they vie to pass out their branded pooper-scoopers. But the market will cheer on this competitive spirit and by mid-summer pet-portal stocks will incite a new Wall Street frenzy, with PetPooch.com making quick work of the VA Linux IPO to become the greatest first-day gainer in public offering history. Its record will last for no more than a week, however, before Biped-Pets.com hits the NASDAQ and rises 1,200 percent on its opening day. By October that record will have been successively laid to rest by Pettrific.com, Iguanas-and-piranhas.com and Petrified.com, while the massive traffic generated by the launch of CelebrityPets.com will slow the Net enough to disrupt day trading. Of course, those in the know will keep up with all this bitingly important activity by reading the Petly News.



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Berlinification of Redmond

Microsoft will fail to reach a settlement with federal regulators and, boy, will Bill Gates regret it. Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson will not only break up Microsoft, but will install a military government in Redmond. Following high level negotiations at the World Trade Organization, Microsoft’s campus will be “Berlinified,” with British, French, Russian and American soldiers governing four occupied zones. Thanks to Madeleine Albright’s careful diplomacy, the United States will wind up with control of the applications group, while the Russians will be stuck with the aging, soot-stained factories of the operating systems unit.

And what about Bill? Using a fraction of his stratospheric wealth, he will lure a few biogeneticists from Monsanto and put them to work creating bug-resistant clones of himself. (The future Microsoft leaders are an incredibly tough strain — although they might suffer a chemical meltdown when ingesting pesticide-producing Monsanto potatoes.) Gates then retires and finally makes peace with Netscape founder Jim Clark. The two undertake a round-the-world voyage on Hyperion, Clark’s ultra-computerized yacht, and head for Argentina, which Gates will have bought in a private transaction for an undisclosed sum; the tech duo are reportedly at work on a stand-up routine when they are lost at sea after a computer glitch sinks the 155-foot sailboat.

Finnux redux

Having resolved in a national referendum that it was high time that the country of Finland should be known for something more than saunas and the world’s highest per-capita cell phone use, the Finns will declare an open-source country. Citizenship will be open to anybody who writes any portion of the new constitution. The Finnish parliament, the Eduskunta, will be replaced by a high-powered array of computers that will be responsible for key political decisions such as the appropriate length of time for streetlights to stay yellow. Linux creator and open-source demigod Linus Torvalds, however, will be left out of the decision-making process because of widespread confusion about whether he is a Finn or a penguin.

Dow Lowdown

Dow 36,000? Why stop there? The stock market will (inevitably) continue its inevitable flight toward the firmament; the Dow Jones Industrial Average will finally peak in September at 1.174 million. At that point, someone will finally realize that no one actually knows what the heck that darn number means anyway and start investigating. By October the trail will lead to a rogue day trader, who by that time will have accumulated a staggering $84 trillion of losses with an online brokerage.

“I thought it was just like the adventure games I played when I was kid,” the trader will tell Barbara Walters. “You just hack into the program for five minutes and give yourself infinite hit points.” The discovery will cause a temporary worldwide economic collapse, but global markets will quickly rebound when the legions of indigent laptop owners find Net-centric ways to make a living — like auctioning Beanie Babies on eBay.

Transmeta revealed

After years of total secrecy about its modus operandi, Linus Torvald’s company Transmeta will finally unveil its product. At dawn on the day of revelation, thousands of free-software geeks will gather outside Transmeta headquarters, brandishing stuffed penguins and hoping to be the first to hear about a new chip structure or open-source breakthrough. At noon exactly, Torvalds himself will appear at the doorway with a laptop and a sheaf of press kits and will reveal the secret he’s spent years developing: his new pet portal, Linuxpet.com.

Mahir Spice

Mahir Cagri’s fame will continue to grow, and he’ll be offered the job of Global Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations where he’ll be introduced to Ambassador Geri Halliwell, nee Ginger Spice. The two will fall madly in love and swiftly marry (“I just love the way he looks in a Speedo,” Halliwell tells the British tabloids); for the top-secret ceremony in Moldova she’ll wear a Union Jack minidress, he’ll have Gucci custom-make an especially shiny suit. Together, they’ll form a band called The Goodwills — Cagri, of course, playing the accordion — and the happy couple will tour the world to sing their message of peace, love and Turk Power.

Titanium butlers

In an attempt to outdo Webvan (the $6 billion online grocery store) and Kozmo.com (the one-hour snack delivery service), two enterprising Stanford MBAs will launch MyRobot.com. The service promises to deliver groceries within an astonishing 20 minutes and will send along a robot to cook a meal for you. Got a hankering for a cappuccino but feeling too lazy to get out of bed? Tap on that laptop: MyRobot.com will send over a titanium butler with a built-in espresso machine to satisfy all your caffeine needs — only $6 a shot. These speedy robots will whip up 12-course meals in seconds flat, and you won’t even need to own a souffli pan (all appliances included!).

The service will prove especially popular in Silicon Valley, where overworked IPO millionaires with empty houses (no time to buy kitchen knives, let alone cook) will discover the pleasure of insta-dinner parties. LVMH Moet Hennessey Louis Vuitton will immediately invest $12 billion; John Paul Gaultier will clamor for the privilege of dressing the robots.

Amazonian

Unsated by its progression from “Earth’s biggest bookstore” to “galaxy’s most dept-ridden department store,” Amazon goes into closed-door meetings to redefine its strategy. Its stock will be at an all-time high after a merger with Wal-Mart/Neiman Marcus (the “We are all things to all people” people), when rumors slip out that Amazon will trade shares worth $13 billion to gain control of an entire e-commerce category. Speculation runs rampant and the story dominates the front page for days as the press struggles to figure out what new direction Amazon is heading in. Finally, as the year 2000 draws to a close, the announcement hits the Web: Amazon will buy all 25 new pet portals.

Janelle Brown is a contributing writer for Salon.

Kaitlin Quistgaard, Salon's former technology editor, writes frequently about the arts and South America, where she once lived.

Mark Gimein is a staff writer for Salon Technology.

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