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1999 - The Year of the Penguin
by Hans Cathcart
It has come to dominate the American cultural landscape, fascinating, intriguing and addicting all who cross its path. A phenomenon so powerful, so sudden, that only the true insiders could have predicted this craze. But even now, as millions of adults will open their e-wallets this holiday season and buy a selection of products from this one brand, every single parent is asking themselves: "What's the deal with Pokémon?"
For the educated, I'm referring, of course, to the seven and eight year-olds, it's completely apparent: "My Pikachu can easily win against your Clefairy, even if your Raichu is an evolved Pokémon ... Dad!" And so it goes: the kids understand everything, the parents are confused, and the green-backs are on-route to the Pokémon empire.
Quite frankly, this must be the way most people feel about the E-industries and dot.com corporations that are today transforming America's economic landscape. Most of us, however, are as attuned to today's e-commerce trends as our kids are to the intricacies of the Pokémon card game. In essence, there is very little difference between our focus on e-commerce, our kids' attention on Pokémon, and the technical world's fascination with, say, Linux.
Linux is, of course, the open-source operating system that is poised to challenge the great Microsoft monopoly in the coming years for dominance of the server and desktop operating system market.
What does Linux have to do with e-commerce?
Well, Mitchell Levy asked me to share, with you, my views on the apparent rapid rise of Linux during 1999. Mitchell didn't predict Linux as a top trend in last years' "Top-10 e-commerce Predictions for 1999." "I told you so," could have been my response, but I don't think Mitchell missed Linux at all.
Linux has about as much relevance to e-commerce as Pokémon. Mind you that this holiday season will probably see the Pokémon brand as one of the most purchased brands over the web. Similarly, Linux and other open-source software products, such as the successful Apache Web server, will probably be the corner-stone of over 50 percent of all e-commerce transactions on the web this winter. But, fundamentally they are only tools to make e-commerce happen.
Open Source software, of which Linux and Apache are both children, is a type of software-license. It is often referred to as a 'copyleft' since the source code or computer instructions of any Open Source software product must always be made freely available along with the right for any person to improve, modify or change the product freely.
This idea, combined with the possibilities of the Internet, has sparked a flame in the software development community, and is now spreading into all adjoining industries such as e-commerce. Open Source software, has, for instance, allowed many e-commerce businesses to cheaply build and operate extensive e-commerce web sites, which has inevitably reduced product prices. What this shows is that the fate and future of a particular industry, such as our favorite 'e' depends to a great deal on trends and developments in areas seemingly unrelated.
Mitchell didn't see Linux because he wasn't looking at the geeky UNIX developer world. Parents didn't see Pokémon coming because they didn't pay attention to the Japanese entertainment market. Many years ago, Microsoft didn't think the Internet was important.
As with all predictions, they look better with 20/20 hindsight, so I will end with some thoughts I wrote down a year ago ... my predictions for 1999, if you will:
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