Tomorrow's Technology

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Techlog: The Future of Technology--A Look Back

Journalism may be, as the Washington Post's Phil Graham famously put it, the first rough draft of history. For a technology publication like PC World, though, it's more often a first rough draft of the future--and never more so than in this special issue, the first we've ever devoted to tomorrow's tech products and services. Spearheaded by Senior Editor Eric Dahl, our ambitious package examines an array of incremental advances and major breakthroughs coming your way.

It's an exciting, wide-ranging preview, but like I said, it's a rough draft. We've covered the future beat since 1983--when phrases like "flat-screen monitor" had a ring of sci-fi about them--so we know that even today's best guesses may not map to tomorrow's realities. But whether we were uncannily accurate, bizarrely off-base, or somewhere in between, it's fun to look back at our past stories on the technological road ahead...

1983: We devote a meaty seven-page feature story to an exotic, pricey peripheral that we fearlessly predict "will someday fade into familiarity." The mouse proceeds to do exactly that.

1984: We enthuse about Microsoft's upcoming DOS enhancement, Windows 1.0, which we say is scheduled for release in April 1984. It's MIA until November.

1984: IBM's PCjr graces our cover; we predict that the computer "will revolutionize the way we live and learn." Instead, it becomes a legendary flopperoo--number 13 on our 2006 list of the worst products ever.

1987: A display exec tells us that within 15 years, LCD monitors will be common, and may reach 1000 lines of resolution. Good call. He also says they'll be monochrome. Oops.

1994: In a cover story on the next version of Windows, we keep calling it Windows 4.0 and say that it should be out by early 1995. When it makes its debut in late August of that year, it's known as Windows 95.

1997: We say that Windows 97, expected in mid-1997, should be "a significant release." It is. But when it slips to mid-1998, it's inevitably called Windows 98.

1998: We hazard a guess that executive types of the future may dump traditional laptops for PDA-like Windows CE-based mininotebooks. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

1999: Device Bay, a standard that would allow you to hot-swap PC components by simply popping them in and out, like "a removable car radio," gets our attention. Nifty idea; never amounts to anything.

2002: We rate 802.11 wireless networking--which we don't yet call Wi-Fi--as one of the most significant upcoming technologies, and explain how access points--not yet known as hotspots--are beginning to be installed in hotels, airports, and cafés. Hard to believe that a technology so indispensable today felt so futuristic so recently.

2002: Once again, we look at the next upgrade to Windows (code-named Longhorn, later dubbed Vista). Once again, we say when it's due to ship (late 2004 or 2005). And once again, it slips, slips, and slips. (Latest word: Early 2007. Maybe.)

Will the products, trends, and technologies we discuss in this issue show up on schedule, in the form we expect? That remains to be seen. But here's one prediction I can make with utter confidence: The future of technology will be full of surprises--and helping you make sense of them will remain one of the most important things we do here at PC World.

Special Report: Tomorrow's Technology

The Future of Your PC The Future of Robots
The Future of Cell Phones The Future of Privacy
The Future of the Web The Future of Nanotech
The Future of OSs The Future of You
The Future of Fun 100 Fearless Forecasts
Incredible Tech: Lies Ahead A Look Back

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