Rash predictions and cloud computing

This morning’s Observer column.

So what about [Tom] Watson’s prediction of the world market for [five] computers? Once again, there’s no convincing evidence he ever said it. According to Wikipedia, the earliest known citation is in the email signature of a Usenet member in 1986, which simply says “remark attributed to Thomas J Watson (chairman of the board of International Business Machines), 1943” – not exactly an impeccable source.

Nevertheless, Watson was on many people’s minds this week, after a talk given in San Francisco by Rick Rashid, the computer scientist who now heads Microsoft’s formidable research division. According to the Financial Times reporter who broke the story, Rashid said that “around 20 per cent of all the servers sold around the world each year are now being bought by a small handful of internet companies – he named Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and Amazon”.

If true, that’s an amazing statistic, and one that suggests we are well on the way to the kind of world supposedly envisaged by Watson.