This was the question that was asked of a panel I saw recently here in Cleveland. The panelists each took a good shot at the answer, but to me they missed the most glaring option. Software.
Software as we know it will not be around in five years. I'm talking about dead, packaged, disconnected software. New versions of software are already starting to appear and they use the web browser as their operating system. Look at Google Docs and Spreadsheets. They've created an online version of the word processor and spreadsheet. Google has a presentation application in the works to complete the office suite.
The problem up until now has been working online. If you're working on a project proposal in Word, you can have it auto save for you and you have a local copy. Using online apps meant no local copy and if you accidentally closed your browser, you lost your work.
Google just took a huge step to bring the online offline. Google Gears (still in beta) allows Google apps to store data and run apps locally when you are offline.. Google Reader is first with Docs and Spreadsheets to follow. The app responds like you're connected and when you re-connect it syncs up where you left off. Third party developers can write their own web-based applications to use this technology.
So in five years (or less) software as you know it will not be what you know today. The productivity suite you use for presentations, word processing and spreadsheets may not have the same name on it either. Your software will be a living, breathing entity updating each time you connect, allowing you to stay connected even when you're not.
Best of all worlds, Google's suite of applications is free. No license right now. Have you tried these apps online? Would you consider ditching your Microsoft Office suite for the Google Office? Microsoft has plans to do something similar, but Google has taken the lead and pushed the boundaries of what is possible. On top of that, Google's platform will allow others to take advantage and bring their services offline. Think Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc.
Just another thing to add to my day with Google.