Redmond Diary

By Andrew J. Brust

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Predictions for 2010

Tech bloggers like to have a predictions post at the beginning of each year (or the end of the previous one). I've never actually written one before, although I have made year-ahead predictions in panel discussions for the now defunct NYSIA. Since there's no panel this year, and since I'm taking better care of this blog, I'd thought I'd give clairvoyance a whirl right here. The following predictions are pretty random and probably not comprehensive, but I'm making it my new year's resolution to prevent perfection from being the enemy of the good (very Presidential of me, no?). So here we go…

Android Will Continue to Gain Share
I'm really not a Google fan, but I gotta be fair: the Android OS is very well done. It doesn't have the polish of the iPhone OS, although that may come with time. Rather, it appeals to the same gadget-happy demographic that Windows Mobile tried to (and failed). The 2.1 build of the OS, which will ship on Google's own (HTC-manufactured) Nexus One phone, looks to be faster and more stable than the already impressive 2.0.1 build that runs on the Motorola Droid. Perhaps most important, the platform is growing nicely in terms of application support. Web 2.0 must-have's like TripIt, FourSquare, Evernote,, Pandora, Qik and OpenTable all offer native Android applications and they all work well. The Android Market has an order of magnitude fewer applications that the Apple App Store, but Android's catching up quickly. 2010 will be a big year for the Google mobile phone platform.

Time Warner - Fox Debacle Will Hasten Slightly the Move to a la Carte Programming Via the Internet
Time Warner Cable had one of its end-of-year carriage contract show-downs again this year, but this time the crux of it was over fees Fox wanted TWC to pay for its free, over-the-air Fox and MyTV network stations. Meanwhile, much of that programming is available for free from Hulu and other sites, in addition to the high-definition digital airwaves. TWC and Fox did work out a deal, but it still seems likely that customers' already high cable bills will increase as a result. Look for formative developments this year in a not-free but reasonably-priced TV over Internet platform. If the cable companies are smart, they'll shift business emphasis to their ISP product and building a TV-friendly platform on top of it for delivery of TV programming on an a la carte basis.

Windows Home Server Will Continue its Quiet Progress
Aside from an all-but-forgotten file corruption bug in the first release, the Windows Home Server platform has been a great success story, but the story itself has had limited exposure. WHS boxes in a variety of form factors are available not only from HP (the "anchor" OEM, in effect), but also Asus, Acer, Lenovo and other PC manufacturers. I think it's the best home network backup product out there, and that's really just the beginning. Media Center integration is evolving nicely, and the advent of Atom-based WHS machines means ultra-low price points are part of the mix now. When version 2.0 of the WHS OS is released, things should really heat up. The question is whether Microsoft will stay in modesty/stealth mode on this product or whether they'll really start to promote it.

News Corp.'s Pay Walls Won't Work
Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation (owner of 20th Century Fox, the various Fox TV networks, the Wall Street Journal, a slew of tabloid newspapers around the world and other media properties) will push hard this year to start charging Internet surfers for its content. The Wall Street Journal, which News Corp. acquired relatively recently, has always charged for the majority of its content and Murdoch now sees fit to apply the WSJ formula to other properties' sites as well. As much as I agree in principal with this policy, I don't see it working out well. The Internet has fostered a culture of entitlement whereby people look at content disparagingly if it's made available only on a subscription basis. WSJ has bucked that trend, but its content, and readership, are more specialized than that of most media sites. Content from the New York Post, News of the World and Fox News just doesn't have the same dedicated, affluent audience.

.NET 4+ Will Impress Developers and Establish a Benchmark in Maturity
As much as I (and others) have lamented that .NET is becoming bloated and reaching middle age, the fact remains there's some very good stuff coming in .NET 4. New bits like the Reactive Extensions and the Parallel Extensions, and fit/finish releases like ASP.NET MVC 2 and Entity Framework "4" (it's really version 2 as well) bring both innovation and iterative refinement to Microsoft's bet-the-company development platform. And Visual Studio 2010's surprisingly robust support for SharePoint development will give .NET something no other platform has: straightforward development for a high-barrier-to-entry corporate collaboration platform. As an aside, I find it interesting that many of Microsoft's would be eulogists neglect to mention .NET when they describe the last 10 years as Microsoft's "lost decade." That's because a success like .NET doesn't fit the narrative of an obituary.

Netbooks Will Recede (but Thin and Light Notebooks Will Gain)
I bought a netbook this year, and I really liked it. But then I, as other attendees and speakers at Microsoft's Professional Developer Conference, became the lucky recipient of an Acer Aspire 1420P Celeron machine. Ever since, the only thing I've done with the netbook is install Windows Updates patches and back it up. The thin/light notebook category, when compared to netbooks, offers machines that are only slightly bulkier/heaver, have comparable battery life and yet offer the display capabilities and processing power that chase away most of the compromises. The great thing about netbooks is that they've forced down the price points on their high-powered brethren (a sub-$500 ThinkPad, anyone?), even considering the higher cost of non-Starter Edition Windows 7 licenses. So netbooks have been important, without a doubt, but I still see them as an endangered species.

LAMP Stack Will Continue to Grow and Microsoft Will Do Something Interesting With It
Facts are facts: LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) has gained huge popularity in the last few years. WordPress, Drupal and Joomla! effectively use PHP as their scripting languages and Microsoft has nothing to counter them (SharePoint is a great product, but designed for a very different customer). Meanwhile, while it may seem otherwise, Microsoft does know the score, and has gone to great lengths to make PHP easy to install and run well on Windows Server, easy to integrate with SQL Server 2005 and 2008, and even offered sanctioned support for PHP and MySQL on its Azure cloud platform. What comes next? A credible open source Web publishing product? Support in Visual Studio for PHP? New, robustly-supported tools and techniques for script-and-markup style programming in ASP.NET and/or a standalone toolkit for ASP.NET MVC development? I think one of these initiatives, or something comparably accommodating of scripter Web development support on Windows, will emerge in 2010.

Microsoft Partner Companies will Begin to Roll-Up/Consolidate
At its 2009 Worldwide Partner Conference, Microsoft made clear its distaste for a slew of boutique-sized solution providers in its channel, with so many of them getting a Gold Partner designation. Look for Microsoft to prioritize its partner engagements such that larger firms, with bigger geographic footprints and more license revenue-generating prowess, get the most attention. Expect corresponding consolidation to occur in the partner ecosystem, such that shops with deep technical expertise and those with big selling engines come together.

Oracle Will Have a Tough Year
Maybe it's ironic ownership of the open source database MySQL will cause an existential crisis for Oracle. Perhaps its impending entrance into the margin-challenged hardware business will mess with Larry's head. Maybe Oracle's late-(if ever)-to-the party position in the cloud computing market will be hard to transcend. And maybe, just maybe, the shrinking willingness of customers to continue paying exorbitant licensing fees will put a wrinkle in Oracle's quarterly results winning streak. On the other hand, maybe Oracle will put it all together, making its disparate products and acquired company business units work well together. No matter what though, Oracle's path forward will be about as simple and straight as New York's Taconic Parkway. It might be just as scenic and interesting though.

Whether or Not You Believe in the Cloud, It Definitely Exists
I'll conclude with something less of a prediction and more of an observation, regarding the cloud. There's already a glut of predictions out there about it, and I'm afraid I have little original to add to them. It's hard to tell how successful cloud offerings will be in 2010, and to what extent they will enable a new layer of entrepreneurial services and companies. But it stands to reason that most companies will at least think about the cloud as they pursue just about every effort in new and existing products, services and personnel. That will be impactful no matter what.

I think 2010 will still be a tough year for our industry. But I think we'll start to slope upwards to better times. And 2010 will be the year when much groundwork for success is done. Let's keep an analytical eye, and we'll be better set for better times.

Posted by Andrew J. Brust on 01/04/2010

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