2010: More of the Same ... But in a Good Way - 22 Dec 2009

Last week, I described some of the work-related travails I experienced in 2009. It unleashed a mostly positive flurry of responses, which I'm still working through. I want to take a moment to thank everyone who wrote in on this topic. I'll likely publish a few blurbs from that feedback on the SuperSite for Windows by the end of the year. But as I look ahead to 2010 and think of the wider IT industry, I see more of the same looming on the horizon. But this may not be as negative as it sounds.

As I sifted through the weekly commentaries I wrote throughout the year, some recurring topics and key trends emerged. Traditional Microsoft products like Windows 7 and Office 2010 cropped up frequently, as expected, as did security and management topics. But with Microsoft taking the first painful steps into its cloud computing future in 2009, many commentaries veered off in this direction as well. It was, perhaps, the defining topic of the year.

Cloud computing will likely be the defining topic of 2010 as well, with Microsoft finally unleashing is Windows Azure services and the long-awaited Office Web Applications. Meanwhile, previously released products, such as the Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), which repositions traditional servers like Exchange and SharePoint as cloud services, will continue to grow—and grow dramatically. This is a huge and important shift in Microsoft's focus and I expect it to pay off big time in the coming year.

I was also struck by the restructuring of our expectations around the computing experience in 2009. A decade ago, most work and personal computing was done in a fixed location: in front of a desktop computer. Today, we compute on the go, and that's true whether it's for work or play. And while there are already more cell phones worldwide than PCs, the proliferation of smart phones worldwide will lead inexorably to a future where more people are accessing cloud services from these devices than from PCs.

Here, Microsoft faces some troubling issues. Its Windows Mobile OS is woefully inadequate for the rich mobile computing experiences that people now expect. Instead, consumers and some businesses will continue to flock to Apple's iPhone and, increasingly, Google Android-based phones. Meanwhile, Research in Motion's (RIM's) BlackBerry will continue to beat back Windows Mobile in businesses. (This doesn't actually make sense to me given the additional costs inherent to using BlackBerry.) Microsoft plans a major Windows Mobile 7.0 release in 2010 to meet these challenges.

These mobility trends and economic cost requirements could lead to an interesting resurgence in the business PC desktop as well. The key is this week's Intel announcement about a second generation Atom platform that involves, among other things, versions of the chipset for desktop computers. Capable of running Windows 7 and, in one design, sporting dual-core capabilities, the new Atom will lead to a new kind of low-cost computer that I feel could be ideal for businesses that have been stuck with aging Windows XP-based PCs.

Here's why: Atom-base PCs will be cheap, of course, and although they'll be ideal for running mainstream business applications and cloud services, they won't be particularly compelling for multimedia purposes. In other words, they'll be perfect for businesses that need traditional PCs, want to save money, and only want enough computing power to get the job done.

These chips could also lead to Atom-based netbooks that are, get this, manufactured to the durability needs of the typical business traveler—another missing link I lamented last week. At the time, I didn't expect anything dramatic to happen in this market for some months. But now we could learn about some true business netbooks in less than two weeks, when Intel's PC-maker partners announce their 2010 wares.

And that, really, is what keeps me coming back for more. Even in a down year, the PC industry is ever-evolving, and although some things never seem to change, there's always something new to learn.

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