A Look Back at 2011

I spent much of the holiday weekend reflecting on the past year in various articles and blog posts on my website. And of course these kinds of retrospectives can be viewed as either useful or a cheap way to meet a deadline during a time of the year in which, let's face it, our heads are all somewhere else. At the risk of sounding self-serving, I'm going to go with the former and argue that life doesn't occur in a vacuum and that perspective is important. And that's as true with the technology we use as it is with anything else in life.

With that bit of justification out of the way, let's look back. I've been writing the editorial in the Windows IT Pro UPDATE newsletter each week for over 12 years now, if you can believe that. It's referred to internally as "Mother UPDATE," presumably because it was our first email newsletter, although I wasn't around for its genesis. (That name always reminds me of the first Alien movie, which you'll get if you're a fan of the film.)

My first UPDATE editorial was called “Windows 2000 Anonymous,” and it reflected my disappointment that the marketing dweebs at Microsoft had won some internal battle and ruined everything that was special about NT. In the intervening years, I've written about Microsoft's secret plans to port Office to Linux (never released), Microsoft's epic US antitrust trial, the advent of wireless technologies, and the transition to 64-bit computing. I’ve reviewed laptops. I’ve written about individual Microsoft products and technologies: Windows, of course, and Windows Server, but also a lot about Office and Exchange. I’ve written about security and privacy again and again and again. Big-picture stuff, product coverage, and occasional deep dives into individual technologies.

On the other end of all this, everything is changing. I think my most indelible memory of this past year was from TechEd 2011 in Atlanta. Various folks from Windows IT Pro agreed to co-chair two pre-conference sessions on cloud computing, one aimed at developers and one at IT pros. I got the IT pro track and it was like a funeral in there: With more and more on-premises infrastructure moving to the cloud, everyone was worried about their jobs. And as I noted, it's a tough thing to ask employees to provide the best possible advice for their company when that advice might include putting them out on the street.

Speaking with my co-workers after the session was over, I discovered that the developer track was the exact opposite: Developers saw the cloud as nothing but a big fat opportunity, a chance to target a new platform and keep on coding. Night and day, in other words. What a world.

It's this dichotomy, I think, that marks 2011 from a technological standpoint, because we're in a period of transition and, let's face it, change can be hard. 2011 was a watershed year for Microsoft and the broader tech industry, and the opening salvo in an ongoing transition away from the complexity and expense of traditional computing systems -- PCs and on-premises servers -- and toward simpler and less-expensive mobile computing devices and cloud computing services. And those traditional computing systems and the people who support them aren't going down without a fight.

But they are going down. The cloud computing tsunami is unavoidable and happening as I write this, and while I understand that traditional computing services won't disappear, let alone disappear overnight, they will dwindle, both as a percentage of the overall computing base and in sheer numbers. This is when everything changes.

Indeed, looking over my 2011 editorials, I see that "change" is in many ways the theme of the entire year. I wrote about the difficulty of transitioning from IE 6 to a more secure, standards-based browser, the consumerization of IT, mobile platforms (many times), Office 365 and Google Apps, Skype, cloud-based management with Windows Intune, Ultrabooks as the future of personal computing, the move to more heterogeneous IT environments, and of course Microsoft's 2011 comeback in the cloud, just to name a few. All of these articles cover different products and technologies, of course. But they're all really about change.

Change is scary. But change is also good -- cathartic. And I'm looking forward to what 2012 brings, both here in Windows IT UPDATE and elsewhere. So thanks for reading, and if you have any comments, suggestions, or complaints, please let me know.

TAGS: Windows 8
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