I’m sure we’re going to look back at 2009 and say “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ and it will no doubt be interesting. Here’s my predictions….
Social Networking Everywhere
Although online social networking companies are already struggling with diminished valuations, in 2009 we’ll see social networks break out of their silos and become essential platform elements that see their way into other online applications such as travel, e-commerce, job-posting boards, online dating services, CRM services, web based email systems, etc. Blogging is also changing, slowing down in fact. Micro-blogging with status update-esque features in FaceBook, Windows Live, and of course the explosion of Twitter will take on even larger roles. It’s as true today as it was back in 1964 when fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan wrote “The Medium Is The Message”.
The Death of Optical Media
Okay, so you’ll still be able to walk into a video store to rent a DVD or buy a spindle of blanks at your grocery store but make no mistake about it – the death march is on, and that includes you too Blu-Ray. Blu-Ray will never see the adoption curve that DVD’s had. They thought they won when HD-DVD died, but if winning means dying last, then sure, you won. We’ll increasingly be renting our movies on-demand through our cable boxes, on our converged PC’s and XBOX 360’s via services like Netflix. Along with this, the rest of us will start to realize we don’t really need to own our libraries of movies. With IPod penetration as high as it is, it may take longer to realize we don’t need to own our music either – frankly we don’t own it anyway even though the pricing models try to convince us we do. I won’t go out and predict the death of DRM, frankly, I think 2009 maybe the year where DRM starts to get more tolerable once we are clearly renting our music and movies. The Zune Pass is making some inroads here but until Apple starts offering a similar subscription pricing, this may take a bit longer.
The Mac Air may have been a bit ahead of the curve with dropping the optical drive, but get used to it. Expect more vendors to do the same as they reduce size or cram in additional batteries or hard drives.
The Rise of the NetBook
If 2009 is the year of doing more with less, then this will surely be the NetBook’s year. Mainstream hardware manufacturers hate these and their small profit margins, but Acer and Intel will be raking it in building market share if not large bottom lines. Who knows, MS may learn to love the NetBook if they can get Acer to start shipping Windows 7 on them this year as well. Be prepared to see these everywhere in 2009, but don’t expect to see Apple make one (ever).
The big story at the end of 2008 has been the global suicide of the original Zune 30s. I predict that tomorrow they’ll be they shall rise from the dead but it might take until the 2nd for everybody to figure out that they need to entirely drain the battery. The big news is that there won’t be a Zune phone with the MS brand name on it, but the Zune UI will come to Windows Mobile (6.5?) turning legions of touch based smart phones into music players almost as good as an IPhone. The bad news is that without an App Store to vet software quality, crapware will continue to be the source of reliability issues for the Windows Mobile platform. The good news is that without an App Store, Windows Mobile users will have lots of choice in the software for their devices, not to mention lots of choice in devices, carriers and plans. The battle between Good and Evil may morph into the battle between Reliability and Choice.
Get your head out of the gutter, that’s not what I meant. What I did mean is that 12-24 months from now, it will be difficult to purchase a digital frame, LCD monitor or phone without an onscreen touch capability. Windows 7 will light these devices up and we’ll start to not think about the differences between Tablet PC’s and Notebooks as they just converge into a single device. With the advent of Silverlight, WPF and Surface computing, MS has been banging the “user experience” drum for a while now but when touch starts to be the expectation and not the exception, we’ll have to re-engineer our applications to optimize for the touch experience. This may turn out to be bigger than the mouse or even a windowed operation system.
Flush with Flash
In 2008 we’ve been teased with sold state hard drives but with less than stellar performance at outrageous prices, they’ve been on the fringe. In 2009 prices and read/write times will both come down in solid state drives, but with the increased capacity of USB memory sticks 32gb, 64gb +, we likely won’t see SSD drives hitting mainstream this year. Instead I think we’ll see an increase in the behavior of people keeping their entire lives on USB flash memory sticks. Hopefully we’ll see sync & backup software such as Windows Live Sync, Active Sync, Windows Home Server, etc. become more aware of these portable memory devices that may get synced from any device in your mesh.
Camera flash will have to have a new format as SDHC currently is maxed at 32gb. With the increase in demand for HD video recording on still and video cameras, we’ll need a new format. As such we’re seeing rock bottom prices on 2gb chips now. Maybe somebody will come out with a SD Raid device that lets us plug in a bank of 2GB SD Cards.
Growing up in the Cloud
Cloud computing is going to be a very long term trend. I think we’ll only see baby steps in 2009 towards this goal. In the consumer space we’ll see more storage of digital media in the cloud, online backup services and the move of many applications to the cloud. Perfect for your Touch Zune Phone and Touch NetBook without an optical drive eh? IT shops will take a bit longer to embrace the cloud. Although many IT Data centers are largely virtualized already, applications are not all that virtual today and that doesn’t seem to be changing soon as developers have not whole-heartedly adopted SOA practices, addressed scalability and session management issues nor adopted concepts such as multi-tenancy. As we do more with less in 2009, we won’t see that changing much as a lot of software out there will be in “maintenance mode” during the recession.
Maybe, Just Maybe, this is the year of the Conveniently Connected Smart Client
Adobe Air & Silverlight are mainstreaming web deployed and updated rich client desktop apps. It’s hard to take advantage of touch interfaces and massive portable flash storage within a browser. All of these other trends can influence Smart Client applications, potentially to a tipping point. We’ll hopefully see out of browser, cross-platform Silverlight applications in 2009 to make this an easy reality on the MS Stack.
Incremental, Value-Based and Agile Software Development
Many of my customers began large-scale re-writes of their key software assets in 2008, many of them against my recommendations. For most of my key customers in 2008 and into 2009 I’m an advocate of providing incremental value in short iterative releases, not major re-writes that take 6+ months to develop. Even if your application is written in PowerBuilder 6 or Classic ASP, avoid the temptation to rewrite any code that won’t see production for 4 months or longer. We can work towards componentized software by refactoring legacy assets and providing key integration points so that we can release updated modules towards gradual migration. It is difficult for software teams in this economy to produce big-bang, “boil the ocean”, build cathedral type projects. We simply can’t predict what our project’s funding will be in 4 months from now, or if we’ll be owned by another company, scaled down, out sourced or just plain laid off. That is of course unless you work for the government. Government spending will continue if not increase in 2009, but still, try to spend our taxpayer money wisely by delivering short incremental software releases. It allows you to build trust with your customers, mark a line in the sand and move onward and upward, and let’s you move quickly in times of fluid business requirements and funding issues.
Incremental, Value-Based software development isn’t easy. It takes lots of work, creative thinking, and much interop and integration work than one would prefer. It might easily seem like an approach that costs more in the long term, and in some cases you could be right. But if a company has to throw out work in progress after 6-8 months or never sees the value of it because of other changing business conditions, then what have you saved? Probably not your job anyway.