To celebrate the New Year, I've put together some thoughts and prognostications for the next 12 months. Things actually look pretty cheery all around, with just a few dark clouds that could spoil our technology fun.
1. Microsoft will enjoy a profitable 2011. It won't be due to any recent genius strategy or new products by the company, but instead thanks to Windows 7 and Office upgraders. Most big companies just aren't ready to move to the cloud yet, and the non-Microsoft solutions seem too traumatic for many of their customers to contemplate. Google Docs will make some inroads against Office, but the new Office 365 will be appealing enough to prevent mass defections -- at least in the near term -- as people figure they might as well give Microsoft's cloud solution a spin.
2. The me-too strategy will work better than expected for Microsoft. They will continue to open new retail stores, and perhaps even an app store for PC products. Certainly they are blatantly copying Apple with the concept and execution, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Compare the experience of buying an Apple computer to that of buying a Windows PC at a big-box retail store like Best Buy. When the salescritter at a retail store wants to charge $30 extra for a "PC Tuneup" package that removes the crapware installed by the computer's own maker, you know that Windows is in trouble. With their own stores, Microsoft has the ability to instead provide an Apple-like experience and showcase the best of Windows.
3. "Windows 8" will be revealed, but it won't look that attractive without the kimono. Microsoft will doggedly try to stick to its one-OS-core-fits-all design just one last time as it upgrades Windows 7, but they'll add various trimmings in the hopes it might fit onto platforms like tablets. At the same time, the company will be working on an upsized version of Windows Phone 7, running on ARM processors, to be their true answer for tablets like the iPad. They didn't license the rights to ARM architecture for nothing.
4. Tablets will hurt netbooks a lot more than notebooks. People who want a "real" computer with a keyboard will still opt for a full-sized notebook, running Windows 7. The netbook market will suffer at the hands of the tablet; an on-screen keyboard isn't that much worse than a cramped chiclet one, and besides the browse-to-type ratio is high on either device. This isn't a bad outcome for Microsoft, which couldn't sell real Windows 7 on low-end netbooks anyway and would prefer to deliver an ARM-based Windows for tablets that can be priced independently of Windows 7. They just need to deliver that solution ASAP.