It’s always nice to finish out a year and to actually have a clean “edge” between the previous year and the new year, and I finally managed to have this happen. This has been a great year in terms of my job, my writing on TechRepublic, and my personal life.

So I thought it would be fun to look back at 2008 and reflect on my forecast about the programming industry, Microsoft’s impact on the industry, the most popular topic among readers, and my expanded writing assignments for TechRepublic. I also wanted to ponder what lies ahead in 2009, extend a few thank yous, and share an announcement about my personal life.

My industry forecast: What I did and didn’t get right

At the beginning of the year, I went out on a limb and did something that I told myself I shouldn’t do: I made a prediction about the programming industry. Of course, I didn’t just say something generic like, “You will meet many people over the course of your life”; I made a fairly complex forecast. The funny thing is, I got the basic idea 100% right, while completely blowing the details.

Here’s a quick recap of my prediction: I thought mobile devices would start to really boom in terms of applications development. With the iPhone 3G quickly becoming a dominant device and its AppStore clearly being a winner for software distribution, this has become a reality in only about six months. Add to it Google’s Android finally getting a shipping device (it also has an application purchase system), and Microsoft and RIM announcing similar software purchase systems, it looks like mobile computing is the next cash cow for developers.

And why not? The way software is sold through these systems is absolutely perfect for making money. The vendor doesn’t need to worry about licensing, downloading, the update channels, getting the payment, maintaining customer accounts, and so on. All the vendor needs to do is write the app, hook into the appropriate APIs on the device, and feed it to whoever is running the store. This means the developer has a lot less work to do. The phone user no longer has to peruse the Internet looking for software because it is right there for them; plus, they don’t need to worry about registering the software, creating an account, pulling out their credit card, or anything else. The phone company and store owner also take their cut. It’s a beautiful system, and it is a win for everyone (as long as you don’t mind paying for software). The funny thing is, this functionality is baked into Windows Vista, but no one uses it or cares to use it, because it is not front and center like it is on the iPhone; it’s not obvious how to use it; and it is certainly not as seamless.

Where I completely missed on my prediction was in all of those details. I didn’t see these application stores coming down the pipe; I thought it would be the ability to dock mobile devices that would be the catalyst. Looking back, the mobile device market was packed with powder and ready to explode, and there were a lot more sparks flying around than I saw. Application stores were the spark that got that fuse lit first. Indeed, I suspect that now that a zillion people are suddenly used to doing actual tasks on their phones that last year were computer-only tasks, the push will get even stronger for docking systems. Heck, I could see a market for an iPhone (or BlackBerry) docking station in the form of a netbook. Why not? Just plug in the phone, and voila, it now has a 9″ screen and a nearly full-size keyboard. But I digress.

Microsoft: What a year it has been

What I find even more intriguing is Microsoft. Over the last decade (since the release of Windows 95, really), it has developed a weird circadian rhythm, and with each cycle, it gets more pronounced. The company goes through these periods of explosive amounts of new development, followed by a period of consolidation and shaking out. The survivors of that second half of the process become the bedrock for the next explosion. Windows Vista was supposed to be one of those explosions, but thanks to mangled timelines and overreaching, it instead became a second round of consolidation (Windows XP being the first consolidation after the Windows 2000 explosion). Now, Microsoft is pushing Windows 7 as yet another consolidation (was Windows Vista really that game changing?).

Over the last year, Microsoft has pushed out Windows Azure and Live Mesh, .NET 3.5, and made LINQ work everywhere for everything. F#, IronRuby, IronPython, and the DLR are all picking up steam. Silverlight powered the Olympics, and parallel processing suddenly became a major focus. I think that we’re going to see some consolidation soon, and it looks like Visual Studio 2010 and .NET 4.0 will be it. The funny thing is, while it is a consolidation of all of these wild new technologies into a coherent, cohesive whole, for many (if not most) .NET developers, it will be seen as an “explosion” cycle. Why? Because right now, if you want to work with these things, you need a million different downloads and items, many of which do not integrate well (or at all) with Visual Studio, effectively making these items invisible to most coders. In addition, most shops are risk adverse and run years behind the current offerings. For example, by the time Visual Studio 2010 hits, most developers will have finally worked with LINQ enough to “get” it.

HTML 5: Most popular topic

Over the course of the last year, the posts that you have found the most interesting in the TechRepublic Programming and Development blog (from what I can tell) all revolve around HTML 5. I am not scientifically measuring but sort of guesstimating based on the ferocity of the comments, the “thumbs up” votes, pageview numbers, and back links. This makes a lot of sense; many (if not most) developers use HTML regardless of their language or platform, and there is plenty of room to take an extreme viewpoint on many of the items in it.

Patch Tuesday, polls, and member feedback

This year, I started two new series on TechRepublic: Windows Patch Tuesday (which has been a smash hit, I am proud to say), and the polls that you have been seeing. The polls have been very successful as well, and have generated a lot of great feedback. I really like to see the numbers too, since they let me confirm (or disprove) ideas I have about how you are doing your jobs, which helps me decide what to write about.

On that note, I want to thank all of your for the tremendous amount of interaction and feedback over the last year. Using the “thumbs up” votes is the quickest way to ensure that we keep writing about the topics that interest you the most. In addition, the forum feedback and response to the polls gives us even more insight into the industry, and helps us pick the next direction that we need to go in. Thanks to the great feedback from you, including e-mails and comments, I already have enough blog ideas to carry me through until the first or second week of March!

Personal front

On a more personal note, this is the first time since 2005 that I am not in the middle of changing jobs at this time of year. Having some career stability is very nice, especially given the recent economic climate. In addition, I got married last week and immediately went on vacation, not to return until January (honeymoon plus holiday traveling). Because this was known in advance, I made sure that I had all of my major projects wrapped up by the end of November. This allowed me to have a few weeks in December to tie up loose ends.

Looking ahead

2009 looks to be a challenging year, as I start to really integrate all of the systems that I put into place in 2008. I can tell that in the very near future, I will become an expert in programming against Dynamics CRM 4, SharePoint Services 3.0, Office SharePoint Server 2007, and a lot of other enterprise apps. I also started to write a book, although progress has been slow. My article for MSDN Magazine was put off, and eventually morphed into a new assignment, but I think that it will be an even better piece. As soon as the new year starts, I will get that knocked out and hopefully in the editor’s pipeline.

Thanks, TR!

Finally, I would like to extend a super big “thanks!” to the staff here at TechRepublic. As you may know, 2008 was a rocky year, between the layoffs and the CBS acquisition. The people I work with at TechRepublic have been nothing but awesome despite that, and are an amazingly hardworking group of people. It is only through their continued support that TechRepublic has the high level of excellence that you have come to enjoy.

Enjoy your holidays, and see you in 2009!


Disclosure of Justin’s industry affiliations: Justin James has a working arrangement with Microsoft to write an article for MSDN Magazine. He also has a contract with Spiceworks to write product buying guides.


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