Mayan calendar bugs notwithstanding, 2012 looks to be another significant year for the tech world – with cloud adoption driving significant changes to everything from line-of-business software to PCs and smartphones. So, from this first week of the New Year, what are we expecting to see over the next twelve months?
The most obvious is a complete refresh of Microsoft's operating systems and productivity suite. While Windows 8 is getting much of the attention at the moment, with its shiny new user interface and support for ARM processors, businesses will need to look carefully at its server counterpart, as it's the arrival of the first fruits of Azure in the data centre. Designed to manage and support private clouds, with tooling to handle utility farms of compute and storage, Windows Server 8 is a very different beast from its predecessors. Not only does it embody a Powershell-centric way of working, it's designed to be installed with little or no user interface. Remote management of headless servers hosting armies of virtual machines is the future of the data centre, and Microsoft is designing its next generation server to deliver just that.
Office 15 is still a mystery. A leaked build last year unveiled some UI changes, but the Redmond whispers are promising something very different. We're expecting major changes to Office, with a whole new set of tools for working on tablets and ARM devices. The next Office is as likely to be two sets of tools as it is one – with new tablet versions offered alongside the traditional desktop tools, alongside deeper integration of Office 365, itself already offering more features than its desktop equivalents.
A new set of Kinect hardware will bring 3D sensing and gestures to the desktop. Having spent time with the new Metro-style Xbox UI, and seen the office of the future at Microsoft, it's not a big leap to suggest that Kinect is Microsoft's answer to touch on the desktop. Windows 8 gestures will work will with Kinect, as well as on a touch screen. And those rumours of Kinect-embedded TVs? We're inclined to suspect that they're actually monitors and all-in-ones…
Outside the Microsoft ecosystem things will carry on much as the last few years. In fact 2012 will be much the same as 2011 and 2010. It's easy enough to predict the outlines: Google will launch a new version of Android, but most devices will never see it. Apple will carry on tweaking iOS, and will launch new tablet and phone hardware. Oracle will carry on slowly integrating its various acquisitions into one enormous stack that blends hardware and software in a way that both Microsoft and Apple can only envy. HP will start to recover from its many self-inflicted wounds, while RIM will unveil its BB10 platform before MWC, making a strong case for its role as a tool for managing IT consumerisation in a way that doesn't leave companies vulnerable to litigation. Intel won't have as good a year as it hoped, as ARM-powered devices will become increasingly popular, and a new generation of tablets replaces netbooks.
In the courts the patent wars should gradually fade away, with most mobile device lawsuits replaced by binding arbitration and increased cross-licensing. Even so, Google will continue its titanic battle with Oracle. Google can't afford to give up, it has too much to lose, and Oracle is desperately looking for a Java revenue stream. Sadly there's going to be a lot of collateral damage along the way to a verdict.
All in all, an interesting year – and we've only just skirted the edge of the changes to the mobile world…