Last Year's Predictions: How'd We Do?

The author William Gibson is often credited with inventing the concept of cyberspace in his near-future science fiction novels, beginning with "Neuromancer" in 1984. But while Gibson's imagined world has been hailed as remarkably prescient of the Internet Age, Gibson himself points out that he missed at least one important prediction: None of his characters had cell phones. Can't win 'em all, I guess.

Undaunted -- or maybe just too dumb to give up -- we tech pundits keep forging on with our own visions of the future. Although we seldom peer more than a year ahead, getting even that right is difficult enough. That's why I always like to look back at my New Year's predictions from 12 months ago to score my successes and failures. If nothing else, it keeps me honest. Read on to see how well I foresaw the software development milestones of 2010.

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Another year in the browser wars
My first prediction for Web developers was that Google Chrome would be a big winner in 2010. That turned out to be true, though perhaps only in a relative sense. Chrome did become fully cross-platform, as I expected; the Mac and Linux versions left beta in May and the various platforms have had version parity ever since. But although every major survey shows Chrome's user base at least doubling over the course of the year, that still leaves it with just 10 to 15 percent market share overall

Nonetheless, Google's browser did much better than the competition. I assumed, wrongly, that users who hadn't quit Internet Explorer by Dec. 2009 would stick to their guns. In reality, both IE and Firefox saw their shares decline, while other browsers remained mostly flat throughout 2010. Only Apple's Safari could possibly claim a modest gain by some statistics, though nothing to compare with Chrome. Doubtless the mounting HTML5 hype had a lot to do with these trends.

I said increased competition would put extra pressure on Microsoft in the browser wars, though, and here I was right again. I expected Microsoft to release a technology preview of Internet Explorer 9 in 2010, but the Redmond-based giant did me one better, pushing the new browser into formal beta in September and making steady progress ever since. Still, as I predicted, we won't see the final release until early 2011.

While I was mostly right about Chrome and IE, my predictions for Microsoft SharePoint 2010 proved less sound. InfoWorld's test run of the platform proved largely favorable, but I didn't hear as much buzz about it from developers as I expected in 2010. Perhaps that will change as companies' upgrade cycles catch up with Microsoft's product road map.

No clear winners in the mobile arena
I thought my major prediction for the mobile development market was a no-brainer. Instead, another year has come and gone and you still can buy an iPhone only on AT&T's network in the United States, despite persistent rumors to the contrary.

I was skeptical about Android, however, and here I think I was right to trust my gut. There are certainly plenty of Android handsets on the market now. Believe it or not, even I've taken the plunge: There's an Android 2.1 phone in my pocket right now. But the more I rely on Google's smartphone OS, the more I find reasons to miss the tight integration and consistent UI of my old BlackBerry. Even after three major OS updates in 2010, Android phones still can't match the iPhone for user experience.

On the developer side, app vendors are still grumbling about the deficiencies of the Android Market. Even worse, what I never could have predicted was Oracle's lawsuit against Google, which added even more uncertainty to the Android phone market in 2010.

Still, I wouldn't want to be a runner-up in today's smartphone arena. Palm folded even faster than I predicted and was snatched up by Hewlett-Packard in April. HP has continued to update Palm's WebOS, but no new WebOS devices have appeared since the acquisition. Windows Phone 7 shipped in 2010, as Microsoft said it would; as I expected, it was a resounding dud. Elsewhere, mobile platform vendors are engaged in a battle of patent lawsuits with no end in sight.

At least Adobe seems to be making some headway. As I predicted, both Google and Motorola announced that their Android 2.2 phones would be able to run Flash 10.1, which ought to have given them an extra boost in the competition with Apple. I didn't predict Steve Jobs to be so candid in his "Thoughts on Flash" memo in April, however -- and indeed, initial tests of Flash running on Android indicate performance is pretty shabby. Maybe I should call this one a draw.

A crater where Sun Microsystems once stood
I must admit I got ahead of myself with my predictions for the ARM processor architecture and OpenCL. Although both moved forward in 2010, neither generated as much buzz among developers as I expected.

If I had to pick the one big error in my 2010 forecast, however, it would be my failure to predict the true fallout of the Oracle/Sun merger. The European Commission gave the deal the green light in January, as I expected. What I didn't foresee was how strained developer relations would become once Oracle took control of Sun's former properties.

There was no announcement of Unbreakable MySQL. Development of the open source database continued apace, and Oracle shored up its support offerings around the product, but only after dropping the lowest price tier and doubling the fees for multiprocessor servers. The decisive blow I expected Oracle to deliver to competing forks never came; in fact, those rebel MySQL offshoots look more attractive than ever.

Worst of all was the impact of the acquisition on the Java ecosystem. I thought the loss of Sun would cause IBM to ramp up its Java efforts to compete more aggressively with Oracle, but instead it merely announced a renewed partnership with its longtime rival. Not long after, the Java Community Process started coming apart at the seams, with critical members resigning in protest of Oracle's heavy-handed governance. It was a bad year for Java, and few in the community see much hope that things will get better soon.

All in all, it was another fair effort in my role as tech prognosticator. The areas where I scored the lowest tended to be those that were clouded by litigation -- and I think we can expect more of that in the coming year. But come back next week to hear more about that, along with my other software development predictions for 2011.

This article, "Hits and misses in software development in 2010," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Neil McAllister's Fatal Exception blog and follow the latest news in programming at InfoWorld.com."

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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