We were wrong -- so far -- that Carol Bartz would be ousted as Yahoo CEO by the end of this year, but we were right that Apple's tablet, whose name wasn't known at the end of last year, would be huge. OK, so that second one was probably a given, but not all of our 2010 predictions were so easy. We think the same is true with our 2011 predictions.
1. Sometimes a cliche works best
We hesitate to call 2011 "the year of the tablet" since that sounds like a tired cliche already, but the coming year will be pivotal for that market and for applications developed for tablets. While tablets will increasingly find use in enterprises, we agree with Jeremy Liew, Lightspeed Venture Partners managing director, that a tablet "doesn't necessarily live in your office or outside your home. I think it lives in your living room -- that's the natural place for it." As such, games that are more complex and take longer to play, compared to those that are suitable for smartphones or other mobile devices, will increasingly be developed, and tablet applications will more and more befit the device's "natural home," which is relaxing on the couch.
And while Android-based tablets will be competitive, none will catch up with the iPad in 2011.
2. Ellison gives Benioff the ultimate comeuppance
The perennial rumor that Oracle will buy on-demand software vendor Salesforce.com will come true. Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff and Oracle CEO Larry Ellison have a long history, marked of late by public acrimony that belies the fact that Benioff once worked for Ellison.
Salesforce.com's Force.com platform is powered by Oracle's database and its Apex programming language has roots in Oracle-owned Java. Salesforce.com also has something Oracle doesn't: Tens of thousands of small to medium-size companies as customers of its CRM (customer relationship management) software. In turn, Oracle's ownership would give Salesforce.com greater cachet in the largest enterprises, potentially enabling it to strike global deals for CRM and its emerging portfolio of complementary, social-enabled applications.
3. IBM or HP will buy SAP
SAP is among the last big stand-alone business apps vendors; it's also the largest of that breed. It's getting harder and harder to stay independent these days, with the trend inexorably toward integration and consolidation. Oracle is building highly integrated systems from its own servers, database and hardware, and IBM and HP may need to do the same to compete. It would be a big change in strategy for IBM, but then the tech landscape has never looked quite like this. HP is now run by SAP's ex-CEO, Leo Apotheker, so he knows the business inside out.
SAP is also reeling from a US$1.3 billion verdict for corporate theft against Oracle, so its reputation is damaged and its online efforts are struggling.
4. Enterprises get flashy
We agree with Barry Eggers, managing director at Lightspeed Venture Partners, that the biggest trend that scarcely anyone knows about just yet will lead to a huge year for the use of flash memory in the enterprise. The reasons are simple, as Eggers notes: "Flash memory is 100 times faster than rotating disks. It's also more expensive, but the cost is getting down to where it's not really that much more expensive for 100 times faster." He foresees a $1 billion dollar market in the next couple of years, driven by insatiable data-center needs.
5. WikiLeaks goes on
WikiLeaks founder and editor Julian Assange will have a rugged year of legal travails in Sweden, where he is wanted for investigation of sex-crime allegations. In the U.S., the Department of Justice will spend a lot of time and money pursuing possible charges against him related to WikiLeaks' publication of stolen U.S. Department of State documents. He will not, however, be charged -- this time. He will continue to achieve rock-star status in some quarters and be held in great contempt in others. Those inclined to provide WikiLeaks with government and corporate secret documents will continue undeterred.
6. Cyberwarfare becomes reality
Real cyberwarfare will occur (in fact, there are growing signs as the year closes that it already is occurring), with Iran's nuclear plant at Bushehr hobbled. Industrial and infrastructure systems will also prove susceptible to cyber-espionage, moving toward fulfilling analyst firm Gartner's prediction that "by 2015, a G20 nation's critical infrastructure will be disrupted and damaged by online sabotage."
7. A few words on the cloud
IDC forecasts a 30 percent rise year-over-year in 2011 in spending on public IT cloud services as more business applications are moved to the cloud.
We think that John Vrionis, a principal at Lightspeed, is spot on with his prediction that startups will emerge as important players in the ongoing migration of data to the cloud, addressing security, performance and reliability issues that have been roadblocks. "You've got to keep this stuff around," he says of data such as archived e-mail and other information that has to be kept for regulatory purposes or because you never know when you might need to dig up some old piece of data. "The cloud is really the perfect place because it's so cheap. You know, it would be great if you could keep your junk in someone else's garage."
The cloud will also fuel an explosion of connectivity, because it lets vendors turn isolated products into connected products. Think of all the years we've been hearing about the "connected home" and smart appliances, such as refrigerators that monitor contents and add items to a virtual grocery list kept on your phone. That day is coming.
So, any company that fails to leverage connectivity as a "core utility" is going to find that their product is "toast," says Dale Calder the CEO of Axeda, which provides software and services in the machine-to-machine space. "Any industry that touches something that a consumer interacts with, they're going to have to figure out how to leverage connectivity." 2011 will mark the turning point for those that have it figured out and those that don't.
8. Going social
Social media will hit a maturation stage in 2011 so that (inane) Twitter posts of celebrities and (inane) Facebook updates will be supplanted by more worthy uses, such as the recent launch of The Giving Effect, a site that uses social media to help spread the word about charities and their donors. By year's end, it will be rare to find a nonprofit organization whose home page does not prominently display links to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. The same will occur with for-profit enterprises and their management teams, who will get over concerns about having a social-media presence.
On the less savory side (at least from our perspective), Facebook, Zynga and social-media powerhouses will increasingly find ways to use our data to their advantage, with predictable privacy issues continuing to haunt Facebook in particular.
After all, it's not only because people like to waste time growing corn online that induces 50 million Internet users to play FarmVille. "They're constantly mining that data to encourage you to play the game," says Vrionis about Zynga. Social-media companies "will get more and more efficient at this." Beware of such efficiency "improvements" throughout 2011, coupled with growing acceptance of such (mis)uses of personal data. In other words, resistance is futile.
9. Congress takes a tech break
The U.S. Congress will not pass any important tech-related legislation, as severe legislative gridlock takes hold. Meanwhile, the Federal Communications Commission, having forged ahead on net neutrality rulemaking, will be sued by at least one midlevel ISP, backed by conservative groups that want the government to keep its hands off the Internet.
10. This year's CEO prediction
From out on the proverbial limb, we predict that Steve Ballmer will leave his job as Microsoft CEO. Pressure from shareholders as well as his recent big sell-off of Microsoft stock lead us to believe that 2011 will be the year.
(Chris Kanaracus in Boston, James Niccolai in San Francisco and Grant Gross in Washington, D.C., and Nancy Gohring in Seattle contributed to this story.)