Welcome to 2011, and Happy New Year! In this first UPDATE column of the new year, I thought it might be fun to lay out some predictions for the coming year in messaging and collaboration. I take inspiration from the legion of weather forecasters and technology analysts everywhere; they're free to make wildly inaccurate predictions with no real-world consequences, and that seemed like a good racket to get in on. So, here are my predictions for events and happenings in 2011 that you might want to watch for.

Let's start with the big gorilla in the room: Microsoft Office 365. Although Microsoft hasn't announced a firm availability date, I'd expect to see it roll out in the first half of this year—by which I mean May, just in time to promote at TechEd North America. By using aggressive pricing, Microsoft will announce a large number of initial customer sign ups, and Microsoft Exchange Server administrators all over the world will nervously start editing their resumes just in case their employers decide to drink the cloud Kool-Aid. At the same time, I expect strong continued growth in the Exchange Server 2010 installed base as sites leave Exchange 2003 in increasing numbers. (This is a safe bet given the number of customers I already see planning migrations for 2011!)

Given Microsoft's past release schedule, I think it's a safe bet that we'll see a second service pack for Exchange 2010 mid-year, too. Along with the usual bug fixes, I’d expect to see some additional features related to hybrid Office 365/Exchange 2010 on-premises deployments, and if we’re really lucky there might be some additional functionality added to the Exchange Control Panel, which I like more the more I use it. Honestly, I haven't been keeping up with the Windows team's release schedule, so I'm not going to predict anything about a new service pack for Windows Server 2008 R2. However, I can guarantee that Microsoft will continue to ship security updates, and I'll boldly predict that some of them will be out-of-band updates necessitated by reckless disclosure by Microsoft competitors.

Solid state disks (SSDs) will continue to get cheaper. A 480GB SSD now costs around $1,500, primarily because there's really only one manufacturer making them. However, prices for 250GB to 300GB SSDs have declined by about a third just in the past four months. Expect to see guidance from Microsoft about where (or if) it makes sense to use SSDs in Exchange deployments. My vote: Save your money because the Exchange 2010 I/O profile is such that less expensive conventional disks will provide adequate IOPS at a much lower cost than SSDs—they're not as cool, though.

Speaking of guidance from Microsoft: Expect Microsoft and VMware to continue to argue over whose virtualization solution is best and how it should be properly deployed for Exchange. This is probably a pretty safe prediction for 2012 as well, come to think of it.

On the mobile device front, Apple's recent introduction of an iPhone that runs on Verizon's CDMA network will steal a bunch of market share from the Android platform. Google won't suffer, given that it derives little-to-no actual revenue from Android, but both Apple and Verizon will make a large pot of money. Apple is widely expected to launch new generations of iPhone and iPad devices in 2011, which will make it still more money. However, they will stubbornly refuse to fix any of the glaring calendaring or mail bugs in their Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) implementation, so iPhone users will continue to suffer from missing features and general annoyances throughout the year. (Bonus prediction: Sending complaining email messages to Steve Jobs will continue to produce zero response on this topic.)

Microsoft will counterattack with a number of updates for Windows Phone 7 that extend its already excellent mail and calendaring clients by providing more EAS policy support, moving it closer to feature parity with Windows Mobile 6.5. And RIM will ship its PlayBook tablet, which will make a big splash at launch and then peter out when people discover that you can only use it for mail and calendaring if you have a compatible BlackBerry device to tether to it.

My final prediction: Microsoft corporate vice president Rajesh Jha, who owns responsibility for the Exchange team, will hold an arm-wrestling match with Gurdeep Singh Pall, the corporate vice president who owns the Lync team. The loser will have to turn his product into a server role for the winner's product, so we will either have Lync as a new Exchange role or vice versa. And you can take that to the bank.

What do you think will happen in 2011? Drop me a line and let me know; I'll share some of the best predictions in a future column, and I'll circle back around the middle of the year to see how these predictions are doing in the real world.

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