I've always felt that Greatest Hits albums are cheap, but the end of the year is a natural time for reflection, and when I look back on the past year of UPDATE commentaries, I see an interesting set of trends emerge. And besides, I looked ahead to 2011 last week. We shouldn't let 2010 come to a close without a look back at 2010, with a bit of a peek behind the curtain.
But first, a bit of background and perspective. I've been writing Windows IT Pro UPDATE for an unbelievable 11 years now, and it's always been the dearest writing I've done for what was still called Windows NT Magazine when I signed up. I try to stick to high-level topics and trends, and provide pragmatic advice about the technology you use today and are considering for the future. This is by design: When you have experts like Mark Minasi, Sean Deuby, Michael Otey and others onboard, no one is going to care about my ill-formed thoughts on OU design or federating Active Directory.
Most Windows users aren't as thin-skinned as Apple fanatics, probably because they tend to be logic-driven and not overly emotional about the technology they use. But I fall right in the middle, preaching pragmatism but often tugged by the fallacies of form over function. Which is to say, I see the MacBook Air and I want it. But I look at Mac OS X, and the price of this thing, and I think, you have got to be kidding me, and I return to the superior keyboard of my big and heavy ThinkPad, secure in the knowledge that, for my needs, the ThinkPad makes a lot more sense. And costs literally half as much. (By the way, Lenovo makes thin and light laptops too. It's just that the one I have is big and heavy; that was my choice.)
Every once in a while, a reader will write in and tell me that, based on a recommendation or even throwaway comment I've made, they've purchased some product, and now they're either coming to me because something went wrong or simply to say thank you. Either way, these emails cause a brief, uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach, far worse than any personal criticism ever could. I feel a strong responsibility toward anyone who takes the time to read what I write, and even more so to those who actually agree with me and make life decisions based on that. But I never get used to it, and I have to wonder how other reviewers deal with this.
Case in point: The recent news that Microsoft was killing off the excellent Drive Extender technology in Windows Home Server and Windows SBS 2011 Essentials. I've been a passionate advocate of Windows Home Server since the first beta, and I've often voiced the opinion that Drive Extender needs to be part of every client and server version of Windows. Oops. "Now what," hundreds of readers have asked. I don't have an answer to that question, for you or for me, since my own home "infrastructure" actually relies on Drive Extender (in the beta version of WHS "Vail" no less). But there's an interesting accusatory tone from those running the current WHS, which is actually unaffected by Microsoft's decision. And while I understand that these current WHS boxes should be fine and work well for years to come, there is definitely an undercurrent of responsibility there. How am I going to fix this for people?
Whenever I opine on the changing trends in IT and the computer industry in general, I always hear from those who can't imagine anything would ever change, or are fearful that their current skillset and/or job will suddenly become obsolete. Some question my sanity. When I wrote about the death of email a few weeks back, there was an interesting internal discussion about the irony and/or hypocrisy of that message going out via an email newsletter, for example. I can and will point you to a recent series of articles in The New York Times that support my opinion on this topic with evidence of declining overall email usage and the interesting demographic split showing that only really old people are using email more now than in the past. But the point here isn't I told you so, it's don't take yourself so seriously: Email isn't going away. It's just being deemphasized because of other forms of electronic communication that will be used more frequently. OK, my headline was provocative. But that was the message.
Cloud computing is another hotly contested topic. I've always felt that those of us involved in IT and the computer industry routinely make the grave error of believing that technology is the goal and not the means to an end. Unless you are working at an actual technology firm, you are most likely using technology in a supporting role to whatever it is your company actually does. And if hosting resources offsite, in the so-called cloud, saves money, reduces complexity, and frees up internal resources for projects that are more directly related to the bottom line and the fundamental reason for your company's existence, this should be viewed as a good thing. But it's often viewed fearfully because of ramifications to people's jobs. This is understandable and to be expected. And it's a big topic that deserves to be discussed and debated.
Since we're a Microsoft-oriented publication, I often delve into whether Microsoft is doing the right thing strategically, both for itself and for its customers. The theme here, inevitably, is that the software giant isn't moving quickly enough, is in danger of becoming the next IBM, and is in the middle of some kind of downward spiral, a contention that, oddly enough, isn't supported by inconvenient facts like the company's revenues and growth. I see my role here as a bridge of sorts between Microsoft and its customers, and I've often taken very aggressive stances on certain policies, products, and technologies that the company isn't doing right by. This too is by design, I hope and expect that Microsoft employees and readers alike understand that any criticisms have only one goal in mind: To make the experience better for users.
And, really, that's what it's all about. Looking back on 2010, I tried to advocate for users, and advocate for technologies that make sense to those users and readers. But only you can tell me whether I'm doing my job and whether this newsletter is meeting your needs. Either way, please do let me know. And have a wonderful New Years. I'm looking forward to 2011.