Web standards win, Windows whimpers in 2012

The year ahead promises lots of interesting twists, particularly for Web and mobile developers

In keeping with tradition, it's time once again to dust off my crystal ball and see what the coming year will bring for software developers. Mind you, the spirits don't always offer the clearest vision of the tech industry, but they didn't let us down too badly last time around. Let's see what they have to offer for 2012.

Windows 8 slouches to market
Naturally, Windows 8 will loom large in the coming year, though it will be notable more for the uncertainty it creates than for any new features it brings. Microsoft has remained mum on an exact release date, but I expect it will rally to make sure the new OS ships for the holiday season, with a beta release appearing by April. That doesn't mean it will make any great splash when it arrives, though.

[ Windows 8 is coming, and InfoWorld can help you get ready with the Windows 8 Deep Dive PDF special report, which explains Microsoft's bold new direction for Windows, the new Metro interface for tablet and desktop apps, the transition from Windows 7, and more. | Stay abreast of key Microsoft technologies in our Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]

For developers, the most significant features of Windows 8 are Metro and WinRT. Although these technologies point to a new road forward for Windows developers, I expect Metro-style apps will be far less popular than Microsoft would like. Microsoft will do its best to have the Windows Market filled with apps by the time Windows 8 launches, but the actual results will fall short of expectations.

That's because Metro is something of a Catch-22. The stripped-down Metro UI might appeal to tablet users, but we don't even know if there's a market for Windows 8 tablets yet. On the other hand, Metro-style apps can be frustrating for desktop and notebook users, who still represent the vast majority of the Windows base. Lacking a clear audience for their apps, developers will have little reason to be enthusiastic about Metro -- and lacking a large catalog of high-quality apps to choose from, customers won't have much reason to be enthusiastic, either.

All in all, I expect the response to the Windows 8 launch to be muted. It won't be a Vista-style bomb, but it won't have anything like the reception of Windows 7, either. Sales of Ultrabooks might give it some momentum, but users who are content with Windows 7 will see little reason to upgrade their current machines.

Web standards everywhere
Windows 8 will be significant as a footnote to a larger trend, however, which is the industrywide move toward open Web standards. From Metro to Adobe AIR, mobile operating systems, the cloud, and beyond, HTML and its related technologies are absolutely everywhere, and they will become only more important in the coming year. Consider 2012 the Year of Web Standards.

Ironically, perhaps, this will mean the HTML5 hype will finally cool down a bit, as users come to understand that HTML5 isn't the "next big thing," but a mature technology that pervades their computing experience. As buzzwords go, HTML will follow the same trajectory as XML.

The real stars of 2012 won't be HTML5 and JavaScript per se, but their related APIs and technologies, which are only now being finalized. We'll see Local Storage start to catch on in a way that Google Gears never really did, but the one you'll hear most about will be WebGL, once developers realize it's good for more than just 3D graphics.

To take advantage of the new stuff, however, users need modern browsers. All the major browser vendors have adopted aggressive upgrade policies, and as a result we'll see the market share of obsolete browsers like Internet Explorer 6 finally dwindle in 2012. But the real winner will be Chrome: Google's browser handles Web standards best, and users are already starting to realize it. I predict the coming year will see Chrome emerge as the second most popular browser on the Web, beating both Firefox and Safari.

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