IT trends in 2009

As we approach the end of the year, it’s a good time to look ahead to see what 2009 promises to bring in information technology developments that may affect third sector organisations.

Internet Hits the Road

In 2009, we will no doubt see the take off of mobile internet, that is broadband access over the mobile phone networks, whether that be on laptops equipped with USB ‘dongles’ or portable internet-enabled devices such as smartphones. The widespread coverage of 3G access makes mobile internet more usable than earlier slower mobile technologies that only offered a limited internet experience.

Smartphones are already the fastest growing sector of the mobile phone market, and as employees replace their existing phones with devices that browse the web and access email, there will be pressure on organisations to extend remote network access to smartphone-equipped staff. And as the market grows, downward pressure on the prices of unlimited mobile data packages – a must for mobile internet, as the price of metered services doesn’t bear thinking about – will encourage more people to ask their IT staff to equip their notebooks with 3G access.

This trend will force organisations to rethink their IT strategies, particularly as regards remote network access and security. Smartphones and 3G-equipped notebooks can enhance productivity, but they are also a potential security risk if proper precautions are not taken. Many of the leading smartphones offer encrypted data links like secure VPNs and features like the ability to be remotely wiped in case they are lost.

IT Goes Green

Whether because the current economic climate encourages organisations to seek energy cost savings or simply because of rising environmental issue awareness, 2009 will be the year that ushers in the greening of IT systems and strategies.

Computerisation has long offered the promise of environmental benefits – consider the ideals of the ‘paperless’ office, or the virtual elimination of travel through remote access or videoconferencing – but these have proved elusive as the adoption of technology has all too often actually increased overall energy costs, pollution and waste.

It doesn’t have to be that way, and as much as computer manufacturers are making an effort now to reduce the use of harmful chemicals and to introduce hardware recycling programmes, it is up to every organisation to design and enforce environmental policies that make real demands of staff and IT suppliers alike to ensure that IT systems actually reduce the environmental impact of business operations.

Browsing Gets Chrome-Plated

When Google introduced its new web browser, dubbed Chrome, a few months ago, not a few people were baffled by the move. Why would the world need yet another web browser?

But the real point of Google’s new browser will become increasingly apparent over the next year as internet-based applications take off and start to replace traditional software applications installed on local machines. Chrome is specially designed to run internet applications, whether online email systems, office applications like word processors or spreadsheets, or sophisticated business systems like accounting, sales or human resources apps. These applications aren’t based in the local computer or network, but run in the internet ‘cloud’, and can be accessed from any internet-enabled device.

With Chrome, Google’s move is not simply to take market share from other browsers, but ultimately to undermine the importance of the local operating system itself, and it is therefore nothing less than Microsoft’s dominance that Google has in its sights.

Apple Goes from Strength to Strength

In 2009 Microsoft’s market position will also continue to take a hit from its longtime rival Apple. The numbers from America – usually a good indicator of what is coming here – are astonishing: growing at six times the rate of the rest of the industry, Apple has grabbed a 10% marketshare in the United States, up from less than 3% only a couple of years ago. More significantly, 33% of all retail based spending is now on Apple computers. And that’s to say nothing of Apple coming from nowhere to become the world’s third-biggest manufacturer of mobile phones with its iPhone.

Belfast recently saw the opening of its first Apple store so there is an opportunity for organisations in Northern Ireland to take another look at Apple computers. Why consider switching from Windows-based computers to Macs? The long list of reasons includes: they have better security (Mac OS X is a form of UNIX and has no viruses or spyware to worry about), they are much faster (OS X is better able to take advantage of modern processors and technologies than Windows), they are more versatile (with the ability to run Mac software as well as Windows applications) and they have a lower total cost of ownership (with lower support costs and higher resale value).

Microsoft Tries Again with Windows 7

In the face of Google and Apple, Microsoft isn’t exactly giving up, but while it is starting from a commanding market position, it doesn’t have a lot of room to manoeuvre and this will becoming increasingly apparent in the coming year.

With Vista an unqualified market disaster, Microsoft is hurrying up the launch of its next operating system, to be called Windows 7 and due for release in the second half of 2009. But while Apple will be introducing around the same time the next version of Mac OS X even further optimised for multiple core processors and sophisticated graphics chipsets, Microsoft has already admitted that Windows 7 will essentially be a remarketed, warmed over Vista, which means it will probably run slowly on all but the newest of computers. And with office applications rapidly moving online, Microsoft will struggle to maintain its Office suite’s lucrative monopoly.

While Microsoft won’t be going away anytime soon, in light of these trends and with so many other options becoming more viable, it may be worthwhile for organisations to take a longer look at non-Microsoft solutions in the years to come.