It wasn’t the year of the LAN—or even the year of the smartphone. If anything, 2011 was the year of the cloud. But it was also the year of the desktop, of the Scrum agile methodology, Android devices, proliferating app stores, the HTML5 draft standard and the passing of Steve Jobs.

Year-as-a-Platform. The cloud fragmented. Was it Software-as-a-Service? Platform-as-a-Service? Infrastructure-as-a-Service? Database-as-a-Service? The industry groaned under the weight of SaaS, PaaS, IaaS, DaaS and many others, as vendors sought to differentiate their cloud offerings by coining their own four-letter acronyms. Analysts happily jumped into the new paradigm, eager to sell reports, rank competitors and rent out experts to explain that their clients were leaders in the emerging Buzzword-as-a-Service marketplace.

Despite the vendor and analyst hyperbole, the cloud genuinely grew significantly during 2011. Established enterprises saw the benefits, as did startups. Consumers also jumped into the cloud with services from Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple and Dropbox. Although there were a few high-profile service outages, the reliability of the cloud swayed skeptics, as did its scalability and affordability. Yes, there are kinks to work out, such as security models, data portability, code portability and service guarantees. Yet it’s hard to deny that for many business purposes, the cloud is definitely ready for prime time.

Metro Style. If customers like cute little icons and animated tiles on their smartphones, they’ll love to have those same icons and tiles on their desktops. At least, that’s what Apple and Microsoft seem to think. Apple’s Mac OS X 10.7 “Lion,” publicly released in July, brings the iPad look-and-feel to the MacBook and iMac. Microsoft’s forthcoming Windows 8—previewed to developers in September—goes much further, replacing much of the familiar Windows user experience with a touch-screen-based swipe metaphor called Metro. Both Lion and Metro have been panned by critics, who say that it’s the wrong UX model for the desktop. Well, you can’t please everyone.

Calling a Scrum. Agile development continued to rise in 2011. There was no new Agile Manifesto (although the movement did celebrate its 10th anniversary), but it seems that Scrum is the favorite methodology of most agile practitioners, except for those who choose to use a hybrid model. Lean software development started gaining traction as a philosophy, as the Japanese scheduling system called Kanban found its way into agile shops. It’s not new; Kanban cards appeared in the 1950s in Japanese manufacturing, but it’s new in the software development arena.

Robbie the Robotphone. Google’s smartphone operating system knocked Apple off its perch; carriers now sell many more Android phones per month than iPhones. That’s not surprising, given the vast number of handset manufacturers, models and form factors available running Android. By contrast, there’s only one iOS device manufacturer: Apple. Yet, despite Android’s success in phones, it lags far behind in the tablet market, which is wholly dominated by the iPad. The biggest threat to Android is fragmentation. A rising threat might be Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7.5. RIM’s fast-fading BlackBerry isn’t a threat at all.

Point and Click. Where do you purchase software? Not in brick-and-mortar stores, not from catalogs. Today, the hip, happening place to buy bits is in an app store, whether it’s for your cloud services, for mobile devices, or even for traditional servers and desktops. Every platform maker has a store now, complete with provisions for monetization, delivery and license control. Nearly everyone wins: The platform maker gets recurring revenue by capturing a percentage of third-party software sales; developers gain a level playing field to promote and distribute their products; and consumers like the convenience and simplicity. The big losers are software resellers—and makers of DVD-ROM discs.

The Markup Language. HTML5 has come of age. It’s about time: HTML4 was approved in 1997, and the new language has key features that the Internet needs. Forget about Flash or other rich Internet application languages; HTML5 is an open standard, doesn’t consume huge amounts of CPU resources or battery power, and handles audio, video and other media formats without nasty wrappers. The only challenge is that HTML5 still isn’t a standard. When will it be finished? Nobody knows.

Reality Distortion. Steve Jobs’ death in October 2011 dominated the news for months, and “What’s going to happen to Apple?” was the question on everyone’s lips. Not since the passing of Princess Diana has the world stopped to pay homage to such a transformational figure. Love him or hate him, admire him as a genius or dismiss him as a bully, there is no doubt that Jobs redefined his world—and ours. From the original Macintosh to Pixar, from the iPhone to the iPad, from digital publishing to music distribution, Jobs made us all think different.

We’ll be taking a more in-depth look back over the next week, but for today, we also look back at mobile and table development.
Mobile and tablet development grew quite a bit in 2011. Apple’s iPad saw some of its first competitors, starting with the launch of the Motorola Xoom tablet. The Kindle Fire launch at the end of 2011 may prove to be one of the biggest threats to the iPad dominance in tablets, based on the chatter online about the product.

Google’s Android mobile operating system began to take over the market share of personal smartphone devices, pushing Apple firmly into the second place, although that could change with the next iteration of the iPhone device. Google purchased Motorola Mobility to have a more integrated software and hardware connection, and it also released three updates of its own operating system, taking Android from Gingerbread to Honeycomb (for tablets), and to Ice Cream Sandwich for all Android-based devices.

BlackBerry tried to stay in the game with its PlayBook tablet, but it seems the company is still lagging behind in the battle to remain relevant, although there is a renewed outreach program within the BlackBerry developer network that may prove to help the company, particularly when the new OS is released in early 2012.

Microsoft and Nokia joined forces to offer more integrated hardware and software, and Nokia abandoned its Symbian and MeeGo operating systems in favor of Windows Phone 7, which may prove to be a strong competitor next year.

HP got out of the tablet game, sold out all of its HP TouchPad in a fire sale, and then jumped back into the game to replenish supplies in order to fulfill orders for the sold-out tablet. And that was that for HP and its tablet.

There are also a variety of different single-code-based export applications available for mobile developers, like Sencha’s SenchaTouch software. Many of these allow developers to create an application, and then export it to mobile HTML5, iOS, Android and Windows Phone 7 applications. These may prove to be essential as the HTML5 standard is further established.

And finally, Adobe pulled Flash support for mobile devices and donated its Flex platform to the Apache Software Foundation. Adobe will support Flash in mobile platforms that are currently supporting Flash, including Android’s Ice Cream Sandwich, but will not support it in future releases. HTML5, according to the company, is the way to build rich mobile Web applications in the future.