I've just had the curious experience of listening to Bob Dylan singing Christmas songs. Forty-six years after the unwilling toastmaster for a generation sang his great anthem, he's proving yet again that the the times they are a-changin'.
Of course, critics have long carped that this is a nothing more than a truism: how could they ever stand still? But there are periods when you can feel the gears shifting and for business computing that time is one of them. These are unsettling times for those who like a sense of status quo. The pigeonholes have rotted away and the tags no longer fit; the maps have been rewritten and the goalposts have moved. The old realities are history lessons because the internet, open source, the freemium model and much else are reshaping the sector.
Let me give a few examples of what I'm talking about:
Open source firms no longer exist. When Suse, SpringSource and MySQL belong to Novell, VMware/EMC and Sun/Oracle respectively, and when IBM, Google, Microsoft, HP and Sun are counted among leading open-source donators, describing a company as 'open source' is too fluffy. It's as much a differentiator as writing programs for Windows.
The software-as-a-service category is over. It's not that it's failed, just that everybody's doing it now. From Adobe, which is extending its SaaS shadow by buying Omniture, through Oracle, SAP and the rest, it's clear that the fad is dead and that SaaS is just part of the landscape -- a big part.
Google is no longer untouchable. From the now-you-see-them-now-you-don't Labs releases, through the outages and legal cases, and now with Bing offering an alternative to the G-men's big white search screen, there's no need to treat Google as if it were fluffy kitten. They are prone to errors; you cut them and they bleed. Join the gang.
Wintel is no longer a terriying axis power. Intel spends more time in courts than clean rooms and its technology totem Pat Gelsinger has gone. Even top lawyer Bruce Sewell has gone. A new Windows or Office is no longer the victory parade that it once was and both Intel and Microsoft have to step lightly for fear of Neelie Kroes and other regulators. There's even some competition: look at AMD, netbooks, Linux and the return of Apple, which brings us back to...
Apple is a contender for business again. My new work phone is an iPhone and it works with Exchange. Executives often have the right to specify their own laptops. Guess what they're buying?
Prices are meaningless. Enterprise software firms are having to make sweet deals. Software is sponsoring hardware and services sponsor software. Upgrade prices are dwindling. 'Free 'beta' services go on for ever. SaaS tariffs look transparent until you start adding on functions. Easy terms have never been easier but multi-core processors, virtualisation and so on have made contracts more complicated than ever.
Who moved our datacentre? Clouds, SaaS, colocation, remote monitoring, mirrors, outsourcing and offshoring mean most of us don't know where our data is once it's been saved and you knoe that crowd of people in the server room? You don't seem to see them round the old place so often.
The consumer/business schism is finito. Once upon a time vendors found ways to keep demarcation lines between products to protect revenue streams but those times have gone as users have demanded more freedom. They don't punch the clock and the procurement department has got real so the laptops play music and games, the iPhone has been stolen by the kids and half the staff use GMail when on the road because they hate Lotus Notes.
Business IT is changing. Better get out of the new road if you can't lend a hand.