The Top Ten Tech Events Of 2011

New Year’s Eve is the time for looking back at the past year before preparing for the next on New Year’s Day. So, I’m taking the time before the festivities tonight to take stock of 2011 and put down my thoughts on what were the top 10 events in the tech world. This is one person’s opinion, so feel free to voice your own counterpoints.

In reverse order (and with apologies to David Letterman):

10. Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype. I’m still not clear about how Microsoft is going to use Skype, but Skype’s expanding role as a platform for person-to-person videochats may make this one of Microsoft’s better acquisitions.

9. IBM’s Watson wins Jeopardy!, setting stage for creating deep analytical solutions for other business problems. The average person doesn’t understand technology. But many people follow the Jeopardy! game show on TV. By developing an artificial intelligence system that could successfully beat the best human contestants in Jeopardy and giving it the human name of Watson, IBM did a brilliant job of showing its technologies’ potential in a way the average person could understand. More importantly, it has followed up by building new Watson-based solutions for healthcare diagnostics, financial services risk management, and other business situations.

8. Microsoft/Nokia partnership for Nokia to adopt the Microsoft Phone operating system for its smartphones. Both Microsoft and Nokia have struggled in keeping up with Apple and Google in the smartphone market. By combining forces, they gave themselves another chance to become a credible third option in the smartphone market.

7. The Thailand floods that disrupted production and assembly of many technology components. Like all natural disaster, the long-term effects of the Thailand floods will be small. But coming on top of the supply-chain disruptions from the Japanese disasters, it made 2011 a challenging year for the supply-chain experts at tech vendors. It will also cause them to diversify their supply chains to take account of the disruptive effects of global warming.

6. IBM’s announcement of its Smarter Commerce software strategy, and its expanded presence in the buy-side and sell-side application markets. IBM has quietly been acquiring a cluster of vendors such as Coremetrics, DemandTec, Sterling Commerce, and Unica that complement its WebSphere Commerce Server product and provide solutions for selling, marketing, and servicing customers. With its acquisition of Emptoris, IBM moves into the buy-side application market as well — and squarely into competition with Oracle and SAP in these application markets.

5. SAP’s acquisition of SuccessFactors and Oracle’s acquisition of RightNow. Both vendors are recognizing that the software-as-a-service (SaaS) market is becoming too big to ignore, and that internal product development of SaaS offerings is not going fast enough for them to keep pace. So, look for more acquisitions of SaaS vendors by these vendors.

4. Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility. Did Google acquire this vendor for its patent portfolio, or for its smartphone products? Most commentators have emphasized the former, because the latter threatens Google’s partnerships with multiple handset vendors. But I think that Google is looking at the success of Apple’s integrated hardware-and-operating system business model, and will increasingly emulate it.

3. HP’s management turmoil and its on-and-off plans to spin off its PC division. From a management perspective, 2011 was a disaster for HP, with the appointment of Leo Apotheker in October 2010 having taken place without most board members interviewing, then his mid-year announcement of HP’s acquisition of Autonomy and its plans to explore the spin-off of its PC division, to Apotheker’s forced resignation and replacement by Meg Whitman. HP has a long and difficult road to recover from its self-inflicted wounds, at a time when its core PC division was under assault from Apple.

2. Japan’s earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power disasters. Japan’s disasters were a major shock to the global tech market, both in terms of disrupting the supply chain for tech vendors that turned out to flow through the most badly hit parts of Japan and the decreased demand for tech products from the second largest tech market in the world.

1. The passing of Steve Jobs at the point where Apple’s dominance of the PC and tablet market was extending from the consumer market to the business market. Under Steve Jobs, Apple become the 1,200-pound gorilla of the consumer tech market. Under his successor, Tim Cook, Apple will be the 1,200-pound gorilla that has stepped into the corporate tech market.

Happy New Year’s to you all!