I’ve been thinking a lot about what to watch for in IT in the year ahead, and here’s what’s been on my mind. I’d love to hear what you’re paying attention to, in the comments or via email

The future will be more evenly distributed within IT

William Gibson famously quipped that “the future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed,” and he’s right: Much of what drives IT has been around for years, whether in the pockets of employees, in consumer-grade SaaS products, or in research labs in universities and tech giants.

But while IT has long been a laggard (for a variety of good reasons), I think one of the major shifts in 2017 will be in that lag time shrinking. The examples of this won’t always be exciting: Laptops overtaking desktops. Increasing use of hosted services. But those small advances will help pave the way for bigger advancements in the months and years to come.

Microsoft gets the respect it deserves

For a few years, innovation wise, it really felt like Microsoft was on the ropes. Their software was reliable, their ecosystem was huge, and their products were the de facto, but could that all compete with free and collaborative?

Turns out, yes. Satya Nadella has, so far, been largely successful in transitioning Microsoft to a software-as-a-service business, even if that transition is not evenly distributed yet, either. For enterprise clients, service contracts mean that the transition has largely just been a negotiation of terms and monikers, plus the ability to get more up-to-date applications for all their users.

Based on what I saw at Ignite and with the Teams launch , Microsoft will be squarely on the offensive when it comes to productivity software, and that’s quite a feat when they already dominate the market. Just wait to see what happens as they roll out AI assistance, better collaboration, and, importantly, do a better job of getting the latest and greatest into the hands of all their users.

Offerings from Google and Apple will feel like going back to Notepad.exe.

AI’s awkward entrance

Is anyone else as sick as I am about hearing about bots? While I think chatbots do have enormous potential, right now what we’re seeing feels about a notch above (or below, depending on implementation) an old-fashioned phone tree. The hopes and expectations being put on chatbots by Microsoft (whose bot framework is actually very nice), Facebook, and others makes me feel like we’re right at the point where we see a lot of activity that ultimately leads to disappointment.

There will be some clever deployments of machine learning this year, but I think it will be most successful when it doesn’t market itself as machine learning or artificial intelligence, and instead focuses on getting a job done. One example: Microsoft’s nifty pushes to have a PowerPoint presentation write itself, or at least a decent draft of itself, with humans left to fill in the details.

We’ll see a lot of noise, but all the good products will just focus on getting a job done.

Increased emphasis on window dressing in everyone’s cloud services, some of which will be really important

One thing that struck me from AI announcements by Microsoft, Amazon, and others is how often it was paired with a major AI announcement … and customers essentially got the intelligence free when they bought dumb processing, throughput, and storage from a given cloud provider.

Expect to see the major players, and maybe a few smaller ones, try to find perks to make their offerings more appealing. Price competition will continue, but I think all the vendors are realizing the market needs to make money at some point.