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    Lack of killer applications slows technology momentum

    by Alan Zisman (c) 2002 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #688  Dec 31, 2002- Jan 6, 2003 High Tech Office  column

    2002 was a year when the High Tech Office continued in a bit of a slump; with a few exceptions (more of that in a moment), business and home users saw less need to add new systems or upgrade existing systems than vendors would have liked. Security and privacy were concerns, with spam, viruses, hacker intrusions, and pop-up browser windows acting like potholes on the Information Superhighway.

    Guess what! If you want to know what to expect for 2003, look at 2002. Expect modest improvement in sales as at least a few users replace systems purchased in the flush of Internet-fueled growth in the late 1990s.  The years of 20-30% growth are long gone, however, and unlikely to return anytime soon.

    There will be incentives to upgrade in 2003, of course. Inevitably, next year’s computer systems will be faster than ever with larger hard drives. If you’re working with digital video, (or if your kids play the latest games), you’ll welcome the added power and drive space, but for the majority of users, there won’t be any ‘killer-application’ requiring this much added performance.

    Some of the pressures to upgrade will be negative ones, however. Microsoft, for example, will be dropping support for Windows 98 on June 30th; no longer routinely providing security-patches for that still-widely used operating system. And it appears that the next version of MS Office (currently being referred to as Office 11) will not run on Windows 98 or ME systems.

    Some areas of continued growth: Recordable DVD and flat-screen displays will come down in price and become increasingly common features of new systems, with more manufacturers emulating Apple in making these standard features of their higher-end models. As high speed Firewire and USB 2 become standard on new computers (again, pioneered by Apple), expect to see gadgets making use of these technologies to become commonplace.

    Consumer sales of digital cameras will continue to grow, spurring sales of related products such as CD (and DVD) burners, and photo-quality inkjet printers. With prices dropping and improved setup experience, wireless networks will become the standard way to connect multiple computers in homes and small offices and will sneak into larger enterprises. Their convenience will overshadow the real security concerns with wireless networking.

    Notebook systems will continue to make inroads into sales of standard desktop computers, but expect relatively slow adoption of new systems featuring Microsoft’s new Tablet Windows. Sales of handheld PDAs will slow, as most of the people who want one have one. Palm’s adoption of new, more powerful processors will help it slow (but not stop) the inroads into its market domination from Pocket Windows-powered PDAs from a variety of manufacturers. Products merging PDAs and cell phones will stay too high-priced and awkward for mass acceptance.


    The more users know about computers, the more they will continue to grumble about Microsoft and its domination of operating systems and office suite software. Alternative operating systems including Apple’s Macintosh OS X and Linux and office software such as OpenOffice will post modest gains but will not really threaten to replace Microsoft’s hegemony in 2003. (One ironic sign of Linux’s mainstream acceptance has been an increase in the number of security concerns for this alternative operating system; in October 2002, 16 of 29 security alerts issued by the Carnegie Mellon CERT Coordination Center were for open source or Linux products). Nevertheless, Microsoft’s biggest competition will remain users of older versions of Microsoft products who see no need to upgrade to the company’s current products.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan