and Google were among 2004's digital stars
by Alan Zisman (c) 2004 First published in Business in Vancouver
January 11-17, 2005; issue 794, High Tech Office column
Luckily, BIV's editors didn't ask for 2005 predictions. Looking
backwards is easier, with much better odds of being right.
For the past two decades (and some), most business computer users have
run a Microsoft operating system on a computer modeled after IBM's 1981
design powered by an Intel processor. That remained true this past
year, but 2004 shook up all three of those companies.
Microsoft remained on the defensive, as users of the company's Windows
operating system and Internet Explorer Web browser continued to suffer
from computer virus and spyware infestations. Microsoft released a
major security-focused upgrade, Windows XP Service Pack 2, which closed
some of XP's open doors, but did not make the same protection available
for earlier Windows versions. And mid-year, Microsoft announced that it
was pulling promised features from the next version of Windows; even
so, don't expect to see the code-named Longhorn until 2006. At the
IBM, despite pioneering the hardware that has evolved into the systems
on most of our desktops, ended the year selling its personal computer
division to China's Lenovo, which will continue to sell IBM and
Thinkpad-branded desktops and laptops for the next five years. IBM
remains a major and profitable enterprise, finding more profit in
selling services, network servers and computer chips than in competing
for a piece of the personal computer pie.
Intel, while remaining the major producer of the processors that power
personal computers, also had a frustrating year.
Arch-rival AMD won increased respect for its product line, with its
chips showing up in business and high-end systems, while Intel was
forced to eat crow by announcing it would be making 64-bit chips that,
like AMD's, offered better compatibility with the current crop of
In addition, Intel stopped promoting its processors based on their
clock speed, a recognition that this apparently simple measurement was
simply confusing buyers. Intel's 2.8 GHz Pentium 4 CPU is not
necessarily a more powerful chip than the company's 1.8 GHz Pentium M,
and if you compare processors from other manufacturers, GHz speed
comparisons are meaningless.
Along with AMD, it was a good year for other alternatives to the
traditional standard-bearers. Open-source software such as the
OpenOffice.org office suite, and Mozilla.org's Firefox Web browser and
Thunderbird e-mail software gained attention and market share. (In
January 2004, 84 per cent of the visitors to Zisman.ca reported using
Microsoft's Internet Explorer; by December, that had dropped to 74.8
Linux continued to gain share on network and Web servers, but failed to
make major inroads as a desktop operating system. An upcoming version
from Novell targeted at business users may help give this alternative
operating system increased desktop credibility.
Apple also did well in 2004, powered by strong sales of its iPod music
players and iTunes music store (finally available in Canada). iPod
owners are also more likely to consider Apple's Macintosh for their
next computer purchase. Apple's appeal was also helped by a strong
hardware lineup: the new G5 iMac gets my vote for Computer of the Year,
and by the Mac-platform remaining virus and spyware-free throughout
Software of the Year: Mozilla's Firefox, showing that innovation, fun
and security were possible for Web browsers. Free from www.mozilla.org.
Company of the Year: Google, pushing its Internet search pre-eminence
to desktop search, digitized libraries, scientific search and more.
Technology of the Year: WiFi, increasingly available in hotel lobbies
and rooms, cafes, and as the networking method of choice for small
businesses and homes. Whistler had perhaps the first city-wide WiFi
network in 2004. (Just don't breach your corporate network security
with an easy to set up home wireless access point. Please!)