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    Looking Backwards

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2006 First published in Business in Vancouver December 26, 2006- Januiary 2, 2007 issue #896

    High Tech Office column

    Already, it’s the end of 2006, time to look back at another year in the High Tech Office. When the year started, I was predicting that 2006 would be the year when online software took off. By mid-year, I was entrusting my e-mail, calendar, and contact list to online services, and by the end of the year, if online word processing and spreadsheets were not yet serious challengers to Microsoft Office, these online services were at least beginning to look like useable  adjuncts to the software mainstays.

    I noted that in 2005, Intel had fallen behind challenger AMD; in 2006 Intel fought back, coming up with a series of more efficient processor designs that helped regain mind-share and market-share for the CPU champ.

    With notebook computers now accounting for over half of sales, a number of mobile computing trends were noteworthy in 2006. This column noted how laptop theft was resulting in increasing amounts of customer and employee data going missing. By the end of 2006, it was estimated that over 100 million Americans were affected by personal data stored on lost laptops. In addition, I noted the spread between laptop and desktop reliability. Maybe it’s time to stop toting that laptop around; increasingly cheap and common USB Flash Memory drives and so-called portable applications make it easier than ever to travel without a laptop, keeping all your really necessary data and even key applications in your pocket. (And you probably don’t need a copy of that customer database on your laptop’s hard drive anyway). New high speed data networks such as Rogers and Fido’s Edge and Bell Mobility and Telus’s EvDO made it more possible to stay in touch with your data on the road using a smartphone, at least if you’re prepared to pay high data charges.

    If laptop theft wasn’t bad enough, other security issues remained concerns throughout the year. Badware: spyware, adware, and more continued to annoy users as it remained profitable to spread them around. Late in the year, virus-writers for hire accounted for much of the increase in spam emails as they rented out networks of infected computers. And if users didn’t have enough to worry about, there was also a spate of bogus anti-spyware software. And despite trying to be careful, I had to admit to falling prey to a password-stealing phishing scam.

    In 2006, spyware, adware, and the viruses and worms that turn personal computers into email spam-bots remained problems only for users of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser and Windows operating system. As a result, over the year interest in alternatives including Mozilla Firefox web browser, Apple’s Macintosh hardware and software, and various versions of the open source Linux operating system increased. Apple was able to come on strong in 2006 with new models using Intel’s new energy-efficient CPUs and able to boot Windows XP (Windows not included). By the end of the year, Microsoft responded, releasing long-delayed Internet Explorer 7 and (finally) Windows Vista, building in at least some of the more secure features of the alternatives.

    At the same time, in 2006 Microsoft dropped support for older Windows versions including (finally) Windows 98. While Windows 2000, still widely used in business remains officially supported, new Microsoft releases such as IE 7 and anti-spyware Windows Defender are not available to Win2000 users. And even users of Windows XP and the new Vista may find themselves shut out of updates due to the company’s increasingly rigorous ‘Genuine Advantage’ program’s anti-piracy checks.

    Finally, with Google buying online video host YouTube for US$1.6 billion, it seemed like we might be back into another era of high-flying Web startups. As always, the High Tech Office urges that readers beware of technology trends that are long on hype and short of content or recognizable business models. For 2006, that had to include most claims that used ‘podcast’, ‘blog’ or ‘Web 2.0’.

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