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    Business in Vancouver: News that works for you

      The year of viruses, patches, and cell-cams

      by Alan Zisman (c) 2003 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue 739, December 23-29 2003 High Tech Office  column

      Another year older, deeper in debt. That was 2003 for too many of us.

      The biggest tech story was security. While Microsoft promised "trustworthy computing," for many users, including some big-name networks, it was a year of viruses, worms and spam. And for far too many operating system, it was a year of Web browser, and even word processor security patches.

      While some of the problems are due to basic insecurities built into Windows and the vulnerabilities of a software monoculture, end users needed to take more responsibility. If you make just one resolution for 2004, promise to stop clicking on e-mail attachments. And remember, just because an e-mail message claims to be from (pick one) Microsoft, your bank, or the wife of the ex-president of Zaire doesn't mean it's true.

      Despite all the holes in Windows, there wasn't a mass migration to other platforms. Alternatives such as Linux andApple's Macintosh have no shortage of fans, but the mass of corporate and home users continued to go with the crowd.

      Despite the seemingly endless growth in spam e-mail messages, by year's end hope was in sight. While government legislation is unlikely to do much to control unwanted e-mail, spam filtering software, both at the network level and for individuals improved tremendously over the year, offering hope that in the coming year that deluge of junk mail showing up in your inbox will slow to a trickle.

      Caught in a pinch between slowing rates of upgrading by customers and software piracy, increasing number of software companies in 2003 declared war on their customers, adding a variety of activation schemes to their products.

      While customer backlash caused Intuit to promise its U.S. customers that next year's TurboTax would be activation-free, the technology showed up (and caused problems for legitimate purchasers) of new versions of popular products from Symantec, Adobe, Macromedia, among others.

      Corporations and home users remained hesitant to replace computers bought in the past few years. That may change in the next year as hard drives and power supplies start to fail on otherwise still-usable hardware. When new systems were bought, they were more likely than ever to be notebook computers. Good news for Apple, with 7 per cent of the notebook market compared to only 3 per cent of the computer market overall. And good news for notebook manufacturers in general since these models offering higher margins than desktop systems. Tablet-style notebooks, which allow users to write directly on-screen, failed to catch on in 2003, however, despite widespread advertising by a dozen or so manufacturers.

      Increasingly popular along with notebook computers are wireless networking add-ons, nicknamed wi-fi. This year brought the faster 802.11g wireless standard, improved security, and Intel building (slower 802.11b) wi-fi into their Centrino systems. Wireless networking has become especially popular for home and small business networking, avoiding the need to string cables. Public-access wireless "hot spots" aren't quite universally available in cafes, hotels, and the like, however. Maybe next year. And remember, your IT staff will not be happy if you connect an easy to set-up wireless base station piggy backing on the corporate network.

      Whether you are buying a new system or upgrading an older desktop, flat-panel LCD monitors and DVD burners grew in popularity in 2003, with prices dropping enough to make them increasingly easy to justify.

      Also increasingly popular: digital cameras, in 2003 outselling traditional film cameras. And cell phones with built-in (if low quality) digital cameras outsold standard digital cameras (and got banned in fitness clubs). In fact, it seems lots of cell phone users were moving up to fancier models; while the market for traditional Palm and Pocket Windows PDAs was soft, there was lots of action in the market for so-called smart-phones, models that combine PDA and cell phone functions. 

      Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator and computer specialist. He can be reached at

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