Business-like, isn't he?



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    Apple 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 earliest.

    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 32-bit software.

    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 office suite, and's Firefox Web browser and Thunderbird e-mail software gained attention and market share. (In January 2004, 84 per cent of the visitors to reported using Microsoft's Internet Explorer; by December, that had dropped to 74.8 per cent.)

    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 2004.

    Software of the Year: Mozilla's Firefox, showing that innovation, fun and security were possible for Web browsers. Free from

    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!)

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