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    2006 could be a big year for big tech companies

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2006 First published in Business in Vancouver January 17-23, 2006; issue 847 High Tech Office column; 

    Looking ahead, 2006 promises to be an interesting year for some of the major players in the high tech office.

    It will be a big year for product releases from Microsoft. This year holds promise of a new version of the company's Internet Explorer Web browser, with (hopefully) better security and tabs just like the open source Firefox. Also upcoming: an anti-virus and anti-spyware security service now being tested as Microsoft OneCare; the next version of Microsoft Office (currently known as Office 12) with a new menu-less interface and new file formats; and the next generation Windows Vista - this has been the longest time between major Windows updates in its 20-year history. And in case the upgrade market remains sluggish, look for more clarity in the company's online services plans: Windows Live and Office Live.

    Intel stumbled through 2005 watching its smaller rival AMD outdo it with a series of computer processors delivering better 64-bit performance and backward compatibility.

    In addition, AMD did a better job of bringing multi-core processors (offering the power of two CPUs in a single chip) to market. (CNet recently compared AMD's Athlon 64x2 and Intel Pentium dual core-based systems and rated AMD's product ahead in seven out of seven areas tested). As a result, all the major PC manufacturers (except Dell) now include AMD-powered systems in their product lineups.

    The only area where Intel maintained a lead was in power-conserving notebook processors.

    Look for Intel to work hard in 2006 to regain the technology edge and to pitch its energy-efficient notebook processors into the desktop market, while building on its long-successful "Intel Inside" advertising campaign.

    Apple hooked its star on the Intel bandwagon last year, promising that in 2006 users would be able to buy Apple-branded computers running Mac OS X built around (not yet released) high performing, energy efficient Intel CPUs.

    Like a technology equivalent of Brad Pitt, Apple is always subject to online rumours.

    Currently the rumour sites are divided over whether we can expect to see these first "Mactel" models to premiere at the mid-January MacWorld conference or whether they'll make their debut later in the year (perhaps July).

    We may see the beginnings of a Google backlash this year, as the company continues to offer a host of half thought-out projects that lack a clear revenue model. In an end-of-2005 deal, Google bought a modest stake in AOL, paying both cash and a promise to bump AOL links up in Google search results. This may lead some to look for another, more seemingly objective search engine. No obvious alternatives are waiting in the wings, however.

    Rival Yahoo had a busy 2005, making a number of acquisitions (including local startup Flickr) but seems more interested in being everyone's favourite Web portal than in fighting Google for Web-search mindshare.

    Look for more and more software to be made available online, whether sold by subscription by big names like Microsoft or by a host of smaller companies, including a good assortment of local developers.

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