Business-like, isn't he?



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    New year, new challenges, new opportunities in the tech sector

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2007 First published in Business in Vancouver January 9-15, 2007; issue 898

    High Tech Office column; 

    Coming your way in 2007: Microsoft Office 2007/Vista. You’re going to have to deal with these this year, but no one is in a big hurry. While both products offer some real improvements, Microsoft hasn’t made a strong case for either being a particularly must-have upgrade. And the new Office in particular is going to cause problems for businesses, both for a new interface, which will require training, and for new file default formats, which will cause chaos and confusion as new Office users send apparently-unreadable files to Office-classic users.

    Vista, the replacement for Windows XP will cause less trauma, but, again, while users might remain unconvinced of the need to upgrade, Microsoft’s clout and contracts with hardware manufacturers ensure that both Windows Vista and Office 2007 will start showing up on new computers in your home and workplace in 2007. I’ve seen estimated sales of 95 million computers in 2007 with Vista pre-installed. You might end up with one of them.

    Get used to it.

    This pair of Microsoft products may, however, be the last of Microsoft’s blockbuster upgrades. Not because users will shift, en masse, to either Linux or Mac (though many users would be better off if they did, and could make either shift relatively painlessly), but because Microsoft’s nightmare of the late 1990s is finally coming to pass. Increasingly, big operating systems and big software application packages are becoming irrelevant as more and more services are available online and most users at work and at home have access to high-speed networking.

    I now rely on free web-based services for e-mail, calendar and contact information, making these accessible from any computer or smart phone running any operating system anywhere in the world.

    Google and others are offering web-based word processing and spreadsheets. The world is not yet throwing away Microsoft Office and moving to those services, but the long-term trends don’t favour the software dinosaurs.

    A number of other big companies seemed to have lost their mojo in 2006, including Sony, whose year started with a music division that had installed rootkits on millions of customers’ hard drives, moved on with Sony-made batteries, recalled by major laptop manufacturers and ended with the lacklustre release of the company’s PS/3 game system: expensive hardware that isn’t available due to a shortage of next-generation Blu-Ray lasers.

    And then there’s Dell which, when it wasn’t recalling laptops because of their possibly exploding batteries simply lost its focus. Try to order a Dell online. Can you wade through the multitude of options?

    I bought a new Dell this year, but getting to the end of the order process was a struggle. Ironically, HP, which should have suffered in 2006 after it dumped its CEO and was found to have been spying on its own board members, managed to pass Dell and regain first place in U.S. sales.

    Will Sony and Dell get back on track in 2007? Tune in this time next year to find out.

    Apple will release a new version of its Mac operating system in the spring. Code-named Leopard, replacing Tiger, which replaced Jaguar. It’ll be nice, and some more Windows users fed up with security hassles and won over by a combination of cute TV ads and iPod ownership will move to Mac. But business will remain a Windows monoculture, so most users won’t notice.

    In the end, the trend to watch in 2007 will be storage.

    Increasingly cheap storage, available both online and in pocket-sized portable formats will power changes in the way we use technology. Store your data online or take it with you in your cellphone, music player, digital camera or on increasingly-high capacity pocketable drives. With data available (securely) anywhere, even laptops become increasingly unnecessary, except to watch movies during trips.

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