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    2007 technology industry highlights: a tale of three competitive amigos

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2007 First published in Business in Vancouver December 25-31, 2007; issue 948

    High Tech Office column

    The 2007 High Tech Office edition was in many ways a tale of three companies engaged in a complex dance for your attention.

    This year, Apple just seemed to roll from triumph to triumph, with strong laptop and desktop models – and growing sales to home and small business markets – and a successful operating system upgrade to OS X 10.5 Leopard.
    The company continued to dominate the music player market with its iPods and had the product release of the year with its iPhone (still not available in Canada).

    Bringing its batting average down below 1,000: 2007’s Apple TV seemed to be a product without much of a reason to exist. (Look for an upgrade early in 2008.)

    Its iWork 08 software suite gained a spreadsheet, but is not about to replace Microsoft Office on most Mac user’s desktops. And Macintosh sales to large enterprises grew in 2007, but only by an estimated 1%.

    Microsoft remained the software giant we’ve all learned to live with if not love, but 2007 was a difficult year for the company. It started off the year with simultaneous upgrades of Windows (to Vista) and Office (to 2007), but found customer reactions that were at best a yawn. Big business started to move to Office 2007 as part of the normal purchasing cycle, but so far has generally resisted moving to Windows Vista, and few home or small business customers found Microsoft’s call to upgrade compelling.

    The company’s consumer hardware fared better. In particular, the Xbox 360 game system was well regarded, though sales were lower than the surprise winner in this category- Nintendo’s Wii. And late in 2007, an upgrade to Microsoft’s Zume MP3 player got strong reviews and surprising sales, though it remains far from challenging the iPod’s dominance.

    All year, it seemed that Microsoft was looking over its shoulder at Google, hoping to find a way to transform its business model to one that, like Google, was built on ad sales. Microsoft’s online services have thus far been lacklustre.

    Google is the third of the companies that defined technology in 2007. It continued to push beyond its search-engine dominance with scattergun releases of software and services, some of which – G-mail, Google Earth, among others – gained wide acceptance. Others, such as its online application suite, have been slower to gain critical mass. Too many Google services, like its PicasaWeb photo-sharing service, seem to simply duplicate what is already widely available elsewhere. While Google’s critics have hoped that the company would lose focus by trying to do too much in too many areas, there’s no evidence of that as yet.

    Security concerns took a relative back seat in 2007, despite evidence that the Storm infection was being used by criminal elements, harnessing the power of networks of tens of millions of “zombie” computers. By some estimates, spam accounted for up to 95% of all e-mail, but end-users generally saw little of it, as reasonably effective spam filtering kept it out of their in-boxes.

    Mobile was big in 2007, but Canadians were slow to adopt mobile data services, with the high cost of Canadian mobile data plans drawing criticism from sources like RIM, makers of the popular Blackberry devices. Late in the year, there was a glimmer of hope as Bell Mobility débuted a $7/month data plan (with selected hardware). We’ll see if this trend brings changes in 2008.

    Finally, 2007 was the year when so-called Web 2.0 became commonplace, when Facebook was the tool used by the so-called Group of Seven to organize their takeover of Vancouver’s COPE, for instance. Just to put it into perspective, though, by some accounts, blogging – a key feature of Web 2.0 – turned 10 years old this year. Even in the High Tech Office, change can take longer than we realize. •

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

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