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    Looking back to the high-tech future

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2009 First published in Business in Vancouver January 6-12, 2009; issue 1002

    High Tech Office column

    Business in Vancouver 

    A look back at 2008 provides insight into the trends that could drive the high-tech market in 2009.

    Two major news events last year generated a pair of key market byproducts: hope following the U.S. election, fear from the ongoing economic meltdown.

    On top of those ongoing stories was the failure of Microsoft’s Windows Vista to catch on, despite improvements in performance and stability and the release of Vista Service Pack 1. Regardless of what the company does, its Vista brand may be irretrievably poisoned in the marketplace. Perhaps recognizing this, Microsoft is increasingly shifting attention to its Vista followup: Windows 7, which will move into public beta in 2009, perhaps being fast-tracked for release before year-end.

    With its Vista misfire, its bid to buy Yahoo squelched and Bill Gates completing his move to full-time philanthropist, Microsoft seems uncertain about its direction and future, but it’s too early to write it off. Wait and see whether Windows 7 and the long–awaited online versions of Microsoft Office prove successful.

    While Microsoft struggled to find its direction, Apple continued its strong performance in 2008. The iPhone – which was finally released in Canada – retained the lust factor for the company’s products and generated continued growth in sales of Macs, particularly notebooks. With businesses unwilling to move to Vista and Apple’s models rating high for reliability, even corporations are becoming increasingly open to buying Macs. But it remains to be seen whether Apple’s premium pricing will prove problematic as the economy turns down and whether concerns about the health of Steve Jobs will limit continued growth.
    Instead of buying a $2,000 Mac laptop, users are increasingly being tempted by $500 lightweight netbooks.

    Expect netbook sales to continue to rise in 2009, forcing Microsoft to keep Windows XP available if only to keep netbook buyers from opting for Linux on these lower-powered portables.

    Google looked strong throughout 2008, but it’s not clear whether its efforts to add services will be able to continue unabated. Online Google Documents are useful in some circumstances, but not yet a real challenge to Microsoft Office and, like too many of Google’s efforts, lack a real way to generate revenue. The addition of subtle ads to search results has been a big money machine for Google, but that was more of an accident than a well- thought-out business plan.

    Online, the biggest news was the continuing popularity of social-networking sites such as YouTube and Facebook – which has replaced e-mail and become an online home for many. For 2009, however, the unresolved question will be whether popularity can be converted into a viable – and profitable – business model, especially in the face of the economic slowdown.

    Security was a concern in 2008 and will continue next year, as malware too evolved away from traditional e-mail viruses and spyware and into “Threatscape 2.0” – infections using vulnerabilities in unpatched web browsers, applications such as Adobe Acrobat and social networks.

    Most often, infected computers are assembled into large networks that are rented out to circulate spam e-mail – all without the knowledge of the computers’ owners. At the end of the year, a newly uncovered vulnerability in Internet Explorer brought about a quick response from Microsoft. That highlighted the need for users to ensure that they keep all their software – and not just Windows – patched and up to date.

    For next year, expect more attacks built around the new generation of “rich Internet applications” like Adobe Flash and Air, Google Gears and Microsoft Silverlight.

    Coming at you: the lessons of the Barack Obama campaign‘s effective use of the Internet will be felt as politicians and marketers in Canada and the United States try to duplicate its use of online resources for everything from fundraising to mobilizing volunteers to shaping public opinion. •

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