Apple led pioneering efforts during rather gloomy 2001 

by Alan Zisman (c) 2001
First published in Business in Vancouver, Issue #634, December 18-24, 2001: The HighTech Office column

I suppose the good news is that it's just about over. This year was, after all, the year following 2000, which as we all remember, was the year when we survived the abortive Y2K meltdown only to surprise ourselves with the bursting of the Internet bubble.

Y2K+1, then, was the year when we woke up with the post-party hangover and realized that we had to go back to work with a headache. The year the bad news spread from the dot-coms to a slowdown in personal computer sales and the rest of the technology sector as well.

Alternatively, that slowdown could be seen as a gradual return to sanity, as corporations and end-users realized that the hardware and software that was already in place got the job done just fine, thank you.

Sales in some product areas remained relatively robust, however. Digital camera sales, for instance, stayed strong. And PDAs, handheld personal digital assistants, continued to sell even though market-leader Palm seemed to suffer from a loss of vision in the face of higher-priced competition from various companies (Compaq, HP, Casio and more) selling models based on Microsoft's Pocket PC system.

Microsoft's other big releases for 2001, Office XP and Windows XP, both failed to generate the excitement and sales that the company (and computer hardware makers) had hoped. While Microsoft settled its anti-trust case with the U.S. feds, continuing virus and security issues with its Outlook e-mail and IIS Internet server products battered confidence in the company.

Apple, on the other hand, was one of the few computer-makers to remain profitable. Mac users started a slow migration to the company's long-awaited next-generation operating system with the spring release of OS X. In the fall, Apple released a free upgrade to OS X 10.1, quickly followed by Microsoft with an attractive version of Office designed for the new system. Most Mac users, however, are (wisely) sticking to older versions of the Mac operating system, as the new way of doing things is still missing key pieces of software (Adobe Photoshop, for instance) and lacks many printer and scanner drivers.

While Apple smartly had its under-selling Cube desktop computer "put to sleep," the hottest Apple hardware was its pair of notebooks: the pro-level (and priced) Titanium Powerbook and the $2,000 iBook, redesigned this year to be less of an in-your-face fashion statement.

Once again, Apple-pioneered technologies that spread to the general (i.e. non-Apple) marketplace. Wireless networking, first popularized with Apple's AirPort, became increasingly affordable and commonplace. It allowed users in homes, offices and public spaces, ranging from Simon Fraser University's Education Faculty to Vancouver's Four Seasons and Ramada Vancouver Centre hotels to some Starbucks outlets, to access networks and the 'Net without cords.

Slower to catch on were Apple-originated FireWire -- a high-speed connection technology used with digital camcorders, removable drives and more -- and recordable DVDs, letting users store vast amounts of data, including movies filmed on those FireWire-connected camcorders. 

As a result, 2001 was yet another year where Apple popularized technologies that will be widely used by the PC majority in another year or two.

Some promised technologies that failed to catch on this year:

  • Bluetooth for short-range personal area networks. The promise is to be able to connect computers, PDAs, cell phones, printers and more with no wires, no muss, no fuss. This year, few examples of the technology were in action.
  • Linux on the desktop. The promising alternative to Microsoft operating systems continues to grow as a network server, but still lacks a critical mass of users and popular applications to replace Windows for most users.
  • Internet on cell phones. Cell phone screens and keypads are just too small to work well with anything more than a short text message. 

Maybe next year. 

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