I’m looking back at last year’s end-of-year tech columns and feeling totally bummed out. We still don’t have globallink communicators with roll up screens a la “Earth: Final Conflict.” It remains something for the lab, like this prototype.
Still no sexbots. Perhaps they’ll be one of those techs like videophones — featured in scifi, but, once the technology is actually available, not really generating the interest scifi authors anticipated. Or perhaps it’s economic. Maybe there are some amazing million dollar sexbot prototypes even now hidden away in labs in Japan or somewhere, just waiting for the cost of their components to decline, or for cheaper methods of manufacture.
This year I think I’ll play it conservatively with regard to predictions. 2009 will look pretty much like 2008. Perhaps processors will be a little faster, maybe more cores available in more affordable chips. The one striking thing, which isn’t exactly new but which we should expect to see more of, is an emphasis on energy efficiency, at both the consumer and pro levels. Energy efficiency could mean longer battery life for consumers in their various electronic gizmos, while for business it translates to lower energy costs for server rooms — less power, less heat, less air conditioning, less cost. The PR benefit to “going green” is incidental; there are real bottom line cost benefits to energy efficiency.
Some prognosticators might be tempted to declare 2009 the year of some iPhone killer, but that would be nonsense. Apple makes lovely bits of hardware that have always been able to hold their own within their sector of the market, namely design-conscious people who don’t mind being milked on price. Apple will lose a bit of market share as other players enter the touch screen phone market, but one has to remember that if the market had been established by another company’s product and then Apple came out with the iPhone, Apple fans would still have lined up to get one. Steve Jobs has a captive audience that would buy his excrement if it was nicely packaged and called iShit.
That said, Nokia is poised to challenge Apple in the touch screen phone market with its N97.
It certainly won’t tempt away the Apple faithful, but some of those who got iPhones simply because they were first-to-market with this type of interface may be tempted by the N97’s actual, physical keyboard.
And while it’s traditional to predict that the coming year will be the year of Linux on the desktop, this year let’s be more modest and predict that 2009 will be the year of Linux on the netbook. Netbooks, if you haven’t heard, are very small and affordable laptops. Arguably the machine which lit a fire under this product category was the OLPC XO, followed by the eee pc, and others like the Asus Aspire One.
While the emergence of netbooks caught Microsoft off guard, the company is now competing aggressively and pushing Windows on netbooks any way they can. Obviously, netbooks having more limited processor power and memory, Vista is not an option, so Microsoft has extended the end of life of XP Home until June 30th, 2010.
You’d think Linux could eat Microsoft’s lunch, given that the netbook market is one of limited hardware resources and retail price. The regular cost of Windows XP is almost as much as a cheap netbook itself. But herein we see one of Linux’s weaknesses, namely the lack of a well financed, central head office that can do battle in a swift and organized way. When Microsoft’s interests are threatened, Lord Balmer sends forth the nine riders on their black horses who visit every corner of Middle Earth doing whatever it takes to keep Windows dominant, practically giving it away where necessary. If Linux has a chance to dominate here, and I think it does, it’s not only because it’s the superior choice for a low-cost, stripped-down machine, but also because companies like Asus and Acer offer it as an option. Seriously, simple as that.
A great many people still have no idea that Linux exists as an option on the PC — like the school teacher who discovered students playing with it and became concerned that they were up to no good. She emailed the Helios project leader saying “At this point, I am not sure what you are doing is legal. No software is free and spreading that misconception is harmful. These children look up to adults for guidance and discipline. I will research this as time allows and I want to assure you, if you are doing anything illegal, I will pursue charges as the law allows.” Yikes.
Perhaps we Linux zealots should downgrade our expectations even further and simply predict that the upcoming year will be the one when people discover Linux exists and that they have a choice. Hard to see how it can take over the desktop if people don’t know about it.
Happy holidays and best wishes for the new year.