Tech panel recaps what was cool, not so cool in 2007
With New Year's Eve a week away, our thoughts turn to bubbles and the year that was. To many observers, 2007 was a cork-popper on par with...
Buzz Bruggeman: self-described "geek wannabe" and proprietor of ActiveWords
Reuven Carlyle: wireless and software entrepreneur
John Drescher: executive director, TechNet Northwest
Brier Dudley: Seattle Times technology columnist
Patrick Ennis: managing director, Arch Venture Partners
Mike Foley: executive director, Bluetooth SIG
David Geller: president and CEO, EyeJot
Kristi Heim: Seattle Times technology reporter
William Ho: wireless-services research director, Current Analysis
Ed Lazowska: Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington
Susannah Malarkey: executive director, Technology Alliance
Ken Myer: president and CEO, WSA, Washington's tech trade association
Lee Nichols: global solutions director covering Microsoft for enterprise IT services company Getroncis
Sid Parakh: technology analyst, McAdams Wright Ragen
Chris Pearson: president of 3G Americas, an association representing GSM cellular technology
Peter Quinn: executive director, Northwest Entrepreneur Network
Benjamin Romano: Seattle Times technology reporter
Matt Rosoff: analyst, Directions on Microsoft
Chetan Sharma: wireless consultant and co-author of the book "Mobile Advertising: Supercharge Your Brand in the Exploding Wireless Market"
Chris Swenson: director, software-industry analysis, NPD Group
What did we leave out?Our panelists pointed out some game-changers that weren't on our list. You can do so, too. Take the survey and add your comments online.
Work force At least two panelists brought up this broad and thorny issue. "As long as our education system rewards mediocrity in math and science and our government maintains artificial barriers to employing high-skilled workers, the technology community will struggle to find the talent it needs to grow," wrote John Drescher of TechNet Northwest. Ken Myer of WSA echoed this concern: "We are in a global race competing against regions across the world that are completely focused on having their economies revolve around technological innovation."
Security software NPD Group's Chris Swenson said the Microsoft product that will have the most impact is not Vista or Office but the Windows Live OneCare security suite. Its market share is still in the single digits. "But Microsoft's very entry radically changed the competitive offerings in the space. The price of many suites came down ... and Symantec and McAfee had to adjust their product lineups to account for Microsoft's 'PC Care' vision. And despite little advertising support, the OneCare team has been able to flex Microsoft's retail muscles and get on the shelves at all of the leading retailers."
With New Year's Eve a week away, our thoughts turn to bubbles and the year that was.
To many observers, 2007 was a cork-popper on par with the last tech bubble, which had its influential and enduring byproducts — Google, foremost among them — and many more flashes that quickly faded. Kozmo.com ring a bell?
So, what of 2007 will have a lasting impact and what will drift quietly into obscurity?
We asked a panel of technology party guests to review a list of 25 events, trends and products that made the scene in 2007 and rate them on a scale of "forget about it" (1) to "game-changer" (5).
On to the results:
It generated mondo hype and they're still talking about it.
Comments: Believe it. For all its failings — ActiveWords proprietor Buzz Bruggeman listed the lack of search, sync with Exchange and a short battery life — the iPhone had the highest score in our survey, as much for its own success as how it will, ahem, change the game for competitors. "I think other Smartphone manufacturers are going to have to improve the quality of their handsets in a hurry, or offer customers steep discounts in order to stay in the game," wrote NPD analyst Chris Swenson. Like all of our panelists, he submitted written comments electronically.
It's hard to pinpoint anything specific, but this has been one big year for video, music downloading and other applications for the cellphone, while we're beginning to see advertising and e-commerce on the phone emerge.
Comments: "The welcoming, by consumers and enterprises, of the Mobile Internet is changing the way we work, play and even 'think' in this new connected world. 2007 was a pivotal year as the industry moved forward from planning and deployment to adoption by consumers and businesses. ... Almost all industries have to reassess how they conduct business in this mobile-broadband-connected world," wrote Chris Pearson, president of 3G Americas, an association that represents technology used by major carriers.
It came out late last year, but the rush was on early this year for Nintendo's hit video-game console to fill the void caused by holiday shortage.
Comments: "Interesting because it runs counter to the direction that Sony and Microsoft were going — a great interactive controller, versus high-end graphics. But not game-changing," wrote Ed Lazowska, a computer-science professor at the University of Washington. It would have been, Swenson wrote, if Nintendo had made enough product.
Online ads have been around since the Web took off, but over the past year their significance as a source of revenue has skyrocketed, affirmed by the consolidation of digital-advertising agencies.
Comments: The money being poured into this space (and the estimates of what it will be worth in a few years) are hard to ignore. "We shouldn't get too carried away, however," Swenson wrote. "There are still large swaths of consumers that don't spend 24/7 on their computer. But it does seem like Google et al hit upon the right recipe. This is why Microsoft is pushing their own ad network, why they bought aQuantive, why they're rolling out Silverlight."
The spread of RFID chips:
Though the technology isn't new, RFID is becoming widespread in government and financial cards, including passports, driver's licenses and credit cards.
Comments: Privacy concerns still swirl around this one. When they've been tackled, "you'll see this take off," wrote Swenson.
One of the hottest public-stock offerings this year was VMWare, underscoring the impact that virtualization — software that creates virtual versions of an operating system on a single computer — is starting to have.
Comments: Directions on Microsoft analyst Matt Rosoff: "Not sexy, but perhaps the most important trend in IT today." Lazowska: "It's been around since the 1960s (IBM has continuously shipped it on mainframes since that time)." Swenson: "I've read numerous stories about IT managers getting rid of dozens of servers and running all of those apps in separate virtual environments on a single box. This is the nightmare scenario for server companies come to life."
Biodiesel and other companies that focused on energy issues grabbed much of the venture dollars.
Comments: People seem to see the need for this and want it to be big, but acknowledge it's not quite ripe. "Clean tech will be huge, but it won't be biodiesel as the dominant solution," wrote Susannah Malarkey, executive director of the Technology Alliance.
The rise of digital-movie downloads:
The biggies join the act: Amazon.com (Unbox), Apple (iTunes), NetFlix (WatchNow) and Microsoft (Xbox Live).
Comments: "What's revolutionary is the business model that allows you to 'graze' — streaming rather than downloading, with the ability to preview portions of a movie and bag it if it doesn't grab you," wrote Lazowska.
Heightened investment in microfinance:
With more tech-influenced money heading toward philanthropy, this form of economic development drew attention.
Comments: More important is the use of technology appropriate to the developing world, wrote Lazowska.
Turns out Google wasn't working on a mobile phone, but a whole dang wireless development platform centered on an open-source operating system.
Comments: It's the openness of the platform more than the platform itself that got people's attention. "The debate over 700 MHz [spectrum] has forced operators to declare their new found love for being open," wrote Chetan Sharma, a wireless consultant and author.
With social networking well-established, Facebook opened itself up to software developers to build small programs on its platform.
Comments: Notable for being an "open platform," in the vein of Android.
All the haggling over rights and downloading of music have led to this. One form that emerged is pay-what-you-want.
Comments: "The music pirates are still going at it," Swenson wrote.
Speech recognition everywhere:
Bill Gates has talked about it for years, but this may be a breakout year, with TellMe, Nuance, Google, VoiceBox and many others offering products.
Comments: "There has been steady improvement over the last decade, and this steady improvement will continue, as will the occasional frustrations. Give me brain implants," Lazowska wrote.
PC to TV:
The year saw a number of devices that stream content from the computer to the home TV. Among others, Apple TV, Slingbox and Xbox 360 (functioning as a Media Center extender).
Comments: File this in the "still niche" category. Rosoff estimates the lines between the two will be blurred in another decade. "But the game-changer won't be any of these products, but probably some product or service delivered by cable or IPTV providers," he wrote.
Will this service alter the cellphone company's business model? With it, you can make mobile calls on the wireless cellphone network or on Wi-Fi, which saves money.
Comments: The company says it's drumming up new business: 45 percent of HotSpot@Home customers are new to T-Mobile. "As a disruptive technology, it will be better felt as the carrier gets more handsets into the lineup, making the choice of HotSpot@Home easier," wrote William Ho, research director at Current Analysis.
Is this the device that makes a breakthrough in electronic books?
Comments: Our panel liked the idea but thought the hardware was too expensive and/or needs more maturing.
Microsoft, Google and Yahoo all have opened up massive data-storage centers, including in the Northwest.
Comments: We might get a higher score east of the Cascades. "Economically, this region will be impacted in a positive way, but it is simply the laying of the track," wrote Peter Quinn of the Northwest Entrepreneur Network.
Though the true form of the technology has yet to come to market, the push for wireless broadband, led by Clearwire, is launched in more markets, including Seattle.
Comments: While pricing plans need to be improved, this technology or something like it "holds the promise of providing access in a geographically expansive footprint," wrote Quinn.
The video game broke entertainment-sales records and claimed millions of hours kids and adults could have spent reading or playing outside.
Comments: It would have been an even bigger success if Microsoft could have kept Bungie from leaving the company.
It actually came to market in November 2006 but it reached the masses early this year. Lots of criticism. Lots of glitches. Lots of sales.
Comments: Yeah, it's kind of inevitable. Vista haters can hate, "but eventually it (or one of its successors) will be on most of the personal computers sold," wrote Rosoff. Swenson agreed: "Eighty percent of the revenue for Windows comes from the OEM channel, and we're on track to ship more than 100 million more PCs in 2007 than were shipped in 2001 during the [Windows] XP launch. With those numbers, it's hard to have a 'bad' release."
MIT prof Nicholas Negroponte saw his idea of offering cheap computers for mass use in developing countries come to fruition. Alas, they cost more than $100.
Comments: A "noble" effort, as entrepreneur David Geller put it, but notable perhaps for what it's spurring other big players to do in the developing world. "It's not $100, and it's not going to revolutionize education in the Third World," wrote Lazowska. "But it represents a point in the design space to which Microsoft, Intel, Dell, HP, etc., had paid insufficient attention." On the other side of the coin: "The developing world will have many larger concerns over the next decade — access to clean water, freedom from disease and environmental changes caused by global climate change," Rosoff wrote.
Microsoft's competitor to Adobe Flash technology was greeted by unusually laudatory (for Microsoft) reviews.
Comments: Divergent opinions. Some panelists saw it as another me-too product, but the fact that it includes support for several programming languages that millions of developers are already using makes it a formidable competitor.
Not to be outdone by the wow factor of the iPhone's touch screen, Microsoft came out with a tabletop version of its touch technology, which Bill himself showed off.
Comments: An ooh- and ahh-inducing "niche" product that needs more time and more real customers to be significant. "For now, it looks like little more than a PR stunt with a very short customer list," Rosoff wrote.
Avvo, Financial Joe, TheFunded, et al:
The Web penchant for rating things was extended by these Web sites to professionals and their services, including lawyers and financial advisers.
Windows Live Suite:
After an extended period of testing, Microsoft finally officially launched its online services in a Google world.
Comments: "Too early to tell whether this will have any impact or join Microsoft's long list of me-too Internet sites, services, and software," Rosoff wrote.
The information in this article, originally published December 24, 2007, was corrected December 24, 2007. A previous version of the story misidentified Ed Lazowska.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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