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The Northern Spy
January 2008

Prognostications 2008

Rick Sutcliffe

Last month the Spy gave an overview of the big picture, speculating on what marketshare might look like in an economy heading into a recession. This month, he offers his annual walkabout of industry forecasts from here, there, and everywhere that strikes his fancy, and in no particular order of importance or otherwise.

Something old, something new

One of seventeen known 700+-year old copies of the Magna Carta sold at auction recently for $21.3M. Not chump change, and nice money if you can get it. Hmmm. The Spy has a copy of Apple's Red Book in pretty good condition. Makes you wonder, though. Supposing the Lord gives this old earth another 7-century run. Does anyone suppose there will be anything from this era that will be worth a comparable amount? Do you suppose that the thousandth generation of digital reading devices will still decipher CDs? What then today's format wars? Nah, on second thought, the Spy declines to forecast that far ahead.

The year of Blu-Ray?

Sony's slightly more robust format for HD disks continues to gain momentum, with more outlets opting to sell only Blu-Ray, and dropping HDDV. This format battle will be won and lost in 2008, resulting in HD data storage for computers also becoming a new standard, but only for a year or two, until TNBT.

More Leaps for the Leopard.

Judging by developer seeds, system 10.5.2 should be released sometime this month (January; these things are written well ahead of time.) Not that there wasn't a lot to complement Apple on the initial cut of the new OS, but only the most intrepid of early adopters install any software ending in a "0", or a "1" and this goes double for operating systems. After all if (!succeed) try (try()).

Among things likely to be fixed--er...enhanced--is "Stacks", which will undoubtedly gain a list view. Apple officials rarely comment on much of anything, but they do occasionally show signs of listening. Now, that transparent menu bar....

The Spy does have a much earlier version of 10.5 installed, but not for daily production use, and he's unlikely to switch any time soon. Patience, patience. Still, one can never cease to be amazed at how much better iSteve's outfit does this kind of work than Billg's little old company. For most technicians he's talked to, preinstalled Vista is a major annoyance, the sooner deleted and upgraded to XT the better. Getting the industry past hurdles of that magnitude is proving difficult; most people buying a new machine are better off with a Mac. Vista has become the best argument for that.

The year of the eBook?

Well, maybe. As indicated here last month, the Spy doesn't think Amazon's Kindle quite "gets it." The retail model is too restrictive, the price too high, and the design lacks panache. Apple could do it better, but is it a priority? Maybe, but perhaps only as a side effect of a more general-purpose device that slots into the price/performance/size gap between an iPhone and a MacBook. Per an argument below, probably not till at least later in the year.

MS to embrace standards?

We could have recycled this headline from any time in the last twenty years. After all, the company has done an elaborate dance around the idea for decades, loudly claiming in public to be doing so, while trashing them with proprietary and non-compliant software in practise. Strongest case in point is Internet Explorer, which fails to correctly render a large number of standard-compliant pages. True, things have improved from the baddest old days, but it is still necessary to write many, if not most, web pages to detect whether the rendering engine is IE, and if so, to behave differently. The PR bumpfh with the upcoming IE8 is that it will be standards compliant. The Spy advises you to consider believing it only after you test it.

What's coming from iSteve?

The Spy has previously speculated on new products to fill the niche above the iPod and iPhone, including tablets, eBook readers, and the like. Forecasting one of these is a no-brainer, as is predicting new tower machines (sooner rather than later) and bumps in the other lines.

The Spy will go out on a limb and forecast that the first step downward in size will be a new 12 inch ultra-thin, ultra-portable metallic MacBook, in gun-metal grey (and possibly a black option), accompanied (sooner or later) by a tablet version. Both a Newtonesque device and the GiPhone are possible candidates for using Intel's "Menlow" Mobile Internet Device (MID) platform, but these smaller Macs may have to await a better price on solid-state memory for their mass storage. Perhaps the appearance later in the year of the first 16G (and 32G?) memory sticks on drugstore electronics counters will be a harbinger.

Experience of the last few years makes one other prediction a lead pipe cinch, however. Whatever Apple introduces, it will immediately be greeted with a plethora of lawsuits, all claiming patent rights on aspects of the new technology. Apple will dutifully bribe--er...settle with--the claimants to make them go away and stop bothering them in court, and everybody will get lots of consumer lolly. But will 2008 be the year the antiquated patent system gets a rev? Not on your life. Too many lawyers have a vested interest in maintaining the cottage industry of suing true innovators on behalf of wanabees. Ah, well. Perhaps it's the American way.

While we're on the subject of legal bullying,/P>

the Spy notes with considerable interest that long-time rumourmonger Nick Ciarelli has been forced to "settle" with Apple's own legal heavyweights by shutting down his Think Secret site. Three years back, he speculated too accurately on details of the Mac Mini before Apple's official announcement, then refused to reveal its sources. Apple , hot to fire whatever employee or suspend whichever developer who had squealed, demanded the source of the information. Ciarelli refused, citing a journalistic privilege Apple does not recognize.

It is understandable iSteve would be upset--many a good company has lost sales by having its announcements scooped. But the Spy's sympathy is with Ciarelli, and it's too bad the legal pressure finally caved him in. The Spy feels obliged to note that his own predictions are never based on inside leaks and are sometimes spectacularly wrong. But, generally available information, a good look at past performance and market realities combined with logical extrapolation has often allowed him to make predictions with great accuracy. Anyone who writes about technology has to be concerned that the next time this happens (s)he might end up on the blunt end of Apple's legal stick.

So this one gets Apple the raspberry of the month for unnecessary bullying. Cupertino should chill out and put its lawyers on a shorter leash, but probably won't, so the Spy fearlessly predicts the company will sue yet another prognosticator in 2008. Perhaps the next one will hold out longer.

2008's greatest political scandal.

No, no, silly. The Spy doesn't know what it will be yet. But it doesn't take a seer to forecast there'll be one. After all, with the U.S. Presidential race heating up, and a minority parliament in Canada, the ground is fertile, the manure spreader media are primed and redolent, and all that remains is for the seed to droop. Will it have anything to do with technology? Well, as more politicians discover that besides mom and apple pie they've also invented the Internet, computers, and software, a political scandal involving technology becomes more likely. Let's make that a forecast for the coming year.

Deathwatch 2008.

Leading candidate in this category may be Palm, whose earnings and market share have plummeted in the face of competition from Apple and RIM, and also from warrantee and shipping problems. Shares have plummeted (again) and the sharks circle. A great pity, and not the least because the Spy owns a Treo 600. Palm was one of the good ones, but doesn't seem to have the nimbleness and innovative spirit to catch up to Apple. If you want to know, the Spy believes Palm "jumped the shark" when it brought out phones based on W*nd*ws, thus deprecating its own excellent OS.

AppleTV appears also to be dying on the vine. Expect either a major re-launch, or a dead product (more likely the latter).

Of course on the software front, major software packages' earlier versions become end-of-life on a regular basis. MySQL version 4.x is already considered legacy, as is Apache version 1.x. Of more importance, PHP versions under 5.0 cease to be supported as of December 31. Wearing his hat as a web host, the Spy has repeatedly warned customers that they would have to update all PHP software that isn't forward compatible. The time has come.

He would have bit the biscuit and changed over before now, except that one of his own sites runs its bulletin board on phpBB, and its venerable version 2.xx is not compatible with PHP5. However, the phpBB group has finally done a gold release of their version 3, so in the next few weeks a lot of dominoes must fall. If you have a web site, expect changes soon. To prepare, ensure any PHP scripts installed on your site are 5+ compatible, because most hosts will probably remove 4- soon.

BuyWatch 2008.

Apple now has some $15B in cash, prompting many to wonder what they're going to do with all that money. Buying other's technology has never been iSteve's way, and there aren't any major candidates out there that would make sense as a purchase. So, what if he declared a dividend on Apple's shares? Wonder what that would do to the share values?

Version diversion

DragThing is now up to 5.9.2 and of course available from The Northern Spy's download area.

Apple released Security Update 2007-09 on December 17. All users of either Tiger or Leopard should of course upgrade before "vulnerabilities" turn into catastrophes.

There are many more of course, and for full information on the latest versions, everyone should use the excellent Version Tracker site. The Spy is remiss in not mentioning it more often.

And, the Spy's last word for 2007?

May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

--The Northern Spy

Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics at Trinity Western University. He's written two textbooks and several novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers, and he's a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of BC since 1972.

Want to discuss this and other Northern Spy columns? Surf on over to ArjayBB.com. Participate and you could win free web hosting from the WebNameHost.net subsidiary of Arjay Web Services. Rick Sutcliffe's fiction can be purchased in various eBook formats from Fictionwise, and in dead tree form from Bowker's Booksurge.


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Last Updated: 2008 01 01