Happy New Year!

Yeah, I know it's a while yet, but I sure as hell won't be online when it happens, so I thought it best to leave my best wishes to all my visitors before dinner. And, judging from the stats, I have a lot to thank for - the site has become very popular this year:

Of course part of this is due to my ever-expanding content, and to an incredible amount of Google referrals - on one hand, a Wiki has a very large footprint indexing-wise (given the way internal links reinforce each other), and on the other, judging by the way I keep running into myself every time I Google for topics of interest, the stuff I do seems to be (thankfully) rather unique.

Looking back, the year went pretty well. Not only was I part of a couple of great projects at work (our local Wi-Fi project and another due to peak next year as we move to 3G technologies), I can also rate three-fourths of my Quest For Easier Information Management as accomplished, with only a couple of minor targets forfeit as I found better tools.

(I also - finally - made up my mind and enrolled in a management course which will keep me pretty busy until Summer, so expect some odd non-technical topics to appear on my Wiki from now on...)

And since everyone else is doing it, here are a few of the best/worst things of 2004 from my standpoint. I've ranted on and on about stuff like the lack of proper printer drivers for Mac OS X from HP and other arcane stuff, so I'm going to stick to generics:

The Best Things In IT

  • Wi-Fi takes the top by an easy margin. Sure, nobody has proven conclusively that it is profitable as a service, but as a technology it has changed the telecommunications and IT landscape in a way far more profound than Ethernet or ATM ever did.
  • Windows 2003 Server. Surprise surprise, it works. And I'm writing this of my own free will, too (I told you I'm not a Mac zealot). It works very well indeed, to the point where I would recommend it to anyone who isn't developing Web services (I still don't trust IIS and the newfangled transaction monitoring it adds to .NET scripting, with their utter reliance on lockstepped proprietary tools) but needs a stable, sturdy and easy to manage server platform - provided you can afford it, of course.
  • Mac OS X 10.3. It really made a difference on my day-to-day computer use, but I won't give it the top spot because parts of it should have been included in 10.2 in the first place. Nevertheless, it is the Mac improvement this year - I won't harp on about Exposé and other "pretty" features, since the performance and integration improvements have been just as noticeable.
  • The RedHat/Fedora split. Nevermind the Debian leetnix "RedHat is dead!" propaganda, if you want to use Linux in a really professional way (an alien concept to most Linux users, I know), you now have someting your manager can sign for without qualms (except for SCO, we'll come to that later) and an excellent, easy to manage "home" or development distro. Sure, bleeding-edge junkies won't get their fix from Fedora - but it's not supposed to make you waste time, see?
  • The 20" iMac. OK, it is a bit pricey for a G4, but it's plenty enough for most people performance-wise. In my book, it ranks right up there with the 12" PowerBook as one of the most remarkable computers of 2003.

The Worst Things In IT

  • The near-passing of Sun as a "big iron" server supplier. Most people seem to be turning to increasingly cheaper and more powerful Intel boxes or betting the farm on PowerPC and AIX. Although I can't really blame them for losing due to their own inflexibility, I'm saddened by the fact that they tanked Cobalt and the loss of diversity in the mid-range server market - which means less choices for corporate customers, which is the really bad thing.
  • The Eolas Suit, one of the most blatant pieces of evidence that the whole concept of patents needs to be revised.
  • The SCO thing. It isn't even worth a link, but has to be listed as one of the background downers of the whole year.

The Best Things In Gadgets:

  • The Sony/PEG-UX50 wins hands down. It is the PDA of the year, even if it's plagued by a few extremely dumb design choices (like the cradle and the lack of screen rotation) and utterly ludicrous pricing (which has slowly come down to more reasonable values, but expensive nonetheless).
  • The T3 is every bit as good if you don't want Wi-Fi, and although I'm very happy with my Pocket PC/iPAQ 2215, I would probably buy one. It was beset by SDIO and display issues at first, but now it's probably the best PDA money can buy - if you really want a PDA to organize your life, that is, not to do geeky things like sniffing out Wi-Fi access points and whatnot.
  • I hate to say this, but the T610 was the best phone I've played around with this year. Sure, it doesn't have all the bells and whistles of Series 60 phones like my 7650, but it's very small, the battery lasts ages (in Series 60 terms), talks fluent Bluetooth to my Macs, and is easily replaceable.
  • The 6600 comes next. It's probably the best smartphone out there usability-wise (but then my hatred for the P800 is legendary, and I don't think much of the P900 either), and packs a lot of wallop - physically, too, but nevermind that right now. I rank it seconds only because I want a phone to be something to talk, not dick around all day with - and the 6600 can do plenty different things indeed...
  • Which leads me to the best bit overall: The burgeoning software industry growing around Series 60 phones. Even though I've found them (including the 6600) bulky, somewhat crash prone and sometimes a bit fiddly, the platform has spawned hundreds (if not thousands) of shareware ventures (be they companies or one-off applications) that brought the fun back into mobile phones. It's quite like the old Sinclair Spectrum days, where you'd look at that little box and wonder how they got it to do this or that - and you'd get a new program to play with every couple of days.
  • The emergence of nearly-affordable (i.e., sell-your-car instead of sell-your-house) digital SLR camera backs and a lot of very good prosumer digicams. I loathe video, but it looks like this year was (finally) the year of DV, with seamless integration of cameras and oodles of authoring software.

The Worst Things In Gadgets:

  • The Toshiba e800. It was an incredibly dumb move to get a 480x640 screen out and not make the least effort to get all applications to support it. Especially when a couple of weeks later a freeware enabler appeared.
  • Motorola breaking away from Symbian, which will weaken Nokia's position in favour of Microsoft. Not that Nokia doesn't need some competition (the Symbian alliance is looking a bit shabby these days), but Motorola (the guys who can't stick to the same user interface twice) is facing an uphill struggle getting really useable, attractive and affordable phones to ship (not to mention Microsoft's licensing fees).
  • The current trend of "watering down" phone features and making them all look the same. I'm not sure where the benefits of a uniform user experience across devices end and where the "dumbing down" effects of lack of diversity begin. Although carriers have a lot to say in this regard, moves like Orange blocking third-party application installs on their phones don't strike me as the best way to go about doing things. As always, we'll see.

Next Year

Oh boy. This is the tricky bit. Besides hazarding educated guesses like the G5 making it down to the consumer line (which would make sense around Summer) and wondering if the rumored mini-iPods will be available in Portugal painted with the major football club colors, I would bet that:

  • Debian finally gets its act together and releases a decent, grandma-compatible installer with no traces whatsoever of dselect. Please!
  • I finally get a Fedora kernel to compile and run on a Cobalt box.
  • KDE gets ported to Qt/Mac (thanks to RangerRick), and hordes of leetnix switchers will bombard us with almost-non-UI-guidelines-compliant ports of every single little KDE applet, which we'll gladly Fink to our Macs. Chaos ensues as we repeat the "choice is good" mantra and sort out the good stuff from the bad.
  • OpenOffice for the Mac becomes increasingly irrelevant, since the Aqua version keeps getting delayed.
  • We'll get yet another slightly incompatible flavour of Wi-Fi, and a lot of WISPs will either be bankrupt, bought out, or both. Consolidation will probably save Wi-Fi as a service, but carriers will add more security measures to the point where it looks pretty much like a cross between wideband, short-range GPRS (with SIM cards, subscription plans) and ADSL (logins, traffic limits, terms of service, etc.). Anyway, free Wi-Fi will still be around - but with limitations.
  • SCO and Eolas are eventually thrown out of court, despite the fact that there will be no real patent law reform in the US (heck, they've practically exported it to Europe this year, so why spoil things for the big corporate lobbies?).
  • Nokia comes out with more surprises just when people say their designs are starting to look jaded (I'd prefer they focused on getting the 6230 out soon, to give the T610 some real competition).
  • Push-To-Talk is heralded (and pushed) by all major carriers as the next-generation VoIP service that will drive up their revenues, until people realise that Europeans are much more polite and discreet than Americans on the phone and prefer MMS or SMS anyway. Vendors make a bundle selling it, but a lot less than previous years. Trials go on until the end of 2004 (and beyond). The US eventually go wild with it, causing yet another major cultural rift in mobile culture.
  • The T630 becomes my phone of choice, despite the fact that it still has an extremely shitty QCIF camera.
  • I leave the technology field entirely and take up a position in corporate finances (just kidding).

Of course, these are just predictions - and as such, they are likely to be woefully wrong. But hey, Happy New Year nonetheless. :)