2009: A year in review

December 31, 2009 in #news #reviews #linux #netbooks #university #windows

I don’t usually go down for end-of-year reviews, but 2009 is a special case. It’s heralded huge shifts in the technology industry, and shows us there’s plenty of promise for the coming decade.

Content On Demand

This year has seen an explosion of on-demand streaming services making use of new high-speed broadband connections. Missed your favorite show? Simply head to BBC iPlayer, ITV Player or 4OD (or Hulu if you’re from across the pond) . Need to listen to that brand new track your friend is raving about? Simply fire up your client for Spotify or last.fm. For the first time people can pick when they want to listen to or view their media, freeing the consumer from the whims of  TV Executives and Radio Producers.

HD and 3D Content

Well-known services such as YouTube and major broadcasters such as Sky and the BBC started offering content in high-definition both online and streamed live. 3D content has also started to make an entrance into modern cinema, with Avatar 3D attracting rave reviews. High Definition is here – and as soon as next year we could be buying 3D sets.

The Dawn of the Microblog

2009 saw an explosion for a service called Twitter, a service offering users to post whatever they liked within 140 characters and enjoy the exposure of the entire globe. Some users tell us what they had for breakfast, others use it for spam. However, Twitter found a huge niche for spreading news fast, as was shown by the fact users of the service knew about the death of Michael Jackson long before any major news stations reacted.

The service has also led to plenty of spin-offs thanks to its comprehensive API, leading to more advanced clients that allow users to share links, photos and other content with each other instantly. It’s integration into more established social networking sites such as Facebook and the adoption of the service by major news corporations and celebrities saw it reach critical mass, and it looks set to continue into the next decade providing up-to-the-second information for all who use it.

App Explosion

If 2009 will be remembered for just one thing, it will almost certainly be remembered for Apple‘s decision to create an App Store for it’s flagship product, the Apple iPhone. In under a year over a billion ‘apps’ have been downloaded both for free and for cash. These ranged from games, maps, guides, dictionaries to even musical instruments, mosquitos and toolkits!  Anything you can name – there’s an app for it. Yes – even that!

This could herald a huge beginning for the adoption of the kinds of smartphones that Blackberry and Palm have tried to find a market for for years. HTC and Motorola already have Android phones set to gather market share, Nokia is now using the Maemo platform for the N900 and Microsoft is rewriting Windows Mobile to keep up the pace on Apple‘s highly successful product, so 2010 could be an exciting year for a highly diverse and competitive market, with potential for GNU/Linux-based platforms to make real gains on commercial equivalents.

Netbooks Continue to Climb

If 2008 was the dawn of the netbook (which surprised everyone – even Asus, and they created the concept in the first place!) then 2009 was the year they started to seem more and more often in cafes, trains, buses and schools. Phone companies were giving them away free with cheap mobile broadband deals (a truly 2008 technology!). Microsoft stirred up much controversy by claiming that over 90% of net-books were running Windows. The present assumption is that this may be the case over in the US, but here in Europe it’s more a 60-40 split. Linus hasn’t lost the war for net-books yet, and with the emerging technologies based on Moblin and Ubuntu NBR GNU/Linux may yet make a resurgence back into this market.

GPS Goes Mainstream

This year saw phones coming with GPS as standard, and 2010 promises to herald in GPS chips for netbooks and laptops. We will have to see whether this comes with fruition, but from personal experience being able to quickly check where I am on Google Maps using the iPhone‘s GPS chip has saved my skin on more than one occasion! It’s a subtle technology that could soon see services such as Google Latitude seeing a larger user base.

Open Source Becomes Big News

Over the past year the world of open source and free software has seen more exposure than ever before. With doubts over Windows 7 before it was launched Ubuntu in particular benefited from heavy publicity. Whether it was some cool new technology such as Ulteo or a forum bust-up between Gnome and GNU it received plenty of publicity. Big companies such as Intel, Nokia and Motorola started to take GNU/Linux seriously and include it in their products. 2009 may not have been the year of everyone switching to a GNU/Linux desktop, but it could herald the march of low-powered GNU/Linux-based devices in the coming decade.

In Summary…

This year has brought information truly to people’s finger-tips. Searches are in real-time, and information is up-to-the-minute, short-and-sweet. Media is something you can enjoy anywhere and at any time, and there are rumours that the Tablet PC concept Bill Gates always used to go on about might just come to fruition. 2009 was a big year for technology, but we’ll soon see the coming of 3D content, Project Natal, Cloud-based (or oriented) operating systems, the unending march of open source and the continued explosion of smartphones and low-powered embedded technologies. On this basis I can’t help feeling optimistic about what the next 10 years will bring.

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