The Efficient Mac User

Five Things I Hope to See in 2006

- 2006.01.05 - Tip Jar

Every new year brings a mixed bag for me. I'm sometimes nostalgic for events of the past year, while other times I've been glad to see a year pass. Always, though, I'm looking forward to what's before me with hope and anticipation.

This year, as I turn my hopes to the prospects for 2006 in the computer world (and especially in the Macintosh world), I find five ideas that emerge as my great hopes for the coming year - brought to you in Efficient Mac User style.

A Good "All in One" Device

I think it was Merlin Mann (of who suggested that the electronic PDA was suffering because of the "two-gadget" factor: People have a tolerance for carrying two electronic gadgets with them, and the mobile phone will always be #1. The rest vie for #2 - and the PDA held that place for years.

Lately, however, it's been usurped by the iPod.

PDA manufacturers are aware of the displacement, if not the theoretical reason behind it, so they are adapting to accommodate: Palm Treo phones have been around for a while, and nearly every phone has some sort of built-in calendar/address book (many of which will sync with your computer via USB or Bluetooth).

The Blackberry seems to have gained a prominent position as perhaps the best implementation thus far.

What I want, though, is the thing that will let me have it all - a single device that accomplishes the tasks that my mobile phone, PDA, and iPod currently fill.

I know - the ROKR was introduced last fall, and it's an okay start. But everything I read about it sounds like it's kind of clunky, not very Apple-like. And it has such a limited capacity for its iTunes functionality (100 tracks). It seems like this is a fair attempt, at best.

I've heard that Motorola's new RAZR - the RAZRv3i - has iTunes onboard as well. This may be just the thing I'm looking for, but I can't tell: There's not a lot of detail on the website. And it certainly won't have the stylus-able screen like a Palm device.

How well will it function as a PDA replacement? And will it sync with a Mac?

I'd love for Apple to come out with something really amazing - simple and elegant like the iPod, sleek and sophisticated like Motorola's RAZR, and big on features and function like the beloved Newton.

Could it happen? I bet it can, and maybe we'll see it in 2006.

A Truly Seamless Transition from PPC to Intel

There has been much speculation about how Apple will fare in its transition from the PowerPC processor to Intel. In spite of a lot of nay-sayers' complaints, I think it stands to be a great improvement for all Mac users. Faster processors, lower prices (eventually), and a diverse selection of chips for special-purpose functions.

But how long until it will be the improvement that it promises to be?

As much as I love reading Guy Kawasaki's tales of evangelizing the earliest Macs, I don't long for days like those again. It seems like Apple's transitions have historically presented a similar problem. For example, how long was it before there was a worthwhile amount of native third-party software after the introduction of OS X?

It looks as though Apple has learned how to do this sort of transition well, and a lot of developers are far along in the process of making their code "universal" for both PPC and Intel. I hope this is so!

Wouldn't it be great for this change to happen as uneventfully as possible?

A Racing "Leopard"

OS X has been ahead of the game, in comparison to WinXP, since Panther (OS X 10.3) - and maybe even since Jaguar (10.2). With Apple's release of Tiger (10.4) in 2005, the computing world seems to have woken up to this reality - all the features that Microsoft has been touting for Longhorn Vista are either copies of long-existing aspects of OS X or were revealed in Tiger.

Microsoft has promised Vista's release by "late 2006", which means either a) it will actually be available in mid-2007, b) they will drop some of the more difficult (and sought-after) features to meet the target release date, or c) "Vista" will actually be the biggest, most expensive beta-release ever, preparing the way for it's fixed successor. (Doubt this last scenario? Don't forget that this is exactly what many claimed about Windows 95 and Windows 98.)

So here's my hope: OS X 10.5 (Leopard), will be released before Vista (and maybe at the January '06 Macworld, if the Macintel rumors are accurate), and all that has been mentioned about it is its Intel compatibility.

I hope for something more than just a "platform-change OS"; Leopard could be the biggest nail yet in the coffin of the Microsoft monopoly. If Leopard races ahead of Vista before Vista is even released, perhaps the computing world will decide even more that innovation is more important than standardization.

This scenario could boost Apple's market-share more than even the iPod "halo".

Truly Useful (and Useable) Media Innovation

I'm ready for a true living room ready, easy-to-use Media PC. And I think Apple is the company to do it.

Any time Apple hasn't been the first to do something, they've been the best "latecomer" around. Think of the iPod: The portable music market was already taking off with a variety of MP3 players. Apple certainly wasn't first out of the gate. But they watched, they listened, they innovated - and then they dominated. And their dominance with the iPod is deserved: Their product is the coolest, the most functional, and the best all around.

They could do the same for the Media PC. In fact, many have speculated that the Mac mini was intended to become exactly that. Certainly the recent revisions to the G5 iMac demonstrate a truly media-oriented machine. And the backend support from iTunes continues to grow in that direction.

There are a lot of Media PCs on the market, but all of the reviews complain. Either they are difficult to set up (a problem for the "VCR blinks 12:00" crowd), cumbersome or impossible to integrate with existing networks (a problem for the techie crowd), or they don't reliably deliver on the promises they make with regard to function (a problem with, well, everyone). Or all three.

In other words, the just aren't useable.

Apple may offer us the solution. Come into my living room, Apple, and make my media dreams come true.

(Continued) Open-Source Innovation

I'm a growing fan of open-source software. Sure, I like that it's free - who doesn't? - but there's more to it than that. I think the open-source movement is simply good citizenship. In fact, it's downright altruistic.

I don't like paying for software any more than the next guy, but I'm willing to do it to get what I need. Most freeware, and even a lot of shareware, can't compete with full-fledged commercial applications in terms of feature complexity and code debugging. But open-source can, and it often does.

It's exciting to see the state of Massachusetts decide to go with the open-source OpenDocument standard, rather than Microsoft's proprietary .doc standard. Not just because it represents a chink in Microsoft's monopolistic armor, but because it promotes open-source to a level of legitimacy that it had not publicly held before.

I think the same thing about IBM's initiatives to promote open-source development.

Programs like Nvu (for website development), Fire and Adium (for instant messaging), and GanttProject (for project management chart building) are great alternatives to paying big bucks - or even medium bucks - for commercial equivalents (such as GoLive and Merlin) or for being stuck with a proprietary product (such as MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, and AIM).

Even OpenOffice and NeoOffice are pretty decent alternatives, although I'm less satisfied with either's implementation.

Let's just say, here's to you, open-source - may you continue to thrive in 2006.

Those are my hopes for 2006. Check back at the end of the year for a follow-up. We'll see how on-the-mark I was. LEM

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