Dvorak: 2006 Was a Very Strange Year

2006 was one of the oddest years in computerdom memory. What exactly happened?

Let's look at the top stories and trends to see if any themes emerge that will help us figure out what's going to happen next.

1. Top Story of the Year: KA-BOOM!

The biggest story of the year was about Sony's exploding batteries.

And I personally think that the story behind those batteries has never been fully told. Exactly where were those batteries made? Japan? China? Why did the problem go on for so long?

It was a strange situation that brought us YouTube clips of laptops catching on fire.

When the smoke cleared, we all thanked our lucky stars that laptops had not been banned completely from airplanes. And that would have meant not even in checked luggage.

2. YouTube and Video Mania

Yes, everyone was abuzz over the sale of YouTube to Google for close to $2 billion. But what about the YouTube ramp and the number of visitors it attracted?

Overlooked in the hullabaloo is the video aspect itself. At some point, with the penetration of true broadband, people began to look at streaming flash videos all day.

This was the biggest change in the computing landscape last year. This trend was exaggerated by the ease in which you could embed your video into a blog.

Even the New York Times Web site began to place videos on its front page. Soon many of the other services, such as photobucket.com, offered video storage and embedding. This trend is a monster.

3. Cheap High-Megapixel Digital Cameras

You can get a terrific photo from a 5-megapixel digital camera. Six, 7-, and 8-megapixel cameras take even better pictures. But now 10 megapixels seems to be the sweet spot.

Anything above 4 MP begins to create a cascade effect within the entire computer industry, since people who are generally serious about digital photography do all their storage and editing on a computer.

The cascade effect refers to the storage and retrieval of the huge files that contain the high-megapixel data. You need faster processors, bigger hard drives, and more backup storage to load, store, and manipulate these files. This means more powerful machines.

I can tell you for a fact that my old 2-GHz Northwood machine is a pig when it comes to fooling around with these photos.

4. Muliticore, Multiprocessor Workstations

You'd think that someone would notice that a massive change in the computing landscape took place, but everyone seems to have taken all this for granted.

Yet this is a fundamental architectural shift that comes just in time for massive photo manipulation, data streaming and other computer-intensive subtrends.

5. LCD Takeover

Yes, I know that flat-panel screens are nothing new, but can you even get a cathode-ray tube anymore? And just so we don't actually get to have more room on our desktops, we use huge LCDs, or multiple LCDs.

You're a schmuck if you don't use at least two if not three or four screens. It was a silent revolution

6. WEB 2.0: Open-Source and User-Generated Content

This is a continuation of older Internet trends taken to an extreme. In this case, we're referring to powerful software that lets anyone do content management, often in the form of blogging.

You can now use cool and powerful open-source software systems such as WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla, to name a few. It also means that the user does more work than ever and seems to enjoy it.

The Wikipedia and Wiki software indicate this trend, as does the Digg Web site. And much of this has to do with the coming of age of open-source software, which apparently has a slow development curve that results in fantastic products.

Collectively all this is referred to as Web 2.0.

7. The Surprising Wii from Nintendo

This out-of-the-blue success story shocked a lot of observers. That's is somewhat odd, since most people have always said that "it's about the games," and Nintendo seems to have that aspect of console gaming cornered and caged. So nobody should be surprised.

The Wii, with its new controllers, has actually changed the business overnight. Of course it didn't hurt Nintendo that Sony was unable to make a splash with the PlayStation 3.

8. The HD DVD and Blu-ray Impasse

This story may be on the list again next year unless something is done to end this little war.

As it now stands, the HD DVD folks are winning. They have a better dog-and-pony show. They have better gimmicks, such as the DVD with normal code on one side of a disc and HD DVD data on the other. And they have cheaper players.

This complicates matters for computer users, since Blu-ray discs have a major advantage: Their huge capacities could be used for backing up the huge hard drives our computers now have.

These two camps are going to have to agree on a combo drive and let people manufacture it. Otherwise, both sides are going to bleed forever.

9. Failure of 802.11n and WiMAX to Materialize

Looking back on this, the bickering among the 802.11 camps — instigated mostly by Intel's attempt to horn in on the market and then further mucked up by its botched job on WiMAX — has given us what? EV-DO?

EV-DO is the phone companies' crappy solution to mobile Internet connectivity that for some reason a slew of technology mavens actually think is cool.

It is anything but cool. But the cell-phone companies got a foothold like this as a direct result of computer-industry failures.

WiMAX had the most promise for ISPs, but no two vendors' WiMAX products seemed to interoperate, and nobody wanted to do anything about it. And whatever happened to wireless mesh networks, anyway? Cripes, the entire wireless scene is in complete disarray.

10. Skype and Skype Clone Mania

This was the year that Skype took off in the U.S., and the result was that the company was bought out by eBay for no known reason.

A slew of SIP-protocol-based Skype clones soon appeared, but Skype turned out to be the best overall.

It was so popular that the various phone companies offering Internet connectivity saw it as a threat to their core business, although they were already gouging the customers for Internet connectivity.

With EV-DO, most contracts forbid using Skype, so the mobile-phone providers can double-gouge the customer.

Apparently, the once-powerful public utilities commissions that used to protect consumers against this nonsense have evolved into lapdogs for these jokers.

Maybe the public will wake up someday and protect itself, and perhaps Skype will be the triggering mechanism. Seems like a trend to me.

Also Important

These ten items are by no means the only things of importance that happened in technology in 2006.

There was the continued growth of society-shifting Web sites, such as Craigslist and Yelp. Online applications, such as Writely, have come of age.

And let's not forget the giant hard drives and high-capacity thumb drives that continue to have an impact on the scene.

Perhaps you have some favorite ideas that you'd like to share in the forum. I'm listening.

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