Alistair Fairweather

2009: A tech odyssey

2009-12-18 08:50

Between the recession, political turmoil and fears of global warming it’s been a long, hard year for our little blue planet. But 2009 has also been one of the most eventful and fruitful years in the history of computing.

Here are our top 10 tech stories of 2009, in (rough) order of significance:

1. Oracle (tries) to buy Sun

You may not have heard of either of these two companies, but between them they supply a huge percentage of the world’s database software. Since data is the oil (as in “black gold”) of the tech economy, owning the plumbing for that oil is a license to print money. The European Union are so worried about the anti-competitive nature of this deal that they have threatened to block it unless Oracle makes several concessions.

2. Windows 7 arrives – and it actually works

After the disastrous launch of its last operating system, the much hated Vista, Microsoft was determined to get this one right. It may own 90% of the operating system market, but the biggest software company in the world still doesn’t like that much bad press. The result is really what Vista should have been in the first place: stable, efficient and usable.

3. Google announces Chrome OS

Google and Microsoft have been circling each other for a good few years now, but the announcement of the Chrome Operating System ended all debate: Google and Microsoft are now direct competitors.

4. Apple sells its billionth iPhone application

Who would have believed two years ago that Apple would end up re-defining the mobile internet? But while the iPhone itself may have gotten most of the attention, it’s the applications (or “apps”) that really changed the game. Now adding new functions to your phone – previously a truly painful experience - is as easy as a few swipes of the finger. That explains why Apple sold one billion apps in less than nine months, and a second billion within the next five months. That’s three times faster than it took to sell the same amount of songs on iTunes.

5. Twitter goes mainstream
The world’s favourite new online toy may have grown quicker in 2008 (more than 1000% in fact), but in 2009 it jumped from geek to chic. Evidence? The top 20 Twitter user list is dominated by celebrities – all with millions of followers.

6. Bing! A new search engine is born

Microsoft once again surpassed our (low) expectations with its rebranded and revamped search offering. In fact Bing is fast, attractive and actually better than Google at certain things (particularly online shopping comparisons). Whether it can gain any real traction remains to be seen.

7. Facebook surpasses America’s total population

Social networks may seem so 2007, but Facebook has been busily expanding across the globe. They now have well over 350 million active users. If it was a country, Facebook would be the third largest by population with only India and China ahead of it.

8. Augmented reality goes mobile

Augmented reality was confined to the labs until the new breed of “smart” phones made computing truly mobile. Now you can hold up a phone in any major city in the world and it will give you the vital stats of the landmark you are pointing it at. And that’s just the beginning.

9. China tightens its grip on internet usage

The Chinese have never been especially keen on freedom of expression, but their announcement in June was unprecedented: all new computers sold in China must have monitoring software installed on them. The government will use it to ensure that the populace doesn’t get up to anything it deems as mischief. The software is called Green Dam Youth Escort, which would be amusing if it wasn’t so sinister.

10. Yahoo closes GeoCities
When Yahoo paid $3.6bn for GeoCities – a free website hosting service – in 1999 they thought they were getting a great deal. After all, 20 million people had created their own sites on the service, an unprecedented number at that time. Sure the sites were mostly hideously ugly collections of flashing graphics and bad font choices, but this was the future dag nabbit! Ten years later, with almost no revenue and declining usage, Yahoo made the decision to cut their losses.

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