The Northern Spy
Prognostications 2005 and Basic Utilities Tutorial
Where's the tutorial?
Later on in the column, Nellie. First we to provide our reader with the annual market survey and predictions.
Marketshare I (Apple)
We've come a long way from Apple's dismal nineties as the company everybody likes to like continues to revive and stretch its innovation muscles. The phenomenal success of the iPod has driven profits and stock prices to levels not seen in many years, and made many converts to the Apple way. Indeed, the stock that recently sold for $25 is now forecast by some to reach $100 (a little high in the Spy's opinion.)
Some have wondered why the company's computer products aren't selling better, why Apple's share of that market has only grown slightly. But this is normal. Even the very best advertising has instant marketplace effects only on small ticket or frequent purchases (perishables). For big ticket purchases, the Spy's fourth law is
Marketshare lags mindshare by two to five years.
The length of the lag depends on the nature of the buying decision. For instance, when university recruiters talk to high school students, they target those in grade ten and eleven, counting on a two year lag. High school seniors have mostly made up their mind before their last year.
Computers are purchased on three to five year cycles. Moreover, hardware buying decisions are more likely to be made by groups (peer consultation) than individuals, and these take time to develop a new consensus. Finally, younger consumers whose iPod represents a first major foray into the medium-ticket electronics market may be a year or two from making their first solo computer purchase, or seven to fifteen years from buying them in quantity at their place of work.
Thus, just as it took years for Apple's bad decisions, abysmal marketing strategy, and deteriorating relationships with business and education to translate into an almost fatal slide to the bottom, it will take a similar time for the current restoration of trust to translate into significantly better market numbers. The Spy's prognostication: barring some disaster, expect market share for the Macintosh line to grow by one to two percent a year for the next three years. (Absolute market gains will of course be much larger.) If all continues to go well, one could forecast larger annual improvements in relative share later. The one fly in the ointment is education, where Apple still hasn't gotten it. The business market cannot be turned around without the educational sector, as decisions in the former are made by people influenced by the latter.
Marketshare II (Microsoft)
The remarks above could be mirrored with respect to the industry giant. MS has seen nothing but bad news for the last twenty-four months, and can expect more of the same for some time to come. Yet apart from the no-cost decision of many people to move away from IE to other browsers, MS has seen little loss of marketshare. Give it time, says the Spy. As with Apple in the 1990s, he bad press of 2003-2004 will be reflected in the buying decisions of 2005-2009, and no amount of good news in 2005 will be able to reverse those losses.
Expect the move away from IE to accelerate. Expect small losses for Windows and Office in 2005 and larger ones the following year. If Open Office gains important features, the switch could become dramatic, as the Spy's fourth law does not apply to low or no cost items. The same is true of alternate (commercial and other) standalone products such as word processors. Large organizations with six or seven figure license commitments to MS take longer to change, but have a more dramatic effect when they do.
Tweaking the basics for 2005
As the Spy has previously indicated, chip manufacturers appear to be hitting a speed barrier with current technologies. IBM has had difficulty meeting the 3 GHz mark for the Power chips, and Intel seems to have given up on the idea of a 4 GHz chip. Expect both lines to top out no higher than 3.8 GHz unless some radically new technology comes to the fore.
So, where do we go to get new throughput? Parallel processing appears to be the only feasible answer. Expect both Intel and IBM to release versions of their chips with dual cores (two processors on one chip) and for more high end machines to sport multiple processor chips.
This in turn means a migration in languages (and features of present languages) to take advantage of the move to parallel processing. More software (and OS support) will adopt the strategy of splitting up complex operations into pieces that can run in parallel on several processors and/or schedule multiple separate programs to run in parallel. This differs from the current (usual) way of multitasking in that the single processor will not have its time shared among processes, but more processes will have an entire processor core to themselves. It's a pity that Modula-2, star language of the 1980s, has seen its use decline in more recent times, for it already had provisions for programming in multitasking environments built in.
Hot action shifted away form the desktop/laptop in 2004 toward portable devices, particularly lifestyle products such as music players. This trend has not nearly played out, so expect more of the same in 2005.
In particular, more companies will take a run at Apple's iPod, currently holding 90% of the market, with the next best under 4%, an exact mirror of the company's computer marketplace numbers. However, barring big breakthroughs coupled with some bad stumble by Apple, there is no obvious reason to suppose any of the imitators will prosper. Apple has succeeded in defining this market and captured it for its own. They can probably keep it.
It's more interesting therefore to ask what Apple will do in the small device niches, and the pathways appear well marked. Expect Cupertino to both grow and shrink its current devices--shrink to a flash RAM model on the one hand, and grow to fill the gap between iPod and iBook on the other. The former is straightforward, and announcements of products in this market could come at any time.
The latter is more interesting, for it represents new territory--space the Spy has been trying for years to get enterprising manufacturers to stake out. This is the arena in which one builds a small video player, a photo album, and a book reader done right. The best way to do it--sell a multipurpose small computer and let the marketplace decide how to program and use it. In other words, market the upcoming iSlate as a small Macintosh rather than a large iPod, then provide the book and video selling service akin to iTunes that will enable the device to be at least the missing spoke on Apple's digital hub. If versatile enough, the iSlate could also emerge as the category definer for some as yet unguessed application class.
TROM (The Rest Of the Market)
Most people already in the work or school space who need a computer already have one. This means manufacturers are competing principally for two demographic categories: first time younger buyers, and the replacement market. The former are now much more predisposed to buying from Apple, as this years university frosh with PowerBook under the arm testify. The latter are predisposed to whatever they bought last time, but are leaning away from Windows toward Linux and Mac. In the short term, it is not clear there is room for anything beyond cosmetic improvements to Windows, as MS does not now plan to introduce Longhorn for another two years (or more).
The best opportunities now seem to be afforded by peripheral makers hitching their wagon to the stars already in the firmament. One look at the blizzard of iPod addons in every store seems to confirm this. Also, there's plenty of room for price and technology improvements in output devices (especially colour printers and their successors), networking gear, display technology (not necessarily "monitors"), input devices (they don't have to be keyboards), storage technology (not necessarily disks), and speakers (the more music played, the more hardware needed to play it on). Expect incremental advances in all these with great-leap changes for some in 2005.
The technology to watch: electronic ink, which may be just about ready for the market, and could eventually replace monitors, books, magazines, newspapers, and, in large format, wall decorations.
The bottom line for 2005:
- Steady as she goes for most computer manufacturers excepting Apple, which has a very bright future.
- Continued ferment in the peripheral business, with new companies/products appearing and old ones vanishing.
- Slight declines in marketshare for MS and Intel.
- For Apple: Flash iPod, iSlate, Dual 3G Hz desktops, Dual core laptops (not G5), a 2% market share growth in computers, and one major software announcement.
Seen in Passing
The Spy reminds users that as yet unpatched vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer have allowed exploits to take control of Windows-based computers when a user merely views a site containing graphics. In the latest manifestation, a site serving banner ads was compromised, allowing the malware to spread rapidly. All IE users are advised to either turn off the downloading of graphics or switch to a different browser until this problem has been repaired.
In a related story, the Spy notes that there will not be a new major version of IE (apart, one hopes, from bug fixes) until 2006. This appears to be a window of opportunity for the Mozilla family of browsers, particularly Firefox, which has gained market share rapidly in recent months.
Turning to other news involving MS, the Spy notes a recent decision by the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) to drop support for antitrust cases against MS. The announcement was prompted by a payment made by MS to the CCIA, including nearly $10 million for the personal pocket of CCIA president Ed Black.
Revisiting the beginners' tutorial
that we began two months ago with a discussion of hardware and continued last month with the OS and software, we now turn attention to the utility software needed to keep a computing system in good operational shape.
Every computer is a potential target for the many vandals who infest cyberspace, and who would love to write graffiti all over your hard drive , steal your credit card and bank account, or take over your machine either to break in elsewhere or deny someone their service connection.
Did you follow the Spy's advice and connect to the network via a firewall? Did you enable your operating system's software firewall? Neither are sufficient, as many attacks now arrive via eMail. If you keep your eMail program and its filters up to date, most attackware will not harm you. However, the barbarians find new means of assault every day. They'll try to persuade you (via a message ostensibly from your best friend) to open an enclosed file, surf to a particular web site, or send your credit card or bank information so they can clean out your account.
If you download files from the Internet, there is a moderate probability they are infected with a Trojan horse (malware that hides inside an apparently legitimate program) or a virus (malware that uses your computer to spread itself to or attack others). If the files you download are themselves on the shady side ("cracks" to break other's security, bootleg programs, or pornographic material) the probably of infection becomes extremely high. Many people seem to think you deserve what you get in those cases.
Common sense deals with many of these. If you don't use Internet Explorer (until the holes are plugged), surf only to known sites, don't use grey market programs or files, give credit card information only on secure sites (URL starts with "https") for transactions you initiate with known and trusted vendors, and never accept eMail attachments you have not specifically asked for, you can stop many potential attacks in their tracks.
For the rest, invest in anti-virus software that will detect and remove various kinds of malware, and keep it up to date. The common vendors are McAfee and Symantec (Norton), both of which have products for Mac and Windows machines. Although there are no known viruses for Mac OS X at this writing, these commercial products will also remove any of the hundred thousand or so PC viruses from your Mac disk, preventing your machine from re-mailing them to a PC user where they can cause much harm.
Every computer disk fails eventually. Do you have a backup of all your files? Oh, you can always re-install the operating systems and programs that were lost when your disk failed/crashed/got infected. But what about all your eMail, invoices, letters, and other documents? Do you relish the thought of either re-creating them or doing without? If not, you need a backup program.
There are many backup utilities, some of them free, but the Spy recommends Retrospect from Dantz Development Corporation (now owned by EMC), which is available in full versions and cut-down or express variations, and is often bundled by hardware manufacturers with their computers.
Follow this strategy: Backup all your files to a physically separate disk drive (external Firewire, SCSI or USB) daily. Make weekly backups on a different device, say a CD, and monthly backups on a third device (CD or DVD). Store these in physically separate locations so a fire cannot wipe everything out. Make additional copies of important files and mail them to your friends for them to keep, or, if you have a web site, use FTP to store an additional copy there. If you are running a small business, you need to do more: put daily, weekly, and monthly backups into two different secure vaults, both well away from your place of business. Following these routines will not cut the risk of data loss to zero, but it will reduce it substantially.
There are many other utilities that could be useful over the longer run, including programs to keep your disk drive in optimal condition (files defragmented, or stored in one place) or to convert files from the format required by one program to that required by another. The Spy recommends programs by Norton (Windows) and Tech Tool (Mac) for disk health, and by DataViz (MacLink Plus on the Mac and Conversions Plus on Windows), and for graphics files GraphicsConverter (converts and edits all formats; runs on the Mac).
As your system grows in utility and complexity, you will surely acquire many other programs and utilities, but the few mentioned here are the basic ones you cannot do without.
Stay tuned next month
for the Spy's tutorial on getting and using your own web site, a possible next step for a beginner. Until then, let's hope you've caught a healthy dose of paranoia about using your shiny new computer.
--The Northern Spy
Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics at Trinity Western University. He's written two textbooks and several novels, one of which was named best in the science fiction genre for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers, and he's a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of BC since 1972.
Want to discuss this and other Northern Spy columns? Surf on over to ArjayBB.com. Participate and you could win free web hosting from the WebNameHost.net subsidiary of Arjay Web Services. Rick Sutcliffe's fiction can be purchased in various eBook formats from Fictionwise, and in dead tree form from Bowker's Booksurge.
The Northern Spy Home Page: http://www.TheNorthernSpy.com
WebNameHost : http://www.WebNameHost.net
WebNameSource : http://www.WebNameSource.net
Arjay Books: http://www.ArjayBooks.com
The Spy's Laws collected: http://www.thenorthernspy.com/spyslaws.htm
Article on web Ad strike: http://news.com.com/Attackers+strike+using+Web+ads/2100-7349_3-5463323.html
Article on CCIA: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2004/11/24/microsoft_makes_millionaire/
Symantec (Norton): http://www.symantec.com
Dantz (Retrospect): http://www.dantz.com
DataViz (file converters):http://www.dataviz.com
LempkeSoft (Graphics Converter): http://www.lemkesoft.com/