A Welcome Old Feeling

Recently, I’ve been feeling something I haven’t felt in a really long time: A sense of excitement about technology. For the past 8 years or so, it seems as though innovation and competition in the tech industry has slowed to a trickle. Microsoft killed Netscape and left us with the dead Internet Explorer 6 code base for nearly seven years. In the wake of the ever-exciting browser wars, we’ were left with what felt like a wounded soldier with a wooden leg. Then, the wizards in Redmond heap Vista on us, which did absolutely nothing to excite me. (In fact, it lead to a great deal of screaming and renting of garments in the Smith household.) On the hardware front, Intel and NVidia thwarted the lackluster AMD/ATI combination. Sure, we got faster CPUs and GPUs out of ’em, but who cares…Speed does not equal more fun or innovation. What’s a geek to do?

Thankfully, there are plenty of reasons to celebrate these days. For the first time in a long time, nerds everywhere are buzzing about a choice of quality operating systems. Apple has done a great job continuously improving OS X, which, for my money, is very stable and user friendly at version 10.6. In the wake of Apple’s ever-improving market share in both the laptop and desktop segments, Microsoft has gotten its act together to bring us Windows 7. The interesting thing to me is that neither OS X 10.6 nor Windows 7 are revolutionary products. The improvements are small on both fronts, and at first glance, it seems as though the OS upgrades are nothing more than marketing fodder. But, in the midst of all this, it’s easy to tell that both Microsoft and Apple are seriously trying to one-up each other by making systems more stable and user friendly. In short, end users are being treated to the fruits of healthy market competition. (On top of the OSs that are here now, rumor has it Google is launching its own low-power OS soon!)

Even more exciting to me is that the browser wars are back. Thank God for Mozilla, which delivered the first stable version of Firefox in 2003 and hasn’t looked back since. Again, Microsoft had to wake up and do something. Out of this panic, we were treated to Internet Explorer versions 7 and 8, which actually do a pretty good job at following standards.  But the fun doesn’t stop there: The WebKit folks have given us Safari and provided Google with the foundation it needed to launch Chrome. What we’re left with are fast, secure, standards-compliant browsers. And, more importantly to me, we have several choices in browsing for the first time in a long time!

There’s less to be excited about on the hardware front, but notebook makers are doing a great job making specialized laptops for just about any purpose. The buzzword soup actually has a lot of differentiated products behind it: notebooks, business-class, ultra-portables, netbooks, media stations, and desktop replacements. No matter what your personality or needs, there’s probably a sweet little portable out there to suit you.

To sum up, I’m simply pumped about all this competition. If I don’t like one thing, I can jump ship to another option. Now, if we can only keep the lawyers from stifling all this…But that’s a rant for another day.

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