Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

The top ten of hypes I avoided in 2007

When it comes to hypes I have one automatic response: stay away from it. Maybe I value my individuality too much or do I simply distrust anything that can stir a mass of people into ‘me too’ behavior. Fortunately, time often proves me right and that what was once considered a ‘must have’ or ‘must do’, sunk into oblivion shortly after I avoided it. It might not be scientific reasoning, but it did save me quite a lot of money or stress over the years. Looking back at 2007 I could identify ten hypes that I virtually ignored or actively avoided. With my track record this could almost serve as a list of things that are about to disappear as well.

10. Windows Vista

I guess you would be hard pressed to find a tech magazine in 2006 and early 2007 that didn’t spend columns and pages on the next generation operating system. It seemed like everyone was waiting for it’s release. Not me. With all that was scrapped from the road map, there wasn’t much innovation left.

I have a perfectly legitimate copy of Vista Ultimate and installed it on a spare hard drive once. It survived until I needed the disk for another experiment. I found it sluggish, slow and superfluous as to nonsensical graphical effects. Glancing over this years reports I am not alone in this.

Microsoft made one smart decision this year and that was to start working on SP3 for Windows XP. Vista might turn out to be a watershed moment for Microsoft, the moment the company started to loose it’s grip on the market.

9. Mac OS X Leopard

300 new features! And not one feature that could be called innovative. I wrote about Leopard some time ago. In the mean time I have seen it in action on hardware that Apple has declared way below specs. It ran great. It’s more purple than Tiger. It has more security holes than Windows.

After Vista, Leopard was the other OS that tried to cover up lack of innovation with a nice gift wrap. But the cult of Mac remains strong, so it could be a strong seller in the end.

8. iPhone

The phone to replace all phones. The device that would allow Apple to transform yet another industry. The iPhone was supposed to do this and more.

And I only had to look at the touch screen to decide I wasn’t going to get one. Does anyone still remember the batch of iPods with scratched screens? Besides, shiny screens, fatty fingers and greasy ears don’t go well together.

At the end of 2007 Nokia and all the other mobile phone companies still exist and are happily churning out multiple new generations of phones.

And the iPhone? It was hacked almost as quick as an unpatched Windows XP box. Another item on the Apple Security Awareness list.

7. eeePC

Shelling out $ 299,– for vintage generation hardware, a screen that is way too small, a keyboard for people with small fingers and virtually no storage capacity. Oh, it runs Xandros, which isn’t exactly the Linux love child. How this could ever turn into a hot item baffles me, but it did.

Distro tweakers jumped on the band wagon and eee versions of regular distributions are appearing like mushrooms after a rainy day.

The tech reporters are writing ‘critical’ reviews, describing the device’s shortcomings, but calling it a winner nonetheless. It’s too big to carry in your pocket, you can’t charge the batteries on the fly, but it is instant on and runs for almost four hours. So does my PDA but with almost eight hours to do my work. And that one does fit in my pocket.

6. OLPC

One Laptop Per Child. It’s an idea you should sympathize with. The price was supposed to be $ 100,–, but rose as it took longer to get the OLPC to the kids.

And you can see the stories flashing by: “Country X ordered N OLPC’s”. Call me old fashioned, but I think most kids in the developing countries need teachers, books and decent schools first. And I don’t think the world wide web is a treasure trove of knowledge where you can leave the kids free to roam and learn. That makes it a project without a backbone, a real educational infrastructure. From experience I know that is the hardest to achieve.

5. Facebook, Hyves etc.

No, I did not become a member of one of the nascent social networks. This means I can’t boast about my number of online friends. Yes, I did join Last.fm, but that’s just a radiostation for me. I must have a Myspace profile somewhere, but don’t ask me when I last checked it.

Social networks come and go. Orkut anyone? The best thing you can do is make it hard to sign up, by invitation only. Works every time.

One issue that became much clearer in 2007 were the negative side-effects of social networks. Like sexual predators lurking to snare, blackmail and abuse minors. Like the fact that your online information appears extremely persistent and pops up in your next job interview.

Facebook faced some backlash from it’s ill executed effort to make money with your information. But, really, do you think the founders of any social network have any other plans than to get rich as quickly as possible, to build and sell before the possible buyers realize it’s hot air?

4. Dell Ubuntu

In 2007 Dell finally caved in to the pressure and started to sell desktop computers with Ubuntu pre-installed. The cry “Victory” resounded throughout the world of Linux.

But I wonder. Who of those that voted for pre-installed Linux on Dells actually bought one? I didn’t, but I didn’t vote either. I asked a more hardware savvy friend to build a new box with Linux-compatible components and installed Ubuntu on it myself. For somewhat more than € 500,– I have a AMD X2 6400+ with 8 Gb RAM and 2 x 250 Gb SATA on an ASUS M2N-VM motherboard. No Dellbuntu is going to deliver that. 😉

On a more serious note, I do hope the sales figures are worth more than the obvious marketing benefits.

3. Twitter

The world wide web is swamped with non-information, but each year new ways are found to add to the avalanche. Twitter is another hype I am happy to have missed. No doubt it is fun to watch dozens upon dozens of single sentence messages scrolling by from your other online friends that are watching those messages. But, no thanks. I appear to have a real life that won’t allow me to do that.

You can wait for Twitter’s next incarnation: three second video clips of what your friends and others are doing at the moment. Should be fun. Dozens of clips of people watching the clips of dozens of others who are watching the clips of…. I wonder whether the OLPC comes with a Twitter account?

2. An inconvenient truth

When Oscar and Alfred Nobel meet, something special must be going on. However, I didn’t watch Al Gore’s powerpoint presentation yet. Don’t get me wrong. It’s about time that the environmental impact of our lifestyle in richer countries was put on someone’s agenda. I’m just afraid that the attention for the environment will disappear when the hype is gone. This shouldn’t have been a hype, it should become a better lifestyle. Oh, and I do firmly believe in the principle that you practice what you preach.

1. The Secret

But then again. What can you expect when Oprah starts pushing “The Secret”. The universe is filled with all you want or need. You simply have to think about it. Sounds like a greedy self-centered philosophy to me. And I always thought hard work was the key to success.

Well, I thought really hard about a new iPhone, the latest iPod, a new 21″ iMac with Leopard, a gift-wrapped eeePC, more online friends and the most powerfull Dell that was available. And you know what? Nothing! I must have missed something here as well.

Towards 2008

No doubt we will see some great new hypes in the coming year. That’s part of the fuel a writer needs to be inspired. I just hope avoiding hypes doesn’t become another hype. Life is complicated enough as it is.

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