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The Night Owl’s Raves and Rants for 2007

I started the year with modest expectations about what might happen in the tech industry. You see, I am pretty satisfied with what I have, and so I don’t hang on every letter of speculation about, for example, the insanely great things that might be happening over at Apple Inc.

Oh yes, at the beginning of 2007, they were still Apple Computer Inc., even though they had long-since introduced a wider range of products. Then again, was it any different in the 1990s, when Apple sold laser printers, digital cameras and, of course, the Newton? They were only recognizing a reality that had existed for a long, long time.

However, that didn’t stop my favorite culprits, certain unscrupulous tech pundits, from suggesting Apple was no longer interested in building personal computers, and had moved on to emphasizing other products. The feeding frenzy that erupted over the iPhone certainly seemed to demonstrate they were right on the money, at least this time.

Indeed the iPhone didn’t do badly at all, not by a long shot. Even though such media sources as Fox News claimed Apple missed its sales goal of one million the first week, I’m sure most of you knew Apple never made such a claim to begin with. The real one million mark was attained some 74 days after the iPhone’s introduction, and again some alleged that Apple needed to lop a big chunk off the retail price to get there. They still say that, even though that sales figure arrived only days after the price cut.

These so-called tech writers also didn’t bother to remind you that it’s very normal for wireless phones to experience huge price cuts within months after their introduction. Do you remember what the Motorola RAZR cost when it first premiered as a Cingular Wireless product (the company now known as AT&T Wireless)?

Today, all the major wireless carriers offer a RAZR for next to nothing with the traditional two-year contract, although the higher-end variations might exact a modest fee.

In any case, despite supposed competition from the Zune, Apple kept exceeding analyst expectations with the iPod. Are sales of MP3 players leveling off? Well, perhaps, but that doesn’t stop the iPod from growing and growing some more.

As to those supposedly-neglected Macs, I have to say that, when more and more units are moved every quarter of a company’s product line, in numbers higher than industry trends and analyst expectations, you have to take notice. Even more fascinating were reports that as many as 30% of the people planning to buy new personal computers in the next few months have Macs at the top of their shopping lists. That is incredible for a brand that, only a few years ago, hardly qualified for more than a few percentage points in anyone’s calculations.

I suppose those cute Mac versus PC TV spots might have encouraged millions of viewers to look beyond those Windows boxes and consider something that runs far more reliably. However, it’s also clear that Microsoft did its share to encourage its customers to look elsewhere. Windows Vista, despite lots of spin control from Redmond, arrived as an obvious train wreck. It was consumed with eye-candy, unfathomable interface alterations, and tepid performance.

Worse for Microsoft, loads of businesses that were actually considering the move to Vista were reconsidering their plans. Yes, the world’s largest software company still earns huge profits from growing sales of its software, but a surprisingly large number chose Windows XP instead. Even in situations where customers simply ordered new PCs, many preferred to downgrade operating systems.

I suppose Microsoft hopes or believes that its SP1 upgrade will fix Vista’s worst ills, but I’ve been running the very-public RC version, and I don’t see much or any improvement. The installation process is extremely painful, with extended copying sessions, punctuated with frequent restarts. The whole mess can take well over an hour to complete its tasks, which clearly indicates that Microsoft’s developers are changing or updating huge numbers of files. Or maybe the upgrade process is as broken as the operating system itself.

As we begin 2008, there are growing reports that Apple is readying a slim and light note-book, with Flash-based memory instead of a hard drive, and that other Macs may finally get some major redesigns. And that, my friends, is just the beginning of what promises to be a fascinating year, with lots and lots of surprises in store for us.