With the global economy in turmoil and the weather (at least in North America) following suit, this holiday season seems like an even risker time that usual to stick one’s neck out and make predictions for the coming year.

But there are those who just can’t resist.

And, of course, there are always some trends that are safe to predict — because they’re already underway and set to blossom in the new year.

For example, we already know that the cell phone market is tanking as frugal users hold off on upgrading to newer, fancier handsets. Which is not to say that the folks to just have to have an iPhone or a BlackBerry will hold back on their quest for the latest and coolest gadgets.

Similarly, computer sales are down as consumers and businesses make do with what they have. But those same users have also indicated that Internet access is the last thing they’ll give up in the face of continuing hard times.

But what about new trends and twists we might not have seen coming?

Fortune magazine asked a select group of tech sector movers and shakers what they saw on the horizon for 2009 and they came up with four tech trends almost all of their consultants could agree on.

First, ultra-portable notebook PCs, such as the ASUS Eee PC, will become phneomenaly popular, especially among those who need a light, compact Net-ready portable but don’t want to pay — or simply can’t afford — the price of a full-featured notebook. Acer Dell and HP are also solidly in the so-called Netbook market with a variety of products.

Fortune’s gurus also back the contention that ‘cloud’ services — Web-based computing and storage services — will take off in 2009:

“Corporate cloud computing is getting a big boost from consumers who already get a fair number of services via the Net. Photo-sharing sites are great examples of cloud services, as is just about any service that lets consumers store data or information anywhere but their computer or mobile phone.”

In the same vein, Fortune’s seers predict an explosion in the popularity (in the corporate sector, at least) of virtual computing in the new year. This technology, which is just coming into its own, offers a variety of advantages for business operators and others who must protect their data and keep their systems up ands running at all times.

And, finally… No matter how bad the economy gets, people will still insist on access to recreational activities — perhaps not simply to relax but to escape their unpleasant reality for a few moments.

“American consumers are unlikely to part with their broadband connections, an Accenture study found. Indeed, they are more likely to get rid of cable television channels (once considered practically a utility) or their mobile phones than their high-speed Internet connections.”

As reported last fall on TLP, Australian regulators are preparing to instutite national Internet filtering. And many Australians, including civil-rights activists, engineers, Internet providers and politicians from opposition parties, are increasing their protests against the plan. Hundreds of free-speech supporters rallied in each of Australian’s state capitals in recent weeks to protest the plan, which they assail as blatant censorship.

The Australian govenrnment plans to filter out an estimated 1,300 Web sites that are known to contravene Australian laws, most involving child pornography, excessive violence; providing instructions on how to commit crimes, use illicit drugs; or advocating terrorism.

One thing that has free speech advocates up in arms is that the list of sites to be banned has not been made poublic and is not subject to review by any independent authority.

Protest organizer Justin Smith of Melbourne warns that secrecy could allow politicians or political parties to use the filtering scheme to further their own agendas.

“I think the money would be better spent in investing in law enforcement and targeting producers of child porn,” Smith told the Associated Press.

Internet service providers (ISPs) caution that filtering could make browsing much slower for Australian users — up to 86 per cent slower, in fact. ISPs also express doubts that filtering all achieve its intended goal of making the Net safer for Australians. They point out that the best filtering systems currently available can boast only a mediochre accuracy rate.

The Australian government has earmarked (A)$45 million for the filtering plan, which in turn is just one aspect of a planned overall Internet safety program expected to cost more than (A)$128 million.

A leading European Community security organization had ended 2008 with a prediction that cyber crime will soon cause at least as much economic havoc as the current global financial crisis, if left unchecked.

Kilian Strauss, of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) told Reuters news service, “These criminals, they outsmart us ten, or a hundred to one.”

Strauss also notes that cyber crime is already reaping a global harvest ammounting to (US)$100 billion annually.

The OSCE echoes warnings by other law enforcement and security organizations that organized cyber crime is exploiting a vaccuum in international cooperation between enforcement agencies.

In a darker vein, growing fears about the economic effects of out-of-control global cyber crime have (predicatably) given rise to calls for greater regulation of the Internet. However, security experts seem to agree that the problem is not regulation — which, alone, is ineffective in battling crime — but a lack of globally-coordinated enforcement.

Interpol President Khoo Boon Hui told Reuters that his organization is most concerned with the rapid rise of ‘tech-savvy gangs’ from China, India, Eastern Europe and Africa.

Of greater concern to some, particularly in the U.S., is an alleged growing threat of cyber spying by Russia and China.

A survey of year-end holiday advertising efforts and accompanying media coverage could convince anyone that PC gaming is dead and consoles rule the kingdom.

Merchants were marketing consoles, their game titles and their increasingly sophisticated peripherals hard this season — not just to kids but to whole families, many of whom were pooling their gift dollars to buy one big item everyone in the house could enjoy..

At the centre of the media storm was the popular Nintendo Wii, which seemed doomed to product shortages back around the beginning of December.

But… As Justin Kemppainen of Examiner.com reports, PC gaming is far from beaten:

“No, not at all. Despite what some people say, PC gaming is still quite strong. You just have to look at the recently released [popular game publisher] VALVe sales figures to see that there is still at least some life in the industry.”

According to Kemppainen, its all a matter of perception. He suggests that the intense media hype over consoles and the undeniable growth in their popularity has mainly created new console users, not converted existing PC gamers.

“PC gaming very likely has more players now than ever before. … So, really, PC gaming is about the same as where it was ten years ago. It’s a form of entertainment that is popular enough to sustain itself with moderate growth, but not exactly popular enough to be considered mainstream.”

Microsoft’s patent lawyers apparently apprenticed at the firm of Scrooge and Marley…

A new MS patent application, published Christmas Day, outlines a plan to have ‘standard model’ PCs given away (or heavily subsidized) by service providers who would then charge for use of the computers based on usage time and features accessed by users.

Sounds suspiciously like current cell phone marketing techniques which, in turn, are modelled on the old ‘razor and blades’ principle: Give away the razor but charge astronomical prices in perpetuity for the blades, (which, in reality, cost next to nothing to make).

The up side of this proposition is that some (non-intensive) users could save money over the usual scenario, where one must buy and maintain their own computer. But we foresee a rash of protests and outrage when the first monumental bills come in for intensive users who unwittingly rack up hours upon hours of usage charges just doing what they normally do.

MS even admits that its ‘Metered Pay-As-You-Go Computing Experience’ could end up costing some users more, over time, than the conventional PC purchase scenario.

In theory, at least, pay-as-you-go computing could be a huge cash cow for service providers — if enough users go for it.

But would you really want to be locked-in to the applications your service provider chooses to offer? What if you wanted to do something on your computer that the pay-as-you-go provider doesn’t offer an app for?

We stress that this notion is just that at the moment — a notion  — and one that does, in fact, fit with MS’s professed thrust to eventually migrate its software applications to the Cloud (i.e.- the Internet).

And, as has been pointed out many times in the past, not every patent filed by a major corporation like MS gets into production. Some patents are filed merely to preempt competitors from doing something similar. At the same time, let’s not forget that MS has put some patently bad ideas into production. Remember MS Bob and Clippy?

Stay tuned…

They’re little software app(lications), or programs, that add-onto your smartphone to make things you want to do on your phone easier. In some cases, they literally make things possible on your phone that weren’t before.

Apple is a leader, at the moment, in the phone app market. It’s iPhone apps store lists more than 10,000 apps that you can buy online and download to your late-model iPhone. Many are free.

Research In Motion (RIM) will open its own app store for its popular BlackBerry smart phone this coming March. And RIM also announced the acquisition of app developer Chalk Media Corp. the week before Christmas, to bolster its assault on the apps market. In addition, there’s already at least one third-party store for BlackBerry aps.

The point, according to Luanne Lasalle of the Canadian Press, is that apps aren’t just for geeks anymore:

“Apps are where it’s at and their popularity is expected to make 2009 the year of the app-driven smart phone.”

And Lasalle says the moves by Apple and RIM are just the first bulls in a coming stampede:

“As software applications become more popular on smartphones, there will likely be other players in the field.

There have been reports that software giant Microsoft Corp. plans to launch an applications store called “Skymarket” for its Windows Mobile platform. Internet search engine Google is moving into the cellphone business and is using its software to power a touchscreen smartphone that’s expected to attract developers worldwide who will want their applications on this phone.”

Some industry observers say smart phones “enhanced by a proliferation of apps and an increasing wealth of digital connection service features” will make portable PCs obsolete within a few years. Others, however — including intensive on-the-go digital equipment users —  insist that there will always been room for both portable PCs (including the popular new Netbooks) and smart phones in their shoulder bags.

We agree: There are some things you just can’t do on a phone (or really don’t want to have to do), even if it does have a full QWERTY keyboard and a 3 in. high-res screen.

They’re big names in the tech world. You’ll probably recognise at least some of them, even if you aren’t involved in the high tech or financial sectors.

Others you’ll know, literally, by the companies they keep…

Rachel King of the Silicon Valley Insider, who keeps track of these things, has tabulated the Biggest Tech Losers of this past, tumultuous economic year.

The biggest of the Big Tech Losers were in the online service industry. Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry page lost a combined total of over (US)$12 billion this past year. Other social networking losers included Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg (down (US)$3 billion) and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos (down (US)$3.6 billion).

Microsoft Founder Bill Gates managed to lose a cool (US)$3.5 billion just sitting in retirement, spending more time with his family and concentrating on the work of his charitable foundation. But Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer lost over (US)$5 billion running the company’s shares down to their lowest price in years.

And, perhaps most ignominiously…

Former Yahoo! CEO and co-founder Jerry Yang had a particularly hard year. Not only did his company’s shares lose enough value to reduce his fortune by a cool (US)$800 million, but he lost his job, as well. Yahoo! has been in dire financial straits for at least the past year and ended 2008 inviting larger tech industry survivors — notably Microsoft — to acquire it.

But don’t feel too badly for these financially-embarrassed industry icons. As far as the mighty have fallen, they’re all still billonnaires, some of them many times over.

It’s too late to order for delivery in time for Christmas, now, but if someone in your house already has, or is lucky enough to find a Sony Playstation 3 under the tree tomorrow, there’s a new accessory that will ease the playability issues they may have with the PS3 controller.

XCM-USA.com has released its Cross Battle Adapter for the Playstation 3 which lets you use an Xbox 360 conbtroller with your PS3 console.

Some users have complained that DualShock3 controller is hard for those with larger hands and that holding the trigger buttons down for prolonged periods (as when playing racing games) results in sore fingers.

The XMC Cross Battle Adapter is available from online retailers noted at the XMC site for just under (US)$40.

We’re giving this gift to all our readers at Christmas time but we hope it will bring you joy throughout 2009 — on whatever date your birthday comes up!

So, without further ado, we commend your attention to the Day of Birth Web site, which is your gateway to a wealth of information on your birthday including: the day of the week on which you were born, your birthstone, your star sign, your Chinese horoscope sign and a fund of other interesting data.

For instance, I’ve just learned that I am currently 20,440 days old, approximately 490,576 hours old and an astronomical 1,766,072,909 seconds old (as of the instant the Day of Birth site received my page request).

For some reason I haven’t yet fathomed, the site also felt it was important to inform me that I am 385 years old in dog years

Just go to the site and enter the day, month and year of your birth. You’ll get back a long list of personalized birthday trivia including links out to other sites which provide even more fascinating information on historical events that happened on the day you were born.

And… Once you know what day you were born on, you can take this simple, low-tech online personality test, ‘posted’ by Mother Goose:

Monday’s child is fair of face.
Tuesday’s child is full of grace.
Wednesday’s child is full of woe.
Thursday’s child has far to go.
Friday’s child is loving and giving.
Saturday’s child works hard for a living.
But the child born on the Sabbath Day,
Is fair and wise and good and gay.

Happy holidays and have a great 2009!

SanDisk has announced that its 16 GB microSDHC and Memory Stick Micro (M2) mobile memory cards — the world’s largest-capacity removable storage cards currently available for mobile phones — are now available in Canada. Best Buy and Best Buy Mobile stores are the first major retail outlets in Canada to carry the 16 GB cards.


According to the company,

The fingernail-sized 16 GB memory cards allow consumers to “wake up” the many storage-intensive features offered by today’s portable handsets such as music and video playback, high-definition digital camera functions, gaming and GPS applications. In addition to the mobile phone, consumers can use the 16 GB microSDHC card in a multitude of other devices, including video cameras, GPS receivers or MP3 players with a microSDâ„¢ slots such as SanDisk’s Sansa® players.

I remember spending upwards of (US)$400 on my first 1 GB compact flash card. The 16 GB microSDHC is listed on Best Buy’s web site at (C)$129.99 and the Memory Stick Micro version is expected to retail around (C)$170.

Like many businesses and virtually all government agencies, TECHLife Post will be operating on a reduced schedule over the Christmas and New Years holidays.

While most of our regular contributors, including staff writers and columnists, will be on vacation from December 24, 2008, to January 4, 2009, a skeleton crew will “keep the ship on course” and keep an eye on the global news machine, in case anything noteworthy comes to pass.

The thing is… Traditionally, very little that qualifies as grist for our editorial mill comes down the wires over the year-end holiday break. Companies generally don’t conclude mergers, announce new products, appoint new CEOs or perform any other planned high-level business manoeuvres during the holiday shut-down.

Nevertheless, there’s just as much of a chance, during the holidays as at any other time, that a major technology figure will pass away, a factory disaster will cause a supply panic for some tech product or another … or some major corporate player will try to sneak through a potentially embarrassing or unpopular announcement when it thinks the media aren’t looking.

So, a TLP Editor will be on duty at all times to bring you any news that does break.

We’ll also be posting year-end backgrounders, from time to time over the holidays, offering look-back and look-ahead perspectives on a variety of tech living issues, for your holiday reading pleasure.

See you in the New Year!


Holiday wreath by 4giftgiving.com

Apple has released a patch for the Mail e-mail client crash that’s been aggravating Mac OS X 10.5.6 users.

The problem seems to be that some copies of Mail were not properly updated during installation of the 10.5.6 update and unexpectedly shut down.

Ver. 10.5.6 users whose Mail version isn’t updated to 3.5 (930.3) will need the patch.

Apple advises users who do have the proper version of Mail and are still experiencing crashes to update or remove third-party plugins, which could be the problem behind their crashes.

The Mail update and full details on the fix are available via the Apple Updates system or from the Apple downloads Web site.