Technology Consumers Got More Choice in '07

Apple's iPhone swamped Windows Vista as the biggest product debut of the year. Its design is radically different.
Apple's iPhone swamped Windows Vista as the biggest product debut of the year. Its design is radically different. (Anonymous - AP)
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By Rob Pegoraro
Thursday, December 27, 2007

The technology business has a reputation for innovation, but three things have stayed constant for years: The computing world revolved around Microsoft, your wireless carrier controlled what your cellphone could do, and the record labels locked your legal music downloads with software to limit what you could do with them.

All three of those constants started to crumble in 2007.

Unlike the usual flux of products coming and going, those changes have the potential to significantly alter the business, giving people more of a choice in how they use technology.

Some companies will profit and others will suffer from these changes, but so far Apple has benefited the most -- often at the expense of Microsoft.

Start with the computer business. Macs have always been a niche alternative to PCs, but in 2007 customers began switching in large numbers.

In the first 10 months of 2007, the NPD Group's survey data show that 8.6 percent of new computer sales were Macs -- up from 5.4 percent in the comparable period in 2006 and 3.4 percent in the first 10 months of 2004.

When more than one of every 10 new home computers run the Mac OS X operating system, a lot of software developers who had ignored the Mac will start paying attention to it.

That's not all good: Some of those people create viruses and worms. They will find that it's harder to attack a Mac than a Windows PC, because of basic differences in the way Mac OS X works. But OS X does have vulnerabilities that could be exploited.

Apple's successful switch to Intel processors, which made it easy to run Windows alongside Mac OS X, gets much of the credit for the company's new popularity. So does OS X itself -- a remarkably sane and simple way to run a computer -- and the often-outstanding programs bundled on new Macs.

But Microsoft didn't help itself, either.

Windows Vista's steep system requirements made it unusable on many Windows PCs. Vista's stringent anti-piracy routines alienated law-abiding customers. Its well-intended "User Account Control" security turned out to be a nuisance.

Many third-party software developers who had fueled Microsoft's past success also sandbagged Vista. Some took months to revise their programs for the new system; some still haven't finished the job.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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