A Maximum PC Thanksgiving: 17 Things That Make Us Thankful

Alex Castle

It’s that time of year again, Max PC readers. It’s time for stuffing ourselves, watching football, and—if "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" has taught us anything— it’s time to give thanks. As tech fans, we take a lot for granted, so we felt like taking a step back and examining all the things that are making a nerd’s life better right now.

The New Browser Wars

With IE, Firefox, Safari, Opera, and now Google’s Chrome all fighting for browser supremacy, it might be hard to remember a time just five years ago when Internet Explorer had the market completely dominated. Sure, Microsoft’s browser might still control a commanding 72% of the market, but competition drives innovation and that other 28% is enough to keep the Redmond giant on its toes.

The Death of Music DRM

For a userbase which has become increasingly used to being treated like criminals, it’s a breath of fresh air that the music industry has largely rejected music DRM in the last year or two. Sure, there are still some holdouts, iTunes most notably, but most other major digital music providers have started offering free-range MP3s, including Wal-mart , Yahoo , Rhapsody and others.

Let’s just hope this wave of good sense continues to take hold in the recording industry.

Open Source/Freeware

Free is always good. Whatever your particular philosophical attachments to the Open Source movement are, you’ll agree that it’s very cool to be able to do more things on your computer without having to pay an extra dime.

Because we like the taste of freedom so much here at Maximum PC, we’ve been dedicating ourselves to showing you how to do all sorts of awesome stuff using free software . Of course, Linux is the king of all freeware, and we think it's so cool that we’ve written several guides just about Ubuntu. And of course, we’ve got plenty more freeware guides on the horizon for 2009.

Spamlords Getting Their Comeuppance

2008 has been a bad year for the spamlords. Well, ok, that might not actually be true; spam is still plentiful, a stunning percentage of internet users are still braindead enough to actually buy things from spam emails, and we’re sure the vast majority of spammers are still making fine money by being total jerkholes. Nonetheless, it’s nice bit of schadenfreude to watch a few of the people responsible for flooding our inboxes with junk get their just deserts .

Gigantic Monitors

With 30-inch displays really hitting their stride and the promise of monitors even more massive looming on the horizon, we’re thankful that our computer time is easier on the eyes than ever before.

On top of that, we’ve recently seen all sort of promising news about how display technology is going to advance over the next couple years. OLEDs are getting cheaper, brighter and more practical, LED backlighting is becoming standard, and multi-touch displays are finally getting to be affordable. The future’s looking brighter than ever.

PC Gaming

How many years has it been now that people have been prophesying the doom of PC gaming? The outlook can seem a little bleak, now and then, with major gamemakers and publishers citing astronomical piracy figures and episodes like the Spore DRM fiasco taking attention away from all the legitimately good PC games coming out, but every year we find that gaming on the PC isn’t dead after all, and in fact is still going strong . And for that, we’re very thankful.

Cheap Terabyte Drives

There was a time when PC users had to waste precious brain cells fretting over what data they wanted to keep and what was disposable.  Questions like “Can I manage to do the full install on Baldur’s Gate 2, or will I have to delete some Deus Ex savefiles to make room” ran rampant, wracking poor nerds with anxiety.

Well, the time of the data-misers is over. With today’s dirt cheap storage, anyone with an extra couple of Benjamins can build a RAID big enough that they can just keep every single 1 and 0 that flits its way through their computer.

Google


There's a lot of internet-related items on this (what can we say, the web's given us a lot to be thankful for), but the company that's done the most to make our tech lives easier recently has to be Google. The thing about Google for which we’re most thankful is that even though the company already provides some of our very favorite services (search, Gmail and Google Maps, to name a few) they’re not resting on their laurels. We love to keep an eye on the Official Google Blog (with Google Reader, of course) because the Mountain View search giant just always seems to have something new on the horizon, from the silly to the handy to the very significant .

Wikipedia

How did we live before Wikipedia? The online encyclopedia has put all the information we could ever need right at our fingertips. There was a time when it took more than 5 seconds to find out what the atomic weight of Tungsten is (183 grams per mole), what Johnny Knoxville’s real name is (Philip John Clapp) or what the world record for the densest turducken is(18 freakin’ birds), but we’re glad that’s behind us.

And now that smartphones are becoming commonplace, Wikipedia’s influence is spreading beyond the computer. These days, you can’t so much as murmur “I wonder what the Planck constant is” in a bar without somebody whipping out their iPhone and filling you in.

USB Flash Drives

It’s easy to take the little thumbdrive in your pocket for granted. After all, it’s pretty inconspicuous. It just sort of sits there. It doesn’t, for instance, keep your WoW character safe , or project video onto the wall , like certain similarly sized devices. But what USB flash drives have done is eliminate most of the need for burning CDs (or, perish the thought, floppy disks) and made it so that we can keep backup copies of all sorts of data with us all the time.


Hulu

Another thing to be thankful for is that some of the media giants are finally getting it right when it comes to the internet. Hulu, for example, is a service that hits all the sweet spots: its streams are fast, full length, high-quality and most importantly, free.

We hope that in the future more companies realize that instead of wasting time playing cease-and-desist whack-a-mole with video sharing sites, it makes sense to provide a better, official alternative that they can make money off of.

Social Bookmarking

Let’s be honest here: we spend too much time on the internet, and you probably do, too. We have for a long time, sure, but it only gets easier and easier to waste away the hours as the web continually evolves into an ever-more-perfect time-waster. These days you don’t even really have to actively surf the web, with services like Digg, reddit and Stumbleupon delivering a steady stream of content straight into our brains.

Music Recommendation Services

Services like Pandora and last.fm have made it so that finding new music no longer involves shelling out for potentially-crappy albums or (God forbid) talking to people. Instead, these sites use computer wizardry to find music that you might like and play it for you.

So thanks, Pandora, for expanding our musical horizons.

P.S. Please don’t shut down.


Moore’s law

Moore’s Law is the gift that keeps on giving. Whenever it seems like the stream of better, stronger, faster CPUs and GPUs is going to dry up, some new technology comes along that allows engineers to cram even more transistors onto a chip. This year saw the release of Intel’s delicious 45nm Core i7 , and we can’t wait to see what tricks the chip-makers have up their sleeves for the next couple years.

Plug and Play Hardware

This is one of those PC features that’s very easy to take for granted. We don’t spend much time thinking about how our computers communicate with our webcams, scanners, external hard drives and everything else, but we’ve got it pretty easy.  For the most part, if you want to add functionality to your PC with a peripheral, you pretty much just plug it in and you’re set. Sure, there are drivers to install if you want to access all the bells and whistles of your new gizmo, but you can get most of the functionality with no trouble at all.

The only problem? With USB 3.0 soon to join the already crowded field alongside FireWire, eSata and of course USB 2.0, our I/O panels are starting to get a little crowded. Oh, and printers still suck.

Instant Messaging/VoIP

What doesn’t have a messaging feature these days? Gmail has one, as does Steam, the Xbox 360, the sites we use to stream our music, and just about every other service under the sun. The fact that messaging is so ubiquitous is an indication of a simple fact: People like to communicate. Even the biggest shut-in likes to interact with other people in some form, and IM and VoIP allow computer users to stay more connected than ever.

Speaking of staying connected; hit the comments and tell us what you would have put on this list.

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