A lot has happened in the last 12 months. At the start of the year, iTunes was still peddling DRM, Yahoo and Microsoft were at bitter odds over the latter’s takeover attempts, Nvidia had the fastest consumer videocard, and the ”cloud” was still a burgeoning concept. Oh, how times have changed. Follow along as we relive and reflect upon some of the most memorable moments, products, and people to impact computer users over the last year.
Air cooling not doing enough for you? Water cooling too complicated? All-in-one liquid-cooling solutions are popping up like daisies, and our favorite is the Corsair H50 . Quieter and less complicated than the competitors, it delivers performance surpassing the best air coolers for just a little more moolah. Factor in an easy install and this is a no-brainer.
On August 3, Daniel Goncalves, a 25-year-old computer technician, allegedly hacked an email account, stole login information, and falsified PayPal transaction records in an elaborate scheme to claim ownership of P2P.com, a domain valued at $160,000.
This arrest marks the first for domain theft, which has been difficult to prosecute because of the technical and legal complexities of the domain registrar system. Unfortunately for Goncalves, the owner of P2P.com was a former prosecutor for the Justice Department with a background in Internet payment processing.
You’d have to be crazy to build a 24-drive RAID array. Crazy like a fox, as Samsung showed us when the company strung together 24 SSDs to create 6TB of solid state storage, with a theoretical throughput of 2GB/s. The video of the escapade got more than 2.6 million views, and even though the drives weren’t all technically on the same controller (two RAID controllers along with all of the motherboard’s onboard ports were used), it proved that SSDs are serious business.
AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon subscribers all suffered when vandals lifted a manhole cover, went underground, and slashed up to 10 fiber optic cables. The ensuing outage affected landline (including 911) and cellular networks, as well as Internet access. As a result of the September 11 terrorist attacks, AT&T’s networks were declared National Critical Infrastructures because of their role in national security. AT&T offered up a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the culprits, but no one has been charged.
Hoggworks Studios’ plushy impersonation of the Wall Street Journal ’s technology columnist is the best fake tech luminary since Fake Steve Jobs. In a series of web videos, the egomaniacal puppet slurs angry rants about Microsoft and Google while unabashedly praising Apple—often while inebriated.
Twentieth Century Fox got its undergarments in a bunch when an “incomplete and early version” of ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ leaked to the Web a month before it appeared on the big screen. Missing effects didn’t seem to bother the hundreds of thousands of viewers who downloaded the movie in a 24 hour span. But what really pushed Fox over the edge was when 10-year Foxnews.com entertainment columnist Roger Friedman posted a review of the leaked film with rhetoric that seemingly made light of piracy. Friedman was promptly terminated.
Missouri citizen Elizabeth Thrasher took her vendetta too far by posting a fake "Casual Encounters" Craigslist ad for a 17-year-old girl. Because a recent law made cyberbullying a criminal offense, Thrasher was arrested on felony charges.
According to the complaint, Thrasher allegedly posted the 17-year-old girl’s cell phone number, email address, and a photo obtained from her MySpace page. If convicted, Thrasher, who is currently out on bail and forbidden to access the Internet, could receive a $5,000 fine and up to four years in prison.
Through several rounds of funding, two of the fastest-growing social networking hotspots on the web came to be worth nearly $12 billion combined. That’s especially remarkable in Twitter’s case, considering it doesn’t yet have a strong business model for making money. But that doesn’t matter to investors, who see the potential in a service that increased its membership 15-fold from one year ago. And Facebook doesn’t appear to be slowing down in the slightest as it leaves MySpace in the dust.
Google threatened popular Android ROM developer Cyanogen with legal action because he included some proprietary Google apps—like Market, Gmail, and YouTube—in his ROMs. Google was entirely in its legal right to stand firm on the issue, even if popular opinion is that it should have turned the other cheek. For a while, it looked like Google’s stance would put an end to third-party ROMs, but it didn’t take long for Cyanogen to start churning out ROMs without including the closed-source apps.
With a pair of GT200 GPUs, each boasting 896MB of GDDR3 memory, and a sexy black plastic enclosure, the GTX 295 sat atop our high-end GPU recommendation, at least until ATI launched the Radeon HD 5870 .
While waiting for his cruise to depart from Miami, Wayne Burdick watched the Bears defeat the Lions on his laptop, but because he connected to an international roaming signal, Burdick was charged $28K for the pleasure. Ouch!
The Chicago Sun-Times caught wind of the story and helped convince AT&T to reduce the bill. Burdick ended up paying about $290 for the 2.5-hour game, which is still a tidy sum to watch anybody beat up on the Lions.
The largest social networking site on the planet didn’t just announce support for OpenID, it became a “relying party,” meaning it would accept OpenID from elsewhere on the Web, such as a Gmail account. The move came as somewhat of a surprise, considering Facebook’s largely closed nature. It also ranks as a huge win for OpenID, which is trying to attract more major relying parties. Up until Facebook jumped on board, the status quo among bigger companies was to sign on as an “issuing party,” meaning they’ll let you log in with their accounts on other OpenID sites, but not the other way around.
After an intense battle to claim the $1 million dollar prize for improving Netflix’s movie recommendation system, a multinational team of researchers known as “BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos” eked out the win in a finish worthy of the movies.
The open competition began nearly three years prior, with the grand prize promised to the team that could best the accuracy of Netflix’s existing recommendation algorithm by at least 10 percent. In the final hours of the competition, BellKor was neck-and-neck with underdog team Ensemble, each team one-upping the other by 100ths of a percentage point until BellKor was ultimately declared victorious.
IBM nearly acquired Sun for about $7 billion, but Sun, fearing Big Blue would back down in the face of an antitrust review, gave IBM the cold shoulder. That allowed talks to heat up with Oracle, who swooped in and bought Sun for $7.4 billion.
The deal raised the question of whether Oracle would continue to support Sun’s free MySQL database once the license had been transferred, or purposely shunt development in order to further promote its own paid database business.
Offering the highest available BD-R writes, Pioneer’s 8x BDR-2203 can fill a 25GB disc with data in less than 15 minutes—gone are the days when you could weatherize your home while you waited. The BDR-2203 ain’t too shabby in standard DVD performance, either, with 16x DVD+/-R write speeds and ultra-competitive DVD ripping skills—we copied a dual-layer DVD movie disc to our hard drive in a super-speedy 10 minutes.
With an eye toward the future, Seagate stepped-up its storage game and released the world’s first hard drive built around the emerging SATA 6Gb/s interface. Only two motherboards came equipped with a 6Gb/s controller chip at launch, but the general consensus is it won’t be long before SATA 3 charges into the mainstream. Just how fast is the new 6Gb/s standard? In terms of theoretical throughput, 6Gb/s translates into a 600MB/s transfer rate—that’s quick! SATA 3 also maintains backwards compatibility with both SATA 2 and 1.5.
Security firm Uniloc won a record-setting $388 million patent-infringement suit against Microsoft in 2007, but the activation-patent lawsuit was overturned in a U.S. federal court this year. According to the judge, the jury “lacked a grasp of the issues before it.”
In truth, no one seems to grasp the issues, including the legal system. Microsoft initially won a summary judgment on the dispute in 2007, before Uniloc appealed and won the $388 million award. The latest development marks the third ruling in the patent dispute, but probably not the last.
The cloud isn’t just used for storing data anymore; it could be your next game console. OnLive is an upcoming service that promises high-resolution, latency-free gaming streamed over a broadband connection. Data centers run powerful PCs to render games like Crysis, receiving user input from and broadcasting audio and video to remote desktops, laptops, and home entertainment centers. Rival companies like Gaikai have also since been announced, but we’re still waiting for these services to go live before we believe the hype.
Just five days before Halloween, Yahoo put down its GeoCities web-hosting service. Not many wept, for what was once the fifth most popular destination on the Web had deteriorated once Yahoo began limiting free accounts in an attempt to make the $3.6 billion acquisition profitable. The company also scared away some users when it temporarily amended its ToS, giving Yahoo ownership of user-uploaded content. Yahoo ultimately abandoned the project altogether, and the few who maintained a GeoCities account were encouraged to download their pages or migrate to one of Yahoo’s for-fee hosting packages.
Microsoft’s rocky relationship with Yahoo took a turn for the friendly when the two sides hashed out a long-term search partnership. Details of the deal are still being worked out, but by early 2010, Microsoft’s Bing will power Yahoo’s search in exchange for some ad revenue. The high-spirited duo wasted no time in taking digs at Google.
Silverstone releases an excellent chassis or two every year, and this year’s model was the Fortress , an understated all-black mid-tower that’s been our favorite since we saw it in June. Unlike many mid-towers (and a lot of full-towers), it doesn’t skimp on slots. The Fortress has five optical drive bays, as well as six hard drive bays. Positive air pressure keeps warm air from recirculating. The Fortress is powerful and well constructed without being gaudy. We can dig it.
A 267-page “sensitive but unclassified” report listing all U.S. civilian nuclear site locations and other related details was accidentally posted on a government website long enough for whistle-blower site Wikileaks to mirror the 18MB PDF. Oops.
While a message at the beginning of the document states that no information of “direct national security significance” was included, it did list details on programs at several nuclear research labs. Perhaps more frightening, the breach went completely unnoticed until receiving media attention. No official explanation was given on why a document marked as sensitive was posted in the first place.
RealNetworks miscalculated if it thought the legal system would exonerate its RealDVD copying software. As the case moves closer to a jury trial, RealNetworks has been ordered to both halt sales of the software and from licensing RealDVD to set-top box makers. The Seattle-based company has so far been unable to convince the courts that its DVD copying application doesn’t run afoul of the law, so in a change of strategy, the company amended its lawsuit against several major movie studios to include complaints of antitrust violations.
A New York Supreme Court judge in January sided with the State of New York declaring Amazon must collect sales tax from New York state residents. Not happy with the decision, Amazon has been lobbying to have the law overturned. How it all turns out could have huge ramifications on e-commerce, and already a handful of other states have followed New York’s lead. At the heart of the issue is whether having marketing affiliates in a state is enough to warrant collecting sales tax, and so far, lawmakers are saying it is.
We’re not sure which is more shocking, that people still fall for Nigerian scams, or that Nigeria has an anti-corruption agency. Both are true, and in late October, Nigerian officials eradicated 800 scam sites from the web and arrested members of 18 high-profile crime syndicates. A drop in the bucket, perhaps, but also just the beginning of what the agency promises to be many more arrests to come. It’s all part of an effort dubbed “Eagle Claw,” which the program’s head honcho predicts will grow to take down 5,000 fraudulent emails a month.
Don’t use P2P software, and steer clear of LimeWire, warned the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. To drive the point home, the agency said it unearthed thousands of sensitive documents, including medical records, FBI files, and even the safe house location for the First Family. But that’s not all. They also found social security numbers, federal tax returns, and other info that could lead to identity theft. Hearing LimeWire had been singled out, Mark Gorton, who created the app, said any sharing is intentional because LimeWire 5.2.8 doesn’t share any documents by default.
As the newspaper industry struggles to retain subscribers and ad revenue, the Wall Street Journal announced a plan to charge per-article, which should be in effect by the time you read this. And if managing editor Robert Thomson sticks to his guns, the price per article will be “rightfully high.” The payment model’s being developed in-house, and you can bet every other publisher will be keeping a close eye on how the WSJ’s micropayment system pans out.
We’re sure furniture store Ikea had no intention of invoking the wrath of font enthusiasts far and wide, but that’s exactly what the outfit did when it switched from a customized version of Futura to Verdana for its 2010 catalog. So what was the big fonting deal? After some 60 years of using the same typeface, apparently it just wasn’t yet time for a change. “I thought something had gone terribly wrong. I could hardly believe it was true,” noted a shocked Ikea shopper after seeing the new font in his local Swedish newspaper.
After a two-year ordeal that involved two separate federal trials, Jammie Thomas, the only accused music file-sharer taken to court by the RIAA, was found guilty by a jury and ordered to pay $1.92 million dollars for sharing 24 songs.
While thousands of other suspected file-sharers folded under the threat of an RIAA lawsuit and ponied up settlements, Jammie Thomas stood her ground. In the end, she probably wished she hadn’t. A $220,000 penalty determined by the original jury (and later tossed on the grounds of a mistrial) could hardly have prepared Thomas for the final outcome.
The Barracuda was the first two-platter terabyte drive to come to market, and its kick-ass performance won it instant acclaim. With sustained reads and writes near 100MB/s and a price below $150, it was the drive to get if you could only get one. We’ll still take it.
This little monster came out of nowhere in late 2009 to seize the throne from our long-time champion, the Thermalright U-120 Extreme. What put it over the edge? It’s small, lightweight, and absurdly cheap. It may not match the Thermalright’s cooling prowess at the high overclocks, but for $30 it beats the socks off of coolers three times its price, thanks to its direct-contact heatpipes. If you want kick-ass cooling on a budget, look no further than the Hyper 212+ .
Pairing Windows 7 with the hottest selling PC segment had all the makings of a beautiful marriage, but only if one doesn’t seek to change the other. Microsoft put those fears to rest by confirming it would not force vendors to install feature-stripped versions of Windows 7 for netbooks like it did with Vista. Instead, OEMs were given the freedom to choose any version of the OS they saw fit. Microsoft also upped the ante by removing the three app install limit on Windows 7 Starter, which would have hamstringed users into running no more than three qualifying programs simultaneously.
Claiming that “software patents form a minefield that slows and discourages software innovation,” Red Had petitioned the Supreme Court to ban the process altogether. Red Hat’s rage against the patent machine was fueled by the Bilski case, which involved the patenting of a business process. In its filing, Red Hat argued the practice of registering software patents stifles the industry and leaves the door open for patent trolls to exploit the legal system. Furthermore, Red Hat pointed out the success of open-source software as proof positive that patents are not necessary to promote software innovation.
Preaching open competition, network neutrality, transparency, and caution over media consolidation, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is seen as a breath of fresh air by public interest groups. At the very least, his fair-minded principles will shape the debate as the United States struggles with its telecommunications challenges, such as lagging broadband network coverage and speed, limited competition among ISPs, and stress on existing infrastructure.
To scan or not to scan? Ultimately, Google decided 'twas nobler to scan suffer the slings and arrows of Open Book Alliance members, but it still had to answer to the DoJ, which opened a formal investigation into the $125M Google Book settlement over antitrust concerns. While the investigation continues, Google apparently has made good with most publishers and authors, who agreed to Google’s plan to establish a Books Rights Registry where copyright holders can identify themselves and receive royalties.
Three months into the year, Circuit City’s chain-wide liquidation sale came to a close and all remaining stores were shut down. But while its brick-and-mortar business came to an abrupt end, Systemax revived the company’s online presence after purchasing Circuit City’s trademarks and Internet domain for $14 million. Before Circuit City’s offline demise, it ranked as the second largest U.S. electronics retailer, but piling debt, bankruptcy proceedings, and the inability to find a buyer ultimately doomed the outfit. It should be noted that Systemax also owns and operates online versions of TigerDirect and CompUSA.
Even though Facebook claimed more global visitors than MySpace in 2008, the latter remained more popular in the United States. That all changed in May 2009, when Facebook pulled ahead by about 1,000 visitors and never looked back. Since then, Twitter has emerged as the next up-and-coming social networking hot spot, but at last count still trailed Facebook by several million unique visitors, and one Miley Cyrus, who abandoned the microblogging service cold turkey in October. Why? Because “like, you need, like, to get out and do stuff and, like, be in the world.” Like, totally.
Comcast had its worst PR year ever in 2008 after it was caught filtering Internet traffic for profit. So how does the ISP kick off 2009? By confirming to DSLReports.com in January that they’ve installed their broadband throttling system across all markets. To be fair, Comcast begrudgingly disclosed it would take a sustained use of 70 percent of upstream or downstream traffic to trigger the throttle. These types of disclosures aren’t something Comcast is keen on, and in October, the ISP appealed an earlier FCC ruling that mandated the cable company be more transparent about its network management policies.
People were pretty pissed when they found out their favorite instant-messaging client had betrayed their trust by tapping into spare CPU cycles for profit. But all was good when the developers quickly responded with a new installer that was more upfront about the little-known research module. The new version also did away with most of the adware solicitations that plagued previous releases, though it didn’t remove a plea to install a search toolbar. That’s okay, because it's still free and it's still our favorite multi-protocol IM app.
When a driver update disabled PhysX acceleration for folks rendering games with ATI cards, users were naturally upset. At least, until NGOHQ.com forum user GenL posted a patch that disables Nvidia’s disabling patch. Way to go, GenL!
Consumers lined up overnight to be the first to set foot in Microsoft’s first retail store, which opened on October 22 in Scottsdale, Arizona. Or maybe they just couldn’t wait to hear the musical stylings of Ashley Tisdale, who was hired as the evening’s live entertainment. Either way, there were plenty of hoots and hollers caught on video as fans packed into the store. A week later, Microsoft would open its second store in Mission Viejo, California, with Canadian singer Justin Bieber providing the live entertainment.
Facebook came under heavy scrutiny when it removed a line in its ToS effectively giving the social networking site full ownership over user-uploaded content. Hearing the protests loud and clear, the company quickly pulled an about-face. So, why did they do it in the first place? The social networking site used an analogy to explain its position, saying it was no different than firing off an email and deleting it from your sent box, because it still remains in the recipient’s inbox.
Before Microsoft pulled the plug on Encarta, it boasted the second most visits in the United States made to online encyclopedias. Now here’s the rub: Wikipedia ranked No. 1 with 97 percent of the visits, compared to Encarta’s just over 1 percent. So much for second place. Stating the obvious, Microsoft admitted its online encyclopedia just couldn’t compete with Wikipedia and completely discontinued the product on Halloween, except for Encarta Japan, which got a stay of execution until the end of 2009.
Augmented reality—overlaying computer-generated imagery on top of video-time video—is an emerging technology on the brink of exploding into mainstream consciousness. Marketers and mobile application developers have leapt onto the augmented reality bandwagon, creating interactive 3D advertisements and data-laden viewfinders to infuse digital information into your view of the world. Today’s augmented reality apps overlay restaurant reviews on maps; tomorrow’s will tell you everything you want to know about a person as soon as you meet them.
eBay’s expensive Skype purchase never worked out the way the auction giant hoped, so it sold 65 percent to a group of investors. The deal valued Skype at roughly $2.75 billion, of which Ebay would receive around $1.9 billion upfront while still retaining 35 percent of the VoIP service.
While riding a high wave of iPhone sales, AT&T’s 3G network couldn’t take the load, delaying core iPhone features—including MMS and tethering—in the U.S. market. Slow data transfers, spotty connections, and dropped or missed calls plagued many U.S. users.
If you think sound cards are dead, the Asus Xonar Essence STX is a PCB-mounted zombie ready to grab you by your wax-filled ears. Because that’s just what this headphone-optimized soundcard will do to non-believers. With its eargasmic sound quality, it’ll convince any headphone or earbud lover it’s worth burning a PCI-E slot to have this card. But, you say, what about hardware acceleration? Doesn’t it matter that the Xonar is a host-based soundcard? That’s the real corpse here. With 12-threaded CPUs on the horizon, do you really need a DSP anymore? Sadly, even we have to say no.
With both ATI and Nvidia delivering 3D shutter-glass technology to gamers, it looked poised to take off. Unfortunately, the tech didn’t resonate with gamers—either due to the lack of monitors that support a 120Hz refresh rate, or the fact that the glasses make you look like a tool.
We’re all prone to occasional moments of mental ineptitude, and in 2009, Google had two of them. First, the company inadvertently shared some users’ private documents, and then it mistakenly tagged every search result with a malware warning. Google chalked the first incident up to a bug and the second one to “human error,” and apologized to users in both cases. Both incidents were also addressed quickly, limiting the damage but still serving to show the dangers of relying on a single entity.
Microsoft found out you don’t mess with Texas, or else a judge forbids you from selling MS Word. Actually, the software maker allegedly messed with a Canadian company’s XML patents, which was the real reason a Texas judged ordered MS to stop selling its popular productivity app. Microsoft was given 60 days to comply with the surprise order, but a month later received a temporary stay from an appeals court. Microsoft argued that pulling Word from the marketplace would result in “massive disruptions” to its sales, including those to OEM partners who bundle the productivity suite on new PCs.
Microsoft made a concerted effort to improve web standards compliance in Internet Explorer 8, but it didn’t take into account all the web pages that had been designed with workarounds for previous versions of IE. Microsoft had to implement a ‘Compatibility Mode’ in IE8 so web pages wouldn’t look broken. Talk about making your web and having to sleep in it! Several other features were tossed into the new browser, but despite several improvements, IE8 was still met with a chilly reception and only gained minimal market share following its release.
The Asus Eee 1000HE was the first netbook of 2009 that did everything right. An Atom N280 chipset, great keyboard, excellent battery life, and easy access to the RAM and hard drive made this the netbook to beat. It had no serious competition until Toshiba’s NB205, and even Asus’ later 10-inch models had the same guts in a slimmer, harder-to-upgrade chassis.
Believe it or not, Star Trek is cool again. And we can thank J.J. Abrams, the creator of the geek-adored Lost, for that. Abrams’s incredibly successful reboot of our most beloved science fiction franchise (complete with the original's spirit of adventure and faux-science roots) earns him the title of 2009’s Top Geek. Mr. Abrams, you are officially forgiven for your screenwriting credit on Michael Bay’s Armageddon .
At long last, DDR2’s pricing advantage all but disappeared. It was the result of a perfect storm consisting of AMD joining Intel in supporting DDR3, an oversupply of DRAM chips, and a global recession in the tech industry. This also signaled an end to the venerable DDR2 era, as memory makers begin shifting their focus to the higher bandwidth (and more sought after) chips. Dare we say DDR2 is dead? Not yet, but it definitely has one foot in the grave.
Was 2009 the year of Larrabee? Not so much. While we expected 2009 to bring the first tidings of Intel’s massively parallel x86-based GPU, there was nary a peep on the new architecture. After a brief demo at the fall Intel Developer Forum, Intel announced that it would indefinitely postone hardware plans for Larrabee, instead focusing on the technology as a software platform.
The only thing better than creating a viral video of your roommate getting Tasered by the campus police is capturing it in high-def for the world to see. Thanks to pocket cams such as Flip’s MinoHD , Kodak Zi6, and Creative’s Vado HD, shooting 720p video is cheap and easy. Even better, this crop of pocketcams output to highly efficient H.264 so the footage won’t eat your entire hard drive.
Laugh at the name, but Barnes & Noble’s dual-screen nook is the first ebook reader to present a legitimate challenge to Amazon’s Kindle. It’s the first Android-powered ebook to emerge, and the only one to allow users to lend out purchased books. That’s right, purchase a book and you can share it with a friend. Combined with a color touch screen display, Wi-Fi connectivity, and expandable storage, the nook has as good a chance as any e-reader of cutting into Amazon’s 60 percent market share.
Whoomp, there it is: The 7,200rpm Western Digital Caviar Black 2TB was the first performance-oriented two-terabyte drive. With reads and writes topping 112MB/s, the Caviar Black beats all magnetic hard drives that came before—even the VelociRaptor. Remember having to choose between capacity and performance? Neither do we.
Nvidia’s new ARM-based system-on-a-chip Tegra delivers the type of performance you expect on a PC to the small, power-sipping devices that fit in your pocket. First appearing in the Zune HD, Tegra should power lots more devices next year.
Gigabyte’s GA-P55-UD6 has survived multiple LGA1155 challengers—even arch enemy Asus—to prevail as our favorite budget-badass board. Besides lickity-split boots, the board offers top-notch performance and a flexible DIMM configuration of six slots instead of the typical four. That lets people with a bag full of 1GB DDR3 DIMMs reuse them and have room to add additional RAM, to boot.
You want to know why Dropbox is better than crack? Because even though we’re totally hooked, it won’t ruin us financially, and it might even draw us closer to family, friends, and coworkers with its unique ability to easily share files across multiple platforms. Sharing has never been simpler. Just drag and drop a file into a special folder on your computer and Dropbox will encrypt it and whisk the file to the cloud for easy access from any PC you install the client on. How’d we ever live without this?
It took about a nanosecond for fake screenshots to emerge once Google finally announced it was working on an open source OS targeted at netbooks and MIDs. One rumor even had the OS shipping to China, but like every other rumor, it too turned out to be false. When Chrome OS does finally ship, expect it to be lightweight and fast. Google has promised its OS will also run on both x86 and ARM chips, and it should have a number of OEMs lined up when the OS ships in 2010.
In March, panic swept across the Internet as the highly sophisticated Conficker worm spread to millions of PCs. The question on everyone’s mind was, “What the flip is Conficker up to?” One theory suggest its unknown authors are using Conficker to track anti-malware efforts put in place by network operators and law enforcement agencies, but even to this day, nobody really knows for sure. Well, nobody except for its devious authors.
Take a super-smooth 5,700dpi laser sensor, set it to sample 1,000 times every second, and then put that sensor into a mouse that lets you swap profiles on the fly, without installing any software. That’s exactly what Logitech did with the G9x , and that’s exactly why we love it.
Maybe Microsoft had nothing to fear pre-Vista, but in 2009, the software maker finally gave props to Linux. The revelation came during an annual filing with the SEC, in which Microsoft acknowledged “strong competition” from both Canonical and Red Hat. Prior to the SEC confessional, Microsoft only viewed Linux as a threat to its server business and dismissed any impact open-source distros might have on Windows. But according to Microsoft, competitive pressures lead OEMs to look for ways to reduce costs, and it doesn’t get any cheaper than free.
We were stunned in October, when the Level 10 concept case arrived, in full retail packaging. Eschewing the standard box design, the Level 10 sports a central support pillar with many component boxes hanging from it. At $700, it’s a status symbol, but we gotta give Thermaltake credit for thinking... (wait for it)... outside the box.
Putting the rivalry between PC and Macs aside, Steve Jobs’s six month leave of absence from Apple and subsequent return was one of the more notable tech stories of the year, due largely to the secrecy and speculation surrounding his health. Apple’s continued success during Jobs's absence quelled concerns that the company would suffer without his direct leadership. And after a liver transplant performed in Tennessee, Jobs reassumed responsibilities as Apple’s CEO in June.
It took several delays, beta releases, and even a version-number change, but Mozilla finally cut the ribbon on Firefox 3.5. The latest release ushered in a huge performance boost and a bunch of new features, like Private Browsing and augmented video. It also added tear-away tabs, location-aware browsing, automatic font formatting, and a more streamlined add-on interface. Already looking ahead to the next release, Mozilla later updated its roadmap to reflect Firefox 4.0 hitting the street in late 2010.
The $99 Athlon II X4 620 quad-core gives every American the right to encode video in a quarter of the time it took on a Pentium 4. This CPU is such a performance triumph for the masses that you should fire up an MP3 of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" while you build your new machine.
Microsoft took the heat when a massive computing outage at the company’s Danger subsidiary left Sidekick owners with no way to access their contacts and other data. Thankfully, most of the missing data would later be restored, and a lesson learned about cloud computing. To be fair, Microsoft’s other cloud computing projects don’t run on the same proprietary technologies the company “inherited” when it acquired Danger in 2008, but that revelation didn’t stop at least two related class-action lawsuits from being filed against Microsoft and T-Mobile for failing to “adequately ensure the safety, security, and availability of the data belonging to Sidekick users.”
In May, NEC announced it has begun shipping its first controller chips capable of supporting USB data transfer speeds of up to 5Gbps. The USB 3.0 spec supercharges the ubiquitous interface with a 10X speed gain over USB 2.0, while providing backward compatibility. But it’s not all about transfer speeds. USB 3.0 also provides higher power output, which means media players and other portable gadgets can spend less time tethered to the PC when being re-juiced.
Sporting the perfect combination of long battery life, a stupid-easy purchase and download process, an eyeball-friendly E Ink screen, and a svelte 10.2-ounce package, Amazon’s second-generation Kindle captured our hearts. Sure, there may be sexier ebook readers on the horizon, but the rousing success of the Kindle paved the way for all others.
One of the first SSDs to come equipped with the powerful Indilinx Barefoot controller, the Patriot Torqx offers 200MB/s-plus sustained reads and 175MB/s sustained writes, and supports the TRIM command. After a rash of stuttering, slow first-gen SSDs, the Torqx was the first SSD we tested that actually competed with Intel’s previously dominant X-25M series, which had served as the industry’s only bright spot for months. Now there are plenty of Indilinx-controlled drives, all awesome, but Patriot’s Torqx led the charge in our hearts.
Judging by consumer outcries, you would have thought AT&T announced it was going to burn people’s homes and kick their puppies. Maybe just as horrifying (not really), the ISP made good on its promise to test market metered bandwidth, first in Reno, NV, then in Beaumont, TX. Not without precedent, both Time Warner Cable and Comcast beat AT&T to the punch in efforts to turn back the Internet clock to a time when online access was not an all-you-can-consume affair.
By handing normal folks a wad of cash and a strict budget for buying a laptop, Microsoft both struck a chord with Windows fans and hit a nerve with Apple, which cried foul over the high prices for Macs portrayed in the ads. Microsoft later tweaked the ad to remove any mention of specific numbers, but would continue to air the commercials.
Following the poor reception of Vista, Microsoft launched the first public beta for a Microsoft operating system we can recall. And demand for the nascent OS was frenetic, resulting in more than 2.5 million downloads of the beta and even more of the release candidate.
Just when it looked like solid state drives would steal the show in 2009, hard drive capacities surged to 2TB, and did so without breaking the bank. Western Digital was first to cross the 2TB barrier, but left the door open for Hitachi to release the first 7200RPM 2TB drive. That’s enough storage space to hold 400,000 digital photos taken with a 6MP digital camera! Will we see 4TB drives in 2010? How about 8TB in 2011?
Conventional wisdom says that gaming and high-definition video simply won’t work on three-pound notebooks. Not true, says Nvidia, with the launch of the Ion chipset for netbooks and other mobile devices. Ion puts a decent DirectX 9–era GPU on systems that would otherwise suffer the wrath of woefully underpowered integrated graphics.
Hardly the iPhone killer we hoped it would be, the Palm Pre struggled to find relevance in an increasingly crowded smartphone market. It had only 18 apps at launch, and following Apple’s well-timed price cut, you could buy two 8GB iPhones for the cost of a single Pre. But it would get even worse. After learning the Pre was using some USB tomfoolery to trick iTunes into thinking it was connecting to an iPod, Apple released a software update breaking the Pre’s ability to sync up with its software. Given the circumstances, Palm was forced to drop the price on the Pre. With the small number of applications available and Sprint exclusivity, we wonder how long Palm can last.
Seagate screwed the pooch with a relatively small number of its 7200.11 Barracuda drives, which were prone to lockups and other quirks. Even worse, the first firmware "fix" bricked the drives it was intended to cure. Seagate quickly pulled the firmware fix from its website before any more damage could be done and has since repaired the problem, but took a hit to consumer confidence. However, we're happy to report that this appears to have been an isolated incident.
Besides offering no new consumer graphics cards to compete with ATI’s Radeon HD 5870, Nvidia also found itself in full retreat on the chipset front. Legal battles with Intel prevented development of both LGA1366 and LGA1155 chipsets, and the GPU giant is unlikely to offer newer chipsets for AMD’s platform either.
Launched two days ahead of schedule, Bing blasted onto the search-engine scene as the world’s first “decision engine.” Several months later, Microsoft spent part of its $80 million ad campaign launching the logo into space on the side of a Boeing Delta II rocket. Rebuilt and rebranded, Bing reinvigorated Microsoft’s presence as a search player and surprised many skeptics, but barely made a dent in Google’s market share, instead poaching searchers from Yahoo. And let’s not even talk about that awful jingle, “Bing Goes the Internet.”
Just when Apple’s iPhone looked like it would forever crush the competition, Google’s Android platform emerged as the new kid everyone wanted to meet, thanks to a combination of open APIs and Google’s strong brand recognition. Throw in an active modding community and you have all the makings of a long-term rivalry. At last count, the Android Market stood at over 10,000 applications strong, but it will need many more—plus a killer handset—if it’s to really tap into the hearts and minds of the iPhone faithful. Google's own Nexus One phone might do the trick, but we won't know until it's formally announced on January 5th.
After essentially ceding the portable-media-player space, Microsoft made a triumphant comeback with the Zune HD —a product capable of going toe-to-toe with the inveterate iPod. It was a surprising turn of events from a company that, at the start of the year, was rumored to be abandoning Zune hardware altogether. The Zune HD’s combination of a spiffy OLED screen, listener-friendly interface, and amazing battery life proved Microsoft has what it takes to produce a damned fine media player, and even teach Apple a thing or two in the process.
Peter Sunde and the rest of the file-sharing foursome who founded Pirate Bay finally had their day in court, and they probably wish they hadn’t. A Swedish judge found them guilty of assisting copyright infringement and sentenced the defiant bunch to a year in jail and 30 million kronor ($3.6 million) in damages. That’s less than the 100 million kronor the prosecution had sought, but still ranks as one of the largest fines for illegal downloads. The case is currently tied up in appeals, but even if they lose again, Sunde has vowed never to pay the fine.
Credit the iPhone for popularizing multitouch, but remember 2009 as the year multitouch extended its reach into all kinds of devices, from trackpads to monitors to mice. Even Firefox got in on the action by starting development on a multitouch browser. With official multitouch support in Windows 7, it’s easier than ever for manufacturers to join in the fun. Expect to see even more multitouch applications and gadgets emerge in 2010, making standard touch seem primitive by comparison.
AMD has long complained that Intel’s exclusivity rebates were freezing it out of many markets, but the company finally found a willing ear in the European Union, which fined Intel a record-setting $1.45 billion for anticompetitive business practices. The EU accused Intel of harming “millions of European consumers by deliberately acting to keep competitors out of the market for computer chips for many years,” much to the glee of AMD. Intel, on the other hand, essentially accused the EU of being out of touch with how a competitive microprocessor market really works. The EU fine no doubt influenced Intel's decision to settle a similar suit in the U.S. and give AMD $1.25 billion.
Intel isn't out of the woods yet, as the FTC filed a lawsuit against the company in December, alleging a decade long practice of antitrust behavior intended to protect its dominant position in the market.
Debate over net neutrality heated up in 2009, but was further fueled when all five FCC members voted to begin writing new regulations that would prohibit broadband providers from acting as gatekeepers over Internet traffic. The proposed rules won't be voted on until mid-2010, but they're available for comment at FCC.gov until then.
Apple, Microsoft, and many others were supposed to turn the tech world upside down in 2009 with hand-held touch-screen tablet PCs. Despite all the rumors, sexy 3D mock-ups, and leaked launch dates, not one of the products saw the light of day. Will 2010 be any different? We don’t know, nor do we know where hand-held tablets will fit in if digital e-book readers continue to add even more functionality to their repertoire, which already includes color e-ink, dual-screens, WiFi, and touch capabilities.
Want to know what Nvidia has cooking to compete with the Radeon 5870? So do we. While the company publicly unveiled its next GPU at its own GPU Technology Conference—a multi-day affair for folks into massively parallel computing—it said nary a peep about the next consumer offering, other than, “It’s coming.” We do know that Fermi is a massive GPU—2 billion transistors—and that it will support DirectCompute, OpenCL, and CUDA. We’ll let you know the rest as soon as we find out more!
Applying the number-crunching prowess of GPUs to massively parallel datasets is nothing new—users of Nvidia’s CUDA and ATI’s Stream technologies have been doing it for years—but the hardware-independent APIs necessary to allow general-purpose GPU computing to flourish are. The launch of OpenCL and DirectCompute will mark the migration of GPU-based computing from the world of research supercomputing to your desktop.
The hottest platform for software developers isn’t the PC, Mac, or even a gaming console—it’s the cell phone. In the past year, mobile app development has ballooned at an astounding rate: The iPhone’s app store boasts more than 100,000 apps and Android’s includes another 10,000. The app marketplace has become such a critical component of a mobile OS that it can make or break a phone (see Palm Pre and Windows Mobile).
In the first year since Bill Gates’s departure from day-to-day operations at Microsoft, Steve Ballmer has stepped up to the plate to deliver several wins for the software giant. From a commanding CES keynote (in which he announced the Windows 7 public beta) to the critical success of the new operating system and the Zune HD, Ballmer’s Microsoft seems poised to bounce back from foibles like Vista and IE 7. Ballmer also didn’t disappoint with bold quotes in 2009, dismissing Chrome and Safari as mere “rounding errors” and declaring Linux more dangerous than Apple.
Consumers are realizing what corporate offices have known for years—remote storage and computing is safe, easy to use, and convenient. This year, new web applications and cloud storage services became not only practical supplements to desktop programs, but reliable alternatives, as well. Dropbox, Zoho documents, and Gmail aren’t novelties anymore—they’re essential components of our daily computing experience. And with emerging real-time web apps like Google Wave, desktop computing may eventually be an oxymoron.
Despite a seemingly boring hardware refresh (in the form of the iPhone 3GS ), the iPhone as a platform dominated the minds of the tech elite in 2009. Facing off against classic competitors—Blackberry and Windows Mobile—as well as new contenders in the form of Google’s Android and Palm’s WebOS, Apple continued to build market- and mind-share by adding support for corporate users, adopting push apps, and fostering the growth of the App Store.
It certainly wasn’t news to consumers, or even to the major record labels, that music DRM has been nothing but a big bowl full of wrong, but this year even the RIAA was forced to retreat from its stance on embedded copy protection. Once Apple removed the shackles from music sold on its iTunes store, joining every other major digital-music retailer, the recording industry trade group finally fell in line, no longer insisting that “DRM serves all sorts of pro-consumer purposes."
Think of Intel’s LGA1156 “Lynnfield” Core i7 as getting a shiny new—and fast—CPU with a crisply folded $100 bill in the box. Complete with enhanced Turbo modes, on-die PCI-E, and a full eight threads exposed to the OS, the CPU supports more affordable mobo and RAM choices than its pricier LGA1366 cousin. These days, most of us would opt for the Benjamin.
Fancy new technologies—like DirectX 11 and OpenCL support—are de rigueur for any new GPU architecture, but clocking in at twice the speed of the previous generation is not. That’s precisely the feat that ATI managed to pull off with the Radeon 5870 , doubling the performance of the company’s last-gen parts in every benchmark that matters, and even dominating some dual-GPU boards—all with an incredibly low idle power of 27W. The dual-GPU 5970 is the current speed king, but those cards have been out of stock since they were announced in early November.
In the past year, Twitter went from being a nifty micro-blogging tool used primarily by the digitally hip to occupying a place deep within the soft, white underbelly of mainstream culture, thanks in large part to Hollywood himbo Ashton Kutcher. When the Kutch threw down against CNN in a race to 1 million Twitter followers, it was just the sort of serious news every major media outlet feels compelled to follow—ad nauseum. Now everyone from our plumber to our periodontist is tweeting.
After the long, cold winter that was Windows Vista, PC users around the world rejoiced when Microsoft released Windows 7, and it was good. After a 10-month-long prerelease beta program, Windows 7 mixed the security and new technologies of Vista with the speed of XP and added a newly revamped user interface—to make Windows 7 the best version of Windows yet. The PC faithful once again have an operating system to rally behind.