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Social networks, Apple, Microsoft and Linux in 2013

Column A few predictions for the new year
Fri Dec 28 2012, 11:00

THE WINTER SOLSTICE passed last Friday 21 December 21 - the date of the supposed Mayan Apocalypse, but that didn't happen.

Another Christmas came and went instead, and as the winter holiday break is fast approaching New Years Day, here are a few observations and predictions for the technology world in 2013.

Social Networks
Facebook will behave as though it is a law unto itself until it is forced to change, probably by a combination of government sanctions in Europe and possibly lawsuits in the US. Mark Zuckerberg will continue to be an insufferable jerk, but he'll have to accept that his company can't require users to open accounts using their real names or shred user privacy with impunity.

In contrast, Google+ and Twitter will be more circumspect and will attract more users.

It seems clear by now that Tim Cook is no Steve Jobs. Although he is a competent, disciplined executive, he's not a visionary like Jobs, and it seems doubtful that he'll be able to come up with the next game-changing, iconic Apple product. That's a problem for Apple. It's hard to imagine what the company might release next year that will not be seen as merely cosmetic refinement of its existing product line, or that Tim Cook will be able to envision it.

Apple's smartphone and tablet competitors can match its products' hardware quality and could catch up next year in terms of software applications and services integration, so Apple likely will encounter some downward pressure on its 40 to 60 percent gross margins, and therefore its profitability might suffer.

In addition, Apple has tarnished its brand with its over the top patents litigation campaign. It remains to be seen if that will damage its image with its loyal customer base, but in any case that hasn't destroyed or blocked its competitors as it seemed to have hoped.

These factors and investors' appreciation of them could account for Apple's recent stock price trajectory.

The would-be monopolist will struggle to put a brave face on corporate and consumer disinterest in Windows 8, though its marketing machine will try to disguise disappointing sales with hype, expensive advertising campaigns and carefully cherry-picked statistics.

The Surface RT tablet probably will also see disappointing sales because it can't run the Microsoft Office suite, and the Surface Pro tablet, which will be able to run Microsoft Office, likely will be dead on arrival due to its exorbitant price, which is higher than the price of an Apple Ipad and would be appropriate for a high-end laptop, not a tablet.

Windows Phone 8 might double its present market share, up to perhaps three percent, leaving Nokia twisting in the wind and putting off other smartphone vendors.

With any luck, Steve Ballmer won't realise how much trouble Microsoft really is in until it misses its opportunity to play in the mobile devices markets and its PC desktop monopoly starts to crack and disintegrate.

Microsoft might survive for a long time on its legacy corporate base, but like it missed the rise of the internet it is failing to compete in the mobile markets, and the combination of internet-based competition from Google among others and the mass power of FOSS systems and applications development will eventually overtake it. It's simply an inevitability, though it likely won't happen in 2013. However, we might see some signs of this starting to occur next year.

Linus Torvalds will steadily lead Linux kernel development where it wants to go, and will continue releasing new and improved kernels on a regular basis.

The major distributions of Linux like Red Hat (including Fedora and CentOS), SuSE and Debian will continue to become more sophisticated and better integrated.

Ubuntu might reconsider its recent deal with Amazon and refine its approach to let users choose between local machine-only search and internet search, or else it could see more users defect to Mint or some other alternative Linux distribution. Ubuntu might also have some success with its Unity desktop, influencing Gnome developers to come to their senses, but only if it fixes its search problem.

Mageia will issue its third major release as it moves away from Mandriva. Valve will deliver gaming on Linux, and it will rock. Other Linux developments could surprise us. µ


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