Another year ends

So as 2008 winds down, whats been happening in my Tech world?

Well, Open Source electronics got a kick along with the Arduino Decimelia – both the spec of this little microcontroller. With some very easy tutorials, its sure to kick-start a whole generation of hardware hackers. It’s got me re-invigorated in circuitry. 3.0 came out, with support for some of the more recent MS Office file formats. Firefox 3 arrived, but not Thunderbird 3 (though Alpha’s of the Firefox 3.1 and Thunderbird are pretty useful already). MySQL 5.1 arrived (after being sold-out to Sun), but not without some controversy over its suitability as a stable and finished release! Python 3000 arrived, and Perl 6 did not as did not Debian Lenny, but there are no surprises there.

The Netbook made a big splash – low budget, but reasonably capable ultra-portable workstations, often powered by Linux, but still with WinXP support — notably not MS Vista support. Vista SP1 turned up, but didn’t fix the Win32 landscape enough to cause businesses to rush to it; indeed, most still stick to WInXP and Office 2003. While a Vista-like episode from any other vendor would have sunk them, MS appears o be riding this out, using their war chest to coast through until Windows 7 later in 2009.

So, what are the hot Open Source projects now, and will make the big impacts for 2009? Well, Asterisk PBX continues to survive well against the incumbent vendors, who all overcharge for their products. With SIP products starting to get more advanced, such as my new Seimens Gigaset SIP and PSTN handsets, we’ll likely continue to see evolution of telephony to reduce costs.Skype continues to be the main video calling solution for the moment, but as Asterisk development continues along the SIP video road, this may slowly change — a SIP to Skype bridge will be a useful step.

Mobile data networks continue to offer more speed, at more reasonable prices. Many domestic tariffs now include unlimited* (obligatory fair usage applies) data plans, but continue to charge like wounded bulls when roaming. In Europe, the European Commission continues to make a level playing field across the region by enforcing fairer charges. On the fixed line, in the UK Virgin Media started to offer Fibre to the home, but at highly restricted speeds (for fibre) of just 50 MB/s. On the WiFi front, 802.11n finally saw the light of day, and several commercial connectivity providers started to offer solutions for business around this — a Disaster Recovery like secondary circuit that does not rely on local cable connectivity.

Solid State hard drives started to enter the mainstream with Apple releasing their MacBook Air with an SSD option. While the pricing was high, it was a start. SSD disks promise to improve throughput greatly, but require a re-think of the IO subsystem as suddenly the disk can do multiple reads and writes simultaneously (whereas spinning disks can only fetch or write one operation at a time). Capacities of SSDs are starting to scale up, and hopefully they will be available in large SAN enclosures so the option of massive-and-blindingly-fast storage can become a reality.

Hard drives in general started to hit 1.5 TB, but with the same MTBF for reads, are starting to show their age. A report showed that in a RAID 5 configuration using 1.5 TB disks, you’re likely to see a secondary failure (read failure) while trying to rebuild a RAID 5 array. If drives continue to grow in size but not reliability, then the time will come that RAID1 will be virtually gauranteed to fail in this way when rebuilding.

HD video from set-top boxes is on the agenda! Via announced its Mini ITX 2.0 spec back in June, but its difficult to see what vendors are meeting this spec. Either this, or the upcoming Asus Eeebox 204/206 units, HDMI will start to be common place on set top boxes. Couple this with a web cam and we start to have almost commercial like video conferencing in the home, and high def video playback. Link it to the arrival of high(er) speed broadband, and we’ll see more iPlayer and downloadable content. This probably spells the end of the DVD, and possibly Blueray (which is struggling to go mainstream in the UK). HD TV is slowly starting to take off with FreeSat in the UK, while Freeview (terrestrial DVB) is struggling to get the bandwidth for HD broadcast.

As the economy worldwide tries to recover, more pressure is put on implementing cost-effective IT solutions. Hence the economics demand Open Source, even if the people who are in control of some of this organisations have pre-conceived ideas of the value or reliability of it (my award for Plonker Of The Month goes to the person who said “Open Source is shit”, and doesn’t realise that over 50% of his organisation’s IT equipment runs Linux). While the Linux desktop still is not as common as speculated last year by many, its making inroads from the bottom end of the market (via the aforementioned Netbooks).

Lastly, to bring back a blunt point, a current campaign for one OS vendor says “Life without Walls“. For over a decade Linux people have been saying “In a world without walls, who needs Windows“. Lets stop paying to reinvent the wheel every 24 months (Vista’s visual improvements have changed nothing in the world), and start moving on to new problems. Cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer’s, space exploration, better education, basic water supplies for the third world, energy efficient transport (electric cars?), the decline of terrorism and war; surely these are more worthy goals for our funds than “buying Larry a new yacht”.

Keep scratching your own itch.