The iPhone may have made the biggest tech splash in 2007, but a lot of other cannonballs hit the water as well: The year saw the hatching of Google’s Android, a number of exploding laptops, and even a new tech-related ailment called “Acute Wiiitis.”
What follows is a roundup of 2007’s top tech news highlights, from Windows Vista to data breaches to a digital green movement that inspired a company called NHC to make an environmentally responsible MP3 player that Al Gore might jam out to.
For many people, 2007 kicked off with a disappointment–Microsoft’s much-anticipated release of Windows Vista. The OS itself wasn’t bad–in fact, we gave Vista a positive review–but upgrading from an XP environment proved nightmarish for a lot of users.
By all accounts it was a good year for music fans–especially cheapskates. The year in digital music started off promisingly when iTunes began dropping copy protection from many of the songs in its catalog.
Also in 2007, iTunes drew some serious competition in the digital download arena, with Amazon.com, Sprint, and others selling digital downloads–sans the requirement by Apple to use its iTunes software.
About the only music enthusiast who wasn’t happy in 2007 was Jammie Thomas of Minnesota, who was found liable for damages amounting to $222,000 for illegally sharing music files on Kazaa. In this civil suit, the Recording Industry Association of America had sued Thomas for copyright infringement in connection with downloads of 24 songs–and the jury found in the RIAA’s favor.
Web Video Shake Up: Networks Put Shows Online
2007 was a watershed year for fans of the broadcast TV shows CSI, Family Guy, Lost, and Heroes (among others). If they happened to miss an episode of these or many other programs, they could turn to the Internet to view the unseen action. Previously the networks had dabbled with putting prime-time shows online, but in 2007 they embraced the Web in earnest.
Television fans liked the idea of catching episodes online. But writers involved in creating and scripting the shows were irate–and went on strike–when broadcasters declined to share the extra online ad revenue with them.
Web Radio Sour Notes
While Web video blossomed in 2007, Web radio encountered some turbulence. For several weeks last summer, small Webcasters were on the verge of shutting down after the XCopyright Royalty Board imposed steep new royalty fees that had been requested by SoundExchange, the performance rights organization responsible for collecting and distributing royalties for digital transmission of music. Because the fees were based on “performances”–which on the Internet translates into the number of custom channels that the user maintains, rather than into the revenue that results from use–they would have bankrupted most Internet broadcasters.
In August, large Webcasters reached an agreement with SoundExchange to allow them to continue operating The deal established a $50,000 cap on royalty fees for large Webcasters that may stream thousands of channels (the CRB’s per-channel minimum of $500 would have far exceeded the cap for major Internet radio sites). SoundExchange also offered smaller Webcasters the option of paying royalties based on their revenue rather than on their number of channels, provided that the  revenue from the site involved did not exceed $1.2 million a year.
The future of Internet radio is by no means settled yet. Webcasters continue to appeal the CRB’s ruling in the courts, and Congress may intervene with legislation specifically designed for Internet radio.
You need a lot of bandwidth to download and stream TV shows and music over the Internet, which is why many ISPs began to doubt whether allowing customers to use unlimited amounts of bandwidth was a wise business strategy.
In 2007 Comcast decided to act, booting some customers who violated the ISP’s acceptable-use policy, which allows Comcast to cut off service to customers who “download too much” off the Internet. In other cases, Comcast dealt with customers who used specific, bandwidth-intensive applications such as peer-to-peer file-sharing programs by slowing their data transfer speeds.
Meanwhile, some telephone and cable companies expressed grave concern over proposed laws that would promote Internet neutrality by forbidding ISPs to prioritize packets based on where the packets came from (or based on how much the senders or recipients were paying).
The XO laptop was plagued by production delays, cost overruns, and unexpected competition from Asus and Intel. As a result, OLPC organizers decided to let interested consumers in the United States and Canada buy an XO laptop for $200–as long as they paid another $200 for a second unit to be given away to a child in the developing world.
In a year when Al Gore and the U.N. Panel on Climate Change won a Nobel Peace Prize for its work to raise awareness about global warming, tech firms decided that green was the new black when it came to being good corporate citizens.
Dell, Google, HP, Intel, Lenovo, and even an MP3 maker called NHC went green in 2007. Google set out to decrease dependency on coal with its “RE-C” initiative, which pledges to invest “tens of millions” of research and development dollars in successful efforts to produce 1 gigawatt of renewable energy more cheaply than can be done using coal.
Meanwhile, Intel and 40 other organizations created the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, whose mandate is to increase the energy efficiency of computer and server equipment.
Hackers Enjoy Success in 2007
Let’s hope that 2007 marked the high tide for hackers and that 2008 will produce a downturn in their fortunes. Yeah, just call me Pollyanna.
Data thieves and botnet czars dispensed plenty of misery in 2007. Among other things, the year witnessed one of the largest digital data thefts ever: Hackers stole the names and credit card information of an estimated 45.6 to 94 million customers of department store owner TJX. The hackers gained access to TJX’s computer systems by eavesdropping on the department stores’ poorly protected Wi-Fi networks. The breach prompted numerous calls for stronger data-protection laws.
Also in 2007, things went from bad to worse for victims of so-called bot networks. In January, the Storm Worm emerged; it went on to become 2007’s biggest PC security threat. The name “Storm Worm” is a bit of a misnomer because the malware is actually bot software that corrals infected computers into a botnet–a network that executes commands issued by a central criminal controller.
Law enforcement agencies broke up many botnets this year. But security experts warn that for every individual arrested for running a botnet, a dozen more likely remain at large.
Looking Ahead to 2008
If 2007 is any indicator of what the tech world has in store for us in 2008, here are a few words of advice: Keep your virus definitions up-to-date, start saving for cool new gear (some of which we expect to see at the Consumer Electronics Show in early January), and consider waiting until Vista SP2 (or until you buy a new PC) before upgrading from XP.
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