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The Best And Worst Of Tech, 2004

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The Best And Worst Of Tech, 2004

December 28, 2004

By Staff

While a lot of websites and media outlets roll out their "Best & Worst of" lists around the beginning of December, I've been a bit remiss in getting the list out this year. Normally it would be posted a few days before Christmas, that wasn't the case this year. Regardless, here's Techfocus's 4th annual list of the best and worst of 2004.

1. Vonage - While your cable companies and other providers are now beginning to offer Voip services, Vonage has really set the stage for everyone else. While others twiddled their thumbs Vonage did most of the heavy lifting, and they deserve much of the credit for bringing Voip much closer to the mainstream. In 2003, Vonage had about 89,000 customers. This year, they're at about 390,000. Not bad for a fledgling industry.

2. Google - These folks have an exponentially higher density of talent than any other company out there today. They raised the bar when it came to email storage, offering 1 gig when others offered a few megs. They released a desktop search tool LONG before Microsoft had any intention of releasing such a tool. They made people some money in their IPO (though I still maintain that they are overvalued), and though the rumors of heated toilet-seats in their HQ building remind me of dotcom days, I think they deserve some reward for that!

They've also done some good for us here at Techfocus, though that did not affect this decision: their AdSense program has helped the site stay above water, and in the process has defrayed some of the costs of running the site.

3. HP - No, I'm not praising them for their PC line. I'm not praising them for their service. I will, however, praise them for their ability to convince Apple that licensing out the iPod brand was worthwhile. I've also been pretty darn happy with their Photosmart 8450 printer, one of the first color printers that I've worked with that has produced good photo prints.

While Carly Fiorina hasn't done anything to really annoy the hell out of me this year, I still can't give these folks a full round of applause because of the quality of their PC lines. Still, their ability to land a deal with Apple to produce iPods is a much bigger deal than most will acknowledge. Someone there deserves a raise.

4. The NYU Distribution Network - You're probably scratching your head over this one. What is this distribution network? Simply, it is a peer-to-peer type of caching system. Have you ever been to Slashdot and clicked on the link to a featured article, only to find that the server has gone down? Well, Coral does a pretty good job in resolving that problem.

Just affix "" (without quotes) to the domain name, and you'll usually get to view that content after all. For example, an address like could be changed to While the real source of the data might be down, you could still get to it with the second address!

For many people this may be completely irrelevant, but it really does help content providers (such as this site) combat heavy surges of traffic while still providing the information people are looking for. It's somewhat slow compared to the live site, but because it works pretty darn well, it's one of our "Best of's" without a doubt!

5. BitTorrent - Is it a piracy tool, or is it one of the best ways to distribute files these days? Having used it on a couple of occasions to distribute high-demand documents here, we lean towards the latter.

Is it getting a bad rap for making piracy easier? Not really - the way this tool *was* designed makes it easy for users to get the files they need. At the same time, it makes the deployment of legitimate offerings exponentially easier, and it provides for higher availability.

If you haven't used this tool before, BitComet and Azureus are both pretty good clients.

One word of advice, though? Don't make the mistake of swapping pirated software using Bittorrent. The MPAA and RIAA are giddy about nailing as many of you as possible, Christmas or not, and they wouldn't mind filling more than your stockings with coal.

The Worst

1. CherryOS - This company made a huge splash earlier in the year when they claimed that they would be releasing an Apple emulator for the x86 architecture. At the time of the announcement there was a ton of speculation as to how possible something like this was.

Then came the charges that the company was actually ripping off code from an open-source project called PearPC. It didn't take long for the "makers" of CherryOS to essentially hunker down and not say much - after being very eager to speak to the media before the controversy. The "beta" has since been extended to Q1 of 2005.

We say BS. Perhaps PearPC, erhmm, CherryOS *will* emerge then. Will it be original code that runs CherryOS? Don't count on it.

2.TiVo - The people that brought you the first publicly accepted PVR did so by offering you a way to skip past ads. Now they're pushing some of their own ads onto the screen as you're skipping past the ones on TV. A straightforward case of bait-and-switch... how pleasant.

TiVo's business model appears to be coming apart at the seams now that DirecTV and other providers are rolling out their own devices and services. Our advice? Get away before it implodes.

3. Oracle - They may produce widely-adopted software, but if they were being judged on style they would be executed. Hostile takeovers are never that stylish or pleasant, but Ellison takes boorish behavior to a new level. Even if Oracle hadn't completed the takeover of PeopleSoft, they blazed a new path on how to drive companies out of business: threaten a takeover, thus alienating the target's current customers. Watch as the target company starts bleeding due to customers running for a safer solution. Then (if you're lucky) fire the people that remain at the decimated company.

There's nothing wrong with making money. However, there's also nothing wrong with expecting a more civil approach. Merger or not, this could have been executed much better.

4. According to the US patent office, Unicast owns the rights to the "interstitial" - those annoying ads that float above your browser. You know - the ones with the little "close" button about 2 pixels high?

Well, they suck. So do companies that use them.

5. Apple - Ok, we get it, Jobs. You have iPods, they'll free our minds and revolutionize our souls. Will you please exercise a little more control over the marketing of these things? It's one thing to branch out iPod production to HP, but come on... you've taken product pimping to an entirely different level!

The iPod is great. Headphones? Great.

But what about the tatoos, plugins, bumper stickers, mice, t-shirts, armbands, U2 branding and 5000 cables you can get for it?

I remember this happening before with PalmPilots. They had all sorts of crap that you could buy for them, and it looked semi-trendy for a while. Then it didn't. Why? Because Palm and their licensees flooded the market with all sorts of crap. Where's your Palm Pilot now? If you ask most people, it's sitting on a shelf somewhere, gathering dust.

Overmarketing happens all the time. While Apple has generally been good about their product image, their blitzkrieg marketing approach isn't the right approach. Brand control is critical, and right now the branding is getting freakin' ridiculous.

Like I said, the iPod is great. But I don't need to hear how great it is every 30 minutes.

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