Janus and Mars

The New Year of 2007 was a poignant time for looking forward and back. Here is what I opened the year with, unedited apart from laying out the paragraphs for ease of reading online.

Named after the ambivisual Janus, January is an ideal month for reflecting on past and future.

Twenty-five years ago this Spring, as a young doctor serving with the Royal Marines, I went south with the task force to recapture the Falkland Islands. Thankfully I did not have to wedge myself into waterlogged peat and rough rock at the front line, but lived a life of relative luxury in an abandoned mutton freezing plant at Ajax Bay.

That was rudely shattered one dusk, as I sat in my shellscrape, smacking my lips and reflecting on the culinary delights of eating chicken curry and rice pudding from a single mess tin. An Argentinian pilot dropped his stick of thousand pound bombs on us. The casualties resulting from the successful detonation of just one of them were both horrific and incredibly random.

One more figurative battle this year will be between Microsoft Vista and Mac OS X Leopard, for both the limelight and the hearts of users. If early opinions are anything to go by, Vista’s human interface will remain inconsistent and confusing, but the crunch should come over security and malware.

If Vista does not stem the onslaught, rising rancour over security woes could drive even more users to migrate away from Microsoft. Although this may present Apple with a golden opportunity, much will depend on the maturity of Leopard, particularly Time Machine and its other enhancements.

The enterprise will remain Apple’s biggest challenge, and although there are encouraging signs, Apple still has a long way to go to make Leopard Server an attractive alternative in most corporate computing environments. Tiger Server is a good all-rounder, and remarkably easy to put to work, but it remains surprisingly shabby in parts. Substantial improvements in Samba and AFP performance would go a long way to making it a viable proposition, and the new iCal Server and Teams groupware will inevitably be measured up against Exchange Server, for all its warts the industry standard.

Despite my hopes that high def would hit the home last year, the HD-DVD and Blu-ray factions have continued to do their best to disappoint if not repel. How a whole new industry sector can seemingly forget to secure sufficient supplies of crucial blue laser components is a complete mystery.

I just hope that this incompetence does not carry through into high def products: perhaps the next fiascos we should anticipate are that the standards wobble sufficiently that various media will not play in different players, or that writers remain prohibitively costly. There are some irksome issues already, with Blu-ray foisting the infuriation of region encoding again, whilst early region-free Toshiba HD-DVD players require a promised firmware update before they can cope with 25/50 fps media from Europe.

We should also see the last major applications finally stagger, or swagger, across to Intel Macs. Microsoft Office may still be good enterprise fodder, but worthy competition is now biting its heels. OpenOffice and NeoOffice have not been delayed so that they follow their Windows equivalents, nor do they carry the same heavy burden of legacy code.

Meanwhile Adobe could surprise us all by releasing a polished and piquant port of Creative Suite 3 to Intel Macs, but I have my doubts. Unless they are already well into beta-testing, the first release could be plagued by bugs, or fall short in performance. But until someone makes Thorsten Lemke a generous offer to buy and commercialise Graphic Converter, Photoshop will not have any serious competition.

Just as some of my friends never made it back from the Falklands, so we should remember others who did not make 2007. In particular, I am deeply saddened that we will never read any more of Tony Tyler’s witty and eclectic endpieces. May Tony and others find their “heavens fair and free, and beaches of the Starlit Sea.” (Bilbo’s Last Song, JRR Tolkien)

Updated from the original, which was first published in MacUser volume 23 issue 1, January 2007. The rest was history: Leopard was a success, and Windows Vista was released on 30 January 2007, and replaced by the ‘much better’ Windows 7 in 2009. Apple seems to have finally given up trying to understand the enterprise market, and has downsized OS X Server and slashed its cost to appeal to smaller workgroups. Blu-ray won a pyrrhic victory, and as predicted has been surpassed by online services. CS3 arrived in April 2007, and was replaced by CS4 in October 2008. I still think of those who died in the Falklands War, and of Tony Tyler, who had been one of the wittiest and most perceptive of the contributors to MacUser. We miss them.