It was the best of years, it was the worst of years. In fact, 2005 was a lot like any other year, only for some reason it seemed longer than most. It was a year where blogs and podcasting threatened to overtake mainstream media, where a Web search giant tried to be everything for everybody but instead became a magnet for critics, and where the recording industry won a major battle against peer-to-peer file sharing only to shoot itself in the foot (and every other appendage) over a disastrous copy-protection scheme. And that's just for starters.
Here, then, are one observer's completely unscientific and highly opinionated picks for the biggest winners and losers of the year in technology.
Meet your new best friends, Sergey and Larry. Want a free e-mail account? No problem. A blog? Satellite maps? How about a searchable library of every book ever written? Here, have some free Wi-Fi. Oh, and don't forget to enter the stuff you want to sell into Google's new classified ad/online garage sale/whatever-you-want database. No charge, and no need to say thanks. Remember that silly dot-com-era notion that you could make money by giving things away? Guess what? It actually works!
What does a company with staggering amounts of computing power, the world's best brains, and a share price north of $400 do? Anything it darn well pleases. But the next thing you know it's getting sued for copyright violations by the Association of American Publishers and becoming part of the hacker's tool kit. Google's seemingly unquenchable ambition and near-monopoly on everything it touches--otherwise known as "Microsoft Syndrome"--is making more and more people nervous.
WINNER: Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP)
Think of it as a Game Boy for arrested adolescents. Sony managed to squeeze one of the world's most powerful gaming systems into a unit slightly larger than a paperback novel. The PSP also holds photos, plays MP3s, and displays major Hollywood releases on its 4-inch LCD (though with some price tags approaching $30, the PSP's Universal Media Discs can cost more than a comparable DVD). It comes with a Wi-Fi-enabled Web browser, and rumors of a cell phone add-on abound. On the downside, it does not make daiquiris--yet.
LOSER: Motorola Rokr E1
The Rokr was supposed to be the new "It" gadget, a marriage between the world's most stylish cell phone and the planet's best digital music player, the IPod. But it was roundly panned for its skimpy 100-song capacity, painfully slow data transfer, and sluggish interface. This marriage is destined to be shorter than one of J. Lo's.
WINNER: The Survival Blog of New Orleans
Operating from the offices of Web host DirectNIC in downtown New Orleans, the Interdictor blog kept posting during the worst of Hurricane Katrina, powered by a 750-kilowatt diesel generator and a fiber-optic hookup. Blogger Michael Barnett and his colleagues slept in the air-conditioned room where they kept the servers, and blogged throughout the crisis. The Interdictor's live Webcam offered some of the first images of the city following the disaster, and the blog has continued to cover the region's recovery and rebuilding.
LOSER: The FEMA Web site