By Austin Light
CHARLOTTE — As technology goes, it usually takes a while for new products to hit their stride. That’s why the products in the list below aren’t new — in fact, some of them have been around for years. There are plenty of people smugly boasting about their 2007 Twitter accounts.
But the best tech for 2010 isn’t the untested stuff about to come out, but the tools that have had the bugs ironed out and are ready for the masses. Make no mistake; the tech below is not stagnant, but constantly evolving. The early adopters who got the ball rolling are still there, pushing the envelope, making the tech more intuitive and innovative, and making the waters safe for newbies.
So put it on your New Year’s resolution list to get involved with one or more of these in 2010. They just might make your life easier.
It used to be that the first thing you bought after getting a new computer for the office was a productivity suite of programs like Microsoft Office. These days, online applications, many of which are free, are offering the same, if not better, services and features.
Back in June, The Mecklenburg Times detailed a number of the best online applications: Microsoft Office-like programs like Google Apps (www.google.com/apps), billing tools like Simply Invoices (www.simplyinvoices.com) and project management applications like Basecamp (www.basecamphq.com). All of these can run alongside, or even replace, standard desktop software.
Eric Fransen of Klik Marketing, a local online marketing company, said his team loves Basecamp for its organizational tools and Google apps for their availability.
“We do everything in Basecamp and all our documents are on Google apps,” Fransen said. “That way I can keep up with a project anywhere.”
Because they’re online, many applications tie easily into Web browsers and email, and they can be upgraded with just a few clicks. That also means that saved data stays online, rather than on the computer on which it was created.
Microsoft, which has always dominated the office software market, took notice of online application success in July 2009 and started Beta testing Microsoft Office 2010, which will include free online apps that can be integrated with their desktop software. Meanwhile, Google Chrome, Google’s Web browser, offers seamless integration with dozens of free apps, like Google Docs.
Chris Capossela, senior vice president of Microsoft’s Business Division, said in a press release that the company is offering PowerPoint, Excel, Word and other programs online to deliver technology that will help people “work smarter and faster from any location using any device.”
For a large list of free online applications, visit http://www.internetservicedeals.com/blog/69/100-free-online-alternatives-to-popular-office-apps/.
According to recent studies that polled hundreds of small business owners (one by Internet marketing company VerticalResponse Inc. and another by Strongmail, an email marketing company), small businesses will significantly increase their social media presence in 2010 by making it a bigger part of overall marketing plans.
Jim Mitchem of Smash Advertising, a Charlotte advertising agency, said he doesn’t think there’s a business out there that wouldn’t benefit from getting into social media.
“Any business can benefit from enhanced communication,” Mitchem said. “Whether it’s internally, externally, to sell a product, there are all kinds of ways it can be useful.”
Social media, also known as Web 2.0, is interactive, not static. It includes blogs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and more.
While Mitchem believes every business can benefit from social media, David Zimmerman, who specializes in search engine optimization at Charlotte’s WebsiteBiz, said that doesn’t mean every business should jump on it.
“You can throw up a Twitter account for your business, but that’s not necessarily going to make you any money,” Zimmerman said. “Unless these things are connecting with an entire marketing strategy, you aren’t really getting anything.”
Zimmerman compared social media’s rise in popularity to the dot-com boom in the late 1990s. At the time, Zimmerman said, companies were building expensive Web sites just because it was the thing to do, despite the fact that few had found ways to achieve a positive return on their investments. While now is a better time than ever to get involved with social media, Zimmerman said it’s best to do so with a plan.
“It’s not 1999. Don’t just get on there because people said you should get on there,” Zimmerman said. “Social media has a place — understand what people are searching for, and be part of the answer.”
In the three years since the iPhone launched in June 2007, the smart phone market has been growing in popularity and functionality. Morgan Stanley’s “The Mobile Internet Report,” a 424-page report on smart phones and the Internet, said smart phone sales will beat laptop sales next year.
In 2010, every major U.S. carrier will have a smart phone to compete, and in some cases beat, the iPhone, according to tech blog Gizmodo.
Why are smart phones better than “dumb phones” (a phone that just makes phone calls)?
Fransen said it’s because his phone is the one thing with him at all times, and since it’s practically a small computer, it means his work can be with him, too.
“When I’m on the road, I can see in real-time what [work] is being done,” Fransen said. “I don’t have to wait until I’m in front of a computer.”
The iPhone has more than 100,000 apps, many of which have desktop counter parts or sync with online apps like Basecamp. Other phones, like Black Berry, Palm Pre and Droid, have comparable apps, and their marketplaces are growing.
In January, Google is expected to announce its new phone. Built by HTC, the phone is rumored to be carrier-independent, so anyone can buy and use it on their network. This model has worked well overseas for companies like Nokia, Motorola and even Apple, whose iPhone is available on multiple carriers in Europe, but hasn’t been proven to be a money-maker in the U.S.
“It’s totally reasonable Google can sell [their phone, the Nexus One] for cheap, without help from the carriers,” Gizmodo’s Matt Buchanan wrote in a post earlier this month.
With Google getting in the market, there will be more competition and more growth.
“If you don’t have a smart phone by now, you should,” Fransen said.
According to Webopedia, an online encyclopedia dedicated to computer technology, cloud computing could mean any number of things, depending on who’s talking and who’s listening.
“The term ‘cloud computing’ has been used to mean grid computing, utility computing, software as a service, Internet-based applications, autonomic computing, peer-to-peer computing and remote processing,” according to the site.
The general definition, at least the one most business professionals would be familiar with, is that the technology is simply a means of saving, securing and manipulating information in a separate physical location. That could be a server room two blocks away or an online “hard drive” maintained by Google, Yahoo or another third party.
“It takes us back to the 1960s era of computing and the old IBM model,” said Ted Claypoole, a technology lawyer with Womble Carlyle. “You had a large computer somewhere and it serviced a bunch of ‘dumb terminals.’ What you were using on your desk didn’t have anything; instead it tapped into the large computer somewhere else. Cloud computing is a more modern and complex extension of that.”
Jim St. Clair, senior manager of global public sector at Grant Thornton, an audit and advisory firm, told The Mecklenburg Times earlier this year that cloud computing takes the burden of ownership off an organization and enables them to trust someone else with maintaining their hardware and software infrastructure.
For the average business user, this might manifest in a free WordPress blog, where all the information — pictures, documents, and other media — are uploaded and stored on the WordPress servers, not on the user’s computer.
With the rise of smart phones, online applications, and netbooks — small laptops that offer fewer features in exchange for portability and connectivity — cloud computing can make working from any location easier.