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First it was Google’s Chrome browser, which turned automatic background updates into a standard feature. Then it was iOS, which pushes free updates out to every device that can run a new version. And now almost everybody is doing it. Well, maybe not Android.
Office 365 (which has its own place on this list) uses Click-to-Run virtualization, allowing it to update automatically with no user intervention required. Both Microsoft and Apple delivered the latest versions of their operating systems (OS X Mavericks and Windows 8.1, respectively) as free updates via their app stores.
Software companies and customers have a strong common interest in making updates free and as painless as possible. There’s still lots of room for improvement, of course, especially when third-party hardware manufacturers get involved. That’s why the Android installed base is so fragmented and it’s why so many owners of Windows PCs still have to struggle to find and apply firmware and driver updates. Maybe next year.
And there’s also entrenched resistance from enterprises that don’t want the disruption that comes with frequent updates. That’s why the aging, increasingly insecure Windows XP will continue to be insanely popular even after Microsoft ends support for it in April 2014.
— Ed Bott
Apple continues to execute
Bloggers and tech reviewers become so jaded, so fast. Reviewing all those me-too devices and reading all those gobbledygook press releases wears down optimism from even the most diehard enthusiast, leaving behind an impenetrable hard shell of cynicism.
Thus the tepid reviews for Apple’s release this year of the iPad Air and Mini and the iPhone 5s and 5c. No, there were no unicorns on stage at the launch events. It wouldn’t be fair to call any of this year’s devices revolutionary. And yet every one was a solid improvement to a line of devices that were already pretty impressive and successful.
Yes, Apple’s share in the tablet and smartphone markets, expressed as a percentage, has declined. Most of the growth is in low-cost tablets and smartphones, which are ubiquitous, especially in emerging markets that are extremely price-sensitive.
Even if Apple never introduces another category-defining product, it should be able to iterate for years to come on the categories it already dominates, regardless of how much those jaded bloggers grumble.
— Ed Bott
Chromecast sneaks into the office
A $35 dongle that weighs less than an ounce, plugs into a standard HDMI port, and streams from the web or a PC? The obvious application in the living room, where sufficiently tech-centric hobbyists can use a Google Chromecast as yet another way to throw Internet videos onto a big-screen TV. But that’s just a sideshow, as far as we’re concerned. This little device has tremendous potential as a useful business tool that will really shine in corporate conference rooms.
For example, you can cast any video stream that plays in the Chrome web browser to any HDTV equipped with a Chromecast. That turns out to be a very effective way to push a web-based video-conference—Google+ Hangouts, WebEx, or GoToMeeting, for example—to that big screen at the end of the conference table. No more awkward huddling around a small PC screen. And as a bonus, you’ll use a fraction of the bandwidth that your office would use if a dozen employees are tuning in to the same conference from separate devices.
The Chromecast is also a potential game-changer for sales and marketing pros who spend their time on the road making presentations to small groups. Lugging around a projector and going through the incantations to make it work can suck the soul from even the most battle-hardened road warrior. But if you know you're going to be taking your show to a room equipped with a modern TV and WiFi, you can set up the Chromecast in a matter of minutes and deliver your web-based presentation effortlessly, putting the business back into show business.
— Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols