Taking a look back at '04

In January, we landed two probes on Mars that sent back a host of cool images from the red planet.

I started using Oddpost, a great webmail service as well. Oddpost was later purchased by Yahoo, and a new mail service is expected, well, “soon”.

In the spring, Google introduced their search-by-number feature for finding packages, products by UPC code, and more as well as a number of other features. Google later introduced GMail, a free webmail service with a whopping 1 gigabyte of mail storage, as well as the expected search and organization features from Google. GMail’s interface was also revolutionary, utilizing some creative DHTML and JavaScript to provide one of the best webmail interfaces around. Some privacy concerns arose, however, as GMail includes ads related to the content of the email being displayed.

Onfolio, a great application for keeping information organized and easily accessible, was also released. The version 2.0 beta test is now in progress.

Web conferencing also became more accessible. Macromedia made a number of functional and pricing improvements to Breeze. Convoq also introduced their ASAP service which is based on instant messaging but has a number of advanced features like screen sharing and shared presentation viewing.

Apple started making what I hope to be a comeback this year. The iPod mini was a huge success, and the later introduction of the new iPod with Click Wheel and the iPod photo further strengthened the product line. Sales of Macintosh computers also grew as a result of the iPod’s popularity and after more than a decade, I’m back to using Apple computers, at least part time. OS X is an elegant, stable, and easy to use operating system. They later announced the Airport Express, another innovative product that combines a firewall wireless access point, print server, and networked digital audio player into a box the size of a standard power brick.

Satellite radio became more and popular. XM Radio now has over 3 million subscribers, and competitor Sirius has about 1 million subscribers. Each has exclusive content and a variety of devices for tuning in to digital radio.

Desktop search became a hot topic this year. Products such as X1, Copernic, and Google Desktop Search now allow Windows users to quickly search the content of all their files, emails, and photos. Apple has promised enhanced search features via a feature called Spotlight in a future release of Mac OS, and Microsoft plans to include search features in Longhorn.

After years and years of little new developments, the Mozilla Foundation tested and released Firefox in 2004. This re-ignited the browser wars by offering a secure, fast, and feature-rich competitor to Microsoft Internet Explorer. Better support for RSS, tabbed browsing, enhanced privacy features, and much more made Firefox a growing threat against Microsoft’s complete browser dominance.

In the Macromedia world, excitement has been growing around the forthcoming release of ColdFusion Blackstone. New features are expected to include several Flex-like components for creating rich Internet applications, dynamic document creating in PDF or FlashPaper format, and more. The new features in Blackstone will enable developers to create some amazing web applications in the future. Macromedia also released the ColdFusion MX 6.1 updater, which packaged a number of previously released fixes along with new versions of the JDBC database drivers. Later in the year, Contribute version 3.0 was released for Windows and Macintosh platforms. Contribute is developing into a pseudo-CMS platform and it works pretty well.

Summer 2004 brought Windows XP Service Pack 2, which contained a large number of security-related enhancements to the Windows operating system. Still, regular security patches have been issued to fix a number of vulnerabilities for machines even with service pack 2.

Voice-over-Internet (VOIP) became a lot more usable in 2004. Free software such as Skype allows free or cheap phone calls to be made computer-to-computer very easily, and commercial services like Vonage make phone-to-phone calls via the Internet as easy as a regular POTS phone with comparable sound quality.

In the fall, SpaceShipOne won the X Prize by making two launches of a single spacecraft capable of carrying three people into space in less than two weeks. Virgin Galactic has licensed the technology and will be offering commercial spaceflight for tourists in the next 2 to 3 years.

Konfabulator, the popular Mac OS X tool for displaying informational “widgets” on your desktop, was released for Windows. Adobe released a new version of Acrobat, 7.0, with a reader that is significantly faster than previous versions.

We in the US reelected our President in November. In a very close campaign, conservative George W. Bush beat out John Kerry by winning the state of Ohio. The country remains very much divided between “red” and “blue” states.

Flickr, a unique photo-sharing site, was made available. It has a number of features for organizing and sharing digital photos very easily across platforms by using the web.

One of the largest natural disasters in history, a massive 9.0 earthquake struck Asia in late December. The resulting tsunami waves caused over 120,000 deaths and massive destruction in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Maldives, and Tanzania. The effects where felt as far away as Kenya and were reported to have caused the entire planet to wobble on its axis.

So that was 2004, at least according to what I blogged at the time. :-) I hope you have a happy and safe new year. Thanks for reading.