in I.T.

    Less surprising than 2005, the year 2006 has not been the scene of exciting big changes. The peer-to-peer industry has continued to slipt (more for legal reasons than social reasons), The Firefox Web browser continued to gain ground but in a much more moderate way than in 2005, and the long-awaited Windows Vista (formerly known as Longhorn) still hasn't arrived on the stores' shelves. Web browsers remained the hottest subject all year-long, thanks to the release of Seamonkey 1.0 in January, Opera 9.0 on June 20th, various beta versions of Windows Internet Explorer 7 (Microsoft is now asking us to call it Windows Internet Explorer rather than Microsoft Internet Explorer) throughout the year, then finally the final release of IE7 on October 18th, and then Firefox 2.0 just a few days later (Oct. 24). Opera, which has been a little bit in the shadow this Fall because of the new major releases of the two most popular products on the market, turned back the spotlights on him again in December with the release of Opera 9.1 and then a version of Opera for Nintendo's new gaming console, the Wii. The market share of each of the browsers continued to differ a lot depending on the measurement firm and the country, but I think that all agree to say that Firefox has reached beyond 12% worldwide, with an average around 13%. This is an approximate increase of 3% (or a little less), which is a much more moderate growth than last year, but the good news for them is that the release of IE7 in October did not reverse things off; the trend remained in favor of Firefox even after the release of IE7. Microsoft stays relatively cumfortable at #1 worldwide, but many countries exist where its lead position is put in serious danger by an absolutely spectacular success from its rival Firefox: Slovenia, Finland, Polland, Germany, Slovakia, Croatia, Estonia and Hungary in particular. The popular open-source browser remains very strong also in Czech Republic, Greece, Latvia, Austria and the continent of Oceania in general. Norway is also to be watched closely; Firefox is a little less powerful there, but it is a battle among three players since it is also the country of origin of Opera. It is in latin America (South America + Mexico) and in Asia that Firefox has known the least success, while North America stands nicely around the world average. For the other browsers, Opera unfortunately keeps on stagnating under the 1% mark despite an excellent product, while the market share of Apple's Safari is greatly confusing. Net Applications evaluates it at 4%, which would mean that over 95% of Mac-computer users would now use Safari for surfing the Web, while OneStat evaluates it at only 1.6%, which would mean that even a half of Mac users would have made the switch to Safari!...

Aside of Web browsers, 2006 has offered new goodies such as the first Blu-ray and HD-DVD players, Microsoft's Zune (portable music player that aimed to take on Apple's iPod, but the sales of this "iPod killer" have been very disappointing so far), Intel's Core 2 Duo processor as well as software titles Windows Live Messenger (successor of MSN Messenger) and Windows Live OneCare from Microsoft. Oracle has also made sensation by penetrating a new market with its low-cost Linux support program, Oracle Unbreakable Linux, which might potentially ruin giant Red Hat according to some analysts. The large corporations proceeded to a few major acquisitions again, mainly those of YouTube par Google, ATI Technologies by Advances Micro Devices (AMD), Alienware by Dell and JBoss by Red Hat. Corel has also took over WinZip, although this one is not a big surprise since the two companies were already managed by the same investment firm.

Let's now move on to the Powhertz Awards of 2006, the best in their category.

Powhertz Award 2006

Best Web browser

Firefox 2
Firefox 2

Even though Seamonkey 1.0, Opera 9.0 and Opera 9.1 are good choices, it is no wonder that the grand browsers that people will remind of when thinking back of 2006 are Firefox 2.0 and Microsoft's Windows Internet Explorer 7. IE7 has offered a very positive upgrade, but not really innovative. The three most important new features of IE7 are tabbed browsing, support for RSS feeds and anti-phishing functionalities... in the case of tabs, its competitor Opera supports it in its own way since at least 1996 with its MDI interface, while Netcaptor does it since 1997, Mozilla since 2001 and the others (Firefox, Safari, Netscape, etc.) all for more than two years. IE was therefore EXTREMELY late on that! As for RSS feeds, its largest competitor (Firefox) supports them since 2004, while Safari and Opera each support them since April 2005. And for anti-phishing, Netscape and Opera were already doing some before, while Firefox has added this arrow to its bow merely a few days after the release of IE7 with its version 2.0. So for Internet Explorer, version 7 essentially was to catch on the considerable technological advance its competitors had taken over the past 5 years. Furthermore, IE7 is highly criticized under 2 aspects: its poor support for Web standards (far behind Opera, Safari and even Firefox in compatibility tests such as the famous Acid2 Browser Test) and its mediocre multi-platform support (only Windows XP Service Pack 2 and Windows 2003 Server are supported; no original WinXP, no Windows 2000, no Mac OS X, no Linux, etc...). In short, IE7 is far, very far from impressive and has absolutely nothing to justify a Powhertz Award! Microsoft's only chance ever to win one into this category would have been in 1999 for Internet Explorer 5, but that was the year just before the first-ever Powhertz Awards!

It is very simple this year, the browser of the year is unarguably Firefox 2, acclaimed by the critics and the public. It has won practically all match-ups that were opposing it to its rival Internet Explorer 7, the most famous of which being the CNet network's that proclaimed Firefox superior in each and every category and giving 64 points for Fx2 against only 47 points for IE7: http://reviews.cnet.com/4520-10442_7-6656808-7.html?tag=lnav . Long life to Firefox!

Powhertz Award 2006

Best operating system

Ubuntu 6.10

To be honest, the author and administrator of Powhertz has not even tried the latest version of Ubuntu, 6.10! This prize  is rather a formality; on one hand, no new version of the two most popular desktop operating systems (Microsoft Windows and Mac OS), and on another hand 2006 has been a year of consecration for Ubuntu, which now dominates very well the market of Linux distributions for workstations, which was not that obvious at the end of 2005. It has little success has a server, largely dominated by commercial monsters Red Hat and Novell, but it is not its main market at the time being. People like Ubuntu and its development cycle that is much faster than its parent Debian GNU/Linux, which version 4.0 (Etch) was actually scheduled for December 2006 and still not yet unavailable at the time of writing these lines...

The very few other operating system releases in 2006 can essentially be summarized as being DesktopBSD 1.0 and Fedora Core 5 in March, PC-BSD 1.1 in May, FreeDOS 1.0 in September, OpenBSD 4.0 in November and AmigaOS 4.0 in December.

Powhertz Award 2006

Best e-mail client

Thunderbird 1.5

I'm telling right away, that category is on the path to extinction! I have been close to discontinue right this year, but I'm finally going to wait one more year, the time to award a prize to Mozilla's e-mail client, the now famous Thunderbird! Let's not tell too many stories, it's been a long time that we don't see much innovation into this field, with always more and more Internet users who turn themselves to Webmail services such as Hotmail, Gmail and Yahoo! Mail. Thunderbird is nevertheless a good product, 100% free and open source, that deserves its title for 2006.

Powhertz Award 2006

Best PC game

Company of Heroes
Company of Heroes

Elected PC game of the year by GameSpy, PC game of the year by IGN.com and one of the only two finalists to Gamespot's title of game of the year to be available on PC, Company of Heroes cannot be ignored by Powhertz for its own title! The critics are really unanimous, so it's a well-deserved honor!

However, we must give a very honorable mention to The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which ended up 2nd at both IGN and Gamespy, while also being the other finalist available on PC at Gamespot! It is therefore a totally undisputed #2!

Powhertz Award 2006

Coup de coeur

OpenOffice 2.1

The improvements from version 2.0 of last year really aren't major, but the version 2.1 slightly improves a product that already was, in my opinion, an essential. Let's make people understand once and for all: there is no longer any good reason for a home user nor for over 90% of business users to pay the exorbitant price of Microsoft Office when we have a perfectly free (and even open source!) OpenOffice. Recently, my father wanted to edit an Excel document and did not have a copy of Microsoft Office; I recommended him OpenOffice 2.1 . Then, he wanted to view WordPerfect documents (for the ignorants of computing history, WordPerfect was dominating the market of word processors before getting bumped out by Microsoft Word a little after the mid-'90s, and still remains superior to Word today in my opinion) and did not have a recent copy of WordPerfect; I recommended him OpenOffice 2.1 again. And guess what? OO has worked perfectly in both cases, even if those were not its native file formats at all.

By the way, OpenOffice uses the most standard file format of all, OpenDocument, which has been officially certified as an ISO standard in 2006. Many government institutions have migratred (or announced that they were preparing a migration) to OpenOffice for this reason as well as cost reduction, mostly in Europe. This trend is expected to grow in 2007 despite the upcoming release of the new Microsoft Office, which will be based on a new, proprietary and non-standard file format.

The categories of "Best Internet utility", "Best archiver" and "Best search engine" are taking off this year. These are fields that are ever less moving and on which Powhertz has ever less opinion.

What are we watching for 2007? Of course, the most awaited software releases are those of Windows Vista (formerly known as Longhorn) and Microsoft Office 2007 (a.k.a. Office 12), both scheduled for the 30th of January. We'll also need to look on the side of Web browsers later in the year, when are expected Firefox 3, Flock 1.0 and Seamonkey 1.1 . And with a big dose of luck, maybe 2007 will finally be the year of Duke Nukem Forever?!?  ;-)

Have a great year 2007,


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