Technological Tumult in 2016

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This column was originally published in the January 8, 2017 edition of Seacoast Sunday.

year-in-review2016 was another interesting year in the world of technology. There have been some great advancements and there have been some incredible failures. As the New Year is upon us, I wanted to look back at some of the technological developments that may have an impact on you, not just this past year, but well into the future.

Looking large is the trend of “everything as a service.” In its simplest form, this translates into changing the way you acquire your technology from that of one time purchases to ongoing monthly subscriptions. This has started in the software space and is quickly moving into hardware as well. Adobe was one of the first major companies to move to this model. Many people have been accustomed to purchasing Adobe software, be it Acrobat or Creative Suite, as one time purchases for several hundred dollars a license. Adobe is now primarily a subscription only company. You now subscribe to its Creative Suite and other popular applications as a monthly subscription. Prices can range from $30 a month to several hundred, depending on what software and how many copies you need.

Microsoft has also become a primarily subscription company. Office 365 is now the leading email platform for businesses of all size and coupled with this, acquiring the venerable Microsoft Office suite of software is now available as part of your Office 365 subscription. Microsoft is also shaking up the hardware world with its new Surface subscription for businesses. The marketing states that you will never have to buy a new PC again. Instead, for as little as $53 a month, you can purchase a Surface computer on a monthly subscription and have a current computing platform at all times.

Some of these subscriptions are still very new to the market and time will tell if they will be successful. What has been successful and will continue to evolve is this new consumption model. The Cloud has been a major driving force to this as well. With Amazon Web Services, Microsoft’s Azure and companies like Rackspace and others, making it easy to subscribe to the computing resources you need, on a monthly basis. Instead of purchasing that $10,000 server, you may be able to subscribe to these services for hundreds of dollars a month and have a far more robust server infrastructure than if you did it on your own. Be careful about the appeal of the lower monthly expenses. Over time, these subscriptions will cost you more. However, they may also be the best and most cost effective option to accomplish what you need.

Mobile technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace. Apple sold its 1 billionth iPhone in 2016. One billion! That’s a first and that’s an impressive accomplishment and confirms that we have become a mobile world. More people are computing in the palm of their hand than ever before. The mobile phone has not replaced the computer…;yet…;but there are companies working on exactly that. Will 2017 be the year that your mobile phone becomes your primary computing device? It very well could.

Virtual reality is another area that made strides in 2016. You see the devices more and more, but for now, the application has primarily been for entertainment in the consumer space. Whether 2017 sees virtual reality enter the mainstream of the business world is yet to be seen. There are certainly several applications for it, from modeling engineering designs to health care, space exploration and more. Expect to see more of this technology.

2016 also had some spectacular failures. Data breaches continued to expand both in frequency and scope. The alleged cyber interference in the 2016 presidential campaign will likely dominate headlines well into the new year and exposes a very serious concern about our reliance on technology. With all the good that technology brings, it also brings the potential to encourage cyber bullying, false news and the reality that you can’t trust everything you see and read. Fact checking has become more important than ever, in daily life, not just as a political buzzword. Be informed, be skeptical and most importantly, don’t jump to conclusions. The easy availability of these massive amounts of real time information means we each have a responsibility to be our own researchers, validating our findings before stating them as fact.

The Internet or Things or IoT also had a massive failure this year. The plethora of connected devices in all walks of life has given rise to new and significantly expanded hacking vectors available to those looking to exploit vulnerabilities for gain. Right here in New Hampshire, Dyn, a local company based in Manchester, was victim to one of the most successful and widespread attacks that renders parts of the Internet useless for the better part of a day. To most people, it just looked like various web sites were down that day. The reality was that the sites themselves where fine. The road to reach them had been clogged with so much traffic that you just couldn’t get there. Welcome to DDoS. A Distributed Denial of Service attack. It was not the first and it certainly won’t be the last.

Technology is still far more good than bad, but we need to become smarter about how we use it. That’s the challenge for 2017 and beyond. Technology is a force for good, there is no question about it. Let’s be sure that as we continue to evolve as technical citizens and businesses that we don’t become blind to the risks that come with the rewards. Happy New Year!

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