10 best products of the past 200 issues (part 2)

3/27/2012 4:40:08 PM

10 best products of the past 200 issues (part 2)

Apple Mac OS X

Description: Mac OS X

We can’t praise xp without offering a paean to windows’ great rival: apple Mac OS X. Os x is, of course, a series of oses, more fairly compared with windows in general rather than xp as a particular product. But part of OS X’x charm is that although it has gone through seven releases in the time windows has jumped only from xp to vista to windows 7, each has been an iterative development rather than a radical overhaul.

That revamp may be due when apple decides is ios is ready for the multi-platform primetime, but even if that happened tomorrow OS X has had a good run. And ios can be fairly described as the offspring of OS X in any case.

When it launched, OS X (10.0 cheetah) was a radical departure for apple. Steve job’s gift to apple from his time with next, OS X replaced os 9, the final version of the even longer-lived ‘classic’ serious of oses. It did so in a time of crisis for apple, then running out of money and losing market share.

The first desktop OS X launched in 2001, beating xp to the punch by a matter of months. Its success is all the more remarkable when you consider that apple’s previous in house attempt to replace os 9 ended in failure, and with no product to show. But that was never likely to be the case with OS X, a product for which steve jobs retained an evangelical fervour, and over whose development he was notoriously picky. Based on next step, the os is a personal triumph for apple’s late leader. An occasion where the myth matched the man

Legends abound of jobs insisting on revision after revision of OS X, so that when it appeared it was stable and reliable, intuitive, and better-looking than any os that had gone before or since. In this apple has the advantage of making both hardware and software, and xp’s success at a similar time suggests the world was waiting for stability at least. But, for many people, even after 10 years OS X represents the best of Mac computing-an end-to-end experience that is stable, intuitive, and just works.

Google gmail

Description: Gmail

It seams so straightforward now, but when it first appeared the gmail proposition was staggering: a free webmail account, with up to 1gb of online storage (each message was limited to 25mb). Given that microsoft’s rival market-leading product hotmail was offering only 4mb in total, google’s product seemed improbably large.

That 1gb limit stared growing almost exactly a year after launch, has kept increasing since and, according to google, will never stop doing so. At the time of writing it’s approaching 8gb. Full marks to google for spotting the value of cloud computing good and early.

Gmail launched as an invitation-only beta in 2004, and pretty soon other webmail providers stretched their limits to try to match it. They had to try, but google’ s online mail service remains the daddy in this space, in part because google can afford to innovate at scale. There are bespoke gmail apps for mobile phones and tablets, and today google claims around 260 million users-that’s a lot of email.

Gmail also pioneered features we’d now like to see in other email clients, including messages grouped together in conversations, the priority inbox that selects the emails you are likely to want to read, and suggested contacts to copy on to messages that appear as you compose. It remembers people without you having to add them to your contacts, and is unusually adept at wedding out spam, too.

How google does this is not without controversy. Gmail, after all, introduced the concept of contextual advertising, whereby adverts are served at you within the message pane that relate to the content of your messages. This led to some commenters decrying google for ‘reading private emails’. The reality is that if you don’t want to google to know what you’re writing, you probably shouldn’t use gmail.

You could make a similar point about all cloud computing: by  placing your data on someone else’s servers, you have to put your trust in that third party. In this, as in many other aspects, google’s mail service pre-empted the move toward the cloud that is today reshaping the personal-computing landscape.

Apple ipod

Description: iPod

Launched in 2001, apple’s ipod wasn’t the first portable digital music player to hit the market. But you know that a product has passed into legendary status when people who would normally run a mile from anything resembling cutting-edge technology start lecturing you about how great it is.

The ipod rapidly devoured the nascent digital music industry, and then spread the word the world over so that terms ‘ipod’ and ‘mp3 player’ became one and the same, and digital became the way to access your tunes. Apple even convinced some people that leaky, poor-quality white headphones were a fashion statement. What would every other tech company give for some of that magic?

What made the ipod such as a success is classic apple. Out of the box ipod are easy to use, and great to look at. Other mp3 player were unreliable, messing up track listing and duplicating songs, and horrible to use, requiring you to squint at a two-tone screen and fiddle about with tiny buttons to navigate. Apple solved these problems by moving the means of administering the portable device to you windows pc or Mac, via itunes, and introducing the ipod scrollwheel-one of many interface innovations that have given the house that jobs built an enviable reputation for intuitive design. And, crucially, apple didn’t release the ipod until all the elements were ready for a good out-of-the-box experience.

Subsequent to the first ipods, apple has introduced flash storage and touchscreens, over-the-air updates, games and video. That the ipod is success can be seen in the stratospheric sales figures and market share it has enjoyed, as well as the commercial and critical success of later product lines such as the ipad and iphone. But the reason it’s so great and other digital music players of the time weren’t can best be summed up thus: when steve jobs introduced the ipod, he described the initial 5gb device as’1,000 songs in your pocket’. And with no messing about or fuss, that is exactly what it was, from day one.

Mozilla Firefox

Description: Firefox

Firefox is a great product, with a strong financial model and history of developing innovative features. But it’s chiefly famous for breaking internet explorer’s hegemony in the web-browsing world.

An open-source web browser born out of a frustration with the perceived over-commercial nature of netscape, Firefox made its debut in november 2004. Initially far from a success, the mozilla foundation’s browser began to turn a corner when version 1.5 appeared a year later. Firefox 1.5 was stable and represented a viable alternative to other web browsers.

Of course, just being different would never be enough to guarantee success, but Firefox’s developers successfully introduced a string of innovations only later seen in other browsers. Tabbed browsing was popularised by Firefox, as were extensions and add-ons.

Indeed, these latter features-mini software programs that allow the user to customise their web browser-were crucial to Firefox’s success. While other browsers shipped with all functionalities bolted on, making them feel bloated in a still partially dialup world, Firefox was a lean, mean fighting machine. If you wanted to add a feature, the chances were someone had written an extension that met your needs.

Thus, as the internet became the primary computing tool for most users, many found that Firefox allow them opportunity to create a bespoke window on that world. And because cybercriminals tend to attack the lowest-hanging fruit, ie was more frequently targeted.

Mozilla funds its browser via search, feeding from the crumbs that drop from google’s table, and doing very nicely thank you. Every time you use the search bar at the top of the browser window, or search from the Firefox home page, mozilla gets a fraction of the revenue generated by google (or other search provider). Tiny amounts of cash this may be, but Firefox has around a quarter of the world’s web-browser market, and it quickly adds up- Firefox 3.0 was downloaded 8 million times on its first day of release, for instance.

Chrome is catching up with Firefox in terms of market share, as google’s browser claims the stripped-down, lightweight moral high ground (and google’s marketers push their own product). Truth be told, more recent iterations of mozilla’s Firefox browser have started to feel a little bloated, and the increased release cycle may represent a product getting old. But the story of Firefox is a story of innovation, and a great product winning massive market share almost by word of mouth alone.

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