Top software for 2009

What’s in store for the software world this year?At this time of the year we’re always keen to start looking ahead at what’s in store for the software world over the next 12 months. Last year Nick made a series of bold software predictions for 2008. I have to admit most of his forecasts proved more than a little wide of the mark. The death of Skype? A miracle new free operating system? A worthy YouTube killer? Better get back to those Nostrodamus books, mate. Owing to my colleague’s failings last time round I’d thought I’d take control of the crystal ball this year, with a few predictions that I can almost guarantee happening. Here’s my top 8 programs to look out for, plus a bold prediction of my own:

1. Windows 7 – We’ve already seen the public beta of Microsoft’s latest OS and the general consensus is that Windows 7 is a darn sight better than Vista (let’s face it, that wasn’t difficult). Although it hasn’t changed much visually, the new incarnation has a lot more under the hood, making it faster and more powerful than its predecessor. Expect the full release mid-summer.

2. OS X Snow Leopard – It’s looking like 2009 could be quite an underwhelming year for Apple fans. Even the launch of version 10.6 of OS X looks set to be overshadowed by Windows 7. As with the MS operating system the changes in Snow Leopard will be largely performance-related, rather than any radical interface overhauls. According to PC World, the new OS will pounce in June.

3. Spotify – This one’s currently in invite-only beta stage, but having tried it myself, I reckon Spotify could be the best thing to happen to music since the Spice Girls split up. It’s an online radio app à la Last.fm, only without the annoying playback restrictions and overblown social networking features. There’s no word on when it will be out of beta, but my guess is a couple of months.

4. Skype 4 – While Nick was predicting doom and gloom for Skype in 2008, the product actually became an even stronger leader in its field last year. This year should see the full, finished release of Skype 4.0, which greatly improves video calling and adds cool features like SMS messaging and chat bookmarking. We should see the ‘full’ release of Skype 4.0 early this year.

5. Microsoft Office 14/Office Web – Skipping version 13 to avoid a hex on the program, MS will bring out its thirteenth Office suite to coincide with the launch of Windows 7. Details of what will be in it are sketchy at present but expect the same ribbon-style interface from Office 2007, along with the addition of more ‘role-based’ features and compliance with Office Open XML. What’s more, we’ll almost certainly see online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. The beta of Office 14 could come as early as May, with the full release arriving in the autumn.

6. Chrome for Mac – For about two days in 2008 Google’s Chrome browser seemed the most popular piece of software ever invented. Then everyone just went back to using Firefox. This year should see a more standards-compliant version of the program come out of beta stage, with the all-important support for extensions that could win over those Fox fanatics. Chrome will also hit Mac and Linux systems within the first half of 2009.

7. The Sims 3 – Personally I found living one life bad enough, so I’ve never liked the idea of having to come home and having to wash, work, eat and talk to people on my computer as well. Some people love the Sims though, and I’m sure they’ll lap up the third version in their billions. The Sims 3 promises to be more customizable than ever, with seamless ‘living’ neighborhoods and realistic personalities. It looks like EA still hasn’t taught those annoying faux humans to speak a proper language though, so I’ll be steering well clear on its February release.

8. Alan Wake – Unfortunately it looks like you’ll have to wait until the very last day of 2009 in order to play one of the most exciting-looking video games of all time. Alan Wake is a horror writer who goes to the country to get away from it all and ends up in a terrifying nightmare of his own. Judging by some of the trailers, this is a game that’ll be well worth the wait.

And finally, a slightly bolder prediction: by the end of 2009 we will be talking to our computers and telling them what to do. Google is already investing in voice recognition technology and last year delivered an impressive vocal search tool in its iPhone Mobile App. I reckon by the close of the year I will be able to provide instructions to by browser (probably Chrome), telling it what to search for and commanding it to open Web pages. Remember where you heard it first.

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