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Seven trends to watch

Here are a few impending technology developments we hope you can take to the bank.

January is a time of looking ahead, and in recent years ComputerUser has used the first of the year to try to forecast what technology consumers can expect in the coming 12 months. Tech predictions are notorious for their hit-and-miss quality–where are those flying cars we were promised, anyway?–but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few forecasts that won’t look prescient in a year. We hope these are a few impending technology developments you can take to the bank.

Spam regulation: Online marketing will continue to grow, but so will diligence when it comes to following anti-spam regulations. Small businesses who rely on e-mail pitches will have to find the middle ground between the ability to reach customers and the rights of individuals to receive only personal e-mails. As a result, business and private e-mail will have to learn to live together, just as in the direct-mail market. Services like Reachon.com’s National Unsubscribe Email List (included with its Contact Management application) will let small businesses send opt-in promotional messages, while receiving real-time reports on opens, e-mail statistics, metrics average opens, and success analysis.

Telematics: Telematics is most widely known as the technology that wirelessly connects the electronics in a vehicle to connect to external hardware, usually GPS satellites. The role of telematics is set to expand to allow music to download directly to a car stereo through a wireless broadband connection. In fact, the Consumer Electronics Association predicts that the future of telematics lies in entertainment–TV, movies, and games piped into the car wirelessly.

Rich-media technology: Rich media collaboration technologies are on the front burners of many a tech giant, and for good reason. Products like IBM’s WebSphere and Microsoft’s Live Communication Server are poised to bring IM, e-mail, voice, and Web conferencing to the desktop. Along similar lines, look for the highest-profile collaborative technology, video conferencing, to come into its own.

Multifunction peripherals: The print industry is seeing consumers move away from standalone copiers, printers, scanners and fax machines to all-in-one multifunction products (MFPs). Consolidating old office equipment into a single networked device can reduce supply and repair costs, while the advanced features of better MFPs (and be warned, they’re not all created equal) can make employees more productive. MFPs can process numerous printing jobs while allowing other users to scan and fax documents simultaneously, and their footprints are teeny compared to those of their bulky ancestors.

Secure digital archiving: If you work in the public sector, you know that document management isn’t as simple as keeping neat files anymore. Security- and compliance-related requirements mean that law firms, hospitals, government offices, and other highly regulated businesses often need to document the information they generate. So do their subcontractors, and that could mean you. More businesses with liability concerns will make sure that what’s generated by their computers–as well as networked printers, fax machines, and other connected equipment–have reliable, secure digital archiving capability.

Open source for home and for work: Linux and Windows are playing nice together on desktops; consumers are migrating away from traditional operating systems in droves, more and more software is being distributed with source code intact–the age of open source is upon us. Don’t be surprised if soon you’re contracting someone to custom-write your company’s software–or, perhaps, even doing it yourself.

Digital media servers: Media servers contain a hard disk drive used for storing digital media and distributing it to other devices in the home. With more than half of U.S households expected to have home networks by 2008, the infrastructure for these super-jukeboxes is quickly becoming established. As the details (product interconnectivity, bandwidth capacity, copyright issues) are worked out, look for one machine to be the storehouse for your digital photos, movies, and music.

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