Major announcements from Google, Microsoft and Apple in the last few weeks have techies flipping out about the awesomeness coming to our browsers, pockets, and desktops in the very near future. Strap on your jetpacks; let's take a look.
Google Wave is the one item on this list whose reading on the SQUEE-o-meter is off the charts. The ambitious new messaging platform sets out to reinvent email for the modern web. Google Wave rolls email, wikis, instant messaging, blog-style commenting, revision history and version control, collaborative document-editing, and a whole lot of Ajax magic into a single app that just might someday subsume email and other fragmented messaging and collaboration products.
Thanks to the new HTML 5 standard support in modern browsers, Wave offers live as-your-recipient-types updating to messages and documents in your browser, wave revision playback, live collaboration on a single wave (as in, you can watch the cursors of your co-workers typing away on your screen while you work), and smart contextual spellcheck that knows you meant "Iceland is an island" when you type "Icland is an icland." If you haven't already watched the hour-plus video demonstration of Google Wave (and don't want to invest the time), check out the highlight reel.
Like Gmail and Google Maps did, Wave will set the bar for web applications even higher, and change our expectations about what's possible in the browser on our desktop and on the handset. Since it's not yet in the wild, it's hard to say what Wave uptake and use will be like; likely early adopters will lead the way but that at first it will feel strange and almost too-powerful.
Google Wave is in an early, invite-only Preview now, but will be available to the public "later this year". Like Firefox, Chrome, and Android, Wave is open source and extensible. The Wave server you will use is also not necessarily hosted by Google—you or your organisation could install a copy on your own server.
Windows is making a much-needed comeback from the flop that was Vista, and it's called Windows 7. Sure it's cool to knock Microsoft for past sins, and we're not saying that Windows 7 is the end-all and be-all of all operating systems—but it's a marked improvement, and it's ready for the future.
Windows 7 adds visual features to your desktop that you need now as well as laying the groundwork for a tomorrow filled with multi-touch devices and tiny netbooks. Win7 is faster and smaller, able to run on a less powerful netbooks, and ready for your new touchscreen monitor or tablet. (We haven't tried Win7's multi-touch capabilities and for the record, some say that it's only half-baked so far. The road to the future is a long one.) Current widescreen and dual monitor users will love Windows 7's taskbar and Aero Peek features for multi-tasking, previewing, and managing several windows.
Windows 7 will be available in stores on October 22nd, but unlike any other item on this list, the release candidate is available as a free download right now for anyone to install and try out, no invites required. If you do, be sure to check out out our Guide to Upgrading to Windows 7 RC.
While it won't offer the same "ooh shiny!" visual makeover that Windows 7 does, Apple is also battening down the hatches and getting Mac OS X future-ready. The next version of the operating system, 10.6, is revamped, enhanced, and retuned. Snow Leopard takes up half the disk space of its predecessor, starts up and shuts down faster, and includes totally re-written default applications with 64-bit computing support which means your Mac can more efficiently address and use more memory.
Snow Leopard's also making tracks into the corporation with Microsoft Exchange support and taking a page from the iPhone book with location awareness. And not to be left behind by Windows 7's new taskbar and Aero Peek, Snow Leopard adds Exposé to the Mac Dock to make managing and clearing away windows on your desktop as easy as possible. While Snow Leopard is light on the user-facing features, here's what you will notice when you upgrade.
iPhone 3GS and the All-Out Smartphone War
Is it irritating (and hard on the wallet) that every single year there's a newer, better smartphone on the market to lust after? Yes, ma'am. Is stiff competition between companies to manufacture the tiny and powerful computer we walk around with in our pockets awesome? Yessiree. Apple still leads the smartphone pack with the iPhone (and the new iPhone 3GS unveiled this week), but the Palm Pre and HTC's line of Android phones are also in the game, and that means better phones for all of us. (Not to mention the BlackBerry, ahem - Oz ed)
When you step back and think about all the devices a good smartphone can be to us: phones, email terminals, GPS devices, e-book readers, iPods, cameras, video capture and editing devices, and pretty much anything else an app can make them, it blows the mind. Like Snow Leopard, the iPhone 3GS is light on the features (save the better camera and compass) but heavy on the speed and performance increases. Expect this war to rage on, and spawn even more devices. (Mac tablet, anyone?)
What does it all mean?
The major trends across all these products is creating a faster and slicker cloud and local desktop experience. (New browsers like Chrome and Safari 4 also capitalise on the "faster leaner meaner" sell as well.) Evolved standards (like HTML 5), more powerful hardware support (64-bit architectures) as well as portable devices like netbooks and touchscreens are all signposts along the way. Location-awareness continues to show itself on desktops and smartphones, and extensibility (whether it's a smartphone app store or open-source extension) all means we're in for a super-fun ride in the next couple of years.
What upcoming bits of hardware and software are the stuff of your dreams? Which ones are the yawners? Tell us about it in the comments.
Gina Trapani, Lifehacker's founding editor, is wearing her "the future's so bright" shades. Her feature Smarterware appears every Wednesday on Lifehacker.