Year in review 2014

8 significant software releases of 2014

software releases

Year in review 2014

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We looked back at the multitude of software releases in 2014, and selected ones that made an impact. Many of these could continue to transform the tech industry into 2015 and beyond.

1. Facebook Messenger

Facebook Messenger

Why it’s significant: Facebook’s mobile app dropped its messaging component.

Currently, when you’re using a smartphone or tablet and want to send a message or chat with your Facebook friends, you cannot do so through the main Facebook app -- you have to use a separate app. This annoyed many Facebook users (several refusing to install Facebook Messenger), but the social network behemoth hasn’t relented. It’s plausible that the Facebook developers did this to keep their main app streamlined, but more likely they wanted to help ensure that their service will be used over competing messaging apps.

2. Cortana 

Cortana

Why it’s significant: Microsoft launches a personal voice assistant for their own OS platforms.

Included as a feature of Windows Phone 8.1 and similar to Google Now and Siri, Cortana lets you search by speaking to your device. Cortana can also be told to perform commands, like sending a message; and it automatically updates information relevant to you throughout your day, such as flight, local weather, or traffic information. What’s interesting is that Cortana is expected to be included in Windows 10. This would put it in direct competition with Google Now, since Google has been adding features from its personal voice assistant into the Windows version of Chrome.

3.  Netflix on Linux (unofficially)

Netflix on LInux

Why it’s significant: A DRM-locked video streaming service becomes available on Linux

Netflix came to Linux, though not officially. It was discovered that you can use the popular streaming video service on certain distributions of the open-source OS (e.g. Arch, Gentoo, Ubuntu) through the latest beta of Chrome for Linux. That’s because this browser has the code to play DRM-protected video.

4. Android apps running in Chrome OS (and Chrome browser) 

Android on Chromebook

Why it’s significant: Apps can be written to run on either Android or Chrome.

Google released a few apps that are cross-compatible between Android and Chrome OS. Based on this, hackers then figured out how to make other Android apps work on the Chrome browser, and even provided tools to help users see if their favorite Android app could work in Chrome (many apps won’t). It’s not clear what the practical uses are for running an Android app in Chrome OS/Chrome, but it is a cool technical trick.

5. iOS 8 

ios 8 logo

Why it’s significant: Bugs in the new iOS discourage iPhone and iPad owners from updating.

An OS update wouldn’t normally warrant much significance, but iOS 8 made this list for unfortunate reasons: There were enough bugs in its first and second releases to cause many glitches for older iPhone and iPad models and even the new iPhone 6 line. At one point, the new OS was installed on less than half of iOS devices almost a month into its release, suggesting that iPhone and iPad owners were avoiding it due to these issues.

6. Photoshop on Chromebook 

Photoshop logo

Why it’s significant: Photoshop goes online.

The industry-standard image editing application came to Chromebooks, but available only for students and others using Chromebooks and Adobe Creative Cloud with an educational license. Still, this opened speculation that because Photoshop as an online app exists, it should work on other modern web browsers regardless of operating system (including Linux). The hope is that the general public could be allowed to access this version of Photoshop in 2015.

7. Windows 10 Technical Preview 

Windows 10

Why it’s significant: Microsoft wants your opinion to help them make the next Windows.

Windows 10 isn’t set to premiere until the middle of 2015, but Microsoft allowed the public to download and try out the first beta for free. What was also notable is that Windows 10 Technical Preview has a feedback tool encouraging you to tell Microsoft what you think needs to be added to, or improved on, in the next Windows. The company clearly wants to avoid a repeat of the public’s negative reaction to Windows

8.  Apple Pay

Apple iPay logo

Why it’s significant: Apple could be the one to finally make the digital wallet popular.

Apple looks to have the best shot at selling their implementation of the digital wallet concept to the everyday user. Through NFC technology, Apple Pay features a dead-simple UI with a skeuomorphic look that makes it easy (perhaps a little too easy?) to use an iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPad Air 2 or iPad mini 3 as a virtual credit card. The software has built-in access to personal accounts on major banking institutions (e.g. Bank of America, Chase, Citi) and the three biggest credit card companies (American Express, MasterCard, VISA). You can instantly buy things using Apple Pay at several real-store retailers.

Wen is a freelance writer. He can be reached at howardwen@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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