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Six tech trends to watch in 2008

Phone companies are on the run, and – look out! – Apple is plunging into movies. Privacy, meanwhile, is out the window. And watch for the emerging battle of the software titans: Microsoft vs. Google.

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But when she spent a month in Turkey this past summer, I didn't pay a penny extra in phone charges thanks to Skype, an online-based "phone" service. Skype users can talk to each other all over the world for free if both use the program. (You can use Skype to call a landline, but that costs money.) Not only did we talk every day and sometimes for as long as an hour, we also got to see her while we did it – video calls are free, too.

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Do the math. No wonder phone companies are scared.

4. Social networking continues to grow.

Do you know anyone under the age of, oh, 35, who doesn't have a Facebook account or a MySpace page? (Most of the current presidential candidates do.) Not to mention the Second Life folks. Social networking will continue to grow rapidly in 2008. But I think people will tire of so many offerings and settle on one or two main places. And they'll want software that can manage their multiple online identities for them.

But smaller, more vertical social networking will flourish as well, like jango.com, which connects music fans with similar tastes or like linkpats.com, which links expatriate communities worldwide.

5. Privacy is in free fall.

You're going to have less privacy next year, that's all there is to it. I canceled my Facebook account when its operators tried to rather surreptitiously track the Web travels of its members – and even nonmembers. But the horse is already out of that barn. Advertisers are drooling at the possibility of knowing what you're doing online … all the time.

More phones have GPS locators. (About 20 percent now, 50 percent within five years.) On one hand, you'll soon see mobile features that will let you "track your friends" (more social networking). On the other hand, every time you get too close to a Macy's or Target store, you'll receive a coupon on your cellphone that is only good if you come in now. (Remember that scene of Tom Cruise walking through the mall in "Minority Report"? Something like that.)

While most of these changes will be enacted in the name of business, government agencies are just as interested. If you have an Internet account of any kind, you can be watched. Records of your online activity can be turned over to law enforcement; they don't have to tell you, and you'll have no way to stop it.

6. Google battles Microsoft for control.

One last trend, and in some ways the most consequential one: Google and Microsoft will intensify their struggle for control of your desktop software. It'll make Mac versus PC look like a walk in the park.

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