Four tech notions that need a fresh start in 2014

The end of the year always brings out the best intentions. Out with the old bad habits, in with the new. To that end, here are some fresh starts worth embarking on January 1:

The NSA/privacy: Revelations accusing the U.S. government of snooping on well, everyone, and companies allegedly cooperating in that personal data gathering seem to trickle in every day with no signs of slowing down in the new year. We can’t really put the genie back in the bottle, but at least we’ll be a little more educated about the issue 2014.

Microsoft: The Redmond giant’s enterprise business is doing just fine. But the consumer side needs some work. The Surface tablet is a dud (my colleague, Kevin Tofel, was thankful his firmware update failed — not a good sign), Windows Phone is still not a major player and the Xbox One rollout hit some bumps (along the way to selling more than a million units upon its debut). Steve Ballmer’s exit this year will bring in new blood and hopefully some new energy — and at least we can all stop talking about who Microsoft’s next CEO will be and the company can focus on business.

Smart watches: Not since Christopher Walken’s speech in Pulp Fiction has so much time been spent talking about watches. Speculation that Apple (s APPL) would release a smart watch earlier this year fueled a timepiece frenzy. Apple’s no-show notwithstanding, Pebble released its crowdfunded chronometer, Samsung gave us the Gear and Google is supposedly getting into the game. Despite all that, we still haven’t hit the sweet spot with a watch that provides a useful extension of our notification-filled lives. Though that’s shaping up to change over the coming year.

Smart homes: My colleague Stacey Higginbotham thinks 2014 will not be the year the smart home goes mainstream. There is tons of promise in the sensor filled, connected home of the future, but first we need standards, not a raft of competing radio signals: Zigbee, Z-wave, Wi-fi, Bluetooth, etc. People just want to plug stuff in and use it, so let’s spend the next year getting that straightened out.