Great tech stocks are all the same. They generate high returns because they're platforms, generating support not only from their users, but also an entire ecosystem of partners and developers.

Windows is, was, and probably always shall be the best example of a platform. Go ahead, Mac addicts, laugh. I'm no Windows fan, either. But only the Rip Van Winkles among you can deny that Windows has enjoyed an ecosystem like no technology before it.

Platforms matter because they're difficult to displace. Think of mainframes. Or, for that matter, telephony. IBM (NYSE:IBM) still sells its Big Blue Iron, and AT&T (NYSE:T) still sells local and long distance. As old as these systems are, their ecosystems -- built over decades -- protect them from extinction.

The year in platforms
Today's platforms may not enjoy the same protections, because of the tech industry's bear hug of open source systems and software. In tech, portability is the new black.

No technology has benefited more from this movement than the Web; browser-based "cloud computing" is available anywhere there's a connection. All that stands between ubiquitous data access and us is broadband penetration.

And not just for corporate data, but also for chatter. The social media revolution has produced new platforms that aggregate musings, observations, analyses, reviews, etc., and then cross-reference them with locations, affiliations, influence scores, and more. Advertising, marketing, and commerce are changing, thanks to Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

We can't be sure how long this rebellion will last. But we do know that social platforms are improving daily as developers add software "apps" to each ecosystem, building them up as they once did Windows.

So as we look ahead to 2010, my colleagues and I are thinking broadly about tech stocks that are not only attractively priced, but also attractive to third parties. Each of these five companies is creating a platform that could be built to last:

  1. Akamai (NASDAQ:AKAM)
    The leading content delivery network has 55,000 globally-connected servers that speedily deliver for Web pages, software, e-commerce data, ads, and more. Check out my take on this network ninja.
  2. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL)
    Home of the Mac and the iPhone, which now has access to more than 100,000 apps. In the battle to be the best smartphone platform, Apple is winning. Rick Munarriz explores the iEmpire's enduring appeal.
  3. Google (NASDAQ:GOOG)
    The Big G wants its own piece of smartphone pie via the Android operating system. It's also challenging Office with a suite of increasingly popular apps, including Gmail. Rick dives into Big Goo's powerhouse potential.
  4. SanDisk (NASDAQ:SNDK)
    The top dog in solid-state drives is also an intellectual property powerhouse. As more data demands better storage, the industry may rally 'round its innovations. Let Eric Jhonsa show you what drives the memory magnate.
    A platform for connecting platforms to let them share data, TIBCO could find allies that want its help building a bridge from internal networks to cloud-based software. Anders Bylund thinks the company's middleware could be a mighty moneymaker.

Which of these five will be best in 2010? We're asking you. Please read what my colleagues and I have to say, and then cast your vote in the poll below. You can also give us your best ideas using the comments box below.

Akamai and Google are Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendations. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers had stock and options positions in Apple and stock positions in Akamai, Google, and IBM at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. The Motley Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. The Fool's disclosure policy is watching the cars go by.