2001: The Year in Review, part 2

On the subject of Microsoft and its business practices, litigation was the order of the day in 2001 for the world’s largest software company. First they were to be spilt up, then they could stay together, then some states were happy, then some were not. Just when you thought that Microsoft had spent as much time in a court room as any one company could want, lawsuits were filed in December against a company called Lindows which is intending to release a new product that allows Windows applications to be run on a Linux platform. According to Microsoft, the company is attempting to trade on the reputation of the Windows product line. It was from the Microsoft vs Lindows argument that perhaps the best quote of the year came. In an interview with Reuters on the topic, Michael Robertson, CEO of Lindows.com, was quoted as saying “All I know is that I’m being sued for unfair business practices by Microsoft. Hello pot? It’s kettle on line two.”

Viruses made regular appearances in the headlines of 2001. July saw the Code Red worm wreak a degree of havoc with sites that used Microsoft’s IIS product, though the predicted mass shutdown of the Internet that the virus was forecast to cause didn’t materialize. This was largely attributed to diligent system administrators rather than the virus not spreading.

End users didn’t have it any easier. With the ‘Love Bug’ and ‘Anna Kournikova’ viruses taking advantage of peoples curiosity, it seemed like each day opening email was going to become an adventure in its own right. The cost of the virus outbreaks was calculated in the billions – 2.6 of them for Love Bug alone, in fact. The effect on the stock of anti-virus companies was not as distinct as some had expected, they too being subject to the general economic downturn.

As the season of goodwill approached, the virus writers were good enough not to forget the rest of us with an early Christmas present in the form of the Goner virus. Not content with that, they then produced a virus that circulated in e-greetings cards. On the subject of greeting cards, the Hallmark.com site, which provides free e-cards, couldn’t keep up with the demand. A sign of our increasing acceptance of such things perhaps, or an indication that budgets were even tighter than everyone had expected for the festive season?

It wasn’t all business, however. 2001 was also the year that Microsoft launched its foray into the console games market with the much anticipated Xbox. Launched mid-November and backed by a massive marketing campaign, Microsoft had sold over 1.1 million of the big black boxes by the first few weeks of December. In the run up to Christmas, supplies were short and only the very best behaved boys and girls were likely to have found one nestled among the Harry Potter paraphernalia under the Christmas tree. The good news, though, is that everyone who wants an Xbox should get one in the near future, which is more than Microsoft can say when talking about a profit for the system. They are not expected to see a cent of profit on the Xbox until 2004. Another product of note in this category was the Nintendo Gamecube. That’s all I have to say about that.

Microsoft’s hype machine for the Xbox may have been in overdrive but it was still made to eat the dust of a two wheeled scooter – codename Ginger – which was unveiled after months of speculation about what the device that would “change our lives” actually was. Coming from the UK, I can remember the same being said about a little three-wheeled recumbent electric tricycle called a Sinclair C5. Have you heard of it? I rest my case.

2001 was also the year that (some) online music moved from a free-for-all to a pay model. At the start of the year, Napster was in the process of being closed down and in December sites like pressplay.com were providing a paid service for downloads. The only problem was that in the middle peer-to-peer file sharing programs such as Kazaa, Gnutella, Limewire and AudioGalaxy were being produced at just a slightly faster rate than the lawsuits to close them down. At the end of the year a ‘friend’ of mine was still able to get a copy of the Chipmunks Christmas song from one of the free services.

With the sheer number of these file-sharing products now available, perhaps the lawyers should have taken advantage of the December 24th delivery service offered by a certain Mr S Claus. Given that he visits the homes of every boy and girl (good and bad), he might be able to keep up with the proliferation of P2P clients. That is of course if he has been able to download enough MP3’s to play on his in-sleigh entertainment system to last the round-world trip.

As for this year, hopes are high. People talk of a corner having already being turned in the economy as a whole and the industry itself is looking ahead to a more profitable and altogether more optimistic year. How long into the new annum the upturn will be remains unclear, but you can be sure of one thing. There will never be a dull year in the technology industry.

Drew Bird (MCT, MCNI) is a freelance instructor and technical writer. He has been working in the IT industry for 13 years and currently lives in Kelowna, BC., Canada..

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