2001: The Year in Review

At this time of year, our thoughts turn to the coming year and what might be. With the turkey dinners of the holidays now seeming like a distant memory and the New Year just past, we begin to look forward rather than back. But before we get to the New Year’s parties and resolutions, (that are made to be broken,) there’s still time to take a look back at the year that’s gone by.

There was certainly no shortage of news in 2001. As the world dusted itself off from the New Year celebrations of 2001, the day dawned on a different IT world that that which had gone before. Whereas 2000 had been a year of back-slapping over surviving Y2K, the beginning of 2001 found an IT industry in which troubled companies were already laying off workers in significant numbers. It was a theme that was to continue throughout the year. With each passing week technology companies, not just .com’s, lowered expectations, laid off workers and closed their doors. By the end of the year, the number of IT related job losses was being quoted in the tens of thousands, and the list of companies that had gone under made for very poor reading. As the months went by, more .com names feel by the wayside with some sites even providing a tally of those that were gone.

For those companies that did survive, the news was not that much better. With venture capital investment almost non-existent in comparison to previous years, IPO’s were delayed, rescheduled or cancelled in the hopes of a more welcoming business environment. The upturn didn’t show and the result was that companies of all sizes from giants like Cisco to the Web hosting company in your backyard were laying off staff in vast numbers. Some forecast that by Q4 things would be looking up, but no-one could have factored in the events of September 11th which sent everything for a loop and left people considering more than just their withered 401k. As the end of the year approached, in financial terms, most of the damage had been repaired and stocks had climbed back to pre 9/11 levels.

From a more technical perspective, the release of Windows XP was, without doubt, the event of the year or at least that’s what we were told. Shortly after the events of September 11th, Bill Gates teamed up with Rudy Giuliani to introduce Windows XP to the world. The release seemed to take on an extra significance, a mood of defiance surrounding the release event, which took place in Times Square, with Bill citing the location of the release as proof that New York was still a city where things happened.

If anything the release and its location seemed to remind people that there were things in life far more important than a new PC OS.

For Microsoft, unfortunately, the post release debate centered more on the product registration mechanisms of the new OS rather than any of its other features. Still, it wasn’t an issue for long as cracks for the product registration system appeared all over the Internet within a few days.

Also new on the OS front was the release of Mac OS X. Built on a Unix based foundation and sporting a new front end that had people ooh’ing and aah’ing from the beginning, OS X delivered the promise of great things to come with over 20,000 applications being under development at the time of release.

Still in the PC arena, early in September the PC industry appeared to be caught off guard when Hewlett Packard announced that it was to buy PC making rival Compaq for $25 billion in shares. The merger, which is now being vigorously discouraged by members of the Hewlett family, would make for a formidable force in the PC market. The proposed merger was an interesting diversion for the PC industry, which had one of its worst years in memory. Sales were down across the board and the prices of new PC’s dropped in an effort to compensate. This was good news for the consumers who were able to get their hands on desktops and laptops for prices they never thought they see, but shareholders looked on in desperation for exactly the same reason.

The drop in price most likely had a hand in the increasing sales of laptop systems, which once again gained throughout the year on their deskbound counterparts. The increasing sales of portables is a recurring trend which, research suggests, will see one in four PC sales being a notebook within just a few short years.

Another major happening was the release back in May of Intel’s new Itanium processor. The 64-bit processor heralded a new era in personal computing. Not surprisingly, AMD are not far behind and will not be too upset at the fact that the Itanium is having some, shall we say, momentum problems at this point. The lack of compatible 64-bit OSs has done little to spur interest in the Itanium to date, but upcoming releases and a brighter economy might remedy some of the Intel’s problems.

In October, Novell released NetWare 6 to the world, though in typical Novell style, the only ones who actually got to hear about it was their PR agency and the Novell technical community – in other words the very people who didn’t need to be told. Still, the revamped OS picked up its fair share of awards within the first few months including a ‘Best of Comdex award’, won at a more low-key event than in many years. The accolades heaped on NetWare 6 displeased some at Microsoft who thought they had tamed that shrew, and so they started poking holes in it. Novell’s reaction was to launch a campaign called why they lie. According to Novell, Microsoft’s claims were not truthful. Interesting.

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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