Top tech stories of 2011

Apple, Microsoft, Google and others are givens for being among the top newsmakers of 2011. Others will no doubt surprise us as we go along.

While it's so much easier to look back at the end of the year and reflect on the newsworthiness of a technology industry event than to do so as the event is happening, Network World this year is daring to make our picks for the top technology stories of the year as we go along. We'll update this article regularly -- as news dictates.

FEBRUARY

Nokia embraces WP7. Microsoft and Nokia both have a lot to lose -- and gain -- by their mobile alliance, with the Finnish handset maker deciding to adopt Windows Phone 7 as its smartphone operating system. Nokia won't abandon its own platforms, Symbian and MeeGo, yet. The company still plans to put out a "MeeGo-related" product later this year and "expects to sell 150 million more Symbian devices in the years to come," it said.

Obama 4G. President Obama aired a proposal for bringing 4G wireless broadband service to 98% of the United States within 5 years.  The plan, which would involve freeing up 500MHz of wireless spectrum over a decade, is expected to meet with plenty of questions from lawmakers and industry reps.

Mourning Olsen. Kenneth Olsen, the co-founder and longtime CEO of Digital Equipment Corp., passed away at the age of 84 on Feb. 6.  He was remembered for his scientific focus and his epic battles vs. IBM and others as DEC rose to become the No.2 computer maker in the world before eventually succumbing to competition and being acquired by Compaq.

Bring on IPv6. The Internet ran out of IPv4 address space in early February when the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority assigned two of the remaining blocks of IPv4 addresses - each containing 16.7 million addresses - to the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre.  This action sparked an immediate distribution of the remaining five blocks of IPv4 address space, with one block going to each of the five Regional Internet Registries. Now that IPv4 addresses are gone, Internet policy makers will be ratcheting up the pressure on network operators to migrate quickly to IPv6.

JANUARY

Egypt shuts down. Egypt's shutdown of the Internet and cell phone networks in an effort to diffuse protests against the government not only burned free speech advocates around the world, but it cost the country's economy at least $90 million, according to one report.  It also raised the specter of an Internet "kill switch" being put into the U.S. President's hands.

Google go-round. Google announced in January that it was shaking up top management, with longtime CEO Eric Schmidt becoming executive chairman and co-founder Larry Page taking hold of the CEO reins all in the name of streamlining the company's top-level decision making.   It's hard to argue that Schmidt, in coming to Google from Novell in 2001, didn't make one of the greatest career moves in the history of history.

Verizon+Apple, at last. Following month after excruciating month of rumors, Verizon and Apple finally got together in January and announced that the iPhone would be coming to Verizon's network in February.   Surveys backed up the notion that there was much pent up demand for the iPhone  on an network other than AT&T's, which has been criticized by many for dropping too many iPhone calls.  The Daily Show host Jon Stewart said the news put an end out our long national iPhone nightmare.

Steve Jobs takes leave. While almost everything seems to be going right for Apple, the health of its CEO Steve Jobs has been a constant concern. Jobs announced in January that he would be taking a leave of absence for medical reasons and that COO Tim Cook would be handling day-to-day operations in his stead.

Microsoft, Muglia part ways. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer ousted Bob Muglia as head of the company's Server and Tools Business, Windows Server 2008 generally gets high marks from customers, but Microsoft is still trying to prove itself in the virtualization and cloud markets, and it was the cloud computing area in particular where Ballmer focused in explaining the move. In February, Microsoft named Muglia's replacement: Satya Nadella, who led the company's technical efforts to launch its Bing search engine.

Apple's latest app store. It turns out that the appeal of app stores isn't  just for smartphone and tablet computer users. Apple's Mac App Store hit the 1 million download mark on its first day upon opening in January. The opening wasn't without hitches, as a piracy vulnerability was spotted early on.  Meanwhile, Apple hit the 10 billion app download mark on its earlier App Store about a week after the Mac App Store opened.

LTE everywhere. AT&T at CES formally announced its plans to launch LTE services during the summer of 2011.  AT&T also announced that it would be launching around 20 different "4G devices" this year, although many of those devices will actually run on its 3G HSPA+ wireless network. Much like rival carrier T-Mobile, AT&T refers to both the LTE and HSPA+ wireless standards as "4G" technologies even though HSPA+ is most widely considered a faster and more reliable version of the 3G GSM-based HSPA standard. Separately, Verizon at CES showed off 10 LTE devices it would be selling in the first half of 2011.  This followed Verizon's launch of LTE networks in December, 2010.

CES tablet-mania:  The Apple iPad assault ramped up at the annual CES gadgetfest  in Las Vegas in January as Acer, Dell, Lenovo, LG, Motorola, NEC and others introduced Windows or Android tablet computers.  RIM showed off its PlayBook tablet, Google previewed its tablet-optimized Android 3.0 software and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer talked up his company's mobile plans, including ARM support for Windows .

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IDG News Service contributed to this story.

Follow Bob Brown on Twitter.

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