Boies for IT bloke of the year

When I discovered Time was making its choice for person of year this week I thought I'd better get in first and reveal mine (for IT Person of the Year), so that if we'd picked the same person I couldn't be accused of being a copy-cat.

Time magazine likes to pick a person of the year and is naming its choice for 2000 this week. In the lead up to revealing its choice it's been running an interactive game on its website that allows visitors to make their selection for this -- sometimes dubious -- honour (past recipients have included Hitler and Stalin). I played the game and based on answers to a series of questions like which generation (internet, TV or radio) you'd make your choice from, and what their favourite movie would be (I said Bambi), I ended up selecting Shawn Fanning.

He's the 20-year-old college dropout who founded Napster, which landed itself in hot water with the music industry for inventing the internet's killer app, free music. Not a bad choice, I thought, considering I hadn't consciously sought to honour an IT person. But not very scientific, either, since the only questions I answered were the two mentioned above (needless to say "internet generation" was my answer to the first question).

When I discovered Time was making its choice public this week I thought I'd better get in first and reveal mine (for IT Person of the Year), so that if we'd picked the same person I couldn't be accused of being a copy-cat. The likelihood that Computerworld and Time would endorse the same individual would once have been remote. But with all the excitement dot-comminess has been generating in the mainstream media this year, there's a fair chance we could be fishing in the same candidate pool. As it turns out, I've picked a lawyer, not a technology innovator. (If Time names the same man, I hereby accuse it of stealing my idea.)

I reckon the person who's had the biggest impact on IT this year (and he's not finished yet) is David Boies, the lawyer who acted for the US government in its successful anti-trust suit against Microsoft. With those proceedings bogged down in the appeals process, Boies moved on. He ended up at Napster, which, like the rest of the world, had witnessed him in action against Microsoft, and figured he'd be the right man to defend it against the music titans. His success or otherwise in that case is still up in the air as I write this, with no date known by when a federal appeals court would rule on an injunction stopping Napster from trading.

In the meantime, Boies moved on to the next court drama, this time taking up the cudgel on behalf of the Democrats in their fight to keep the White House.

In a curious twist of fate, the outcome of those proceedings could help determine the fate of Boies' attempt to bust up Microsoft. Some pundits reckon a George "Dubya" Bush Justice Department would be inclined to reopen settlement talks with Microsoft, and less likely to challenge a ruling overturning the pending judicial order to split the company. Others say the process is too far advanced for Bush to have any influence.

Maybe it's fear that the former view might prevail that motivated Boies to throw his lawyerly weight behind Democrat efforts to win the election for Al Gore. On the other hand, he might merely be addicted to the enormous exposure he gets by being declared Computerworld's IT Person of the Year. On the third hand (sub-editors, can I have three?), he's probably just in it for the money.

Whatever the outcome of his involvement in these three cases, the effects on IT are sure to continue to be felt in 2001. A worthy choice for IT Person of the Year.

To change the subject, last week's column invited suggestions of a suitable name for Telecom as it tries to become not just a New Zealand telco but an Australasian one. There were some pretty tart offerings. Popular with the judging panel (made up of those in the newsroom at the time) were MonopoCom, DingoCom and PhoANZ (my suggestion), but the favourite was OckerTel. Brandon Lynn of Auckland wins a bottle of bubbly for his creativity.

Telecom was distinctly unimpressed with another of my suggestions (no, I'm not going to repeat it; refer to last week's issue if you have to know -- and it wasn't tele.com.au). The judges, too, were unimpressed, commenting: "This entry was in extremely bad taste and the person responsible for it should wash his mouth out."

Since this is the last issue of the year, there will be no further opportunities for causing offence; but let me wish all our readers a splendid break before we resume publishing on January 22.

Doesburg is Computerworld's editor. Send email to Anthony Doesburg.

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