Ain't nothin' new under the sun

It's been a year of viruses, mergers, let-offs, lodgislative legjams, underwhelming product releases and repackaging of old ideas as fresh and original. And it's over already. More than anything, it's been 12 months of business as usual.

It’s been a year of viruses, mergers, let-offs, lodgislative legjams, underwhelming product releases and repackaging of old ideas as fresh and original. And it’s over already. More than anything, it’s been 12 months of business as usual.

Which isn’t to say it hasn’t been exciting. The excitement never stops when you’re producing a weekly newspaper; you’ve barely sent the last one off to the printer when it’s time to begin producing the next. That leaves little time for trying to take in the big picture. But the last issue of the year, this one, affords an excuse for looking back – briefly -- at what happened.

Business as usual isn’t meant in a pejorative sense. But a scan of our 2001 back issues fails to find a single IT disaster worthy of the name. There were casualties during the year, certainly, but nothing to compare with the Police Incis debacle of 1999; collateral damage from 2000’s dot-bomb, if anything. Among the victims you’d have to count Onezone, an attempt to establish an exchange of lab and medical supplies. If it hadn’t been for the dot-bomb reverberations, Onezone would have stood a much better chance of attracting traders and investors. As it was, the exchange’s creator, Biolab Scientific, decided to pull the plug not long after Ariba, which provided the exchange’s software, quit the country.

Auckland developer Genie Systems, whose OrderWare software was sometimes compared to Ariba, professed in April to be weathering the storm that was battering its rivals. Alas it was not to continue. By October it had succumbed, going into receivership but quickly being picked up by an Australian investor. It remains to be seen whether Genie can recover – and retain the confidence of customers, including a number overseas which were loudly publicised when signed little more than a year ago.

Mergers have featured large this year, hardly anything unusual in this industry. And according to Gartner, the phenomenon is not about to go away; if anything, it’ll become more common. In October, Gartner head Michael Fleisher predicted that half the well-known IT vendors doing business today would disappear in the next three years.

The deal whose consummation we’re all waiting for is Hewlett-Packard’s acquisition of Compaq, which makes Compaq’s own gobbling up of Digital a couple of years ago pale by comparison. This one’s far from certain, however, despite an optimistic assessment of progress offered to us over christmas drinks by local HP executives a week or so ago.

The fly in the ointment is opposition by a foundation representing Packard family interests, which owns more than 10% of the company. According to a remark during the HP christmas function, the speculation is that Compaq won’t survive if the deal isn’t done. If that’s the case, HP could save itself an awful of money – the $US25 billion asking price – by doing nothing, and letting Compaq vanish off the stage. Slim chance.

Technology deficiencies – rather than ground-breaking new products – seem to have dominated the scene this year. The most glaring deficiency of all is insecurity – viruses have spread seemingly unchecked, as their creators have exploited vulnerability after vulnerability in common email and internet software. Microsoft’s very success as the world’s biggest software supplier makes it the demon of the piece: time and again flaws in its products can be blamed for making life all too easy for virus writers.

For the rest of us, Microsoft has shipped Windows XP, which was going to give us hitherto unknown (with Windows) stability. I wouldn’t know. Two things stand between me and Windows XP: Microsoft Passport, without which one can’t use Messenger, XP’s chat program; and the unhappy upgrade experience of Computerworld's Wellington reporter Stephen Bell, whose home PC was rendered unworkable after attempting to install the upgrade. Whatever the cause of his difficulties, I’m increasingly of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” school.

Anyway, with (apparent) friends like the Junior Bush Department of Justice, Microsoft doesn’t need me to say appreciative things about its software to guarantee it continued domination of the industry. After one branch of the US justice system ordered Microsoft be broken up to pay for its monopolistic sins, another has reached a final settlement that is much milder. It will have to expose application programming interfaces and can no longer punish PC makers which elect to use non-Microsoft middleware. But Bill Gates mustn’t be able to believe what a let-off he’s had. He didn’t even have to say sorry. Who said republicans were tough on crime?

There’s been plenty else to report on during the year: the measured progress of legislation establishing the telecommunications commissioner’s office (notice how I avoided saying slow); the country’s first conviction for online defamation; the local groundswell of support for open source software; and the new battlefront of web services. We’ve also written about an idea that arose from the Knowledge Wave conference: that New Zealand exploit its remoteness and relative security by establishing itself as a safe haven for overseas organisations’ data. The funny thing about that great idea is it was first mooted in 1987. There’s nothing new under the sun.

Let’s hope the sun shines for you during the Christmas break. Thanks for reading; we’re back on January 21.

Doesburg is Computerworld’s editor. Send email to Anthony Doesburg. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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More about AribaBillBiolab (Aust)BushCompaqDepartment of JusticeGartnerGenie SystemsHewlett-Packard AustraliaHPMessengerMicrosoftTechnology

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