Longon, (OBSERVER NEWS SERVICE): 2004 was the year of Google and open source. It was also the year when the Apple iPod inherited the mantle of the Sony Walkman as the icon of a generation, IBM exited the PC business, Sun Microsystems entered its death throes, WiFi became a mainstream consumer product and demand for broadband in the UK exceeded all expectations.
It was the year when spam got out of control everywhere, the internet failed to change the course of the US presidential election, high street retailers felt the heat of online competition and when digital radio took off in the UK. And it was the year when the UK conceded that its ambitious targets for e-government were, well, unachievable.
Everywhere one looked, there was Google, the most extraordinary company of its generation. It floated on the stock market, but did so in its own sweet way, cutting out the cosy Wall Street racketeering that had characterised internet IPOs in the last boom. And despite spiteful predictions by investment bankers, the stock is doing just fine. But the flotation was the least interesting thing Google did last year. What we began to realise in 2004 is that Google is only incidentally about search. What its techies had been doing for years was creating the most powerful computing engine ever seen - that huge 100,000-machine Linux cluster in California. In 2004 we began to understand why. Of course the cluster could do searches better than anyone else. But it transpired that it can also do social networking (Orkut), email (Gmail), price comparison (Froogle), images (Google image search), hard-drive searching (Google Desktop Search), academic literature (Google Scholar), blogging (Blogger) and full-text indexing of major academic libraries - and who knows what else?
We’ve been watching the growth spurt of a giant. Google still has the sparkiness, elan and in-your-face cheekiness of its high-IQ founders. But it’s set to become a very rich and powerful company that aspires to structure all the world’s information. And as it grows and extends its tentacles into every niche of online life, it will get to know an awful lot about most of us. Under different management, and with more pressure from Wall Street, Google could turn into a nightmarish menace on a par with Microsoft.
Speaking of which, 2004 was the year when that noted monopolist ran into an institutional obstacle it could neither intimidate nor buy. The European Commission ruled that Microsoft’s bundling of its media-playing software with Windows was impermissible and ordered it to produce a version of Windows with the media player unbundled and pay a whopping fine.
Microsoft lodged an appeal and embarked on a legal road that will take years to traverse. It also applied to the EU’s Court of First Instance to have the commission’s ruling set aside pending the outcome of the appeal. The idea was that it could continue with its usual monopolistic practices while spinning out the legal battle to infinity. But the ploy has backfired: last week the court said ‘no’, so European customers will soon be seeing a version of Windows XP without the Microsoft Media Player. Who says there’s no such thing as Santa Claus?
Open Source, Open Sesame
This was also the year when open source software finally broke through on to the desktop. And the strange thing is that this didn’t happen via Linux or the free OpenOffice suite, but via the one piece of software that most people use every day: the web browser. Firefox is an elegant program that runs rings round Internet Explorer. The most important thing about it, though, are that it runs beautifully under Windows, is simple to download and free. As a result, Internet Explorer has begun to lose market share for the first time in years, and at an increasing rate: 5 per cent in the last two months.
The most depressing trend of 2004 was the apparently unstoppable rise of spam and malicious software. We’ve now had a year of anti-spam legislation in force on both sides of the Atlantic and it seems to have had little effect. The impact on individual users has been reduced by increasingly effective spam-blocking software, but that only stops the garbage reaching your inbox; it is still out there, clogging the arteries of the net. And it’s difficult to see how it will be stopped any time soon.
Even more worrying is the increasing vulnerability of the net to co-ordinated malware attacks. As more and more naive users get broadband access and hook up their unprotected PCs to the net, the probability of a massive, pre-planned and co-ordinated attack increases. And those who pooh-pooh the threat are like the folks who argued that a tsunami-warning system was not needed in the Indian ocean because the probability of a catastrophe there was very low. So if you want to have a happy and prosperous new year, keep your firewall on.
copy_paste is easy.. what? maybe _ maynobe ...whatever?