<IT WORLD> For better or for worse
By Martin J Young
HUA HIN, Thailand - The year in science and technology has seen the movers and
shakers, the innovators, record breakers and the headline makers of the IT
world. In a summary of 2008 tech news, we look at the highs and lows, the
lawsuits and the takeovers, the new products, the best sellers and those left
floating away in cyberspace.
saw good results for Apple and Google, both companies enjoyed higher stock
value on the back of increasing their market share helped by popular products
such as the iPhone and Google's ever-increasing and varying enterprises.
Microsoft on the other hand still struggled to persuading people to drop
Windows XP and adopt Vista operating system - and nothing much
changed throughout the year on that front.
AMD started the year with bench test results from quad core Phenom processors,
aiming to release more in the first quarter, while Intel, which had already won
the 45-nanometer race, kept pushing out more-powerful Penryn CPUs.
AOL killed off the iconic Netscape web browser and Bill Gates announced the end
of his time at the helm of the world's largest software company, Microsoft, at
the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The vast array of gadgets and
gizmos on display at the CES attracted over 140,000 people. Macworld also
turned heads in January with the introduction of the MacBook Air, an ultra thin
laptop from Apple.
marked the start of Microsoft's courtship of Yahoo with an initial takeover bid
of US$44.6 billion. Naturally Google flapped and unleashed a somewhat
hypocritical tirade towards the software company about monopolization, with the
giant of the Internet search business worried about its already substantial
(over 60%) slice of the online advertising market share being lost to
competitors. Yahoo rejected the initial offer of $31 per share.
The DVD format war came to an abrupt end when Toshiba pulled the plug on its
HD-DVD technology, paving the way for rival Sony to monopolize on the standard
with its Blu-ray format.
Pakistan made the headlines by managing to block most of the rest of the world
from viewing YouTube video clips, in particular chunks from a European
documentary on Islam. Initially attempting to censor content deemed offensive
to the religion, the government inadvertently misled web servers across the
globe, causing them to route all Internet traffic destined for the popular
video sharing website back to them.
Pack 1 for Windows Vista caused a slew of problems when installed via the
Internet on people's computers in March. The big download contained 573 bug
fixes and all of the patches released since the operating system went on sale
in early 2007.
Google got into trouble by photographing US military bases for its Street View
application. The Pentagon took a close look at what the search giant had been
up to and banned the all-seeing Google camera van from entering military
installations. An outcry erupted over perceived threats to privacy as people
started seeing their faces on Google's website after being snapped by the
intrusive roving eye.
AMD and Intel continued their CPU supremacy battle by rolling out new
multi-core processors. AMD fired away with the triple core Phenom and Intel
announced a new tiny, low-powered Atom processor for mobile devices.
Internet advertising domination battle continued in April with all three major
players, Microsoft, Yahoo and Google, getting into the fray. Microsoft
threatened a board takeover should Yahoo keep rejecting its advances and Google
agreed to an ad share partnership with Yahoo to boost revenue for both
companies. Other contenders including Rupert Murdoch's News Corp and AOL
April was Apple's month to spit the dummy as a small Miami-based company
offered low-cost computers running OS X Leopard via their website. The
custom-built $400 computers were set up using software emulation so that Mac OS
X would run on generic hardware. The Apple equivalent machine would have cost
China surpassed America as having the world's largest Internet population, with
221 million users.
saw the first week of sales of what was probably the biggest game of the year -
Grand Theft Auto 4. With over $500 million in sales in that first week the
adult-themed cult action game made more than Hollywood's top blockbusters.
Nintendo boosted popularity of its revolutionary Wii console with a fitness
game. The motion-detecting hand and foot interfaces set the Wii apart from
rivals Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and Nintendo looked set to dominate the
market with this and many other releases for the innovative console.
Microsoft released Service Pack 3 for XP and promised to continue support for
the diehard operating system. As problems with the software patch continued to
be reported, conspiracy theories clamed this was an intentional effort to get
users to abandon XP and switch to Vista. Microsoft claimed Vista was a success,
with over 140 million licenses sold since the beginning of 2007. Looking
forward, the company demonstrated Vista's replacement, Windows 7, at the
Computex 08 trade fair in Taiwan.
The Microsoft-Yahoo saga took a new turn with billionaire investor Carl Icahn
purchasing an estimated 50 million Yahoo shares with the aim of forcing the
board to accept Microsoft's offer. Advertising partnerships were discussed but
little came of them, and the relationship started to grow cold.
While Google's camera vans continued to trundle around the world, Viacom sued
the company for a $1 billion for copyright infringement over videos uploaded
onto YouTube. Google countered by claiming Viacom's actions threatened
information exchange over the Internet.
saw Apple go from strength to strength as its iPhone, launched this month last
year, kept selling like hot cakes. The company's announcement of a new 3G
iPhone to be sold in 22 more countries helped to boost their sales and stock
Mozilla broke the world record for most downloads in 24 hours when it launched
the third iteration of the popular web browser Firefox. The tally was close to
8 million on download day and company servers felt the strain as fans from
across the globe went online to get Firefox 3. The browser continued to eat
away at the market share of Microsoft's dominant Internet Explorer.
An Internet shakeup by web regulator ICANN (the Internet Corporation for
Assigned Names and Numbers) caused domain-name chaos as it voted for virtually
unlimited extensions that marked the end of dot.com dominance. The new names,
however, were available only to large corporations and those with deep pockets,
so were pretty much useless to anyone else using the Internet.
Bill Gates handed the reigns of Microsoft and the company's chief executive
post to Steve Ballmer, a long-planned move but one happening as the global
economy started to look increasingly fragile.
was ordered to hand over huge amounts of data from YouTube archives to Viacom,
which won its copyright lawsuit brought earlier in the year. The 12 terabytes
of data contained all video clips ever removed from the site and all user's
login and IP information - upsetting privacy advocates.
Apple's 3G iPhone went on sale in July and the company's servers went down as
buyers tried to register the thing and download applications online.
The big players in the gaming industry cranked out their new ideas at the E3
conference in Los Angeles in July. Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo all showcased
new offerings for their Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii games consoles. All
three now offer an interactive online service through which subscribers can
login to virtual worlds and meet other gamers. These may be the foundations of
the future of gaming and online entertainment.
Facebook had a facelift, Google introduced a Wikipedia-type service and Yahoo
again rejected more wooing from Microsoft.
dominated tech stories in August, with deep interest on the extent of press and
Internet freedom the government would allow amid coverage of the Olympic Games.
Little change was noted as another layer of bricks was added to the top of
China's great firewall.
Virtual warfare raged in Georgia, alongside the real thing, as the country came
under fire from Russian hackers during the short armed conflict between the two
countries. Government and the president's websites were attacked and defaced,
pointing to the likelihood that cyberspace will be an important battleground in
Intel introduced the brand name of their new processors, the Nehalem or Core i7
chips, to be manufactured on 45nm technology and have multiple cores. Google
joined the telecoms market with the Gphone powered by "Android" software.
Microsoft generated more publicity over its highly anticipated next iteration
of Windows which was uninspiringly named "Windows 7". A few new functions such
as touch screen capabilities were boasted but the overall impression seemed to
be that it would be more of a Vista 2 release than a wholly new operating
demonstrating its determination not to lose ground in any market, took a step
further towards total Internet domination in September with the release of its
own web browser named Chrome. The browser-come-web-platform touted a few new
features but generally seemed to be a combination of IE and Firefox in Google
packaging. Google also offered the first glimpses of its new smartphone to be
developed by Taiwanese company HTC and promoted by US mobile-phone carrier
Fear of the end of the world grew in September as boffins at the European
Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) fired up the world's largest particle
accelerator in the world to recreate the beginning of the universe. Fears and
hopes both spluttered, as the thing quickly broke down and was packed up for
The global financial crisis began to squeeze tech companies and their
employees, as Yahoo, Hewlett Packard and Nvidia all slashed jobs. Yahoo also
came under fire from the European Union, where the monopoly overseers found the
company's advertising deal with Google anti-competitive.
China launched its third manned space mission this month. Astronauts undertook
the country's first spacewalk - or, as it turned out, space-cling given their
reluctance to lose contact with the spaceship. India followed in October with
the launch of a lunar probe.
experts discovered a vast Internet and communication surveillance system in
China, though this came as little surprise from a country that invests more
than any other on information control and censorship.
AMD started producing its 45nm processors, lagging a year behind rival Intel.
Technology played a huge part in the US election campaign as it drew towards
its November 4 conclusion. The Barack Obama camp embraced the Internet with
campaign ads in online games and pages on social networking websites. Obama was
the first candidate to reach out to a younger generation via video games - his
success ensures he he won't be the last.
The big Apple got bigger as iPhone and Macintosh sales climbed and the
company's online App Store notched up more than 200 million downloads. Apple
did sink below the expectations of many with a number of somewhat childish
advertising campaigns mocking rival Microsoft.
computing was the rage in November as Microsoft and Google battled it out with
their concepts for the future of data management. Both companies expect data to
be stored and manipulated online and off the computer desktop in coming years
and both are developing platforms to facilitate that change.
The second half of 2008 saw some important events in the world of Internet
security. Microsoft announced a new anti-virus and security suite called Morro
to be made freely available next year. The software replaces the company's
current subscription-based offering and takes aim at rivals Symantec and Trend
Micro. More bugs, spyware, viruses and net-nasties continued to plague people's
computers throughout the year. There is little prospect of that changing in
Yahoo chief executive and co-founder Jerry Yang said he would step down from
the helm of the pioneering Internet company, a move that has been seen as the
likely result of a failure by Yahoo to come to a agreement to be bought by
continued to advance its satellite technology and mapping services in December
with plans to launch a more powerful satellite that can take far higher
resolution images by 2012 - despite the company's Street View service
continuing to come under heavy fire for privacy violation.
Market research showed the biggest drop in market share for Microsoft's Windows
in 15 years. Its Internet Explorer browser also fell to new lows in popularity,
primarily due to security flaws. The winners of the year have been Mozilla's
Firefox, Apple's iPhone and the never ending list of ventures from Google.
The gaming industry was also on a winner this year with ground breaking
releases, heated competition between rival console makers, and more people
turning to video games as the credit crunch squeezes wallets. The industry is
set to get stronger into 2009 as others in the technology sector feel the
Tech headlines from 2008 have been dominated by Microsoft's takeover bids for
Yahoo, Google's ever expanding empire, innovative devices, engineering and
technology from Intel, AMD, Apple and Nintendo and more competition from all of
these players, which will continue to battle it out into 2009. The winners will
be the likes of us, the consumers, who will have a greater choice, more
competitive pricing and better technology in our hands. We'll be there to cover
it all on IT World so have a high-tech holiday season and see you in 2009.
Martin J Young is an Asia Times Online correspondent based in Thailand.