2003: The news in review

This past year saw legal controversy, attempted hostile takeovers, worms, and a handful of emerging technologies

The economy grabbed a lot of headlines in 2003, but competing for space in the IT arena were lawsuits, acquisitions, security issues, and technology upgrades.

SCO vs. IBM, IT titans’ on-demand initiatives, Oracle’s attempt to buy PeopleSoft, viruses and spam, compliance, and Wi-Fi dominated the news, which also included the nascent life of utility computing, the emergence of 64-bit computing, and vendor smokescreens around real time.

Perhaps the year’s most controversial story was the landmark copyright lawsuit SCO filed against IBM. The suit claimed Big Blue violated its contract with SCO by including derivative works from SCO’s System V OS into its products. In an attempt to put the fear of God into anyone who produces Linux-based products, the company also claimed that the GNU GPL (General Public License) is invalid and that Linux violates the company’s Unix copyrights. If the lawsuit remains in court, it may not be resolved for years; industry observers, however, speculate that the matter will be settled out of court in 2004.

Despite the lawsuit, corporate and third-party developers did not steer clear of Linux development in 2003. On the contrary, Linux made measurable inroads into Microsoft’s market share on the server side. On the desktop side,  Novell acquired  SuSE Linux and Ximian Software, a systems-management software vendor.

In the enterprise application arena, IT managers did not get much substance in 2003. Rather than focus on technology, vendors instead maneuvered, consolidated, and talked a good game about integrating business processes in real time.

Oracle tried to scoop up PeopleSoft just as PeopleSoft was in the midst of scooping up J.D. Edwards. As the year winds down, both sides seem stalemated, with Oracle’s offer looking a bit more anemic and PeopleSoft’s stock holding its own.

Utility-computing visions inched closer to becoming reality — inched being the operative word. Although IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Sun Microsystems delivered products to help corporate users begin constructing a utility-style environment, many technology pieces are still missing, meaning that most users have been forced to leave utility computing on the back burner.

This past year was the year 64-bit computing on commodity servers almost came to fruition. AMD stole the show with its 64-bit Opteron, which also runs 32-bit applications without modification.

It would be irresponsible to discuss security in 2003 and not mention worms, viruses, and spam. President Bush signed the Controlling the Assault of Nonsolicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act, but observers said the bill is highly political and may never prove effective.

Security problems came in spades -- namely, Sobig and MSBlaster -- and were damaging to and time-consuming for enterprises. But the greater impact might have been on security vendors. These nagging issues, which will not disappear any time soon, have compelled vendors such as Internet Security Systems, Network Associates, Symantec, and Check Point Software to rethink strategies for addressing security at varying levels: perimeter, internal, and Web. Many vendors are now working to consolidate security functions such as firewall and virus scan into single devices or software platforms. Meanwhile, other vendors such as Sanctum and SPI Dynamics continue to focus on Web application security, an area the larger players will look at much more closely in 2004.

On the application development front, Sun intends to bring Java to the masses with the Java Studio Creator, which is similar to Visual Basic, and a formal release of J2EE 1.4, which is armed with Web services support.

Perhaps the most significant Web services management move was the release of Computer Associates’ Web services management platform, which transformed the company into a formidable player in that arena.

Microsoft delivered its eagerly awaited Windows Server 2003 and Office System 2003 suite for the desktop. The company’s IM vision also saw the light of day as Office Live Communications Server 2003, code-named Greenwich, joined IBM’s Lotus Instant Messaging and a host of other offerings in the corporate presence and IM space. Although Microsoft was late to market, its  hooks into desktop applications may be the spark plug that ignites enterprise adoption of IM.

This past year also saw government regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) take hold. Content-management, search, and infrastructure vendors strengthened records management capabilities and document-level controls to help customers comply.

As always, the storage industry trudged onward. Long-anticipated iSCSI finally arrived, allowing data to be moved over IP. Also making a strong showing was SATA (serial ATA), a drive format developed to replace parallel ATA.

Although there was not much glitter on the economic front, wireless technology sparkled a bit. Wi-Fi got two new letters added to its alphabet, 802.11a and 802.11g. During this past year, providers rolled out national 2.5G, aka GPRS, and 3G, aka 1XRT, networks and services for data.