Ballmer quits Microsoft
Steve Ballmer's announcement in August that he would be leaving Microsoft after more than three decades was an industry milestone but did not come as a shock. Ballmer, who will depart within 12 months of the announcement, took over as CEO from Bill Gates in 2000, leading Microsoft as revenue increased from $22.9 billion to $78 billion. Known industry-wide for his booming voice and manic exhortations at Microsoft meetings, Ballmer broadened the company's product portfolio beyond Windows and Office by, among other efforts, building up its data center, Xbox and search businesses. But Ballmer, a math-whiz Harvard classmate of Gates hired as the company's first business manager, operated under increasingly intense criticism for missing out on the mobile revolution and being outflanked by Steve Jobs as Apple soared in the consumer market with the iPod, iPhone and iPad. Microsoft's languishing share price is a sign that investors lack confidence in the company's ability to innovate under a baby boomer associated with the PC era. It will be up to Microsoft's next CEO to lead the company's transformation into a devices and services business, and ensure that its bold but controversial $7.2 billion acquisition of Nokia, announced shortly after Ballmer's resignation, is successful.
Bitcoin sparks a gold rush
Bitcoin was at once one of the most hyped and bewildering technology-related phenomena of the year. The most popular of the so-called "crypto currencies," Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer payment system devised in 2009 by a developer using the name Satoshi Nakamoto. It uses open-source cryptographic algorithms to enable transactions and create units of digital currency called bitcoins. Bitcoins are created or "mined" as computers on the network solve mathematical problems used to verify transactions. As speculators and tech faddists fueled the buzz, bitcoins skyrocketed in value from under $20 at the beginning of the year to $1,200 by December. Transactions are processed free or for low fees, and because no personal information is exchanged, are anonymous and touted as more secure than credit cards. Some of these qualities also attract criminals and when U.S. authorities shut down the Silk Road contraband website they also seized a cache of bitcoins. In early December the French central bank issued a warning about Bitcoin volatility and a China central bank ban against banks dealing in bitcoins caused the giant search engine Baidu to stop taking them as payment. The value of bitcoins plunged by more than $500 over the next 48 hours. Bitcoin's volatility presents risks that it may remain just a niche payment system for the Web and a vehicle for speculators.