2002: The year in quotes

In a year awash with scandal and a steady stream of layoffs as the economy continued to stagger, we could take comfort in the certainty that fellows like Oracle Corp. Chief Larry Ellison and Sun Microsystems Inc.’s Scott McNealy would amuse us with their comments. We scribbled down what they, and various others, had to say and offer this quote retrospective:

– “Our price list was very complicated. We had all these complex matrixes. I couldn’t keep it in my head,” Oracle Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Ellison said at a January press briefing where he outlined a new pricing plan for the 11i suite.

– “The plaintiffs are not here to seek the destruction of Microsoft,” said Brendan Sullivan, the attorney representing nine states that refused to sign a settlement agreement with Microsoft Corp. in the ongoing federal antitrust case against the software maker. “The plaintiffs’ goal is to make sure Microsoft behaves properly…Microsoft has done much good in this world, but it has also acted very, very badly.” Sullivan spoke in March and by year’s end all but two states, Massachusetts and West Virginia, had decided to not appeal a decision by U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly that upheld most of the settlement agreement between plaintiff states, the U.S. Department of Justice and Microsoft.

– In lighter Microsoft news, company CEO Steve Ballmer lamented the familial turmoil caused because he keeps his calendar in Microsoft Outlook while his wife keeps hers on the MSN Web site: “I can’t just drag her calendar and drop it on my calendar and do a comparison. I want to do that, but there’s no lingua franca for the way you would do that. There’s no user interface metaphor. I want to be able to do enterprise application integration at the Ballmer family level.”

– “My initial reaction when Carly told me was, ‘You’ve got to be kidding,'” Ann Livermore, head of Hewlett-Packard Co.’s services group, recounted this year, referring to her reaction when HP Chairman and Chief Executive Carly Fiorina told her last year that HP was set to make an offer to acquire Compaq Computer Corp. “It was the last thing on my mind.”

– “Some of you came here to see me taken away in chains…but that isn’t going to happen,” open-source advocate Bruce Perens said in July at what was supposed to be a demonstration of a contested copyright protection law. Perens was going to show DVD hacking software he said was in violation of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, but his employer, Hewlett-Packard Co. impressed upon him that wasn’t such a good idea.

– In what might have been the understatement of the year, John Sidgmore said when Bernard Ebbers stepped aside as CEO of WorldCom Inc. in March and Sidgmore took over temporarily: “We’ve lost credibility with Wall Street and the press little by little over the last six months.”

“The public perception of WorldCom and the reality of WorldCom are at odds,” Sidgmore said.

A couple of months later, then-Chief Financial Officer Scott Sullivan said, “This whole financial story has gotten a little out of hand.”

Just how out of hand was soon to be known because not long after Sullivan made that comment, WorldCom disclosed it had found nearly US$4 billion in accounting irregularities and that Sullivan had been fired. He was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of securities fraud, conspiracy to commit securities fraud and making false filings to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which said, “The WorldCom disclosures confirm that accounting improprieties of unprecedented magnitude have been committed in the public markets.”

We’ll let Ebbers have the last word here: “Although I would like more than you know to answer questions, I’ve been advised by my counsel to take the fifth,” he said at a U.S. House of Representatives hearing. “Although I do not believe I have anything to hide.”

– The vote for the most honest comment of the year goes to Brian Valentine, senior vice-president of Windows at Microsoft, who lamented the sorry state of Windows 2000 security: “I’m not proud,” he told developers at the Windows .Net Server conference. “We really haven’t done everything we could to protect our customers…Our products just aren’t engineered for security.”

“Every operating system out there is about equal in the number of vulnerabilities reported,” he said. “We all suck.”

– “I’m tired of Ed Whitacre saying you’re not a real man unless you’ve got your own facilities,” AT&T Corp. President, Chairman and CEO-elect David Dorman said, referring to the chairman and CEO of SBC Communications Inc. “But if I said, ‘I’m gonna be a real man and build out a line to every single house…’ you’d cart me off to the loony bin.”

– “If we knew who the terrorists were, we’d go out and get them,” said Jeffrey Rosen, an associate professor of law at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., who writes about legal issues for a number of magazines. Speaking of surveillance, biometrics and other technologies whose ostensible aim is to thwart terrorists, he said: “The goal (of such technology) isn’t to prevent terrorism, it’s to make people feel better.”

– “I wish our customers had more money,” McNealy said.

On that note, we’ll leave behind this year with a couple of predictions, including one related to the economy:

– “Throughout this decade, ink will become as popular as the graphic user interface became in Windows,” Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates said when he launched the Tablet PC, which works with and transmits handwritten notes.

– “I’ll be as well known as Gordon Moore. My mother will stop being ashamed of me because I’m a CEO,” Brian Halla, chairman and chief executive officer of National Semiconductor Corp., delivering a keynote address at Fall Comdex in 2002, before introducing “Halla’s Harmonic,” a homemade equation with which he predicted the technology industry would recover on June 21, 2003.