Computer World Canada’s Top 25 stories (11-15)

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11. iEverything and the resurgence of Apple

In the mid-1990s, Apple was on the ropes. The Macintosh couldn’t scratch out a bigger niche than designers and musicians, and Apple even had to take a $150-million equity investment from arch-rival Microsoft. But the tide began to turn in 2001.

With Steve Jobs back at the helm (he’d returned in 1997 after a 12-year absence), Apple’s turnaround began in earnest with the iPod, a portable music player that revolutionized the space. As model after model dominated the digital music market, tech-watchers salivated over a rumoured smart phone from Apple. Jobs announced the iPhone in January 2007, and Apple began shipping in July. Buyers lined up for days to snap up the first shipment, and the iPhone quickly dominated the consumer smat phone  market.

But it wasn’t just the huge multi-touchscreen display and blazing download speed that set the iPhone apart. Apple had created an entire ecosystem around the phone, and the integration of iTunes and the App Store changed the way music and software are bought, kick-starting a long overdue mobile
commerce industry. Microsoft, Research in Motion, Google and Nokia would follow in the App Store’s footsteps, but for sheer volume of sales and app availability, no one has come close.

12. Research in Motion and the BlackBerry

At first, really, it was just a pager. Waterloo, Ont.-based Research in Motion shipped the first BlackBerry in the summer of 2000. But as richer feature sets were added – PDA functionality, cell phone connectivity, push e-mail – RIM practically created the smart phone market, and is the heart of
the Waterloo, Ont.-area technology triangle.

The BlackBerry was originally a business-first device – RIM even refused to develop camera functionality. But the money in the consumer market was too big a draw, and RIM began producing stylish, consumer-oriented phones for the general market, which came in droves to buy them.

While others slavishly chase Apple’s iPhone, the BlackBerry cuts its own trail, proprietary server, app store and all. It’s still the dominant business smart phone, and users can’t live without them. They don’t call them CrackBerries for nothing.

13. Y2K

In more hysterical circles, it was to be the end of the world as we know it: financial systems crashing, the power grid going down, airplanes falling out of the sky. Survivalists girded themselves for the apocalypse. And COBOL programmers made a lot of money, because of the myriad legacy applications that accommodated only two digits for the year in their date fields.

After a massive remediation effort – spurred in part by awareness efforts from the likes of Peter de Jager, who was recently recognized with an award on the 10th anniversary of the event – midnight passed on Jan. 1, 2000, with only minimal glitches, the hysteria wound down, and tech journalists scrambled to find something else to write about. But it was an object lesson in the dangers of sitting on legacy apps and hardware that has had a far-reaching impact on the strategic approach to IT infrastructure.

14. Consolidation

Compaq buys Digital, and is in turn gobbled up by Hewlett-Packard (which would go on to buy services firm EDS, which had bought Systemhouse). PeopleSoft buys J. D. Edwards, only to be swallowed by Oracle. Nortel buys Bay Networks (and that saga does not end well for anyone concerned). IBM buys Lotus and Cognos. More recently, Oracle (again) seals a deal to snap up Sun Microsystems.

It isn’t just the startups and small players that get gobbled up in the inevitable trend toward consolidation of technology vendors; there are perhaps a half-dozen worldwide that are immune as the mega-players look to solidify their hardware/software/services stacks. For strategic IT buyers, it means keeping a weather eye out for changing licensing regimens, support schemes and compatibility issues. Consolidation has changed the way we buy IT, and it’s continued march is inexorable.

15 . The rise of Google

When is a search engine not a just search engine? When it’s one of the world’s leading advertising marketplaces; when it’s an entire ecosystem of online applications; when it defines the media’s news judgment; when it becomes a verb (no one ever said, “I’ll AltaVista that.”)

Stanford University students Sergey Bryn and Larry Page founded Google in 1998, and through a blend of savvy marketing, superior functionality and beyond-the-horizon business strategy, made it the world’s most visited Web site. Investors salivated over its initial public offering in 2004, which raised $1.7 billion.

Blindsided by the world’s most powerful brand, those in the search economy who didn’t fall by the wayside scrambled to keep pace. Meanwhile, Google developed cloud computing offerings, always-available applications, search appliances, and a mobile operating system. Google’s business manoeuvering has seemed prescient — focusing on high-volume search advertising while Microsoft and Yahoo fought for display ads, buying YouTube and Blogspot for potential rather than demonstrated revenue strategy, recognizing that mobile apps plus its huge volume of data and algorithms could open up the era of the Internet-native mobile phone.

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