Computer World Canada’s Top 25 stories (21-25)

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21. SaaS/Virtualization/The Cloud: A perfect storm

All three are significant enough trends to warrant their own entries. Why lump them together? Because if they’re significant on their own, together, they’re a fundamental shift in the way enterprises source their computing resources.

Founded in 1999, was a seminal software-as-a-service offering, hosting customer relationship management applications. The philosophy is simple: taking advantage of service oriented architecture, applications are offered on a subscription basis, hosted by a provider, and linked to other SaaS applications as needed.

Though the last two years have been the heyday of virtualization, the concept of creating Multiple virtual machines that run autonomously on a single physical machine dates back to the mainframe days. But with resources squeezed tightly and insatiable demand for more computing power, Citrix, VMware and Microsoft, among others, found a lucrative market putting VMs on a client-server architecture.

Virtualization is also key to cloud computing — renting physical compute resources to customers from a massive bank of servers. The cloud is also tailor-made for software-as-a-service offerings. The three together have been an irresistible force in today’s computing environment. 

22. Copyright reform legislation

The Conservative government made news for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to prorogue Parliament for three months in late 2009. The move truly underscores the on-and-off manner in which Parliament has operated over the last few minority governments and explains why Ottawa hasn’t gotten many new bills passed recently.

One piece of legislation that keeps dying on the table is the proposed changes to Canada copyright laws.

Copyright reform for the Conservative Party is focused on creating a new law that adopts the World Intellectual Property Organization’s copyright treaty — a document which Canada agreed to adopt in 1996. The treaty’s principles, which advocated for provisions that would make it illegal to modify or remove any device or software fitted with a digital rights management tool (DRM), were adopted in the United States under the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Because the law applied to users even if they legally purchased the technology, the U.S. DMCA was heavily argued against by consumer and technology activists who said the legislation would have a negative impact on individual privacy and property rights.

Many Canadians expressed similar fears when the Conservatives introduced the DMCA-inspired Bill C-61, which was entitled “An Act to amend the Copyright Act, in 2008.

This whole debate was also of interest to IT security researchers, who argued that a poorly drafted law around DRMs could restrict their ability to protect their clients from viruses. Some said that making it illegal to remove a DRM, which could show up in harmful malware files, would create a chilling effect among the security industry.

23. The rise of wireless

On July 1, 1985, Canada stepped into the cellular age with two national carriers: Bell Mobility and an upstart called Cantel that included minority partner Ted Rogers. Although head of Rogers Cablesystems, the company was so much in debt the board – including Rogers’ wife – refused to let the company expand into wireless. So Rogers invested on his own. At the time, wireless was a risk: The handsets were literally the size of bricks and contracts weren’t cheap. That risk evaporated, as it has everywhere in the world. So much so that Rogers was able to fold Cantel into his cable empire.
To foster competition, three more carriers were licenced, but with their financial resources Telus Corp. bought Clearnet Communications in 2000 while Rogers swallowed Microcell Solutions Inc. and its Fido brand in 2004.
Since then there’s been a comfortable tri-opoly, with Bell, Rogers and Telus holding some 94 per cent of the market. More importantly, though, wireless is dominating the telecom industry, accounting for the fastest growing percentage of the trio’s revenue. Now more people have a handset than a wireline connection, a dramatic change for the industry that will only accelerate. Out of a population of about 32 million, there are some 22.5 million wireless subscribers. In 2008, wireless revenues from all providers totaled $15. 8 billion.
Facing complaints that our wireless rates and technology aren’t as competitive as other parts of the world, Industry Canada decided to make another attempt at increasing competition. Seven new carriers will enter the market over the next two years. One of the biggest telecom questions is how many will survive? Bell, Rogers and Telus can keep their hands off the new entrants for five years. After that …

24. The Microsoft Monopoly Trial

In 1998, the U.S. Department of Justice and 20 states filed a class action suit against Microsoft, arguing the company had abused its monopoly power. At issue was the bundling of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser with its Windows operating system, which the DoJ argued snuffed out competition from Netscape and Opera, and its restrictive licensing arrangements.

Microsoft argued that IE was not a program, but a feature of Windows, and that removing it would cause the operating system to run more slowly. Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson didn’t buy it and, in April 2000, ordered that Microsoft be broken into two operations, an operating system company and an applications company.

An appeals court overturned that order, but not Judge Jackson’s finding that Microsoft’s behaviour was monopolistic. A settlement reached over the objections of several states forced Microsoft to open its APIs to third-party developers.

The government attack on anticompetitive practices has since been echoed in suits filed against Intel, increased scrutiny of potential mergers like the Sun-Oracle deal and, in 2004, a judgment against Microsoft in a European court over its failure to share interoperability information and the tying of its Media Player software to Windows to the detriment of other players.

25. Launch of public GPS in 1989/GIS

After a Korean Airlines passenger jet was shot down after drifting into Russian airspace, killing 185, U.S. President Ronald Reagan declared making the military’s global positioning satellite system available to all users a public safety priority. (A rare lucid moment on his part.)

The early public access version didn’t have the military version’s pinpoint accuracy, but eventually, GPS would be incorporated into vehicle-mounted and handheld units, smart phones, etc. It has integrated with geographic information systems, mashed up with restaurant listings, rescued stranded hikers and formed the foundation of location-based marketing.

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