Top tech industry news stories of 2011 -- so far

Apple, AT&T, Microsoft, Google and others are givens for being among the top newsmakers of 2011. Others will no doubt surprise us as we go along.

While it's so much easier to look back at the end of the year and reflect on the newsworthiness of a technology industry event than to do so as the event is happening, Network World this year is daring to make our picks for the top technology stories of the year as we go along. We'll update this article regularly -- as news dictates.


Google’s big deal. Google announced its biggest acquisition ever, a $12.5 billion deal for Motorola Mobility that turns out to be in large part about obtaining oodles of patents that can be used to defend the Android ecosystem against infringement lawsuits and countersue as well.  The deal raised plenty of questions regarding that ecosystem of partners, however, such as whether Google would now be competing with phone and tablet makers with its own Droid and Xoom offerings via Motorola Mobility.

HP selling and buying. HP, becoming more focused on software and services under new chief Leo Apotheker, announced it was exploring the sell-off of its PC market leading Personal Systems Group and shuttering its TouchPad tablet business.  But HP wasn’t just getting rid of stuff: It also announced plans to buy analytics software company Autonomy for $10 billion.

US gets a new CIO. The White House announced that Steven VanRoekel, managing director of the FCC and a former Microsoft executive, would succeed Vivek Kundra and become the nation's second CIO.  Kundra only lasted 2 years as the nation’s first CIO, leaving to take a job at Harvard University.


HP launches short-lived TouchPad. HP introduced its tablet computer with much fanfare, though reviews were mixed out of the gate. Some loved the user interface and webOS operating system but others criticized a device they found heavier and bulkier than the market leading iPad. After slower than hoped for sales, HP started discounting the product shortly after it debuted and then shocked the market by discontinuing the product in August (although a sale of the originally $500 and $600 tablets for $100 and $150 sparked a brief revival). 

Anonymous steps up attacks. Anonymous got more aggressive with its hacking campaign, releasing a restricted NATO document, hacking Italy’s cybercrime operation, and boasting of  a big Booz Allen Hamilton hack.  Authorities also stepped up their efforts to crack down on Anonymous, arresting  "Topiary", identified by police as a spokesman for Anonymous and the Lulz Security hacking outfit. 

The Great Newspaper Hacking Scandal! News Corp., known for its sensational headlines, grabbed many of its own over the summer as its phone hacking scandal exploded into the open. In July, News Corp., shuttered its U.K.-based News of the World publication at the center of the controversy over alleged hacking into voice mail accounts of politicians, celebrities and crime victims. 


World IPv6 Day. The one-day, worldwide event designed to show off the capabilities and readiness of the Internet Protocol update went off with nary a hitch. World IPv6 Day, which involved 400 organizations including big name content suppliers, carriers, hardware vendors and software makers, was said to be the most watched tech-related event since New Year's Eve 1999, when all eyes were on the Y2K bug.

LulzSec wreaks havoc. The short-lived hacking group garnered international attention by attacking websites belonging to governments and companies, including the CIA and Sony. It ended its reign of cyberterror in late June: "Our planned 50 day cruise has expired, and we must now sail into the distance, leaving behind - we hope - inspiration, fear, denial, happiness, approval, disapproval, mockery, embarrassment, thoughtfulness, jealousy, hate, even love," the group said in a post on the Pastebin website. Though LulzSec might not completely have faded away, with some members reportedly joining the Anonymous hacking group.

Microsoft heads into the clouds. Microsoft debuted its Office 365 cloud service -- the company's answer to Google Apps -- and the latest Microsoft offering designed to expand the company's reach beyond packaged software. Microsoft is giving some organizations big incentives to use the new offering. Office 365 complements earlier Microsoft cloud offerings, including its Azure platform-as-a-service, which hasn't caught on in a big way yet.


Microsoft-Skype $8.5B blockbuster. Microsoft's bold buyout of the voice and video IP company is seen by analysts as an aggressive move to challenge Google, Facebook and others for the hearts, minds and wallets of online users. Some industry watchers say Microsoft actually had technology in its portfolio to compete with Skype on many fronts, but that buying the company gives Microsoft lots of customers fast. The combination of the Skype buyout and advances on the Windows Phone 7 front also gives Microsoft its strongest mobile offerings to date.

OpenFlow grabs Interop spotlight. The big Interop 2011 show could almost have been called the OpenFlow show given that it served as one of the first significant exhibitions of OpenFlow switches and controllers, including those shown off in a lab at the event. The software-defined networking technology is designed to enable users to define flows and determine what paths those flows take through a network, regardless of the underlying hardware. OpenFlow stems from an open source project borne of a six-year research collaboration between Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley.

Google gets into OS game. Google launched Chrome OS, its browser-turned-operating system, and alternative to Windows, Mac OS and Linux (through Chrome OS technically sits on a stripped-down version of Linux. By putting most of a user's apps and data on the Web with some offline capabilities, Chrome OS presents a "stateless" model that the company believes will make it easier to use and manage computers. The first Chromebook debuted in June, from Acer.


Sony PlayStation Network: game off. A major hack of Sony's PlayStation Network knocked the PS3 gaming community offline for days and Sony revealed players' personal information, including credit card numbers, may have been swiped. With more than 70 million people using the network, some are calling this breach one of the worst ever and a possible ID theft bonanza.

More telecom consolidation. Seems the only way to get more powerful -- or less weak -- in telecom these days is to join forces. A couple of huge deals went down in April, with CenturyLink buying hosting provider Savvis for $2.5 billion shortly after finalizing its Qwest buyout, and Level 3 airing plans to buy out Global Crossing for about $1.9 billion.

Smartphones are watching you. Apple, Google and Microsoft were all answering questions after it was made widely public that some smartphones have software that enables vendors to track users' locations. This media storm started with revelations about iPhones and iPads store data about users' whereabouts, prompting Apple CEO Steve Jobs to assure at least one customer the issue was being misunderstood and blown out of proportion and prompting Apple to explain that it merely tracks WiFi hotspot and cell tower locations so that it can access that information when it's requested. Meanwhile, two users filed a lawsuit claiming Apple's actions violated federal privacy law, and naturally lawmakers got into the act as well. Google and Microsoft didn't escape scrutiny either.

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud's bad stretch. A major outage for Amazon's EC2 service due to undisclosed server problems resulted in customers' websites being down and/or flakey for days (even for those who took the precaution of signing on for multiple availability zones, and raised all the usual concerns about whether it's still too early to trust your business to the cloud due to shortcomings in failing over such systems. Amazon, despite being plugged into social network systems such as blogs and Twitter, was conspicuously quiet about what went wrong, perhaps due to legal concerns.

Epsilon breached. A security breach at email marketing company Epsilon Interactive resulted in dozens of its customers -- including big names like Best Buy, Capital One and Eddie Bauer -- issuing warnings to their customers about theft of names and email addresses. Epsilon has sworn it will build a "Fort Knox" around its breached system, though kept details of the breach close it vest. The fear remains that customers whose names and email addresses were swiped could become phishing targets.


AT&T bids for T-Mobile USA. AT&T's proposed takeover of T-Mobile USA would create the biggest carrier in the United States, with some 129 million subscribers. The union also raises lots of big regulatory, competitive and customer service questions, with plenty of people unhappy about the prospects of this deal going down.

Japanese earthquake/tsunami. Beyond the devastating human tragedy that has been the world's main concern in the wake of Japan's earthquakes and tsunami disaster, the high tech industry has been impacted greatly as well. Taiwanese semiconductor suppliers face serious raw materials shortages from Japan and concerns have been raised about Japanese suppliers to Apple for the iPad 2 as well. Chip plants for Texas Instruments and others in Japan expect months of disruption and undersea telecom cables in the Pacific Ocean were damaged.

Browser makeover. Google, Microsoft and Mozilla all released significant new versions of their browsers. Google's Chrome 10 focuses on security, speed and simplicity, with greater JavaScript performance, sandboxing technology for Adobe Flash, password encryption and an easier-to-use settings interface. Microsoft IE9 also boasts speed, privacy and simplicity improvements, but with a stripped-down interface, tracking protection, pinned sites, jump lists and enhanced support for HTML5. Mozilla Firefox 4 got a speed boost and several feature enhancements that are so significant that they all have their own proper names, like Panorama, JaegerMonkey and Firefox Sync.

RSA at risk. EMC's RSA Security division shook the industry in March when its executive chairman announced that a sophisticated cyber-attack on the company might have compromised its two-factor SecurID tokens. The advanced persistent threat attack led some observers to call on those using the tokens for remote access to sensitive information to stop doing so until RSA clarified the extent of possible compromise.

Android Market feels malware pain. More than 50 applications containing malware were discovered in Google's application market, a sign that hackers were hard at work trying to compromise mobile devices running the Android OS. In fact, it got so bad that Google threw a "kill switch" to remotely delete infected Android apps.

Apple -- and Steve Jobs -- intro iPad 2. The next generation of Apple's iPad tablet computer is sleeker and more powerful than the original, and boasts two cameras so that users can use Apple's FaceTime video chat. CEO Steve Jobs surprised the faithful by making the iPad 2 product introduction himself. Here's a First Look at the tablet. The iPad 2 unveiling both excited and frustrated enterprise IT pros.


Nokia embraces WP7. Microsoft and Nokia both have a lot to lose -- and gain -- by their mobile alliance, with the Finnish handset maker deciding to adopt Windows Phone 7 as its smartphone operating system. Nokia won't abandon its own platforms, Symbian and MeeGo, yet. The company still plans to put out a "MeeGo-related" product later this year and "expects to sell 150 million more Symbian devices in the years to come," it said.

Obama 4G. President Obama aired a proposal for bringing 4G wireless broadband service to 98% of the United States within 5 years. The plan, which would involve freeing up 500MHz of wireless spectrum over a decade, is expected to meet with plenty of questions from lawmakers and industry reps.

Mourning Olsen. Kenneth Olsen, the co-founder and longtime CEO of Digital Equipment Corp., passed away at the age of 84 on Feb. 6. He was remembered for his scientific focus and his epic battles vs. IBM and others as DEC rose to become the No.2 computer maker in the world before eventually succumbing to competition and being acquired by Compaq.

Bring on IPv6. The Internet ran out of IPv4 address space in early February when the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority assigned two of the remaining blocks of IPv4 addresses - each containing 16.7 million addresses - to the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre. This action sparked an immediate distribution of the remaining five blocks of IPv4 address space, with one block going to each of the five Regional Internet Registries. Now that IPv4 addresses are gone, Internet policy makers will be ratcheting up the pressure on network operators to migrate quickly to IPv6.


Egypt shuts down. Egypt's shutdown of the Internet and cell phone networks in an effort to diffuse protests against the government not only burned free speech advocates around the world, but it cost the country's economy at least $90 million, according to one report. It also raised the specter of an Internet "kill switch" being put into the U.S. President's hands.

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