IT people, places and things that matter

For their ability to draw your attention, these 10 people, places and things stand out as newsmakers that matter

Google, Steve Ballmer, Vonage, the Storm worm and Networx all made Network World’s list of the 10 biggest newsmakers of 2007.

What makes a top newsmaker? Sometimes a company generates lots of buzz by doing particularly innovative things, or someone with a catalyzing personality gains notoriety. Other times a hot new product or a spectacular disaster gets the attention of the masses. 

The subjects made popular by Network World readers over the past year are all of these things and more. Sometimes lauded for technology vision, scorned for lapses in judgment, and loved or hated for setting a new standard, these are the 10 biggest newsmakers of 2007 and why they matter. (See related story on the people, places and things we want to hear more and less about in 2008.)

The Googleplex

“Search engine giant” once summed up Google’s business pretty well, but those words now seem woefully inadequate to describe the company that in 2007 delivered a hosted software suite for enterprise users, conceived a mobile application platform that is device- and operator-agnostic, made plans to bid for wireless spectrum, and forayed into the TV ad-serving world.

Googleplex

One thing Google didn’t do was deliver the GPhone, a mobile phone the company was widely rumored to have had under development. Instead, it unveiled the open mobile application-development platform, called Android. In so doing, it really shook up the telecom industry, where closed platforms and operator lock-in are the norm, not broad alliances and a $10 million bounty for the best mobile applications.


Click here for a related story on what topics we hope to hear more and less about in 2008


Meanwhile, Google continued to add firepower to its advertising empire, putting up $3.1 billion to acquire ad-management player DoubleClick. With all this action, it's little wonder that Google receives 1,300 resumes every day. Who wouldn’t want to work in its Mountain View, Calif., corporate campus — the famed “Googleplex” — where employees enjoy 11 free cafeterias, on-site car washes, salon, gym, language classes, laundry facilities and more?

Steve Ballmer, the voice of Microsoft

Steve Ballmer didn’t disappoint folks hoping to hear inflammatory statements and corporate bravado from Microsoft’s CEO in 2007. He angered the open source community by saying Red Hat Linux uses intellectual property owned by Microsoft and that Red Hat’s customers should pay Microsoft for it. He dissed the iPhone, saying it would never grab significant market share, and belittled the significance of Google’s Android mobile application development platform, suggesting it was no more than a press release

Steve Ballmer

In between the snipes, Ballmer had plenty of Microsoft products to talk about, starting with the consumer release of Vista and Office 2007 in January. The year also saw the release of Office Communications Server — Microsoft’s VoIP play — along with two enterprise search products, a virtual machine management tool and an unexpected stand-alone hypervisor called Hyper-V Server

What didn’t make store shelves is Longhorn. After Microsoft shipped the first public Longhorn beta in the spring, it pushed back the final release, christened Windows Server 2008, to next year.

On the acquisition front, Microsoft made its most expensive purchase ever, spending $6 billion for online advertising platform  aQuantive in a move that Ballmer said represents “the next step in the evolution of our ad network.”

Vonage goes to court … again and again

What was 2007 like for Vonage? In a word: litigious. Patent lawsuits from Verizon, Sprint Nextel, AT&T, and in late December, Nortel, kept the Internet phone provider in the headlines and threatened to end its business. One particularly low point came in April just after a federal jury found Vonage infringed on three Verizon patents related to transferring voice calls from an IP network to a traditional telephone network. After the ruling a U.S. district court judge barred Vonage from signing up new customers — which could have spelled death for the company had it not successfully fought for a permanent stay from the injunction.

Vonage

In the end, Vonage managed to reach settlements with Verizon, Sprint Nextel and AT&T, but not before Michael Snyder resigned as CEO and founder Jeffrey Citron took over the role. In terms of IOUs, Vonage is paying $120 million to settle its dispute with Verizon. It reached an $80 million licensing agreement with Sprint, and inked a tentative agreement with AT&T whereby it will pay $39 million in exchange for AT&T dropping its suit.

But the numbers aren’t all bad for Vonage. It managed to grow revenue to $210.5 million in its most recent quarter, a gain of 30% over the year-earlier quarter. Not bad for a company that very well could have slipped under for good.

Storm Worm: Malware at its worst

What’s insidious, organized and retaliatory? The future of malware.

In the early days of 2007 a network attack began infecting computers using news of a deadly storm to lure victims into opening an e-mail with the subject line “230 dead as storm batters Europe” and a Trojan payload. Nearly a year later, the so-called Storm Worm and its variants have used the infected computers to create a massive botnet. Some say the botnet could be between 1 million and 50 million strong — and available for lease to those looking to launch spam, distributed denial-of-service (DoS) attacks or other cybercrimes.

Storm worm

While it has been around for nearly a year, antivirus vendors and crime fighters haven’t been able to quell the Storm. What makes it so hard to take down is its constitution. The Storm Worm has a distributed structure, so there’s no central control point that could take out the network, and it continually changes the way the code is written and distributed. It’s also aggressive, striking back at those who seek to destroy it. According to security pros, Storm Worm can figure out which users are trying to probe its command-and-control servers and it retaliates by launching distributed DoS attacks against them.

Security guru Bruce Schneier recently blogged about what Storm Worm’s architects might have planned now that they’ve amassed such strength: “Storm is being partitioned, presumably so parts can be sold off. If that's true, we should expect more malicious activity out of Storm in the future; anyone buying a botnet will want to use it.”

IPhone mania

You may not want one, or want to support as a corporate device, but you can’t deny the buzz that is the iPhone. It hasn’t let up since Apple announced the long-awaited device at Macworld 2007 in January. Early reviews lamented the iPhone’s lack of features such as multimedia messaging and 3G compatibility, but that didn’t stop buyers. Nor did Apple’s deal with AT&T stop hackers from immediately racing to unlock iPhones so they could be used on other carriers’ networks and run unauthorized applications

iPhone

Among the Network World crowd, the iPhone also created a mystery that had readers buzzing about what might have caused a few iPhones to wreak havoc on the Duke University wireless LAN. The problem at Duke wound up being a Cisco issue, not an iPhone one. But that’s not to say enterprise IT teams should stop worrying about iPhones on their corporate networks. Just last month analyst firm Gartner warned that the iPhone doesn’t meet enterprise security policy requirements. No doubt it’s not the last we’ll hear about iPhone’s enterprise mettle. (See story on why the iPhone matters.)

TJX data debacle

It’s exactly the kind of notoriety a company doesn’t want. Bad news on top of bad news fueled yearlong interest in the TJX data heist, which is thought to be the largest breach of consumer data on record.

TJX Companies first reported in January that intruders gained access to its systems, and throughout the year it amended the number of accounts exposed and when the intrusions took place. Most recently, court filings in a case brought by banks against TJX stated the number of accounts affected by the thefts topped 94 million

TJX breach

The retailer’s financial toll continues to climb as well. In November, TJX hiked its estimate of pre-tax charges for the data breach to $216 million, up from the $168 million it projected in August.

For the IT set, the data heist and its continuing fallout were a yearlong, not-so-subtle reminder of how precious data security is.

Microsoft desktop challengers

A legitimate alternative to Microsoft Office? Sure, that’s been attempted before, but 2007 saw a series of events that combined to make the idea of running an enterprise environment without Office more tempting than ever.

Bill Gates

Most significantly, the ISO rejected Microsoft's Open XML file format as a technology standard. This snub gave suites built around the rival Open Document Format prime position with government and private industry organizations required to use standards-based file formats. That’s good news for OpenOffice.org, the Sun-founded open source community.

When the ISO rejected Open XML, IBM not coincidentally took a greater interest in OpenOffice.org, joining the group and pledging to contribute code to the project. Shortly after, IBM released its own set of productivity applications based on the OpenOffice.org source code called Lotus Symphony

Meanwhile, Google has been fleshing out its Microsoft Office alternatives. Early in 2007 it released Google Apps Premier Edition, a Web-based suite that includes Google Docs & Spreadsheets, Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Talk. Start-ups such as Zoho and InstaColl, too, are jockeying to deliver free, open source and hosted toolsets that combine collaboration features with productivity applications.

Inside MIT’s network

Insight from peers can be invaluable to IT executives, and perhaps that’s why our interview with Jeff Schiller, head of computer networks and security at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was such a massive hit with readers.

MIT

Schiller gave Network World an inside look at how MIT was fending off hackers, executing its massive VoIP rollout and launching its foray as a regional fiber-optic network operator. He opened up about issues including wireless technology, wiretapping laws, intercity fiber and staff training. Asked about the challenge of enforcing security standards among MIT’s departments and network users, Schiller quipped: “Enforce is not a word you can use at MIT. We try to entice people to do the right thing.”

Networx: No bigger telecom program in the world

After years of planning, the federal government in 2007 doled out awards for its monster telecom contract, Networx. All the top-tier U.S. carriers — AT&T, Qwest Communications, Sprint Nextel and Verizon Business — bid on the 10-year, $20 billion telecom services deal, which will provide domestic and international voice, data, video and wireless services to all federal agencies.

When the biggest component of Networx — called Networx Universal — was awarded in late March, only Sprint walked away empty handed. AT&T, Qwest and Verizon Business each won awards for Networx Universal, which provides 50 legacy and leading-edge services including frame-relay, ATM, VPNs and VoIP.

Two months later, AT&T, Level 3 Communications, Qwest, Sprint Nextel and Verizon Business were awarded contracts for the Networx Enterprise component, which will provide secure, managed and wireless IP services nationwide to federal agencies.

Daylight saving = patch-management annoyance

IT managers get plenty of headaches already, but 2007 caused a few more because of daylight-saving changes

For more than two decades, daylight-saving time has begun on the first Sunday of April and reverted to standard time on the last Sunday in October. But beginning in 2007, because of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, daylight-saving time began on the second Sunday in March and ended on the first Sunday in November.

Dayllight savings

Preparing for the switch meant companies had to put together testing and patch-management plans — or risk disrupting time-sensitive business applications and operating system operations.

Reader interest in stories about what the changes mean, and how to prepare for them, peaked early in the year as the “spring-forward” date approached, and then again as the time to “fall back” drew near. 

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Learn more about this topic

Mr. Google goes to Washington

Ballmer: The Apple iPhone isn’t going to get any significant marketshare

Vonage poll: Did the court do the right thing?

Storm worm FAQ

09/27/07

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