Year of Our Discontent

By Jim Rapoza  |  Posted 2003-12-22

Year of Our Discontent

2003 was full of developments that had a big impact on IT. Unfortunately, most of what happened was bad. If you didnt lose your job entirely, your job certainly got a lot harder. For IT staff at most companies, dealing with the near-tidal wave of spam was one of the biggest hassles. Market researchers have been studying the phenomenon diligently, but you dont need to see their figures to know that the volume of spam is huge. Even though 2003 saw many new and improved products to help companies filter out spam, none of these have proved to be very effective.

I certainly expect improvements in the technologies that deal with spam, but I dont expect things to get much better in 2004. Part of the problem is that the recently passed CAN-SPAM legislation will mainly have the effect of protecting quite a lot of commercial spam while having no effect on most other forms of spam.

But why should we be surprised at that? Most of the legislative action that governments have taken on IT issues has done little good. Either bills like the CAN-SPAM Act are ineffective or others like the federal and state DMCA measures have directly threatened technologies as well as workers.

I fear that we can expect more of the same. Potentially good laws, such as those that mandate base security levels, are unlikely to see the light of day, while laws that protect special interests at the cost of innovation and progress will inevitably get passed.

Next page: Beware spyware

Beware spyware

Like spam, spyware developed from an annoyance to a full-fledged problem in 2003. Spyware violates privacy, damages systems and adds to the workload of IT staff.

Since spyware vendors lack the big-company guns that prevented meaningful action against spam, we might see some real advances at stopping spyware. Improved technologies will help users and companies root it out of systems, and you may even see effective legislation to block its ability to sneak onto systems.

While many users were worrying about stealth software getting on their systems and spying on them, many others had to worry about software they did install spying on them and controlling how they used it. Like a bloodsucking vampire, product activation has risen from the dead and sunk its teeth into unsuspecting software users.

I expect the battle against activation to follow the same trajectory as earlier fights against anti-piracy measures. Companies that used activation this year will see significant backlash from customers, resulting in lost sales and bad publicity. Many vendors will remove activation from their products, saving us from its evil at least until the next mad bean counter summons it from the grave.

Unfortunately, one evil that wont succumb next year is the scourge of viruses, worms and security holes. The record number of problems seen in 2003 werent the wake-up call they should have been; while lots of lip service will be paid to improving security, everything will stay the same.

Next page: The rise of Linux as a core enterprise platform

The rise of Linux

as a core enterprise platform">

2003 also saw a potential solution to at least some of these problems: the rise of Linux as a core platform for enterprise implementations.

While Linux isnt immune from security problems, it is much less at risk from the worst worms and viruses than Windows servers. Also, in eWEEK Labs experience, Linux servers are much easier to harden against malicious attacks. And while I dont expect to see any large adoption of Linux on the desktop, its continued growth will provide an attractive option for companies suffering from viruses, spyware and activation woes.

The growth of Linux in the enterprise will continue in 2004, especially when we begin to see the fruits of the Novell/SuSE deal, which should bring the first real enterprise-class support and service for a Linux distribution.

Finally, now that SCO must show evidence in court, the legal cloud hanging over Linux could be fully dispersed in 2004. More than likely, SCOs threats will be tossed aside, and the company will be left with only its lawyers and their press releases.

Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at

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