2006 Year in Review: Hits and Misses

Analysis: It was a year full of transitions and surprises, and the next year looks likely to bring more of the same. Here's a look at some of eWEEK's most interesting stories from 2006.

There is little if any status quo in the technology business, and that fact was on full display in 2006.

Stalwarts such as Bill Gates and Scott McNealy took a back seat after decades of leading their companies; Dell, which seemed unstoppable over the past few years as other OEMs struggled, found its own share of troubles and saw its three-year lead in PC market share go to Hewlett-Packard; and Microsoft negotiated a partnership with Linux player and former archenemy Novell.

These transitions promise to continue into next year as the second (consumer) half of Microsofts Windows Vista rolls out; chip makers continue their multicore push; and Oracle keeps growing, thanks to its voracious appetite for acquisitions. Here are eWEEKs most interesting stories from 2006:

Open Source Goes Big-Time

In short order in the last quarter of the year, big vendors made big strides in the open-source space, which could turn out to be good news for big customers.

Oracle announced in October that it will offer full support for the RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) operating system, a move CEO Larry Ellison told the audience at the OpenWorld show was designed to help address what he said is a key problem in Linux adoption: a lack of "true enterprise support for Linux."

The following month, Microsoft and Novell announced a set of collaboration agreements that includes patent protection for each others customers and for their respective products. Officials at the two companies said all the right things at the announcement of the controversial deal, but Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer couldnt keep from getting a dig in at Novell, implying that the deal is an acknowledgment by Novell that Linux infringes on Microsoft intellectual property. The two companies later agreed to disagree on that point.

Red Hat officials saw the Oracle and Microsoft deals as attacks on their company. Marc Fleury, senior vice president and general manager of JBoss, said the moves were made to counter Red Hats purchase of JBoss but added that the Microsoft-Novell deal was "a lot more clever than the one from Oracle, which was a for show move."

Also in November, Sun Microsystems, which has been releasing hardware and software to the open-source community for several years, finally released all versions of Java, fulfilling the desires of many developers during Javas 11 years in existence.

Security Woes

For those in the business of protecting IT from the host of dangers lurking out there, the news in 2006 wasnt good. Hackers are getting more organized and sophisticated, and so is the technology theyre using.

Microsoft and the University of Michigan teamed up to create prototypes of virtual-machine-based rootkits that could be used to hide malware and maintain control of an operating system, introducing another threat into the picture.

Not long after that, a Microsoft security official admitted that recovering from malware programs and some types of spyware may become impossible without wiping out hard drives and reinstalling the operating systems. Offensive rootkits—which are increasingly being used to hide malware and spyware—can avoid detection, so IT administrators can never really be sure if all traces of the rootkits have been removed, said Mike Danseglio, program manager in the Security Solutions group at Microsoft, in a presentation at InfoSec World in April.

eWEEK Senior Editor Ryan Naraine reported in October that botnets—collections of broadband-enabled PCs that have been hijacked in virus and worm attacks and used to launch spam, DoS (denial of service) attacks and malware—are becoming more prevalent. Symantec found that 57,000 active bots per day were seen in the first six months of the year and that 4.7 million computers were being used in botnets.

Chip Wars Heating Up

Tired of hearing for two years about how Advanced Micro Devices was beating them to the punch and taking market share from them, Intel officials went on the offensive in 2006, revamping the companys server processor line in what they called the "summer of servers."

The initiative started in June, when Intel launched the Dual-Core Xeon processor 5100 series, the first chip line based on the companys new Core microarchitecture. Over the next four months, Intel rolled out more than two dozen new server chips, including the first dual-core Itanium 2 processor. Intel followed that up by being first in the x86 space to release quad-core processors, launching its Xeon 5300 chips in November.

AMD answered Intels chip onslaught with the launch of its "Rev F" redesigned Opteron processors in August, but the company wont be releasing its quad-core processors until mid-2007. That didnt keep AMD officials from criticizing Intels quad-core offerings, saying Intels design of two dual-core chips on a single piece of silicon was less elegant than AMDs upcoming "native" quad cores. AMD could also boast additional OEM wins—in particular, longtime holdout Dell, which until this year had held steadfastly to its Intel-only mantra.

HP Investigation Goes Bad

Those hoping for a revival of the moribund "HP Way" with the passing of the CEO mantle from Carly Fiorina to Mark Hurd in 2005 were in for a disappointment when HPs board of directors admitted in September that it had conducted an investigation into news leaks that included the dubious method of "pretexting" to obtain the private telephone records of directors and members of the media.

Pretexting—a practice in which investigators contact phone companies and misidentify themselves in order to get records—and other nefarious means were used during the investigation, which initially had started under Fiorinas tenure in 2005 and resumed again under Hurd this year.

The scandal surrounding the investigation led to the resignations of three board members—including Chairman Patricia Dunn, who spearheaded the investigation, and George Keyworth, who admitted to being the leak—and several high-ranking HP executives, as well as criminal indictments of Dunn and others on conspiracy and other charges. It also caught the eye of Congress, which held hearings at which Dunn, Hurd and others testified.

The investigation called into question Hurds role. The CEO said he knew little of the methods being used in the probe but admitted that he did not give it as much oversight as he should have. Still, the board quickly enabled Hurd, who already was president and CEO of HP, to consolidate his power by naming him chairman as well.

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