Straight talk from tech leaders
The threat posed by Linux, adjusting to a changing market and regulatory concerns topped the list of issues that tech leaders wanted to talk about in 2003.
When Steve Ballmer began the year, he sounded a lot less concerned about the threat that open-source software posed to Microsoft's business than he--or lifelong business pal Bill Gates--sounded, as 2004 drew near.
In what may go down in the annals as its breakout year, the open-source software movement forced companies as far afield as the SCO Group and Sun Microsystems to scramble for answers. Sometimes, it took the form of lawsuits. Other times, it manifested itself in surprising merger deals. In between, there were enough catcalls and middle-finger salutes to keep readers riveted.
Along the way, a constellation of tech executives sat down with CNET News.com to talk about how they planned to contend with the Linux challenge, which Harvard Professor Clay Christensen has famously described as a disruptive technology. SCO CEO Darl McBride, who decided to go to court to defend his company's intellectual property, said there is a flaw in the system that allows for unauthorized code copying.
That drew a sharp retort from Linux inventor Linus Torvalds, who suggested that this was all a smokescreen to divert attention from the fact that open-source software is fast gathering momentum among people who formerly ran Unix or other operating systems on their computers.
Elsewhere, change was in the air, as limp information technology demand forced companies to find fresh approaches. So it was that Sun's Scott McNealy and Gateway's Ted Waitt, former highfliers now struggling to recapture their former momentum, explained to us how they planned to rebound in 2004.
Other tech companies decided to seize the moment by growing through acquisitions. The enterprise software business, a traditionally sleepy sector, was a source of headline news for much of the second half of 2003, as a donnybrook struggle erupted between PeopleSoft and Oracle.
Not one to mince his words, PeopleSoft's Craig Conway spoke his mind about what he thought of former boss Larry Ellison. For his part, Oracle's jet-setting CEO ducked our hard-charging reporters. But his right-arm man, former Wall Street hotshot Chuck Phillips, told us that the chase would continue in 2004, until Oracle nabbed its prey.
Meanwhile, myriad new telecommunications issues had us talking to the likes of FCC Commissioner Michael Powell and Internet legend Vint Cerf to make sense of the confusing--and fast-paced--intersection of different technologies coalescing around the telephone. Alexander Graham Bell would have been amazed.
Michael Dell and Carly Fiorina stopped by our offices to size up the state of the industry and how their megasize companies intend to flourish in an increasingly hardscrabble marketplace.