For the entrepreneurs, engineers and venture capitalists who make up the technology industry, 2003 was the year of some of the sharpest debates in memory.
Does information technology matter, or doesn't it? Is Linux the future, or is it another false Messiah? Does utility computing redefine the way companies think about their technology needs--if so, which supplier's vision of the future should they select?
As the industry limped into 2003, still trying to recover from a post-bubble hangover, some suggested the technology business had come to a crossroads. A widely read piece in the Harvard Business Review even declared that IT no longer conferred a competitive advantage to companies and, much like the telephone, had become just an expected feature of a normal business.
But others drew starkly different lessons from the bubble and what it suggested about the future of IT. What with the arrival of 64-bit computing and of increasingly powerful software, they argued that IT was every bit as relevant as it ever was.
What was needed was a more effective way of consuming technology--as if it were a utility like electricity. So, as the year progressed, nearly all the major computer vendors turned their attention to putting their own spin on the still-amorphous concept of utility computing and how it should work.
Meanwhile, open-source technology stoked the argument between proponents, who view it as the latest manifestation of freedom in innovation, and critics, who equate it with undisguised theft. The resolution of this debate--now headed for a courtroom case pitting SCO Group against IBM--will surely reverberate through the computer industry.
On the security side, there was an equally heated argument over how to stop a hacking onslaught that wreaked havoc throughout the year. Microsoft, whose operating-system software was repeatedly compromised by sundry Internet worms and viruses, said it was a law-and-order issue. The company grew so frustrated that it offered a bounty for information leading to the apprehension of authors of malicious programs attacking its software.
The legal ramifications of the unauthorized swapping of music files over the Internet also became headline news in 2003, as the recording industry turned its lawyers loose in a bid to protect its business.
As the year drew to a close, there were few final answers to any of these issues--all of which promises to make the debates in 2004 that much more intriguing.