in The National on December 29, 2000
2000 - the year IT went
Year 2000 has been
a most interesting year for IT. Tok IT looks at the big things that has
made the industry even more exciting this year.
By Daniel Lam
been an eventful year for IT. Just seconds before the clock struck 12
midnight on Dec 31, the eyes of the world were on Australia and New Zealand, the
first developed countries to advance into year 2000 AD.
The reason for the vigilance? The simple fact that computers, the older ones
that is, can't handle time. Because they see year 1980 as 80 and 1999 as 99,
they would see 2000 as year 00, which to their logical processors is simply
There were fears that power stations would malfunction, thereby cutting off
power to billions worldwide. There were fears that planes would fail to take
off, or even drop out of the sky. Nuclear reactors would leak or nuclear silos
would unleash their deadly contents.
But life goes on, and better yet, the Y2K bug (or Millennium Bug for some)
simply didn't happen ... not in a wide scale anyway. And the IT industry sighed
with relief and moved on.
Other things quickly occupied people's minds.
Internet security, B2B vs B2C and the Napster revolution quickly moved computing
news off the technology pages and onto the front pages of most news outlets.
Processor speeds touched the magical 1Ghz mark. Storage real estate got
Now practically everybody's involved in IT, whether they realise it or
First the accusations
Because the Y2K Bug simply didn't happen the way doomsayers said it should,
the many who spent lots of money (billions were spent worldwide) to counter the
bug accused the IT experts of cheating them.
After all, the Y2K business created a new, money-making field for IT experts who
came up with Y2K solutions.
The experts argue that the Y2K Bug didn't bug anyone (much) because everyone was
pretty much ready for it. In short, a POSSIBLE problem was largely avoided by
prevention. Better than cure any time.
So the hoo-har died out.
Next came denial
The nightmare started just one month after the world took heart that it was
not going to end in a mass of Y2K hysteria. A series of denial-of-service (DOS)
attacks from unknown hackers swamped the largest sites on the Web and
demonstrated just how vulnerable they are.
These hackers used viruses to do their dirty job (as always), causing infected
computers to send off e-mails to targeted web sites.
The sheer amount of e-mails overwhelmed the targeted servers and promptly
Then there was love
In May, the I Love You virus exploited serious vulnerabilities in
Microsoft's Outlook client, causing corporations all over the world to shut down
their e-mail systems with DOS attacks.
Over time, more and more corporate hacks were being publicised, and many experts
were hinting at the great number that didn't get reported.
Playing with the big boys now
Then, near the end of the year, hacktivists (hackers with a cause, like
Greenpeace, etc) targeted OPEC (the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting
Countries) and Israeli government sites.
In October, even software giant Microsoft, got hacked, further demonstrating a
new level of hacker sophistication.
Many experts predict 2001 won't be any better.
The main culprits in 2000, after the hackers that is, were application and
security vendors who left holes (vulnerabilities) in their software, as well as
IT managers who left holes in their networks. As a result, services have become
a major part of any comprehensive security plan.
The big get bigger
Mergers being the popular business choice of 2000, Internet heavyweight
America Online moved to merge with media powerhouse Time Warner, forming a
US$109 billion (K370 billion - more than 100 times the PNG Government budget)
behemoth (yes, big words for big boys).
The announcement of the deal created a lot of news in usually dull January, with
speculation that the merger would create the next monopoly.
Since then however, US competition regulators have scrutinised the pairing into
obscurity. The deal was finally approved by the US Federal Trade Commission on
Do ya (anti)trust Microsoft?
In a series of landmark decisions, US Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson in April
found Microsoft guilty of anti-competitive practices, then in June ordered the
company to be split in two.
But since then, the story has fallen off the screen as court proceedings promise
to push the case into 2001 and beyond.
Microsoft itself is conducting business as usual.
Big brothers don't like MP3s
The MP3 (MPEG layer 3 ... MPEG stands for Moving Pictures Experts Group)
format allowed huge chunks of music to be cut down in size, until small enough
to justify using it to play music over the Internet.
There are also software out there that allows you to "rip" tracks off
CDs, converting them into MP3 files.
Then Napster came along. This nifty program allows users to share MP3 files, and
created a new acronym: P2P (peer-to-peer computing).
The next thing everyone knew, the multi-billion dollar music industry felt
Music industry leaders like Sony moved in and Napster Inc was in danger of being
shut down over breaches of copyright violation.
Napster Inc has so far avoided a court-ordered shutdown for copyright violation,
but such a shutdown seems inevitable.
Dot.coms going Dot.bombs
It was fun (and very, very enriching) while it lasted. We all knew it was
going to happen.
Just didn't know it would happen so soon or so quickly.
Sparked by the Microsoft guilty verdict in April, tech stocks started a sharp
and unyielding decline.
Once-flush startups were soon burning through cash just to survive, and planned
initial public offerings got put on the back burner.
Even Amazon.com, the most successful non-adult (that is, non-sex, pornography
related products) commercial site thus far, is still doing business with its
accounts in the red.
Has a technology ever been so poised to explode and yet remained so far away
from reality? Wireless is everywhere, from your cell phones, PDAs (Personal
digital assistants) and pagers to your enterprise and instant-messaging
But much work remains to be done in standardising network protocols, creating
useful enterprise applications and syncing the considerable technological
advancements of wireless devices with the needs of users.
B2B rises ... and falls
One year ago, B2B (business-to-business) e-commerce was about to explode.
Exchanges and other types of e-marketplaces were supposed to lead us all into a
new land of opportunity.
In February, the Big Three automakers formed Covisint LLC, a marketplace
alliance with Commerce One Inc and Oracle Corp, igniting dozens of similar
launches. But like their business-to-consumer counterparts, many B2B exchanges,
giddy despite their weak foundations with the promise of applying
disintermediation to entire industries, quickly collapsed.
This month's shutdown of two Ventro Corp exchanges, Chemdex and Promedix, warned
exchanges that are still around of the need to improve alliances and business
models next year.
Banner year for AMD, Intel flags
Leading chipmaker Intel Corp stumbled this year. Competitor Advance Micro
Devices (AMD) Inc on the other hand had lotsa fun on Intel's expense.
It all started way back in the 20th century, in 1998 in fact. Back then, Intel
lorded over AMD. Craig Barrett, who succeeded Andy Grove as Intel CEO in March
1998, kicked off a strategy to diversify the company's revenue base.
AMD, meanwhile, was struggling with financial losses and sporadic inventory and
manufacturing problems. Things got so bad analysts questioned whether the
company would have to find co-tenants to help pay for its planned fabrication
facility in Dresden, Germany.
In the background, events began to transpire. In the middle of 1998, Intel
halted construction on a plant in Fort Worth, Texas, because of the tepid
economic outlook in Asia (which suffered a major downturn) and the failure of a
tax reform bill in the Texas legislature, according to Intel spokesman Chuck
Around the same time, Intel engineers in Folsom, California, were discovering
that the upcoming 820 chipset for faster Pentium IIIs (codenamed Coppermine) and
a then relatively obscure memory technology called Rambus weren't working
together as planned.
Meanwhile, AMD was designing a chip called the K7, which would be described at
the Microprocessor Forum in October.
Compare that to the first half of 2000.
Intel found itself mired in a dire processor shortage caused in part by a series
of delays in 1999 of the 820 chipset and other parts. The scrapping of the Fort
Worth plans was also having an effect.
In addition, Rambus memory had failed, as predicted, to come down in
To spur sales of Coppermine Pentium IIIs, Intel came out with a bridge chip
called the Memory Translation Hub (MTH) that was supposed to allow Pentium III
PCs to use cheaper standard memory.
Unfortunately, problems with the MTH cost Intel US$253 million (K845 million) to
recall and, more importantly, gave a black eye to its sterling reputation for
In June, Intel canceled Timna, an inexpensive processor that would have been
paired with the MTH.
Non-Rambus problems cropped up too. The release schedule for Itanium, a 64-bit
server chip destined to take on Sun's UltraSparc processors, was pushed back to
2001. The 1.13-MHz Pentium III was recalled.
The company managed to come out with the Pentium 4, perhaps the bright spot of
the year. Still, partly because software has yet to be tweaked for the chip,
benchmark tests have shown the chip to provide middling performance
By contrast, AMD was seeing tremendous consumer acceptance with Athlon, the
public name for the K7. With the new chip, AMD took the speed crown >from
Intel, landed contracts with all the major PC makers but Dell Computer, and
obtained a new reputation for high-performance technology.
It also didn't face shortages to the same degree. For the first time since 1995,
the company will post an annual profit in 2000.
Onward to 2001
Things change, and in the IT industry, change is good. Things are going to
look better, according to some experts. The Pentium 4 will soon be worth its
There would be no difference between TVs and PCs. The Mac will no longer be
superior to the PC.
The Dot-com collapse will reverse.
And I will mull over how quickly my PC has become nigh-obsolete. Have a pleasant
Published in The
National on May 4, 2001. Reprinted in a Gulf Times supplement on computers and
technology in 2002.
By Daniel Lam
average educated adult in PNG who has had
plenty of exposure to computers just what a computer is and you will probably
get this answer: a complex tool for making life easier and cheaper, watching
movies and surfing the Internet.
Ask an equally exposed child the same question,
and the answer would be "game machine" or something like that.
My neighbours' kids have a habit of knocking on
my door every weekend and asking for permission to play at my place.
And they don't mean games like Monopoly or Bingo.
They are looking at Half-Life (an excellent 3D
first-person shooter), maybe Street Fighter Zero 2 (a one-on-one beat-em-up game
ported over from amusement arcades to the home game console, then to the
The difference is that the adult sees the
computer as a tool for serious things, like calculating payroll, conducting
research, while the child is sees it as "fun" and "magical"
even, thanks to the wide range of games.
According to various reports, the child's view is
When computer "visionary" Alan Turing
conceived of the computer, it was meant to be a close approximation to a machine
that could become any other machine - a Universal Turing Machine.
Think about it ... any device that carries out a finite mechanical process can
be replicated using a computer.
If you want a word processor, the computer can be
configured to become a fancy, virtual typewriter.
The computer's capabilities are even more
pronounced in games ... in flight simulators and strategy games the computer is
configured to behave like many, many mechanical devices at once - aircraft,
clouds, other pilots or military strategists - and the computer can determine
the results of complex interactions between these virtual objects.
The computer can thus become a virtual car, a
virtual board game, a virtual accountant, etc.
Various IT experts promote the idea that virtual phenomena are just as real as
natural ones, even if they are, well, unreal.
This is not argument, that if something looks
like a car and it revs like a car, then it must be a car - that's not the point.
After all, when a computer is programmed to
behave like another machine, say a word processor, it remains a computer, not a
It is pretending.
Many machines in the real world are not physical
things themselves; they are intangible phenomena derived from the interactions
between physical things.
For example, an organisation like the Papua New
Guinea Banking Corporation (PNGBC).
The PNGBC can be counted and labelled. It exhibits a behaviour.
It occupies a building. It is an entity, real
because it can interact with other real things.
But the PNGBC is not the people who work for it, or the offices or the legal
documents that gave it "life".
The PNGBC is defined by the relationships between
these parts, not the parts themselves.
Similarly, the Government of PNG is real, but you
can't see or speak to the Government ... you are actually speaking to a
representative of the Government (be it an official, minister or even the Prime
Given the right input and the right software, a
computer can simulate anything ... from natural occurrences like a storm to
man-made disasters like nuclear blasts.
The computer can be used to provide results based
on such simulations.
Based on this argument, that real world objects
can well be "virtual", that means the computer is more than just a
machine with plenty of circuits and wires ... it is a virtual wishing well,
capable of becoming anything you want.
Of course, that is not to suggest that the
computer has no limits. After all, as the behaviour we wish to elicit becomes
more sophisticated, program complexity grows exponentially.
And the more complex the program, the greater the possibility of a total
Yet us humans, made up of the relationships
between millions, perhaps even billions, or working components, function well
Maybe, one day, computers may be able to achieve
the same level of sophistication.
Commander Data may not be just a figment of
Star Trekkers' imaginations.
Already our perception of the computer is
changing, from the mindless automaton that follows precise instructions, to a
"cyberspace generator", in which many virtual machines interact to
create something bigger, more robust, adaptable and creative.
The old view no longer has a place in today's
world of "virtuality", where where computers are linked, where their
users are connected, no matter where they are.
We need to look on the computer as much more than
a mechanical slave.
The world is getting smaller all the time.
And my neighbours' kids will still find time to
knock on my door, hoping for a few hours' release from boredom (and parents) via
the virtual gateway.