2003: That was the year that was

The Harvard Business Review raised the hackles of the IT community this spring when author Nicholas Carr questioned in his piece, "IT Doesn't Matter," the need and future of corporate information technology organizations. SCO launched a massive lawsuit against IBM alleging that Unix source code had been illegally incorporated into Linux. CEO Larry Ellison clearly made the June 6th move to boost his flagging applications business in the wake of PeopleSoft's agreement to buy smaller rival J.D. Edwards, while SAP continued to gain market share at Oracle's expense.That was the year that was! Read about these titular events, and more.Then get ready to do it all again

IT: IT does matter
The Harvard Business Review raised the hackles of the IT community this spring when author Nicholas Carr questioned in his piece, "IT Doesn't Matter," the need and future of corporate information technology organizations. According to Carr, technology can no longer be counted on to differentiate a company from its competitors -- therefore, IT plays a less-significant role in taking the company to the next level.

Needless to say, response to the Carr opus from the corporate IT world was quick and painful from many sides, including our own columns. Many said that while Carr notes the technology itself may not be important, the key is what is done with that technology. And the use of the technology is generally the purview of IT.

Yes, IT is the keeper of corporate technology systems, responsible for making sure the plumbing works, that systems are kept running, and that data is available to those who need it when they need it. But IT is also responsible for building proprietary apps that provide a competitive edge to their organizations. These applications can be vital to a company's success. One does not have to look any farther than the world's largest corporation -- Wal-Mart -- to see what IT can do. From our side, IT does matter.

Linux/SCO: No way to treat a penguin
It was a challenge the Linux/open-source community did not take lying down: SCO's massive lawsuit against IBM alleging that Unix source code had been illegally incorporated into Linux. Microsoft made its peace with SCO, signing a licensing agreement to use Unix code that SCO acquired from Novell in the 1990s. Other reaction was less friendly: Several denial of service attacks on SCO's Web site, and Linux leader Red Hat's filing of a formal complaint against SCO alleging that the lawsuit was unfair and deceptive. Novell's surprising purchase of SUSE Linux seemed to ensure the wrangle would continue for some time to come.

Java: Sun in flux, or maybe eclipse
This time last year the phrase "vs. Microsoft" may have been the first thing to come to mind when Sun Microsystems was mentioned. This year, it is more likely to be "Sun vs. the world" or even "Sun vs. Sun."

Even after its invention of Solaris and Java, Sun is more about hardware than software. In the past, company head Scott McNealy has kidded about that. But there has been less of that from McNealy lately. Gartner's Daryl Plummer said Sun needs to overcome considerable public doubt about what it is capable of. "The technology is not the problem for Sun's software; it is credibility, mindshare and the ability to get people to try it," he said.

Will it work? Plummer says maybe; Sun's long-term future should be clear in the medium term.

.NET: Not yet
It probably was not the company's intent, but Microsoft slammed the brakes on .NET big time in 2003. Who could blame them? They were all prepped to roll out the latest, greatest Windows server but, well, it was actually scheduled to be the first big .NET server. Many years and marketing dollars went into Windows -- was the company about to throw that all away for .NET? Nope. Somebody blinked. .NET had done its job as a marketing hedge against the company that put the "com" in dot-com and, while Windows Server 2003 was released to apt fanfare, .NET was repositioned as the flagship brand for the technical side of the house. Visual Studio .NET now carries the banner forward, and with Windows Server 2003 actually out there, and with a few years of alpha and beta to leverage, .NET does seem to be making inroads. It helps that Microsoft operations experts have deigned a whole host of best practices to speed performance so that Windows Server can play in the same ballpark as Unix servers. And if some in the Visual Basic ranks are still lagging in updating their conversion skills, C#, as the Microsoft PDC in November indicated, is hot. .NET news was not limited to Microsoft alone -- Borland rolled out its alternative toolset in 2003. There are no indications that Sun is ready to endorse .NET as we go to press.

Oracle: Ellison and PeopleSoft in awkward clash
The Oracle-PeopleSoft battle makes for good theatre, but observers wonder how the outcome -- no matter who wins or loses -- will affect users of Oracle, PeopleSoft and J.D. Edwards applications. Experts also wonder whether the time-consuming action will force Oracle execs to take their eyes off the database ball. CEO Larry Ellison clearly made the June 6th move to boost his flagging applications business in the wake of PeopleSoft's agreement to buy smaller rival J.D. Edwards, while SAP continued to gain market share at Oracle's expense. And based on past moves, Ellison has shown flashes of brilliance as well as some foolhardiness. Some experts quickly questioned whether the PeopleSoft acquisition could work once Ellison declared that his first post-buy move would be to replace PeopleSoft apps with Oracle. Despite the backlash, Ellison appeared to be in this battle for the long run until conceding in a court filing in November that PeopleSoft's promise to refund license fees if the acquisition is approved could kill the offer. Oracle sought an injunction against the program in a Delaware Court. No decision was made by press time. Oracle did not back out after PeopleSoft reported sales growth in the two latest fiscal periods despite questions over the future of its applications. Lawsuits filed by each firm against the other continue to wind their way through the courts.

Enterprise IM: You have Enterprise IM
Instant messaging (IM) was chided by the corporate side as a security threat and toy despite the promise of the technology to improve communications throughout an enterprise. Over the past year, IM has quietly crept into the corporate enterprise and become a key technology for end users and developers. IT groups have moved to take control of corporate IM systems to ensure security and standards issues. Observers predict such attention will ensure that IM avoids the costly problems caused by unwieldy e-mail implementations a decade ago.

Autonomics/Grid: Grid for Autonomics 101

It is called by different names. Some call it autonomic, distributed or self-healing computing, and many call it the "Next big thing," although it is also something of a sideshow to another "Next big thing" known as Grid computing. Virtually all of the major hardware and software players have jumped on both Grid and self-healing, so most bets are covered. If more tolerant Grid and autonomic architectures can come as "out-of-the-box" options, it could make life easier for programmers. It sounds too good to be true, but remember, it would not really be high-tech if it were too believable.

Enterprise Information Integration: EII emerges: you needed it, right?
Enterprise Information Integration, known to friends as EII, is a classic example of the reincarnation of a concept whose time never came. Or whose time is always nigh. Its predecessor, the virtual data warehouse (VDW) died of neglect, largely due to CIO fears that building VDWs would take up too much time and effort for too little reward.

But is EII anything new? "To me, EII is distributed query processing on steroids," wrote Wayne Eckerson in the September issue of ADT. Most PowerPoint slideshows of EII show something resembling a 1990s era hub-and-spoke architecture juxtaposed with a lot of point-to-point spaghetti.

JBoss: A Fleury of activity
IBM and BEA chalked up good results in the Java app server market, but JBoss continued to lurk as an interesting open-source alternative under JBoss Group founder Marc Fleury. A JBoss shadow conference held at the same time as JavaOne did not endear the JBoss crew to Sun, which is a little picky about handing out J2EE-compatible decals, but peace between the two parties continues to threaten to break out.

IBM Rational: Think again
The 2002 deal was played on as one of the biggest software stories throughout 2003. IBM bought Rational and moved quickly to cash in. By some estimates, the buy gave IBM leadership in modeling and SCM, and a firm second-place in automated software quality. The deal puts IBM on the good side of the curve to reign-in development costs and to better align IT with business. The merger is off to a good start and has none of the silliness associated with the earlier Lotus buy. With this, the Palmisano era, so far, does not look unlike the Gerstner epoch. Software and services are where the bread is buttered at IBM. IBM- Rational's sales motto: "Have I got best practices for you!"

Yes, it was an interesting year for IBM-Rational, but the one-year witching date is upon us and viewers are watching to see what the next year brings.

Gates & Co.'s Longhorn: Set the hype meter on 'stun'
With the unveiling of its next-generation OS (code name: Longhorn) in November, Microsoft edged closer to reaching another crossroads. Given that the delivery date is at least two years away, it will be news for quite some time. Details disclosed by top execs Bill Gates and Jim Allchin depicted a so-called "fat client" or client/server architecture that many observers have said for years is ripe for replacement. Early critics have complained that Longhorn will be even more cumbersome than Windows, and will force IT organizations to provide users with significant desktop computing resources. Nevertheless, despite wildfires that closed southern California airports for a time, a record crowd made it to the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in Los Angeles to get the skinny on the Windows successor. Moves by the Redmond giant are still most important to developers and their managers.

Meanwhile, look for Microsoft execs to spread the word that the new OS represents a significant advance. Gates described the release, which promises new storage, communications and graphics technologies and vastly updated security features, as the firm's most important announcement since Windows 95. Remember, we are still at the bottom of the hype meter as Microsoft has at least a couple of years to tell us of the importance of Longhorn.

BPM/BAM: Perilous to ignore
In the early 1990s, business school gurus were pushing Business Process Reengineering, which turned into Business Process Management, or BPM, once workers realized that the reengineering oftentimes led to downsizing. BPM returned to center stage during the recent downtimes as top management pushed corporate units to improve business processes and thus ROI. The BPM resurgence is seen by some as the progenitor of Business Activity Monitoring (BAM), described by the business experts who promote it as real-time monitoring of business metrics. BAM is seen by many observers as next-generation BPM that also utilizes key elements of business intelligence and data warehousing. Champions of BAM, like analysts at Gartner, describe the technology as the killer app for application integration, as applications must be integrated to be monitored in real time. Business users can make decisions based on data gathered from multiple departments in real time, offering the potential of selling significantly more widgets while dramatically cutting costs. Will BAM bring to corporations all that was promised by BPR, BPM, BI and data warehousing? History tells us the potential results are likely over-hyped, but organizations that ignore the trend may be doing it at their peril.

XML-Web services: Happy birthday in 'XMLand'
Though the hype surrounding XML, or Extended Markup Language, may have faded during 2003, its place in the software development world could not be more important as it reaches its fifth birthday. XML technology has become a mainstay in the world of integration, as well as in new development. It is the key technology in the Web services and Services-Oriented Architecture (SOA) models, which continue to be the centerpieces of strategies from industry leaders like IBM, Microsoft, Sun and BEA, and emerging suppliers like Altova, Service Integrity, Logic Library and Computas NA. XML has become part of the plumbing of packaged products and tools, as well as corporate architectures and proprietary applications. The technology has become a key piece of database systems, content management systems, app servers and development tools among other products. Microsoft execs, including Bill Gates and Jim Allchin, made clear during this fall's Professional Developers Conference that XML is a centerpiece technology in the firm's next-generation operating system, code-named Longhorn. It appears that this is one technology where the result matched the early hyperbole. And it is a standard overseen by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), Oasis and others. Clearly, XML champions have succeeded where many others have failed. Software suppliers are notorious for altering standards in their efforts to get an edge on competitors. But, so far, such efforts have failed here.

Borland: Refresh, renew, revisited

Borland Software has somehow survived many pitfalls through the years to reach the 20th anniversary of its founding by the colorful Philippe Kahn in 1983. Though the Borland name has always been magic to developers, there have been several efforts to move the company beyond its roots. Yet each of those efforts -- from the moves to acquire a slew of desktop applications to take on Microsoft Office, to the Inprise days of courting the enterprise, to the agreement to merge with Corel Corp. -- failed miserably.

Current Chief Executive Officer Dale Fuller has brought Borland back to its roots, a strategy that has clearly put the company on more stable financial and technology footing. The company that never gave up gives hope to others during these down times.

Borland has merged the acquired tools of Starbase and TogetherSoft into its mix to truly become a provider of technologies for each step of the development life cycle.

Real-time enterprise: It's here again with a couple of twists
It may be the "now" thing, both literally and figuratively, but the real-time enterprise is here to stay. According to technologist Jnan Dash, it is a natural outgrowth of the collapse of the dot-com boom. Let's go back to those days of yesteryear for a moment to see how it all panned out.

Data before the Web explosion was mostly kept at a lower level within the enterprise. "The packaged apps were mostly designed for clerks who might do order entry all day. High-level executives and knowledge workers were left out," said Dash. Then came the bust, he noted, and with it arose the need for executives to get their hands on information right now. Corporate governance, BPM, BAM, EII -- at the heart of many of these efforts is the desire to streamline enterprises. When we talked with Dash this summer, the pall of recent years had yet to lift.

"Everybody's gloomy, but the truth is that's a very natural cycle. It is nothing new," said Dash. "Now we are saying: 'Let's be careful and figure out what this is all about.' And this is the beginning of the notion of the real-time enterprise."

Worms: The virus plague
The last year saw an explosion of viruses attacking computers throughout the corporate world, resulting in billions of dollars in lost time and data. The worms have caused shutdowns and damage to data and reputations. Corporations responded with anti-virus software, corporate edicts on how to use technology, and bounties for the writers of viruses that attack through corporate e-mail systems. To date, the damage has not resulted in shutting down the country or badly compromising national defense systems, but it appears possible today. It is no longer an operations issue, but a real development concern. Worms and viruses of 2003 typically targeted Microsoft software, and they largely undid Microsoft's attempts to reposition itself as a security zealot. In November, Microsoft took another tack to combat viruses when -- with the FBI -- it announced a bounty on hackers.


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