At Large: Seasonal adjustment

At Large: Seasonal adjustment

Despite protestations to the contrary, Matthew JC. Powell insists that the burgers are not better at Hungry Jack's . . .

What can I do? This is the last issue of ARN for 1998, and therefore this is my last column for 1998. The obvious thing to do would be to write up my assessment of how the industry has grown, matured, developed and so forth through the year. I have two problems with that: first, I hate doing the obvious thing; second, I can't think of any way in which the industry has developed or matured through the year. Far as I can tell, it's the same beast it was last year.

OK, so maybe Microsoft isn't perceived quite the same way anymore. Bill "Iron" Gates hasn't acquitted himself well under DoJ questioning, and the more he says the less pleasant he seems. A year ago, the world at large saw him as an extremely successful, highly determined, somewhat eccentric geek. That image has slipped weekly as he has become more and more demonised in the press, and I cannot help feeling sorry for him.

Other visible signs of a bad year for Microsoft included the repeated postponements of Windows NT 5.0, now renamed Windows 2000 to give the company a bit more breathing space. Add to that the disappointing release of Windows 98 and the unthinkable legal defeat at the hands of Sun over Java and it all gets a little scary. On the plus side, vesting more power in Steve "Fester" Ballmer is likely to prove a positive move, and customers are already salivating over Office 2000. So 1999 may be better.

Exceeded expectations

The industry doesn't view Apple quite the same way either. Steve "Interim Forever" Jobs has exceeded the expectations of all but the most zealous believers, and has delivered profitability and a bit of cred to a company that had been written off. The iMac got more press than any other single computer product released through the year, indicating that maybe the Cupertino clan isn't as irrelevant as some thought.

Question marks remain: can the momentum be maintained? Can the surprise factor that worked so well for iMac work again for whatever the company releases next year, now that everyone's looking? What if Steve decides he likes Pixar better after all? Is anyone else at Apple actually doing anything?

It was a mix of good news and bad for Compaq and Digital. Good news if you worked for Compaq, bad if you worked for Digital. With even Robert "Simply Irresistible" Palmer riding off into the sunset rather than take a second-string job at the mega-company, you can imagine what life was like for lesser lights. Meanwhile, the rest of us are still getting used to the new Compaq, and trying very hard to see the difference. When I work out where the 9.6 billion dollars went, I'll let you know. Trust me, I didn't take it.

An odd one too

Intel's had an odd one too. Sure, the Pentium II has stayed on top of things, Xeon's been received well and most people aren't too fussed about continuing to wait for Katmai and Merced. But this time last year, Andy "The Lemon" Grove was on the cover of Time magazine as its Man of the Year (Why? Why? Why?) and less than six months later he'd been relegated to figurehead and handed over the reins of executive power to Craig "Grin And" Barrett. Celeron was lauded as the company's saviour in the entry-level PC space with its low-cost high-power design, but the market didn't buy it - largely because of its high cost and low power. Look on the bright side, Intel: 1999's got to be better.

And finally we wave farewell to one of the more fun companies the industry has chewed up and spat out in recent years, Netscape. By taking technology from academia and translating it into something the public could consume and understand, Netscape led the Web explosion. It succeeded where AOL and Compuserve had been failing for years, and gave Microsoft its biggest scare since, well, ever. But AOL and Microsoft turned out to be smarter and tougher than Jim "I Wanna Be Winston" Barksdale thought. Now the question is, where did the 4.2 billion dollars go? Honestly folks, I did not take it.

That's about enough out of me. I didn't want to write one of those stupid trite "that was the year that was" things. They're worse than clip shows in your favourite sitcom. It's like an instinct though. Once a year, salmon swim upstream and die, bears hibernate in the woods, and IT writers prattle on about the past year. Forgive me.

I'm going to go now, and think of ways to spend 13.8 billion dollars.

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