The year of the bug that failed to bite

When you look back over your life years from now, slouched in your bath chair at the Twilight Home for Bewildered IT...

When you look back over your life years from now, slouched in your bath chair at the Twilight Home for Bewildered IT Professionals, how will you remember the Year 2000?

To jog your memory, over the next couple of pages we've rounded up what we think are the ten defining events of the first year of the new millennium. Whether you agree or disagree, drop Mark Lewis a line at , to tell us how the year 2000 was for you. What were the three most momentous moments in your IT year? And what do you anticipate being the three biggest hurdles you'll have to cross in 2001? There's a bottle of champagne for the first three emails to reach us.

The Millennium Bug

The single defining moment of the year was always going to be its opening one. As it turned out, the Millennium Bug's bark turned out to be far worse than its bite. IT directors across the UK were able to breathe a collective sigh of relief as the new millennium dawned with no sign of either nuclear meltdown or atomic apocalypse. The odd problem cropped up here and there across the globe - in South Korea, the heating system gave out in an apartment block, and in Japan, brokerages reported glitches in record-keeping systems - but all in all, there was nothing to threaten the very fabric of civilisation. As UK PLC went back to work on4 January, IT directors reported only minor problems. Of course, it's a little early to stand at ease just yet: in our first issue of the year, we warned that 31 December 2000 and 1 January 2001 could both potentially cause problems.

I Love You virus

Across the globe on Thursday, 4 May, millions of Internet users logged on to find friends, relatives and colleagues had e-mailed them with heart-warming protestations of love. But joy quickly turned to anguish when they realised they had been on the receiving end of one of the most vicious bugs in the history of the Internet, one which cost users an estimated $10bn worldwide. The I Love You virus was incubated by a lone hacker in the Philippines, 24-year-old Onel de Guzman, who escaped prosecution later in the year. Petrified IT managers were left to ponder just how much more damaging a concerted strike by a crack team of cyber terrorists might be. As the full scale of the virus became apparent, the inevitable witch-hunt began. But while many fingers were pointed at Microsoft, the reality was that companies needed to learn their lesson and establish an integrated Internet security strategy spanning staff training, expert security staff, best of breed solutions and absolute vigilance.

SSP salary survey

The dotcom debacle notwithstanding, 2000 was the year in which e-business really settled into its stride. Anybody who harboured the slightest doubt that the Internet was steadily changing the way we did business, had only to look at the results of the quarterly SSP survey of salary and skills that appeared in May. For the most part, the picture was of an IT recruitment market that was sluggish and depressed, with few signs of an upturn following the millennium bug freeze. Of the 25 most wanted skills in the first quarter of the year, all but three fell in terms of demand. Only Internet skills proved able to buck this trend. And how. The survey reported a 31% increase in demand for Java skills, a whacking 139% increase in demand for HTML skills, and a jaw-dropping 191% rise in demand for generic Internet skills, compared with the first quarter of 1999.

Windows 2000

Windows 2000, Microsoft's most significant OS release since Windows NT in 1993, was launched in February amid revelations of hardware incompatibilities, a Europe-wide anti-trust case and lingering technical glitches. The company's admission, just days before the launch, that IT departments would have to upgrade the Bios in many desktop machines in order to take advantage of some of the operating system's new features, didn't help any. Despite these teething problems, a Computer Weekly survey revealed that half of all IT managers planned to implement Win2000 in its first 18 months, tempted, presumably by the promise of advances in security, networking capabilities, performance and reliability. There were teething problems at the Win2000 launch party itself, where the video element of the stage-managed festivities was struck by a bug. Co-hosting the show with Patrick Stewart of Star Trek fame, Bill Gates invited the gathered throng to "go for a test drive". Unfortunately, the giant screen behind them displayedÉ absolutely nothing. Rarely can poor Bill have spent a longer or more agonising 15 seconds.

Chinook - a breach of natural justice

Computer Weekly's three-year investigation into the cause of the RAF's worst peacetime air accident, the crash of a Chinook helicopter on the Mull of Kintyre, reached a watershed last month. A report released by the House of Commons' Public Accounts Committee vindicated our long-standing campaign to prove that faulty software, rather than pilot negligence, could have been behind the crash, which claimed 29 lives. Computer Weekly provided 11 of the 34 pages of evidence included in the report. Although Defence Secretary Geoffrey Hoon declined to order a fresh enquiry into the accident, the report marked a turning point in the case, and caused huge embarrassment to both the Government and Ministry of Defence which blamed pilot error for the crash. The report judged their logic to be flawed, and found that there were serious reasons to doubt the safety of the Chinook MK2 at the time of the crash.

The Computer Weekly E-Business Excellence Awards

Call us biased, but we at Computer Weekly felt that the inaugural Computer Weekly E-Business Excellence Awards symbolised a punctuation mark in the growth of e-business in the UK. Never in the field of UK e-business had so august a panel of judges been assembled, nor such an exemplary set of winners recognised. Over 600 industry movers and shakers crammed into the grand ballroom at London's Intercontinental Hotel on the night of 7 November. Such was the demand for places that we could easily have filled the venue twice over. Those lucky enough to be present witnessed organisations of the calibre of Virgin Atlantic Airways, Woolwich plc and J Sainsbury scoop award categories covering all facets of e-business. After all the hype surrounding e-business, it was good at last to be able to trumpet a few really visionary organisations. For those organisations that came away from this year's awards empty-handed, rest assured: there is always 2001!

The Dotcom shakeout

It had to be too good to last. Dotcoms that a month before had seemed unassailable were left looking like April fools as the inevitable market rationalisation kicked in early this year - and none more so than Lastminute.com, whose floatation was a debacle. Stock market turbulence rocked the start-up community, and not all were able to survive. Boo.com went the way of all flesh, as did wetnose.com, clickmango.com and Boxman.com. More recently, Citikey became the first high-profile m-commerce casualty, signalling the inevitable bursting of the Wap bubble, after a year of furious hype. For the survivors of the shakeout, life became rather less of a breeze. Overnight, venture capitalists began demanding to see business plans, business models and financial reports, the miserable so-and-sos, and a generation of teenage millionaires were faced with the prospect of selling on their jets, sports cars and speedboats. In such an uncertain climate, the coining, by the dotcom community, of the acronym P2P, or path to profit, seemed optimistic. A recent Computer Weekly story hazarded to suggest that a more useful acronym for the future might be R2R, to describe the road to ruin that many start-ups are currently travelling.

The RIP Act

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) prompted fears of a Big Brother state when it came into force in October. The act gave the government "snooping rights" to monitor e-mail messages and web transactions. Equally contentious was the empowerment of employers to survey the e-mail activity of its employees. Originally the Government had wanted employee consent to be a legal requirement for any employer surveillance. Reflecting a major concession, the final Bill only required employers to make all reasonable efforts to inform staff their communications may be intercepted.

But no sooner had those dubious attachments been deleted, than the RIP Act was called into question by two other conflicting pieces of legislation: the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998. Both Acts raise a standard for the e-mail user; the mantra being 'personal e-mail' should remain that way and we, as human beings have a right to communicate via e-mail freely and unmolested.

This quagmire of legislation promises interesting times for employers trying to bring some kind of order to the 7 million or so e-mails that are sent each day in the UK. What has become 'the killer app' on the internet could become a massive headache for IT managers everywhere.

The Microsoft vs DoJ case

Microsoft found itself well and truly on the wrong side of US anti-trust laws when it was ordered to split in April of this year. Judge Penfield Jackson found that the software giant had an unhealthy monopoly of PC operating systems while its use of exclusionary deals to tie its web browser to PC makers was also admonished.

The court ruled that Microsoft must split into two companies - one focusing on operating systems the other on applications. It also said the company must share application programming interfaces as soon as they become available. As expected Bill Gates launched a counter-attack claiming that the US Department of Justice was hostile towards Microsoft's efforts to make products work well together. He described the plans as, "like asking McDonalds to sell burgers, but not fries, and forcing it to give its secret recipe to Burger King." Users groups welcomed the news, saying that increased competition would bring greater interoperability to the desktop market, but Microsoft's appeal looks set to stymie any real progress for a year or two. Industry-watchers have already dubbed the "mini-Microsofts" as "Baby-Bills" although so far there are no plans to remake the "Boys from Redmond."

Farewell e-envoy

September brought the unexpected resignation of e-envoy, Alex Allen, who returned to Australia in October due to his wife's illness. While industry watchers agreed that Allen had had good intentions, still his premature departure seemed somehow to sum up the Government's toothless approach to the nurturing of UK e-business. Having flown in from Down Under back in January to spearhead the UK take-up of e-business, Allen quickly found he was facing an uphill struggle.

The RIP Bill, that bˆte noir of the IT directorate, hung over him throughout his tenure. An unsympathetic budget, a lack of sufficient funds for tackling cybercrime and a siege mentality when it came to inviting pre-policy consultation, only added to the IT community's mistrust of the Government.

By June, a Computer Weekly survey revealed that 83% of IT managers felt that the Labour government had no grasp of the importance of e-business to the British economy. The government's e-report card for 2000 should surely read: "must try harder".

What's hot - and what's not

HOT

  • Java

  • Linux

  • XML

  • .aero, .biz, .museum and other ICANN-sanctioned domain names

  • Win2000

  • Playstation 2

  • Whitehall's Webmaster General

  • 3G mobile licences

  • Peer to peer computing

    NOT

  • Wap

  • B2B exchanges

  • Dotcoms

  • .Net

  • Legacy skills

  • IT workers over the age of 50

  • e-legislation

  • Not Com, Burn Rate and other examples of e-speak

  • Emoticons : (

  • ADSL

    Fond farewells

  • The Amdahl mainframe

  • Boo.com (MKI)

  • Clickmango.com

  • Leo Fantl, member of the 1950s LEO team

  • Alan Benjamin OBE, first Director General of the Computing Services Association

  • Alex Allen, the first e-envoy

    The year in soundbytes

    "We are making this country an e-friendly place for business". Jack Straw, Home Secretary

    "We are betting on the transformation of the software industry to a service model"Steve Ballmer, Microsoft

    "The only things left on PCs are Office and games"Larry Ellison. Oracle

    "This is the year of ASP hype. Next year is the year of reality" Jon Collins, Bloor Research

    "The software industry is not very good at exercising common sense" Simon Moores, Windows Forum

    "Software is unpredictable and the Web is very immature"David Roberts, TIF

    "What is happening is no dot com fad that will come and go"Tony Blair, PM

    "If Windows 2000 lives up to what Bill Gates says it will do then it looks set to be a Unix killer" Tim Gregory, BACS Ltd

    "It is difficult to make a 50 year old Cobol programmer into a Web programmer overnight"Richard Holway, analyst

    "It's debatable whether ordinary consumers are actually demanding mobile e-commerce services right now" Duncan Brown, Ovum

    "The only way to be 100% safe is not to be connected to the Internet"Shaun Orpen, Microsoft.

    "It is annoying that, after all the investment sunk into the Internet over the past five years, we've got a new technology and a new way of annoying users" Jacob Nielsen, Web site design guru

    "We have been in dungeons here for two years. We shall be glad to get out" Gwynneth Flower, Action 2000

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