WinInfo Year in Review: A Look Back at 2001

Happy New Year! I'm taking a slightly different approach with this year's annual retrospective; I'll focus on the trends that had the biggest impact on Windows and the PC industry instead of recapping events on a month-by-month basis. Sadly, the result probably isn't any shorter than last year's epic 2000 year-in-review article. But I think that organizing the material this way helps put the year in perspective.

2001, of course, was a year that changed everything, not just in the PC sector but in the wider world, because of a devastating series of terrorist attacks in the United States and the subsequent military operations in Afghanistan. But 2001 would have gone into the history books even without the attacks. We now know that the United States has been in a recession since March 2001, and high-tech companies have responded with lowered earnings, losses, and even bankruptcies. 2001 brought frequent and sudden crashes, merging companies, and a general sense that decades of growth hadn't just slowed but had, in some cases, stalled. The dot-com miracle of just a few years ago turned into a nightmare for many.

2001 was also a year of milestones, and I have a soft spot for such events. 2001 marked the 30th anniversary of email and the microprocessor. IBM's Personal Computer (PC) celebrated its 20th birthday. Open-source sensation Linux turned 10. Software releases such as Windows XP and Mac OS X were also major milestones, ushering in a new age of stable, reliable, and (let's hope) secure computing.

When I pored over the WinInfo Daily UPDATE articles from 2001 this past weekend, I pulled out the important stories that were part of a greater theme. For example, the Microsoft antitrust trial makes for an obvious and somewhat interesting theme, but I had to be reminded that during the past 12 months Microsoft faced many other legal problems that increased the story's significance and brought it into a wider legal scope. And so it went, until I had reviewed and cataloged the biggest stories of the year. I then whittled the list down to the top 10, which meant I had to drop a few good stories, unfortunately.

So here they are--the most important stories of 2001. In the coming days, I'll expand each of these items into an article for WinInfo Daily UPDATE, detailing what happened, explaining why each item is important, and looking ahead to see what we can expect in the coming months.

   1. Security and Privacy Problems Dog Microsoft
   2. Microsoft Spends the Year in Court
   3. Windows XP
   4. PC Market Expands to NonPC Devices
   5. Linux Falters on the Desktop
   6. Apple Fields an OS Contender, but Suffers Tough Year
   7. PC Industry Stumbles Through Recession
   8. Microsoft .NET and Open Alternatives Fight the Future
   9. Expanding Video-Game Market Brings Microsoft Home for the Holidays
   10. Surprising Highs and Lows of 2001

Some of you might be surprised that Linux and Apple made the list, and indeed, I often receive feedback that questions my coverage of these competitors. Although I recognize the natural skepticism I face when I cover such topics as the news editor for Windows & .NET Magazine ("Of course you don't like \[the Mac ... Linux\]; Microsoft owns you" is a frequent, and incorrect assertion), the reality is that both Linux and Apple offer solid competition for certain Microsoft products, and I'd be ignorant if I pretended that they don't exist. Linux is a viable and powerful server alternative, and although the OS hasn't made strong gains in the desktop market, the leaps and bounds it took in 2001 were staggering. Apple, meanwhile, has a rock-solid, UNIX-based OS desktop contender--Mac OS X--and digital-media tools that will keep Microsoft on the run for years to come. Both of these alternatives aren't just worth mentioning, they're worth rallying around. I try to present a realistic view of them, however, not the rose-tinted opinions you'll see on Linux and Macintosh opinion Web sites. And here's a little shocker: I use both of these OSs every day. Trust me, they matter.

Many of you are probably tired of hearing about the Microsoft antitrust trial. I am, too. The problem with this type of story, of course, is that not having an opinion about it is difficult. Although I believe I know enough about the company to make a decent case for my own opinions, I'm sure the people who don't agree with me wonder why I feel so strongly about punishing Microsoft for its crimes. But as with Linux and Apple, I'm realistic: I have an idealistic view of the way things should be (opinion), but my view is rarely in sync with the way things are (news). I'll try to be obvious when I lurch from one aspect to the other. In any event, Microsoft is a large company, and the court recently found that it's a monopoly. So we need to understand that two conditions will result from the company's antitrust problems in 2001: First, Microsoft has to operate from a different set of rules than other companies; that's the law. And second, Microsoft will spend a lot of time in court. But then, all large companies spend a lot of time in court; we might think of this reality as the dark underbelly of democracy in modern America. To paraphrase comedian Bill Maher, if you thought the antitrust trial was the bottom of the barrel, you forgot to look under the barrel.

I can't ignore the antitrust story; it's too important. And if it weren't for Microsoft's amazing ability to create dangerously insecure products on an alarmingly regular schedule, antitrust would have been the top story of the year. I went into this review assuming that it would be.

So there you have it--the top stories of 2001. I'll expand on these themes in the days ahead.

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