WinInfo 2000: The Year In Review (Part Four)

Welcome to the conclusion of my Year 2000 retrospective. On to Part Four...

This month opened with the news that Microsoft would, for the first time, make a beta version of Visual Studio available to the public; the company said that Visual Studio.NET Beta 1 would be publicly available when it was released sometime soon. Intel canceled its controversial "Timna" processor, which would have eventually replaced the Celeron in low-end PCs. The Timna featured a P6-based microprocessor, along with built-in memory and graphics controllers. Microsoft shocked the world when it bailed out yet another fallen competitor, this time Corel, for $135 million; the deal was later revealed to be even more one-sided than originally expected, with Corel forced to port Microsoft's .NET technology to Linux is asked. With it's Beta 1 release of Whistler slipping further and further into the future, Microsoft released an interim build to testers that featured a new Setup Wizard and faster Recovery features.

On the legal front, Microsoft and the DOJ filed dueling proposed schedules for the antitrust appeal, with Microsoft eventually winning out. Dell warned of slowing sales while Gateway said everything was just fine; as the holiday season unfurled, however, it was Gateway that was hit hardest as Dell sailed through the troubled times virtually unaffected. Red Hat CTO Michael Tiemann boasted that his company started the open source software revolution, which, of course, they did not. Microsoft invented a new way to gauge the speed of email servers and then promptly awarded its Exchange Server 2000 first prize; go figure. Microsoft outdid the Windows Me "launch" (which consisted of a traveling show that visited shopping malls) when it "launched" Mac:Office 2001 at a CompUSA retail store near San Francisco; I guess it was within driving distance of 80% of the customers for this product. Speaking of Apple, I began suggesting that the company was going to have some financial problems that were unrelated to other industry downturns; in January, this was proven correct when it was revealed that Apple sales were down over 40 percent for the holiday season, compared to an average of 26 percent for the rest of the computer industry. In a related report, StatMarket said that Mac OS marketshare remained stagnant during 2000, slipping a bit to 2.84 percent overall; this suggested that the only people buying Macintoshes by mid-2000 were existing customers. All in all, Apple should have seen the hard times coming.

Linux continued its downward spiral as the 2.4 kernel delays continued and Compaq warned that momentum for the open source software was waning; the 2.4 kernel was originally due in October 1999 and it still hasn't shipped. Emachines released an MSN Companion device. Microsoft demonstrated new developer features in Office 10, including Office Designer and the Local Web Storage System; these features were all removed from Office 10 by the end of the year. Microsoft released Exchange Server 2000, and Intel announced that mobile computers would hit the 1 GHz mark in early 2001; I can't wait. Sun announced that it would open source Star Office, calling the new version Open Office.

In mid-October, shares of Microsoft fell to a two-year low at $49.56; the previous December, they were trading near $120. And we say the government doesn't work for us. Microsoft president and CEO Steve Ballmer dropped a couple of bombshells during a speech when he revealed that his company would support the Palm OS with its Pocket Office applications, sticking a knife into the back of the PocketPC. Ballmer also had some interesting things to say about Sun Microsystems and Linux, which he described as "crazy" and a "phenomenon," respectively.

Office 10 Beta 1 was updated with an Outlook Refresh that fixed some problems in that email client; Microsoft released the full Beta 2 a month later. Microsoft released MSN Explorer, which previewed the future Windows.NET user experience. The company also rebranded and updated its Partner Certificate Program, which went into effect on January 1. Sony released the PlayStation 2, but short supplies led to a frustrating Christmas for the company, which saw its new baby outsold 2-to-1 by the Sega Dreamcast. But don't feel too pumped up about the Dreamcast; Sega still lost money, announced that it would start releasing game for other systems, and became a takeover target; 2001 might be the Dreamcast's last year.

In late October, Microsoft's network was hacked and conflicting reports came out of Redmond over the course of that weekend. First, it was nothing, then the source code to Office and Windows was compromised, then it was nothing again. The hacker had access for a few hours, no wait, several weeks, actually, it was just a few weeks and we watched them all the time. We may never know what really happened, but then it's just this type of insecurity that makes us doubt Microsoft all the more. Shame on the company for not handling this better.

WinInfo exclusives from October: The Whistler Beta 1 release date slipped yet again, when I was told "Think November;" it actually shipped in the late hours of October 31, an omen I'm sure; frustrated testers who had been accepted in Whistler for Beta 1 were wondering why they had never heard from Microsoft. I reported that ISA Server was delayed until December; this delay ultimately cost both BackOffice and Small Business Server 2000, both of which were complete before then, except for the ISA Server component. Microsoft had decided to radically change the MCT program and planned a November unveiling of its new program; infighting eventually pushed this back and I'll have more on this soon. I refuted reports about new builds of Whistler that weren't actually in testers' hands, and then reported on an actual interim build that did go out, build 2287; this was the last interim build before Beta 1. I reported that Bill Gates and Disney's Michael Eisner would appear at the launch of MSN Explorer; you know, I don't even know if this ever happened!

Microsoft released Whistler Beta 1 (Build 2296), a solid look at the next version of Windows; however, by the time build 2410 shipped in early January, it became obvious that there were lots of changes ahead. Beta 1 focused on compatibility, not new features. "This release will help us continue to receive the feedback we need," Microsoft VP Brian Valentine said, "which will help ensure broad compatibility of software applications and hardware devices and ultimately provide the best customer experience." Microsoft announced IE 5.5 SP1. Compaq released its own MSN Companion device. Microsoft bowed to pressure from Germany and provided instructions on removing the disk defragmentation feature from Windows 2000; the feature was provided by Executive Software, whose CEO is a Scientologist. Microsoft released DirectX 8.0. The Linux bust continued as shares in VA Linux tumbled to new lows in the $15 range; the company was somehow worth over $9.5 billion at one point.

In mid-November, I headed to Fall COMDEX for the upteenth time and attended Bill Gates' keynote address, where he showed off Office 10, a cool TabletPC, and Visual Studio.NET. The highlight of the keynote, however, was David Lauren, son of fashion designer Ralph Lauren, who showed off the new Web site. Microsoft inadvertently referred to Whistler as "Windows 2001" in a press release; when I mentioned this in WinInfo, they corrected the reference and asked me to change the story, which I did. At COMDEX, I ran into Steve Ballmer a few times ("HOW YA DOIN'?"), ClearType guru Bill Hill, TabletPC guy Bert Keely, and a number of other people from Microsoft. Microsoft announced their subscription option for Office 10 and released a new Media Player for the PocketPC. Intel announced that it would ship the Pentium 4 the following week.

Microsoft released MSN Messenger 3.5 and announced that it's C# programming language would go the standards route, unlike, ahem, Java. Intel shipped the Pentium 4 as promised and then suffered a huge backlash when the expensive systems based on the new chip were no faster than cheaper Pentium III-based systems. Word leaked that Corel was looking to get out of the Linux business after the company made far less money selling its Linux products than anticipated. The European Union decided to merge its two antitrust investigations of Microsoft. T-shirt of the year: "I hacked Microsoft's network and all I got was this lousy source code." Microsoft filed its official appeal and attacked Judge Jackson for a variety of reasons that boiled down to "ooh... we HATE that guy!"

WinInfo exclusives from November: BackOffice Small Business Server 2000 was delayed until January/February 2001. I revealed that Internet Explorer 6.0 would feature an integrated media player and Instant Messaging (IM) client, along with other new Explorer bars. Not really an exclusive, but my official guesstimate on the Whistler name is "Windows.NET 2002;" we'll see what Microsoft marketing thinks. I reported that Microsoft was launching Office 2000 SP2 before the company announced it; the SP2 release contained a nasty surprise for Outlook users, especially if they didn't want the Outlook Security Patch.

Microsoft did it's best to derail the AOL/Time Warner merger. The company released a Bonus Pack for Windows Media Player 7. IDC reported that sales of Windows 2000 were surging, despite a lack of communication from Microsoft on that subject. Microsoft dropped Office Designer and Local Web Storage from Office 10, citing complaints from testers. Microsoft began requiring PassPort on its MSN sites, drawing privacy complaints. Stephen King announced that he had made over $500,000 from selling a multi-part eBook called "The Plant;" not bad considering that it works out to over $375,000 in profits. Microsoft announced that it would support P3P in IE 6; if you know what that means, you need to get out more. Microsoft made a number of charitable donations, apparently in an effort to keep up with CEO Bill Gates, who gave away a large amount of his fortune in 2000; Bravo, Bill.

Microsoft previewed its Windows Media 8 audio and video technologies, completed BizTalk Server, and snagged Electronic Arts to develop games for the Xbox, and it did that all in one day; not bad. Joining the rest of the tech sector, Microsoft lowered its earnings forecast for the quarter ending December 31, 2000. The FTC approved the AOL/Time Warner merger, setting the stage for a final showdown with the FCC; AOL CEO Steve Case asked the FCC to complete its review by the end of the year, and the FCC declined. Microsoft lost a nasty legal battle with the so-called "permatemps," people who had been hired temporarily by the software giant and then went on to work there for years, without any of the benefits normal employees got. Courts in Arizona and California allowed class action lawsuits against Microsoft to continue due to their consumer protection laws; the suits are based on Microsoft's antitrust loss and relate to Microsoft overcharging consumers for Windows.

Microsoft extended the deadline for NT 4.0 certifications to the end of February to help last minute test-takers find space to complete their requirements. The company also introduced a new NT 4.0 exam that can be used as an elective for those seeking certification in Windows 2000. Microsoft dropped the volume license for consumer Windows products such as Windows Me.

Microsoft released Whistler Embedded Beta 1. Microsoft president and CEO Steve Ballmer emailed employees and told them that that company would have to "significantly reduce" expenses; he remained as bullish as ever about the future. Controversial Microsoft executive Joachim Kempin, who was responsible for the Windows licensing issues that got the company into so much trouble during the antitrust trial, quietly stepped down from his post as senior vice president to work on unspecified "special projects" for the company. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison secretly met with Steve Ballmer; it was the first time Ellison had sat down with a senior Microsoft executive in over a decade. Microsoft bought accounting software maker Great Plains Software for $1.1 billion, confusing just about everybody.

3dfx gave up the ghost and sold all of its core assets to NVIDIA. Oracle posted the first in a series of free Dynamic Web services designed to compete with Microsoft's .NET strategy. As the holiday sales period finished up, sales were shown to be up only slightly, which was much lower than expected; analysts predicted a PC price war for early 2000. Apple Computer later complied, lowering the prices of its high-end Macs by as much as $1000. Egghead added to the doldrums by announcing that its network had been hacked; millions of credit card numbers might have been stolen, but the investigation is ongoing.

WinInfo exclusives from December: Microsoft provided a Beta 2 patch to Office 10 testers. I reported that ISA Server, finally, had gone gold

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