January 3, 2007
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What mattered in 2006

Over the course of a year, we come across a lot of things that catch our attention. What follows is a little review of what we think were the biggest tech-type stories of 2006; most, we expect, will be just as big in 2007. With a nod to David Letterman, here are our top ten.

10. The PC turns 25: ... and what a remarkable 25 years it has been. From the days of $6,000 beasts with maybe 256k of RAM and a second 5.25-inch floppy drive as an expensive add-on to computing devices small enough to fit in your pocket, we've come a long way. One little tidbit we love: Ken Olsen, then the CEO of Digital, said in 1977, "There is no reason for anyone to have a computer in his home." In context, he was talking about large computers controlling every aspect of the operation of a household, but today, given the size and power of mobile computing devices coupled with the ubiquity of connected networks, he might have been right for all the wrong reasons.

9. En requiem: A good number of pioneers in the high tech world passed away during 2006, but there was one passing that went by with barely a whimper. Netscape -- the first browser many of us used, and arguably the piece of software that prodded the Internet into the global economy in a way no one could have imagined -- was officially turned into complete irrelevancy by AOL, the company that thought it could overcome horrid customer service, high prices, and a gazillion CDs to be the dominant player in the Internet market. For its own part, AOL shot itself in the foot in a big way when it made the search results of 650,000 members publicly available.

8. Blackberry preserved: RIM, the folks who make the Blackberry, finally caved in and settled a patent infringement lawsuit brought by NTP, a patent holding company. What makes the case important is three things. First, most of the patents that were supposedly infringed upon have been deemed invalid by the US Patent and Trademark Office; second, RIM has been sued by Visto over similar patents; and third, the whole matter is adding fuel to the fire on the issue of patent reform. So why is RIM such a target for lawsuits? Well, for one thing, they're profitable.

7. Winter reaches the eighth circle: There were enough signs that it became as difficult to pick just one every issue, but these two stood out: Apple started shipping Macs with Intel processors; and Microsoft and Novell agreed to work together on Linux/PC interoperability. One candidate for the list that was passed over because they said they were going to do it: Sun Microsystems made the Java source code available.

6. Sony baloney: It wasn't a very good year for Sony. First, the company caught a lot of flak for installing malware on music CDs. Then laptop batteries started to catch fire. And finally, the PlayStation 3 -- or rather, the unavailability of it -- sparked (pardon the expression) violence in shopping lines, further damaging Sony's brand.

5. HP: Hard-Pressed: When Carly Fiorina was fired as Hewlett-Packard in February 2005, and Mark Hurd hired a month later, the general consensus was that HP would thrive. Oops. Fiorina's biography says the board of directors was "dysfunctional", and the scandal involving board members is lending some credibility to her charges. Four officers of the company have been indicted, HP paid the state of California to settle civil charges, and now Hurd's timely sale of stock options is under review by regulators.

4. Not exactly WIldFIre: Wireless Internet access isn't quite the norm in every municipality, but it did start to blossom in a few places. Our friend flavo spent some time last week in Mountain View, where Google offers free WiFi throughout the city (he gave it mixed reviews). Other cities that announced notable plans or implemented systems include Philadelphia, San Francisco, Anaheim, Boston, Tempe, the state of Rhode Island, Bologna, Italy, and the City of Lights.

3. Social insecurity: Another item that seemed destined to become a regular feature was the announcements by all manner of organization that their security regarding the personal information of employees, customers, members and clients had been breached. The most egregious was easily the theft of laptops belonging to the Veterans Administration that exposed the data of over 26 million people, but there were others. Universities had their databases hacked, and companies lost laptops (some more than once); even virtual worlds and big companies who should know better (see next item) had issues.

2. Deja vu all over again: Maybe we're showing our age, but it wasn't all that long ago that the federal courts decided having one telephone company was a bad idea. Last week, the Federal Communications Commission okayed the merger of AT&T with BellSouth, meaning that the breakup of AT&T into seven smaller companies has now been five-sevenths undone. It isn't so much that AT&T is remetastasizing that makes this a big story; what makes it huge is the revelation that AT&T was not only complicit in the NSA's illegal wiretaps, but was more of a willing and active partner. A lawsuit filed on behalf of AT&T's customers is proceeding despite objections from the government.

1. Clash of Titans: It ain't over yet. Microsoft waited until the last minute before complying with an EU order to provide documents or face $3 million a day fines. But that's actually just the beginning of what will be a big story. The implications for what will happen in the software industry as the result of those documents is global and timeless in scope. A settlement in the case in the immediate future is unlikely, given that Microsoft and the US government, which have been working on a settlement since 2001, are only now getting back on track.

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Damned if you do, damned if you don't

ericpete is the editor of the Experts Exchange newsletter. He also coaches a 7th grade basketball team, enjoys spending time in kitchens, and isn't above taking on brain surgery if he gets a couple of weeks to practice.

Last issue, we had a nice article by MtnNtwks that gave a detailed breakdown of what to look for in those emails that say "Uh oh -- someone's messed with your eBay account". A healthy number of our Gentle Readers didn't get the newsletter, and therefore missed out on a pretty complete description. You can read it here. Two others, karlaf and CrashBoomBang, were kind enough to send us the messages their servers sent, so we were able to track it down.

That's the bad news. The good news is that if you didn't receive it, the antivirus software used by your Internet provider is working overtime. As part of the article, MtnNtwks included the URL (not a link -- just the URL as text) to a well-known phishing outfit; the AV software bounced back a pretty good number of newsletters just because the text was there. If you're interested in reading why, there's a good description at InternetDefense.net. Our own AV software let it through (probably because we actually trust the experts-exchange.com domain), but it did catch a sample of that same virus over the weekend.

We suppose it wouldn't be so bad if it were people buying blocks of IP addresses and paying for the servers, routers, switches and bandwidth to send out all the garbage we get every day (lately, it runs about 800 individual pieces a day); at least then we'd know that our use of a spam filter was costing them a tiny bit of money to gain nothing. But as our Gentle Readers have been reminded by Nata all too frequently, much of that garbage email is being sent out by people who don't even know they're sending it. The latest: an email that comes disguised as a New Year's greeting.

The numbers are staggering. According to an article at CRN, 8 million computers are sending billions of junk emails every day, and 85 per cent of that junk is phishing. Half of those phishing attempts are based on eBay and PayPal; no wonder we got nailed. (Even The--Captain, who says he doesn't even have a PayPal account, got one.) Our ISP doesn't get hammered as bad as most, but they're pretty small; but the email received by our access provider -- Comcast -- could be as high as 98 per cent spam.

We suppose we should take solace in knowing that Experts Exchange is not alone in having this kind of problem. Recently, Microsoft's Exchange Services -- which are designed to help customers filter out spam -- was blacklisted as a spammer (incorrectly, according to Microsoft). Still, one would expect that service providers would notice that some poor slob is generating a lot of traffic, and would take some steps to control it; after all, it's in their financial interests to do so.

Or maybe it isn't. Joe Sixpack isn't likely to complain much when his cable or phone bill goes up a couple of bucks this year, and it's a lot cheaper to do nothing but rake in those few extra bucks than it is to develop, implement and maintain new systems. Craig McCaw, are you paying attention?

Tip from the Moderators

For the last few weeks, we've been seeing a ton of questions asked in various topic areas about the new site, so we've compiled some of them into a sort of informal FAQ about it. While we have no problem with trying to answer your individual questions about the site, it will be a lot more helpful to Experts Exchange if you send in your feedback. Having said that:

Is this the way things are going to be? Because it seems like there are lots of things that need fixing...
In a word, no. The new site is very much a work in progress; it is close to being ready to use, but it is not complete. There are a number of things about it, though, that cannot be tested under simulated conditions, so EE has chosen to let the people who are going to be using it test it, discuss it, and provide feedback on it. As a side note, that is one of the reasons it isn't as fast as it could be; EE uses a number of web servers for the live site, but doesn't for the new one, so be patient.
How do I see questions in the TAs I want without having to navigate through all of those new topic areas?
Create a filter. Netminder wrote out step-by-step instructions for how to do them. The notifications system (at least for questions as they're asked) works perfectly.
My profile says I earned points on the new site, but I've never posted there. What gives?
Questions asked on the new site can be put into up to three different zones. When the question is closed, points are awarded (for the purposes of rankings and certificates) in each of the zones. On the new site, you will see each zone listed; on the live site, the new zones are consolidated into one group.
I posted a comment on the new site, and clicked the Proposed Answer button. Now the question shows as being "Locked". What's going on?
In a practical sense, nothing -- meaning others can post comments, and the points can be awarded. We don't know exactly what EE has planned for the new button -- who can use it, what impact will it have on the question -- but we do know that it is a response to Expert requests over the last few years. When we know something, we're sure you will read about it here.
So when is Experts Exchange going to release it?
At the risk of seeming too much like Duke Nukem Forever, EE will release the new site when the bugs are gone and they are convinced that it works. Some parts probably won't be completed (one thing we know will not hold up the release is the Expert skin), but the processes of asking and answering them have to work without problems.
Page Two: More News and Notes
Nata's Corner: My List of Lists

woman in specticalsThroughout the year, I try to write about things that I think will help newer computer and Internet users. A lot of EE members can get easily intimidated by how much people on the site know, and not all of us can really claim to be Experts -- we just use our computers to stay in touch with friends and relatives, or to keep track of our recipes, or to check on what is going on in the world, or to have a bit of fun at the end of the day.

Because of that, a lot of the stuff I talk about has to do with the things that I run into -- email viruses, spyware, simple "how-tos", and things to watch out for. But I also keep track of some things for the editor; if I come across something I think he'll be interested in, I send it to him. Some things I keep for myself though, and one of those is this: The best lists of things I've come across in the past few weeks. I hope you like reading them as much as I did.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Inside the numbers
ameba, one of EE's prominent Experts, provides us with a list of newly earned Certificates. His list of all of the Certified Experts is located at his site. The list below covers the period from December 18 through January 1.
Expert Certified in Topic Area
jefftwilley
mpmccarthy
fanopoe
Nightman
Raynard7
webtubbs
jeebukarthikeyan
Nanda1
simsjrg
matrixnz
b0lsc0tt
b0lsc0tt
riyazthad
robjeeves
pushpakumara
darkstar3d
Sage
Guru
Master
Sage
Guru
Master
Guru
Master
Master
Guru
Master
Guru
Master
Master
Master
Master
MS Access
MS Access
MS Access
Microsoft SQL
Microsoft SQL
Visual Basic
ASP.NET
ASP.NET
Networking
Windows XP
Windows XP
JavaScript
VB.NET
Exchange_Server
Exchange_Server
Exchange_Server
Expert Certified in Topic Area
Expert1701
mjmarlow
_Katka_
Pber
feptias
reach2piyush
ingwa
i_m_aamir
SysExpert
shalomc
dennis_maeder
awking00
drs66
war1
makerp
johnb6767
Guru
Master
Master
Wizard
Master
Master
Master
Master
Wizard
Guru
Master
Guru
Master
Wizard
Master
Master
C#
C#
C#
Win. Server 2003
Win. Server 2003
Java
PHP
PHP
Windows 2000
Web Development
Web Development
Oracle
Oracle
Operating Systems
C++
Microsoft Network
Expert Certified in Topic Area
btutt
Nightman
ET0000
slyong
PsiCop
ppfoong
Yuval_Shohat
VoteyDisciple
clockwatcher
vb_elmar
masterbaker
ramazanyich
phileoca
ahoffmann
itcoza
chrisnewman01
Master
Master
Guru
Guru
Master
Master
Master
Master
Guru
Guru
Wizard
Guru
Master
Guru
Master
Master
Databases
Databases
Outlook
Linux
Linux
Mysql
Mysql
CSS
Perl
VB Controls
WinNT Net.
Apache
Lounge
Linux Prog.
SBS Small Bus. Server
Citrix
2498 experts have 4275 certifications: Genius: 129 Sage: 184 Wizard: 281 Guru: 768 Master: 2913
Copyright ? 2007. All rights reserved.