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|Still Standing: The Internet Year In Review|
|News/Features - Technology|
|Written by Robert Jackson Jr.|
|Tuesday, 25 December 2001 18:00|
Travel, if you will, back in time. Madison Square Garden. March 8, 1971. Joe Fraiser, having launched a left hook from somewhere near Buenos Aires to fracture the jaw of Muhammad Ali, won the first bout of their classic boxing trilogy to successfully defend his heavyweight title.
Technically, at least.
But it was Fraiser who looked like the entire company of Riverdance had performed a routine on his face. And it was Fraiser who many felt would die during his two-week stay in the hospital. Fraiser, however, recovered like a true champ. Just in time to be pummeled by a muscle mass of Bad Intentions who answered to the name George Foreman.
In 2001, the public perception of the Internet, in true Smokin’ Joe fashion, was left bruised and battered. But instead of a standing eight count, the Internet is simply still standing. So, insert your mouthpiece and protect yourself at all times – here are my top four events for the past year. Let’s get ready to rumble!
KNOCKOUT: Bill Gates Beats the Justice Department
If rich people play by a different set of rules, what to make of the obscenely rich Bill Gates? This heavyweight champ writes rules that apply only to him and dares anyone to stop him. It’s good to be king. The Justice Department, under the Clinton administration, found Microsoft guilty of antitrust violations, claiming the company illegally bundled its Internet Explorer Web browser with the Windows 95 and 98 operating systems. The government’s solution was to carve up Microsoft like a pumpkin pie. The newly elected pro-business Bush administration had another solution: Put down the knife and step away from the table. Under the controversial November 2 settlement, Microsoft agreed to give computer makers more freedom to run software made by Microsoft rivals on their machines. The settlement, though, has loopholes big enough to drive a truckload of Bill Gates’ walk-around money through. Case in point: The company is not required to divulge proprietary technical information for anything that might have to do with the “security of anti-piracy, anti-virus, software licensing, digital-rights management, encryption or authentication systems.” Basically Microsoft appears to have carved out huge swaths of potentially lucrative territory and put them off limits to competitors, with the blessing of the U.S. government. In the understatement of the century, Gates said he was “pleased.” Ah, it is so good to be king.
SPLIT DECISION: The RIAA Wins Its Case Against Napster
File sharing of digital music: Is it piracy? Is it legal free exchange? Does it even matter? When a federal judge in U.S. District Court ruled in favor of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) that Napster had in fact violated copyright law, it all but killed the hugely popular music service. As a result, Napster has been idle since July while it irons out technical snafus in its attempt to comply with the court-issued injunction. Meanwhile, in an effort to capitalize on the public’s appetite for downloaded digital music, the major music labels have started their own subscription download services such as MusicNet and the recently launched Pressplay.
The RIAA might have won the battle, but it seems it’s losing the war. The reviews by consumers of alternative music sites have been less than stellar. The most common complaint with MusicNet and Pressplay is that you can’t view the library before paying the $9.95 monthly subscription, and you can’t download a track on a portable MP3 player or burn a CD. People want free music, and they’ve flocked to Napster clones such as Kazaa, MusicCity, and Grokster. The most promising site, for those who still have a conscience, seems to be Madeformusic.com. For only $2.95 per month, you can download all types of music, movies, and tons of other files.
SUCKER PUNCHES: Computer Viruses Continue the Attack
On a rainy day, the sun only shines on umbrella salesmen. This year we’ve had Pentagone, SirCam, Red Code, Nimda, I Love You, and various other computer viruses and worms. The names change, but the effects are pretty much the same: The virus normally affects Microsoft Windows and spreads through Microsoft Outlook e-mail clients. And as the viruses have multiplied, the stock prices for anti-virus software companies like MacAfee.com have gotten higher than a high-school sophomore in a glue factory. Of course the damages from viruses wouldn’t occur if people followed simple procedures. (1) Get anti-virus software. You can get free versions from many anti-virus companies. (2) Don’t open attachments unless you are absolutely positive about their origin and intent. If you’re not positive, delete the e-mail.
THROW IN THE TOWEL ALREADY: Dot-Com Failures Mount
In the end, the entire cast of ER couldn’t save this patient. Last week Drkoop.com joined the list of dot-com companies relegated to the scrap heap. I’m assuming the Pet.com sock-puppet spokesdog was there to give needed comfort. Drkroop.com’s story is a common one for cash-burning Internet companies – whether they’re burning cash on 60-second commercials during the Super Bowl (Computer.com) or spending hoards of cash on expensive office digs and supermodel private parties. It’s hard to summon up pity for these companies. Drkoop.com should probably be given a little credit for hanging on as long as it did. Like a lot of its dot-com brethren, Drkoop.com had expected to make its money through selling advertising on its network of health-care information sites. But advertising dried up, and prospects looked dim. The company cheated death by finagling emergency funding, bringing in a new CEO, and reconfiguring its business model. It dropped the dot-com, renamed itself Dr. Koop LifeCare Corporation, and launched a line of branded health-care supplements. Nothing worked. Over its history the company ran up losses of $207 million and saw its stock go from a high of $38 per share to a miniscule seven-tenths of one cent. Pulling the plug on this chronically ill company was nothing short of a mercy killing.
But for dot-coms, hope springs eternal. Companies like Priceline.com and Etoys.com are currently robust entities that have stared death in the face and lived to tell the tale. And for all the ones who bought the farm, there’s Overstock.com. It buys and resells excess inventory from failed dot-coms such as Jewelry.com and Goodhome.com at cut-rate prices.
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