Google, Oracle, voting: What these otherwise unconnected topics had in common in 2004 was their importance to the technology industry. Let's look back at the highlights of the...

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SAN JOSE, Calif. — Google, Oracle, voting: What these otherwise unconnected topics had in common in 2004 was their importance to the technology industry. Let’s look back at the highlights of the just-completed year:

Seek and find

What captured our imagination for so much of the year? Google’s initial public offering. The offering price came down from the stratosphere but the IPO still meant big money for the founders, investors and workers. And the offering was conducted in an auction that let the company tell Wall Street what to do, rather than the other way around.

Google stumbled on a key front, however. It kept saying what amounted to “trust us” on the issue of users’ data privacy.

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The company needs to do more to reassure us that it’s not putting together the ultimate snoopers’ toy store.

Merge and capture

Larry Ellison was right, it turned out. Oracle, the enterprise-software company he founded and runs, finally brought PeopleSoft to heel in a buyout that looked like the beginning of an Ellison-predicted consolidation spree in the industry.

But hardly any of the people involved in this affair looked good. The takeover battle was ugly, not just fierce, and did little in the end except postpone the inevitable.

China rising

The giant on the other side of the Pacific Rim was on many more minds in 2004. China’s clout keeps expanding because of a talented, relatively inexpensive work force and huge ambitions.

A year-end deal, in which IBM sold most of its brand-name PC business to Lenovo, a Chinese manufacturer in which the Beijing government holds a major stake, was a watershed. China’s manufacturing prowess has generally been on behalf of other nations’ flagship corporations; now it’s moving more strongly into selling directly to the West.

Microsoft busy

Microsoft bought its way out of almost all remaining legal trouble in the United States, though it still faced a small but measurable problem as the European Union refused to back down from a well-justified action forcing the company to unbundle its Media Player software from the Windows operating system.

But Microsoft’s market power remained essentially undiminished, as it churned out more record profits and made ready to move into new markets.

On the technology front, Microsoft once again was embarrassed by missed deadlines and shoddy practices.

When it came to security, it released Windows XP Service Pack 2, though the warnings of more flaws continued. Meanwhile, many Internet Explorer users moved to safer, more innovative rival browsers.

Barn raisings

Linux and other open-source, free software continued to make enormous progress in quality and market presence despite legal campaigns and standard tech-industry FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) tactics.

Linux still has not made serious inroads on desktop computers, but even here the signs were more positive than negative.

Voting and trust

The 2004 elections provided yet more evidence that our voting system is in bad shape. Because of technological flaws and human error, far too many voters were effectively disenfranchised.

But many recognized what could be the worst problem of all: electronic voting machines that can’t be trusted and can’t be adequately audited.