IT's 2004 winners and losers

Fired CEOs, controversial reports and market share battles made for an exciting 2004. Wireless security had a tough year, but mesh networking was one of the year's biggest winners.

It's that time of year again. The time of year when we look back and, in our infinite wisdom, judge other people and companies based on their failings and successes.

We'll start with the losers.

Craig Conway -- A winner on last year's list, PeopleSoft CEO Craig Conway sees the other side of the spectrum this time after getting the Donald Trump treatment by the PeopleSoft board of directors. The board canned him in favor of founder Dave Duffield, claiming he exaggerated financial disruptions while trying to fight off Oracle. Don't cry for Craig -- an $37 million severance package means his kids will still have a merry Christmas.

Domino (or is it Radicati?) -- Never one to speak softly when it comes to the subject of Domino, the Radicati Group published a report that said Domino's install base was eroding and Lotus had an end-of-life strategy for the platform. The report sparked outrage among the Domino user community, analysts and Lotus, which questioned Radicati's research methods, charging the report was Microsoft sponsored.

Sanjay Kumar -- There's nothing quite like an SEC investigation into accounting practices to land a CEO on the loser's list. Kumar, who pledged to stick with Computer Associates despite his demotion to chief software architect, ultimately stepped down in June. A wise decision considering Kumar has since been charged with securities fraud, conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

3Com -- The company ends the year a loser for not being able to back up its tough talk with market share. 3Com entered the enterprise router market with a splash, promising high-quality gear costing as much as 50% less than comparable gear from Cisco Systems Inc., but the vendor has largely failed to gain ground. The company's vice president of sales departed in September amid disappointing sales results.

Wireless security -- Everybody seems to think it's a top priority, but few are backing it up with action. Recent research shows that small and medium-sized businesses are becoming a target of attackers, and many enterprises believe their existing wireless security systems can keep them secure -- others are banning internal wireless networking entirely. Despite the benefits, well-founded security fears are still the primary reason why many companies aren't going wireless.

Java -- Caught in the middle of a tug of war between Sun and the open source community, Java had a rough 2004. The open source community wants Sun to release Java's source code to open source. Sun is balking because it fears Java would fork off into many incompatible versions –- just like it says Linux has.

HP Storage -- Still No. 1 in worldwide disk storage systems, HP's online revenue was down 23% and tape revenue down 16% in the third quarter. That lead CEO Carly Fiorina to pledge the company's unwavering commitment to storage at HP's user conference.

And the winners are …

Cisco -- A year ago, skeptics believed the company's market share in many of its key categories (Wi-Fi equipment, Wi-Fi security, VoIP products) would be eroded by upstarts like Juniper Networks and 3Com.The networking giant, however, is still as strong as ever. Cisco proves to benefit in 2005 as more companies transition to VoIP and it rolls out key elements of its strategy to increase network intelligence and advance communications convergence.

VoIP -- At this point, nearly every company is thinking about, implementing, or has already implemented technology that routs calls securely over the Internet (and by extension, their corporate networks), saving money by bypassing the POTS (plain old telephone system) and opening the door for convergence applications that link voice calls with IM, presence, e-mail, video conferencing and more.

Pamela "PJ" Jones -- The editor of Groklaw.net, Jones runs the definitive site on the SCO-IBM-Linux mess. Sure it's anti-SCO, but it is a one-stop shop for anyone looking for ANYTHING on the suit. It's updated daily, in real time if something is breaking. PJ has become sort of a cult hero for Linux geeks. She gains some status after enduring personal attacks from SCO regarding alleged ties to IBM, which she denies.

Mesh networks -- The ad-hoc wireless LAN systems that pass data from one access point to the next are gaining acceptance, specifically in the public sector as law enforcement agencies and other groups have proven that mesh can be a cheap, fast and reliable architecture for providing connectivity across large (typically outdoor) areas.

Hosted CRM shareholders -- Those who got in on the ground floor with the two hosted CRM companies to go public in the last year can count themselves as winners as they count their cash. RightNow Technologies went public in August, opening at $7, after initially predicting a price of $9 to $11. Not to fear, RightNow was trading at $19 at the beginning of December. Salesforce.com got out of the gate a little earlier with an IPO in June, following several delays. Opening at $11, it was trading at $16.50 at the beginning December.

SAP -- While Oracle and PeopleSoft continue to duke it out, SAP steadily rakes in the revenue and gains market share. SAP is poised to take over the CRM market leadership from Siebel, according to a report from AMR in Boston.

Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I) -- Web services are all about interoperability and the WS-I's mission is to establish best practices and guidelines for enterprises building interoperable Web services. This year it released important documents called Basic Profiles, guides for developing interoperable Web services that cover important specifications like SOAP, WSDL and XML. A Basic Security Profile and guidelines for attachments were also released, laying the foundation for the Web services craze.

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