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The Good and the Bad, Part 2

A little while ago (, I posted a list of list of five good events that transpired in technology over the year. I'd like to follow that up now with five bad events. As I mentioned, bad events reflect poorly on the industry, and have negative outcomes for some or all developers.

1. Hewlett Packard. While dysfunctional management has not sidetracked its successful pursuit of sales and profits, that same dysfunctional management has achieved a notable if dubious result – the loss of forty-plus years of goodwill in one fell swoop. This is aided and abetted by a failure of the most senior management to take responsibility for the actions of those they directed. If you were ever looking for an indication that there is no such thing as an ethical employer, you have found it at HP this year.

2. Windows Vista. Yes, it was on the good list, too, because of the expected boost to the industry as a whole. But too many people are asking why we need it. A part of that stems from its late arrival in the market; too many of its features look like reactions rather than innovations. But the worst thing about Vista is that it has no overarching theme. Sure, it is presumably more secure, and presumably has a better (or at least different) user interface, but unlike past releases there is little reason for Microsoft to say, We built this OS because . That is not to say that it ultimately will not be successful; Microsoft has sales and marketing tools that virtually assure that. But the reality is not nearly as exciting as the hype.

3. Software patents. Why do I feel like the nuclear doomsday clock ( is ticking toward midnight here? Software companies are much like countries, and their patents are like bombs. Companies like Microsoft and IBM, with tens of thousands of patents, have in effect nuclear weapons. Much of the rest of the industry has in the back of their minds the thought that one day those weapons will be used against them.

Unlikely? Not if you go by the threats that occasionally get made, most recently by Microsoft. And while I cannot speak of the particulars concerning any one of these nuclear powers, I do know that most have legal teams that are profit centers. These legal teams are charged with identifying other companies' technologies that potentially impinge on their patents. They quietly approach these companies with the threat of a patent lawsuit, and typically make millions of dollars in what they call license fees. I call it a protection racket.

4. Security and identity theft. I received a notification of potential identity theft this year, which brought home the magnitude of this problem. You as an individual can do everything right, and still have someone holding 30-year old records leave an unencrypted computer on an airplane. This has implications to us as individuals, and as developers. The individual aspect should be readily apparent. From the standpoint of the code we right, we have an ethical responsibility to make sure we don't open up someone else's identity to theft. In the future, that ethical responsibility may become a legal one.

5. The decline of development. Let me explain. This one was brought home to me when a vendor representative recently briefed me on the company's new open source strategy. We shouldn't be making money off developers, he said, with the coda that his company would recoup their investment off of deployed applications. While that might be a noble sentiment, I began to wonder when we as a community decided that we would not invest in our developers. Apparently, while I wasn't looking, we decided that developers could make do with free tools. Granted, many free tools are fine, but we should be planning for development in much the same way that we plan for deployment. If we have a plan, supported by money for training, quality, and productivity, we might be surprised at the output we get.

Posted by Peter Varhol on 12/08/2006

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