How Google became Microsoft: A decade of hits, misses and gaffes

The Noughties weren't always nice


For the tech industry, The Noughties were very nice indeed. Except when they weren't.

During the first decade of the millennium, it goes without saying that computing has changed in a big way, becoming cheaper, easier to use, more mobile, and - in the words of the Mountain View Chocolate Factory - more "webby." But it should also go without saying that the decade included its fair share of spectacular snafus.

In an industry where eyes are focused permanently on the horizon, it's easy to forget the big moments and trends of even the recent past. But at The Reg, we don't forget. Here, we rounded up the most significant thingamabobs of the decade, including not only the technologies that had the biggest and most unexpected impact, but also the tactical blunders and the stunning missed opportunities that defined a decade that we so enjoy calling The Noughties.

Most disruptive device of the decade: the iPhone

Sure, the iPod came first. And yes, it changed how we listened to music on the go. It shook up the previously humdrum world of MP3 digital music players and turned portable music into a must-have. It became a de facto standard, with more than 70 per cent market share and 225 million devices sold.

But the competitors in the MP3 player market weren't some of the world's largest software and telco brands. And they didn't feel threatened enough - or hold big-enough resources - to respond in a meaningful way. Mighty Microsoft eventually responded with the Zune, but the company has never been as invested in the fight as it was when it came to dislodging market leaders in other markets during the 1990s.

The iPhone's impact has been far more pronounced - in a far shorter period of time. In just two years, the iPhone has nabbed 50 per cent of worldwide smartphone usage, according to the latest figures. A sleek look and feel - combined with that stylus- and keyboard-free touchscreen - has put the iPhone in classrooms, barrooms, and boardrooms.

Such has been the rapid pace of adoption by consumers and men in suits that the world's largest software company, Microsoft, actually lost market share in the last 12 months and was forced to reassess its mobile roadmap. This after Redmond had laughed off the iPhone as something ill-suited for serious use and refused to bring touch to Windows Mobile.

Nokia, the world's largest cell-phone maker, responded by buying up, spinning out and then open-sourcifying the Symbian Consortium in an effort to out-flank the iPhone's popularity as a development platform (there are now 100,000 apps in the App Store). Meanwhile, business-class favorite RIM and even Palm finally discovered finger input, and now Google is on the verge of selling its very own Googlephone.

Biggest makeover of the decade: Amazon does EC2

During the last ten years, Amazon transformed itself from a mere etailer that opened the occasional API to a kind of virtual data center where developers can host and run almost anything, becoming the first big name to embrace what the world insists on calling "cloud computing". Such was the perceived brilliance of the move - capturing developers and charging them too - that others followed, from software giant Microsoft with Azure to hardware provider Dell and services provider Rackspace.

Such was the lure of the cloud that former web darling Salesforce.com dropped the once trendy Software-as-a-Service moniker it pioneered to reinvent its hosted customer-relationship-management service as a "cloud" platform. From selling toasters to becoming the envy of tech veterans and giants - whodathunkit?

Security shock of the decade: worms

Five months into the new decade and the new millennium, Windows PC users quickly learned not to open Outlook emails on the subject of love. May 2000 saw the global attack of the ILOVEYOU virus, a malicious piece of code called a worm that - when activated - propagated itself by working its way through your address book and emailing itself to everybody you knew. Some 50 million systems were reported hit.

Worms had been in the wild before the 2000s. The difference was the timing and the scale. ILOVEYOU rapidly infected millions of PCs worldwide, hitting everything from home machines to national systems, as virus writers seized on this new-found attack vector in Microsoft's code.

As the world recovered from ILOVEYOU, Code Red caused denial of services on websites running Microsoft's IIS in July 2001, which was followed by Code Red II in August and Nimda in September. Then, over a mere ten minutes in January 2003, Slammer hit more than 75,000 systems running Microsoft's SQL Server database and desktop engine, causing buffer overflows in infected systems. Among those reportedly hit was a nuclear power station.

Having just ushered in the new millennium with the supposedly more-secure-than-ever-before Windows 2000, Windows XP, Office 2000, and Internet Explorer 6, it was a major disaster for Microsoft, especially when outlets such as CNN offered the tip "buy a Mac" as part of its considered security advice in September 2003.

On the back foot, Microsoft introduced service packs whose focus was to close back doors. In January 2002, Bill Gates tried to regain the initiative with his now famous Trustworthy Computing memo. The memo changed the way Windows is built and coded, ensuring greater security, reliability, and privacy for customers.

The immediate effect was to delay shipment of Windows Server 2003 as Microsoft retrained thousands of its engineers in the principles of writing secure software. While worms have remained a feature of the decade, we haven't witnessed a return to the scale and the intensity of the problem that marked the opening of The Noughties.


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