Re:Viewing 2002 - hardware

Hard work?

Hard work?

Another tough 12 months for vendors but with more intrigue, arguments and technological advances than you might remember, writes Tony Hallett...

It was a year when plenty happened to the giants of computing, the Dells, HPs, IBMs, Intels and Suns but a strangely quiet year for some of the other infrastructure companies. Leaving aside areas such as mobile devices and networking kit, it was a year for Cisco and the now more slimline communications equipment vendors (Ericsson, Lucent, Nortel et al) to quietly lick their wounds after an awful 2001.

Although 2001 had ended with the chips down - at least in sales terms - 2002 began with a stay of execution for Moore's Law - and with a number of releases on the horizon, the possibilities for hardware once again seemed promising.

But before we get to the technology, remember a few personalities at those big computing companies. IBM kicked off 2002 by confirming server boss Sam Palmisano would be its new CEO. He had quite an act to follow and so we compared Palmisano and Lou Gerstner head to head.

The biggest 'hangover' story from 2001 was the ongoing attempt by HP to get the green light for its takeover of Compaq. It would be a merger that would shake up all sorts of product lines, from the biggest Unix servers to handheld computers.

Proving the doubters wrong, HP CEO Carly Fiorina ended the year with her reputation enhanced and the company beating its post-merger targets.

Former Compaq CEO Michael Capellas, not quite happy with playing second fiddle at HP, by November had left for infamous telco WorldCom. In the past he had spoken to this writer about what telecoms can teach IT - now he's gone to find out.

But perhaps the area of (mainly) hardware that should be labelled the 'bitchiest' turned out to be storage, a subject which for headline writers became synonymous with the word 'spat'. There were storage spats between HP and IBM, between EMC and HP and even one where EMC, HP and IBM all chipped in together." And don't think the other major players - HDS, Sun and the tape guys - didn't throw some mud. In short, it became hard to know who to believe.

The irony is that for all the sector's problems - squabbles, lay offs and more - those in charge of IT started to value storage. Consider healthy European sales forecasts optimism from Dell and the subject topping IT priority lists. We even ended the year hearing about breakthroughs at the molecular level.

We mention Dell optimism. The company stood out as the only profitable PC seller of any size. The year the billionth PC was sold was also a low point for the industry, as growth evaporated.

Dell was also increasingly perceived as arrogant as well as successful as it dropped partners to go it alone in new markets - HP in printing and 3Com in networking - and aggressively priced its first PocketPC PDAs.

With the PC we've come to know struggling, many of the big hardware companies considered new form factors. Dell and IBM unveiled mini-desktops but perhaps the idea of a modular, 'ultra' PC - touted by chip designer Transmeta and some analysts - is the most compelling, to gadget-laden individuals, IT departments and vendors sick of low margins. But there remain plenty of reasons why the all-in-one device won't take off.

One of those reasons is that Microsoft, while a sponsor of the ultra PC, is also far more behind the tablet PC and its Mira display technology. Don't judge this technology until you try it - the pen input on a tablet PC is impressive, for one thing - but analysts rightly point out sales won't take off for a while and there are language issues with the OS. Not to mention the price tags.

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