It was a banner year for e-business in the UK, as the high-tech industry grew by leaps and bounds. Established businesses such as telecommunications and Internet service providers grew and consolidated, and, perhaps most notably, Britain began to develop a startup culture similar to that which has led to so much innovation in the US.
The year started off with the UK pondering its role in international e-business. The government, which says it is committed to making Britain a high-tech leader, was criticised in January for its "plodding" attempts to stay in touch with the Internet, and when its long-awaited e-commerce bill finally arrived in July it faced a stream of criticism.
Though public demand for e-commerce began to grow, studies (such as a Fletcher Research report in February) found that British businesses were sluggish in giving consumers compelling reasons to shop online.
In the meantime, things heated up for Microsoft as it faced off with the US' Department of Justice in its anti-trust trial. "Findings of fact" delivered in November, which said that Microsoft was a monopoly, cast ripples far beyond the software giant to affect every part of the computing and Internet industries.
Linux, the free, open-source operating system that had been cast in the trial as an alternative to Microsoft's Windows, suddenly became a darling of Wall Street, partly because of publicity from the trial. As the year wore on, it seemed that all you needed to boost your stock price was a Linux product. But some of the beneficiaries, such as Corel, later saw their shares plummet again.
Back on home shores, a battle royale developed around Europe's booming wireless communications industry and its Internet-connected potential. Germany's Mannesmann first agreed to acquire the UK's third-largest mobile phone operator, Orange; but this upset Mannesmann's British business partner Vodafone AirTouch so much that in November the wireless giant launched a hostile takeover bid for Mannesmann. The takeover will be decided early in 2000.
In November came the launch of the UK's technology-oriented exchange the techMARK, designed to compete with the US' Nasdaq and Germany's Neuer Markt. Critics said the exchange came late in the game, and blasted its inclusion of established companies. But venture capital continued to flow into tech startups, many of which went public.
But techMARK put early criticism to rest after its value surged, leading many to talk of a high-tech stock fever on par with that in the US. In december the tech market's main index reorganised to include more emerging companies. And even central bankers finally got into the act, with the government reversing its previous stance and signalling that the technology market may justify some of the hype after all.
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