2014 in review: The biggest tech stories of the year

A look back at the hot topics, major deals, and the technological breakthroughs of 2014 -- from security to product launches, and the year's successes and catastrophes.
1 of 32 CNET

Google buys Nest for $3.2B to build out hardware range

In January, Google shelled out $3.2 billion for smart device maker Nest. The deal was important for the search giant's smart home portfolio, while expanding its hardware design know-how. The home automation company also opened up its products to developers, with an eye of making it the dominant player in the Internet of Things field.

2 of 32 White House live stream

Obama unveils NSA reforms: 'Keep calm and carry on spying'

About six months after the first wave of leaks from Edward Snowden were first published, U.S. President Barack Obama pledged to reform the National Security Agency, which was revealed to have spied domestically and on its nation state friends. Among the promised reforms, the U.S. government said it will no longer hold call data (though it will be accessible if it’s required), and it will cease spying on its allies. Critics warned however that without a change in the law, it would be business as usual for the spy agency.

3 of 32 CNET

Lenovo buys Motorola Mobility from Google for a fraction of the cost

Lenovo bought Motorola Mobility for $1.4 billion in cash, with another $1.5 billion over the coming years -- about one-fifth of the price of what Google paid for it just a couple of years earlier. The deal also walked Google out of the conflict zone with Samsung and other Android partners, which they had been battling for years. Lenovo's smartphone strategy revolved mostly around the emerging markets, including China. But, the acquisition sparked a new wave of higher-end devices designed for consumers at home and abroad.

4 of 32 Handout, Getty Images

Microsoft goes internal for its next CEO with Satya Nadella

After months of searching, Microsoft’s board chose a former engineer to head up the company. Satya Nadella became the third chief executive at the company after Steve Ballmer retired after more than a decade at the company. Nadella, a veteran at the company, ran the lucrative server and tools business at the world’s largest software company. That unit alone brought in a significant portion of the company’s annual revenues. Although Ballmer remained on the Microsoft board, he stepped down about two months later.

5 of 32 CNET

Mt. Gox collapse hits emerging Bitcoin industry

Despite hitting record highs just months before, a key exchange for the virtual currency crumbled unexpectedly, and without warning. Alarm bells at Mt. Gox, based in Tokyo, Japan,  began to ring in February when the company halted trading. The exchange pointed the finger of blame at hackers. After weeks of back and forth, and losing almost its entire customer’s base of bitcoins, the company folded, declaring its bankruptcy.

6 of 32 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Comcast to buy Time Warner Cable for $45B

In a feat of extraordinary spending, cable giant Comcast declared its interest to acquire Time Warner Cable in a stock swap valued at about $45.2 billion. The combined company will see Comcast generate revenue of about $87 billion. But there would be obvious regulatory concerns -- not least because of Comcast’s eventual size, but the combined national and regional services it would offer. Time Warner Cable accepted the deal, but others – including Dish Network and streaming content firm Netflix blasted the move, saying the deal was not in the public interest.

7 of 32 CNET

Microsoft launches Office on iPads

After months of speculation, Microsoft launched one of the most anticipated software products of the year: Office for iPad. Chief executive Satya Nadella, just one month into the job, announced the Word, Excel, and PowerPoint trilogy would be free. With basic viewing for all, Office 365 customers would get full access to document creation and editing. The subscription element would help drive users to Microsoft’s cloud, notably business users, who may have long flirted with Google Apps. Later in the year, the apps would be opened up further without the need for a subscription.

8 of 32 ZDNet

Box (eventually) filed for IPO

It took the company long enough, but cloud storage enterprise player Box dropped its initial public offering documents with the regulators this year in imminent anticipation of going public. The company’s net worth was estimated to be within $1.2 billion and $3 billion. By the end of the year, revenue had climbed more than 110 percent year-over-year, but also sustained significant losses of more than $168 million in the year ending January 2014.

9 of 32 via Newsweek

Who founded Bitcoin? We... still don’t know

Newsweek was close to succeeding where nobody else did -- by naming the alleged inventor of the elusive crypto-currency Bitcoin. The currency, which has been gaining momentum in mainstream culture since it took off in mid-2013, remains the invention of an unknown developer -- or developers. But, the 64-year-old Satoshi Nakamoto, who was named by the publication, told the Associated Press not long after the piece came out that it was not in fact him, sending journalists once again scrambling for the elusive creator of the world’s foremost virtual currency.

10 of 32 Mozilla

Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich resigns amid controversy

It took only nine days for Brendan Eich to resign from Mozilla after he was promoted to chief executive. Eich, who invented JavaScript, announced in his debut remarks that he would work to improve Firefox OS, the mobile platform designed to rival Android. But soon after, reports emerged that Eich in 2008 donated to a campaign aimed at banning same-sex marriage in California. Though he initially rebuffed the criticism, he eventually succumbed to the mounting pressure for him to leave the position.

11 of 32 Heartbleed.com

Heartbleed flaw threatened to cripple the Internet

A security scramble earlier this year happened when a major flaw was found in the software that runs the world’s most important servers. From websites to databases and datacenters, the bug dubbed “Heartbleed” was the biggest security story of the year -- if not the decade. The flaw, found in the open-source OpenSSL software, could be exploited to view secure data transmitted over HTTPS. Patches came in their droves to fix the flaw. Despite the deluge of reports publicizing the issue, more than 300,000 servers were still vulnerable to the flaw two months on from its discovery.

12 of 32 CNET

Governments urge IE users to switch browsers until fix found

Windows users were strongly advised by the UK, U.S., and Swedish governments to switch to Chrome or Firefox browsers in the wake of a major security flaw affecting Internet Explorer users. Making matters worse, the zero-day flaw affected every version of the Internet browser. Microsoft warned users of the flaw two days prior, and took nearly a week to patch. The patch landed a day before details of the flaw were published.

13 of 32 Apple

Apple to buy Beats for $3.2B

Arguably one of the world’s most popular technology companies, Apple bought a major player in the audio, streaming, and headphone business, Beats Audio, for a total of $3.2 billion -- in cash and stock. Beats co-founders Jimmy Iovine and rapper Dr. Dre would join Apple as part of the deal. It came at a time when music became increasingly important for Apple, as its iTunes division grew by more than 12 percent year-over-year.

14 of 32 Alibaba

Alibaba files to float in the U.S., a deal worth about $20B

Dubbed as one of the largest IPOs of all time in the U.S., Chinese retail giant Alibaba became one of the biggest public technology companies in history. The company planned to launch at $68 per share but rocketed to $92 per share the next morning -- making it its best day, ever (at least for now). The company is now worth around $200 billion -- and then some -- but its growth could only be sustained if it expanded to the U.S. market.

15 of 32 CNET via Vicki Behringer

Apple vs. Samsung, round two: The verdict is...

For the second time in three years, Apple and Samsung duked it out in the courtroom to determine if the Korean giant infringed the U.S. technology giant’s patents. It turns out there was no easy answer. Some patents were infringed, and some were not. The trial came two years after the first round, which led Samsung paying $1.05 billion to Apple. But, although Apple wanted upwards of $2 billion, the end result was just $119.6 million.

16 of 32 CNET

Apple’s developer conference lifts lid on iOS 8, Swift

The latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system was unveiled at the company’s annual developer conference in June. Dubbed iOS 8, the software runs on iPhones and iPads, which collectively make up about 75 percent of the company’s annual revenue. The mobile software landed with enterprise features, a health activity tracker, improvements to its messaging platform, and Continuity, a new feature that bridges Apple’s desktop and mobile systems. Swift, the new developer platform, was also introduced. The new programming language was touted as a “fast, modern, safe” programming language, designed to make it easier for people to write apps.

17 of 32 CNET

Verizon sends Netflix cease-and-desist for public blame game

Amid industry friction over net neutrality arguments, two giants in the Internet space went head-to-head. Netflix sent a message -- literally -- to its customers blaming Verizon for poor video service. The cable and phone giant said these messages, which displayed on Netflix’s video streaming loading pages, were “deceptive” and “an unfair business practice.” Netflix eventually buckled, but only after Verizon threatened to sue.

18 of 32 CNET

Google announces Android "Lollipop” for Nexus, other devices

Google, the search giant turned mobile developer, finally lifted the lid on its new smartphone and tablet platform, dubbed Android L. The placeholder name would later be changed in favor of “Lollipop,” in line with the company’s candy-themed naming scheme. Some warned that despite the upgrades it would spur on fragmentation -- an issue not widely faced with its rival Apple’s platform -- it was widely lauded as a success (if not for a few hiccups) for its consistent user interface across all devices.

19 of 32 IBM

Apple, IBM set aside decades of rivalry to support enterprises

Apple’s Tim Cook set aside decades of rivalry with IBM, set by his predecessor Steve Jobs, to pair up to support the company’s emerging enterprise base by bringing more than 100 exclusive apps built for half-a-dozen vertical industries. The deal was said to reach as many as 42 million new iPad users, helping the company’s declining tablet market to recover over the course of the following year.A few months later, Samsung fired back with its own all-inclusive enterprise support service, supporting a number of cross-platform devices -- even non-Samsung devices.

20 of 32 NSA/CSS

NSA surveillance fallout continues, with 89 percent affected non-targets

The National Security Agency surveillance scandal continued a year after the Edward Snowden leaks first emerged. Despite ongoing rhetoric from the Obama administration that “nobody is listening to your phone calls,” a study by The Washington Post -- one of the publications in receipt of the classified materials -- showed the very vast majority of people ensnared by the leaks were not indented targets. Around 89 percent of all data collected were on people who were not targets of NSA surveillance. It came just a week after certain keywords would red-flag NSA systems for further surveillance.

21 of 32 Jayd Jackson (Gardina)

Microsoft served a U.S. search warrant for foreign data

Software giant Microsoft lost a court ruling earlier this year that would force the company to hand over data it stores overseas in a foreign datacenter, contrary to international legal agreements. US District Judge Loretta Preska agreed with an earlier magistrates ruling that Microsoft should be ordered to turn over the data belonging to an Irish resident, a ruling that threw European data protection rights in the fire. Microsoft was held in contempt of court for failing to hand over the data. The order was stayed until early-2015.

22 of 32 Dong Ngo

USB security fundamentally broken

Researchers this year warned an exploit, the so-called “BadUSB” could turn USB-connected devices into attack platforms designed to evade modern anti-malware programs. The flaw is said to be able to infect and replace core parts of a computer’s BIOS, making trusted devices useless. A new USB standard, version 3.0, also made its debut this year, with a so-called “reversible” USB plug in the pipeline.

23 of 32 CNET

iPhone 6, iWatch announced in September event

One of the most anticipated products of the year, Apple announced the latest iPhone 6 at an event in Cupertino, California in September. The 4.7-inch device was matched by a larger 5.5-inch model, dubbed the iPhone 6 Plus -- a phablet for those inclined. The technology giant also unveiled its highly awaited debut wearable, the Apple Watch, which will be released in early 2015. The company called it a "customizable” time-piece, which can be used to connect and communicate, as well as track fitness.

24 of 32 CNET

Microsoft buys Mojang for $2.5B

Microsoft made waves, yet again, this year by snapping up its fourth non-U.S. company, Mojang, the creator of the popular block-inspired game, Minecraft. The Stockholm, Sweden-based company was bought for $2 billion. At the time of the announcement, the company’s founders announced they would leave and no longer develop for the platform. The deal was finalized months later in November.

25 of 32 CNET

Celebrity ensnared by iCloud “hack”

A trove of private, cloud-stored photos from Hollywood celebrities leaked on the Web earlier this year. iCloud accounts were said to have been breached by hackers. Over a hundred nude -- some explicit -- photos were eventually posted on the image sharing board 4chan. Apple denied any breach of its systems, but bolstered its security in the wake of the attack.

26 of 32 CNET

Windows 10 ‘skips’ a version, undoes calamities in Windows 8

Windows 10 skipped a version, in an effort to rebrand itself as a future win with its near-billion sized demographic. Sporting some of the crucial feature missing from Windows 8 -- a release that was widely criticized -- such as the Start menu and virtual desktops, it was a nod back to the old days of Windows. The new version of Windows is expected to be released in the coming year.

27 of 32 CBSNews.com

JPMorgan suffers major credit card data breach

“It could’ve been worse,” it was said. One of the biggest breaches of the years, JP Morgan was thrown under the bus by hackers, who were able to download tens of millions of Chase customers’ data. Personal information was stolen, but financial data was untouched. It wasn’t the only bank hit by hackers this year. The FBI’s continues to investigate attempts on other financial institutions.

28 of 32 HP

HP splits in two, despite previously firing a CEO for the same plan

Three years after realizing it was a bad idea, HP decided to rekindle plans to split the company into two: one for PCs and printers, and the other on the enterprise. The two companies will generate $57.2 billion and $58.4 billion in revenue respectively. HP previously looked at spinning off its PC business in 2011 under former chief executive Leo Apotheker, but the idea was shelved under his successor Meg Whitman, who said, "together we are stronger."

29 of 32 CNET

Uber digs up “dirt" on critical journalist, sparks series of controversies

A senator questioned executives at Uber, the car app service for allegedly checking up on a journalist using the service through a so-called “god view” screen. The company faced the brunt of the media for an executive’s words, who suggested Uber should “dig up dirt” on journalists who are critical of the service or its business practices. Uber couldn’t go a week without stirring up more anger. A number of protests also occurred over the year, across the U.S. and in London -- and other major cities -- by taxi drivers protesting the company's undercutting business practices.

30 of 32 FCC

Obama asks FCC to endorse net neutrality

After months of criticism and questioning, U.S. President Obama weighed into the net neutrality debate, calling for Internet access to be considered a “utility.” By doing that, Internet providers would not be allowed to block services or throttle bandwidth, and offer no paid prioritization. Days later, and after more than a million submitted petitions, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), charged with overseeing the new rules, pushed back on the president’s words, which kindly reminded the White House that it’s an independent agency.

31 of 32 ZDNet/stock image

Police take down The Pirate Bay -- but for how long?

Swedish police carried out a successful raid in a datacenter near the country’s capital that saw The Pirate Bay, a popular file-sharing facilitator, knocked offline for days. The raid also affected similar sites and services. One person was arrested in the raid, who was later released, prosecutors confirmed. Considered to some as the world’s most “notorious” site of pirated content -- despite not actively hosting any illegal content -- an alleged spokesperson said he wasn’t sure if the site would reboot. But, if it does, it will “be with a bang.”

32 of 32 Sony

U.S. said to blame North Korea for Sony hack

North Korea has been blamed -- albeit not yet on the record -- by U.S. government officials for the cyberattack that took down much of Sony’s network earlier this year. The film studio produced a movie, called “The Interview,” which at a key point enacted the assassination of the North Korean leader. However, Wired said moments before the off-record remarks that the evidence pitching the despotic country at the center of the hack as “flimsy.” The case continues.

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