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Economic Ups and Downs, Internet Security, New Microsoft Release Highlight Computer News for 2001 - 2001-12-22


The ups and downs of companies conducting business on the Internet, the so-called dot-coms… The important issue of Internet Security… And, a new operating system released by the Microsoft Corporation… These are some of the high-tech developments in the past twelve months.

In March 2000 technology and Internet stocks listed on the NASDAQ composite index hit a peak. A year later their value had plummeted more than 60%. The NASDAQ went down even further in September. However, by December the Index was on the rise again. "I've been saying all along, especially when the stock was at its high, that Internet stocks in general, and Amazon.com included, is just too volatile for small investors. Certainly not appropriate for short term investors of any size," says Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive officer of Amazon.com, a company that sells books and other products only online, via the Internet.

In an effort to make a profit, many dot coms teamed up over the year with well-established the so-called brick-and-mortar - companies that also wanted a presence on the Internet. For example, Jeff Bezos says that Amazon.com is working closely with a national toy store chain. "Once we did our Toys 'r Us partnership which had worked out very well for Amazon.com, our customers, and for Toys 'r Us I've gotten lots of calls from various retailers," he says. "We are going to continue to work with them. We're very excited about the opportunity to partner with major retailers of different kinds."

The main reason people give for not doing business on the Internet is that they are afraid their credit card information will not be safe. And, there are other hazards as well. During 2001, many high-tech viruses programs that cause computers to malfunction or even crash were reported. These malignant programs often are sent as e-mail attachments and affect personal computers both at home and in offices.

But Lawrence Rogers of the Computer Emergency Response Team, based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, points out there are effective ways to protect stored data. "The best precaution that computer users can take against viruses is to have anti-virus software running on their machines and to keep what is called the signature file up to date so that the latest viruses are detected," he says.

But even with that software, viruses can spread rapidly across the Internet. "The Internet wasn't designed to withstand a concerted attack. So much of what we consider the infrastructure of the Internet is open to malicious people. It's very vulnerable," says Alan Paller, director of research at the Systems Administration, Network and Security Institute, a global organization which trains network managers.

"The most important concept in protection used to be that building a wall around your system was enough. Now, because of denial of service attacks, meaning the kind of attacks where hundreds of computers are used to flood your web site or your company site, because of that you have to worry about everyone else on the Internet. Not just yourself," he says.

In response, some companies are creating their own private networks, independent of the Internet. "Many people have those private networks. There's actually a proposal out of the White House right now to have a separate fiber network for critical government infrastructure. That sort of thing is feasible right now and might even give us the model for how we re-engineer the Internet over the next decade or so," says Mr. Paller.

Despite the vulnerabilities, some observers say that during the terrorist attacks on September 11, the Internet successfully demonstrated that it is a reliable means of communications during a crisis. "The Internet has been the real lifeline to enable people to get in touch with their families, business associates to get in touch with their colleagues," says Maurene Grey, an analyst with Gartner Dataquest, a firm which closely follows developments in the high-tech industry.

"For example, here at Gartner we had a very difficult time calling into New York City, as many companies did. We were able to communicate across Instant Messaging, across e-mail, over the Internet to allow us to make sure that our family, our friends, and our colleagues were okay," she says.

Microsoft, a major software manufacturer, officially released its Windows XP operating system six weeks after the September 11 tragedy. The company launched the new product in New York City.

Standing alongside Bill Gates, Microsoft's co-founder and chairman, was New York's mayor, Rudy Giuliani. "I want to thank Bill Gates very much for doing this launch here in New York City," he said. "It shows a tremendous amount of confidence in the city of New York and it shows the exact spirit that Americans have which is, in part, a spirit of defiance and, in particular, a spirit of confidence. I wish you the very best of luck with it and I thank you and all of the other business leaders that are here for the launch of this new product which really couldn't have come at a better time for the City of New York."

Although Microsoft came out with its new operating system in October, the company ends the year still involved in anti-trust litigation. Microsoft has settled with the federal government, but several states are seeking stronger remedies and the European Union has questions of its own. The legal battle will continue as 2001 ends and 2002 begins.

And those are some of the high-tech developments for 2001.

Part of VOA's Year End Series for 2001

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