by Thomas Wailgum

IT Winners and Losers: Google Cofounders, FAA Up; U.S. State Dept., Motorola, Microsoft Down

Mar 28, 20085 mins
IT Leadership

Winners this week included Google's "dollar-a-year" cofounders, the FAA and OpenSocial. There were plenty of losers: U.S. State Dept. security, Sony, Motorola and Microsoft.

Which tech vendor had a week to remember—and which had one to forget? Which IT department needs a “do over,” and which exec should be looking for a new job? On Fridays, we chronicle what went right and what went wrong in the IT world during the past week.

LOSER: Motorola

On Wednesday, Motorola announced that it planned to split itself into two separate publicly traded companies in 2009. One division will continue to make Motorola’s mobile devices (and, it is hoped, regain profitability) and the other will continue to develop networking infrastructure products. The disruption to Motorola’s business will allow competing handset providers, such as Nokia and Samsung, to grab market share from Motorola, say industry analysts. But they aren’t counting out Motorola completely. Said one mobile analyst: “The bad news is that Motorola has the wrong products, the good news is that can be changed.”


This is all you need to know: “Sony is offering to remove some of the trial software it crams onto the hard disks of new laptops—for a fee.” That’s according to an article last Friday, and that “fee” for the “Fresh Start” option is $49.99. Sony is not the first PC manufacturer to charge users for removing the “bloatware” that it allows onto its computers by software vendors. Dell was one of the first, according to the article, charging $300 a pop for a program it started last year. Sony “justifies the $49.99 fee by saying it covers removal of the unwanted software before shipment,” states the article, “although selecting the option appears to have no consequences on the estimated shipping date.”

LOSER: U.S. State Dept. Security

Another week, another consumer data breach…but wait, oh, wait, when a data breach happens to three presidential hopefuls in a tense election year, well, doesn’t that just change everything. Outrage! Scandal! We demand answers from the U.S. State Department! On Friday, State Department officials acknowledged that the electronic passport files of three famous U.S. senators (Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain) had been accessed by contractors over several months. News reports stated that the breakdown in controls wasn’t related to IT or system failures but “imprudent curiosity.” Ahh, that’ll get you every time.

WINNERS: Sergey Brin and Larry Page

Google’s famous founders are both winners this week for continuing to take home their $1-a-year salaries (which they did again in 2007) and because they still have billions in Google stock (around $13 billion each). It’s good to be the kings.

WINNER: Federal Aviation Administration

On Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration announced that it will add a “runway version of traffic signals” at 20 busy airports in the next three and a half years. “The signals are part of a program to keep taxiing airplanes or vehicles from intruding on runways where other planes are taking off and landing,” which has become a big problem at major airports, according to a New York Times article. “The system will use a computer to determine when a runway is in use, and then turn on red lights embedded in the pavement at each intersection.” Now, if the FAA can just do something about those air-traffic controller systems from the 1980s….

LOSER: Oracle

This just goes to show that even when you’re a winner, you can be a loser: Oracle posted its third-quarter financials on Wednesday, and profits were up 30 percent and revenues were up 21 percent when compared with the same quarter last year. But the world’s No. 2 software maker didn’t meet analysts’ expectations (which sent the stock price down) and issued a “cautious forecast” about the remainder of the year. Another acquisition, anyone?

LOSER: Microsoft

On Tuesday, Microsoft’s security team acknowledged that it “knew of bugs in its Jet Database Engine as far back as 2005 but did not patch the problems because it thought it had blocked the obvious attack vectors,” according to a Computerworld article. “I can’t count the number of times we’ve seen this in the past with a Microsoft product,” said Oliver Friedrichs, a director with Symantec’s security response team, in the article. “Clearly, there should have been more concern from Microsoft in the first place. There have been two vulnerabilities, one in 2005 and another in 2007, and both were left unpatched.”

WINNERS: Google, Yahoo, MySpace

Yahoo joined forces with Google and MySpace on the nonprofit foundation that will promote the OpenSocial platform “as a neutral, community-governed specification for building social-networking applications,” the companies announced on Tuesday. You’ll remember that Google launched OpenSocial in November 2007 to “simplify the creation and adaptation of applications for social-networking sites via a common set of application programming interfaces,” according to an article. Much more work is ahead, but uniting these three big-company names behind the cause is a huge success already.


And, finally, the “feel good” tech story of the week: A Times article detailed IBM’s “management development” program that sends high-potential employees to overseas posts. While that part of the program is not a new thing for global companies, it is the expansive and required volunteering aspects of the Corporate Service Corps initiative that is commendable and should be emulated by other multinational companies. IBM “views the Service Corps as a way to learn how well employees work with strangers, in strange lands, on unfamiliar projects,” states the article. “And it plans to use that knowledge to customize further development programs for the participants.” IBMers are clearly excited about the program. According to the article, more than 5,500 of them, from more than 50 countries, applied for the program. “It feels good to help in a developing country,” said IBMer Julie Lockwood, who has been selected for the program, “even as you enhance your career.” Cheers to IBM!