IT people, places and things that matter

For their ability to draw your attention, these 10 people, places and things stand out as newsmakers that matter

What makes a top newsmaker? Sometimes a company generates lots of buzz by doing particularly innovative things, or someone with a catalyzing personality gains notoriety. Other times a hot new product or a spectacular disaster gets the attention of the masses.

The subjects made popular by Network World readers over the past year are all of these things and more. Sometimes lauded for technology vision, scorned for lapses in judgment, and loved or hated for setting a new standard, these are the 10 biggest newsmakers of 2007 and why they matter.

The Googleplex

"Search engine giant" once summed up Google's business pretty well, but those words now seem woefully inadequate to describe the company that in 2007 delivered a hosted software suite for enterprise users, conceived a mobile application platform that is device- and operator-agnostic, made plans to bid for wireless spectrum, and forayed into the TV ad-serving world.

One thing Google didn't do was deliver the GPhone, a mobile phone the company was widely rumored to have had under development. Instead, it unveiled the open mobile application-development platform, called Android. In so doing, it really shook up the telecom industry, where closed platforms and operator lock-in are the norm, not broad alliances and a US$10 million bounty for the best mobile applications.

Meanwhile, Google continued to add firepower to its advertising empire, putting up US$3.1 billion to acquire ad-management player DoubleClick. With all this action, it's little wonder that Google receives 1,300 resumes every day. Who wouldn't want to work in its Mountain View, California, corporate campus -- the famed "Googleplex" -- where employees enjoy 11 free cafeterias, on-site car washes, salon, gym, language classes, laundry facilities and more?

Steve Ballmer, the voice of Microsoft

Steve Ballmer didn't disappoint folks hoping to hear inflammatory statements and corporate bravado from Microsoft's CEO in 2007. He angered the open source community by saying Red Hat Linux uses intellectual property owned by Microsoft and that Red Hat's customers should pay Microsoft for it. He dissed the iPhone, saying it would never grab significant market share, and belittled the significance of Google's Android mobile application development platform, suggesting it was no more than a press release.

In between the snipes, Ballmer had plenty of Microsoft products to talk about, starting with the consumer release of Vista and Office 2007 in January. The year also saw the release of Office Communications Server -- Microsoft's VoIP play -- along with two enterprise search products, a virtual machine management tool and an unexpected stand-alone hypervisor called Hyper-V Server.

What didn't make store shelves is Longhorn. After Microsoft shipped the first public Longhorn beta in the spring, it pushed back the final release, christened Windows Server 2008, to next year.

On the acquisition front, Microsoft made its most expensive purchase ever, spending US$6 billion for online advertising platform aQuantive in a move that Ballmer said represents "the next step in the evolution of our ad network."

Vonage goes to court ... again and again

What was 2007 like for Vonage In a word: litigious. Patent lawsuits from Verizon, Sprint Nextel, AT&T, and in late December, Nortel, kept the Internet phone provider in the headlines and threatened to end its business. One particularly low point came in April just after a federal jury found Vonage infringed on three Verizon patents related to transferring voice calls from an IP network to a traditional telephone network. After the ruling a U.S. district court judge barred Vonage from signing up new customers -- which could have spelled death for the company had it not successfully fought for a permanent stay from the injunction.

In the end, Vonage managed to reach settlements with Verizon, Sprint Nextel and AT&T, but not before Michael Snyder resigned as CEO and founder Jeffrey Citron took over the role. In terms of IOUs, Vonage is paying US$120 million to settle its dispute with Verizon. It reached an US$80 million licensing agreement with Sprint, and inked a tentative agreement with AT&T whereby it will pay US$39 million in exchange for AT&T dropping its suit.

But the numbers aren't all bad for Vonage. It managed to grow revenue to US$210.5 million in its most recent quarter, a gain of 30% over the year-earlier quarter. Not bad for a company that very well could have slipped under for good.

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Ann Bednarz

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