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Tech Industry

Top stories of 1999 cut wide swath

High tech goes mainstream with a vengeance, from the Microsoft trial, the Y2K bug, the power of Amazon and the incredible surge of Net stocks.

The year 1999 will go down as the year that high-tech went mainstream--totally.

One poignant example: Time magazine naming Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos as the "person of the year," joining the ranks of Dwight D. Eisenhower and Mahatma Gandhi.

In addition, the technology-heavy Nasdaq cracked the 4,000 barrier at year's end--an index record--drawing more attention away from the hallowed Dow Jones industrial average. Old-guard money masters such as Warren Buffett, who shuns technology stocks, were left with below-average gains. Better luck next year to the "Oracle of Omaha."

The top 10 news stories of the year from the big outlets such as CNN included at least two from the high-tech world--a judge's finding that Microsoft was a monopoly, and the world bracing for the millennium bug. (Take that, Bill and Monica).

Next year promises more of the same as consumers continue to buy PCs and log onto the Internet and as the New Economy grows. Here's a summary of 20 of the year's top stories (culled from about 14,300) that were published by CNET News.com:

1. Microsoft is a monopoly, or so said U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson in the landmark antitrust trial. "Microsoft enjoys so much power in the market for Intel-compatible PC operating systems that if it wished?it could charge a price for Windows substantially above that which could be charged in a competitive market," Jackson concluded.

The judge's "finding of fact" is not a verdict, but it could help shape the outcome of the lengthy trial. Both Microsoft and antitrust regulators now are holding closed-door settlement talks.

2. Personal computer prices plummet; some even are offered for free, in conjunction with Net service contracts. The trend fueled PC sales, but by year's end some of the deep-discount PC makers, such as Microworkz and Enchilada, had dropped out. The new year again promises to bring low-priced PCs. Meanwhile, the changing face of PC makers also brought about new alliances, such as the one between America Online and Gateway.

3. AT&T becomes a broadband giant. After swallowing Tele-Communications Inc. last year, Ma Bell received a $5 billion investment from Microsoft in May. But AT&T has yet to execute its grand strategy, and by year's end its stock price was a disappointment to many investors, putting pressure on chief executive C. Michael Armstrong to deliver tangible results.

4. Compaq chief executive Microsoft's day in court Eckhard Pfeiffer is ousted. On a Sunday in April, the PC giant announces it will replace Pfeiffer. The top-level management shakeup came amid worse-than-expected financial performance for the firm. Pfeiffer was replaced by another Compaq executive, Michael Capellas. Many analysts are bullish about a Compaq turnaround in the new year.

5. Carleton "Carly" Fiorina lands the top job at Hewlett Packard. The former Lucent executive was named to replace Lewis Platt as HP's chief executive after a drawn-out search. Fiorina, the highest-ranking woman in a Fortune 500 company, has received much publicity, but she remains under intense pressure to boost HP's fortune in 2000.

6. Linux goes to work. The popularity of the upstart operating system exploded, as it grabbed more headlines, increased interest from Microsoft and the attention of Wall Street. Linux companies--Red Hat, VA Linux Systems, Andover.Net and Cobalt Networks--all had highly successful IPOs. At year-end, in a symbolic gesture, a Linux programmer even bailed out Microsoft, paying a $35 domain-name registration fee to get its Hotmail email up and running again.

7. Let's make an Internet deal. Puppet masters: Who controls the  Net Among the big deals in 1999: @Home and Excite merged; Yahoo bought both Broadcast.com and Geocities, then Excite@Home grew by snapping up Blue Mountain Arts. It remains unclear whether the hundreds of millions of dollars that was spent for properties like these with inflated stock will help the bottom line. At year-end, Internet traffic was sluggish at many sites.

8. MP3 sparks mainstream move toward digital music. It was one the hottest trends of the year, sparking big IPOs such as MP3.com. But by year's end, some of the enthusiasm had subsided and MP3.com had slid below its IPO price. Wait until next year.

9. E-commerce growing pains. E-commerce boomed (remember Bezos' surprising honor from Time). Amazon expanded its products well beyond "Earth's biggest bookstore," and eBay continued its expansion binge. But the growth came at a cost: eBay, Toys "R" Us and others suffered prolonged outages, and investors soured on e-tailing stocks at year-end. Witness the poor plight of eToys, whose stock hovered at a 52-week low at year's end and lost 60 percent in a single month. Ouch.

10. Nasdaq cracks 4,000 barrier. See special report: PC free-for-all This week, the tech-heavy Nasdaq broke through the magic barrier. Companies with odd-sounding names such as Qualcomm and CMGI became mentioned as often as Exxon Mobil or Boeing--and became stars of Wall Street. Analysts were predicting that Qualcomm, for one, would be worth $1,000 per share next year. For those who aren't too young to remember: That's a lot of gold.

11. America Online and Microsoft face off on Instant messaging. Like the Web browser wars, the fight over instant messaging became part of a larger struggle for control of the Web by two industry titans. Toward the end of the year, Microsoft backed off, but it came amid the monopoly ruling against Microsoft. Look for this battle for control of the Web to heat up next year.

12. MCI WorldCom proposes to buy Sprint for $129 billion. Unlike the nursery rhyme, Y2K: The cost of fear "all the king's horses and all the king's men" have had no trouble putting the telcos back together. This deal, a record for any merger, epitomized the trend. But that wasn't all: CBS and Viacom also combined in a blockbuster merger.

13. World prepares for Y2K bug. The bug countdown intensified, with airlines grounding flights and a bug that hit ATMs in England just days before New Year's. But most pundits remain optimistic that any problems will be minor. Stay tuned: CNET News.com will bring you the news live on its Web site.

14. Federal Trade Commission ends investigations of Intel. The Federal Trade Commission gave final approval to a consent order settling charges that Intel stifled innovation in the microchip industry.

15. Prying eyes. RealNetworks, Hotmail, Microsoft and Intel were among the major companies that got blasted for either collecting personal information about Net users without permission or having gaping security holes that allowed unauthorized parties to do the same.

16. Women's High speed pipe dreams? sites thrive. Women's sites were online last year, but this year they are were backed by huge investors, rang in with IPOs and put themselves at the center of convergence.

17. Packard Bell says goodbye to the PC world. Amid a shakeup in the PC market, Packard Bell NEC announced a massive restructuring that resulted in layoffs of as much as 80 percent of the company's workforce and the end of the Packard Bell consumer brand on U.S. retail shelves.

18. Palm thrives against Windows CE. The handheld revolution boomed, led by Palm and a start-up called Handspring. 3Com, facing its own troubles, decided to spin off its Palm unit. Next year's spinoff will be closely watched, but the fate of 3Com remains up in the air.

19. Business software glitches. See related story: The new world order The market boomed but not without major installation problems at the likes of Hershey Foods, Whirlpool and the maker of Gore-Tex, among others. The snafus raised that age-old question: What's so good about new technology anyway?

20. Microsoft proves that brick and mortars aren't dead. The software giant invests in Radio Shack. Not to be outdone, America Online and Yahoo inked deals with retailers Circuit City and Kmart, respectively, in an effort to tap non-Internet-savvy consumers. A similar deal between AOL and Wal-Mart also was announced. But the question remains: Do the deals make sense or are they an easy way out?