For me the year kicked off on a high note on 23 January with Sun's launch of Java 1.0. This proved to be the inspiration for almost everything that subsequently happened in the industry.
It was a great year for coffee puns, too, with software companies, journalists and analysts alike falling over themselves to come up with the best one-liner - Java Beans and Borland's Latte to name but two.
Java has moved quickly beyond the level of merely a cross-platform language for the Internet to some kind of panacea, with many considering Java as a remedy to Microsoft's monopoly of the desktop.
In February, Oracle chairman Larry Ellison announced the Network Computer Reference Profile, which specifies Java as its language, a clear attempt to rid the world of Wintel PCs. But whatever the rest of the industry does, Microsoft claims it can do better. So, in March, the software giant made a bid for control of the Internet, attempting to lure hundreds of thousands of Windows developers onto the Internet by cleverly rebadging its OCX technology as ActiveX and putting this forward as a technology for the Net.
There was little chance of Microsoft stealing the show from Java. Fuelled by the build-up to JavaOne, Sun's worldwide Java Developer Conference, the language's popularity had really picked up momentum by April. Even Microsoft became enveloped by Java's coffee-flavoured snowball and agreed to include the Java Virtual Machine (VM) as part of its Windows operating system. Likewise, Novell announced Java would be available in NetWare and IBM said it would port Java to all its supported platforms, including OS/2, MVS and even Windows 3.x.
The implications for Java were staggering. From a purely experimental language in early 1995, Java was now available on all major operating systems. After the developers conference, everyone went into a caffeine-induced Java frenzy.
In May, IBM announced VisualAge for Java. July was the month when Microsoft released the Win32 reference implementation of the VM. SunSoft's first purely Java tool, Java Workshop, was released in August. In September, Oracle announced the Network Computing Architecture (NCA), with Java as a key component. A month later Sun unveiled its JavaStation network computer.
Then, Oracle released Web Designer/2000 and Web Developer/2000 in November.
The year began with a major upheaval in the applications suite market.
Speculation as to the identity of the buyer for Novell's WordPerfect division was rife at the tail end of 1995. By January 1996, the guessing game was over as Corel came forward to take over the business.
However, Corel didn't appear to show much interest until May, when it announced plans to create a whole new version of the suite, rewritten in Java - the first company to make such a move. In September, the company said it would take a leap into the hardware market, making a Java-based PDA on which to run the new suite. Less than three months later, it was all over for Corel's PDA as the project was shelved in favour of a Video NC.
Lotus also released a version of its Smart-Suite package at the end of November, and promised to develop a Java version next year.
The big news in the suite market was Microsoft Office 97, although the excitement of the suite has been tempered by a month's delay in its release until January 1997 - vapourware still much in evidence.
Perhaps the most important, and certainly the most hyped, development of the year was the unexpected explosion of the intranet on the IT scene.
Heralded by Oracle at the beginning of the year, the intranet caused a revolution in the groupware market because it is based on open Internet protocols rather than proprietary technology and much of the client software needed to build intranets is downloadable free from the Web.
In spring, Lotus finally acknowledged that its groupware market was under serious threat. This resulted in the announcement in May of Domino. At first, this was touted simply as a Notes add-on that would give the product HTTP connectivity but, as the momentum behind the intranet grew, Lotus' strategy shifted subtly until Domino became fundamentally different and eventually displaced Notes altogether - with Notes 4.5 becoming Domino 4.5. Lotus had made the momentous decision to ditch the branding of its flagship product and in the process disassociated Notes from its proprietary origins.
Novell is also adapting its products in response to the upstart force of the intranet. In September, the company took the same path as Lotus and changed the name of its flagship product to IntranetWare to emphasise its new focus.
Novell's process of repositioning has not been as seamless as that of Notes, though. At the end of August, the company obviously thought change wasn't happening fast enough, and ousted CEO Bob Frankenberg. Joe Marengi took over as president but the company still lacks a CEO.
Young, tough and brash Marengi does appear to have given the company a new lease of life. When GroupWise 5 and IntranetWare 4.0 were launched in early autumn, they were accompanied by the kind of glitzy promotional splash that would have been unthinkable when Frankenberg was at the helm.
The company also took the drastic step of licensing out its core Novell Directory Services (NDS) as a reaction to the perceived threat posed by the impending arrival of Microsoft's directory for Windows NT.
The Internet pretty much asserted itself as the killer app this year - with a little help from Email, of course. It also made its presence felt in the court rooms, with many heated legal cases on how to curtail access to certain unsavoury information.
Singapore led the way by gagging its Internet users as the Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA) took steps to regulate pornographic, political and religious content posted to the Internet. The law states that all Internet service providers, online newspapers, and organisations with sites providing political and religious information concerning Singapore must be vetted and obtain a licence from the government. Organisations that refuse face heavy fines or even closure.
In July, Singapore felt the full force of this law when the SBA prevented an anonymous newsgroup from posting criticism of a local law firm which defamed several of the company's lawyers.
The malevolent spirit of fascism and autocracy was not just reserved for the Far East. In the US, President Clinton made a complete fool of himself when he introduced the Communications Decency Act in February.
The CDA formed part of his pernicious Telecoms Bill, which was later found to be unconstitutional, under the First Amendment, by a court in Philadelphia.
Intrusion was how the world greeted Clinton's stance and the man from Arkansas must have sat down and questioned how he could have passed such a ludicrous Act as millions of sites all over the world turned their pages black in protest. PC Week joined in by turning the pages of the Internet news section black during the summer.
After losing by a majority verdict in the Philadelphia court, Janet Reno, Clinton's attorney general, was back in court on 29 July - this time in New York. Not surprisingly, the New York court also found the CDA unconstitutional, prompting doubts over whether the government would pursue the appeal in the Supreme Court. The government did and, two weeks ago, the Supreme Court granted the Government's wish to hear its case, which is due to come to court in the first half of 1997.
It concerns me that a twice-elected leader of the United States can pursue a law that seeks to undermine the very essence of his country's claim to be a liberal democratic society.
At the beginning of the year there were promises of recycling legislation from the European Union. It's taken a year but it looks like some of this legislation may see the light of day at the beginning of 1997.
Apple had a bit of a roller coaster ride this year. A $730 million (#429 million) second quarter loss in April was followed by the recall of thousands of laptops in May, boding ill for the rest of the year.
Also in May, the company brought in Gil Amelio as CEO in the hope he could execute a successful turnaround, similar to the one he achieved at National Semiconductor. He looks well on the way to achieving that goal. By October Apple surprised everyone by jumping back into the black with fourth quarter profits of $25 million. Apple's chief financial officer Fred Anderson said he expects the company to have a profitable 1997.
It was a sad year for Olivetti. Highlighted by the sale of its PC division in October, the Italian company's year has featured huge debts, mass resignations and financial irregularities. Together these have put the future of the whole group in jeopardy as the year draws to a close.
McAfee spent most of May bitching about Cheyenne, after its hostile bid for the company was successfully resisted, only to see it snapped up by Computer Associates several months later.
It wasn't all doom and gloom in 1996. The battle for top slots in the computer sales stakes resulted in a bigger choice for users and some surprising U-turns: Compaq changed its mind and said it would be making a Network Computer and a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) after all; IBM re-entered the printer market; Toshiba decided to make desktop systems after years of resistance; and Sharp returned to the notebook market.
Sharp, Toshiba, Digital and Fujitsu all said they will be the number one PC company worldwide by the year 2000. At least three of them have got their figures wrong.
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