In terms of the global software market one of the big winners in 2004 was undoubtedly Linux. The open source operating system clocked up some notable successes, with analysts predicting that the overall market revenue for Linux desktops, servers and packaged software will exceed $35bn by 2008. Linux was also found to lead global OS revenue and unit growth.
Further backing for the Penguin came from a survey stating that most mainstream firms would consider Linux as a platform for email.
But the Tux didn't have it all his own way. Stuck between a rock and a hardish place with the potential seriously to damage its own flagship operating system, Sun moved to promote its Solaris 10 as a rival to Linux.
In a move that could be seen as 'my enemy's enemy is my friend', Sun launched the latest version of its OS, with 600 new features, and overhauled its pricing model to better compete with Linux.
Microsoft, just before the end of 2004, slipped in the long anticipated release candidates for workstation and server versions of 64-bit Windows, so that firms can test them on 64-bit extended chips such as AMD's Opteron.
For the first time in recent memory, Microsoft's Internet Explorer has been given a run for its money with the worldwide launch of the Mozilla Foundation's long-awaited Firefox 1.0 web browser. The browser has rapidly become the preferred choice for millions of surfers, and was downloaded as a trial by over eight million people before the official launch.
According to Gartner, the growing popularity of virtualisation, dual-core processors and computing on demand could lead to the cost of software licences doubling in the medium term, which is not good news for anyone but the software vendors.
Oracle claimed a bit of a coup with the unveiling of a programme to work with other IT suppliers on a blueprint for datacentres based on industry-standard technology. The database giant lined up Dell, Intel, Red Hat and Novell to work on the 'Architecture of the Future' to combine their respective products.
Another high-profile strategic alliance saw Dell and Microsoft team up on system management. The firms promised system, OS and apps updates with one tool that provides a single point of administration for hardware and software.
One of the most profoundly important events in the software world during 2004 was undoubtedly the issue of whether the European Union should reject US-style software patents and intellectual property laws. Backing an EU directive to patent software could double the cost of litigation.
However, the UK government threw its weight behind the unpopular EU move at the end of the year.
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