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Top 10 Tech stories 2014: Backlash! Disrupting the disruptors

Marc Ferranti | Dec. 8, 2014
Blowing up entrenched business models and picking up the profits that spill onto the floor is a time-honored tradition in tech, these days known by the cliche of the moment, "disruption."

Blowing up entrenched business models and picking up the profits that spill onto the floor is a time-honored tradition in tech, these days known by the cliche of the moment, "disruption." This year everyone was trying to push back against those upstarts, whether by buying them like Facebook did, reorganizing to compete with them like HP and Microsoft have done, or just plain going out against them guns blazing, as it seemed that every city and taxi company did with Uber. European courts fought the disruptive effect Google search has had on our very sense of the historical record. But meanwhile, legions of net neutrality supporters in the US spoke up to save the Internet's core value of disruption against the oligopoly of a handful of communications carriers. Here are our picks for the top stories of a very, well, disruptive year.

Nadella aims Microsoft toward relevancy in a post-PC world

Taking over from Steve Ballmer in February, CEO Satya Nadella faced several uncomfortable truths, among them: Windows powers only 15 percent of all computing devices worldwide, including smartphones, tablets and PCs, meaning Microsoft is no longer at the center of most people's computing experience. Nadella says he wants Microsoft to be the productivity and platform company for a "mobile first, cloud first world." Under Nadella, Microsoft has launched Office for the iPad, embraced open source software for its Azure cloud and launched the beta for Windows 10, which promises to smooth out Windows 8's confusing, hybrid user interface. Shortly after closing the Nokia acquisition he inherited, Nadella announced 18,000 job cuts, 14 percent of its global staff. The bulk of those cuts are in Nokia, which has been relegated to the "other" market share category in smartphones. Microsoft's sales looked good last quarter, jumping 25 percent year-over-year to $23.2 billion, though profit was hurt by the Nokia buy. Nadella claimed the company is "innovating faster," which had better be true if he is to succeed.

HP says breaking up is hard, but necessary

Agility appears to be more important than size these days. In an about-face from the direction CEO Meg Whitman set three years ago, Hewlett-Packard announced in October that it will split up, divorcing its PC and printer operations from its enterprise business. When Whitman took the reins from former HP chief Leo Apotheker in 2011, she renounced his idea to split up the venerable Silicon Valley company, saying PCs were key to long-term relationships with customers. But shedding assets is becoming a common strategy for aging tech giants. IBM has focused on enterprise technology and services after selling first its PC operations years ago, and then its server business this year, to Lenovo, and agreeing in October to pay GlobalFoundries $1.5 billion to take over money-losing chip facilities. Symantec announced this year that it would spin off its software storage business, the bulk of which it acquired 10 years ago from Veritas Software for $13.5 billion. The big question for HP is whether it can avoid alienating users and distracting its hundreds of thousands of employees.


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