2014: The tech year in cartoons

From Satya Nadella’s rise to the top spot at Microsoft to the emergence of 3D printing and the Internet of Things, here’s a look at some of the year’s biggest IT stories from the pen of Computerworld’s editorial cartoonist, John Klossner.

Cartoon about young freelance workers in the IT labor market in 2014.
John Klossner, © Computerworld

January: Full-time work is so last year

The year opened with a series of developments on the IT careers front.

First, we reported that the percentage of independent contractors in the IT labor market was on the rise. One estimate held that about 18% of all IT workers were self-employed, and another put the median percentage of contract workers at large organizations at 15%, up from 6% in 2011.

Consultants who offer services to freelancers tried to spin the shift as good news because there were plenty of opportunities for people who value autonomy and flexibility. But as the cartoon in our Jan. 13 print issue pointed out, not everyone -- not even young people regarded by their elders as carefree, footloose job-hoppers -- sees being "tied down" by the structure and stability of full-time work as a bad thing.

The good news? There should be more full-time opportunities for younger IT professionals as baby boomers retire and take skills such as Cobol expertise with them.

Cartoon about tech job postings.
John Klossner, © Computerworld

February: Help wanted?

But wait -- is the full-time employment picture really so bad? Maybe not, if you look at the number of job openings posted by IT-centric employers. The company with the most job postings in 2013 was Amazon.com, with 16,146, according to CompTIA. The top three runners-up were Accenture, with 14,240, Deloitte, with 13,077, and Microsoft, which posted 12,435 help-wanted ads.

But, as the cartoon in our Feb. 10 print issue illustrated, the numbers may not add up: CompTIA reported its findings with the caveat that not all postings lead to new hires, because companies can always fill jobs internally, outsource the work, postpone a hire or withdraw an opening.

Cartoon featuring Bill Gates and Satya Nadella.
John Klossner, © Computerworld

February: Meet the new boss . . .

One of the 2013 job postings at Microsoft may have been an ad seeking someone to replace one of those retiring baby boomers: Steve Ballmer, who announced in August 2013 that he'd be stepping down as Microsoft's CEO after holding the job since 2000. But that opening was also one of the ones that the employer ended up filling internally, as Microsoft in February 2014 announced that it had tapped 22-year company veteran Satya Nadella to be its new CEO.

While some might have hoped that Nadella, 47, would bring fresh thinking to a onetime IT pioneer that had grown stagnant in middle age, the cartoon in our Feb. 24 print issue drew attention to the fact that Nadella would be counseled, at least in the short term, by another baby boomer: Bill Gates.

Microsoft's founder and former CEO stepped down as chairman of the company's board to assist Nadella as a technology adviser -- or as one pundit put it, consigliere.

Cartoon about computer hacks via HVAC systems.
John Klossner, © Computerworld

March: Hackers turn up the heat

In the IT news business, no year would be complete without a few stories about massive data breaches at big, well-known companies. And 2014 didn't disappoint. The list of companies hit by security breaches that made headlines during the year included such household names as Target, UPS and Home Depot.

The Target breach actually occurred in late 2013 -- the company confirmed that hackers gained access to credit and debit card data of people who bought goods in its stores between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15, with industry sources pegging the number of cards impacted at 40 million -- but a series of unsettling details about the nature of the incident came to light in the first few months of 2014, and investigators ultimately determined that the hackers had used login credentials stolen from a company that provides the retailer with heating, ventilation and air conditioning services.

What's worse is that security experts say many Internet-connected HVAC systems lack adequate security, offering hackers an inviting gateway into enterprise networks. The cartoon in our March 10 print issue suggested that, since security breaches seem to be a fact of life, it might be a good idea to stay on friendly terms with your hackers.

Cartoon about the Internet of Things.
John Klossner, © Computerworld

March: A thing or two about the IoT

The IT world embraced yet another new buzzphrase in 2014: the Internet of Things. The network created when Web-enabled everyday "things" -- from activity-tracking wristbands to refrigerators and cars -- talk to one another, the Internet of Things, or IoT, has actually been around in one form or another for more than a decade, mostly made up of equipment with IP-addressable sensors in sectors like healthcare and manufacturing. But the rest of the world is now aware of the phenomenon.

For some people, the IoT might raise the specter of Big Brother, as when Google gained another way to collect data about us when it bought Nest, a maker of thermostats that track people's habits at home. For enterprise IT, the IoT represents both an opportunity and a challenge: It generates a wealth of data that can be mined for nuggets of information, but all of that data and all of those connected devices have to be corralled and managed.

And there's another challenge: All of those things need a reliable way to communicate, and without some agreed-upon standards to support that interaction, the Internet of Things may never really come into being. The Linux Foundation says an open-source option called the AllJoyn Framework is the right choice for an IoT standard, and it formed a group called the AllSeen Alliance to promote AllJoyn.

Will that effort succeed? Maybe. If not, well, we can always go out for dinner at our favorite restaurant, as the cartoon in our March 24 print issue observed.

Cartoon about Facebook\'s purchase of Oculus.
John Klossner, © Computerworld

April: Facebook buys a new vision

Facebook went on a shopping spree early in the year. In February, the social network announced plans to buy mobile messaging app WhatsApp for $16 billion (the actual purchase price hit $21.8 billion when the deal closed in October). Then the company revealed in March that it had agreed to pay $2 billion to buy Oculus VR, a maker of virtual reality products useful mainly for total immersion gaming.

Analysts speculated about what Facebook might be thinking, with one theory holding that the company hoped Oculus virtual reality technology would help it lure back the teenagers who seem to have lost interest in the social network.

Whatever Facebook may have in mind, the cartoon in our April 7 print issue suggested that CEO Mark Zuckerberg must have confidence in his plans -- but just how justified that confidence is may be open to question.

Cartoon about retailers addressing security.
John Klossner, © Computerworld

June: Store shelves stocked with data

In the wake of the data breach at Target -- but before the ones that hit Home Depot and The UPS Store -- some of the largest merchants in the U.S. decided enough was enough. In a bid to avert further attacks, big-name retailers like Target, Gap Inc., Walgreens and J.C. Penney banded together to form an organization called the Retail Cyber Intelligence Sharing Center, or R-CISC.

The idea was that R-CISC members could gird themselves against looming threats if they shared information about software vulnerabilities and new strains of malware.

Warren Steytler, vice president of information security at R-CISC member Lowe's, said he was confident that "our industry will collectively strengthen its ability to protect critical customer information." But the cartoon in our June 9 print issue speculated that other people, with a different agenda altogether, might also welcome the founding of R-CISC.

Cartoon about the 2014 IBM-Apple agreement.
John Klossner, © Computerworld

August: Big Brother is helping you

Remember Apple's "1984" Super Bowl ad depicting IBM as a totalitarian overlord? Well, a lot can change in 30 years: In July, Apple and IBM shook hands and agreed to partner up. Specifically, the two companies joined forces to make a run at the corporate mobile market.

The deal calls for IBM to build enterprise iOS apps, create "unique" enterprise-oriented cloud services for iOS, and resell iPhones and iPads to its corporate customers. For its part, Apple will offer new support services for businesses.

Of course, large enterprises have found ways to put Apple products to work here and there over the years. But the cartoon in the August issue of our digital magazine suggested that perhaps, by approaching IBM with an olive branch instead of a hammer, Apple may finally gain entree into the enterprise.

Cartoon about OpenVMS.
John Klossner, © Computerworld

September: Vive la OpenVMS

Not every news story involves things that are, well, new -- or necessarily very well known. Over the summer, Computerworld reported on a series of developments involving a 37-year-old operating system: OpenVMS.

Originally introduced as VAX/VMS in October 1977 by the erstwhile Digital Equipment Corp., OpenVMS is largely invisible in a world dominated by Windows, Linux, cloud-based systems and Unix, but it runs critical systems and is widely extolled for its reliability and functionality. OpenVMS fell into the hands of Hewlett-Packard in 2002, when HP acquired Compaq, which had acquired DEC in 1998.

Last year, it looked as though the end was nigh for the venerable operating system, because HP let it be known that it would not validate OpenVMS to its latest hardware or produce new versions of it. But in late July of this year, the operating system got a new lease on life when HP licensed OpenVMS to a new company, VSI, that plans to develop ports to the latest Itanium chips and is promising eventual support for x86 processors.

The reversal came shortly after a French OpenVMS user group called HP-Interex France posted an "open letter" to HP CEO Meg Whitman that told of the important role the operating system plays in running French transportation systems, health services and even nuclear power plants.

While fans may have applauded HP's change of heart, the cartoon in the September issue of our digital magazine pointed out that finding people to keep OpenVMS systems running might prove to be a challenge.

Cartoon about tech vendor consolidation.
John Klossner, © Computerworld

November: You can have any color you like . . .

Vendor consolidation has long been a concern for IT users. Whether it's Oracle or SAP making moves in the enterprise market or the specter of a shakeout in the cloud market, such developments end up leaving users with fewer technology choices and less leverage at the negotiating table.

But at least one user is fighting back: Michael Spears, the CIO of the National Council on Compensation Insurance. In November, we reported that Spears has resisted moving to integrated platforms that vendors have touted and has endeavored to keep NCCI's processing and storage systems separate. But even as he fights the good fight, Spears worries about the long-term trend toward highly integrated systems, saying vendors "are pushing hard to move customers to one preferred platform."

The cartoon in the November issue of our digital magazine illustrated the type of technology market that Spears is wary of.

Cartoon about HP\'s 3D printer.
John Klossner, © Computerworld

December: HP enters a new dimension

2014 may be remembered as the year that 3D printing was recognized as a serious business solution, not an emerging-tech novelty.

The technology can be used to make all kinds of things, but its most important role may be in manufacturing. In June, Computerworld showed how far 3D printing has come, with a look at how the technology is used at Ford, where just one of five 3D printing centers churns out more than 20,000 parts prototypes per year. 

Later in the year, Hewlett-Packard revealed that it had its eye on the industrial 3D printing market when it unveiled its Multi Jet Fusion printer, which is due to ship in 2016. The slumping company may be hopeful that it can turn its fortunes around if it enjoys as much success with 3D printers as it has with inkjet printers, but as the cartoon in the December edition of our digital magazine noted, however good the Multi Jet Fusion may prove to be, it can't print money.

John Klossner self portrait

About our cartoonist

John Klossner has been drawing editorial cartoons for Computerworld since 1996. His cartoons and drawings have also appeared in a wide variety of other print and electronic publications, including The New Yorker, Barron's, Federal Computer Week and The Wall Street Journal.

John's work can also be seen on his website, www.jklossner.com.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.