2016: The tech year in cartoons

From Microsoft’s push to get users to upgrade to Windows 10 — whether they wanted to or not — to the trials and tribulations of the U.S. rollout of chip-based credit cards, here’s a look at some of 2016’s biggest IT stories from the pen of Computerworld’s editorial cartoonist, John Klossner.

Mechanic installing new Windows 10 engine in car

January: Microsoft gets aggressive with Windows 10

As 2016 opened, Microsoft was trying to do something about a slowdown in the pace of Windows 10 upgrades that had started a few months earlier.

Late in the fall of 2015, Microsoft had set the wheels on motion on a plan to make it easier for people to upgrade Windows 7 and 8.1 machines to the new operating system — whether they wanted to or not. It had become clear that something was afoot in late November of 2015, when users started noticing that the “AllowOSUpgrade” setting in Windows Update was getting switched on in Windows 7 and 8.1 PCs even if they had switched it off. And it kept resetting itself at least once a day if they turned it off again.

Terry Myerson, the Microsoft executive who runs the company’s More Personal Computing group, acknowledged that, rather than wait for people to request the new operating system, Microsoft planned to automatically send the upgrade to PCs via Windows Update. The company envisioned a two-step process: It would first add the Windows 10 upgrade to the Windows Update list on Windows 7 and 8.1 systems as an “optional” item, then it would shift the Windows 10 upgrade from optional to “recommended” — and recommended updates are automatically downloaded and installed.

Users would still be able to opt out even after that second phase of the plan was underway, Myerson promised, but as the cartoon in the January issue of our digital magazine suggested, the experience might be akin to a visit to an auto mechanic for routine service that turns into hundreds of dollars of unexpected repairs.

Mechanic suggesting car can be fixed by turning it off and back on

February: Detroit meets Silicon Valley

While the idea of a software company handling OS upgrades like an overzealous auto mechanic might make for good satire, the notion of cars needing checkups by IT service technicians may not be so far-fetched: As cars’ on-board computer systems evolve, and as autonomous vehicles come closer to reality, there’s a good deal of cross-pollination between Detroit and Silicon Valley these days.

Searching for talent to work on their in-vehicle systems, a slew of automakers, most recently Ford and GM, have set up R&D centers in the San Francisco Bay Area, and tech giants are venturing into the carmaking business. Google, of course, is working on a self-driving vehicle, and speculation abounds that Apple is developing a car — speculation that was fueled by the company’s 2015 hiring of former Fiat Chrysler executive Doug Betts.

Whereas our January cartoon had drawn a metaphorical connection between computer maintenance and auto repairs, the cartoon in the February issue of our digital magazine speculated that auto mechanics might start acting like help desk staffers someday soon.

Disney tech worker tying noose while training H-1B replacement

March: An H-1B visa is your ticket to the Magic Kingdom

Disney likes to tell us that “it’s a small world, after all,” but some former Disney IT employees aren’t too happy with what could be seen as the company’s latest effort to erase international borders.

In separate lawsuits, two tech workers who had been laid off from Disney alleged that the company conspired with IT services providers to replace them with people from other countries who came to the U.S. on H-1B visas.

Underpinning the lawsuits is the Labor Condition Application (LCA), a form that employers fill out when placing H-1B visa holders in jobs. Among other things, the LCA requires employers to affirm that U.S. workers won’t be “adversely affected” by the use of visa holders. But the plaintiffs claim that, as they were being terminated in January 2015, they were among 200 to 300 Disney IT workers who were required by the terms of their severance agreements to train visa-holding contractors who were taking their jobs. And as Sara Blackwell, an attorney who brought one of the cases, said, the training would clearly be in conflict with the terms of the LCA because “if you have to train your replacement and then are fired, that is an adverse effect.”

In a bit of gallows (pun intended) humor, the cartoon in the March issue of our digital magazine offered a fanciful (if dark) take on the adverse effects the soon-to-be-unemployed U.S. workers might have experienced as they trained their visa-holding replacements.

Unicorn applying for a job at Intel

April: Intel can’t meet co-founder’s expectations

Intel found itself in a bit of a slump this year, having lost its edge in chip manufacturing.

For decades, the company had been able to follow the path of Moore’s Law — the observation of Intel co-founder Gordon Moore that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits doubles every two years while the cost per transistor declines. But as chips got smaller and transistor density grew, Intel’s pace of development slipped and the company was reduced to doubling the density of transistors on a chip every two and a half years instead of every two years.

Intel hopes to get back on the two-year timetable when it moves to a 7-nanometer manufacturing process, which is two generations beyond its current 14nm process. The key to speeding up manufacturing will be a new lithography technology called extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV), which uses ultraviolet light to transfer circuit patterns on silicon wafers using masks and should remove some of the complexity associated with making smaller chips.

The hitch: While EUV could be deployed with Intel’s 7nm process, the tools needed for it to work don’t exist yet — and in light of that reality, the cartoon that ran in the April issue of our our digital magazine put forth the notion that an unlikely job applicant might have a better chance of getting Intel back on track sooner.

Wannabe Tesla owners storming office to order flying car

May: Sparks in the electric car market

Speaking of things that don’t exist yet, Tesla’s forthcoming Model 3 caused quite a stir long before it was expected to roll off the the assembly line (or the drawing board).

In the week after formally announcing the Model 3, Tesla was deluged with more than 325,000 pre-orders from would-be buyers willing to put down $1,000 deposits for a car they couldn’t even see, much less test-drive. And for the record, that’s a car with a starting price tag of $35,000 that wouldn’t be available for year or so and hadn’t even been fully designed yet.

The level of consumer enthusiasm prompted comparisons to the frenzies sparked by Apple’s iPhone announcements, and the cartoon in the May issue of our digital magazine observed that people might start following the offhand comments of Tesla execs as closely as they monitor remarks by Apple execs for clues about the next big thing to come out of Cupertino.

16 07 computerworlddm 3dprinter klossner onetimeuse rsz

June: 3D printers: Don’t leave home without one

As 3D printing steadily makes its way into the mainstream, organizations of all kinds are starting to take note of the technology’s disruptive potential.

Among other things, 3D printing could open the door to on-demand manufacturing. Instead of building things in factories, companies may start using 3D printers to produce products anywhere in the world based on designs transmitted in digital files.

UPS and SAP have jumped on the bandwagon, partnering on a scheme to set up an on-demand manufacturing network using 3D printing systems in more than 60 UPS Stores across the country. NASA sees the technology’s potential as well. The space agency sent a 3D printer to the International Space Station two years ago, and it envisions using the technology to build and repair equipment on missions to Mars and other long-distance voyages for which it would be impractical to pack all the necessary supplies in advance.

And why stop with trips to outer space? The possibilities seem endless, and as the cartoon in the June/July issue of our digital magazine observed, 3D printers could one day be essential items on every traveler’s packing list.

A Chrome browser hot-air balloon floats up past a falling IE balloon

August: Chrome shines

Over the summer, a clear winner emerged in the long-running browser wars: Chrome, which had been collecting users at the expense of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) for a year.

At the end of June, Google’s browser was the choice of nearly 49% of all desktop and and laptop users worldwide, and that figure rose to 51% by the end of July. Meanwhile, the Microsoft combo of IE and Edge (a new browser included in Windows 10) accounted for a record low 34.7% of global user share at the end of July, according to web analytics firm Net Applications.

IE had accounted for a majority of user share until December 2015, and its precipitous freefall was a mirror image of Chrome’s rapid ascent. In fact, the decision by millions of Microsoft browser users to embrace Google’s Chrome was largely fallout from Microsoft’s decision in August 2014 to warn IE users that they had to upgrade to a newer version by January 2016. That edict had the side effect of forcing IE users to re-evaluate their browser choice, and many decided to migrate to Chrome instead of upgrading to IE11 or switching to Edge.

Google’s browser may not dominate its market in the way its flagship search engine does, but as the cartoon in the August issue of our digital magazine observes, the company’s offerings are all but ubiquitous, and certainly hard to ignore.

Fed agents securing supply chain by watching suspicious employee

September: Shoring up weak links in the supply chain

It wouldn’t be a year in the tech world without an IT security story reminding us just how vulnerable we are to hackers.

This time, the spotlight was on the supply chain. In August, the U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) unveiled plans to share classified reports about threats to the supply chain with telecommunications, energy and financial services companies — a move that got a thumbs-up from the organizations most likely to benefit from the program.

Attacks on the equipment and systems that make up the supply chain could disrupt operations in critical industries or expose valuable data. Likely perpetrators include foreign governments, criminal gangs — even disgruntled employees. Recognizing that those in the last group are often said to pose the most insidious threat of all, the cartoon in the September issue of our digital magazine suggested that the feds’ focus should be on employees.

Apple salesman offering Apple Watch to Trojan guards

October: Apple's Trojan ploy

With early wearables tending to fall into the category of “solutions seeking a problem,” Apple opted for a new marketing tack with the Apple Watch Series 2.

Essentially, the company took the novel approach of paying attention to how early adopters were actually using smartwatches and other wearables and then crafting a sales pitch tailored to those uses. That led Apple to focus on how its watch could be used as a fitness device instead of positioning it as an iPhone peripheral. The company was betting that people interested in fitness features like built-in GPS for tracking hikes and distance runs (without having to take an iPhone along) would eventually start to use the Apple Watch for other things, and that the market for it and other wearables would expand from there.

Not all analysts were convinced that the move would help people look beyond the new watch’s $369 price tag, but they generally supported the strategy of using fitness features as a Trojan horse in an attempt to get the device into people’s hands (and onto their wrists) — though the cartoon in the October issue of our digital magazine suggested that people might be wary of geeks bearing timepieces.

Diners paying with cash to avoid hassle of chip cards

November: Fear, loathing and life with chip cards

Chip cards didn’t win the hearts and minds of many shoppers and merchants in the first 12 months after U.S. retailers were required to start accepting them.

Despite the promise that chip-embedded credit and debit cards would be more secure than magnetic-stripe cards, the rollout mandated by banks and card companies was beset with troubles from day one. Problems included angst in checkout lines over the length of time it took to process transactions, costly equipment and a complex installation process. Home Depot and Walmart were so unhappy they went to court and filed lawsuits against Visa and Mastercard.

But things were looking up when the first anniversary of the mandate rolled around on Oct. 1. Transactions were smoother — some stores were able to complete chip-card purchases in less than three seconds (down from as high as 17 seconds) — and Visa and Mastercard said fraud, as measured in terms of dollars lost, had dropped significantly at stores that use chip-card technology.

Success was in sight, but all parties involved generally agreed that it would be another 18 months to three years before chip cards would be fully adopted. And in light of that reality, cartoon in the November issue of our digital magazine speculated that, instead of waiting, consumers might look for a less-complicated alternative.

Apple employees planning MacBook Pro price hikes

December: Apple’s enterprising price hikes

How do you sell more tablets? Raise the price of your laptops. What do you do with the pricier laptops? Sell them to the enterprise.

That seems to be Apple’s strategy, anyway.

When the company rolled out its newly revamped MacBook Pro lineup, it also announced dramatic price hikes, saying its top-of-the-line laptops would cost 20% to 39% more than earlier versions. And in addition to raising the prices of its high-end systems, Apple also dumped the lower-end 11-in. MacBook Air and the aging non-Retina 13-in. MacBook Pro.

But those moves made some sense in light of the company’s recent efforts to position its iPad Pro tablet as a suitable substitute for a personal computer, especially when paired with a keyboard. The higher cost of the MacBook Pros put a spotlight on the lower cost of the iPad Pro and may have nudged people to think about swapping laptops for tablets.

And there could be more to it than that: Apple has recently shown renewed interest in the enterprise market, where customers may be less fazed by the higher MacBook Pro prices. The cartoon in the December issue of our digital magazine offered an interesting take on how the discussion about raising prices might have played out in Apple’s enterprise strategy meeting.

Self-portrait of cartoonist John Klossner

Meet 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 © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.