The best - and worst - of 1998.

They say that all good things come to an end...

1998 was certainly no exception.

So, since this happens to be the last week of a year in which we experienced some bad times, some good ones and not a few bizarre ones, we thought we'd break away from our usual format, and give you a quick run-down on the year that was.

Here then, are the events and news stories that shaped 1998...in no particular order:

Perhaps the most startling development of the past twelve months has been the tremendous surge in popularity of the operating system known as Linux, named after it's creator Linus Torvalds. Touted by Wired! Magazine as the best hack of the decade, this well-rounded, full-featured and free operating system has fired the imagination of millions across the world with it's hacker mystique, it's peculiar licensing scheme, it's stability, scalability and blistering performance on the most modest of computer systems.

There are quite a few people out there - and their number is growing by the day - who believe that only Linux has the wherewithal to challenge the ubiquitous Windows platform. A year ago, these doomsayers would have been laughed out of court by the geeks at Micro$oft - this year, no one dares to even giggle. After all, Linux was the only operating system to gain market share in 1998 - pretty impressive for a "hack", don't you think?!

You can read the Wired! Article at http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/5.08/linux_pr.html

And here are a few more articles on just why Linux is so cool - read them at your leisure :-)

An Interview With Linus Torvalds: http://www.linuxworld.com/linuxworld/lw-1998-10/lw-10-torvalds.html

Linux Vs. Windows - Who Will Win ?: http://abcnews.go.com/sections/tech/DailyNews/linux981014.html

Why People Don't Hate Linux: http://www.cnn.com/TECH/computing/9809/22/linuxlove.idg/

How Linux Got So Hot: http://cnn.com/TECH/computing/9808/22/danglinux.idg/index.html

After being written off as a failure by industry pundits last year, Apple bounced back in 1998 with a new CEO, a new marketing strategy and a slew of new products. Spearheading this reversal of fortune - the iMac, easily one of the most innovative and original products to spring from Steve Jobs' fevered imagination!

More a fashion statement than a computer, the iMac sports a translucent surface, an elongated monitor, a round mouse and more curves than the entire cast of Baywatch ;-) Little wonder that it's been disappearing off the shelves faster than you can say "Profits, baby!"

Take a look at Steve Jobs' futuristic vision at http://www.apple.com/imac/

Or read more about it in MacWorld at http://macworld.zdnet.com/pages/july.98/Column.4357.html

The Asian economic crisis notwithstanding, consumers spent a lot of money in 1998 - and quite a lot of it found it's way into cyberspace. 1998 was also the year that Internet commerce finally took off, with online merchants like Amazon.com and Egift posting record sales, particularly over the festive season.

Amazon.com is available at http://www.amazon.com

Egift is available at http://www.egift.com

And you could also check out http://www.webreference.com/ecommerce/ and http://www.ibm.com/e-business/

And while we're on the subject of money, 1998 saw quite a few new IPOs by Internet companies; chief among these were GeoCities, the free home page provider, and Ebay, the online auction house. Technology stocks continued to dominate the market - if you bought Micro$oft or Intel a few years ago, you're probably a very happy camper right about now ;-)

GeoCities is available at http://www.geocities.com

Ebay is available at http://www.ebay.com

Micro$oft rolled out a new version of Windows this year - it was christened Windows 98, and amidst the hype and hoopla that always accompanies a Micro$oft product launch, company spin doctors heralded it as "the friendliest, most advanced operating system yet"!

Discerning users [and we're proud to include ourselves in this select group] begged to differ.

Many of them found Windows 98 to be nothing more than a collection of bug fixes...and slow too! The close integration of the operating system with the Internet Explorer Web browser failed to impress, and quite a few people switched back to Windows 95 out of frustration with the eccentricities of the "most advanced operating system yet" ;-)

If you would like more information on Windows 98, try the Micro$oft Web site at http://www.microsoft.com/windows

And Micro$oft found itself a new enemy this year too - the US Department of Justice, which dragged it into court on charges of stifling competition [read Netscape :) ] by bundling the Internet Explorer browser with the Windows 98 operating system. Micro$oft's defense: the two could not be separated, as they had been integrated to a point that one could not work without the other.

And this time, the court begged to differ. Testimony by the CEOs of Apple Computer, Sun Microsystems and Netscape Communcations [among others] painted a picture of Micro$oft as a ruthless competitor willing to do anything to get ahead, and Bill Gates as a modern-day robber baron ;-)

Who will win this game of trust and anti-trust ? Don't hold your breath...it looks like we'll be well into the next century before a winner is crowned ;-)

Curious? Read more about the latest development in the anti-trust lawsuit at http://www.wired.com/news/news/antitrust/

And speaking of the millennium, can you say Y2K ?The millennium bug, as it's been dubbed, made quite a few headlines this year..and it's sure to kill an even larger number of trees next year. For those of you who still have their heads buried in the sand, the acronym Y2K stands for "Year 2000", and refers to a computer glitch that identifies particular years by the last two digits - for example, the year 1998 would be represented by the digits 98.

And what happens when the clock strikes midnight on December 31, 1999? Well, that incredibly expensive and powerful number-cruncher you're using to read this will incorrectly identify the year 2000 as the year 1900, instantly turning the clock back a hundred years. The result: scrambled bank records, airplane navigation systems, traffic signals, electricity grids, satellites - pretty much everything that's controlled by computer, actually ;-)

We'll be covering the millennium bug in The HITG Report soon...in the meanwhile, you can educate yourself at http://www.y2ktoday.com or http://www.year2000.com

America Online purchased Netscape Communications for a cool US $4.2 billion, immediately catapulting it into the realms of the big online players - not to mention giving it overnight control over the thousands of eyeballs that visit the Netscape Web site every day.

America Online is available at http://www.aol.com

Netscape Communications is available at http://www.netscape.com

Iridium, the world's first truly global communications network, began service in November 1998. With a string of communications satellites circumnavigating the globe and a corporate structure spanning seventeen countries [yup, seventeen], Iridium allows you to call anyone, anywhere, at any time with a cellular phone that "allows you to send a dial tone to the far corners of planet Earth". And we'd like to add that we think the commercials are brilliant too ;-)

Take a look at the Iridium Web site at http://www.iridium.com

Or read about the technology and the vision behind it at http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/6.10/iridium.html

In the gaming world, Id released Quake 2 [smarter monsters, better network play], quickly supplanted by Unreal [gorgeous landscapes, interesting storyline, novel weapons] as the hottest game of the year.

Quake is available at http://www.idsoftware.com

Unreal is available at http://www.unreal.com

Digital cameras entered the mainstream, with everyone and his mother carrying one. We tried one out and couldn't understand what the fuss was all about - our battered old Canon does a far better job! ;-)

The Starr Report [no relation] hit the Internet, and every Web server with a copy was swamped with hits from the curious, the lascivious and the just plain bored ;-)

Geri Haliwell left the Spice Girls...one down, four to go, say we ;-)

France beat Brazil to win the World Cup, and a haughty nation allowed its reputation for superciliousness to be destroyed in the mad exultation of the winning goal.

India and Pakistan conducted underground nuclear tests [we still can't figure out why ;-) ]

A diamond-shaped blue pill named Viagra hit the market, kick-starting a new sexual revolution and causing Pfizer shares to rise...and rise...and rise :-P

A sitting US President was impeached for the second time in history.

A movie about a sinking ship bagged 11 Oscars.

Australia voted to become a republic.

Sinatra died.

And we thought we'd add a personal note to this issue, and tell you a little bit about our 1998 [we hope you don't mind us stroking our own egos here...surely we're allowed to do it once a year :-) ]

One of us graduated from college with honours. The other one of us is well on his way to doing the same :-)

One of us got his license to kill. The other one of us has been driving like a maniac for years without one ;-)

One of us found that young love ain't all it's cracked up to be. The other one of us already knew that ;-)

Both of us found fame in the local newspapers - next stop, fortune ;-)

One of us grew up. The other one of us is still trying to come to terms with the concept ;-)

We hope you had a good 1998. If you did, here's hoping 1999 is even better...and if you didn't, remember that the line about good things coming to an end applies to bad things too :-)

Till next time...stay healthy !

This article was first published on 28 Dec 1998.