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12/6/2002
03:37 PM
John Soat
John Soat
Commentary
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IT Confidential: A $6 Billion IT Budget; Ethics' Slippery Slope

Wireless is 'one of the most important growth engines of the future.'

In a deal between Seattle-area tech tycoons, Bill Gates' personal investment company, Cascade Investment, bought 3.8 million shares of wireless company Nextel Partners last week from cellular-phone entrepreneur Craig McCaw. The Microsoft chairman raised his stake in Nextel Partners, an affiliate of Nextel Communications, to 12.7 million shares, or 5.2% of the Kirkland, Wash., company. McCaw remains majority shareholder with 15.8 million shares, or 6.4%. Says telecom analyst Jeff Kagan: "Gates understands the future of the wireless business isn't just voice, but wireless data and wireless broadband."

The Navy last week promoted David Wennergren to CIO. Wennergren, who'll manage an IT budget of some $6 billion, had been the Navy's deputy CIO for enterprise integration and security for the past few years. He replaces Dan Porter, who retired after 30 years of federal service, including the last four years as Navy CIO. Porter is joining IT services firm R.M. Vredenburg as senior VP for strategic development. As Navy CIO, Porter is credited with being the first IT exec among federal agencies to conduct online reverse auctions to acquire goods.

The flap over a recent report by Amnesty International on Internet monitoring in China had weaknesses on both sides. In the report, "State Control of the Internet in China," Amnesty International criticized certain technology vendors, namely Cisco, Microsoft, Nortel Networks, Sun Microsystems, and Websense, for having provided the technology that enables Internet monitoring and censorship. "Provided" is the loaded word here -- it sounded as if these vendors somehow slipped Chinese officials spy systems under the table. What "provided" really means, and what the vendors hastened to point out, is that they sold their respective hardware and software products in China. They're vendors, that's what they do -- sell products. On the other hand, the vendors' protestations that they can't control what customers do with their products is simplistic and something of a slippery ethical slope.

What is it about Microsoft that causes the judicial community to go off its collective head? First Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson got slapped for his provocative anti-Microsoft comments while still involved in the antitrust trial. And last week, District Judge Frederick Motz appeared mostly sympathetic to Sun in his running commentary during a hearing over Sun's request for an injunction to compel Microsoft to use the most recent version of Java in Windows. According to reports, the judge used several unflattering sports metaphors to describe Microsoft's use of a proprietary form of Java, including likening Microsoft to controversial figure skater Tonya Harding and Sun to her beset-upon rival Nancy Kerrigan.

That's low -- Tonya deserves better. Just kidding! Who knows, Tonya may have a defamation lawsuit up her sleeve, or an industry tip, and she's sending it to jsoat@cmp.com or phone 516-562-5326. If you want to talk about Internet monitoring or the dark side of figure skating, meet me at InformationWeek .com's Listening Post: informationweek.com/forum/johnsoat.

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