Obama Takes Charge, Ballmer Lays It on the Line

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Barack Obama became the 44th, and first African-American, president of the U.S. on an Inauguration Day that captured the world's attention and provided a flurry of technology-related headlines. The post-inaugural buzz ended quickly, though, with dismal economic news being rife (again) this week. On a happier note, Apple did well with its quarterly financials and celebrated the 25th birthday of the Mac.

1. The Obama Administration tech watch: Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th U.S. president Tuesday, with Inauguration Day coverage blanketing the Web, including sites that typically do not have much to do with political news. There were any number of tech-related stories pegged to the big day, including how mobile-phone networks and the Internet held up. A tech-savvy president -- Obama publicly declared he was not going to give up his BlackBerry despite security issues -- will undoubtedly mean more emphasis on tech policy and legislation.

2. Ballmer provides grim outlook as economy 'resets': Leave it to Steve Ballmer to cut to the chase -- the economic recession will drag out for a year or two, leading to a "reset" of the economy from which there will not be a "bounce" that leads to the previous levels of prosperity. He delivered his grim assessment, which he did tinge with some notes of optimism about IT in general and Microsoft specifically, on the heels of news that his company's quarterly net income took a dive and that 5,000 employees are being laid off. Microsoft wasn't the only bearer of lousy financial news this week, as noted in number six.

3. Heartland data breach could be bigger than TJX's and Heartland breach raises questions about PCI standard's effectiveness: Heartland Payment Systems, which provides credit- and debit-card processing services, disclosed a massive data breach that could rival that of TJX, though specific numbers were unclear. However, Heartland processes 100 million card transactions per month, so analysts suspect that the breach was huge. (The TJX breach compromised more than 45 million cards.) The Heartland breach has led to renewed concerns that the Payment Card Industry data security standard required by Visa and MasterCard is not up to the task of ensuring data safety.

4. Microsoft to deliver first IE8 release candidate Monday: The first release candidate of Internet Explorer 8 will be out Monday, according to sources who know what Microsoft is up to with its next browser version. A release candidate, in Microsoft parlance, is software with all the features set to go and code that is stable. It also means that a final release of the software is imminent.

5. Wall Street beat: Recession whacks IT earnings: Besides Microsoft, Nokia, Sony, Advanced Micro Devices and Ericsson all reported grim quarterly earnings. We'll leave the details to those with the fortitude to click the link.

6. Apple reports record profit for first quarter and Google Q4 earnings plummet, revenue up 18 percent: We don't usually go on about financial results in Top 10, but this week is an exception, with the need to temper the bad news with a couple of positive nuggets. First, Apple defied the recession with record revenue and profit in its first quarter. Then, Google said that although its profit took a nosedive due to one-time investment write-downs, its revenue was up nearly 20 percent for the fourth quarter compared to the same period a year ago.

7. Craig Barrett to retire from Intel: Intel Chairman Craig Barrett will retire in May after 35 years with the company. In recent years he had eased away from day-to-day operations to focus on getting technology to emerging countries.

8. PewTube? Vatican to preach via YouTube and Pope praises potential of new technologies: The Vatican's YouTube channel is up and running, providing video of Pope Benedict XVI's activities as well as other links about the Catholic Church. The pope kicked things off with a speech praising new communications technologies for the good they can do, but warning about the possible pitfalls if they are misused.

9. 25 years of the Mac: Mac fans celebrated the 25th anniversary of their beloved Apple computers and Macworld offered a tribute along with a nice package of stories looking at the last quarter-century of Apple's business, including the best and the worst. Some advice on what the company should do soon and in the future is also mixed in.

10. Bull castration, snake eaters, opium and a whorehouse: the life of storage guru Dave Hitz: Dave Hitz, the founder and executive vice president of storage company NetApp, published a memoir called "How to Castrate a Bull: Unexpected Lessons on Risk, Growth, and Success in Business." He worked on a cattle ranch when he was in college, so the title is more literal than at first might be realized. We haven't read the book yet, but there was no way we could leave a headline like that out of Top 10.

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