2013: The tech year in cartoons

From Tim Cook's 'pay cut' to Steve Ballmer's 'retirement,' here's a look at some of the year's biggest IT stories from the pen of cartoonist John Klossner.

cartoon: Tim Cook's pay plummets
Credit: John Klossner, © Computerworld
January: Tim Cook's pay plummets

In January, news out of Apple made it clear that companies, like people, sometimes have funny ways of showing how much they care for the ones they hold most dear.

In an SEC filing, Apple reported that CEO Tim Cook's total compensation for 2012 was down 99% from 2011. But that's because his 2011 package was inflated by 1 million shares of company stock that don't vest until 2016 and 2021 -- a strong indicator that Apple's board wants him to stick around.

Our Jan. 14 cartoon had some fun juxtaposing the news about Cook's pay with accounts of the rough debut of Apple Maps a few months earlier.

cartoon: BlackBerry delivers, but its struggles continue
Credit: John Klossner, © Computerworld
January: BlackBerry delivers, but its struggles continue

BlackBerry made a last-ditch effort toward the end of January to keep its iconic product line alive in a smartphone market dominated by the iPhone and Android-based devices.

As it launched a new operating system, the company formerly known as RIM tried to broaden the BlackBerry brand's appeal from enterprise users to consumers when it introduced the touchscreen Z10 alongside the Q10, which featured a traditional qwerty keyboard. But our Feb. 11 cartoon suggested that, at best, the new offering would just keep the company on life support.

That analysis seemed to hold up: In August, as its OS market share fell below that of Windows Phone, BlackBerry formed a committee to explore options that included selling the company.

cartoon: Sandberg's book draws attention to the dearth of women in IT
Credit: John Klossner, © Computerworld
March: Sandberg's book draws attention to the dearth of women in IT

In March, the publication of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead served as yet another reminder that there's a dearth of women in IT.

Statistics seem to support Sandberg's contention that the women's movement has "stalled" and "men still run the world" -- at least in IT. But as our March 25 cartoon illustrated, it perhaps shouldn't come as a surprise that women are rejecting careers in IT -- considering the frat house mentality that's alive and well in many U.S. data centers.

cartoon: Cobol another dead language?
Credit: John Klossner, © Computerworld
April: Cobol staffing woes loom

In April, new research indicated that in addition to figuring out what to do about the lack of women pursuing careers in technology, IT leaders must also deal with a decline in the ranks of another type of IT professional: the Cobol programmer. A survey by software vendor Micro Focus found that college-level Cobol courses are scarce, meaning organizations that depend on Cobol-based systems could face staffing problems.

Our April 22 cartoon played with the notion that universities may just be moving Cobol classes from the computer science department to the classics department.

cartoon: Driverless cars = driverless R&D?
Credit: John Klossner, © Computerworld
April: Driverless cars = driverless R&D?

When Google CEO Larry Page spoke with analysts about his company’s first-quarter financial performance in April, he said Google likes to make "big bets" with its R&D investments, and that's why it focuses on "what appear to be speculative projects," such as self-driving cars, Google Glass and Google Now.

Google takes that approach because, when companies "get comfortable doing what they've always done with a few minor tweaks" they "run into problems," he said, adding that the "speculative" approach has yielded successful products and services like Gmail and the Android operating system.

Our May 6 cartoon wondered if "speculative" might be another way of saying "driverless."

cartoon: 1% of what, exactly?
Credit: John Klossner, © Computerworld
May: 1% of what, exactly?

Google CEO Larry Page continued to tout a freewheeling approach to IT research throughout the spring. In an address at the Google I/O developers conference in May, he panned "negativity" in the industry, saying "being negative is not how we make progress."

And what does lead to progress -- at least at Google? Crazy ideas. "Almost every time we've done something crazy, we've made progress," he said, adding, "we're at 1% of what's possible."

And while he most likely meant the IT industry has only realized 1% of technology's potential, our June 3 cartoon speculated that, in light of some of Google's other well-publicized activities, users might have other ideas about what "1% of what's possible" means at Google.

cartoon: Cerf frets about losing data
Credit: John Klossner, © Computerworld
June: Cerf frets about losing data

Speaking at the Computerworld Honors awards ceremony in June, Internet pioneer Vinton Cerf expressed concern that we're at risk of losing much of the data that's been created in the digital age. To illustrate his point, he noted that his Mac can't read a 1997 PowerPoint file and emphasized that the problem goes well beyond personal documents and could result in the loss of a wealth of scientific data.

While the situation may seem dire, Cerf did note that that efforts are underway to solve the problem, and our June 17 cartoon emphasized that people have long demonstrated a knack for decoding the records left by past civilizations.

cartoon: Ellison and Benioff call a truce
Credit: John Klossner, © Computerworld
June: Ellison and Benioff call a truce

In June, Larry Ellison and Marc Benioff, the CEOs of Oracle and Salesforce.com, respectively, apparently ended a longstanding and sometimes bitter public rivalry when they agreed to a nine-year deal that calls for them to integrate their technologies.

When Ellison told reporters that the companies have "far more opportunities to work together than to compete," it seemed as though the two men had come a long way from the days when Ellison called Salesforce.com's platform a "roach motel" where "you can check in, but you can't check out," and Benioff accused Oracle of promoting "false cloud" technology.

Then again, maybe they haven't, as our July 15 cartoon suggested.

cartoon: Microsoft bids Ballmer adieu
Credit: John Klossner, © Computerworld
August: Microsoft bids Ballmer adieu

August brought the news that Steve Ballmer would be stepping down as CEO of Microsoft.

The announcement may have surprised some people, since it came just weeks after Ballmer drafted a sweeping business reorganization plan. But to critics, it was long overdue in light of the heap of blunders the company chalked up during his tenure.

Some observers concluded that Ballmer was forced out because of Microsoft's July decision to take a $900 million write-off to account for an oversupply of its unsuccessful Surface RT tablet.

Our Sept. 9 cartoon had some fun with the notion that Ballmer has a tin ear when it comes to judging IT trends.

cartoon: DEC's demise is a lesson for Microsoft
Credit: John Klossner, © Computerworld
September: DEC's demise is a lesson for Microsoft

As Microsoft's missteps drew scrutiny in the wake of the news of CEO Steve Ballmer's pending departure, some people noticed parallels between Microsoft and another high-flying tech company that crashed and burned: Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC).

In the blog Mini-Microsoft, which is purportedly written by a Microsoft employee, dozens of comments responding to a post about Ballmer's retirement referenced a description of DEC's downfall in a 1998 paper titled "A Modern-Day Tragedy: The Digital Equipment Story" by former DEC employee Peter DeLisi, who later co-authored the book DEC is Dead, Long Live DEC.

Our Sept. 23 cartoon implied that Microsoft might be in better shape if "The Digital Equipment Story" were required reading for company execs.

cartoon: Healthcare.gov stumbles out of the gate
Credit: John Klossner, © Computerworld
October: Healthcare.gov stumbles out of the gate

Most big IT projects miss deadlines, go over budget and fail to meet user expectations. So was it any surprise that the Oct. 1 launch of Healthcare.gov was a fiasco?

Not to analyst Jim Johnson, whose firm, Standish Group, analyzed 3,555 multimillion-dollar IT projects from 2003 to 2012 and found that only 6.4% were successful. "[It] didn't have a chance in hell," Johnson said of the site that people are supposed to use to shop for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Our Nov. 4 cartoon advanced the theory that the site's biggest problem may have been the fact that people started using it as soon as it went live.

cartoon: Stack ranking gets the boot at Microsoft
Credit: John Klossner, © Computerworld
November: 'Stack ranking' gets the boot

In November, Microsoft joined employers across the country when it decided to ditch its so-called "stack ranking" method of evaluating workers. As practiced at Microsoft and other companies, stack ranking required managers to assign set percentages of their employees to five categories of performance rankings, from top to bottom, and those given the worst ratings were forced out or left the company of their own accord.

Some felt the practice fostered a cutthroat culture that hurt Microsoft's ability to innovate, and one of management's reasons for moving on was "to promote new levels of teamwork."

Our Dec. 2 cartoon slyly noted that there may be a bit of poetic justice in the fact that the widely reviled practice is falling out of favor.

Cartoon: Wither U.S. tech R&D?
Credit: John Klossner, © Computerworld
December: Wither U.S. tech R&D?

The year closed with reminders that the U.S. may fall behind other countries in high-tech R&D.

Shortly before China landed a probe on moon, the latest Top500 list of the world's fastest supercomputers drew attention to the fact that the U.S. may not win the global race to build exascale systems. While still dominating Top500 list, the U.S. has no budget or timeline for exascale development, unlike the EU, China and Japan.

With federal research funds drying up, private-sector companies like Google and Amazon may have to spur the U.S. economy with seemingly far-fetched research on things like driverless cars and drones.

Our Dec. 16 cartoon offered a fanciful, yet dystopian, vision of the future of U.S. R&D funding.

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.