Cisco’s Ascendancy — Almost Number One

At the close of business one of these days, Cisco Systems is likely to have become the most valuable company on Earth, moving ahead Microsoft Corp. in market capitalization. Assuming that happens, we’ll all note what a watershed it represents — the growing primacy of data networks in our lives.

Being top dog will certainly be a pleasant experience, says John Chambers, Cisco’s chief executive. But he was prouder when Cisco became Number Two, he told me today at his office in San Jose.

”The move that meant the most was passing GE,” he said. By Chambers’ reckoning, General Electric Co. sets the standard as ”the best-run company in the world.”

I’m not in the Microsoft-is-in-trouble camp, which has lured some naive observers. But I am a believer in the what is behind Cisco’s ascendence — the rise of the network as the dominant story in technology.

”The network is the computer,” people said presciently in the 1980s. We’ll soon need a new aphorism. The network won’t be everything, but it’s clearly becoming the environment for a stunning amount of what we do every day.

In that world, Cisco holds an enviable position. Chambers and his team have bought and grown and maneuvered their way into the sweet spot, and they deserve plenty of credit.

Mattel’s Arrogance

A Mattel Inc. Web-censorware subsidiary is going to extraordinary lengths (CNN) in enforcing a court order designed to stop distribution of software that reveals which sites the censorware blocks. Not only has the company steamrollered some hackers, but it’s now going after journalists who dare to provide hyperlinks to the software.

Cyber Patrol is the censorware, one of the many products designed to keep kids away from inappropriate material on the Web. But Peacefire and other critics have shown persuasively that these products also block perfectly reasonable sites. The companies making censorware generally refuse to reveal which sites they’re blocking, and they get furious when people dare to point out their software’s flaws.

According to CNN, Mattel’s latest legal moves attack one of the best online journalists, Declan McCullagh, a writer for Wired News and maintainer of the excellent Politech mailing list on politics and technology. He posted the addresses of the Web mirror sites that had the offending software cracking the Cyber Patrol secrets, but not the software itself. Mattel apparently wants a list of his subscribers so it can go after them, too.

Declan has set up a Web site to tell you more about Mattel’s abuse of the legal system.

A Microsoft Antitrust Settlement?

The whispering that Microsoft will settle the antitrust case with the Department of Justice and various state governments is picking up volume. A report in the Wall Street Journal is the loudest noise yet.

For everyone’s sake, let’s hope the latest speculation is true. But keep something in mind. It’s difficult to see how Microsoft, given the way it does business, can accept a settlement that has sufficient teeth to change the company’s behavior.

Still, as Mary Jo Foley points out in her latest column, Microsoft isn’t behaving as though it will change. The company’s attitudes and behavior, which make it simultaneously great and dangerous, are hard-coded in the corporate DNA. The legal system has a hard time with this kind of genetic engineering.

The PC Follies

Peter Lewis of the New York Times reminds us (free to read but registration required) how fast computers are changing and what that means when we order one.

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