10 Biggest Tech Headlines in 2012

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The year 2012 was jam-packed with news about technology. Pirates and Apples and lawsuits, oh my!

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10 Biggest Tech Headlines in 2012

Keeping up with tech news is exhausting. It seems like every day there's a major shift in a company's executive structure or a new product hitting store shelves. As Anthony Burgess's antihero from "A Clockwork Orange" points out, things change so quickly that everyone is forgets what's happening from one day to the next.

That's where we come in. We've scoured the headlines for 2012 and collected 10 stories that captured our attention throughout the year. We looked at product releases and legislation related to the tech sector, and cast our eyes toward space.

But in any list, some things will get left out. For example, one huge news story that didn't get a lot of coverage in the United States was about a power blackout that happened in India in July 2012. More than 700 million people were without power as utility companies failed to meet the demand for electricity [source: Pidd].

Narrowing down the items in this list was tricky. These stories had a big impact on the tech news cycle and many of them are part of a bigger story of what is going on in the tech world in general. We've laid out the stories chronologically. Let's get started!

Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom spent nearly all of 2012 in courtrooms and litigation.

Sandra Mu/Getty Images News/Getty Images

10: A Mega Raid

The year began with a rough start for digital locker site Megaupload. The site allowed users to upload digital files in virtual lockers and share those files with others. Files could be anything from pictures to documents to media files. And that's where the trouble began.

Organizations like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) accused Megaupload of allowing -- or even encouraging -- people to illegally share copyrighted material on the site. A user could take a movie file, upload it to Megaupload and give free access to anyone. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies accused Megaupload of paying certain users to upload illegal material. The files brought a lot of Web traffic to the Megaupload site, which generated revenue both from serving up ads on the site and offering a subscription service that would give users access to faster download speeds.

In January 2012, the FBI struck. In a coordinated raid, the FBI shut down servers in the United States that hosted Megaupload and, coordinated efforts with police in New Zealand to raid the homes of some of Megaupload's top employees. One of those was Kim Dotcom, founder of Megaupload. Law enforcement seized millions of dollars worth of equipment and goods, including luxury cars and works of art.

Later in the year, a New Zealand court ruled that the raid on Kim Dotcom's estate was illegal [source: Anderson]. Further complicating the matter is the fact that Kim Dotcom is a Dutch citizen living in New Zealand. The company itself is legally based in Hong Kong. The global nature of the case brings into question how far the FBI's jurisdiction can stretch.

The ramifications of the raid are still playing out in courtrooms and on the Web, and there are many questions without answers. Did the FBI overstep its bounds in this global operation? Should copyright holders be able to influence law enforcement activities to this extent? Is piracy such a problem that it requires operations like the Megaupload raid? And does the raid solve any problems at all?

SOPA and PIPA inspired protests both online and on the streets.

Mario Tama/Getty Images News/Getty Images

9: The Internet Goes Dark

It's indisputable that digital piracy exists. But almost everything else about piracy is up for debate. How widespread is the problem? How much damage does piracy cause? What is the right way to address the issue? Depending upon whom you ask, you're bound to receive very different answers from these questions.

Another indisputable fact is that institutions that represent copyright holders have a great deal of influence. Organizations like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) contribute millions of dollars to political campaigns. These groups have a vested interest in wiping out piracy. Some politicians have attempted to follow through by proposing legislation that would make it easier to prosecute people for violating intellectual property.

Two such pieces of legislation were the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). The U.S. House of Representatives debated SOPA, while the Senate considered PIPA. Both proposed pieces of law aimed to curtail copyright infringement.

The laws would have given law enforcement agencies the authority to demand companies to remove foreign sites hosting illegal material from domain name servers. This would make it difficult for anyone in America to access those sites. It's like blocking off a road -- people wouldn't be able to reach any businesses along that road.

Opponents to the legislation took to the Internet to protest and to inform people of the possible consequences should the legislation pass into law. On Jan. 18, 2012, several sites participated in a SOPA-inspired blackout. Sites like Wikipedia and Reddit replaced their normal pages with information about SOPA and PIPA. Eventually, both SOPA and PIPA faded from view as criticisms mounted and lawmakers withdrew their support for both measures.

Honorable Mention: The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) also grabbed headlines in 2012. The purpose of the legislation was to increase cybersecurity, but opponents said it would violate practically every privacy law on the books. The House of Representatives passed CISPA but it languished in the Senate. Since then, senators proposed a different approach with the Cybersecurity Act of 2012.

Facebook transformed from a privately-held company to one that is now publicly traded, but the transition had some problems.

Courtesy Facebook

8: Facebook Goes Public

For Facebook, 2012 has been an eventful year. In October, the site hit the impressive milestone of 1 billion active user accounts [source: Smith, Segall and Cowley]. Earlier in the year, the social-networking behemoth purchased Instagram, the mobile photo sharing service, for $1 billion. And way back in May, Facebook launched its initial public offering (IPO), becoming a publicly traded company.

Facebook didn't have much choice in the matter. In the United States, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has rules that establish when a company must switch from privately owned to publicly traded. In general, a company with several hundred private shareholders and more than $10 million in assets must transform into a publicly traded company for regulatory reasons [source: Investopedia]. It was only a matter of time before Facebook became a public company.

The move was not without problems. According to pending lawsuits against the company, Facebook and Morgan Stanley, the chief underwriter for the IPO, failed to warn the public of how mobile browsing would impact Facebook's financials moving forward. Other lawsuits allege that Facebook and its IPO underwriters warned several significant investors of an adjusted financial report that would impact the company's stock price in the short term, but failed to release this information to a wider audience of potential investors.

If true, this would mean that some people had access to extra information before Facebook's stock hit the market. It would also mean buyers might have paid too much for stock simply because they didn't have access to that information.

Whether the allegations are true or not, the price for Facebook stock has seen a dip since opening at $38 per share. By mid-October, the stock price was worth less than $20 per share [source: Google Finance].

The Surface is Microsoft's official entry into the tablet market.

Courtesy Microsoft

7: A Windows Tablet Surfaces

In June, Microsoft made an announcement that surprised the tech world. The company best known for developing software was getting into the hardware business with a new line of tablet devices. The name for the new gadget was the Microsoft Surface.

The announcement revealed that there would be two major versions of the Surface. One would contain an ARM-based microprocessor. These chips are popular with mobile device manufacturers because of their small size and high efficiency. They don't consume as much power or generate as much heat as larger, faster chips. The second type of Surface would contain an Intel-based microprocessor. The ARM-based version would run Windows RT, a lighter version of the Windows 8 operating system found on Intel-based devices.

Both categories of the Surface show off the touch-screen interface supported by Windows 8. Later in the year, the company announced pricing, whichput the Surface in the same general market as the iPad.

Honorable Mention: In late October, Microsoft launched Windows 8, the latest iteration of its operating system. The new user interface was a marked departure from previous versions of Windows. The new OS contained features for touch-screen interfaces while still supporting older input devices like the keyboard and mouse combo. The goal was to have an operating system that worked across all manner of devices, from desktop computers to tablets.

A photo of the CMS detector at the Large Hadron Collider -- this enormous device looks for subatomic evidence of what makes our universe tick.

Sean Gallup/Getty Images News/Getty Images

6: A Particle Becomes Less Theoretical

Why does matter have mass? To some, this may seem like a question Jack Handey would pose in his "Deep Thoughts" series. But scientists and philosophers have been pondering this question for years. Physicist Peter Higgs theorized that a particle might be responsible for imparting mass to other particles. We call this theoretical particle the Higgs boson.

Proving the existence of the Higgs boson would mean we'd have a more complete Standard Model of the universe. It's one of the goals scientists at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a particle accelerator, have been working toward since the facility came online.

On July 4, 2012, news broke that experiments at the LHC produced data that could indicate the Higgs boson exists. Scientists tend to be cautious when discussing revolutionary discoveries, and it may turn out the particle they've detected is more complicated than Higgs's theoretical particle.

Whether the particle fits the theory or gives us a new set of questions to examine, we've entered an exciting era of physics. We could be that much closer to unlocking the secrets of the universe.

Honorable Mention: While the discovery of a Higgs boson-like particle is big news in physics, the 2012 Nobel prize for Physics went to Serge Haroche and David Wineland for their work in the field of quantum computing.

Yahoo has a new CEO.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

5: Marissa Mayer Becomes the New Yahoo CEO

It's been a tough few years for Yahoo. The company has struggled to maintain its identity and relevance. Over the last five years, Yahoo has had five different chief executive officers. But there's hope that Marissa Mayer, the latest person to helm Yahoo, will turn the company around.

Mayer comes to Yahoo by way of Google. She was Google's 20th employee and had a hand in the minimalist design of the search giant's home page. She was also a key player in Google's search and local products.

Reinvigorating Yahoo could be a challenge. The company has had to weather a series of executive PR problems, ranging from Yahoo founder Jerry Yang's departure from the company to the revelation that former CEO Scott Thompson fabricated items on his corporate résumé. Revenue growth at Yahoo has slowed to 1 percent year over year [source: Sloan]. And Yahoo's deal with Microsoft, in which Microsoft provides the search engine technology for Yahoo, isn't hitting revenue goals [source: Sullivan].

It remains to be seen if Mayer can help Yahoo turn a corner and redefine itself as a powerful brand with growth potential.

NASA's Curiosity rover mission captured imaginations with a so-crazy-it-just-might-work landing plan.

Courtesy NASA

4: Rocket Cranes and Curiosity

It was like something out of a science fiction film. Scientists shot a rocket toward where Mars would be in several months. On that rocket was a capsule containing a 1-ton (0.9-metric-ton) rover. The capsule detached from the rocket and made its way to the upper atmosphere of Mars. Then the really crazy stuff happened.

After the capsules descent to Mars's surface slowed, first by encountering the relatively thin atmosphere of the red planet and then by deploying the largest parachute ever built by NASA, the sky crane and rocket boosters took over.

With rockets firing, the sky crane lowered the rover down to the surface on cables. Just after the rover touched down, the sky crane cables separated from the rover and the crane flew off to crash a safe distance away. And the entire procedure happened automatically with no human control -- in fact, the rover had been sitting on the planet's surface for several minutes before we knew for sure that it had worked.

The landing was a marvel of science and engineering. And this was just the beginning of the mission! The rover has since begun to explore its surroundings and send data back to us about the conditions on Mars.

Honorable Mentions: It was a big year for space missions! In 2012, we also saw the successful launch of the SpaceX Dragon vehicle, which rendezvoused with the International Space Station. A secondary mission to place a prototype communications satellite into orbit failed when safety parameters fell below NASA's criteria. And in October, Felix Baumgartner broke several world records as he skydived from a balloon floating higher than 127,000 feet (38,710 meters), prompting many to refer to his accomplishment as a space jump.

People line up outside the courtroom for the Apple-Samsung trials in the United States.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

3: The Apple-Samsung Patent Kerfuffle

If you follow tech news, you've probably heard the term patent wars. Companies file or buy patents to protect a particular invention, design or process. If Company A infringes upon a patent by releasing a product with a similar -- or even identical -- feature as can be found in a patent belonging to Company B, Company B can sue Company A.

That sounds simple enough, right? Reality tends to be more complex. Companies may countersue each other for various infractions. An accused company might try to prove that the patented feature or product isn't an original idea in an attempt to invalidate the patent. Things can get pretty ugly.

That's the case between Apple and Samsung, two major companies embroiled in a series of patent disputes across the globe. Most of the legal battles revolve around mobile devices in general and tablets in particular. And to make things even more confusing, the outcomes of the various lawsuits have contradicted each other.

On Aug. 24, 2012, a U.S. court found in favor of Apple's claim that Samsung had infringed upon Apple's patents. The court ordered Samsung to pay Apple around $1.05 billion in damages. A few months later, the court questioned if one of the patents that was central to the case was valid, which called into dispute the amount of damages. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) began to investigate Samsung for patenting designs that were necessary to comply with wireless standards and not licensing the technology in a fair, non-discriminatory manner [source: Kendall].

In the U.K., a court found in favor of Samsung, saying the company did not infringe Apple's patents related to tablet designs. As part of the judgment, the court ordered Apple to run advertisements in the U.K. that would clearly state Samsung had not copied Apple. Apple appealed the decision but the court decided to let it stand.

The battle continues to rage in other courts around the world, and it's clear we haven't heard the last of the spat between Apple and Samsung.

Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt show off one of Google's driverless cars.

Courtesy Google

2: Google Gets a Driver's License

Getting your driver's license can be an experience filled with anxiety, excitement and exhilaration if you're human. But what if you're a robotic car?

On Sept. 25, 2012, California governor Jerry Brown passed a law allowing test trials of autonomous cars on California roads. Does that mean it's legal to buy a robot car, hop in the back seat and tell your automaton chauffeur to drop you off on Hollywood and Vine? Not quite.

The law requires that a licensed driver be behind the wheel of the car. It's a safety measure -- should a system fail, the driver could take control of the vehicle and get it off the road safely. The law applies to any autonomous vehicle, but Google inspired the legislation.

For the past few years, Google has been developing technology that allows cars to navigate autonomously over roads and highways. Google modified cars by adding video cameras, laser rangefinders, GPS receivers, a database filled with maps and a variety of sensors. Taking control of one of these cars manually is a breeze -- just move the steering wheel a bit or tap on the brakes and you're the one driving the car.

We're probably still years away from a future in which everyone sits back while the vehicles do all the work. But this piece of legislation gets us a little closer to that dream.

Honorable Mention: In 2012, Google announced a new line of tablets under the Nexus name. The tablets run on Google's mobile operating system called Android. Google also announced the Nexus Q, a home entertainment device.

The iPad Mini launched in late 2012 after nearly a year's worth of speculation about whether or not Apple would market a smaller tablet.

Courtesy Apple Inc.

1: Apple Launches the iPad Mini

In the age of the Internet, it's hard to keep products a secret. This is particularly true for Apple, a company that receives a healthy dose of scrutiny from tech journalists and consumers on a daily basis. And with supply chains stretching to countries overseas, there are many places where a person might let a bit of information leak about upcoming products. Such was the case with the iPad Mini.

By the time Apple officially announced the iPad Mini on October 22, 2012, multiple tech blogs and news sites had published rumored specs and designs based on leaked information. Many of those rumors turned out to be true. Like the full-sized iPad, the Mini has several models. Storage ranges from 16 to 64 gigabytes, depending upon the model. You can order one with WiFi and cellular service or just WiFi.

Unlike the latest iPad models, the Mini doesn't have a retina display. It also has a less powerful processor than the current generation of iPads. It's larger than an iPod Touch and smaller than a full-sized iPad with a 7.9-inch (20.1-centimeter) screen.

The iPad Mini is Apple's response to the 7-inch (17.8-centimeter) tablet market, which includes devices like Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet and Google's Nexus 7 tablet. With the iPad Mini an official product, new questions arise. Will Apple dominate in the smaller tablet space the way it has with full-sized tablets? And how will the iPad Mini affect iPad and iPod Touch sales figures?

Honorable Mention: Apple launched several products in 2012. In March, Apple unveiled the third-generation iPad. During the October 22 iPad Mini launch event, Apple updated the iPad again with a fourth-generation model, upsetting some Apple customers who were upset that the previous version of the device had only been on the market for a few months before the company rendered it obsolete. Other products launched in 2012 include the iPhone 5 and updates to the Macbook Pro and Mac Mini computers.

Lots More Information

Author's Note

It's always interesting to look back over the course of a year and see which stories stand out. It's also hard to choose which news items to include. Other stories about cyberwarfare, spying, privacy issues and the ongoing WikiLeaks case were strong contenders. In the end, I picked stories I felt received the most attention from the media or hinted at what the future of technology might be like.

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