Timely Topics for IT Professionals
About ACM TechNews
ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
ACM TechNews is intended as an objective news digest for busy IT Professionals. Views expressed are not necessarily those of either Gateway Inc. or ACM.
To send comments, please write to email@example.com.
Volume 2, Issue 31: Friday, March 17, 2000
- "Giving Software a License to Ill"
Washington Post (03/17/00) P. E1; Pegoraro, Rob
Virginia Gov. James Gilmore on March 14 signed into law the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA), scheduled to become effective in July 2001. Under the terms of UCITA, software developers have the right to alter software licenses without giving prior notice, prohibit buyers from selling or loaning software to another person, and remotely disable or repossess software if just cause can be demonstrated and a 15-day notice given. The law also limits the liability of a software developer to the original cost of a program, regardless of the amount of damage the software may have caused to a buyer's computer or data. UCITA also safeguards a consumer's right to return software for a full refund should the individual be unable to review the software license or find its terms unacceptable. Opponents of the new law, which include a wide variety of organizations and interests, question the ethics of the software industry, arguing that UCITA is a blatant attempt by software corporations to gain more legislative power over consumers. They say the courts will favor the corporation should a buyer try to sue over a software license, and assert that software firms have an added advantage because only the wealthiest consumers will be able to afford to take legal action. American University law professor James Boyle says UCITA is "pretty much a disaster." UCITA supporters argue the law has the potential to create a standard set of guidelines for software sales and licensing that would replace the current patchwork of individual state rules and regulations and that consumer rights guaranteed by UCITA are an improvement over existing laws.
- "Microsoft Claims 1 Millionth Windows 2000 Sale"
InfoWorld.com (03/15/00); Trott, Bob
Microsoft on Wednesday announced that Windows 2000 sales reached 1 million less than a month after the product shipped on Feb. 17. At this rate, Windows 2000 adoption is comparable to that of Windows 98, Microsoft says. Included in the 1 million sales are Windows 2000 Professional, Windows 2000 Server, and Windows 2000 Advanced Server distributed through PC manufacturers, retail outlets, and channel resellers. Large companies that have bought licenses through enterprise agreements are not figured into the 1 million sales. The rapid acceptance of Windows 2000 is "testimony to the high quality and reliability of Windows 2000," says Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Microsoft also says its customer support center has received fewer calls about Windows 2000 than any of its other operating systems relative to the number of units sold.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Our Love-Hate Affair With Tech Devices"
San Jose Mercury News Online (03/16/00); Gillmor, Dan
The technology boom certainly has its benefits, but the road called progress is not a smooth one, writes San Jose Mercury News columnist Dan Gillmor. During this week's annual PC Forum conference, 3Com allowed attendees to use its new wireless network card only to learn installation of the product had crashed the notebook computer of a session participant. Meanwhile, GTE does not reveal to potential purchasers of its new mobile phone service that text messages are only received and displayed when the phone is within areas served by the GTE Digital system. People using the service must either carefully read the fine print or wait until they receive important pages hours after they were sent to discover the flaw. Virginia Gov. James Gilmore has approved the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act, a new law that effectively creates a commercial environment in which consumers are at the mercy of corporate contracts. Software designers will be able to sell and license their software virtually without bureaucratic impediment and there will be few legal options for purchasers seeking retribution for unfair treatment.
- "Crafting the Next PC Interface"
PC World Online (03/16/00); Mainelli, Tom
As part of Thursday's Intel-sponsored Computing Continuum, a panel of experts chaired by Massachusetts Institute of Technology senior research scientist Dr. Victor Zue discussed their ideas for improving the human-PC interface. Stanford University computer science and electrical engineering professor Patrick Hanrahan envisions what he terms the "overface," a system in which a person simultaneously communicates with multiple instead of single devices, possibly through wall-size touch-sensitive displays, in a fully interactive workspace. Director Ron Cole of the University of Colorado's Center for Spoken Language Understanding believes individuals should communicate with PCs as they would with people, interacting with an animated conversational computer agent that incorporates both visual and auditory elements. University of Maryland computer science professor Ben Shneiderman says the visual component is most crucial to human-PC interaction and claims the key is to improve visual displays by making them more consistent, controllable, and informative. Carnegie Mellon University computer science and robotics professor Raj Reddy put forth a similar idea when he said interfaces need to cater to human strengths. "Future systems have to be taught the needs of human beings," he declared.
- "Lawmakers Discuss Their Role in Internet Growth"
Computer Reseller News Online (03/14/00); Rogers, Amy
FTC Commissioner Orson Swindle, speaking Tuesday as a panelist at the Global Internet Summit 2000, cautioned against federal regulation of the Internet industry's privacy efforts, calling instead for "a model that allows for maturation of technology tools" that give consumers control over their personal data. Privacy concerns must be incorporated into the corporate mindset, Swindle said, adding that failure to do so will give the government the green light to impose industry regulations. Still, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) urged the introduction of an "appropriate" federal framework to guide the expansion of the Internet. The government has a role to play in protecting its citizens from online terrorists, the sale of personal data, child pornography, and other threats, Goodlatte said. Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) said lawmakers should give ISPs "full legal voice" to crack down on spammers. Boucher also called for lawmakers to give digital signatures equal legal status with ink on paper.
- "Convergence Is the Watchword"
Financial Times--FT Telecoms (03/15/00) P. 1; Cane, Alan
The convergence of content and delivery, voice and data transmission, and fixed and mobile telephony has been underscored in recent months by several major mergers, including Time Warner and America Online, and Hong Kong Telecom and Pacific Century Cyber Works. Unions such as these will have a major impact on telecommunications operators, whose continued success will depend on content as well as delivery. Although it is unlikely that telecom operators will begin creating content, transformation of some kind is imperative as new industry structures with inroads to the Internet and telephony emerge. E-business is creating new partnership opportunities, such as AOL's deal to AOL subscribers to access services from Ericsson and Nokia handsets. Convergence also involves the synthesis of voice and data transmission on one network, which, by eliminating a whole layer of cost and complexity, should allow customers to reap considerable benefits. AT&T, BT, KPN, Qwest, Viatel, and other major firms are spending millions on the development of international Internet-technology networks, and over 20 European networks are already in service or being planned. A study conducted by Ovum, a British consultancy, indicates that the ability to provide end-to-end services to multinational customers on a single network could be a key competitive advantage. Finally, the convergence of fixed and mobile telephony, as illustrated by the recent successful takeover battle waged by Vodafone AirTouch of the United Kingdom for Mannesmann of Germany, means mixing wireline and wireless assets could prove a valuable strategy. Although the popularity of mobile over fixed phones soars in Europe, Asia, and the U.S., wireless will not be able to offer full scale multimedia options for some time, so fixed-mobile integration would seem to be the best solution for the time being.
- "Online Europe No Longer Chasing the United States"
InfoWorld.com (03/14/00); Gray, Douglas F.
The European Internet industry has finally come into its own as a rival of the U.S. Internet industry, and stands to grow stronger still if flat-rate Internet access is implemented in Europe, says AOL Europe COO Konrad Hilbers, speaking at the ISP2000 conference. "Telcos and regulators hold the future of European economies in their hands," Hilbers says. Europe's single currency and growing sense of entrepreneurship is boosting the new economy in Europe. "People are leaving school to work for Internet startups now," Hilbers says. Americans spend more than twice as much time online as Europeans, but the global system for mobile (GSM) communications wireless standard will give Europe an advantage in this area because of the bright future predicted for the wireless application protocol (WAP), Hilbers says.
- "Repetitive-Motion Hearings Begin; Businesses Fear Costs Will Be High"
Journal of Commerce (03/16/00) P. 5
Assistant Labor Secretary Charles Jeffress, who heads the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), says that he intends to have a final rule mandating worker protections against repetitive-motion injuries adopted by the end of 2000, despite the protests from business groups. A lobbying coalition made up of hundreds of business groups and companies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is arguing that the proposal is not based on sound science and that its cost of $4.2 billion per year is badly underestimated, and the members want it discarded. The proposed regulations would require employers to minimize the daily ergonomic stresses of certain jobs and make companies treat claimants differently than workers covered by workers' compensation insurance. OSHA estimates that businesses would save $9 billion in medical costs and increased productivity.
- "Productivity Finally Shows the Impact of Computers"
New York Times (03/12/00) P. 3-4; Uchitelle, Louis
A recent study conducted by Federal Reserve economists Steven D. Oliner and Daniel E. Sichel reveals the productivity of America's workers has increased due in large part to technological innovation. Information technology and the manufacture of computers and semiconductors together account for approximately two-thirds of the nation's increased productivity rate. This increase has led to larger corporate profits and employee wages, which in turn has led to a rise in the standard of living for Americans. Oliner and Sichel caution against jumping to the conclusion that the "new economy" has arrived but are nonetheless optimistic, since this is the first time technology has ever had such a large impact upon productivity. However, others are fearful the rise in worker efficiency is not permanent and will not survive a future recession. They question whether the findings of the survey are the result of new equipment or efforts by employees to keep up with an ever-growing workload and are unsure market demand and capital spending will be able to sustain such a surge in productivity. The results of the current survey depart from those of a similar survey done in 1995 that found computers had little impact upon employee efficiency.
- "Putting Some Teeth in Cybersecurity"
Christian Science Monitor (03/16/00) P. 11; Regan, Tom
Al Brill and Sam Porteous, employees of the security firm Kroll Associates, recently published an article contending that companies whose computers are used to launch a denial-of-service (DoS) attack on other networks may soon become legally liable for those attacks. Porteous likens the situation to when a neighborhood child wanders into a neighbor's unfenced yard, decides to take a swim in their pool, and then drowns. In this case, using the "attractive nuisance" legal concept, the owners of the pool can often be held liable for the child's death. Porteous says the same may be held true for companies that have not spent enough money on securing their computers. Brill adds that because of the huge amount of information available about hacking tools and methods reported in the media and on the Internet, courts may have a hard time believing companies that plead ignorance about the issue to defend themselves. Brill contends that companies will often find that the hacker who attacked their network is "judgment proof," meaning that they are either too young or too poor to make a lawsuit worthwhile. Although companies may often then turn to their insurer to help recoup some of the damages, the funding from this source will most likely prove inadequate. However, some Internet security experts disagree with Brill and Porteous, arguing that a computer that is "stolen" without the owners knowledge to commit a DoS attack is like a gun that is stolen from its rightful owner and then used to kill someone. Regardless, all computer security professionals warn that companies need to beef up their network protection. A written policy demanding a firewall to safeguard the company's Internet connection should be created, and the firewall should be constantly upgraded. Experts also say companies should devote enough money and manpower on their system so that they can know if they are being attacked or if their network is being used as a launchpad to attack another computer. Finally, companies should consider hiring an independent firm to test network security, and look into purchasing "hacking insurance."
- "Many Companies Monitor Workers' Web-Surfing Habits"
Denver Post Business Writer (03/13/00); Beauprez, Jennifer
Companies across the nation are cracking down on employee Internet use. One of every three companies has terminated someone for inappropriate Internet use on the job, and two of every three companies have had to place sanctions on employees for workplace Internet use, according to a recent survey by Saratoga Institute, Web Sense, and Internet addiction expert David Greenfield. Experts say companies are tightening up their Internet policies--and increasingly enforcing them--because of sexual harassment and other workplace lawsuits that could arise. Companies own the computers that employees use, and if an employee writes a sexually explicit or racist email, or downloads pornography at work, the company could be held liable for condoning a "hostile" work environment. Although not all companies are monitoring employee Internet use, the ones that do have helped to create an "employee Internet management" market that is expected to shoot to $562 million by 2004, as compared to $63 million in 1999, according to International Data. This market is comprised of software and hardware products that either monitor or actually block certain Internet use based on key words, context, and algorithms.
- "Study Offers Snapshot of Internet Economy"
TheStandard.com (03/13/00); Johnston, Margret
High-tech products are now the largest U.S. export of manufactured goods, accounting for 26 percent of all U.S. goods exported, according to an American Electronics Association (AEA) report released on Monday. Last year the U.S. exported $181 billion in high-tech products, followed by $126 billion in transportation-related products, and $67 billion in chemical-related items, the report says. High-tech products represented 21 percent of U.S. goods exported in 1993, says AEA President William Archey. The strongest markets for U.S. high-tech products are Canada, Mexico, Japan, the United Kingdom, and South Korea. In 1998, U.S. high-tech investment overseas amounted to $95 billion, more than the investments from the petroleum, insurance, or banking industries. The U.S. remains the global leader in the number of computer users, with 580 users per 1,000 people. Meanwhile, Finland proportionally has the most cell phone users in the world, with 572 per 1,000, the report says.
- "Patently Absurd"
New York Times Magazine (03/12/00) P. 44; Gleick, James
The patent system was originally designed to protect inventors and thereby encourage innovation, but in today's e-commerce economy the system has mutated into a form that more than anything else threatens the very entrepreneurial spirit it was meant to safeguard. To qualify for a patent, an item no longer needs to be a tangible product with form and substance--thoughts and abstractions are now equally eligible. Because of this, large firms have begun taking fundamental practices and business methods that have been in existence for years and incorporating them into technology-based applications, while claiming the repackaged products are innovative items worthy of patents. The U.S. Patent Office issues 10,000 patents every three weeks, and its examiners appear to be operating under the misleading impression that more is better. In fact, software patents have become the most frequently issued patents, and many corporations are wielding such patents as weapons against competitors, hoping to stifle development of rival technologies. As the blanket of patents grows denser, consumers must pay higher prices and individuals genuinely interested in creating something new and unique must surmount more regulatory hurdles. Patent Office officials argue every patent represents a good idea that merits reward, but corporations managed to survive just fine without them during the previous two decades when PCs, the Internet, and related software and hardware were in their infancy. The corporate legal skirmish over patents only truly began in earnest in 1998. That year, a ruling by a Massachusetts federal court that stripped a company of its patent for a data processing method was overturned by the Court of Appeals and the patent reinstated.
- "New Market Makers"
InformationWeek (03/13/00) No. 777, P. 22; Wilder, Clinton
Online business-to-business exchanges have seen explosive growth in just the past few months, and software vendors are vying for a piece of the market. Established software vendors as well as a number of startups are forming partnerships and designing new products to ensure that customers have the adequate resources to participate in these exchanges. Some vendors host exchanges for a transaction fee, while others license software to customers that want to build marketplaces themselves. The offerings indicate an ongoing shift in the way that customers and vendors interact: customers are now beginning to demand that vendors not only supply software, but also provide services such as managing supply chains, creating sales and marketing strategies, and folding new suppliers into the system. Because no vendor can currently meet these customer demands single-handedly, several partnerships have been formed in the past few weeks to strengthen vendor's online marketplace offerings. Last week, IBM partnered with online marketplace software vendors Ariba and i2 Technologies. The companies plan to pool their resources, including IBM's hardware, middleware, and e-commerce software, Ariba's network services and ORMS procurement suite, and i2's TradeMatrix and business-to-business software. The deal is expected to put the companies at an advantage by increasing the time to market, says Bob Lumpkins, vice chairman of agribusiness firm Cargill. "We're in a world of winner-takes-most, and getting there first makes all the difference," says Lumpkins.
- "XML Compatibility: Looking for Answers"
Interactive Week (03/13/00) Vol. 7, No. 10, P. 36; Roberts-Witt, Sarah L.
Industry players are working aggressively, and sometimes at cross purposes, to develop the emerging XML standard. XML has gained a high profile because it offers the opportunity to standardize electronic communications between business partners across all industries. At the end of January, IBM introduced the Trading Partner Agreement Markup Language (tpaML), to provide a common format for business contracts. "TpaML deals with the more generic aspects of buying and selling," explains IBM's Bob Sutor. "It serves as an electronic abstraction layer around standard business processes, but one that companies, even small ones, can set up quickly." Meanwhile, in a move that some observers believe is an attempt to undercut IBM's efforts, Microsoft has released a new version of the BizTalk Framework specification to provide a basic architecture for contracts and business transactions. Although XML development has been subject to compatibility issues due to conflicting vendor opinion, industry players say that businesses must prepare for the technology to become a standard across industries. "We're going through a period of XML schema Darwinism--some will be adopted, some will merge with other efforts and some will disappear altogether," says DataChannel CTO Norbert Mikula. "But businesses shouldn't wait for all this to get resolved. They need to start working with XML now to be ready for the future."
- "Real Challenge for E-Commerce Is People's Fears"
Federal Times (03/20/00) Vol. 36, No. 7, P. 9; McElveen, Renee
Federal managers should help allay the fears of employees about e-commerce by encouraging senior employees with institutional knowledge to work more closely with young employees with strong tech skills and by redesigning the way their new duties are to be performed using e-commerce. Rep. Thomas Davis (R-Va.) is supporting H.R. 3582, a bill that would encourage government agencies to drop requirements that IT contractors have college degrees, a regulation Davis believes has little bearing on whether an individual is capable of the job. "You need to reinvent government in a significant fashion in the information age," he said. Deidre Lee of the Office of Management and Budget is concerned that Davis' legislation will lower standards and ultimately harm the federal contractor work force. "We need to have qualified and skilled people spending your tax dollars," she said. No matter how that debate ends the federal workforce will be transformed by e-commerce, most notably in that jobs will be lost in an effort to retain those employees most well-adapted to the new technology. Other key issues facing the government concerning the rise of e-commerce include the Sept. 30, 2001, expiration of the three-year e-commerce tax moratorium and the level of protection that consumers of e-commerce should be granted.