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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.


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Volume 2, Issue 73:  Monday, June 26, 2000

  • "UN Urged to Close Global Digital Divide"
    E-Commerce Times (06/20/00); McDonald, Tim

    The so-called digital divide in Internet access between rich countries and poorer nations may never be closed if swift and drastic measures are not taken, according to a new report commissioned by the United Nations (UN). The report, written by a panel of IT experts, asks the UN to aim to make the Internet available to everyone on the planet by 2005. The report notes that just 5 percent of the world is currently online, and that poorer nations risk being "completely bypassed" if Internet access is not made available to them. To do so, the report recommends that the UN itself contribute $500 million, and that private industry and developing nations contribute another $1.5 billion. The plan also suggests forgiving 1 percent of developing nations' debt if they spend an equal amount on technology. The report will be presented to the UN's Economic and Social Council meeting and the Group of Eight plus Russia meeting, both in July, as well as at the UN's millennium summit in September.
    http://www.ecommercetimes.com/news/articles2000/000620-5.shtml
    Readers interested in the digital divide and related issues may wish to learn more about ACM's upcoming conference on Universal Usability: http://www.acm.org/sigs/sigchi/cuu

  • "Clinton Envisions Central U.S. Government Web Site"
    Reuters (06/24/00)

    President Clinton on Saturday announced plans to create a Web site called firstgov.gov within 90 days that will provide a single point of entry to all online government resources. The site, which Clinton says aims to build a "high-tech, user-friendly government," will, for example, let users find information about their Social Security benefits, purchase homes, find investing tips, and look up flight information. By the end of this year firstgov.gov will allow users to bid on and apply for government grants and contracts. In addition, Clinton announced that the citizen, student, government worker, or researcher who offers the most innovative idea for furthering online government will be awarded $50,000.
    http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1005-200-2144096.html

  • "Globe Fast Getting Caught Up in Web"
    Associated Press (06/24/00); Jesdanun, Anick

    Although the U.S. has traditionally dominated the Web, catering to American tastes, the Web is now becoming more international as the number of non-U.S. Internet users rises. Although most U.S.-based online retailers still rely on English and accept payments in dollars or credit cards, some e-tailers such as Amazon.com are now accepting the EuroCard as payment. Meanwhile, some American search directories are starting to offer services in other languages. In the past, few Internet startups emerged in other countries because the regions lacked a sufficient number of Internet users to provide a consumer base. However, Internet use is growing around the world, and Internet businesses are springing up outside the U.S. as a result. The U.S. online population recently sunk to less than half of the worldwide Internet population, according to Angus Reid Group. Meanwhile, the U.S. is forfeiting some of its power over Internet addresses and policies, as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers this fall plans to restrict the sway of U.S. representatives by electing officials by continent.
    Click Here to View Full Article
    For information on ACM�s Internet governance work relating to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/serving/IG.html.

  • "A Foreigner's Plea: Make It Easier for Us to Work in U.S."
    Computerworld (06/19/00) Vol. 34, No. 25, P. 33; Babu, Mohan

    Foreign workers with H-1B visas are a vital asset to U.S. high-tech companies, and the U.S. should help these immigrants to live and work in the nation by easing restrictions on the visas, writes Mohan Babu, an IT professional from India who is working in the U.S. on an H-1B visa. H-1B visas allow workers to remain in the U.S. for only six years, at which point they must either leave the country or obtain a green card. Workers cannot easily transfer H-1B visas from one job to another, leaving them in the difficult position of being almost tied to their employers in an industry that constantly experiences mergers, acquisitions, and downsizing. Furthermore, the process of obtaining a green card involves a series of stages that can take a total of four to six years. Congress should help skilled foreign workers, as well as the high-tech firms that drive the U.S. economy, by approving current proposals that would relax the limitations on H-1B visas and raise the caps on H-1Bs and immigrant visas, Babu writes.
    http://www.computerworld.com/cwi/story/0,1199,NAV47_STO46029,00.html

  • "Government Web Sites Must Focus More on the User"
    Government Computer News (06/19/00) Vol. 19, No. 16, P. 32; Lohrmann, Dan

    Government Web sites should be tailored to communicate as well as possible to their audience, says Dan Lohrmann, CIO and director of the IT services division of Michigan's Department of Management and Budget. Often, state CIOs, busy devising long-term Web strategies and adding mobile access to their sites, overlook the needs of the user. Although many sites state the agency's mission and future plans, this information is often either too technical or not of use to the user. Instead, state CIOs should use customer feedback to identify what users want from the site, and tailor site design to meet those needs. The state of Michigan is revamping its Web site to serve the users' needs, which have been identified through focus groups and constructive criticism. The site now features a clean, simple appearance, non-technical language to explain concepts and instructions, and a walkthrough for difficult processes. The site also includes services tailored to the user, such as "my PC" and "my consultant," and outlines whom and where to call to find answers to questions not addressed online.
    http://www.gcn.com/vol19_no16/enterprise/2213-1.html

  • "Shades of Hype"
    Economist (06/17/00) Vol. 355, No. 8175, P. 62

    Although investors' enthusiasm for Linux has faded in recent months, forcing Linux companies to reevaluate their business models, the open source operating system still has the potential to become a major force in the OS market. Since VA Linux's IPO a few months ago led to a 700 percent jump in the company's shares, investors have become skeptical of the unproven business models presented by most Linux firms. The layoffs at Linuxcare and TurboLinux are evidence that Linux companies, like other dot-coms, are reassessing their spending and rapid expansion. Still, Linux's share of the server OS market rose to 25 percent last year, leaving Linux second only to Windows NT, which claimed 38 percent of the market. Meanwhile, Linux beat out Windows as the OS of choice for new desktop appliances from Gateway and Oracle spinoff NIC. Furthermore, IBM is throwing its weight behind Linux by modifying its programs and hardware to support the OS.

  • "Security: Everyone's Concern"
    eWeek (06/19/00) Vol. 17, No. 25, P. 30

    Several IT managers at major firms discussed the security flaws in Microsoft products in a recent interview with the editors of eWeek magazine. The general consensus was that Microsoft's products offered tight integration and product compatibility, but that such a structure is inherently insecure and vulnerable to viruses and other disruptions. The IT managers said security mechanisms should have been built into Microsoft Office and there should be a way to switch off its automated features. Although the managers agreed that Microsoft has generally relegated security concerns to the back burner, they also noted that Windows 2000 is a major improvement over past products where security is concerned, because security is built into the OS. The managers pointed out that Microsoft's architecture does not reflect the connectivity of the Internet as opposed to the connectivity of the LAN, which is another major flaw. However, some managers defended Microsoft, claiming that its products were not necessarily inherently vulnerable, but merely an easy target for cyberattacks because of the market domination of its platform. The IT managers also agreed that tech companies cannot make an invulnerable product, and that IT staffs must be constantly vigilant and upgrade their security measures almost daily. IT departments should also ask company executives to make room in the IT budget for large security expenditures.
    http://www.zdnet.com/eweek/stories/general/0,11011,2589474,00.html
    For more information on security measures, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/crypto and http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks.

  • "After Early Acceptance of the Internet, Sweden Mounts an E-Commerce Charge"
    Ad Age International (06/00) Vol. 71, No. 24, P. 34; Bartal, David

    Sweden was the first European country to embrace the Internet, and now it is among the leading countries to move beyond its home market into capturing the Pan-European market. There are several indicators of Sweden's fast Web growth. One indicator is that it is quite possibly the only country with an Internet shop as its largest advertising agency, as Advertising Age ranked Icon Medialab the country's top agency. Another example is that Sweden is home to the mobile phone giant Ericsson, which is leading the emerging global Internet systems. Several up-and-coming Swedish international Web sites bear watching. They include LetsBuyIt, a Web site that drives down prices by pooling customers; Dressmart, a European online men's clothing department store; NetOnNet, a consumer electronics department store that undercuts prices of brick-and-mortar chains; Snowdrops, a cosmetic retailer that currently has online operations in Sweden and Finland but will soon launch in the U.K. and Germany; and Boxman, one of the largest online retailers of music CDs in Europe.

  • "Death to Bureaucrats, Good News for the Rest of Us"
    Fortune (06/26/00) Vol. 142, No. 1, P. 241; Birnbaum, Jeffrey H.

    Republican and Democratic policymakers alike support e-government, which could simplify life for citizens, facilitate government procurement, and reduce the number of bureaucrats necessary to run various government agencies. There has been an increase in the number of for-profit startup companies that want to help the government move online. Some of these dot-coms will even set up government Web sites for no upfront fee, collecting instead some type of compensation from the site itself, usually a transaction fee. IBM placed Arizona's Motor Vehicle Department online and receives $1.00 for every online registration plus a percentage of the fee charged by banks when credit card charges are processed. Using the new site, the time needed for Arizona citizens to register a car has dropped from an average of 45 minutes to just three, while the costs to the state have also dropped significantly. Although governments will profit most from online procurement, other e-government benefits abound, including the possibility of citizens and businesses obtaining and renewing permits online. Privacy and security are the largest obstacles in various governments' move online, because individuals want to ensure that personal information provided to the government will not be used for other purposes. Lawmakers are looking to develop a method to make e-government sites safer.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "The Paper Chase"
    Business 2.0 (06/27/00) Vol. 5, No. 7, P. 212; Nickell, Joe Ashbrook

    XML, the new contextual Web programming language, may supplant traditional business favorite electronic data interchange (EDI) as the standard of choice for small businesses. Smaller businesses have been unable to afford the implementation, licensing, and never-ending service fees associated with EDI/VAN vendors in order to link back-end systems with partner companies. Although XML provides an opportunity for smaller businesses to finally make that connection cheaply, many have not yet made the move. Larger EDI companies, including IBM Global Services, GE Global Exchange Services, and Harbinger, all intend to help small to midsize companies integrate their systems with those of partners. IBM and Harbinger have constructed scaleable pay-per-transaction services that work in conjunction with the EDI VANs always offered. Some smaller service providers are also working to utilize XML, EDI, or other standards to provide online exchanges where companies can make transactions.
    http://www.business2.com/content/magazine/indepth/2000/06/13/12862

  • "Keep on Trackin'"
    CIO (06/15/00) Vol. 13, No. 17, P. 164; Roberts, Bill

    Leading U.S. truckload carrier Schneider National has been at the forefront of applying cutting-edge technology to track rolling assets, and is now set to continue that trend by using technology to determine the location of every trailer in its fleet. The main challenge to this goal, says Schneider COO Christopher Lofgren, was to find the technology that could best track Schneider's untethered trailers, at an affordable price. The company first determined an acceptable price to make such a system feasible. The company's aim was to use untethered tracking to reduce the amount of time trailers sit without being utilized, improve how the trailers are used currently, and decrease the pace at which trailers are bought. After narrowing the field to only a few choices, Schneider chose the low Earth orbit satellite from Vantage Tracking Solutions, which is a division of Orbcomm Global. This system was then tested based on four primary characteristics: the amount of time between an activity's occurance on the trailer and the report of that activity to Schneider, the use of ultrasonic frequencies to report whether the trailer was empty, the use sensors to determine whether the trailer was loaded or connected to a trailer, and the accuracy of the network's global positioning system. These four measures demonstrated that the system was viable, and Schneider began expanding the application through its fleet in 1999.
    http://www.cio.com/archive/061500_track.html

  • "A New Lease on Software"
    Executive Edge (06/00) Vol. 2, No. 4, P. 38; Apfel, Audrey

    An emerging industry is offering speed, ease, and flexibility to overburdened and time-pressed IT companies: application service providers (ASPs). Typically, ASPs lease software applications for a given amount of time and companies receiving their services pay a monthly fee based on the number of users, although some ASPs charges are based on traffic or revenue percentages. ASPs are responsible for installing, maintaining, upgrading, and customizing applications for individual companies. ASPs are initially being used by fast growing companies needing rapid setup, midsize companies wanting upscale software without the upfront costs, and companies with far-flung operations who lack the technical resources to support their ventures. Eventually, all companies are expected to incorporate ASP services into their portfolios, while software vendors will most likely come to view ASP services as a common method of product delivery. The market indicates that ASPs are in demand, commanding $889 million in 1999 to an estimated $22.7 billion or more by 2003. But the flat rate system used by the majority of ASPs is best for heavy users who are network-connected, and for companies needing to devote more of their time to beating the competition than developing software.
    http://www.ee-online.com/jun2000/jun2000_feat_04.htm