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 110: Monday, September 25, 2000
- "PC Sales Still Rising, and Prices Still Falling"
Philadelphia Inquirer (09/24/00) P. E3
U.S. PC sales are still rising and computer prices continue to fall, despite concern over the PC industry that intensified with Intel's stock warning last week. PC unit sales to dealers this year will jump to 16.8 million, compared with 14.9 million last year, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. Meanwhile, PC prices are still falling, with the average price this year estimated at $1,000, down from $1,500 in 1995. Still, PCs are threatened by the emergence of low-cost Internet appliances, which could further drive down PC prices. The Internet appliance market will benefit from the involvement of major companies such as Compaq and Gateway. The devices are likely to appeal to consumers, as 90 percent of households with PCs use them only for email and the Internet, says a Gartner Group partner. However, some analysts predict that households would be interested in a combination of PCs and Internet appliances.
- "Drive IT With Dollars, Not Dictates"
Federal Computer Week Online (09/22/00); Matthews, William
The President's Information Technology Advisory Committee is recommending that Congress create an Office for Electronic Government. The head of the office would report to the director of the Office of Management and Budget and be responsible for distributing $100 million annually to projects related to inter-agency e-government efforts. The recommendation to establish the office is contrary to many calls for the creation of a federal government CIO post, or e-government "czar," who would report directly to the President. The Advisory Committee is now seeking someone to gently encourage e-government development by passing out hard cash.
- "People Who Need People"
Wall Street Journal (09/25/00) P. R8; Zachary, G. Pascal
Countries across the globe are relying on foreign workers to meet the labor demands of high-tech companies. Although few statistics exist to track the movement of highly skilled workers, government officials and industry analysts agree that the trend of importing high-tech help is growing. In the United States, debate continues over the H-1B visa, which permits more than 100,000 skilled foreigners to work in the United States for up to six years. Also boosting the number of foreign employees in America is the high percentage of foreign graduate students who remain in the country after their education. "U.S. companies go around the world cherry-picking the best skills," says Andrew Miloy of International Data. "Now the rest of the world wants to do the same." For example, the German government recently reversed years of policy opposed to allowing software programmers from India to enter the country. Germany will now allow 20,000 Indians to immigrate. Ireland has been aggressively pursuing foreign workers, and Canada, which loses much of its native talent to the United States, weighs visa approval heavily in favor of highly skilled workers. Even in countries where immigration policies are less favorable, high-tech firms have found it easy to persuade bureaucrats to permit or at least to turn a blind eye to increased numbers of foreign workers. Often, firms argue that some jobs require such precise skills that no domestic workers could hope to fill the positions. However, few countries have to bring immigration issues before a public vote, and some observers believe this could lead to a public backlash in some countries. In Germany, where unemployment has been high for several years, many protested the influx of Indian workers. Other firms report difficulty in matching the salary packages offered by U.S. firms, which could lead to long-term economic problems.
- "Reviving the 'Peter Principle': Firms Paying More for Less-Qualified Workers"
Washington Post (09/24/00) P. L1; Johnson, Carrie
High-tech companies, complaining of an ongoing labor shortage, are offering increasingly robust salaries to workers with fewer and fewer qualifications. This phenomenon, known as the Peter Principle, emerged as a result of the imbalance between supply and demand for high-tech workers. A book explaining this trend, "The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong," originally published in 1969, will be reprinted by Amereon House next month. The trend is sustained as workers from failed dot-coms are snatched up by other startups at higher salaries and given greater responsibilities. In their haste to hire employees, tech companies often devote little time to interviewing job candidates, says Cluff & Associates consultant Gary Cluff, citing one company that offers job seekers positions on the spot at job fairs. Inflating the worth of incompetent workers is harmful to both companies and employees, experts say. Companies might be forced to terminate employees who are unable to handle their jobs, and employees who are paid more than what they are worth will be unpleasantly surprised when they change jobs, experts say. However, these critics might be underestimating young workers who lack experience but have the potential to succeed in the dot-com world, says Russell Reynolds Associates recruiter R. Stuart Burch.
- "Mori Vows Japan Will Be E-Power"
Addressing Japan's parliament on September 21, Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori promised to create an IT strategy that will turn his nation into the world's leading information and telecommunications provider within five years. To help achieve this goal, a blue-ribbon IT panel has outlined a bill that would require the government to set clear goals and time frames on high-priority info-tech projects. Other goals Mori outlined to parliament include strengthening confidence in the U.S.-Japan security relationship, resuming diplomatic ties with North Korea, and an eventual peace accord with Russia to formally end World War II hostilities. "The most important pillar of 'Japan's rebirth' is an IT strategy--to wit, the concept of an e-Japan," Mori said. "A Japanese IT society is vital." Mori said his government would push for a high-speed Internet infrastructure and easy-to-use and access Internet services.
- "Not Just Science Fiction, Biometrics Help Firms Add Security, Cut Costs"
Investor's Business Daily (09/25/00) P. A6; Korzeniowski, Paul
The International Biometric Group predicts that sales of biometric devices in the United States will increase from $54.8 million last year to $594 million by 2003. Biometric devices, which analyze unique personal identifiers such as retinas or fingerprints, are gaining in popularity among certain businesses because they decrease maintenance costs and provide better security than passwords. Although the costs of such devices were prohibitive in the past, today they can be purchased for as little as $100.
- "What Time Is It? Lobby Time"
Wired News (09/23/00); McCullagh, Declan
Napster CEO Hank Barry recently met with top representatives in the House to discuss online intellectual property issues. Top representatives of the Recording Industry Association of America also met with House representatives in a separate meeting. These meetings give lawmakers a chance to familiarize themselves with technology issues and give the lobbyists valuable time with policymakers. Meanwhile, the Treasury Department appears ready to provide testimony to Congress about the FBI's Carnivore system, and lobbyists at Patton Boggs are gathering their forces to fight a bill that addresses electronic monitoring in the workplace. Lastly, the Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act, which limits the amount of online information on drugs, is apparently not dead yet. The bill has been attached to the Bankruptcy Reform Act, which is being addressed by a conference committee.
For information regarding ACM's activities on behalf of privacy and e-monitoring, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/privacy.
- "NAS or SANs? IT Managers Say 'Both'"
PlanetIT (09/21/00); Sweeney, Terry
IT managers are usually forced to choose between network attached storage (NAS) or storage area networks (SANs) by vendors. But managers are taking a pragmatic approach and implementing both storage systems in the same enterprise. Vendors and value-added resellers should understand that users purchase products best suited to their purposes, says International Data analyst Robert Gray. For example, Bank of America's Global Corporate and Investment Banking unit in Chicago must have sufficient storage capacity for its multiple servers, says architecture and engineering consultant Robert Engle. "We have big [storage] databases, gigabytes to terabytes," Engle says. The use of NAS or SANs is determined by the operating system, department, and portion of the particular network. The Fermilab in Batavia, Ill., requires a massive amount of data storage to handle its particle accelerator experiments. Data is stored on disks in a read-only file system that can be accessed by all the machines in the heterogeneous cluster. A SAN is usually employed for the disks and read-only analysis. "We want users to analyze data, not store it or ship it around," says collider detector associate head Stephan Lammel. Software development and analysis program assembly is handled by NAS. Vendors are expected to make appliance servers more scalable as NAS is integrated within those servers. Virtualizing the entire SAN will facilitate a seamless view from the server to all the SANs. Over half of all storage installations are equipped with Fibre Channel interfaces for future SAN deployment, says Gray. Another scalability boost will come from SAN backbones with directory servers.
- "Lab Crackdown Criticized"
Washington Post (09/25/00) P. A2; Pincus, Walter
Several former Congressmen are urging Energy Secretary Bill Richardson to scrap his department's "zero tolerance" policy for minor security violations instituted last year in the midst of the Wen Ho Lee spy case at Los Alamos National Laboratory. A report to be released today says that employee morale at nuclear labs has plummeted since the Wen Ho Lee case, causing a major drop in the number of applicants interested in federal laboratory employment. The report also warns that the zero tolerance policy actually damages security, because employees will not disclose security lapses if they feel that they or their fellow employees will be sanctioned not just by their employer, but also could face criminal prosecution and a jail sentence. The report suggests that "morale and motivations of laboratory employees" be considered as integral to national security when officials mull security policies, and urges laboratory officials to discuss the pros and cons of new security policies with employees before implementing them. The report by Howard Baker and Lee Hamilton comes out on the heels of several highly-publicized security incidents in the federal government, such as the suspension of the U.S. ambassador to Israel's security clearance for allegedly doing classified work on an unsecured laptop while traveling on business.
- "The Next Wave of e-Business Interactions Rolls In"
InfoWorld.com (09/22/00); Schwartz, Ephraim; Davis, Jessica
As companies continue to strive for increased efficiencies, lower costs, and reduced time-to-market cycles, many online business-to-business (B2B) exchanges are exploring online exchange integration as a means to deliver the services that will enable their customers to realize these operational goals. The ability to provide the right information to buyers and sellers is driving the trend to link online exchanges, according to i2 Technologies CTO Jim Mackay. To that end, IBM, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, have developed the Universal Dynamic Discovery and Integration (UDDI) standard, which will enable exchanges to create an online Yellow Pages full of businesses, contact information, product and services offerings, and the technological protocols they support. The specification is intended to ease businesses' search for and integration with partners and suppliers. "When the electronic world gets fully integrated, you will have this dynamic marketplace where buying and selling decisions are based on who can deliver at the right quality, right product, [and] right time," says Derek Smyth, COO of Ironside Technologies, which plans to release its Ironside Network this week.
- "Survey: Ads Better Than Fees"
Civic.com (09/21/00); Sarkar, Dibya
A recent survey of 642 registered voters by Public Opinion Strategies found that 56 percent would like to see government Internet services underwritten by "appropriate" advertising, while 23 percent of respondents said they would rather pay user fees for such services instead of seeing ads. Appropriate advertising was defined as products or services legally available to people of every age. Other results of the survey show that 47 percent of respondents want governments to charge convenience fees for the use of online services instead of supporting them with tax dollars, while 28 percent felt tax money should underwrite such endeavors. Over 60 percent of those surveyed believe it is acceptable for governments to use advertising in order to save tax dollars that would be used to fund online services.
- "Network Breaches Blamed on Curious Source"
InternetNews.com (09/22/00); Fusco, Patricia
Multiple unsolicited and unapproved scans were made on the systems at Northern Michigan Online from an unknown source, although the culprit could be Network Solutions, says Jason Straight, chief network engineer at Northern Michigan Online. Although there are no laws that prohibit port scanning, the practice is not considered proper. Information about the entity that initiated the scan can be determined through the log file, but the data in the log file cannot explain the motive behind the scan. "We don't have all the details, but it appears to be some sort of anomaly and our operations team is investigating," says Network Solutions' Chris Clough. There are three reasons for a company such as Network Solutions to do a scan on Northern Michigan Online, says Alan Paller, director of research at SANS Institute. First, a scan can legitimately come from business partners, which is common practice in the B2B world, although permission might be required before a scan is done, says Paller. Second, security at Network Solutions might have been breached and the attack could actually have come from an entity that wanted the scan to look like it originated at Network Solutions, says Paller. Third, current technology is unable to determine whether or not an attack is spoofed, so there is almost no chance that Network Solutions could be proven to be the scanner, says Paller. Another possibility is that someone working for either Network Solutions or Northern Michigan Online was upset and spoofed the port scan. The origin of the port scans remains to be seen, but Network Solutions hopes to have some answers soon, says Clough. "Our operations team has contacted Straight directly to better determine what the situation is," Clough says.
- "When High-Tech Job Promises Falter"
Interactive Week (09/18/00) Vol. 7, No. 37, P. 74; Monroy, Tom
Vice President Al Gore's call for 10 million new high-tech jobs could worsen an already serious labor shortage, human resources analysts say. International Data (IDC) says the shortage in high-tech jobs currently stands at 500,000, with just over 4 million candidates available for 4.5 million openings. That number of openings is kept constant by job attrition, says IDC's Mike Boyd, as high-demand has forced firms to raise salaries and offer other benefits, prompting high-tech workers to switch jobs frequently. Adding an additional 10 million jobs to the demand side could potentially damage the economy, say analysts, who can see no way to fill that many new jobs without causing a slowdown or recession. At the greatest risk from such a dramatic increase would be small businesses, which account for 60 percent of IT employment, according to Computerjobs.com. Small firms can hardly compete now with the resources of larger firms to attract workers, and adding 10 million new positions would only worsen their disadvantage, analysts believe.
- "The Ugly American URL?"
Brandweek (09/18/00) Vol. 41, No. 36, P. 24; Ebenkamp, Becky
The year 2005 will see 15.3 million European teenagers on the Web, according to a new report by Young & Rubicam (Y&R) Europe. People who wish to market this demographic should note several significant cultural differences between European teenagers and their American counterparts, advises Y&R's Intelligence Factory. Euroteens possess a greater penchant than U.S. teens to converse, discuss, and philosophize on the Web, say Intelligence Factory Trendscouts. This group is also opposed to the blurring of their individual national identities through Americanization and European initiatives. There is less desire to try out the latest gadgetry because Euroteens generally prefer function over form, particularly as a way to create and maintain relationships with others. Euroteens suspect materialism more than American teens because of high brand awareness, according to an Intelligence Factory survey. As a result, Euroteens are starting to gravitate toward ad-free spaces, and Y&R suggests that discreet branding and culture jammer brands will attract this group.
- "Tomorrow's Workforce"
InfoWorld--CTO FirstMover (09/18/00) Vol. 1, No. 1, P. S59; Biggs, Maggie
E-business calls for business leaders to adopt new organizational structures in order to properly leverage new information technologies to realize their full potential. Specifically, e-business requires that leaders structure their companies as "virtual organizations" or "distributed enterprises" rather than adhere to the hierarchical organizational model common for the last several years. Business leaders will have to learn how to lead by influencing people rather than controlling them directly; those who manage the challenge best will be the business winners over the next 10 or 20 years. New Economy distributed organizations differ significantly from Old Economy hierarchical organizations. Aside from growing accustomed to the lack of direct control in the distributed organization, the New Economy business leader will have to learn how to encourage collaborative decision-making, foster an environment conducive to learning, and leverage new forms of communication that render traditional face-to-face meetings a much more infrequent occurrence. Those who meet the challenges will enjoy significant benefits. Distributed organizations have less productivity-stifling bureaucracy, less need for large and expensive commercial spaces, and are able to attract the best employees without having to worry about location.
- "States Say Yahoo! to Private Web Providers"
National Journal (09/16/00) Vol. 32, No. 38, P. 2894; Maggs, John
President Clinton has promised a federal government portal, FirstGov.gov, to serve as the entry port for the federal government's many Web pages. Supporters of the initiative say it will change the government-citizen relationship and make the federal government more responsive and accountable. Meanwhile, some just want faster, easier answers to their questions. State governments are thinking along similar lines, and as many as 20 state portals may be functioning by the end of the year. Governors want their states to be seen as the next Silicon Valley, and Web portals are part of that. The effort is linked to the older idea that governments, if they want to succeed in the new economy, must behave more like businesses. State Web specialists say the main goal is to deliver government services more easily and cheaply, but North Carolina specialist Ron Hawley says they also want the portals to be attractive so citizens will use them. For this reason, states are adding commercial content to their portals to bring in users. States are also refreshing their older sites, adding links to commercial sites, and adding services such as free email--all with accompanying advertising. Companies such as Microsoft and Yahoo! give money and time to help set up the portals, and in return they get exclusive placements on the sites. States are still mulling over the idea of negotiating a share of the revenue that the companies will get from the increased traffic. Some observers are concerned that states are only choosing the big companies that already have much of the market share, and they worry that competition will be squeezed.
- "Do Databases Need Protection? From Whom?"
Computing in Science & Engineering (10/00) Vol. 2, No. 5, P. 11; Lewin, David I.
Database compilers are pushing for laws that would protect their collections, but researchers fear these laws would prevent fair use of data. The House of Representatives is considering two database protection bills, which legislators are pressured to enact because of the EU Database Directive. The directive protects a foreign database only if its country of origin provides protections similar to those offered in Europe, creating concerns that U.S. databases will be up for grabs in Europe unless the United States passes database protection laws. The Collections of Information Antipiracy Act calls for strong protections for databases, with some minimal exceptions for government data and scientific use of data that does not damage the database's market. A rival bill in the House, the Consumer and Investor Access to Information Act of 1999, would only restrict database use by parties intending to directly compete with the database's compiler. Database compilers and publishers believe laws are necessary to protect their efforts, especially as technology allows users to easily copy large blocks of information. However, the scientific and academic communities believe the laws would prohibit common activities such as sharing large amounts of data with colleagues, publishing data used in studies, and putting information from older databases into newer ones. The U.S. scientific community owes its success to the lack of restrictions on data provided by the U.S. government, says Anne Linn of the National Research Council's Committee on Geophysical and Environmental Data. However, data is increasingly being provided by the private sector, which is able to restrict use through legal means such as copyright protections and the proposed database laws.
- "Through the Roof"
Washington Techway (09/11/00) P. 65; Daniels, Alex
Washington, D.C.'s burgeoning high-tech community often looks to Silicon Valley to measure its own success; however, there is one area where the nation's capital hopes to fall short of the West Coast technology capital: home prices. Housing costs on average in Silicon Valley are among the highest in the country--$547,000--due to the high demand for homes in the area. The D.C. average is nowhere near that point and unlikely to ever escalate that high. John Backus of the Northern Virginia Technology Council says home prices went through the roof in Silicon Valley because builders ran out of room to build homes; but, in the D.C. area, there is still plenty of room for growth. Currently, D.C ranks 43rd out of 184 metro areas in the nation for home affordability; while the Northern California cities of San Jose and Santa Cruz rank 182nd and 183rd, respectively. Despite Washington's relatively affordable market, prices are on the rise and many buyers are taken aback when they first shop for homes. Home prices actually decreased marginally inside the city limits last year; but in the surrounding suburbs, such as Montgomery and Fairfax counties, prices rose between 7 and 8 percent. Virginia's Loudoun County experienced even greater gains, as new-home prices rose 23 percent to an average of $358,000. Still, higher prices have not hampered sales as of yet, and agents do not believe the market will slow by much in the coming months.