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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Volume 2, Issue 141: Wednesday, December 13, 2000
- "Microsoft to Settle With Temp Workers"
Washington Post (12/13/00) P. E1; Schafer, Sarah; Joyce, Amy
Microsoft yesterday agreed to pay $96.9 million to settle with temporary workers who accuse the software giant of withholding benefits by refusing to classify them as full-time workers. The temp workers brought the class-action lawsuit against Microsoft eight years ago, and the case will come to an end if the court approves the settlement. Although Microsoft maintains that it did not improperly classify the temp workers, the company said it wanted to avoid the possibility of the lawsuit dragging out for several more years. Microsoft's legal options were limited in January, when the Supreme Court denied the company's attempt to appeal a 1996 appeals court ruling that said some long-term Microsoft temps were essentially "common law" permanent employees. The settlement would split about $70 million among more than 10,000 long-term temp workers who went without benefits while doing the same work as full-time employees for years, says Brian Waid, an attorney for the plaintiffs. The amount individual workers receive will vary depending on how long they worked and other factors. The remainder of the settlement will go toward legal and administrative expenses. Microsoft voluntarily changed its policy on temp workers three years ago, so the settlement does not require the company to alter its policies. However, legal experts predict that the settlement will serve as a precedent for the high-tech industry, with other companies following Microsoft's example in handling temp workers.
- "Europe's Tech Job Gap Seen Critical"
Associated Press (12/11/00)
A shortage of skilled workers could severely limit the growth of Europe's IT industry, said Juan Somavia of the United Nations' International Labor Organization on Monday. Next year the number of unfilled jobs in Europe will soar to 1.6 million, compared with 500,000 in 1998, Somavia said, attributing the growth in vacancies to a skills shortage and a dearth of young workers. The IT vacancies present opportunities for the 15 million unemployed people in Europe, but significant efforts must be made to train workers. Central and Eastern Europe are most strongly affected by the skills shortage, because those areas lack adequate access to telecommunications and therefore have few Internet users, Somavia said.
- "EU Preparing Cybercrime Guidelines"
Associated Press (12/12/00); Brumley, Bryan
The European Commission is continuing to debate its draft recommendations on cybercrime, which will be released Dec. 21. Among the recommendations are that EU member countries establish closer working relationships to fight cybercrime. The recommendations are meant to spark more consumer and industry interest in e-commerce. "We have to raise awareness among industry and consumers on protecting their systems against outside attacks or infiltration," said a spokesman for the commission. Meanwhile, a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers shows that Europeans tend to balk at giving out their personal data on the Internet. The report also shows that Europeans' concern about online privacy is heightened rather than lowered when governments take action to regulate the area. "A majority of respondents see legal changes...as threatening their personal privacy," the report says. "Government good intentions are not seen as such." The survey finds that European consumer trust in the Internet is highest in Finland and Norway and lowest in the United Kingdom. Only 15 percent of Europeans surveyed in the report said they believe consumer confidence in the Internet can be improved through more regulation.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Beijing Tries to Avert a Cyberspace War"
Wall Street Journal (12/13/00) P. A22; Chang, Leslie
The Chinese government is not against competition amongst Chinese-character domain name registrars, according to Chen Yin, deputy director of the Ministry of Information Industries' telecommunications administration bureau. The Chinese government simply wants international standards to be implemented prior to initiating the registration process, says Chen. The idea that only CNNIC can register domain names is untrue, says Chen. "If the different parties can take part in setting international standards, then everyone can follow the rules and the Internet can develop in a stable way," says Chen. Beijing will not block competition once the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) establishes rules, says Chen. The testing stage ought to allow Internet addresses to be registered commercially, according to executives at VeriSign. It might not be possible to do a successful test in a closed environment, says VeriSign spokesman Brian O'Shaughnessy. VeriSign will provide the IETF with the test results, notes O'Shaughnessy. However, VeriSign "needed to move the ball forward for the sake of our business interests," says O'Shaughnessy.
- "Global Effort to Make Machines That Make Chips"
New York Times (12/12/00) P. A1; Markoff, John
Cooperation among different companies and different countries is essential to develop the next generation of computer chips, observers say. This is a far cry from the 1980s, when a Japanese bid to enter the U.S. semiconductor market was considered a national-security threat. However, today the U.S. government has largely left that market to the influence of the global economy, a decision that has led to new partnerships, new technology, and new industry leaders. The semiconductor market has seen a tremendous shift over the past decade, as firms in Asia and Europe grow. Indeed, those two areas now have more citizens who use mobile phones than the United States does, which has increased pressure on firms in Taiwan, Korea, Germany, the Netherlands, and other countries to build the new technology necessary to meet consumer demand. Across the world, semiconductor sales continue to boom, with total sales of chips worldwide last year reaching $149 billion. The next step in semiconductor technology is under development in several different laboratories, but many observers are watching with the most excitement the efforts underway at several California sites, where Intel, AMD, and Motorola are working with German and Dutch firms to build chips with new extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV) technology. EUV technology uses light beams from lasers at very short wavelengths to create a chip that can process data as much as 100 times faster than today's best chips. The technology likely will not be available for another five years, but observers say it will mark the next great change in computers and technology.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Gerstner's $5 Billion Spending Spree"
ZDNet News (12/12/00); Foley, Mary Jo
IBM will invest $5 billion toward the development and provision of e-business infrastructure solutions, helping organizations cope with the fundamental issues of running a business in the Internet Age, said IBM Chairman and CEO Louis Gerstner. As the keynote speaker Tuesday at the e-Business Expo and Conference in New York, Gerstner said $1 billion of the total is earmarked for Linux-related development work next year, while the other $4 billion will be invested over the next three years in "e-sourcing" solutions, including the creation of 50 new Web hosting centers around the world. Gerstner and IBM's investment strategy is predicated on the belief that the experimental "Chapter 1" of the Internet Age is all but complete and now the real work of "Chapter 2" must begin. "The winners will be the people who stick with it and do the work--especially in integration and infrastructure," Gerstner said in his address. Specifically, IBM expects to deliver its e-business infrastructure solutions to a smaller number of "mega-customers" which will in turn resell the IBM solutions via the Internet to much larger numbers of businesses. Regarding the open source Linux operating system, Gerstner was unequivocal: "We're convinced Linux can do for business applications what the Internet did for enterprise applications...delivering on any-to-any computing." He added that EMC, Microsoft, and Sun's reliance on proprietary technologies is a mistake.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Mid-East Piracy Costs Millions, But Declining"
Piracy in the Middle East cost the software industry $245 million last year, although piracy rates are falling in Gulf Arab states because of new copyright regulations and increased enforcement, according to the Business Software Alliance (BSA). Microsoft alone loses $100 million a year due to piracy in the Middle East, says Microsoft's Bahram Mohazzebi. Still, signs of progress are emerging in areas such as the United Arab Emirates, where the piracy rate fell from the upper 90s four years ago to the low 40s today, Mohazzebi says. Overall, the piracy rate in the Middle East dropped from 69 percent in 1998 to 63 percent in 1999, the BSA says. However, pirated software still accounts for as much as 80 percent of sales in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar.
- "Software-Warranty Law Raises Quality Concerns"
Wall Street Journal (12/11/00) P. B10; Weber, Thomas E.
The proposed Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA) engenders controversy by requiring that shrink-wrap licenses either included with software disks or displayed on computers as "click-wrap" licenses are legally and consistently binding. Critics are worried that UCITA will limit customer rights in the new economy and encourage manufacturers to embed unnecessary electronic components into their products. One result of such a policy would be everyday appliances becoming bulkier as producers use software to reduce their liability, posits Philip Koopman of Carnegie Mellon University. Johns Hopkins University's James Neal is more worried by the possibility that publishers could use click-wrap licenses to bypass copyright laws, which would endanger the function of the library system. The states of Maryland and Virginia have already passed versions of UCITA this year, and other U.S. states are expected to consider the proposal in 2001. Supporters of UCITA dismiss the idea that manufacturers would redesign their products to make them applicable to the law.
For information about ACM's UCITA activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/IP.
- "A Year Later, Y2K Consultants Rely on E-Business"
Investor's Business Daily (12/12/00) P. A6; Bonasia, J.
Many tech companies that relied on the Y2K glitch for revenue switched their focus to e-business after the date change came and went with little fanfare. However, the transition proved difficult, and some companies failed in the effort to make the change, says Gartner Group analyst Dale Vecchio. Viasoft, for example, profited from Y2K as it helped repair mainframes and sold its OneMark 2000 desktop software. In the first quarter of 2000, Viasoft's sales fell to $11.2 million, down from $25.8 million in the first quarter of 1999. Viasoft, which was acquired by Allen Systems Group in September, attributed its woes to disappearing Y2K sales. Meanwhile, Compuware, a provider of Y2K testing products, saw a 52 percent decrease in sales in the first quarter of 2000 compared with the same quarter the previous year. Anticipating an end in Y2K revenues, Compuware moved into e-business. "As abruptly as Y2K stopped, e-commerce business picked up," says Compuware's Beth Chappell. Another former Y2K firm, Seec, had a more difficult time switching its focus to the Internet. Seec, which now helps companies move their software systems online, saw its sales drop by more than half for the first nine months of this year, compared with the same period last year.
- "Tight Job Market Means Underqualified Can Prosper"
SiliconValley.com (12/10/00); Steen, Margaret
The nation's prospering economy and low unemployment have created a job market that favors applicants, even if they do not have the level of experience normally expected by employers, analysts say. Although this has benefited those who traditionally struggle to find work--those embarking on a new career, those who have just graduated from college, and older workers--many companies say they are finding it more difficult to find quality workers or even those whom they can train to be effective. The problem is especially acute in high-tech industry, where inexperienced staff can have an adverse effect on the success of projects, experts say. "For a lot of projects, if you don't have enough 'A' software people, it doesn't matter how many 'B' software people you have," says Avron Barr of Aldo Ventures. In some cases, veteran employees suddenly find themselves reporting to managers who are much younger than they are, which can have a negative impact on staff morale. However, some analysts believe that when the economy inevitably slows or enters a recession, the labor market will shift into "survival-of-the-fittest" mode.
- "European Commission Approves '.Eu' Domain Suffix"
Agence France-Presse (12/12/00)
The plan to introduce a .eu domain suffix has won the approval of the European Commission. The plan now must be approved by the European Parliament and European Union member countries. The .eu domain will not spell the end for European country code domains such as .fr and .uk, but instead is aimed at giving businesses another domain alternative. "It will also open the possibility of registering more names on the Internet, and will thus boost Internet use and e-commerce use in Europe," says Erkki Likanen, enterprise and information policy commissioner for the European Union. The European Commission says it is negotiating with ICANN to ensure the timely implementation of the .eu domain as soon as it has been legally approved.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Web Privacy Programs Are Scrutinized"
Los Angeles Times (12/11/00) P. C1; Sanders, Edmund
Online privacy seal programs such as TRUSTe, BBBOnLine, and WebTrust are a key component of the Internet industry's self-regulation efforts, but these programs have failed to live up to their hype and have done nothing to dissuade the government from continuing its course toward introducing privacy legislation. Each of the three programs fared poorly in a September survey, and the FTC, which once heralded privacy seals as the answer to regulation, announced earlier this year that it now sees a need for regulation. Industry analysts concur. "These seal programs haven't taken the wind out of the sails of regulation," says Forrester Research analyst Jay Stanley. Stanley believes that any privacy legislation passed by Congress will require Web sites to inform Internet users about their privacy policies and to allow users to opt out of any data-collection practices. The privacy seal programs are calling for patience, saying that self-regulation just needs some time. TRUSTe has awarded some 2,000 licenses since its 1997 inception, while BBBOnLine has passed out 727 seals since launching last year. WebTrust is considered the most stringent of the three programs. However, due to its costly fees and strict guidelines, WebTrust has awarded only two seals thus far. Critics say the programs have been too lenient with their seal holders.
- "Skilled Workers Hold Key"
Financial Times--Dubai (12/13/00) P. 3; Bokhari, Farhan
Dubai, the second-wealthiest member of the United Arab Emirates, created the Dubai Internet City (DIC) in an effort to become the Persian Gulf's main hub for technology. DIC offers state-of-the-art facilities and allows investors to hold 100 percent ownership of a firm. Over 190 companies including IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle are already establishing operations in DIC. However, DIC's success hinges on whether it can attract a sufficient number of skilled programmers from around the world. While DIC plans to build an IT training college, it will be years before Dubai is able to provide enough programmers for DIC on its own. "This large complex could amount to no more than brick and mortar if the right people are not there," says one DIC investor. In an effort to draw workers, DIC is offering to process visa applications quickly and to place no limits on the number of foreign nationals a company can hire. Many IT professionals working in the U.S. who are originally from areas near Dubai, notably India, might find DIC appealing because it is more liberal than much of the Arab world and would bring them closer to home, says DIC official Mohammad Al Gergawi. The Internet is becoming more pervasive in Dubai and is changing the culture, particularly by providing new opportunities for women, Gergawi says, noting that more women than men will work in IT within a few years. Dubai now ranks 18th in Internet penetration, but Gergawi hopes to transform Dubai into a high-tech leader over the next two years.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Hi-Tech Work Levels Defy Slowdown"
Barron's (12/11/00) Vol. 80, No. 50, P. 54; Epstein, Gene
The output of the high-tech industry continues to surge ahead at a time when the industry is believed to be undergoing a slowdown in employment. Not only has the number of people employed by computer and office equipment companies, communications equipment companies, and semiconductor companies remained nearly the same over the past few years, the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report shows that employment at computer and data processing companies hit a record high last month. Barron's says there are some 2.9 million high-tech workers in the United States. The manner in which the BLS--which says there are 20 million high-tech workers--defines high-tech employment could be the source of the confusion. For example, the BLS says an industry is high-tech intensive if it has at least five times the average number of scientists, engineers, and technicians in any area who have at least a college-level associates degree. As such, the toilet goods industry, which is well represented with chemists, becomes a high-tech industry, and the individuals who clean up the building also become high-tech workers. Meanwhile, Department of Labor economist Bill Luker Jr. and University of North Texas geography professor Donald Lyons have conducted research that reveals that community-college-trained technicians are replacing well-paid machinists, which has resulted in the "downskilling" of high-tech production work.
- "Domain Name Database Revamp Due?"
Network World (12/11/00) Vol. 17, No. 50, P. 1; Marsan, Carolyn Duffy
With the coming introduction of new top level domain names, many Internet organizations, including VeriSign, Register.com, and Tucows, feel that there is a pressing need to improve the WHOIS database, which recently has been working inefficiently because of a lack of standards. ICANN is addressing the standardization dilemma through its creation last week of an advisory committee that will discuss standard WHOIS data formats, and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) will offer a session on Dec. 14 regarding WHOIS protocols. ICANN ought to implement standards and enforce compliance with its standards so that the new TLDs will be introduced into a standardized system, says Marilyn Cade, director of Internet and e-commerce policy at AT&T. WHOIS searches ought to be free and a copy of the .com, .net, and .org WHOIS database in its entirety should not cost more than $10,000, says Cade. Registrars desire standards that explain how WHOIS data is to be displayed, including designated information fields, the order of those fields, and a set protocol for information traded between the server and the requesting party. ICANN's WHOIS committee will offer standard WHOIS response formats as well as data requirements for the re-establishment of .com, .net, and .org WHOIS searches; however, the committee was not asked to work on policies for the new TLDs. WHOIS "doesn't really have any advanced controls such as access controls or user controls, nor does it have any sort of navigation capabilities," says Mark Kosters, VeriSign's vice president of research. Leveraging Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), VeriSign created a WHOIS prototype that offers these controls, and the protocol will be displayed at the coming IETF session. Through the LDAP, it is possible to "authenticate various classes of users and allow more privileged classes of users to see things that others can't," says Kosters.
For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/crypto.
- "Under Surveillance"
Computer Reseller News (12/04/00) No. 923, P. 32; Savage, Marcia; Stirpe, Amanda
Privacy advocates and providers of wireless solutions are becoming increasingly concerned about the possible legal and ethical ramifications of location-specific technologies that can trace the whereabouts of users. The issue is likely to come to the forefront as networks begin providing location services in accordance with the requirements of federal regulators. In the future carriers will be required by law to trace the location of a cell phone's signal if a call is made to 911 for emergency purposes. Some carriers, such as Sprint, Alltel, and Nextel, will use E911 handhelds equipped with Global Positioning System (GPS) chips. Other operators, such as Verizon Wireless and Qwest, will use a triangulation technology-based solution. But privacy advocates are worried that some solutions compromise a person's rights. For instance, tracking information could be employed by police to track down suspects or investigate certain citizens. In addition, information attained from location-specific services could potentially be used in civil trials. PricewaterhouseCooper's Larry Ponemon warns that a user subscribing to an always-on network-based solution will have the whereabouts of his or her phone monitored every minute and will not be able to turn it off. And wireless advertisements present a different dilemma. Although the FCC has laws protecting citizens from unwanted content and advertisements, the laws are not designed to apply to wireless technologies. The Wireless Advertising Association (WAA) supports letting wireless users give their approval before being sent location-based content. WAA Chairman Tim DePriest downplays the possibility of the technology being used to send wireless advertisements when in a certain location.