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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Volume 3, Issue 148: Wednesday, January 3, 2001
- "Microsoft Faces Suits Alleging Race Bias"
Washington Post (01/03/01) P. E3; Johnson, Carrie
Several former Microsoft employees have filed suit against the company, alleging they were denied equal treatment, including raises and promotions, because of their race. Florida attorney Willie E. Gary will represent Rahn Jackson, an African-American man who says he left Microsoft because the company refused to promote him after he had been working in sales for 17 years. Gary will request that six other African-American former Microsoft employees have their complaints added to Jackson's suit and will ask the court to grant the case class-action status. Gary expects many more African Americans who have worked or are working for the company to join a class-action suit. According to Gary, as of 1999 only 2.6 percent of Microsoft's 21,429 employees were African-American, well below the national average of 11 percent. Only 1.6 percent of the 5,155 managers at Microsoft are African-American, Gary added. A Microsoft spokesperson says charges of racial discrimination are unfounded, adding that the company has invested heavily in promoting technology to both minorities and women.
- "World IT Spending To Hit $1 Trillion"
Newsbytes (12/28/00); Stone, Martin
E-business proliferation will trigger a surge in worldwide information technology spending that will surpass $1 trillion in 2001, according to a report from International Data (IDC). Worldwide e-commerce will hit $500 billion and wireless mobile commerce will reach $1 billion next year, IDC projects. Agence France-Presse (AFP) foresees more than 600 million cell phones in use in 2001, along with 500 million PCs, and 500 million Web users. IDC believes that e-business will be the "driving force behind spending on information technology hardware, software, and services" in 2001, according to AFP. Brick-and-mortar businesses will be the primary investors in online activities, the IDC report indicates. AFP expects the Asia-Pacific region, not including Japan, to spend $70 billion of the $1 trillion-plus worldwide IT expenditure.
- "Dot-Com Rout Is a Mixed Blessing for Unionizers"
Wall Street Journal (01/02/01) P. A9; Wingfield, Nick; Dreazen, Yochi J.
Union advocates say workers in the dot-com industry have been receptive to the labor movement, but organizers have yet to achieve the high-profile victory that would let the industry know that unions still have power, even in the new economy. Advocates say a significant problem is that they do not know where to concentrate their efforts, as dot-coms they target today may not be around tomorrow. For example, organizers from Local 1105 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union have suspended their efforts to unionize the workers at online grocer Webvan, the stock value of which has fallen below $1. Efforts are still ongoing to organize call-center employees at Amazon.com, but officials say the company is fighting these attempts, distributing anti-union pamphlets. Union advocates say the thousands of call-center, warehouse, and shipping employees who work for dot-coms are no different than similar workers in traditional industries. These workers have grown increasingly dissatisfied, the advocates argue, because the stock options that lured them into the dot-com market are rapidly losing value. The labor movement has won a few victories, including forcing Microsoft to improve compensation to temporary employees and organizing some workers of online grocer Peapod. However, many other efforts have stalled, and advocates allege that several dot-coms are using classic union-busting techniques. For example, union advocates have raised questions about eTown.com, which laid off numerous employees soon after they held a union organizing meeting, and Webvan, which moved a distribution center after workers there began discussing unionization. Both firms respond that the potential for unionization had nothing to do with their decisions.
- "IT Labor Crisis Continues"
Search400 (12/27/00); Komiega, Kevin
The IT labor shortage will continue in 2001, even with the increase in the H-1B visa cap and the availability of many laid-off dot-com workers, experts say. Nearly 900,000 IT positions will go vacant this year, and demand for Web design and development professionals will be especially strong, according to analysts. In addition to the difficulty of hiring skilled workers, companies also face the challenge of keeping workers who tend to skip from one job to the next in favor of higher salaries or more exciting work. Companies are finding that high salaries, stock options, and signing bonuses have become standard fare to tech workers, who now seek jobs that offer training, flexible hours, telecommuting, and the chance to work with the latest technology. Large financial rewards are less tempting to IT workers now than in the past, as employees who accept high-paying jobs that they consider boring tend to burn out quickly. Although the government recently lifted the H-1B visa cap to 195,000 for each of the next three years, even this increase in skilled foreign workers is almost negligible in terms of the overall labor shortage, some observers say. The government needs to focus on long-term solutions to the labor crisis by boosting funding for IT training and education grants, experts say. Furthermore, businesses need to provide technology training for workers. In the meantime, some companies are finding creative ways around the labor shortage, such as outsourcing work to countries where IT labor is cheap. VertiCity.com, for example, matches IT workers in such countries as China, India, and Russia with companies that need their skills. Colleges are also addressing the IT labor shortage by pushing to increase technology requirements for students.
- "The Legacy of a Debacle That Wasn't"
New York Times (01/01/01) P. C1; Feder, Barnaby J.
Although the Y2K computer bug did little damage to computer systems, the preparations taken against it may have a long-range impact for all users of computers and information systems, observers say. The Y2K effort forced businesses as well as government agencies to investigate their information systems. This led many to upgrade or even replace outdated systems and also brought together information-technology and management personnel, many of whom had never worked together before. Real-world results of this new cooperation are numerous. In Portland, Ore., for example, the Y2K effort caused government officials to integrate databases and applications across each agency. New Jersey utility Public Service and Gas instituted a department for quality assurance testing, drawing on much of the know-how gained from Y2K. However, firms that made their names providing Y2K support to other firms are struggling to adjust to new markets. Although some firms now provide systems-quality maintenance, others have attempted to move into the market for e-business consulting and have met with only limited success. Moreover, some observers note that many businesses and government agencies are developing new systems so quickly that they are ignoring the small details that led to the Y2K problem in the first place. "Ninety percent of the [Y2K] lessons have already been forgotten," says consultant Howard Rubin.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors will need to register.)
- "Tech Industry Hails Brazilian Law"
Associated Press (12/28/00)
Manufacturers of computers, monitors, cell phones, and other high-tech equipment in Brazil will receive tax breaks and incentives over the next nine years, according to terms of a bill passed by the Brazilian Congress last week. Brazilian President Fernando Henrique has 15 working days to sign the bill into law. The law, which extends the tax breaks until 2009, has been well received by the country's tech community. The passage of the law is expected to spark some $7.5 billion in technology investments, including a $125 million computer factory project from Dell.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "No Big DDoS Attacks on New Year's Eve--Feds"
Newsbytes (01/02/01); Kelsey, Dick
The distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks that some security experts predicted might occur over New Year's weekend failed to materialize, according to the National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC), the FBI's cybercrime unit. Toward the end of last year, the FBI warned of a spike in activity that could portend forthcoming DDoS attacks. Despite the warning, NIPC says nothing out of the ordinary occurred over New Year's weekend. DDoS attacks, such as those that knocked out Amazon and other online retail sites last February, use "zombie" computers to send huge amounts of traffic to overwhelm the target network.
- "107th Congress to Tackle Internet Issues"
NewsFactor Network (12/29/00); Kiggen, Elizabeth
For information about ACM work on behalf of public policy, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.
- "Linux 2.4 Kernel Almost Soup"
Interactive Week Online (01/02/01); Foley, Mary Jo
Linus Torvalds on Sunday issued a pre-release version of the Linux 2.4 kernel to testers. Torvalds told the testers that the kernel's final release was still undecided but assured them that there would not be multiple pre-release versions. The Linux 2.4 kernel is already a year late, as Torvalds pushed its release date back from the fall of 1999 to May and then October of 2000. The delay may complicate the 2001 releases of Linux vendors, as Caldera planned to include the 2.4 kernel in its forthcoming eDesktop and eServer products and Red Hat said the 2.4 kernel would be part of its new release, Florence.
- "Yahoo! Will Ban Hate Material and Charge Fees on Auction Sites"
Wall Street Journal (01/03/00) P. B2; Mangalindan, Mylene
In an apparent bow to the wishes of a French court, Yahoo! has announced that it will no longer allow Nazi and Ku Klux Klan memorabilia to be displayed on its Web sites. The new policy also includes a ban on other forms of hate material and will take effect Jan. 10. Music, books, and films remain unaffected by the new policy. Perhaps feeling the pressures of a constricting market for online advertising, Yahoo! also announced that auction items on its Web sites would for the first time be subject to small listing fees, ranging from 20 cents to $2.25. Online advertising accounts for 80 percent of Yahoo!'s revenues, but the steep drop in tech valuations has caused a similar drop in online advertising. Yahoo! plans to use software that filters out hate-related material before it can be listed on the company's sites, and will give users a chance to appeal any blocked items. Yahoo! has not yet decided whether it will appeal the French court ruling that forces Yahoo! to comply with French law barring the sale of Nazi memorabilia.
- "Online Stores Try to Bar the Doors"
CNet (12/29/00); Sandoval, Greg
Recent incursions by hackers into electronics vendor Egghead.com and credit card transaction company Creditcards.com have online customers demanding improved security from Web merchants. Reports indicate that as many as 2.7 million Egghead customer accounts may have been exposed, while the Creditcards.com hacker stole and exposed over 55,000 credit card numbers on the Web. The FBI thinks the Creditcards.com scandal may be connected to a case in which hundreds of U.S. online shoppers have been receiving unauthorized credit card charges from a Russian company, Global Telecom, for the last two weeks. However, the same security tools that protect online customers are often inconvenient, according to security experts. "If you require your customers to fill out their card information every time they make a purchase, it's safer but much more of a nuisance," notes David Kennedy of TruSecure. One flaw that made Creditcards.com vulnerable to hackers is a lack of encryption, which MasterCard requires of all its online vendors. Companies should also test their Web site security for weaknesses or hire security teams to seal any holes in the software, recommends Howard Schmidt, Microsoft's chief of corporate security. But despite such precautions, "a determined hacker willing to spend thousands of hours hacking past defenses will eventually get in," warns Kennedy. Many shoppers still shy away from the Internet out of fear that hackers will appropriate their credit card accounts, surveys indicate.
- "Honey, I Shrunk the Bits! Removable Storage Gets (Really) Small"
PC World Online (12/29/00); Jacobi, Jon L.
Vendors are offering smaller products with greater storage capacity, but numerous competing standards threaten to bewilder a lot of consumers. Flash memory modules such as CompactFlash (CF) and SmartMedia (SM) cards dominate the market, but each format has subtle differences. Eight MB and 300 MB cards are available in both formats, but CF has built in I/O intelligence while SM must rely on the reading device. MultiMediaCard (MMC), a postage stamp-sized device available from 8 MB to 64 MB, is making its mark, and a new version with encryption and security features should debut by mid-2001. Sony's Memory Stick units offer 8 MB to 64 MB, and a 128 MB model is on the horizon. Meanwhile, IBM's Microdrive is a small, lightweight hard drive capable of 1 GB of capacity and about four times cheaper per MB than flash memory. CF and SM will keep a firm grip on the large device market, while MMC and the Memory Stick should do well in mobile devices, predicts International Data (IDC) analyst Xavier Purcel. New products are also raising the bar on storage capacity: Toshiba's MK2001MPL Plug-n-Play PC Card hard drive offers 4200 rpm and 2 GB of data storage, and LaCie PocketDrive and Flotec's Pockey are small-scale external drives that can store up to 30 GB and 20 GB, respectively. Products that incorporate DVD-based disks from DataPlay are expected to come out in the first quarter of 2001, but are only write-once. Meanwhile, scientists are investigating holographic storage technologies that could potentially revolutionize the industry.
- "High-Tech Homing Devices Worry Privacy Advocates"
Scripps Howard News Service (01/01/00); Deibel, Mary
Startup companies such as eWorldtrack and larger players such as Siemens are filling a nascent market niche for tracking devices that allow parents to keep tabs on their children's whereabouts. Some 350,000 children are kidnapped by family members every year, with most of the nabbings occurring during custody battles, according to the FBI. Trucking companies and backwoods hikers, among others, have also found a use for the tracking devices. Some of the devices are about the size of small cell phones, and eventually they are expected to shrink to the size of computer chips. The devices have raised the hackles of privacy advocates, who foresee a future where people's locations are constantly monitored. "This technology is going to happen, and we have to find ways to put people in control of how information about their location is collected and used," says David Sobel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. But one of the founders of eWorldtrack, Bill Brown, says that the privacy concerns are overblown because the devices use personalized Internet numbers and codes. "Parents are the best judge of a child's privacy and safety," says Brown. Meantime, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says that its Web site and computer imaging technology have played a large part in raising the recovery rate for children to 90 percent, up from 66 percent in 1989.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Hits and Misses of 2000 in Europe"
InternetNews.com (12/27/00); Lewell, John
There were several bright spots for the European Internet industry during 2000, including the introduction of a successful unmetered Internet access model by AOL, which helped increase the ISP's European growth. Perhaps the biggest success story was the auction for third generation UMTS licenses, which most benefited the U.K. and German governments. Also, short messaging services (SMS) were quite popular with Europe's youth. "SMS text messaging has become hugely popular with the 15-to-24 age group, thanks to the pay-as-you-go phone revolution," says Shakil Khan, founder of SMSBoy.com. The year began on a great note as the widely feared Y2K disaster proved to be a lamb, not a lion. However, the good news did not last long. A drop in Internet stock valuations precipitated busts such as boo.com and clickmango.com, while QXL.com's stock price dropped by an astonishing 99 percent. American Internet companies that were once bent on European expansion dropped their plans and began circling the wagons back home. The past year also saw the approval of the .eu domain, which European governments are counting on to challenge the .com domain. The rollout of broadband services, especially in Britain, will also likely be remembered as a bright spot of 2000. The great European Internet shakeout of 2000 should ultimately make the sector healthier for the coming year.
- "Guarded Optimism Greets New Section 508 Rules"
Washington Technology Online (12/26/00); Emery, Gail Repsher
The U.S. Access Board has released new rules to make technology accessible to the disabled. Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) officials are expressing cautious optimism about the rules, with which federal agencies must comply starting June 21, 2001. The Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998, Section 508, mandate that agencies employ technology that disabled individuals can access, unless doing so would pose an undue burden to the agency. Any existing technology is exempted from the new rules. Moreover, the new rules describe how to comply, which the Access Board says may cost $177 million to $1.07 billion a year. ITAA vice president Bartlett Cleland says the IT industry lobbied for the six-month gap between the announcement of the new rules and the compliance deadline. Also, it requested that the rules delineate the technological functions required to meet the needs of the disabled rather than the technological means to achieve them. The General Services Administration and ITAA will offer seminars to explain the rules in several locations nationwide.
- "Still a Man's World?"
Industry Standard (01/08/01) Vol. 4, No. 1, P. 80; Carr, Laura
Women working in the Internet industry earn significantly less than men, even when adjustments are made for education, industry, and job title, according to a survey from The Standard released in September. The survey of almost 2,600 newsletter subscribers found that women in the Internet industry earn a median base salary of $60,500, compared with $80,000 for their male counterparts. Meanwhile, women receive a median bonus of $7,000, which is less than half of the $15,000 median bonus awarded to men. With this bonus disparity factored in, the gender wage gap is even more evident in median total cash compensation, which is $66,000 for women and $91,000 for men. The Standard's findings echo figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that suggest women who work full-time and are more than 25 years old earn 26 percent less than men. Still, women responding to The Standard survey worked 9.7 hours a day on average, while men worked 10.3 hours. In addition, slightly more than half of women worked at least one weekend per month, compared with 61 percent of men. These factors still do not account for the gender wage gap, which is even wider than the wage discrepancies noted along lines of race and age.
To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.
- "Linux Against the Odds"
Network World (01/01/01) Vol. 18, No. 1, P. 75; Hochmuth, Phil
Linux this year gained the support of several major tech companies, but the open source operating system is still not a major platform in the enterprise market. In 1999 Linux beat Novell NetWare and all other versions of Unix in terms of shipments, claiming 24.6 percent of the server OS market. Only Microsoft's Windows NT surpassed Linux, with 38.1 percent of the market. IBM, Compaq, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle, and SAP all offer products and services that support Linux. Users are drawn to Linux because it can be obtained for free on the Internet or purchased inexpensively, and the platform does not limit the number of users per server. In addition, Linux's open source code allows users to easily alter the code, and supporters say Linux's peer review process makes it less prone to glitches than other platforms. Still, different versions of Linux vary widely and some users say the platform needs to develop standards. Microsoft does not consider Linux to be a rival in the enterprise market partly because of Linux's open nature, says Microsoft's Doug Miller. However, Linux could compete with Microsoft in lower-end systems, Miller concedes. Large enterprises that need a 16-way or 32-way symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) box would still be well advised to choose Unix over Linux, says IBM's Dan Frye. Although Linux backers say clustering tools can help Linux overcome SMP limitations, Linux faces other enterprise challenges in areas such as advanced system management tools and product support from hardware peripheral makers. Finding skilled Linux workers poses another problem, observers say. Although Linux will continue to grow, it will never become the leading platform, experts say.
- "Toward Equal Web Access for All"
IT Professional (12/00) Vol. 2, No. 6, P. 49; Isaak, Jim
Although America Online dodged a legal battle with the National Federation for the Blind, which charged that AOL violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) by not accommodating its Web site for blind Web surfers, the company resolved the issue with a temporary solution that other Web-based organizations may not be able to follow. Like AOL in its suit, Web-based organizations will have to consider what constitutes accessible design. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) says Web-based organizations can make their Web content more accessible by providing a text equivalent for non-text elements and transcripts for audio and video; using client-side image maps and text for hot spots; using meaningful text in hypertext links; using cascading style sheets for layout and style; and by using headings, captions, and lists consistent with content structure. Web-based organizations must keep in mind that Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires all government agencies and all companies that do business with the government to accommodate the blind. Moreover, other countries have similar laws. Some experts see the issue in broader terms, moving toward Web sites interpretable in diverse languages, cultures, and writing systems. "It's not just accessibility for people with disabilities, it's about universal design," says David Clark, webmaster for the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST). "Making the changes required for people with disabilities benefits everyone."
- "Most Web Sites Fail Minimum Standards: Giga"
eBusiness Journal (12/00) Vol. 2, No. 12, P. 24
The majority of Web sites do not meet the most basic standards for privacy or usability, according to a new study from Giga Information Group. On many sites, even data as elemental as a company address or contact information is absent or extremely difficult to find, and many have either omitted privacy policies altogether or have made a half-hearted attempt to craft them. The study also suggests that many sites do not show what they can be used for, and that there is no consistency in the display of alternate text for graphics, which make Web sites accessible to visually-impaired users.