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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
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Volume 3, Issue 158: Monday, January 29, 2001
- "Unions Address High-Tech Workers"
Associated Press (01/29/01)
Organized labor is meeting with a variety of challenges as it tries to form unions in the high-tech industry. One reason, says Microsoft's Dan Leach, is because high-tech workers generally have an entrepreneurial spirit that does not correspond well with organized labor. However, Candice Johnson of the Communications Workers of America counters that this hesitancy is occurring because unions have not had a chance to prove their relevancy to the industry. She explains that many high-tech workers are worried about the capability of their companies to cope with the demands of an organized workforce in the currently sour technology sector. Amazon.com employee Dave Rady reflects this sentiment, saying high-tech companies would be significantly hampered by rigid labor contracts in a market that demands flexibility from "week to week." Overall, unions have lost much of their former influence, representing only 9 percent of today's private sector jobs compared to about 30 percent in the 1950s.
- "Tech Industry in Turmoil Gets a New Top Lobbyist"
Wall Street Journal (01/29/01) P. B1; Swisher, Kara
The tech-industry lobbying organization TechNet has named Rick White, a former member of Congress, its new CEO. As the tech industry's top lobbyist, White will come to the nation's capital at a time when tech issues are likely to have a prominent part in the debate of this year's Congress. Issues likely to be discussed over the coming months include extending the moratorium on Internet taxes, protection of privacy online, and the role technology and science should play in education reform. Officials at TechNet, a nonpartisan organization that includes such tech heavyweights as Netscape founder James Barksdale among its founders, hope White can bring some stability to the organization, which has seen some of its initiatives, including increased visas for foreign high-tech workers, succeed in Washington, but has also seen several leaders leave in recent years. White is optimistic that the industry will see further success this year. "Bush will be good for tech and Gore would have been good for tech and Clinton was good for tech, so we have a great window of opportunity since we are still seen as a positive force by most politicians," he says.
- "The Odyssey of a Hacker: From Outlaw to Consultant"
New York Times (01/29/01) P. C1; Markoff, John
John T. Draper, 57, is developing computer security programs these days. Famed for hacking the nation's telephone networks in the 1970s, Draper is considered by many to be a pioneer in the PC industry despite his criminal record. His situation signifies the ambivalence that some in the computer industry have toward reformed "white-hat hackers," who boast that the same skills they employed to break into secured networks can now serve to shore them up against attack. SRI International computer security expert Peter Neumann says the perception that those with overtly criminal histories are better security coders is unfounded. However, he admits that, "In general, there are quite a few black hats who have gone straight and become very effective."
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- "Contracting Grows in Popularity as Option for Out-of-Work Techies"
Washington Post (01/28/01) P. L1; Johnson, Carrie
Increasingly, tech workers who have lost their jobs in the shrinking dot-com market are turning to contract work, industry analysts say. Although the overall dot-com boom has clearly ended, analysts say demand for contractors who know the latest computer languages and who are willing to work very hard remains strong. The advantages to independent contracting can be numerous, tech labor experts say. Contract workers, who usually charge by the hour, can often earn more than regular employees, according to a survey by Dice.com. Contractors can gain experience in multiple fields in a short period of time and, if they work through an agency, can enjoy the same health and other benefits that a company's full-time employees do. However, experts caution that the contracting field is not for every worker. The long hours and instability associated with the field makes it more suited for workers who can dedicate maximum time to their work--few contractors are recently married or have young children, claims consultant Nick Perdikis. Also, contractors must consider that, if they develop a certain program or product while working for another company, they could end up fighting over intellectual property rights. Analysts recommend that contractors clearly establish their rights and responsibilities before agreeing to a job.
- "Software Companies Rise Above Tech Pessimism"
CNet (01/22/01); Barnes, Cecily
Companies that specialize in enterprise software are prospering during the current tech industry downturn, analysts say. While research firm Dataquest reports that worldwide PC shipments increased by only 10.1 percent in 2000, Giga Information Group reports that application integration software had revenue last year of $2.4 billion, a 60 percent increase, and application server software had revenue of $1.6 billion, a 175 percent increase. Analysts say the upswing is a direct result of corporations' desire to save money now. "Companies are focused on automating some of their business functions and reducing costs, which ends up being with a software application. The payback on those is typically a year or less," says Wit SoundView software analyst Kris Tuttle. This approach contrasts directly with corporate strategy at the beginning last year, when many companies lavished money on hardware upgrades. Giga vice president Mike Gilpin explains, "I think there's clearly a trend now to stop throwing hardware at the problem and instead deploy more intelligent optimization." Software companies benefiting from this trend include PeopleSoft, SAP, Microsoft, and Siebel Systems. Analysts contend that software firms have an edge over hardware companies because they do not have to spend as much to develop a product. For example, Microsoft spent 14.1 percent of its revenue from last quarter. In contrast, IBM last year had to spend 63 percent. However, some analysts say software companies are no less immune to an economic downturn than any other company. These companies benefit from contracts that front-load revenue based on the purchase of upgrades, which means the companies must always be searching for new clients to generate sales, the doubting analysts argue.
- "Companies' Spending on Communications Is Seen Rising 10 Percent"
Wall Street Journal (01/29/01) P. B8
Companies intend to up their spending on communication networks by roughly 10 percent this year, slightly exceeding the 9.5 percent increase in 2000, a recent survey revealed. The study may ease concerns about an overall downturn in telecom spending. Such concerns have hit the share prices of several equipment suppliers. Network World and research company Stat Resources conducted the survey. John Gallant, editorial director of Network World, said companies have ongoing investments in segments, including Internet infrastructure, security systems, and wireless communications. Although the survey suggests on ongoing increase in spending on enterprise networks, Gallant said there are indictors that spending on telecom networks has slowed significantly. A substantial portion of the spending on enterprise networks set for this year has been designated for capital equipment and labor costs to operate additional hardware and software. A mere 43 percent of the survey's 400 respondents said they intend to broaden their IT work force.
- "Congress Opens Debate on Online Privacy"
Medill News Service (01/26/01); O'Neill, Jennifer
Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Chris Cannon (R-Utah) have submitted a bill designed to "provide consumers with clear notice of how their personal information is being used by Web sites" as a way to prevent unwanted solicitations. Under the terms of the bill, Web sites that collect consumers' personal data must give surfers a chance to opt out of its disclosure to other parties. "I think the 107th Congress will pass some sort of privacy legislation this year, and I hope that with this act we can move the ball down the field," says Eshoo. The Eshoo-Cannon bill bears a striking resemblance to last year's proposal by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.), but does not set nondisclosure as the default. A bill that outlines an opt-in policy is unlikely to pass, contends Robert Litan of the Brookings Institution. "It would stop the free flow of information and severely disrupt commerce," believes Litan. Litan does not expect any privacy laws to be passed by Congress this year mainly because of the focus on the Bush agenda. On the other hand, the Internet Alliance's Jeff Richards expects numerous privacy-related bills to be passed, but warns that this could generate confusion. Richards also believes that legislation focusing on whether consumers opt in or opt out will fail. He says, "I worry about this act building an adversarial relationship between consumers and companies." The Eshoo-Cannon bill may also fail because industry analysts such as the Center for Democracy and Technology's Ari Schwartz think it is not broad enough. But Eshoo is convinced her bill will allow consumers to control their privacy while maintaining the free flow of data e-businesses need.
- "New ICANN President: Learning, Listening Are Top Priorities"
InfoWorld.com (01/24/01); Costello, Sam
Newly selected ICANN President and CEO Stuart Lynn mentioned the phrase "look, listen, learn" multiple times when meeting the press last Wednesday. ICANN is similar to a university as it forms a consensus, according to Lynn. Further, like the Internet, ICANN acts through the efforts of many organizations and entities, asserts Lynn. Lynn will introduce a "holistic approach to the whole range of problem ICANN faces," says current ICANN President and CEO Michael Roberts. Lynn claims that he has not taken sides and will center on Internet accessibility and ease of use.
For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/serving/IG.html.
- "Intranets Nurture Companies From the Inside"
New York Times (01/29/01) P. C4; Stellin, Susan
IBM is part of a fast-growing contingent of firms who view corporate intranets as crucial to their operations. In an annual survey conducted by the company, IBM employees cited co-workers and the company's intranet as their top two sources of credible information. IBM's intranet has evolved into an enterprise portal, an interactive site offering functions well beyond simple news postings. At the IBM intranet, users can sign up for benefits, order supplies, take classes, and track projects. IBM mobile computing researcher Murthy Devarakonda cites efficiency as the intranet's main asset; he uses the project management site to post and read information on projects and catch up on seminars and presentations. Meanwhile, Ronda Rattray, who works in IBM's small business group, enjoys being able to access the intranet from home, creating a more flexible work schedule. Although the cost of deploying such an extensive resource can be significant, IBM maintains that its intranet is invaluable. "It amounts to a whole new operating system for the enterprise," says Mike Wing, director of IBM's intranet. "We're not just creating a set of tools here. We're creating a company." Other companies who have benefited from their intranets include Charles Schwab and Ford Motor. Small businesses are also getting into the act; building materials manufacturer CertainTeed says that its intranet helps to streamline workers' activities.
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- "U.S. Senate Reintroduces Permanent R&D Tax Credit"
EE Times Online (01/23/01); Leopold, George
Members on both sides of Congress have introduced legislation that endorses a permanent tax credit for research and development. Leaders of the high-tech industry such as Microsoft and Intel say they spend as much as 20 percent of annual revenues in R&D. They argue that, in order to maximize their long-term benefits, they must be able to continue research efforts unimpeded by worries over next year's extension of the tax credit. President George W. Bush says he agrees with the idea of a permanent R&D tax credit, which improves the likelihood that the bill will pass the new Congress. The legislation also calls for amending U.S. tax code to allow higher rates for alternative incremental research credits earned by companies.
- "Study: E-Business Is Top Concern for CEOs"
E-Commerce Times (01/24/01); Saliba, Clare
CEOs increasingly view e-business as a top priority, according to a survey of 500 CEOs in North America, Europe, and Asia performed by Accenture and the Conference Board. The percentage of CEOs who view e-business to be their top priority for 2001--38 percent--is double last year's percentage. While they were slow to recognize the importance of the Internet, large, established companies with over $5 billion in sales are now showing the most interest in e-business. "The Internet, which only six months ago was the principal promise of emerging dot-coms and the fascination of Wall Street, has become the practical technological lever for large and mid-sized competitors," says Conference Board CEO Richard Cavanagh. "Grown-up companies have taken back the keys to the car." Cavanagh also says that it is not surprising that the Internet has become many CEOs' top concern as the Internet makes pricing more transparent and customers demand faster service at lower costs.
- "Report Outlines Path to Secure E-Government"
GovExec.com (01/22/01); Dean, Joshua
The "Securing Electronic Government" report from the CIO Council urges government agencies to put security issues at the forefront of online e-government planning. Citing examples from NASA, the Energy Department, and the Social Security Administration, the report focused on the specific problems associated with different e-government initiatives. Web-based procurement systems must be guarded more heavily as the monetary value of the transactions increase, for example. Additionally, information and statistical services are more prone to denial of service attacks and challenges to data integrity. The report also offered tools with which agencies can gauge the level of security their programs require and frameworks for developing specific security plans.
- "Union Leader Targets Tech Industry"
CNet (01/23/01); Konrad, Rachel
Marcus Courtney, co-founder of the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers (WashTech), believes that the labor movement will play a vital role in the tech industry's future growth. He admits that at present his group, which is supported by the Communications Workers of America, has only a small active membership of 250. However, he believes that his organization speaks on behalf of a larger number than that. He argues that the tech industry has blossomed on a myth of easy, nearly instant wealth that is simply not the reality. He says many workers are now realizing that although tech companies may pay lip service to notions of the worker as an individual--for example, allowing employees to wear whatever they want, dye their hair, wear body piercings--whenever workers have a legitimate complaint, they are not taken seriously. He says few workers get to participate in the wealth that the new economy is generating. Especially left out in the cold are workers whose jobs are not glamorous--those who write and edit content, those who work in customer service--but whose jobs are essential. These workers were talked into arduous jobs with the promise of stock options, Courtney argues, and now that those options are losing their value, the workers are realizing that their employment situations are less than ideal. Over the coming years, Courtney believes that there will be a growing awareness of how the labor movement could benefit tech workers, especially if a recession occurs and forces the entire industry to confront serious economic issues. He thinks that workers across the tech industry, not only in Seattle where he is based but in Silicon Valley and other tech hubs, must consider the issue.
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- "Standardizing Linux--It's a Good Thing"
Business Communications Review (01/01) Vol. 31, No. 1, P. 64; Cat, Angel J.
Although the advantages of the Linux operating system--its affordability, flexibility, and scalability, to name a few--have been apparent for a long time, many potential users are still confused by the many different versions of Linux currently available and so continue to use proprietary systems. Several years ago, a consortium of Linux vendors banded together to create the Linux Standard Base project. The goal of this project has been to create a basic framework for Linux operating systems and applications so that programs developed in different Linux formats will be compatible. This aim has caused concern among many Linux developers and users, who fear that standardization will make Linux more akin to the proprietary, closed world of Microsoft Windows. However, project officials say they are not trying to limit Linux in any fashion. Rather, they are working to ensure that a customer who purchases an application from TurboLinux will be able to run it on a system from Red Hat. An important aspect of the project is that the participating developers are not trying to develop a new generation of software. Instead, they are working to reconcile the existing technology. For example, the project has selected Red Hat's Package Manager software to be the standard packet manager for all Linux programs. The package manager is a clear example of why the Linux community needs some form of standardization. Without having a common package manager--the tool that governs the installation of Linux programs--compatibility between operating systems and applications cannot be guaranteed. The Linux Standard Base project will not be able to measure its success until a greater number of businesses recognize the advantages of the open source software. In an early example of success, IBM has included Linux in many of its server products, including 15,000 computers recently sold to a convenience store chain in Japan.
- "Bush Expected to Rattle Federal IT"
Computerworld (01/22/01) Vol. 35, No. 4, P. 1; Thibodeau, Patrick
President Bush's new administration has shaken the security of many federal CIOs. But U.S. Department of Commerce CIO Roger Baker says that it is up to them to prove their worth to their new bosses. "You've got to make sure you're on his team, that he understands what you are all about an that you can add value to the organization," he says. Department of Agriculture CIO Joseph Leo says that the new administration's plan to appoint a federal CIO with overarching control will bring objectiveness to the distribution of a $40 billion IT budget, the lack of which has hindered agency CIOs in the past. Bush plans to bring his Texas IT team with him to Washington to help implement his e-government agenda, which includes expanding e-government services, promoting cross-agency programs, and shrinking staff numbers. Texas is noted for its outsourcing online government services to private-sector firms, a method that may help the new administration reach its e-government goals.
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- "IT Industry Opposes Impending Ergonomics Rules"
InformationWeek (01/22/01) No. 821, P. 33; Khirallah, Diane Rezendes
The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) is one of several organizations opposing new ergonomics regulations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The regulations, scheduled to take effect in January, mandate that employers make workers aware of musculoskeletal disorders and, should the situation warrant it, provide medical care. ITAA contends that these regulations will cost too much and are not necessary. ITAA vice president Jeff Lande says, "By and large, IT companies address the [ergonomics] issue very aggressively." The Society for Human Resource Management also opposes the new regulations and last November filed a lawsuit to stop the regulations from being enacted. The society argues that the regulations regarding wages for injured or sick workers are unfair. Under the new regulations, workers will be entitled to all of their wages if a musculoskeletal disorder forces them to switch duties, and those workers who take sick leave because of a musculoskeletal disorder will receive 90 percent of their wages for 90 days. Studies have shown that injuries due to ergonomics strike 102 million workers per year, with the average case of carpal tunnel syndrome causing a worker to miss 35 days.
- "Clues to Bush's High-Tech Plans"
National Journal (01/20/01) Vol. 33, No. 3, P. 192; Mullins, Brody; Munro, Neil
Telecommunications will be among the contentious issues that the FCC will have to consider in the early months of President Bush's administration. Two bills that favor the Baby Bells could reach Bush's desk before fall. The Baby Bells, which want to transmit Internet data over long-distance lines, appear to be in much better shape these days now that AT&T supporter Rep. Tom Bliley (R-Va.) has retired. Their most fervent supporter, Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), now replaces Bliley as the head of the House Commerce Committee, and they have other allies in House as well as the Senate. Bush will also have to fill two vacant seats at the FCC and name a new chairman now that Democrat William Kennard has resigned. The two most likely candidates are Secretary of State Colin Powell's son Michael, a champion of deregulation, and Pat Wood, the Texas Public Utility Commission chairman whom Bush tapped to implement state and federal laws to impose telephone competition in Texas while he was governor of the state. Another possibility is Wendy Gramm, the pro-market wife of Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas). There also is a possibility that the FTC would reverse its decision a year ago to call for legislation for online privacy, if Bush selects Gramm. Among the other high-tech posts that Bush must fill are several White House positions, and the high-tech industry also wants Bush to appoint a technology czar.
For information on ACM activities in the area of public policy, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.
- "California Energy Woes Affecting High-Tech"
InfoWorld (01/22/01) Vol. 23, No. 4, P. 29; Fonseca, Brian; Scannell, Ed; Neel, Dan
California's energy crisis, along with the state's expensive real estate and high corporate taxes, appears to be the impetus behind many high-tech firms either relocating to other areas or ceasing expansion in the state. Intel recently announced that it will not build any more manufacturing plants in California, while Cisco Systems is the most prominent firm so far to show an interest in relocating, considering joining as many as 15 other high-tech firms that have moved to southern Nevada. Austin, Seattle, Denver, Washington, D.C., and North Carolina have also benefited from California's woes by wooing unhappy Silicon Valley firms. Venture capitalists have also been pressuring California high-tech startups to contract their manufacturing facilities in other states if at all possible.
- "With Accessibility for All"
tele.com (01/22/01) Vol. 6, No. 2, P. 41; Moozakis, Chuck
ISPs are joining federal agencies in making their online services accessible to the disabled. Federal agencies are doing so because it is an official requirement. New rules added to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act went into effect in December. ISPs are following suit because it is a public good, to get more subscribers online, or to avoid a lawsuit. America Online, which saw the National Federation of the Blind drop a lawsuit against it, is one of the companies that is upgrading its online services for the disabled. After AOL said it would add the capability to support screen readers and other accessibility features to its browser, the organization abandoned its suit. The U.S. Internet Industry Association supports disability accessibility and the new federal guidelines, which closely resemble the guidelines of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The W3C guidelines point software developers and designers in the direction of how to make online content accessible to all.