Association for Computing Machinery
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 technews@hq.acm.org.

Volume 3, Issue 162:  Wednesday, February 7, 2001

  • "'Post-PC Era' Is Misnomer, Industry Specialists Say"
    Washington Times (02/06/01) P. B7; Lemke, Tim

    Many analysts do not believe the hype surrounding "the post-PC era," one of the hottest phrases within the high-tech industry. IBM, Palm, and Sun Microsystems, among others, have used the phrase in advertising campaigns, but analysts say the firms are more interested in generating buzz around their non-PC devices, such as PDAs and Internet appliances, than in redefining the focus of their industry. International Data analyst Roger Kay downplays the "death of the PC" hype. "I think that if you look at [PC sales] numbers," he says, "you're looking at a market where there were more than 100 million units shipped last year. It's very much overstated, much like everything in our country is overstated." Many analysts see "the post-PC era" as a time when the PC will not cease to exist but will instead become only one of several common devices, including PDAs, digital phones, and MP3 players.
    http://www.washtimes.com/business/default-200126212943.htm

  • "Dot-Bomb's Fallout Holds Lessons as Layoffs Mount"
    USA Today (02/07/01) P. 1A; Armour, Stephanie

    No one saw the layoffs coming at Versity.com last May, especially since the Internet startup had just signed a deal potentially worth $80 million with CollegeClub.com. Founded in 1998 by four University of Michigan students with a plan to sell online lecture notes, the company secured $12 million in funding and a headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. The ensuing story is easily imaginable, considering that 117 dot-coms failed between September 1999 and October 2000, according to Boston Consulting Group, but Versity co-founders Jeff Lawson and Jeremy Lappin, both 23, are still contemplating how it happened to them. Versity employees had worked 70-hour weeks and had a network of student note-takers in campuses around the country. When they finalized the deal with CollegeClub and the date of CollegeClub's IPO neared, it seemed that their dreams of becoming 20-something millionaires was coming true. However, the same month that half of Versity's employees relocated to CollegeClub's San Diego headquarters, former CFO Jeff Lawson was asked to start considering which workers to layoff. Investors were demanding profitability, and CollegeClub had been burning up to $200,000 per week. Nearly everyone from Versity has moved on now, but none are rich. Bradley Feuer, a 23-year-old former product manager for Versity, says, "By starting at Versity.com, we never had time to think about what we would do with our life."
    http://www.usatoday.com/news/acovwed.htm

  • "Computers Are Green After All"
    Environment News Service (02/05/01)

    Computers and the Internet use only 2 percent of the U.S. power supply each year, a new report from Berkeley Lab concludes. The 2 percent is a measure of office and network equipment, which use 74 TWh of electricity per year. When the energy used for computer and processor manufacturing and telephone switching equipment is counted, the total reaches 3 percent of annual power consumption in the United States. The reports challenges a 1999 study that found that Internet use accounted for 8 percent of all U.S. energy consumption. That study, by Mike Mills for the Greening Earth Society, estimated that within the next two decades the Internet would comprise nearly 50 percent of U.S. energy use. However, the Berkeley Lab report questions Mills' methodology. "Mills assumes, for example, that the active power of a personal computer plus monitor is 1,000 watts, when the measured data for a Pentium III PC with a 17-inch monitor show total active power use of 135 watts," the report states. The Berkeley Lab report also points out that improved power management devices could reduce power consumption from computers and the Internet by 17 TWh per year, while turning off equipment that is not needed during the night could reduce the consumption an additional 7 TWh per year.
    http://www.wirednews.com/news/technology/0,1282,41623,00.html

  • "Dotcom Shake-Out Brings an Opportunity for Others"
    Financial Times (02/06/01) P. 5; Luce, Edward

    As Silicon Valley's dot-com companies falter, other high-tech companies in the area see newly laid-off workers as a fresh resource to build their own companies. For example, leading Internet job search site Monster.com has more than doubled its resume listings in the last year. Jim Tracey, COO of TMP Worldwide, the corporation that owns Monster.com, argues that the economic downturn is not a deep recession and that the influx of highly skilled tech workers is a boon to other sectors of the economy. Besides skilled workers, venture capital dollars were another resource that was gobbled up by dot-coms in the e-commerce frenzy. Gregor Freund, president of Zonelabs, an Internet security company, says the venture capital focus is now on businesses that make valuable products--"as opposed to selling shampoo or whatever over the Internet," he quips. His company is finalizing $15 million in venture capital, investment money that he says would have been scarce for his offline company one or two years ago. Economic analyst Stephen Levy says other California high-tech growth areas, like optical networking, are more independent of domestic consumer spending because of their exports to global markets. Because of the relative strength of other such industry sectors, laid-off dot-com workers should not adversely affect unemployment numbers to any large extent. Even in the last quarter of 2000, California more than doubled the national average in job growth with a 3.2 percent increase.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Microsoft Renews Embedded-Items Push"
    Wall Street Journal (02/06/01) P. B2; Buckman, Rebecca

    Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer today will introduce several partnerships intended to improve the company's standing in the market for embedded software. Embedded software is technology that uses microprocessors and software to run a wide range of devices, from refrigerators to slot machines, making them smarter. For example, a refrigerator with embedded software might inform users when there are no more eggs. Microsoft has yet to gain a strong presence in the embedded software field, instead seeing firms such as Palm, Wind River Systems, and Sun Microsystems succeed. In fact, Microsoft has yet to crack the top 20 firms in the market, according to Gartner Dataquest's 1999 figures. However, the company believes that its new partnerships, including deals with chipmakers Intel, MIPS Technologies, and ARM Holdings, will begin to change that. The partnerships are significant because they mark the first time that Microsoft will allow outside firms to alter the source code for its Windows CE operating system. Microsoft officials hope that the assistance of these chipmakers, as well as improvements made to last year's upgrade to the Windows CE platform, will change the industry perception that Microsoft products are not reliable enough to serve as the basis for embedded software. Bill Veghte, the Microsoft vice president in charge of embedded platforms, notes that his revenue has already seen a 300 percent rise in revenue this fiscal year and now counts 450 hardware partners.
    http://www.msnbc.com/news/526900.asp
    Steve Ballmer will be a featured speakers at ACM's upcoming conference ACM1: Beyond Cyberspace. . .A Journey of many Directions. For more information, visit http://www.acm.org/acm1.

  • "Survey--FTIT: New Codes Open Doors for Non-Roman Alphabet Users"
    Financial Times (02/07/01) P. 2; Perkin, Julian

    ASCII, the system that was originally used to represent letters on computers, only uses 50 percent of the 256 codes that can be used to recognize characters. The remaining 128 codes can be leveraged for a variety of uses. One use is to represent characters with accents. However, different standards have appeared, and this is why gibberish appears in some foreign emails. The International Standards Organisation (ISO) will be giving standard meanings to the leftover 128 codes in a standard called "Latin-1" or "extended ASCII." Another coding system, called Unicode, was created for Asian language use. Unicode uses a double-byte system, which means it uses two times the data to represent every character. Unicode can handle upward of 65,000 unique characters, and this is sufficient for the Chinese, Korean, and Japanese languages as well as other foreign character languages such as Greek, Hebrew, Russian, and Arabic. Unicode stores an entire word in the same space needed to store two letters. It is available through software applications and browsers, but a plug-in is often needed. Unicode can usually be downloaded on Web browsers, but it significantly enlarges the Web browser and does not work in all instances. This will change as Unicode is adopted in upcoming versions of HTML. Specialist browsers including Tango and Mozilla were created to manage alternative character systems. Software products that help manage different character systems are also available through standard computer systems such as Macintosh and Windows. Domain names have been available for registration in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean characters since November. However, both VeriSign and i-DNS have yet to gain ICANN's full support, according to Net Searchers. And the Chinese government also offers a registration system.

  • "EToys to Lay Off Its Remaining Workers"
    New York Times (02/06/01) P. C8; Richtel, Matt

    The e-tailer eToys has told its remaining 293 employees that it will completely close operations on April 6 unless it is rescued by third parties in the meantime. The announcement did not surprise industry observers. The firm's stock had taken a devastating hit after the holiday season, despite sales growth of 23 percent, up to $131 million. However, this was still not enough to please investors, and eToys posted an operating loss of $74.5 million, or 52 cents per share. Nasdaq had already issued a warning to the e-tailer, saying it would be delisted because of its stock's inability to rise above the $1 qualifying mark for 30 consecutive days. However, eToys' Gary Gerdemann said the company was not defunct until April and that, until then, "We're business as usual on a reduced staff."
    http://www.nytimes.com/2001/02/06/technology/06ETOY.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors will need to register.)

  • "Web Hosts Terror Traffic"
    USA Today (02/06/01) P. 1A; Kelley, Jack

    U.S. security experts are warning of the increasing sophistication of terrorist activities on the Internet, including the use of encrypted messages to communicate directives for plots involving Osama bin Ladan's al Qaida group and others. Ben Venzke, special projects director for the cyberintelligence company iDefense, says, "The operational details and future targets, in many cases, are hidden in plain view on the Internet." Those studying terrorist activity on the Internet say terrorist groups are using free encryption software downloaded from privacy Web sites and then hiding the messages almost anywhere on the Internet, including sports chat rooms and pornography bulletin boards. Security officials say it is extremely difficult to coax out the meaning of the secret missives without the selected "key" chosen by the recipient. Moreover, the messages are scattered over the expanse of the Internet, hidden in any type of digital data, including images. Bin Ladan increased use of encryption in his operations after U.S. officials recently revealed that they were tracking his communications.
    http://www.usatoday.com/life/cyber/tech/2001-02-05-binladen.htm

  • "Hackers' Forum"
    International Herald Tribune (02/06/01) P. 11; Buerkle, Tom

    Unknown persons hacked into a confidential database at last week's World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, accessing credit-card information and other private data on some 1,400 participants. Forum officials revealed that the hackers stole the information from a database at the organization's headquarters in Geneva. The information pertained specifically to people and businesses that had attended World Economic Forum events around the world this year, many of whom were in Davos last week. The information appeared on a CD that the press obtained from protesters outside the forum's meeting place. The protesters' presence had already caused the forum to take security precautions, such as barbed wire and police barricades near the conference center where its members met, but forum spokesperson Charles McLean said yesterday that it will now have to consider extra security for its IT systems as well. However, at a session at last week's meeting, Stanford Law professor Lawrence Lessig warned attendees, "MIT undergrads will always be able to crack any [security] system we think up."
    http://www.iht.com/articles/9813.html

  • "Upbeat on Area's Tech Sector"
    Washington Post (02/06/01) P. E5; Irwin, Neil

    Washington, D.C.-area tech companies are faring well compared to those in Silicon Valley, according to a new report from DC Agenda, a think tank based at George Mason University. Heavy government spending, while not offering as much glitz as the private sector, has insulated tech service companies from the economic downturn. The report found that government spending amounted to $13.5 billion in 1999, or 38 percent of Washington-area tech sales. This was a far greater share than Silicon Valley's $2.3 billion sold in government services, making up only 4.7 percent of that region's tech sales. Services also comprise 86 percent of tech jobs around Washington, whereas a majority of tech jobs in Silicon Valley are in manufacturing. The District itself is far less reliant on tech jobs than outlying areas in Maryland and Virginia, with only 1 percent of the tech workforce in the city. Comparatively, the greater Washington area boasts 10.9 percent of its jobs in technology.
    http://washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A31055-2001Feb5.html

  • "As Easy As Breathing"
    Boston Globe (02/04/01) P. H1; Weisman, Robert

    Michael Dertouzos, director of MIT's Laboratory for Computer Science, is pioneering the Oxygen research project, an initiative to develop what Dertouzos calls "human-centric computing." Human-centric computing revolves around highly intuitive technology so pervasive as to be invisible, Dertouzos explains. "From now on, computer systems should focus on our needs and capabilities, instead of forcing us to bow down to their complex, incomprehensible, and mechanistic details," Dertouzos writes in his upcoming book, "The Unfinished Revolution: Human-Centered Computers and What They Can Do For Us." Private industry and the Pentagon are underwriting the MIT Lab's research, a five-year, $50 million project involving 150 to 200 researchers. The Oxygen Alliance includes such industry leaders as Hewlett-Packard, Philips Research, and Nokia Research Center. At a feedback session in mid-January, Fred Kitson of HP Labs advised Dertouzos to concentrate on creating a "pervasive computing ecosystem" to narrow the gap between slow idea development and commercialization. "Initially it will be difficult because it requires taking a customer-centric rather than a technology-centric point of view," explains Adrian J. Slywotzsky of Mercer Management Consulting. In his book, Dertouzos describes three primary technologies the Oxygen project is exploring. The Handy 21 would be a handheld device that incorporates the functions of most palm-sized products currently on the market. The Enviro 21 would be a computing environment the size of a room or office capable of speech recognition, face recognition, motion detection, and wall-mounted displays. The third type of technology, the N21 Network, would link the Handy and the Enviro together. Dertouzos expects human-centric computing to be realized in the next 10 to 20 years.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "U.S. to Intervene in Domain Name Disputes"
    NewsFactor Network (02/06/01); Lyman, Jay

    On Feb. 8, a few of the companies that are unhappy with ICANN's top level domain selections will plead their case to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which is chaired by Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.). The hearing might not generate legislation, but the committee has to look into the issue, says Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson. "In a nutshell, the hearing will examine the process ICANN used to arrive at its new TLD names," says Johnson. The hearing is probably intended to make sure everyone knows what is happening, says ICANN spokesman Brett LaGrande. Those companies that disagree with ICANN's decisions are hurt because the TLDs they desired were not selected, says LaGrande. However, these companies were not rejected, contends LaGrande. LaGrande says ICANN will send representatives to the hearing, including Chairman Vint Cerf. NeuStar, the company that successfully bid for the .biz TLD, will also send representatives to the hearing in order to testify. There are other decision makers in the domain name market, and a few ICANN observers are unsure that the organization has the ability to maintain its authority globally.
    http://dailynews.yahoo.com/htx/nf/20010206/tc/7299_1.html
    For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/serving/IG.html

  • "Salary Surge Headed for a Slowdown"
    InformationWeek Online (01/29/01); Goodridge, Elisabeth

    IT pay is expected to plummet this year as the economy slows, a recent survey by Janco Associates found. IT salaries rose from an average of $97,000 in 1999 to over $100,000 last year, Janco reports. Although there is still a high demand for and a short supply of high-tech personnel, which in recent times has increased IT pay, Janco expects the slowing economy to lower IT pay. Although many firms are adding to compensation packages, throwing in fringe benefits and other goodies, there is a move away from such packages and an increased demand for actual cash. Regardless, many industry experts say IT workers are rebelling against the new belt-tightening, and some workers, such as those in network security, are demanding more generous salaries, even if they have very little experience.
    http://www.informationweek.com/822/salary.htm

  • "China Struggles to Find Money to Nurture High-Tech Industries"
    Associated Press (02/06/01)

    Chinese tech entrepreneurs face a number of difficulties in taking advantage of the increasingly open Chinese market. A recent technology trade fair in the southern city of Shenzhen promoted the inventions of thousands of Chinese innovators wooing foreign investment dollars, but overseas visitors were more intent on introducing their high-tech goods to the Chinese market. The entrance of China into the WTO later this year will loosen restrictions that global investors say have hindered them from pledging money to the Chinese market, but Chinese officials and industry experts predict that it still will not be what they want. Although foreign companies have expressed a keen interest in the high-tech promise of China, they are reluctant to enter into partnerships with local businesses. Another barrier to the nascent Chinese tech industry, which comprises only 2 percent of the economy, is the pronounced lack of highly skilled workers. Although China has made significant progress in market reform, with higher education there decidedly ahead of other developing nations, there is a lack of the kind of young, tech-savvy workers who have built up the high-tech industry in other countries. One reason for this is the large number of Chinese graduate students who go abroad to study and decide not to return to their homeland.

  • "Future Chips: Headed for Heat Problems"
    PC World.com (02/05/01); Mainelli, Tom

    If processors continue to be built using current methods, a CPU's power requirements will cancel out its usability, warned Intel's Patrick Gelsinger at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference. Gelsinger said a way to boost computing speed without producing additional power must be developed, and he detailed several options that Intel is researching, including multihead CPUs, L2 caches, multiple CPUs on a single die, and low-power transistors.

    Heat sinks and fans used to cool down chips will not work in the future, Gelsinger said. On a more positive note, Gelsinger predicted that future processors would be able to support such functions as network communications, speech to text, encryption, 3D gesture recognition, and natural language processing. According to Gelsinger's forecast, processor performance will be measured in tera instructions per second, or TIPS, instead of millions of instructions per second, or MIPS. Gelsinger added that future desktop PCs will have the processing power of current ultraexpensive models.
    http://www.pcworld.com/resource/article/0,aid,40466,00.asp

  • "Disability Groups Decry 'Whale of a Loophole'"
    Federal Times (01/29/01) Vol. 36, No. 52, P. 3; Robb, Karen

    Federal agencies struggling to comply with the June 19 deadline for accessibility requirements received a welcome break from the Federal Acquisition Regulation Council. The FAR Council, an inter-agency group responsible for writing acquisition policy, published a new draft amendment to Section 508 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act that exempted any agency equipment bought with government purchase cards from compliance until Jan. 1, 2003. Government purchase cards cover work-related acquisitions under $2,500. Although disability groups are outraged over the "whale of a loophole," technology officials are relieved at the announcement. Rex Lint of the Information Technology Association of America says, "It will give everyone time to learn about the regulations. You can't do something like this overnight." The FAR Council noted that many off-the-shelf technology products did not comply with the regulation's standards and made it nearly impossible for government agencies that used the purchase cards. Officials added that they expect most products will comply with disability standards by 2003.

  • "Your Perfect Job Candidate Needs a Visa -- What to Do?"
    Potomac Tech Journal (01/29/01) Vol. 2, No. 5, P. 19; FitzGerald, Scott J.; Dahan, Leslie Abella

    Firms seeking to hire foreign workers should be aware of the several different work visas available. The H-1B visa, popular among high-tech firms, requires recipients to have at least a bachelor's degree in the field in which he or she will be employed. Employers must pay the workers a competitive salary in comparison with workers in similar positions within the employers' region. A fee of $1,000 for science and high-tech training for U.S. students must also be paid by employers. Only 195,000 H-1B visas are available each year, and it can take as long as four months to process applications, so firms must plan ahead if they hope to snare prospective workers. TN visas are available for workers from Canada and Mexico who specialize in certain technical fields. E visas are meant for foreign workers of a foreign firm with an office in the United States. For firms receiving a foreign worker through an exchange with a foreign country, the L visa is appropriate. Also available are J visas, for scholars and trainees, and the O visas, for foreign nationals with exceptional abilities. When hiring a foreign worker, whether they are aware that worker is a U.S. citizen or not, firms must take caution not to violate regulations on what questions a firm may ask of a prospective country. The two authorized questions are "Are you legally authorized to work in the United States?," and "Do you now or will you in the future require sponsorship for employment visa status?" Firms that knowingly hire a foreign worker who is not authorized to work in the United States or that do not take the steps necessary to find out a prospective employee's legal status can be subject to significant penalties.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Spending on the Rise"
    Network World (01/29/01) Vol. 18, No. 5, P. 56; Gaudin, Sharon

    Despite rumblings of an economic slowdown, corporate spending on network systems is likely to increase this year, according to a new Network World magazine survey. More than 50 percent of respondents said they would increase network spending this year, averaging 9.9 percent growth over last year. Among firms with budgets of $500,000 or more, about half say they will increase spending by 11 percent or more, and about one-quarter project network spending increases of 25 percent or more. Of mid-sized firms, 40 percent say they will increase network spending by 11 percent or more. However, Network World reports that nearly half of all responding firms plan spending increases of 10 percent or less. Still, the survey's overall growth projection shows an increase over last year's. Among the areas of network spending firms with big budgets are concentrating on are e-commerce, security, capital equipment, and videoconferencing. Mid-sized and small firms are concentrating more on network infrastructure. The survey also found that network spending will be directed in three main areas: capital equipment, accounting for nearly 50 percent, labor costs, accounting for 34 percent, and outsourcing, about 20 percent.
    http://www.nwfusion.com/research/2001/0129feat.html

  • "Where Has All the Talent Gone?"
    CIO (01/15/01) Vol. 14, No. 7, P. 60; Genusa, Angela

    "You can't just take a shotgun approach to recruiting anymore," advises Brannick Human Resources President Joan Brannick. A recruiter should study the top 10 percent or 15 percent of his company's workforce to define the qualities an ideal employee possesses. The next step is to go after prime candidates using a soft sell approach rather than making cold calls, recommends John Sullivan of San Francisco State University. "If you're a top performer, the last thing you want to hear is some recruiter saying, 'I have a job for you,'" notes Sullivan. IS managers must actively build relationships with potential employees and participate in the recruiting process rather than take a back seat to human resources. The best employees will be attracted to a company that emphasizes and markets its uniqueness. "A strong employment brand allows you to draw a certain type of employee with some homogeneousness around a mind-set about the way to treat each other and a way to work that is extremely appealing--yet still get diversity," observes William M. Mercer Principal Mitch Potter. IT professionals are more inclined to work for a company that promotes itself as offering "the best work to do" rather than "the best place to work," Potter contends. Surveys indicate that IT people prefer to work in an environment where management appreciates and respects them, says Potter. A September 2000 Meta Group study authored by Meta Group Vice President John Santos calls an employee value proposition a strong selling point. "A well-developed employee value proposition will appeal to the specific professionals a company wants to attract by reinforcing corporate culture and brand, inspiring values, creating a sense of belonging and shaping every aspect of business behavior," Santos writes. Employee referrals are the most effective recruiting method. "If a company today isn't finding between 40 percent to 50 percent of their hires through their own employee referral program, they're losing the talent war," says Todd Hand, formerly of Idealab.
    http://www.cio.com/archive/011501/hs_hiring.html