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Volume 3, Issue 166: Friday, February 16, 2001
- "Dell Computer to Cut Work Force by 4%"
New York Times (02/16/01) P. C3; Gaither, Chris
Dell Computer will lay off 1,700 employees, 4 percent of its 40,200-person work force, the computer manufacturer announced yesterday. ING analyst Robert Cihra marks the importance of such an event at Dell by noting that the company is one of the most efficient in the tech sector. He suggests that if such actions are required at Dell, then it is likely reflective of an across-the-board slump in which "every company, no matter who they are, is tightening their belts." Dell officials announced lower-than-expected revenues for its last quarter, which saw the company gain considerable market share due to aggressive pricing. Company officials explained that despite the increased sales, profit margins had fallen from 21 percent to 18 percent. In related news, Hewlett-Packard CEO Carleton Fiorina told analysts her company did not anticipate double-digit revenue growth this year, having achieved only a 2 percent gain last quarter. Hewlett-Packard CFO Robert P. Wayman found a small reason for optimism in that January revenues were up slightly over December.
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- "Are Unions Strangling E-Commerce?"
E-Commerce Times (02/16/01); Mahoney, Michael
Recent organized labor efforts at struggling e-tailers, including Webvan and Etown, have led industry watchers to question whether unions are pushing these companies into bankruptcy. John Challenger, CEO for Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a job outplacement firm, says startup dot-coms are not able to provide the benefits, security, and other amenities for which unions are fighting. He says attempts to unionize in these situations are unrealistic and can lead to a company meltdown by scaring off vital investment dollars. Etown announced this week that it was closing operations, following months of conflict with union organizers. Communications Workers of America's Jeff Miller defends the labor efforts at that company, saying the business situation was what caused worker strife, not the other way around. Mandatory overtime, sudden schedule shifts, and little holiday leave were among the problems cited at Etown and Amazon.com. The Seattle e-tail giant recently laid off 1,300 workers, and union organizers helped some employees stage a walkout last week.
- "Needy Employers Take EEs in Unexpected Directions"
EE Times Online (02/14/01); Kraft, Keri Resh
Recent estimates have found that the tech industry will require 1 million additional workers by 2005. Recent and future engineering graduates will enjoy this demand, according a new survey by Jobtrak.com. In fact, the survey found that 30 percent of engineering graduates have at least four job offers waiting for them. The average beginning salary for engineers reached $49,884 in December, according to Jobtrak's monthly index. Increasingly, young engineers are finding their services in demand from what they might consider to be unlikely sources. For example, the medical-device industry has a very strong need for engineers, who design components, including analog ICs, for a wide range of devices, including neurological stimulators, visualization systems, and pacemakers. "Careers in the medical-device industry provide engineers with great personal satisfaction and meaning," says Julie Friedman of Medtronic. "These engineers get to work toward alleviating pain, restoring health and extending life." Unusual positions are also cropping up within more traditional industries. For example, Hewlett-Packard needs engineers who can double as sales representatives. These engineers work to form strong relationships with customers so they can then design products to meet customers' needs. Another new position at HP is the marketing engineer, who not only works with customers to develop new ideas for the marketplace but also helps trumpet those new ideas to the press.
- "To Be More Usable, Desktops Need to Take a Page From Hand-Helds"
Los Angeles Times (02/15/01) P. T7; Chapman, Gary
The success of Palm and other handheld devices should lead PC and software engineers in a new design direction, argues Mark Chapman. Handheld computers have met with great satisfaction with consumers not only because of its size and portability, but also because of it is always on, its operating system is easy to navigate, and its memory is reliable as long as it is kept powered up. University of Maryland computer science expert Ben Shneidermann argues that a similar approach to PC desktops would meet the needs of users. "It's certainly time to get angry about the quality of [PC] interfaces," he says. "There are just too many frustrations in everyday use, and the public is tired of the industry's excuses." Shneidermann contends that PC desktops should be more flexible and seek to meet the user's needs rather than forcing users to learn complex, bloated software. PCs should have always-on capability and should let users access files and programs at any time. In fact, Shneidermann contends that users should be able to access their files and programs across a wide range of platforms. He also believes that software should let users select an experience level so that they do not have to use features with which they are not comfortable or that they do not need. Shneidermann criticizes software engineers for trying to design "smart" programs that try to adapt to users' needs because they seldom work as users would want.
- "Fury After Dotcom Rout"
Financial Times (02/15/01) P. 12; Waldmeir, Patti
With an increasing number of dot-coms struggling, observers have noted a rise in the number of lawsuits filed against dot-coms by former employees. In many cases, the employees are seeking unpaid wages or redress for what they felt were unfair or arbitrary dismissals. One woman, Juliana Rubenstein, claims that she was fired from a position at Hollywood Stock Exchange because her employers feared that she would take maternity leave--she was nine months pregnant--and not return. The common dot-com practice of replacing or supplementing salaries with stock options has come under intense legal scrutiny in recent months. Now that the market for dot-com IPOs has dried up, with many dot-coms deciding not to go public at all, employees who had decided on taking a job based on the riches that those options promised, often leaving secure jobs or relocating from another city to do so, are furious. Several dot-com executives report that they are facing "fraudulent inducement" lawsuits for failing to provide the promised options. Observers say other recent complaints made against dot-coms, including harassment and discrimination cases, are in part a result of the sense of camaraderie and the lack of traditional workplace decorum in many dot-coms. For example, what dot-com employees may consider a joke among friends can be a comment subject to legal action. Also, many dot-com executives do not have a clear knowledge of business law, observers say, basing hiring and firing decisions on subjective reasons that may make sense to them but that could lack a legal basis.
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- "Fans the Size of a Grain of Sand May One Day Cool Computers"
New York Times (02/15/01) P. E10; Eisenberg, Anne
Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder used solder to create a microfan that hoists fan blades up from the chip, compared to the current acid bath technique of burning objects out of chips like sculpture from stone slabs. More than 3,000 microfans can cover 1 cubic inch, and researchers are now eying them as chip-level cooling tools for personal computers. The first blade was constructed by mechanical engineering graduate student Paul E. Kladitis, who was able, through this technique, to create fan blades at an angle: like upside-L shapes with the small foot at any desired angle. The old acidic method could only create objects within the chip's plane, while the new solder method can pull blades up at an angle to overhang the chip's surface. Dr. Richard R. A. Syms of Imperial College, London, has been continuing work on this promising method. "We have demonstrated it with meltable pads of solder, glass or polymer, rotating parts made of silicon, copper or nickel," Syms says. However, more engineering must be done to see if microfans can run at necessary speeds and whether they possess necessary strength, among other questions.
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- "Microsoft Faces New Antitrust Probe Over Corel Deal"
Washington Post (02/15/01) P. E1; Johnson, Carrie
The Justice Department is investigating Microsoft's $135 million investment in Corel, the maker of WordPerfect software, department officials said yesterday. Microsoft invested in Corel last October and in return received 24 million shares of stock. After the investment, Corel said it would no longer develop software for Linux, the open-source operating system that competes with Microsoft's dominant Windows platform. Iowa Gov. Tom Miller, speaking for the 17 states that filed an antitrust lawsuit against the software company, said his coalition would look into Microsoft's latest actions. Microsoft's Jim Cullinan said the company was cooperating with the government investigation. However, Cullinan denied that the two companies' agreement required Corel to forego developing software for Microsoft's competitors. "There's nothing in that deal that does anything to require exclusivity," he said. In related news, the Justice Department yesterday said it would not pursue an antitrust investigation into Microsoft's December $1.1 billion merger with Great Plains Software.
- "Network Solutions Sells Marketers Its Web Database"
Wall Street Journal (02/16/01) P. B1; Weber, Thomas E.
Network Solutions is offering data about the companies registered in its database to marketing companies. Network Solutions will offer the information that is normally collected every time a Web site address is registered, such as the company's name and street address, but will complement this data with information about the Web site's activity, including whether the site is dormant or not, if it participates in e-commerce, and whether it has security. The latter information is collected using software that works much like search engines at catalog sites, except this software searches for phrases like "credit cards accepted" and "online ordering," says Doug Wolford, general manager for Web presence at VeriSign. Network Solutions is now making moves to generate revenues from this information, although it had already been offering the information for the past year in a less publicized manner, according to the company. Data about Web site registrants is already available to the public; however, it is more beneficial to have full control over the data, which is why Network Solutions is providing the information at a cost and under its own guidelines. Network Solutions removes email addresses from the data and does not permit the information to be used for email marketing. Normally, companies that purchase the information use it to complement customer lists they already possess, notes Wolford. Network Solutions' customers can choose not to be on offered lists, and only information on businesses is provided in these marketing drives. The data is particularly lucrative to those that sell to small businesses, says Network Solutions. There is a concern that this data would be used for something other than simply obtaining an address, privacy advocates say.
- "Injunction Against Barnesandnoble.com Is Overturned"
New York Times (02/15/01) P. C8; Hansell, Saul
A panel of federal judges in Washington has lifted the injunction that prevented Barnesandnoble.com from using the Express Lane checkout feature on its Web site because it was too similar to Amazon.com's patented 1-Click method. A federal judge in Seattle ruled in 1999 that Amazon would likely win its patent-infringement suit against Barnesandnoble and ordered the bookseller to halt the Express Lane feature. In their ruling yesterday, the three appellate judges agreed that Amazon probably would win its suit. However, the judges said there was enough doubt about Amazon's patent claim to warrant lifting the injunction. Barnesandnoble, which replaced its Express Lane feature with a two-click method, argues that one-click shopping existed long before Amazon patented it. If true, that would mean one-click shopping is a "prior art," and Amazon's patent, under patent law, would be invalid. Barnesandnoble contends that CompuServe used one-click shopping at the beginning of the 1990s. Observers say the Amazon case, if it goes to trial, could set an important precedent for the future of so-called business-method patents. Critics charge that these patents, which protect features such as Amazon's 1-Click shopping or Priceline.com's name-your-own-price service, are granted too freely and violate the spirit of patent law by granting protection to ideas that are not particularly unique or innovative. Indeed, even Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos argues that such patents should only last for three to five years, compared to the 20-year life of most patents. However, the courts and Congress have both shown favor toward business-method patents in recent years.
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- "Women's High-Tech Coalition Debuts on Wednesday"
The Women's High Tech Coalition, a group of women consisting of industry and government representatives, was to have held its inaugural meeting on Feb. 14. The group's purpose is to build relationships with Congress and to form a better understanding of technology issues, says the coalition's communications chair, Jennifer Greeson. Indeed, the aim of Wednesday's meeting was to examine the prospects for technology legislation from the 107th Congress. Speakers at the meeting were to have included co-chairs Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R-Wash.), and Northern Virginia Technology Council President Bobbie Kilberg.
To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.
- "Teaching Penguins to Fly"
IT Forecaster (02/13/01); Dutton, Geoffrey
Although users of the open-source Linux operating system have largely depended on the community of dedicated Linux users to address problems, analysts say that model is not as viable for corporate users. Unlike ardent open-source enthusiasts, corporate users are not likely to have connections to the open-source community, nor will they have the time to wait for someone from that community to respond to their inquiries. For these reasons, International Data (IDC) predicts that the market for organized Linux support, currently worth only $56 million, will near $285 million by 2004. However, vendors of Linux support face challenges unique to the Linux community. As an open source program, Linux is always changing, and different clients may have different versions of the software based on their original distributor. IDC also predicts an expansion of the market for Linux training, which was worth only $10.3 million in 1999. IDC forecasts the market's worth in 2004 to be between $118.9 million and $311.0 million. IDC analysts say Linux's growth is still in flux, which accounts for the wide range of their prediction.
- "Internet Voting: an Alternative to Chads?"
Medill News Service (02/15/01); O'Neill, Jennifer
Members of Congress recently saw a demonstration of Itrust, a new Internet-based voting system from Identix and EDS. The system, which Identix officials say would be ideal for military personnel voting from overseas, uses a fingerprint-reading device to verify the identity of each voter before and after he or she votes. However, the system does not link the voter's identity and his or her vote in its records, providing anonymity. Rep. David Price (D-N.C.), who heads a group of Democrats investigating election reform, says online voting is one of several options that his group is considering. "We have a broad mandate to look at all methods," he says. "This is not simply a matter of a technical fix." Although Price expects to have some solutions in place before the 2002 elections, he says he does not want to impose a federal mandate on state and local election systems. However, not everyone believes that the Internet will be able to prevent the problems that plagued Florida last year. In fact, Curtis Gans of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate argues that online voting could make matter worse because of the potential for technological breakdowns or bugs. "We are not protected 100 percent against breakdowns, and even then there are hackers and viruses. Until we have 100 percent protection, we cannot move to online voting." Identix executive vice president Grant Evans contends that continuous improvements to technology will make its system more reliable.
- "Internet Naming Group Criticized"
Associated Press (02/14/01); Hopper, D. Ian
ICANN has been quite secretive about its internal processes, according to Karl Auerbach, one of its board members, in testimony at a hearing on Capitol Hill yesterday. The five elected ICANN board members have short terms when compared to the board members who were appointed when ICANN was formed, Auerbach testified. ICANN committee financials are not included in ICANN's annual financial statements, Auerbach also said. Auerbach said that he is kept out of ICANN meetings and that he is responsible for ICANN's actions despite being unaware of how the organization spends its money. "We know more about how the College of Cardinals in Rome elects a pope than we do about how ICANN makes its decisions," Auerbach said. ICANN remains an experimental organization and is still dealing with issues that have never been dealt with before, says ICANN President and CEO Michael M. Roberts. ICANN's success can be seen in increased competition in the domain name registration industry, says Roberts. While discussing the introduction of new top level domains, University of Miami law Professor A. Michael Froomkin asserts that adding new categories is simple, and only requires the entry of a few lines of code. Palestine was given a new TLD recently, and "the Internet did not come grinding to a halt," says Froomkin. Clashing policies might stem from decentralization, notes Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). For example, VeriSign allows all users to determine who owns a specific Internet address right away, for free; however, eNIC charges $15 and sends the response through U.S. mail while simultaneously notifying the domain name owner when the same query is made. Both Boxer and Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) acknowledge that they have much to learn, and referred to the hearing as a "learning experience."
For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/serving/IG.html.
- "The New Rules at Work"
Internet World (02/15/01) Vol. 7, No. 4, P. 26; Isenberg, Doug
Although the emergence of the Internet and the dot-com economy has given many high-tech employees the opportunity to earn excellent salaries and valuable stock options, not to mention a host of attractive perks, some recent events have shown these employees and their employers that the new economy has not come problem-free. A recent settlement between Microsoft and its so-called "permatemps," temporary workers who have been employed by the company for many years, awarded a group of these workers $97 million based on benefits they were unable to receive because of their temporary status. However, Doug Isenberg argues that this settlement could impact the entire high-tech sector because companies will have to consider its consequences before they hire temporary workers or independent contractors. Also, recent unionization attempts at Amazon.com, Webvan, and a few other high-tech companies, once considered immune to unions and other stalwarts of the old economy, have highlighted that many new economy jobs, beyond the gloss of the Internet and e-commerce, are still very similar to old economy positions.
- "Recession? What Recession?"
eWeek (02/12/01) Vol. 18, No. 6, P. 49; Rice, Valerie
Enterprises are continuing to invest in e-commerce despite the dot-com shakeout and forecasts of a recession, but with a more mature perspective that focuses on efficient supply-chain management, lower operating costs, and better customer service. Large and midsize business will boost Web technology spending from $49 billion to $110 billion between 1999 and 2004, according to Cahners InStat Group. A survey by AMR Research estimates that 87 percent of businesses will either increase e-commerce spending or maintain a steady spending rate, while 94 percent intend to raise or sustain current e-marketplace investment levels. "The bulk of the money companies can make in e-business is going to come from using the Web to be more efficient," predicts Giga Information Group analyst Chip Glidman. However, it is foolhardy for a company to spend money just to cut costs and streamline the supply chain, warns Gartner Group analyst Carol Rozwell. Finding new clients is another reason for rising e-business investments. For instance, Eastman Chemical recently launched 10 new applications to ease customer transactions and is developing multiple language sites for Latin America, Europe, and Asia. To keep Web business a mainstream enterprise operation, Eastman and other companies are enhancing e-commerce and back-end integration and implementing e-commerce responsibility into their core business units.
- "Wall St. IT Women Trail Men in Pay"
Computerworld (02/12/01) Vol. 35, No. 7, P. 14; Trombly, Maria
Male financial IT professionals earn 50 percent more than women in the same positions, a new survey from AG Barrington concludes. Based on a sample of 200 financial IT professionals, AG Barrington found that men with IT jobs in the securities industry have a median income of $218,000. For women, that amount is $143,000. AG Barrington managing director Alan Geller says women have not been as eager as men to take the best jobs in the direct sales field because the jobs require a great deal of time and travel. Geller notes, "The quality-of-life issues were definitely more important to the women than to the men." However, GirlGeeks CEO Kristine Hanna says now more men are seeking balance between work and personal time, meaning women may no longer have to give up the latter to gain the former. She adds that women also have better odds in finding a job because companies are actively seeking to hire them. Overall, Geller says experience may be the major cause of the difference in salaries between men and women. The survey found that men surveyed had a median experience of 14 years, while women had 12.5 years experience.
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To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.
- "Computer Compost"
Interactive Week (02/12/01) Vol. 8, No. 6, P. 46; Bryce, Robert
With the National Recycling Coalition predicting that there will be some 500 million obsolete personal computers by 2007, observers now fear that there will not be enough computer-recycling companies to combat computer waste problems. The group found that 20 million computers were taken out of service in 1998, but only 10 percent were recycled. Computer manufacturers, including Hewlett-Packard, Gateway, and Dell, have responded to these fears by introducing their own recycling programs. IBM has an innovative program that has consumers return their computers. The company then either recycles the machine or donates it to charity. The service costs consumers $29.99. Some manufacturers are even responding by making design changes. Panasonic and Sony are using lead-free solder, Apple has standardized the type of plastic it will use, HP no longer uses mercury in some printers, and IBM is using snap fasteners instead of screws so that computers can be taken apart more quickly. European governments have taken the first steps to keep old computers and their dangerous substances--mercury, cadmium, and arsenic--out of landfills. The Netherlands requires companies to take back their old electronics, while in Switzerland consumers must pay a recycling fee when they purchase a computer.
- "The New Economy Comes of Age in the Capitol"
California Journal (02/01) Vol. 32, No. 2, P. 8; Rodriguez, Emelyn
The current problems surrounding dot-coms has done nothing to quell interest in the Internet in Sacramento. Dozens of lobbying firms now represent the tech industry full-time in California's capital city. Industry associations such as the California Manufacturers Association, which is now the California Manufacturers and Technology Association, are changing their names to show that technology is now an important part of their agenda. Also, the number of tech-related legislative committees and state agencies continues to grow with the likes of the New Economy Committee, the Technology, Trade and Commerce Agency, and its Division of Science, Technology and Innovation. As the dominant issue at the Capitol, the New Economy will be debated largely in relation to energy and privacy. On energy, Debra Bowen (D-Redondo Beach), chair of the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee, says lawmakers need to address supply quality, sources of power, rising energy prices, and conservation, a subject into which she believes the high-tech industry will be able to provide some insight. However, some observers are linking the energy crisis to the increased use of new technology. Privacy is likely to be just as big an issue. Gov. Gray Davis signed a number of privacy measures last year, but some lawmakers believe more should be done. For example, Assemblyman Tim Leslie (R-Tahoe City) has a bill that would crackdown on how financial institutions use consumer information. Electronic tracking of individual financial transactions and using digital location technology on cell phones are privacy issues that could be addressed as well. Lawmakers are also expected to focus on training workers, adding infrastructure in rural and other underserved areas, and offering tax credits to high-tech companies to give the economy a boost, as well as the digital divide, education, housing, and transportation.
- "Information Warfare: Time to Prepare"
Issues in Science and Technology (02/01) Vol. 17, No. 2, P. 37; Berkowitz, Bruce
U.S. military and intelligence officials are greatly concerned about the possibility of information warfare (IW)--attacks on the nation's information infrastructure by foreign powers or terrorists. Although recent hacker attacks on commercial sites such as Yahoo!, eBay, and Amazon.com have given some hint as to what IW could be like, experts say a true IW attack could be devastating, mostly because no one, either in the private or public sector, is prepared. IW attacks would likely target commercial sites, as these sites are particularly vulnerable and largely unaware that they, and not the military, would be in an attacker's sights. Moreover, the government today is dependent on commercial information systems--an IW attack on popular mass-media Web sites could seriously hamper the government's ability to communicate with the nation in case of an emergency. A significant problem to detecting and stopping IW is that perpetrators give few clues to their presence or purpose. Unlike hackers, who rely more on their wits than anything else and often want only to attract attention, terrorists and foreign powers can work in secret and can marshal significant resources and funds for their activities. The government has taken steps to combat IW, but experts question how effective these steps have been. Moreover, experts say the government and military may be in the worst position to combat IW because their technology is not as advanced as that which private-sector firms have developed. However, many in the corporate IT world have a great distrust and often dislike for the government. On numerous occasions, the government has frustrated major IT companies by leveling antitrust charges at them or by attempting to stop them from developing new encryption systems because such systems could pose a risk to national security. However, experts say government must give industry greater leeway in developing encryption and other IT security technologies in order to protect the nation from an "electronic Pearl Harbor."