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 email@example.com.
Volume 3, Issue 171: Friday, March 2, 2001
- "The Future Is a Synthesis of Bricks and Clicks"
Financial Times (03/02/01) P. 10; Kim, W. Chan; Mauborgne, Renee
Both dot-coms and traditional companies have a lesson to learn from the past three years, as the Internet has changed the world of commerce. Starting from opposing ends of the spectrum, new and old economy companies have merged their styles and viewpoints, until many dot-com traits have been adopted by brick-and-mortar business and dot-coms have learned the fundamentals of trade. Young dot-com executives have been enlightened to the wisdom of older, experienced business executives as new companies sought advice on how to manage their companies. Meanwhile, mainline giants like General Electric shifted the paradigm by bringing in younger managers to mentor senior people in the company, in accordance with CEO Jack Welch's grand vision of revolutionizing GE's business. Reality was applied to the novel principles set forth by companies that motivated workers through stock options and the wildly optimistic business propositions of e-tailers like Amazon. Although options and other perks lured many workers to the dot-com sector, many of these workers now seek the stability of a strong salary. Eventually, dot-coms faced the fact that, they too, needed physical infrastructure. Amazon, for example, was forced to spend $300 million in building five nationwide distribution centers to deliver its product.
- "Bush Budget Touches on Tech"
Wired News (03/01/01); Sager, Ryan
The proposed Bush administration budget outlines guidelines for technology initiatives to be enacted should Congress approve the plan. Several technology initiatives coincide with the Bush administration's support of a permanent extension of the research and development tax credit for tech companies, as well as permanent status for the research and experimentation tax credit. The plan allocates $20 million toward an "Access to Telework Fund" that would provide low-interest loans to disabled workers so they can buy hardware to let them work from home. A $40 million infusion for Counterdrug Technology Assessment Center efforts would help that agency obtain "state-of-the-art" tools for identifying drug users and intercepting drugs on the street. The FBI would potentially get $3.5 billion for its IT, a 8 percent increase over fiscal 2001, in order to combat cybercrime and terrorism. Bush earmarked $400 million for the IRS' modernization, warning that the Treasury Department should take care not to repeat its 1995 failures to upgrade tax systems, blamed mainly on faulty management. In an attempt to make e-government ubiquitous across agencies, President Bush also set aside $10 million in the 2002 budget, which is intended to go toward a $100 million dollar inter-agency e-government fund accumulating over three years.
- "Europe's Grid Gives Glimpse of Web's Future"
Wall Street Journal (03/01/01) P. B8; Vickers, Ben
Researchers working on the Large Hadron Collider, which will be the world's largest particle accelerator when it is turned on in 2005, have begun developing the European DataGrid to process the data the collider will produce. The grid will bring together the computing power of research computers in four European countries. Its power will be 20 teraflops, much greater than even the most powerful of today's supercomputers, which have power of 3 teraflops. That 20 teraflops of power will allow scientists at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) in Switzerland to process 1,000 times more data than their own computers can handle. Moreover, the DataGrid will open CERN's research to scientists and researchers at 3,000 institutions in Europe. CERN scientists note that this makes the DataGrid much different from distributed computer projects such as SETI's SETI@home network, which harnesses the power of users across the world to computer data from outer space but does not allow those users access to the results. Experts say CERN's DataGrid will be the latest example of the clear trend toward distributed computing, which will soon lead to a time when PCs become appliances that link together massive networks of users. The distributed-computing trend may also have a more practical benefit. Intel, which has been using the model for its supercomputing work over the past decade, reports that doing so has saved it $500 million.
- "The Sequel: Computers Serve Us"
Washington Post (03/01/01) P. E1; Walker, Leslie
Researchers around the country are attempting to plot the future of computers, when they will be as invisible and unobtrusive as the motors that powered the industrial revolution now are. Michael Dertouzos directs MIT's Laboratory for Computer Science and leads a team of engineers in redesigning computers around human needs and functions. Although corporate executives such as Microsoft's Bill Gates and Apple Computer's Steve Jobs champion "ubiquitous" computing, Dertouzos claims that, eventually, a completely new operating system will be needed. He says companies are clinging to old, proprietary technologies because of their bottom-line emphasis, when what is needed is the freedom to mold technology around people's needs. Currently, he is developing a voice-command system for his office that will respond to vocalized thoughts. "Dim the lights. Let's go to TV. Next channel. Let me see my email," he barks. However, Dertouzos is the first to admit that his system has glitches. He says there is a multiplicity of things that can go wrong, from the most difficult coding issues to the simple microphone hardware he wears on his lapel. However, in his new book, "The Unfinished Revolution: Human-Centered Computers and What They Can Do for Us," Dertouzos envisions future software that would follow people throughout their life, watching over them and facilitating interaction with the world around them. He forecasts that, in the future, computers will boost productivity by 300 percent, regardless of the current doubt over technology on Wall Street. He balks at the dot-com bust, saying e-commerce is just an "inky-dinky" baby yet that only has realized 1 percent of its potential. Humans, he philosophizes, should learn to take advantage of the fruit of the Information Revolution by taking free time to explore their spiritual selves.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "A 'Bat' Signal That Maps Whereabouts in a Networked Building"
New York Times (03/01/01) P. E8; Eisenberg, Anne
Scientists at the AT&T Laboratories in Cambridge, England, have developed Active Bat, a system to determine and map the location of those working inside a particular building. The scientists say the system will facilitate the introduction of pervasive, or ubiquitous, computing. With pervasive computing, aided by the location-tracking system, a building's computer network would be able to display a particular worker's desktop on whichever computer was closest to that person. The Active Bat system works using ultrasound as a bat does, hence the name. Each worker wears a tiny ultrasound transmitter, and key locations in the building receive stationary transmitters. Ultrasound receivers are placed in the ceiling throughout the building. Those who have seen prototypes of the system are excited. "It's the only sensor that seems to rival the camera in terms of giving information about people and the world," says Dr. Steven A.N. Shafer, who manages the research of ubiquitous computing at Microsoft. AT&T says the system is still several years away from being commercially available, but computer science experts say it will likely be in great demand once it appears. However, experts warn that the system will likely cause some debate about privacy at the workplace. The AT&T scientists hint that this may not be that much of a problem. "You can just put [the transmitters] on a desk and walk away from them, if you don't want to be found," says AT&T's Andy Ward.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors will need to register.)
- "Privacy at Work? Be Serious"
Wired News (03/01/01); Benner, Jeffrey
Workplace surveillance is being watched by privacy groups, businesses, and government officials. A study by the American Management Association, conducted in April 2000, showed that 74 percent of companies participated in "active monitoring" of their employees in 1999 as compared to only 45 percent in 1998. Correspondingly, International Data found that businesses had spent a global $62 million on Web filtering and surveillance software, a figure that firm estimated to increase to $561 million by 2005. As monitoring and filtering software becomes more advanced--one new product from Raytheon tracks every digital movement of employees--the responsibilities and expectations placed on employers are changing. Shanti Atkins, head of content development at Employment Law Learning Technologies, says companies face conflicting demands that require a careful balance in their monitoring policies. Although too much surveillance can be detrimental to the workplace environment, the lack of monitoring can open up avenues for harassment. One anonymous email to a company list can cause widespread disruption in a company, and email messages can be used as evidence in court that companies have taken steps to prevent harassment. Michael Overly, an Internet lawyer and expert in the field of e-policy, says Microsoft is currently developing a product to block email it deems offensive from its internal network in an effort to stymie harassment litigation. However, too much security in this arena can infringe on workers' perceived privacy rights, although employees have no rights to privacy in the workplace except those which they can "reasonably expect," says Overly. Courts have already ruled that companies that inform their workers of monitoring effectively eliminate expectations.
- "Services Give Firms a Better Picture of Tech Assets"
Investor's Business Daily (03/01/01) P. A5; Bonasia, J.
IT asset management firms can help save corporations up to 30 percent of asset costs in the first year, analysts at the Gartner Group say. One such asset management firm, Micropath, estimates that companies usually run 22 percent more desktop workstations than their records show. Tracking hardware and software is imperative to effective IT asset management, so companies such as Micropath are hired to use their asset discovery software to help firms find out how much they have and what condition it is in. Micropath's software, for example, details 40 data points about each workstation in the network, including what software is installed, the computer's specs, and outside components. Software too, can be a big issue, with a typical corporate computer running an average $405 of unlicensed software. Although this may not be conscious software piracy, companies are vulnerable to random compliance audits. Overall, Gartner projects that IT asset management will be among CTOs' top priorities up through 2003, becoming an estimated $4.9 billion market, up from $1.9 billion in 1998.
- "Content-Protection Standard Hits Ballot"
IDG News Service (03/01/01); Johnston, Margret
The National Committee for Information Technology Standards (NCITS) has sent ballots to the 24 members of its T13 technical committee, who will vote on a new standard from Phoenix Technologies that would prevent protected content from being copied onto removable media devices. A two-thirds majority is needed to approve the standard; results will be known by Apr. 2. The standard proposed by Phoenix has been the subject of some controversy, having already prompted IBM to remove its competing standard from consideration. IBM, with its partners in the 4C Entity--Intel, Toshiba, and Matsushita--had submitted its own code to the T13 committee, urging it to include the code in the next version of the Advanced Technology Attachment (ATA) standard. The ATA standard governs how PCs and hard drives and other drives communicate, and the IBM code would have introduced the Content Protection for Recordable Media (CPRM) technology to that standard. IBM argued that CPRM would provide the content protection desired by industry, as it would work on removable devices such as flash memory and Zip drives. However, CPRM would not affect a user's hard drive. However, those opposed to the IBM-led code said it would affect hard drives, possibly interfering with the making of backup files. The T13 committee went with the Phoenix standard because it had a more generic functionality, committee members say. A representative from the Electronic Frontier Foundation complains that the entire matter has been shrouded in an atmosphere of backroom, smoke-filled secrecy.
- "VeriSign to Cut Back Web Domain Control"
Washington Post (03/02/01) P. E6; ElBoghdady, Dina
In 1999, the Clinton administration began pressuring VeriSign to decide between the registry and the registrar half of its business and imposed a May 10, 2001, deadline for VeriSign to make that choice. However, VeriSign recently made a deal with ICANN in which VeriSign will maintain control of the .com domain through 2007 by giving up the .org domain by 2002 and the .net domain by 2006. Overall, the deal is beneficial to the Internet, says ICANN CEO Michael Roberts. VeriSign scored a big win through the deal in that it can continue to sell domain names, which were behind more than 50 percent of its revenue, assert a number of analysts. Through the directory, VeriSign controls information that can be leveraged to promote wireless communications, among other things. If VeriSign had ended up selling portions of its database to different companies, it would have caused much disorder online, notes Merrill Lynch Global Securities analyst Mark Fernandes. The deal puts an end to investors' doubts and permits VeriSign to better prepare for the future, says VeriSign CEO Stratton Sclavos. "This [deal] gives us much more comfort in the long term," says Sclavos. If the deal is not approved, Sclavos says that he will look into selling the registrar portion of VeriSign's business.
- "Gateway Co-Founder Starts Comeback Plan With a Restatement"
Wall Street Journal (03/01/01) P. A1; McWilliams, Gary
Gateway co-founder Ted Waitt has returned to the position of CEO, replacing Jeffrey Weitzen, whom many blame for leading the computer maker too far from its core business. Waitt promises to set things right, beginning with restating some accounting numbers for 2000. Revenue has been cut $53 million to $9.6 billion and net income reduced a whopping $74.5 million to $241.5 million. Insiders say Waitt, who owns almost 32 percent of the company, had been positioning himself for a coup last month. Since his return as CEO, he has replaced six top executives with many of the teammates with whom he built the company. Although he said the company might not reach its former growth levels until 2002, Waitt has announced changes that many feel will turn the company around. Expansion of the Gateway Country retail stores will be halted, and an emphasis will be added on cost savings and customer satisfaction. Also, the company has positioned itself to once more do battle with Dell, which stole the No. 3 manufacturer spot in the fourth quarter, when some Gateway models were 10 percent more expensive than similar Dell computers. By laying off 3,000 employees, streamlining product offerings, and creating its own advertising, Gateway has managed to make itself a leaner competitor and now offers pricing that is in direct competition to Dell.
- "Up For the Count"
Philadelphia Inquirer (03/01/01) P. F1; Ginsberg, Thomas
The U.S. Census Bureau invested $500 million in IT for the 2000 census and expects the results, to be published soon, will justify that amount. Bureau officials hope that this decade's census will prove to be the most democratized of all, as they have taken great pains to make the numbers as accessible and decipherable as possible. Census.gov, the flagship Web site that has averaged 2.5 million hits a day since its inception in 1994, has added a new, powerful feature. Under the FactFinder portion of the site, users can enter in requests for specific data--the Asian population for a certain census tract in Washington, D.C., for example. Over 40 server nodes at the Census Bureau will race to pull the answer out of the 12 TB database of information, serving up a custom answer in seconds. Enrique Gomez, the FactFinder program manager, says the search can handle up to 5,000 such queries simultaneously, in preparation for the estimated flood of traffic following the release of new census data. Privacy has always been an important issue for the Census Bureau, so the increase in computers to compile and store the data has led managers to take serious security precautions. Chief of IT security Tim Ruland says the census sites receive altogether about 50,000 suspicious probes per day. He says the data has also been protected using a more dated, but proven, method called data swapping. People looking to identify certain individuals in census data would encounter random swaps made by bureau officials that still preserve the integrity of the census results. The gem of this decade's census process is the Data Capture System 2000. It uses advanced character recognition software in order to increase the accuracy of reading the forms while speeding the process immensely. In addition, the system found 1.4 million duplicate forms that would have skewed the count.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Conference to Focus on Internet Policy"
Washington Post (03/01/01) P. E6; Irwin, Neil
The George Mason law school's Tech Center next week is hosting the 2001 Global Internet Summit, an annual conference on the state of the global Internet. Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore (R) and Virginia's secretary of technology, Don Upson, will be in attendance, as will representatives from some 50 countries. Several high-profile tech executives, including Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers; Teligent CEO Alex Mandl; and John Sigmore, WorldCom's vice chairman, will also be in attendance. Among the topics to be addressed are network security, government tech policy, and new economy leadership issues.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "A Shot in the Arm for Net Virus Fighters"
USA Today (02/27/01) P. 3D; Weise, Elizabeth
Two Italian researchers have recently revised the long held theory that biological infection models are the best way to predict the behavior of cyber-viruses, arguing instead that they spread much differently and live much longer--in some instances up to three years--than had been previously realized. Alesandro Vespignani of the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy, contends that it used to be thought that because vaccines for the majority of viruses could be created within hours or, at most, days, the network should technically be completely protected from a specific virus within a couple of weeks. However, Vespignani maintains that PC viruses, because infected computers are connected to so many others on the Internet, will always eventually be able to find a small amount of others that are vulnerable and able to continue spreading the virus. Vespignani says this is why computer viruses rarely reach crisis levels, but rather continue infecting in a low but steady manner for a long time. Vespignani and his partner utilized a complicated computer program that modeled the Internet and created a numerical model of viral infection that incorporated the extremely complex nature of the Internet, mimicking the growth of "epidemic outbreaks" of online viruses. The researchers insist that anti-virus software is not the answer, and only establishing a "digital immune system" for the entire World Wide Web will rid an open network of such viruses. Such an immune system has actually been in the works for almost 10 years at IBM, and some of the findings of the IBM researchers can be seen in Symantec's Norton anti-virus software, which, while definitely not a cure-all, comes about as close to a "digital immune system" for the Web as is currently available, analysts say.
- "Back to the Drawing Board"
Interactive Week (02/26/01) Vol. 8, No. 8, P. 22; O'Connor, Rory J.
Usability experts say computer devices and the Web will not become easier for the average consumer to use until the high-tech industry undergoes a fundamental change. The high-tech industry needs to reconsider the way in which engineers are viewed more highly than designers as well as the way in which usability is left to late-stage testing, when deadlines are tight. Programmers, who are mostly male and love technology, create devices and software. Not only is technology more on the minds of programmers than users, Bill MacElroy, president of the design firm Modalis, suggests that designing a product that is easy enough for computer novices to use may alienate more experienced users. Catering to novices may slow down experienced users, says MacElroy, who adds that most interfaces serve these two groups of users. Experts say Web sites continue to turn off Web surfers, and Jakob Nielsen of the Nielsen Norman Group adds that half of the population finds PCs too difficult to use. Usability experts say the situation could get even worse now that the high-tech industry is trying to cram all sorts of technology into smaller, multiuse devices. In addition to simplifying devices and interfaces, experts say the high-tech industry should strive to match the interface or Web site with the task the user wants to perform. Usability experts also want to see the development of intelligent computers that can adapt to what users to do most.
- "Americas' 10 Most Wanted"
Computerworld (02/26/01) Vol. 35, No. 9, P. 40; Bernstein, David S.
Web developers are the most wanted IT workers, according to a survey of national recruiting and hiring firms by Computerworld magazine. Developers are a constant need now that so many applications are Web-based, and, as George Demetriou of WorldCom points out, these applications "you cannot just buy off the shelf and use it--we either have to develop it in-house or buy it and modify it and maintain it." Demand is also high for database administrators, with the greatest demand for those who know Oracle, but also for those experienced with Microsoft SQL Server, Sybase, Informix, and others. Security analysts are now a major need for many firms, which are seeking experts who know the nuts and bolts of IT security. With so many Web-based services now available, and thus many Web servers needed to drive them, Unix administrators are in great demand as well. Those who understand internetworking will likely land a well-paying job. Also in demand are e-commerce application developers. Those surveyed said few firms can afford to experiment with their Web sites and services--they need someone who can make e-commerce work now. Programmers are needed for several languages, most notably C++, object-oriented design, and Visual Basic. While the demand for Java programmers is not as strong as it was last year, the need is constant. Firms need network engineers, especially those who can do the job efficiently and at a low cost, and also those who can do wireless networking. Two positions in demand but perhaps not as glamorous as Web-related positions are PC technical support workers and quality assurance testers.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Living With Linux"
InternetWeek (02/26/01) No. 850, P. 32; Liebmann, Lenny
As the number of users employing Linux for servers has risen, so has the need for Linux management tools. However, because open source systems often cannot be run with the same management tools used for proprietary systems, users often must spend extra money to run Linux-specific systems, a reality that can offset the money saved by working with an open-source system in the first place. To counter this dilemma, some Linux users have begun employing open source management tools, which are not only free, but are often written by the same developers responsible for Linux itself. Such tools include NetSaint, which can monitor a servers OS processes, disk and memory usage, and processor load, among many other functions. Many of the open source programs offer their features as plug-ins, which give users a great advantage, allowing them to pick and chose the tools they need. Also, because users have access to the tools' source code, they can reconfigure the management tools to run on multiple Unix platforms. At the Internet broadcasting service Rotor.net, Linux servers run the company's infrastructure. Officials there chose BB4 Technologies' free Big Brother program for Linux management, enhanced with applications written by the Rotor.net team to meet its specific needs. Other companies, perhaps those less familiar with Linux in general, can receive proprietary Linux solutions from a wide range of vendors, including Computer Associates and Tivoli. Explaining why some companies may value these products over open source programs, Aberdeen Group analyst Bill Claybrook says, "People need the accountability that you get when you buy a product from a company."