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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
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Volume 3, Issue 205: Monday, May 21, 2001
- "Software Piracy up Last Year, Reversing Trend, Report Says"
Associated Press (05/21/01)
An annual study on illegally copied software by the advocacy group Business Software Alliance found an increase in piracy after a five-year lull. The worst offenders were Eastern Europe, where 63 percent of all software was bootlegged, and the Asia-Pacific area, where software firms faced losses of $4 billion last year. Overall global losses due to illegally copied software were $11.75 billion, slightly lower than last year because of cheaper software prices and increased demand. Machines such as CD recorders are compounding the problem of piracy, but software firms are fighting back by requiring the input of time sensitive codes for programs based on PC hardware settings. Microsoft's forthcoming Windows and Office XP programs, for example, will require users to register their programs online using a product activation sequence or the programs will stop working. Such measures are bound to frustrate users and software is already available on the Web that's designed to disable the copy protection features.
- "UCITA Opponents Slow Software Licensing Law's Progress"
Computerworld Online (05/17/01); Thibodeau, Patrick
Those for and against the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA) are ready for a prolonged fight over the legislation, which would give software vendors a greater scope over contract stipulations. Specifically, UCITA would let software companies write more restrictive licensing contracts in order to prevent reverse-engineering, limit lawsuits, and control the use of their product. After the act was passed in Maryland and Virginia last year, its opponents organized a strategic defense to block the measure's passage in all other state legislatures where it has come up. With most state legislatures done for the year, observers do not expect UCITA in more states this year. Corporate opponents to the law have launched a countermeasure bill, or "bomb shelter," in some states that would void such contracts for corporate buyers within that state, instead imposing that state's individual laws on the contract parties. UCITA legislation was first drafted in 1999 with the aim of standardizing software-licensing contracts.
For information about ACM's UCITA activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/IP.
- "New Economy"
New York Times (05/21/01) P. C4; Stellin, Susan
The Commerce Department's approval of the revised contract between VeriSign and ICANN is just the most recent step in an ongoing process that continues to generate questions about whether the domain name market is actually open to competition and whether the public has actually seen the benefits of the competitive market. ICANN, which is not a government agency, has received much criticism, even from members of Congress, who claim ICANN went too far in revising the contract through proceedings that were generally kept from the public, although VeriSign and ICANN both assert that the domain name market is now competitive. VeriSign only held 53 percent of the .com, .net, and .org domain name registrations at the end of 2000, down from 92 percent of the registrations it held in 1999, according to ICANN. However, the public only had a short time to comment on the contract, and there is no clear public representative involved in the process. Although domain name prices have lowered with competition, the registrars are promoting bulk registrations and hoarding and are making deals with domain brokers--which creates a secondary market where domain name prices are out of most people's reach--in order to maintain these low prices. Further, it has become difficult for domain name owners to renew their domain name registrations, transfer registrars, or transfer their addresses to a different owner. Linda Zelenko, a small-business owner in Connecticut, had to spend more than $1,200 in legal fees over seven months to obtain a domain name based on her own trademark. "I registered YorkStreetHardware.com under the name Toto who lives on the Yellow Brick Road in Oz, Kansas--and they accepted that," says Zelenko, explaining how easy it is to register a domain name based on someone else's trademark using false contact information.
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For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/serving/IG.html.
- "Software Firms Become More Choosy in Hiring"
Washington Post (05/21/01) P. E14; Johnson, Carrie
Hiring has slowed at many tech firms, with few now offering the high salaries and perks that were a hallmark of the dot-com boom. Those looking for work in the tech sector will now find increased competition, with employers able to choose from among many qualified candidates rather than having to throw money at them to prevent them from taking another company's offer. This new level of competition is beneficial to those tech firms that are hiring, as they can pick the best available candidates. Moreover, with many dot-coms having perished in the current economic downturn, employers find themselves with a large pool of qualified candidates in several key areas, including such Web-design tools as HTML and Java. Many firms also report being contacted by former employees who had left to join start-ups but are now out of work and hoping that their former employer will be forgiving. Despite the increased competition, the overall outlook for tech workers is strong, concludes a recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Information Technology Association of America. That report found high demand for software engineers, programmers, and database administrators.
- "Microsoft Rivals Turn Up Political Heat"
E-Commerce Times (05/18/01); DeLong, Daniel F.
ProComp, a coalition of Microsoft rivals, is accusing the software giant of using its new, Web-based .Net initiative to dominate the Internet in the same manner as it has dominated the desktop software market. As it already owns the leading operating system and Web browser, Microsoft has put itself in position to force consumers to use its .Net platform, ProComp charges. ProComp President Mike Pettit points out that users of the company's forthcoming Windows XP software will have little choice but to use its built-in Web browser, instant messaging application, media player, and email program. "All of these are tied every which way you can imagine, like a big eight-headed Siamese twin," Pettit says. However, most industry observers doubt that ProComp's call for the Bush administration to act will be heard, as the Justice Department will likely have to settle its antitrust suit with Microsoft if, as expected, a federal appeals court overturns a ruling to split the company. Some observers believe that ProComp's recent statements are being pushed by Microsoft's main rival, AOL Time Warner, which sees .Net as a threat to its Web-based services.
- "IBM Tells of Data Storage Gain"
Associated Press (05/21/01); Wong, May
IBM has revealed a breakthrough in storage technology that could soon lead to PCs with a storage capacity of 400 GB, compared to the 40 GB capacity of today's high-end PCs. The breakthrough is a new magnetic coating, called "pixie dust," or "antiferromagnetically coupled (AFC) media," composed of two magnetic layers on either side of a layer of ruthenium. The new magnetic couple does not suffer from superparamagnetic effect, which causes data to be lost when a data-storage disk has too small of a magnetic area. IBM forecasts that hard drives that use the new magnetic coating will have a storage capacity of 100 billion bits of data per square inch, compared to the maximum capacity of 20 billion to 40 billion bits of data of today's hard drives.
- "New Group Formed for Unofficial Internet TLD Owners"
Computerworld Online (05/17/01); Weiss, Todd R.
A number of alternative top level domain name operators have come together to form the Top Level Domain Association (TLDA), a nonprofit group that will work to keep the Internet from breaking apart as new TLDs are introduced. On May 16, TLDA announced that the 200 operators of the available global TLDs, which number approximately 500, may apply for membership this coming Saturday. The group intends to recognize the existence of unofficial TLD operators, which ICANN currently ignores, and to bolster cooperation in order to avoid TLD disputes, according to TLDA board member Leah Gallegos. A number of ICANN's soon-to-be-introduced TLDs, including .biz, already exist outside of ICANN's system, says Gallegos, noting that ICANN will be asked to join TLDA. In March, an alternative TLD operator, New.net, made available 20 TLDs that are not a part of ICANN's system, yet other alternative TLD operators already offered 18 of New.net's 20 TLDs, says Gallegos. This move generated concern about potential TLD registration conflicts, says Gallegos. Gallegos is also president of AtlanticRoot Network, which offers the .biz, .online, .etc, .ngo, and .npo TLDs, none of which are a part of ICANN's current system.
For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/serving/IG.html.
- "Professor's Battle Exposes Abysmal Copyright Law"
SiliconValley.com (05/17/01); Gillmor, Dan
Princeton computer science professor Edward W. Felten has become a champion for opponents of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which the entertainment industry uses to combat piracy. The DMCA prevents the public from creating technology to circumvent copyright protection techniques. Felten and his team of researchers last year submitted a paper detailing a method for foiling digital watermark technology at the International Information Hiding Workshop, an academic meeting for computer scientists. Soon after, he received a threatening letter from a representative of the Recording Industry Association of America and the Secure Digital Music Initiative asking him to withdraw his submission. Felten now plans to take legal action in order to get his findings published, and columnist Dan Gillmor speculates that his case could possibly turn around the DMCA legislation, which he says is an "abysmal" law. Gillmor argues that attempts to limit free speech are a threat to Americans' basic rights, and are both dangerous and absurd.
- "Welcome Back to the Real World"
Washington Post (05/21/01) P. E1; Schafer, Sarah
Tech workers in the Washington, D.C., area are finding that they need special skills in order to land new, better paying jobs. Over 7,000 tech jobs in the region have been cut in the last five months, according to the Washington Post. Although these workers have little trouble locating a new position if they have specific technical skills such as programming, they are not as readily hired if they only boast managerial, marketing, or other broadly applied skills. However, Christine Chumura of Chumura Economics & Analysis points out that 60 percent of tech jobs in Northern Virginia focus on actual computing skills. She says for the moment, the national slowdown has not significantly softened the Washington tech job market, but she adds that the situation may change if layoffs continue.
- "Patents: The Internet as Alarm Clock?"
New York Times Online (05/14/01); Chartrand, Sarah
Inventor Mary Smith Dewey of Dallas, Texas, has developed a "smart" alarm device that relies on information from the Internet to determine when to wake its user. The device accesses information from the Internet on weather and traffic according to its user's location and usual route to work. Based on that information, it can wake its user early, on time, or let him or her sleep in. "A problem arises when there is an accident on the route the user usually follows, or if the weather creates traffic problems or other delays," Dewey writes in her patent application. On the other hand, Dewey writes, if there is no traffic or a flight the owner is scheduled to take was cancelled overnight, the device can set a later wake-up time. The device provides a clock with a keypad and a modem that can link to the Internet or a LAN or a private network.
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- "Australia to Toughen Computer Crime Laws"
Computer Daily News (05/15/01); Stackhouse, John
Australia has introduced a cybercrime bill that is similar in scope to the Council of Europe's draft cybercrime treaty. The bill would update the country's laws to include cyberstalking, computer viruses, denial-of-service and other hacking attacks, and online fraud. The legislation also gives police greater leeway to examine citizens' computers when pursuing cybercrimes, and Federal Justice Minister Chris Ellison added that Australia's privacy commissioner had approved this increased power.
- "Brainy Panes"
Red Herring Online (05/17/01); Ross, Philip
New "smart glass" technology from Research Frontiers can change a pane of glass from clear to dim in an instant, improving upon existing glass darkening technology by lowering its cost and boosting its response times. Robert L. Saxe, founder of Research Frontiers, says he started his company in 1965 to work specifically on the technology that his company is now licensing to big name manufacturers such as General Electric, Hitachi Chemical, and Polaroid. Already, Hankuk Glass Industries of Korea says it will sell the finished product and base materials to other companies. Potentially, the darkening smart glass can be used for flat-panel displays and home, car, and commercial building windows. Although Polaroid founder Edwin Land developed the basic science in the 1930s, Saxe improved upon it, using a more stable film element to hold the oblong particles that straighten or lay flat according to an electrical current. When the particles are charged, they align straight so as to let light pass through nearly unimpeded.
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- "Research in Motion Wins Patent on Directing Wireless E-Mail"
Reuters (05/18/01); Karleff, Ian
Research in Motion announced yesterday it has been granted a patent to protect technology designed for wireless email transmissions. Analysts believe the patent could require companies like Palm and Nokia to license its technology. RIM has already filed a lawsuit against competitor Glenayre Electronics for using its "Always On, Always Connected" slogan and for infringing on its patent rights. The patent allows a wireless user to use a handset to read, write, and transmit email sent to a desktop computer with a single address. If the RIM lawsuit against Glenayre is successful, competitors using the technology may have to license the method, according to analysts.
- "Accessibility Law Creates Confusion"
Interactive Week (05/14/01) Vol. 8, No. 19, P. 13; Brown, Doug
Both government agencies and computer equipment vendors anticipate a rash of lawsuits after Jun. 21, when a new IT accessibility law takes effect. Government agencies are concerned about the amendment to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act because they are not sure how to cover all bases in making their Web sites easily accessible to people who have disabilities. Some are so concerned that they may fail to address every accessibility concern of disabled users that they plan to make everything compliant. Although the law does not force agencies to redesign their Web sites, it does require that all future purchases of electronic communications services and devices provide easy access for those with disabilities. Tech companies are just as concerned about the amendment because a failure to develop products that do not cover every disability issue could expose them to liability. Some technology vendors see the law as an opportunity to improve their standing in the marketplace. However, many companies are turned off by it. Ultimately, the new law could lead Congress to create a nationwide access law for Web sites and electronic communications devices.
- "Five Technologies You Need to Know"
Industry Standard (05/21/01) Vol. 4, No. 20, P. 72; Miller, Dan
While futurists wonder in amazement about the prospects for the gadgets of tomorrow, scientists are fast at work bringing their ideas to reality. Superfast microprocessors that are 100 times faster than today's counterparts could be in stores by 2005 now that physicists at California's Lawrence Livermore Lab are using mirrors instead of lenses to shrink the circuits of extreme ultraviolet light-based chips in width to 10 nanometers. Organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) could be the development in display technology that allows flat panels to become standard in computers, TVs, and cell phones, and could lead to the scrolling of stock quotes across a pen or the viewing of movies on handhelds. Some OLED devices are already available, including a car-radio device from Pioneer that uses a screen to display traffic conditions. The Internet will become superfast later in the year when Cisco, Nortel and other vendors introduce pure optical switches that are able to keep up with the data flow of fiber networks. Placing phone calls over the Internet may not be too far off now that Microsoft has its new HailStorm service that can detect when a member of a "buddy" list is online, much like instant messaging. Artificial intelligence in software will let businesses extract information from corporate data that human users might not be able to locate. The market for business intelligence software is expected to reach $3.5 billion this year and $8.8 billion by 2004.
- "Handhelds Nudge PCs"
InternetWeek (05/14/01) No. 861, P. 1; Wagner, Mitch
Corporations are increasingly turning to handheld computers as a way to boost the productivity of workers who lose time when they are at desktop PCs. For example, Carlson, the hotel operator behind the Radisson and Country Inns & Suites chains, has given Compaq iPaq Pocket PCs to general and regional managers so that they will always have access to essential information such as occupancy rates, and at real estate mortgage provider Countrywide Home Loans, salespeople no longer have to return to the office to look up rates, estimate a home's value, or determine which houses a potential buyer can afford. Sears, which supplied 15,000 handheld computers from Symbol Technologies to stockroom staff and sales clerks, may have the largest program involving handhelds to date. As a result of the handhelds, which are used for inventory tracking, shipping and receiving, order management, and other stockroom and store floor tasks, employees no longer have to spend as much time away from the point-of-sale in the stockroom and inventory terminals. Canadian logging company Weyerhaeuser supplies handhelds to inspectors gathering forestry data and says using the units outdoors, in helicopters and other tight spaces, and durability are among its challenges. The growth of corporate demand for handhelds has resulted in supply problems. Compaq says sales of its color iPaq have reached 100,000 a month, compared to expectations of 7,000 units. Currently, Palm handhelds are more popular than Pocket PCs, which make use of the Windows operating system.
- "Getting to the Root of the Problem"
Computerworld (05/14/01) Vol. 35, No. 20, P. 56; Lais, Sami
With corporate networks becoming more complicated by the day, IT managers are increasingly aware of the necessity of having automated network management systems. However, Enterprise Management Associates analyst Dennis Drogseth says most IT mangers are unwilling to commit to an automated network management system unless its root-cause analysis functions show a success rate of at least 70 percent. Otherwise, Drogseth says, it is "more work than it's worth, requiring too much labor and knowledge for rules to be appropriately defined for a specific environment." IT managers say few systems are smart enough to adapt to the chaotic corporate world, where what the system might think only a non-critical problem not normally worthy of undue attention could be, in certain circumstances, very serious. However, for those companies that invest in the best automated network management systems, there can be numerous advantages. With automated guidance, networks tend to be smoother and provide better service, Drogseth reports. Moreover, companies can reduce their overhead costs because fewer IT maintenance staff is required, nor does the company have to waste its IT maintenance staff's time by having them work on every trivial network problem that arises. Drogseth notes that corporate networks should be adapted to some kind of data standard, such as Java or XML, in order that the automated network management system can be integrated more easily.
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- "Next-Generation Viruses Present New Challenges"
Computer (05/01) Vol. 34, No. 5, P. 16; Edwards, John
Virus writers are busy churning out next-generation viruses for next-generation technologies. Today's viruses are better constructed, which makes it more difficult to find them and fix problems, and the Internet enables them to reach their destination more quickly. Security experts add that viruses are now being created to thrive off of small flaws in systems and application software. There are now remote-control viruses such as Hybris that links to and accesses the alt.comp.virus newsgroup to spread and update malicious payload, and Davinia, which is manipulated from the author's Web sites. Users of the Gnutella peer-to-peer file-sharing system realize how vulnerable their system is now that a worm called Gnuman is monitoring requests and fooling them into downloading the viral file "mp3." Similarly, the open source community knows it is not safe with Ramen, Lion, and Winux all looking for several vulnerabilities in servers to gain root access and deliver nasty payload to Linux machines. Nevertheless, antivirus vendors have not given up the fight; there are software products now available that enable users to authorize certain functions and that are designed to notify them or a network administrator when other actions are taking place. As long as antivirus fixers can keep up with virus writers, there should continue to be applications available that offer some protect against viruses.
- "Visual Basic on the Decline?"
Interactive Week (05/14/01) Vol. 8, No. 19, P. 11; Babcock, Charles
The biannual North American Developer Survey from Evans Data reveals that of programmers with multiple-language skill, the number who know Microsoft Visual Basic has fallen from 62 percent last March to 46 percent in March 2001. "Visual Basic seems to be eroding in total number of users and the time spent using it," says Evans Data vice president of research James Garvin. Microsoft is attempting to retain as many of these programmers as it can, introducing two new programming environments geared toward Internet-based applications: C Sharp and VisualBasic.Net, which is part of Microsoft's much hyped .Net initiative. However, Visual Basic programmers have not been too enthusiastic with either of these offerings, noting that C Sharp so much resembles Sun Microsystems' Java that they might as well use Java and that VisualBasic.Net has too many changes from the original Visual Basic environment. Microsoft is working to alter the beta release of VisualBasic.Net to match Visual Basic users' expectations, but analysts say many programmers are already looking for other options. Java is one; another is Borland's Delphi environment, which Borland estimates has 1 million programmers already. Borland's new Delphi 6.0 release is targeted at programmers interested in the Web-based applications sector as it supports XML, SOAP, and other Web-based programming languages and protocols.