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Volume 3, Issue 206: Wednesday, May 23, 2001
- "Shifting Sands"
Financial Times (05/23/01) P. 12; Kehoe, Louise
Although the weakness in the tech sector job market is seen as a boon to some recruiters, the long term effects could be detrimental to companies. Companies such as Cisco, Intel, Palm, and Inktomi each have let go significant numbers of employees while comforting shareholders that a recovery is nearing. This disconnect may generate negative sentiment against those companies, which could be dangerous in Silicon Valley, where networking and word-of-mouth play crucial roles in shaping real events. College graduates have also been hit by the slowdown, with many students receiving notice that their job offers at major tech companies have been rescinded. Job-seeking message boards are littered with derisive comments from students whose job offers have been revoked and could cause an unhealthy skepticism on campuses. Even among those workers who remain, job insecurity has turned ranking and evaluation techniques--meant to inspire employees--into threatening and competitive practices.
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- "Avant, Execs Plead No Contest in Code Theft Case"
Los Angeles Times (05/23/01) P. C1; Menn, Joseph
Semiconductor design firms Avant and Cadence Design Systems have resolved a criminal case in which six executives, including its CEO, have had to pay substantial fines and even serve jail time for stealing code. Avant's founders left their former employer Cadence with trade secrets that they then used liberally in their own early products. They also bought additional information from departing Cadence employees and failed to disclose the source of their product to investors. Former federal prosecutor Leo Cunningham says the unusually stiff penalties dealt in this case will deter future theft of intellectual property. The case roused the interest of the Silicon Valley community when charges were filed five years ago. Regulators have taken a somewhat compromising approach to tech firms founded by former employees of competing companies, but this case clearly delineates what district attorneys will pursue, says Cunningham.
- "FBI Unit Fails to React on Time to Electronic Threats, Report Says"
Wall Street Journal (05/22/01) P. A28; Bridis, Ted
A new report from the General Accounting Office (GAO) has identified numerous problems at the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC), which since 1998 has sought to identify electronic threats from terrorists and hackers. The NIPC, the report charges, often issues its warnings on attacks too late to prevent harm. In the case of computer viruses, for example, the report found that most viruses had already struck businesses and others by the time the NIPC released a warning. The report says many of the problems are a result of the NIPC being understaffed and not having enough experience. In addition, the NIPC's FBI agents often do not work well with partners from other agencies, in some cases refusing them access to databases and other crucial systems. The GAO report does not recommend closing the NIPC, although a letter in the report from National Security Council director of legislative affairs George M. Andricos does suggest "distributing [its] tasks across several existing federal agencies." The Bush administration is currently developing a new plan for the protection of the nation's electronic infrastructures, and observers expect that its plan will in some way change the role of the NIPC in that effort.
- "Biotech Industry Developing Worldwide Standard for Data"
Washington Post (05/23/01) P. E3; Gillis, Justin
The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) has announced plans to develop a global standard for biological data. The standard would dictate what biological data can be stored in databases and how that data should be stored to facilitate use across different software and computer platforms. The effort now comprises over 35 firms and organizations, including IBM, Sun Microsystems, and the National Cancer Institute. Participants say a data standard is necessary because of the explosion of biological information in recent years. "All of a sudden, this massive amount of data began pouring into these databases," says Jeff Augen, the director of strategy for life sciences at IBM. "What everybody realized is that the complexity of understanding the data, making use of the data--that was really the challenge." The effort will be known as the Interoperable Informatics Infrastructure Consortium, or I3C, and software that conform to the I3C data standard will likely receive some sort of seal of approval.
- "PCs Responding Better to Recycling"
Associated Press (05/22/01); Valles, Colleen
Stanford Resources says 500 million PCs will be out of service by 2007, and Hewlett-Packard and other PC manufacturers are working on ways to recycle their customers' used PCs, printers, and other peripherals. In the meantime, some states have taken legislative action to spur this move, such as California's declaration that lead, mercury, and cadmium elements in PC monitors make them toxic, and Minnesota's attempt to mandate recycling programs. Mark Murray, director of Californians Against Waste, says industry is currently recycling only 10 percent to 15 percent of current output. Hewlett-Packard's program is already at maximum capacity, even with minimal promotion: the company charges from $13 to $34 to pick up hardware, but the company's environmental business manager Renee St. Denis points out that the operation is not meant to turn a profit--all income goes toward the recycling program; IBM and Gateway also have similar programs, and industry groups advertise private firms and charities that are willing to refurbish and reuse used PCs.
- "Keeping Innovation Alive in a Downturn"
Wall Street Journal (05/22/01) P. B1; Hymowitz, Carol
Companies such as Intel and technology designer IDEO are working to inspire their employees' creativity despite the economic gloom. Intel CFO Andy Bryant says the company has reconsidered its plan to mandate time off for its employees. Instead, says Bryant, Intel wants those employees to help generate more ideas. The company is also sticking to its commitment to research and development, increasing spending from $3.8 billion in 2000 to $4.2 billion this year and is spending $7.5 billion on manufacturing plant construction, compared to $6.8 billion in 2000. At IDEO, which invented the first Apple mouse and designed the Palm V, innovation is key to the company's success. Employees are encouraged to fully invest themselves in their projects and are allowed to choose the projects on which they work. Voyant Technologies CEO Bill Ernstrom gives an annual award to the most innovative employee idea and says, "We want everyone to act like an owner and entrepreneur."
- "Ex-KGB Expert Unveils New Computer Shield"
Reuters (05/21/01); Wolf, Jim
Victor Sheymov, head of Virginia-based Invicta Networks and a former KGB agent in charge of encrypting messages who defected to the United States in 1980, has announced the invention of an Internet security tool that would dwarf all others. The Variable Cyber Coordinates system can change cyber-addresses on a network faster than once a second, allowing only authorized officials to decide how often they wish to change the routing codes and which applications can be accessed on their network. R. James Woolsey, former head of the CIA and a board member of Invicta, called the system an "absolutely remarkable intellectual achievement." The company claims that standard security measures such as encryption and firewalls are insufficient because they present hackers with a sitting duck target.
- "Big Data Centers Stand Empty"
Washington Post (05/23/01) P. E1; Joyce, Amy
Data centers along the Dulles Technology Corridor outside of Washington, D.C., are standing empty due to the sudden drop-off in demand. Developers had been building the centers to house the infrastructure for local ISPs such as UUNet and PSINet as well as many of the smaller Internet startups in the area. However, many of those companies have recently folded or curtailed their Internet operations, resulting in a glut of data center space. Allen Tucker, vice president for real estate company Staubach, says data center space more than doubled to 2.4 million square feet last year, but his company currently is tracking demand for only 600,000 square feet. However, some companies are still building, insisting that the long-term prospects for the special-use structures are secure because the area's technology sector will continue to build out. "Demand has paused a little bit. It's still there, still growing, but it's smaller," says U.S. DataPort's Lewis Shadle.
- "Commentary: The Seed of a Web Services Plan"
CNet (05/22/01); Kutnick, Dale; Gold, Jack; Sribar, Val
Analysts at research firm Meta Group see Apple's new Unix-based OS X as a maneuver that could possibly signal that company's entrance into the Web services arena. A Unix base would allow Apple to provide Web services more efficiently and adopt important e-business standards such as UDDI and XML as well as application server capability. Apple would likely need to partner with a services and software vendor such as IBM or BEA Systems in order to ramp up its enterprise Web services in time to compete. The Meta Group analysts also point out the unique role Apple could play as an in-between player linking Sun's J2EE Web services and Microsoft's .Net platform. However, the analysts note that by not releasing the source code for OS X, Apple will likely prevent Unix developers from writing applications for the company's products.
- "Electronic Meetings Increase as Travel Eases"
USA Today (05/22/01) P. 1B; Khan, Salina
Internet, telephone, and video conferencing are in greater demand as companies look to cut down on travel expenses. Web-based and other forms of remote conferencing will garner 28 percent more revenue than last year for a total of $10.5 billion in software and services sales, reports Collaborative Strategies' David Coleman. A recent survey of corporate planners by Equation Research and Meeting News showed that 28 percent have begun to use remote conferencing as a way to ease tightening travel budgets. Companies are using electronic conferencing for a variety of meetings, including job interviews, sales conferences, technical support, and workforce training. IT services firm Comsys, for example, says it will save $600,000 on travel expenses by employing a Web conference solution provided by WebEx to train employees.
- "Sen. Kerry: Online Taxes, Privacy Changes Coming"
Computerworld Online (05/18/01); Sullivan, Brian
Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) has announced plans to reintroduce a bill that would give online retailers the right to collect Internet users' personal data for use in marketing initiatives. Kerry said that online marketers and businesses would be at a disadvantage if they cannot collect as much data as businesses in the offline world. "We have to make certain that the offline world and the online world are thinking about privacy in the same context," Kerry said, adding that opt-in rules are too constraining and give offline businesses an edge over online companies. Under terms of Kerry's bill, clearly worded privacy policies would be posted on the first pages of all Web sites, and companies would be prohibited from collecting financial and medical data unless consumers give their consent. Kerry also predicted that states would eventually be allowed to collect online sales taxes, although it would have to be a scheme that all the states approve.
- "Malaysian Tech Firms Fear Censorship Under Proposed New Federal Net Laws"
WSJ.com (05/18/01); Yee, Chen May; Prystay, Chris
The Malaysian government has threatened to censor Internet companies in Malaysia as it does with print media companies, which could hamper Malaysia's development of the "Multimedia Super Corridor," a project meant to create an Asian "Silicon Valley" by attracting multinational companies to one central location. Government official Rais Yatim, who works in the Prime Minister's legal department, suggested extending current print media laws to online content. "It is an imperfect situation when only the print media is governed by laws, while those who indulge in sedition, the misuse of religion, or other criminal offenses go scot-free," said Yatim. Specifically, Yatim indicated that the government may decide to place Web content under the umbrella of the 1984 Printing Presses and Publications Act, which insists that publishing permits come up for renewal once a year. Democratic Action Party Chairman Lim Kit Siang warned that the government's actions may scare away foreign IT companies. The government agency in charge of the Multimedia Super Corridor has promised that the "Bill of Guarantees" being offered to foreign companies still stands.
- "Predicting the Death of the Internet"
IDG News Service (05/18/01); Pruitt, Scarlet
The Internet medium has lost its appeal and revealed itself to be inherently boring and non-eventful, say Forrester analysts. But as Internet culture shifts away from the legacy system that is the Internet, it will free the way for innovators to create the X Internet, or next generation Internet. Already, new wireless Internet technology and pervasive Internet infrastructure is in place for the new medium, which would run using disposable, situation-specific code. These snippets of beamed code would connect 14 billion Internet devices, according to Forrester--today there are only 100 million Web enabled devices. In its futuristic vision, Forrester expects consumers to have uninhibited interaction with retailers online and let companies control every aspect of their international business in real time.
- "Does Opennenss Help or Hurt?"
Interactive Week (05/14/01) Vol. 8, No. 19, P. 31; Wayner, Peter
There is some debate among professionals who make computer security and encryption tools over whether or not openness is beneficial or harmful. The use of the same source code might help professionals secure a site, but such openness could also make it easier for hackers to discover weak security areas. Although a number of people think that algorithms become so complicated that examination and peer review are the only way to locate problems, the reality is that applications vary, says Jim Bidzos, chairman at VeriSign and vice chairman at RSA Security. Peer review of source code and algorithms can be beneficial, but "if you're talking about other administrative tools, such as authorization tables and procedures, then you wouldn't want an attacker to see it, and there is likely little benefit to source review," says Bidzos. Copies of significant codes from Microsoft, Cisco Systems, and others are often seen in the underground, according to Theo de Raadt, leader of the development team at OpenBSD. It is impossible to trust all 800 Cisco employees who have read access, notes de Raadt. Others assert that large numbers of qualified personnel should examine the code, but de Raadt asserts that most of the people who scrutinize code are not qualified.
- "Pushing Pens"
Industry Standard (05/21/01) Vol. 4, No. 20, P. 66; Mechanic, Michael
Although some manufacturers believe that the market still is not ready to embrace pen-based tablet computers, Microsoft is not among them. The company unveiled a tablet PC at the ACM 2001 Computer-Human Interaction (CHI01) Conference in Seattle last April and expects to ship the product next year with a price between $3,000 to $4,000. Microsoft's foray into developing a full-fledged computer in the form of a writing tablet comes at a time when the market appears to be broadening. Sharp, IBM, Sony, and Fujitsu, which is the market leader at 70 percent, all have tablet PCs on the market. International Data says global sales of tablet PCs reached just $200 million last year, but Fujitsu's Tom Bernhard believes that the devices could account for 20 percent to 50 percent of the laptop market over the course of the next several years. Other manufacturers, including Intel, Frontpath, Honeywell, LG, Qubit, Samsung, Siemens, and Sony plan to unveil Web tablets as a device for easy access to the Internet. Still, there is some skepticism about the widespread acceptance of Web tablets because Internet-only appliances have yet to be embraced by consumers. Similarly, it has been more than a decade since the startup company GO tried to usher in the pen revolution, and the business world has shown that it was unwilling to change.
For a look at Microsoft's new tablet PC product, visit http://www.acm.org/sigchi/chi2001/chi_images/010403CHI02D.jpg.
- "Stopping Diversity From Walking Away"
eWeek (05/14/01) Vol. 18, No. 19, P. 63; Stackpole, Beth
IBM has established the Multicultural People in Training (MPIT) project as a way to retain its roster of minority and women workers as the job market for tech workers becomes even more competitive. For minority and women tech workers--executives in particular--MPIT, which was launched in early 2000, is designed to provide the professional development, training, and opportunities needed to advance their careers. MPIT consists of a number of pilots, including a retention program that helps minority Ph.D.s make the transition from academia to the corporate world, and a program to educate K-12 minorities and females about technology and science careers. As of 2000, IBM has 511 women executives, which represents 22 percent of all executives, and 302 minority executives, which represents 13.1 percent of all executives. In 1996, 14 percent of IBM executives--178--were women, and 9.3 percent--117--were minorities. Diversity/Careers in Engineering & Information Technology editor in chief Kate Colborn says having minorities and women in key positions will show minority and women populations that the company embraces them. In turn, the company may be able to attract more business from minority and women populations. IBM vice president of work force diversity Ted Childs says minority populations in the United States have a buying power that now exceeds $1 trillion.
For information regarding ACM's joint participation (with CRA and IEEE-CS) in the Coalition to Diversify Computing, visit http://www.npaci.edu/Outreach/CDC.
- "The State of Software: Quality"
InformationWeek (05/21/01) No. 838, P. 43; Ricadela, Aaron
The impact of defective software code on U.S. businesses is immense, causing firms to lose nearly $100 billion last year in repair costs, down-time, and lost productivity, according to the market research firm Standish Group. A software programmer, on average, makes one mistake per 10 lines of code, which, when considered as part of a program built out millions of lines of code, leads to applications that can destroy data, crash systems, and worse. Recent large-scale problems related to defective code include the complete shutdown of eBay, the online auction site, because of flawed Sun Microsystems software, and Nike losing $100 million in its third quarter because, it claims, its supply-chain-management software from I2 was flawed. In many cases, the cause of defective code is that the pressure among software vendors to speed programs to market is so great that quality-control efforts cannot be as extensive as they should be. In addition, many consumers complicate matters by customizing software, causing problems programmers simply cannot anticipate, especially should consumers later attempt to integrate their customized program with a vendor's upgraded version. Experts say the problem could get even worse with the advent of Internet-based platforms such as Microsoft's .Net initiative because such platforms will be open to a greater number of users, all of whom can be affected by a software bug. Efforts are underway at many major software vendors to reduce the number of software defects, with Xerox, for example, embarking on a plan to teach its programmers to correct bugs as they go rather than waiting until a test cycle.
- "You're Fired, Go Home"
Washington Techway (05/14/01) P. 38; Usher, Anne
The current economic downturn is causing confusion and distress for many foreign tech workers employed in the United States through the H-1B visa program. This program has been cited by the tech industry as a key source of highly skilled labor, and the industry last year got Congress to raise the cap on the number of H-1B visas issued each year from 115,000 per year to 195,000. However, with many tech firms now cutting staff, H-1B visa holders are finding themselves in a precarious position. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) requires H-1B holders to leave the country within 10 days after the visa's six-year term ends, but it does not provide a grace period should an H-1B holder be fired. INS policy generally requires that H-1B holders find a new position immediately to retain their status, and the agency does check workers' paychecks to see if a significant gap between positions exists. Immigration lawyers say the INS has not been enforcing these regulations because it simply does not have enough staff to do so. H-1B holders who can find a new job and apply for the renewal of their status within 90 days are generally safe, the lawyers report. However, many H-1B holders continue to complain of ill treatment by employers, with some reporting being paid well below what U.S. workers in the same position would receive.