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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Volume 3, Issue 223: Friday, July 6, 2001
- "Tiny Transistors a Big Leap For Technology"
Los Angeles Times (07/06/01) P. C1; Piller, Charles
University researchers in the Netherlands have overcome a significant barrier in nanotechnology--the development of atomic-sized robots and computers. The scientists claim in a recent Science magazine article that they have created a single-electron transistor using carbon nanotubes, or carbon atoms situated to conduct electrons. Although futurists have predicted that such advances will lead to nanotech robots that can cure cancer and clean up toxic waste, skeptics say enabling technologies such as power sources and wireless systems are nowhere near such capabilities. Creating a single-molecule transistor, however, is one critical step in that path. Cees Dekker, author of the Science article and professor on the project, says the next step is to develop a method for mass-producing the transistors. Hewlett-Packard computer scientist Phil Kuekes says circuitry using the new carbon-based nanotechnology will be ready in a few years' time, but true microprocessors are at least a decade away.
- "What 'Smart Dust' Could Do for You"
TheStandard.com (06/26/01); Bahar, Zillah
Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley are shrinking computational devices designed to perform as low-power networks. By August, Kris Pister, an associate professor of electrical engineering, and a team of graduate students will have reduced their functioning "macro" sensors--tiny, bottle-cap-shaped micromachines fitted with wireless communications devices--from a volume of 100 cubic centimeters to 1 cubic centimeter. The new sensor will be more advanced and is expected to be produced as early as next year by sensor developer Crossbow Technologies. Pister sees his "Smart Dust" project as a way to curb the state's energy costs by as much as $8 billion a year. For instance, in buildings--which account for more than a third of the energy supply--sensors attached to walls would operate as a network, relaying room temperature, light, and humidity to a central computer, which would regulate energy usage at a fraction of the cost of current climate-control systems. Other uses for smart dust include communicating with handheld computers and detecting the onset of such diseases as cancer. The team has encountered some concerns about privacy, however, including how employers or law enforcement agencies could misuse the technology. When one student installed the sensors at his home, the researcher noticed that the smart device detected intimate things such as when someone gets up in the morning, and the duration of a shower.
- "Supercomputers Strive to Keep Up Amid a Revolution"
Philadelphia Inquirer (07/05/01) P. F3; Manning, Stephen
The supercomputing industry is set for unprecedented growth as it strives to keep up with the demands of bioinformatics, or the digital modeling of biological systems. IBM, Sun Microsystems, and Compaq are making some of the biggest pushes into this field. The goal of these companies and their clients is to build supercomputers able to decipher the process in which diseases begin, starting with the genes. Once these genetic signals have been identified, then companies can start to use the computers to develop cures. Provided with enough computing power, laboratories could decipher the biology of an individual person and create personalized medical treatments for them. IBM is working on a $100 million supercomputer called Blue Gene, which will be capable of 1 quadrillion operations each second. The company predicts that the life sciences industry will be worth an annual $40 billion in 2004. Sun life sciences group manager Sia Zadeh points out the possibilities of this field, saying, "If the DNA of six billion people has to be stored and deciphered, the magnitude of that would be enormous."
- "Linux Standard Eases Programming"
CNet (07/02/01); Shankland, Stephen
Linux developers have a standard to insure interoperability with new applications after the Free Standards Group on Friday released Linux Standard Base version 1.0. The effort gained momentum over the previous year as IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Compaq adopted Linux and saw the need for a standard programming specification. Currently, Linux applications are generally interoperable, but sometimes require tweaking. Free Standards Group executive director Scott McNeil says the protocol provides basic parameters for developers to create applications that work easily with different Linux versions from Red Hat, SuSE, Caldera, and Turbolinux. Linux companies expect that the standard will level the playing field for Linux applications by helping programmers design interoperable applications.
- "Microsoft's Gamble Leaves It Vulnerable"
Los Angeles Times (07/03/01) P. C1; Shiver Jr., Jube
After the Microsoft ruling last week in federal appeals court, the company is poised for renewed sparring with the coalition of state attorneys general and the U.S. Justice Department. Those involved in the case face three possibilities: it will return to a district court judge, be appealed again to the Supreme Court, or be worked out in an out-of-court settlement. Analysts do not expect the case to be accepted by the Supreme Court; rather, they see Microsoft in a situation very similar to where it was 14 months ago when it faced a mediated settlement. At that time, Microsoft rejected the proposed limits on its business practices, expecting to come away from the court battle unscathed. Although the final result has not yet ended in the break-up of the company, legal experts say the federal appeals court's assertion that Microsoft is a monopoly could be disastrous for the company. Basically, any settlement now negotiated will be harsher for Microsoft, developing from previously discussed limits on exclusive contracts with service and content providers, illegal configuration of the Windows desktop, and restrictions on PC makers' use of Windows. Moreover, experts anticipate stronger arguments from government officials for the release of Microsoft's proprietary code for Windows so that competitors can develop different Windows versions.
- "Ruling Makes 'Tying' an Issue for Tech Firms"
USA Today (07/05/01) P. 2B; O'Donnell, Jayne
Future government trust-busting actions may benefit from the recent appeals court ruling in the Microsoft case. Specifically, legal experts say the government may now have the precedent needed to pursue charges of "tying"-- bundling products together so that consumers who purchase one have little choice but to use the other--in the software industry. The government's antitrust case against Microsoft included charges that the software giant employed just such a strategy in bundling its Explorer Web browser with its Windows operating system. Observers say Microsoft had expected the appeals court to approve tying, but the judges instead asked a lower court to review the legal status of tying as it was practiced by Microsoft. Although the Supreme Court has ruled that, in general, tying is not legal, a federal appeals court ruled in a separate case involving Microsoft that tying related to software may not be held to the same standard. Indeed, legal experts say courts have a hard time evaluating software-related cases because the way in which software is written and frequently upgrade can frustrate efforts to tell how closely programs are tied together.
- "Washington Politicians Chime In on Microsoft"
SiliconValley.com (06/29/01); Phillips, Heather Fleming
Now that a panel of federal appeals judges has vacated a lower-court judge's order to split Microsoft in half, while upholding most of his findings that the company did engage in anticompetitive behavior, the software giant has begun to intensify its lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C. Observers say the company wants to increase the pressure on the Bush administration, the Justice Department, and a coalition of state attorneys general to reach a settlement or to drop their case entirely. Several leading members of Congress, including Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) have issued statements urging the government to end its pursuit of Microsoft. Hastert said the downturn in the economy followed the antitrust action against Microsoft, while Armey said the government should applaud, not attack, innovation. However, the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on antitrust matters, Sens. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) and Mike Dewine (R-Ohio), issued a joint statement urging that a balance between innovation and a fair, competitive marketplace is necessary. Microsoft was one of the leading corporate donors during the 2000 election cycle, the Center for Responsive Politics reports, giving $4.36 million to candidates, 56% of that going to Republicans.
- "The Tech Gloom Continues"
Washington Post (07/06/01) P. E1; Noguchi, Yuki
Quarterly financial news from all sectors of the tech industry show that a recovery may not come as soon as expected. Ramsey Group senior analyst Ulric Weil warns that the tech economy might not pick up until the middle of next year. Profit warnings released Thursday from storage device maker EMC, semiconductor firm AMD, and a slew of telecommunications companies show the pervasive weakness in sales. AMD, for example, has seen demand soften while a fierce price war with rival Intel has forced it to cut chip prices. European firms offered little comfort as Nokia said last month it was planning up to 1,000 job cuts because of slowing sales. Alcatel, which recently failed in talks to acquire Lucent Technologies, also is pulling out of as much as 90% of its wireless manufacturing efforts. As a result of slowing cell phone sales, European telecom network companies are also left without the cash to build out infrastructure. Precursor Group analyst Rudy L. Baca notes that many plans for transatlantic networks are now in peril.
- "IDC: Global IT Sales Could Be $150 Billion Lower Than Forecast"
InfoWorld.com (07/03/01); Legard, David
The spread of the current slowdown in the U.S. economy to Europe could increase the expected shortfall in IT sales by $50 billion, according to a study from International Data (IDC). If the European IT sector slumps, worldwide IT sales could total $150 billion less than analysts had previously expected for 2001 through 2003. IT in Europe should grow 11% this year, IDC predicts, but that could reach only 7.9% if economic conditions take a turn for the worst. Already, IDC has found slower sales of network equipment and PCs in Europe, but sales of services and software remain strong. IDC reports that Italy and Germany are most exposed to a slowdown, while the United Kingdom shows stability.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Another 53 Internet Companies Close in June"
June saw 53 Internet companies shut their doors, according to a new Webmergers.com report. Over the past 18 months, at least 555 Internet companies have gone out of business, with the majority of those closures occurring in the past six months. Webmergers.com CEO Tim Miller says the Internet shakeout is moving on from the e-commerce sector and is now striking Internet consultants, access providers, and infrastructure companies. For example, Miller reports that 14 ASPs have shut their doors so far in 2001, more than in all of 2000.
- "IT Leadership Put to the Test"
InformationWeek (07/02/01) No. 844, P. 29; McGee, Marianne Kolbasuk
CIOs gained much influence during the recent economic expansion. Now that the expansion has ended and a downturn has begun, CIOs are feeling pressure to show how IT can support the larger enterprise while firms scale back projects and cut staff. CIOs and industry consultants agree that the key is making IT a cost-saver, not a budget-buster. "CIOs who are good leaders will set out to save the company 30% of inventory costs through supply chain management software, rather than cutting out the supply chain software project to save costs," explains Keen Innovations consultant Peter Keen. For example, at Dell Computer, which has compensated for lower PC costs by cutting over 5,000 jobs and reducing its operating costs by 20 percent, the IT department has clearly felt the effects. CIO Randy Mott says each of the 23 projects on which the IT department is now working--two-thirds as many projects as they undertook in 2000--are meant to bolster the firm's efficiency. CIOs say maintaining high morale among IT workers is key during times of retraction. Not only does seeing their projects reduced or cut entirely have a negative effect on IT workers' morale, but many IT workers are younger individuals who have little or no experience at dealing with an economic downturn.
- "More Testing Should Be Taught"
Communications of the ACM (06/01) Vol. 44, No. 8, P. 103; Shepard, Terry; Lamb, Margaret; Kelly, Diane
The role of testing in undergraduate computer-science and software-engineering curricula is disproportionate to its importance within real-world software development projects, the authors argue. Few undergraduate programs teach Verification and Validation (V&V) courses, and those that do make them a small part of the curriculum. The authors contend that multiple V&V courses are necessary on the undergraduate level to produce software engineers who possess a working knowledge of how testing works and its importance, while graduate-level instruction can compress V&V into a single, broad course. Undergraduates should be exposed to usability testing, performance and stress testing, user-interface testing, and installation testing. Undergraduates should also learn methods for creating test cases, ridding code of bugs found in testing, among many other topics that are often ignored or glossed over in most curricula. However, part of V&V teaching should emphasize that testing is one of several V&V techniques, and computer scientists and software engineers should understand when it should be used. Ideally, the authors say, students should become so adept at testing and general V&V techniques that, once they have entered the industry, they should be able to help reduce the amount of time and resources that go toward testing.
- "Down Homestretch Comes an Education"
USA Today (07/03/01) P. 3D; Kornblum, Janet
Jenny Torres, a resident of the relatively low-income city of East Palo Alto, Calif., will be attending the University of California at Berkeley this fall, thanks in part to a tech company in nearby Silicon Valley. Torres participated in a pilot intern project with Homstead.com, which introduced her to working with computers and paid her $10 per hour. Torres, who says she is now interested in a career as a computer programmer, won several scholarships, including a $35,000 award from Hewlett-Packard. The program provided her "the courage to go farther," Torres says. A total of seven students took part in the program, which this year will include the support of Hewlett-Packard and Applied Materials and which will expand to 17 students. Sharifa Wilson, a councilwoman for East Palo Alto, believes that the program, which she and Homestead.com CEO Justin Kitch created, should expand to the point where every company in Silicon Valley has high-school students interning with them.
- "Workers to Bosses: Stock Options Poor Pay Option"
Investor's Business Daily (07/03/01) P. A5; Howell, Donna
Tech firms are reviewing their employees' stock option plans in light of last year's Nasdaq crash. Many workers' options are worth much less now than when they were issued. Moreover, some employees exercised their options at an inopportune time and now owe the government more in taxes than their stocks are worth. A recent survey by the National Association of Stock Plan Professionals and the Unifi Network consultancy shows that 6% of companies have already revised their stock option plans because of the economic situation. Tech firms whose valuations have plummeted are also allowing employees more freedom with their options, vesting them more frequently so that they can take advantage of market fluxes. Many firms say potential employees, while still having some interest in gaining stock options, are showing a renewed interest in cash-based compensation.
- "The Boss is Watching: Workplace Monitoring on the Rise"
E-Commerce Times (06/29/01); Hirsh, Lou
A recent survey by the American Management Association revealed that of the 1,600 U.S. companies polled, 77% said they monitor and record worker communications--including email, Internet usage, and computer files. Of those companies, 90% inform their workers of the monitoring. Executives claim that such monitoring is necessary to preempt lawsuits that might arise if an employee is exposed to offensive material on coworkers' computer screens as well as to minimize both productivity drains caused by unauthorized Internet use and the chances of company secrets being revealed to competitors through the Web. However, privacy advocates feel that safeguards are needed to ensure that companies do not overstep their boundaries, including requiring businesses to notify their employees that their computer use is being recorded, limiting monitoring to employees that are suspected of wrongdoing, and allowing workers to examine all the records kept on them. Currently, laws protect workers only while using the telephone or when meeting people on non-business-related matters on company grounds. Federal and state governments have not shown a willingness to increase the protection of workers' privacy. California's Senate recently passed a bill that would require businesses to inform their employees if they are being monitored, but Gov. Gray Davis has vetoed similar legislation in the past and may do so again.
- "Across China, New Economy Is Being Absorbed Into the Old"
New York Times (07/06/01) P. C1; Smith, Craig S.
The Internet business imploded in China, and is now in the process of being assimilated into the nation's traditional economy, according to telecommunications consultant Duncan Clark. "China is a developing economy and a lot of the infrastructure isn't in place to support a business model invented in the West,"
contends Chinanow.com CEO Tony Zhang. "The Internet is becoming just another tool in the traditional economy." About 30 million Chinese currently access the Internet, and that number is rising; but bureaucratic interference, the plummeting Nasdaq stock market, and fewer and fewer online investors and advertisers have forced once lucrative Internet companies to shut down, drastically reduce their workforces, or branch into offline business channels. A consumer credit system does not yet exist in China, which represents a serious obstacle to true e-commerce. Online portals have lost the most money, despite being very popular sites among Chinese Internet users and foreign investors. Many industry observers anticipate the portals still in operation will either merge with each other or be absorbed by larger companies such as AOL Time Warner. Others doubt such acquisitions can take place until China joins the World Trade Organization.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors will need to register.)
- "Web Screen Display Judged to Infringe Copyright in First Case in Japan"
The design and structure of Web pages is deserving of copyright protection, a Japanese court ruled last month. The case in question pitted groupware vendor Cybozu against software developer NeoJapan. Cybozu claimed that the screen display of NeoJapan's iOffice software copied its own. The court agreed in the case of iOffice version 2.43, finding that while many Web pages will appear similar because they serve similar purposes, the design of individual pages and how those pages are linked together, taken as a whole, is worthy of protection. NeoJapan officials said protecting Web page designs is a threat to competition.
- "Treemaps Bloom"
Computerworld (07/02/01) Vol. 35, No. 27, P. 46; Lais, Sami
Software developers are showing a renewed interest in treemaps, a type of visual interface that represents complex systems such as a hard drive's file hierarchy as a collection of rectangles in proportionate sizes. The University of Maryland, College Park--where Professor Ben Shneiderman developed treemaps in 1990--in June hosted a gathering of treemap developers, who discussed the latest research in their field. Some of this research includes algorithms that improve how rectangles are organized in a treemap display: by size, by date of creation, or by alphabet, for example. Also discussed at the University of Maryland were ways to display treemaps without a few large rectangles dominating several very thin ones and ways to prevent a system's complexity from overwhelming a treemap display. Jack van Wijk, a professor at the Netherlands' Eindhoven University of Technology, has developed a possible solution to the latter dilemma: his program SequoiaView presents treemaps in which each rectangle has a "cushion" so that it appears separate from nearby rectangles. Other treemap tools include a program by Stanford University doctoral candidate Peter Demian, who is using treemaps for a design knowledge visualization and reuse application.
Click Here to View Full Article