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Timely Topics for IT Professionals

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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.


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Volume 3, Issue 225:  Wednesday, July 11, 2001

  • "Intel Halts Sales of Defective Server Chip"
    CNet (07/10/01); Shankland, Stephen

    Intel has halted shipments of its 900 MHz Pentium III Xeon processor after a reseller found a problem with the server chip. Intel was unable to fix the flaw, a company spokesperson said Tuesday, and will instead reconfigure its manufacturing process, which will likely delay shipments of the chip until next month. Customers will instead receive a 700 MHz version of the chip. Analysts say the chip's flaw does not present Intel with a crisis, as it is relatively new and, therefore, without very many users. Indeed, flaws are not unheard of among high-end server chips such as the Pentium III Xeon: Sun Microsystems, for example, had to remove a speed-enhancing feature from its UltraSparc III process after a lab test revealed problems. Meanwhile, Intel is continuing with plans for future high-end server chips, including the expected 2002 release of a chip based on its Pentium 4 architecture, which will be known simply as Xeon, and a version of the Xeon chip that employs the faster .13 micron circuitry will also be released next year. For the long term, Intel is pushing chips built with its Itanium architecture, which will be a complete departure from previous designs.
    http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1003-200-6539683.html

  • "Congress Considers a Slew of Bills That Will Affect IT, E-Commerce"
    Computerworld Online (07/09/01); Thibodeau, Patrick

    Online privacy legislation is the hottest IT-related topic currently before Congress. So far, over 20 bills have been introduced that would provide a framework for protecting consumer privacy online. Most legislation falls into two camps: "opt-in" policies that require consumers to give explicit permission for any use of personal data, and "opt-out" rules that accord corporations more freedom to collect data and conduct direct marketing. Several industry groups, such as backers of Platform for Privacy Protection technology (P3P), are asking the federal government to let the industry regulate itself. P3P would create a standard for corporate Web operations that would allow privacy policies to work with technology that lets consumers adjust their Web browser's privacy settings. However, regulation on the federal level could be negated by even stricter state regulations, argue industry representatives from the AeA, formerly the American Electronics Association. Companies that do business online are urging Congress to write into their legislation limits to individual rules implemented by the states.
    Click Here to View Full Article
    For information about ACM's activities in regard to public policy, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.

  • "Online 'Browse-Wrap' Software License Agreement Not Binding"
    New York Law Journal Online (07/09/01); Loomis, Tamara

    U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein has ruled that Internet users are not bound by license agreements that they are not required to read and accept prior to downloading software. The ruling arose from a suit filed by a group of users against Netscape and its parent, AOL Time Warner. Netscape had sought to move the case to arbitration, citing a clause in the license agreement for the software involved in the suit requiring it. However, the users argued that reading and agreeing to the license agreement was not a mandatory step to downloading the software in question. The judge found that the license for the software in question was a "browse-wrap" license, appearing as an icon on a Web site, rather than a "click-wrap" license that requires users to view and agree to its terms before taking any further action. In this example, the judge found, "The only hint that a contract is being formed is...text that appears below the screen used for downloading and that a user need not even see before obtaining the product." The judge also rejected an argument from Netscape that the users agreed to the license by the act of downloading itself.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Faltering Tech Flails Cities That Poured Money Into Industry"
    USA Today (07/10/01) P. 1B; Swartz, Jon

    Many city governments that invested in tech firms' development have failed to realize payoffs as the tech economy faltered this past year. Austin, Texas, for example, gave Intel $9 million in fee exemptions and transportation improvements in order to encourage the construction of a new office building in the downtown district. Dubbed "Digital Downtown" by Mayor Kirk Watson, the area was supposed to house new buildings for Intel, Computer Sciences, and Vignette. All of those plans have either been scuttled or delayed. After declaring a $25 million investment fund for area startups and local small tech businesses in Sept. 1999, New York City has yet to distribute any of the money. The city-appointed manager of the fund, Michael Carey, says he has yet to find a suitable firm to invest in due to the risky economic environment. Cities in other countries have also seen their investments go unrewarded. Hong Kong's $2 billion Cyberport project and Malaysia's $20 billion Multimedia Super Corridor have both failed to attract the number of businesses first expected. Milken Institute research economist Perry Wong says, "Ultimately, cities, counties, and states see tech as an opportunity to create jobs and improve their infrastructures."
    http://www.usatoday.com/usatonline/20010710/3468227s.htm

  • "As Gulf Grows, Some Nations Make High-Tech Leap"
    Reuters (07/09/01); Auchard, Eric

    Technology is helping developing companies better compete in the global economy, even as the global digital divide continues to widen, according to a 264-page report from the United Nations Development Program. As of 1998, industrialized countries produced 79 percent of all Internet links, but that may soon change, as countries such as India, Brazil, South Africa, Malaysia, and Tunisia are busy building their own versions of Silicon Valley. Still, the Human Development Report 2001 says that poorer countries miss out on technological advances due to weak market demand and a lack of funding. Among the Internet and high-tech "leaders" singled out by the report are Finland, the United States, Sweden, Japan, and South Korea; "potential leaders" include Poland, Portugal, Spain, Mexico, Chile, Hong Kong; "dynamic leaders" include Thailand and India; and "marginalized countries" include Nicaragua and Mozambique.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Free Software Advocates Endorse Alternatives to Microsoft's .NET"
    InfoWorld.com (07/09/01); Rohde, Laura

    The Free Software Foundation on Monday said it will support two open source alternatives to Microsoft's .Net development platform. Mono, from open source developer Ximian, will provide a version of .Net for GNU/Linux. It will include such tools as a Common Language Runtime just-in-time compiler, a suite of class libraries, and a C# compiler--all compliant with .Net. The foundation said products developed on Mono will run on Unix, GNU/Linux, or Windows. Also in development is DotGNU. This project, under the authority of David Sugar, CTO for FreeDevelopers.net, will work on authentication and enabling decentralized services. Although Microsoft has made public comments against the movement for open source software, the company does use software published under the General Public License, including GCC, a tool that Free Software Foundation founder Richard Stallman created.
    http://iwsun4.infoworld.com/articles/hn/xml/01/07/09/010709hnfsf.xml

  • "Hackers Convene Amid Signs Computer Security Is Eroding"
    NewsFactor Network (07/10/01); Keefe, Bob

    The annual Black Hat Briefings and Def Con hacker convention in Las Vegas this week highlights the increased attention government and corporations are paying to computer security. Among the attendees will be President Bush's appointee to the new post of national computer security czar, Richard Clarke. Clarke, head of the National Security Council security, infrastructure protection, and counterterrorism division, will speak at the Black Hat gathering. The CERT Coordination Center of Carnegie-Mellon University says the 7,000 computer security breaks that occurred during the first three months of this year outnumbered the annual total in 1998. Former FBI computer security expert and current professor of criminal justice William Tafoya points out that the recent Internet crime wave cannot be addressed in the traditional manner of hiring more police officers. Rather, Tafoya says authorities need to train officers to be techno-savvy.
    http://www.newsfactor.com/perl/story/11885.html

  • "Microsoft Gives Blessing to Open-Source .NET, but Analyst Smells a Rat"
    InternetWeek Online (07/10/01); Wagner, Mitch

    Microsoft officials have praised the new open source versions of its .Net tools that are being developed by Linux vendor Ximian. Ximian's project, dubbed Mono, will provide developers tools to integrate their non-Windows Web systems with Microsoft's Windows-based .Net tools. However, International Data analyst Dan Kusnetzky says the ploy is a rerun of previous software battles, in which other software companies play catch-up with Microsoft as it changes the API software specifications. In this way, warns Kusnetzky, Microsoft maintains its control of that particular market segment. Despite this threat, Ximian CTO Miguel de Icaza says .Net is a useful platform for programmers and that Microsoft has done well in providing its .Net interfaces to the ECMA international standards group.
    http://www.internetweek.com/story/INW20010710S0006

  • "Robots Aren't Ready for the World Cup - Yet"
    Sacramento Bee Online (07/09/01); Lubarsky, Barry

    The contestants in Robocup 2001 are robots, controlled by a central computer, that play soccer against one another. Scientists hope that one day their abilities will translate into more meaningful applications. The robots in the Robocup competition identify objects on the playing field and interact with opponents and teammates in a way that researchers are hoping will lead to better artificial intelligence. The scientists at Robocup say their machines can also participate in simulated earthquake rescue operations in those places in which human rescuers could not operate. Robots function well when assigned specific tasks, but lack the cognitive abilities necessary for things such as natural speech recognition, says artificial intelligence researcher Eric Chown.
    http://www.sacbee.com/news/news/local03_20010708.html

  • "U.S. Military Backs Open-Source Security"
    ZDNet News (07/09/01); Lemos, Robert

    The U.S. Department of Defense has awarded a $1.2 million grant to the Community-Based Open Source Security (CBOSS) project, NAI Labs, which is running CBOSS, announced on Monday. The CBOSS project is working to enhance security in FreeBSD, the open source version of Unix. Such enhancements include denial-of-service protection and encrypted file systems. The direct source of the grant is the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is administering several efforts to improve open source security because of the increasing use of open source throughout government applications. NAI Labs research scientist and FreeBSD Core Team member Robert Watson notes that the CBOSS project could lead to better security for many operating systems, including Apple's OS X, which has a FreeBSD component. Open source programmers will conduct much of the work on CBOSS, Watson says, with the entire project expected to take 18 months. Other DARPA efforts to enhance open source security include a $600,000 grant to the Reiser file-system project to incorporate encryption technology in its future versions. The Reiser project uses a technique known as journaling to improve data storage.
    http://www.zdnet.com/zdnn/stories/news/0,4586,5093868,00.html

  • "Wish List"
    Boston Globe (07/09/01) P. C1; Kirsner, Scott

    In response to an inquiry by Boston Globe columnist Scott Kirsner, readers proposed measures to revitalize the high-tech industry. Robert Wright suggests that companies "talk to people outside the industry...[and] find out what they want." John Chamberlain observes that more robotics start-ups would be a good idea, while Steven Winnett believes that state-sponsored funds for new technology companies would stimulate neighborhoods in need of an economic boost as well as encourage unemployed but skilled workers to remain in the area. Telecommuters need greater support, as many employees either cannot afford to live near their employers or wish to avoid certain neighborhoods, writes Aaron Read. Guy Praria and others declare that more high-speed Internet service is essential for people who work and run businesses from home. EMC's Barry Cavanaugh writes that industry observers should stop dishing dirt whenever a company collapses or lays off staff, and NextGenesis cofounder Matt Cutler contends that large firms should be more willing to act as "early-adopter" companies for newer regional businesses. State Sen. Richard Tisei believes that more young people should be trained for the high-tech industry, while Advanced Technology Ventures' Michael Frank offers the most fanciful suggestion: A time machine that can be used "to beam us ahead to a time when the IPO market is once again alive and kicking."
    http://www.digitalmass.com/news/globe_tech/at_large/2001/0709.html

  • "Sometimes It Doesn't Pay to Stick Around After Layoffs"
    Washington Post (07/08/01) P. L1; Johnson, Carrie

    Employees who stay with a company after layoffs may find that they will not receive benefits when and if they are let go, despite their loyalty. Such was the case with workers at Teligent, a Virginia-based telecommunications firm that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. "The first two rounds [of layoffs] before us got six weeks of severance and unused vacation time," contends former Teligent employee Maureen O'Connor. "We got a kick out the door." Under bankruptcy law, staff are entitled to at least the first $4,600 in salary and travel expenses that the company owes them. But many workers at Teligent and other technology companies in dire financial straits are learning that higher-up workers are receiving more layoff incentives while they receive less. In the case of Teligent, "The people who were loyal and stayed were the ones who got the worst deal," complains ex-employee Genaro Pedroarias.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A30033-2001Jul6.html

  • "Inventor Ray Kurzweil"
    Investor's Business Daily (07/10/01) P. A4; Mink, Michael

    Ray Kurzweil, inventor of the first reading machine, early speech-recognition technology, and a pioneer in artificial intelligence, has been on the forefront of developing new technologies to make computers useful to people. His 1976 breakthrough reading machine helped blind people, for the first time, translate printed texts into speech. Chairman and CEO of Kurzweil Technologies, Kurzweil has helped to found nine companies and last April received the world's largest invention award, the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize. Kurzweil emphasizes the importance of persistence and collaboration in implementing good ideas. He also urges that researchers think about the future, not just present-day needs. "It's not good enough for [a new project] to be useful today; it's got to be something that's going to work three years from now...So [you're] really shooting at a moving target," he says. He adds that pondering problems just before and just after sleeping helps the mind break free of conventional thinking.

  • "Keeping Secrets"
    Industry Standard (07/16/01) Vol. 4, No. 27, P. 50; Harris, Scott

    In the wake of the Firestone tire-Ford Explorer fiasco, the California legislature is considering two bills that would require companies doing business in the state to publicly disclose information about dangerous circumstances and products discovered during litigation. In response, leaders from some of the nation's top tech firms, including AOL Time Warner, Cisco Systems, and Hewlett-Packard, sent a letter to state lawmakers, arguing that the proposed bills would force companies to settle even the most inconsequential lawsuits for fear of having company secrets revealed during a trial. Proponents of the bill respond that the legislation is aimed at product defects and environmental hazards and should not adversely affect companies that have no such issues. Gov. Gray Davis is expected to make a decision on the bills by September. There are 12 other states mulling similar legislation.
    http://www.thestandard.com/article/0,1902,27562,00.html

  • "Surviving the Valley Run"
    India Today International (07/02/01) Vol. 26, No. 27, P. 18; Pais, Arthur J.

    Last year, U.S. tech leaders were asking Congress to raise the annual cap on the number of H-1B visas extended to highly skilled tech workers. A year later, many of those granted H-1B visas have lost their jobs and are confronting the possibility that they may have to leave the country. This change has had a particularly strong impact on the Indian population in the United States: about 300,000 Indians hold U.S. tech jobs, and some estimate that as many as 50,000 of these have lost their jobs in the current economic downturn. Officials at the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) are still examining their policy for H-1B holders who lose their jobs, but the general rule is that as soon as a job is lost, an H-1B holder must leave, "special circumstances" notwithstanding. Many Indian tech workers who have lost their jobs are trying to find new jobs, often not in the tech industry, in the hopes that the INS will permit them to stay until the economy rebounds and, presumably, tech positions are once again available. However, some industry observers point out that H-1B workers may be more secure in their positions than U.S. workers because in many cases their salaries are lower. Indeed, for this reason, some H-1B holders say they fear a backlash among U.S. workers if the economy continues to sour.

  • "Graphics for Gadgets"
    Business 2.0 (07/10/01) Vol. 6, No. 14, P. 44; Orenstein, David

    Vector graphics could revolutionize the use of graphic files on handhelds and other wireless devices. In contrast to bitmap-based graphics, which provide a definition for each of the pixels that defines a graphic, vector graphics describes the entire graphic as an equation. This makes vector graphic files smaller and gives them more applications--such as zooming, animation, and interactivity--than bitmap graphic files. Several developments are aiding the introduction of vector graphics to handhelds. Developers have created a new XML-based standard, Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG), to allow the integration of vector graphics and data, and later this year handheld users will have access to a version of Flash Memory, a form of vector graphics, that the firm Macromedia has created especially for handhelds. Still, vector graphics will not become immediately widespread in the handheld sector. The SVG format has yet to be approved, and there will be a lag time between the release of vector graphics software for handhelds and consumer adoption of these applications.

  • "Scientists Dream of Jini"
    Computer Graphics World (06/01) Vol. 24, No. 6, P. 16; Mahoney, Diana Phillips

    Researchers in the Computer Graphics and Scientific Visualization Group of the Politecnico di Torino in Italy are using Sun Microsystems' Jini technology to develop a distributed computing environment for visualizing 3D fluid flows. As a result of their early success, the scientists are trying to implement a general purpose visualization environment based on entry-level PCs. Principal researcher Andrea Sanna envisions the research leading to a system in which a teacher and students can use different machines to connect to the environment, share visualized data, and eventually from different points of view. The system's data comprehension would be enhanced by stereo viewing, data selection, and cutting planes. The Jini architecture allows networks to deliver services such as applications, databases, servers, information systems, and storage, as well as the clients of such services; devices can connect to the network without planning, installation, or human intervention to provide other devices in the community with services. Jini appealed to the researchers because, unlike the few distributed visualization systems that mostly employ proprietary technologies for a particular technology, the Sun freeware is application independent and functionally "transparent," which means developers do not have to know the underlying code, says Sanna. Commercial possibilities include developing distributed networks, with Jini operating in the background, connecting all the services. The spontaneous networking of Jini could enhance wireless applications, an idea that researchers and Motorola are considering for the Bluetooth wireless technology.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "The Uncertainty Principle"
    CIO Insight (06/01) P. 34; Melzer, Bruce

    Hundreds of companies are using scenario planning to direct their technological investments and strategic decision-making in the face of uncertain technological, economic, political, demographic, environmental, and social variables. In the e-commerce world, such variables include the Internet's penetration rate, increasing privacy concerns, and tight capital markets' impact on the build-out of high-bandwidth networks. CIOs can use scenario planning to increase their authority in guiding company strategy, and effect long-term IT-related decisions, the alignment of IT systems and infrastructure with business strategies, and buy-in from executives and in-house clients for IT spending. The first phase of scenario planning is for the planning team to identify key business drivers, industrial, market, and overall environmental trends, and how they interact. The team then pinpoints the uncertainty factors stemming from this interaction, and outlines several different potential outcomes. Scenario planning is particularly advantageous to businesses that function in either a global marketplace or an unregulated area, such as utilities, healthcare firms, and telecom companies. For instance, Cigna CTO Steve Andriole used a scenario planning approach to formulate an Internet impact study on the medical industry, insurers, and the IT requirements of Cigna's nine business units; executives from all nine divisions organized four future scenarios and how probable each was. A business strategy was then determined from there.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Technology Market Watch"
    Government Executive (06/01) Vol. 33, No. 8, P. 6; Harris, Shane

    Federal technology is facing a spending slowdown and an IT labor pool drained by private firms. Although President Bush's 2002 budget allows for a 1 percent increase in federal IT spending--Congress is likely to grant more to agencies--tech spending will not repeat its 7 percent increase from the 2001 budget. However, e-government initiatives will grow 10 percent annually, according to a Federal Sources report, until they total 28 percent of the overall IT budget in 2005. During that time, federal technology is going to undergo another paradigm shift as it seeks to fill vacancies for IT workers. As the number of IT slots increases, more experienced workers are retiring. Outsourcing will solve some of these problems, but the problem of "strategic human capital" is on a high-risk list compiled by the General Accounting Office. Research firm IDC says the federal government is the fastest growing market for IT outsourcing.