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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Volume 3, Issue 226: Friday, July 13, 2001
- "Networking, Web Development Top CIO's Job Skills List"
InformationWeek Online (07/11/01); Hayes, Mary
IT workers with networking and Web development skills are the most sought-after new hires, according to a survey of 1,400 CIOs conducted by RIH Consulting. RIH concludes that this is attributable to the increase in mobile computing and tightening security at companies and also to the increasing importance of the Internet for core business applications. XML has also furthered the role of the Web in business, say RIH consultants. A recent InformationWeek survey correlates the high demand for networking and Web development-skilled workers with higher salaries. For example, wireless infrastructure specialists who build the networking base for mobile enterprise applications enjoy a median $95,000 annual salary. However, some of the high-demand jobs--help-desk and end-user support services--received the lowest pay medians because those positions serve as entry-level points for workers who are quickly promoted.
- "Report Finds IT Has Key Role in Poor-Country Development"
Financial Times (07/13/01) P. 7; Peel, Michael
Poorer countries can benefit from IT, but only with proper preparation, says a new report issued by consulting firm Accenture, the United Nations Development Programme, and the U.S.-based Markle Foundation. Accenture International Chairman Vernon Ellis stresses the balance needed to implement IT development strategies in developing countries successfully. Critical physical infrastructure, such as long-distance phone lines, is needed, along with broader cultural adjustments such as increased education and entrepreneurship. He cites the trade-offs poorer countries often make between developing an IT industry and building up national IT strength. Achieving one of those goals does not always ensure the success of the other. Ellis points to the example of Malaysia, which produces IT products for use and sale out of the country while its national IT level lags.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Tackling Puzzles PC by PC"
Los Angeles Times (07/12/01) P. A1; Kaplan, Karen
Distributed computing projects are gaining steam as personal computing power increases and the Internet population continues to grow. What began as a research project at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center in the 1970s blossomed in the 1990s with the SETI@home program operated by the University of California at Berkeley. Now, numerous altruistic distributed computing projects vie for the processing power of individuals for such projects as finding genetic data on AIDS and cancer, discovering future weather patterns, and predicting volatility in the stock market. Commercial interests are also honing in on the trend. The free ISP Juno Online Services recently told its users that it might require them to download a distributed computing program in order to resell that processing power and add another revenue stream. Several startups are luring PC owners to participate in their projects by offering cash incentives, but some simply play off users' competitive tendencies. Most online distributed computing projects rank contributors according to how much data they have processed, and groups with names such as "Overclockers Network Hellspawns" and "Ars Technica Team Primordial Soup" have formed to compete for the top processing spots.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Through the Looking Glass, to Holographic Data Storage"
New York Times (07/12/01) P. E5; Eisenberg, Anne
Two researchers, Dr. Maria Luisa Calvo of Complutense University in Madrid, Spain, and Pavel Cheben of Ottawa-based Optemia, have developed a new method of data storage using holography. Calvo and Cheben took a basic glass matrix and riddled it with tiny holes; into these holes they injected liquid acrylic and the photo-initiator necessary to create holographic images. Calvo and Cheben let the compound dry for 10 days, polished it, and then created the holograms. They did this by using a laser to imprint an interference pattern of light and dark stripes onto the photosensitive material embedded in the glass. After a year, this interference pattern had not deteriorated, Calvo and Cheben report. The researchers say their glass-based method has advantages over other efforts in holographic storage, many of which rely on plastic polymer matrixes; the glass matrix, Calvo and Cheben say, is of necessity thicker and therefore can hold more data, and it is also more rigid than the plastic polymers and thus less likely to lose data. Calvo and Cheben have yet to record a hologram that actually bears data, and some scientists say the type of laser beam necessary to do this would be to expensive to make holography practical as a storage medium. Also, Dr. David A. Waldman of the firm Aprilis points out that the glass matrix has a low sensitivity to light.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors will need to register.)
- "Microsoft's Desktop 'Concession' Taken From Same Old Bag of Tricks"
SiliconValley.com (07/11/01); Gillmor, Dan
Columnist Dan Gillmor charges that the concessions Microsoft offered this week are essentially empty. Microsoft on Wednesday announced that it will let users disable access to Internet Explorer in Windows XP and that it will let PC makers customize the "Start" menu on the Windows XP desktop. Gillmor argues that these concessions are meaningless: Internet Explorer, for example, is still intimately tied into the code for Windows XP, and disabling access to it will do no more than hide its icons from the desktop. Besides, Gillmor notes, Microsoft long ago crushed its main competition in the browser market, Netscape. Gillmor contends that the other concession will not affect anything of any importance on the Windows XP "Start" menu--basically, the PC makers will be allowed to add the icons of products not owned by Microsoft. Gillmor says the concessions disguise the main threat that Microsoft now poses to the software industry--its plans to shepherd users to Web-based services initiative through its existing operating-system monopoly. In addition, Microsoft is still trying to muscle rival online music and video ventures and instant-messaging services out of the market, says Gillmor.
- "Tech Giants Jump-Start Optimism"
USA Today (07/12/01) P. B1; Krantz, Matt; Swartz, Jon
Earnings reports released on Wednesday by several leading firms are giving some analysts hope that the tech industry's economic troubles may soon stabilize. Microsoft announced that its earnings had beaten predictions from analysts at Thomson Financial/First Call. Despite a $2.6 billion charge taken for bad telecom investments, Microsoft announced fourth-quarter revenue of $6.6 billion, up from $6.5 billion estimates. Yahoo! earned $8.7 million in its second quarter, not counting numerous one-time charges. Yahoo! is in the process of supplementing its traditional source of revenue, online ads, with paid services, but more skeptical analysts say Yahoo!'s performance was because of cost-cutting measures it took rather than new revenue sources. "There are no signs of recovery whatsoever," warns Jeffries & Co. analyst Frederick Moran. Many analysts still believe that the economy, both domestic and abroad, is weak and the too many tech firms are suffering from inventory gluts.
- "Solar Power Within Your Grasp"
Wired News (07/10/01); Gaertner, Reiner
Within one to three years handheld devices that run on solar or fuel cells may become available to consumers, courtesy of the Fraunhofer Institute in Freiburg, Germany. Fraunhofer introduced a pair of solar-powered prototypes at the InterSolar conference--a Casio palmtop organizer and a Siemens mobile phone. Only a few mechanical problems with these models need to be ironed out, and Dr. Christopher Hebling, head of Fraunhofer's energy and technology department, is confident that time-to-market could only be a year away. As an alternative to battery-run handhelds, solar-powered devices are cheaper to operate and have greater mobility. The institute also debuted a hydrogen-powered fuel cell system that could be used in laptops or Camcorders. Hebling contends that such fuel cells are economically viable because the metal-hydride receptacles that contain them are much cheaper than rechargeable batteries. What needs to be done, he says, is to devise a method for distributing hydrogen and also to boost consumer awareness.
- "Bush Said to Be Planning Cybersecurity Board"
Computerworld Online (07/10/01); Verton, Dan
The Bush administration will not appoint a single 'czar' to oversee the protection of the federal government's critical infrastructure, say sources, opting instead to create a board of national security officials. The officials will likely be drawn from the Departments of Commerce, State, and Defense, and also from various other federal agencies and intelligence organizations. The current director of the White House's security, infrastructure protection, and counterterrorism efforts, Richard Clarke, may chair the panel, sources report. Cisco Systems director of critical infrastructure protection Ken Watson believes the tech industry will greet the administration's decision with optimism, saying, "No single government agency can do all that's needed [to protect tech infrastructures], especially when that includes liaison with industry, oversight of federal budgets and international cooperation." However, Information Technology Association of America President Harris Miller says a single 'czar' would provide the IT industry with a clear channel of communication. Still, Miller believes that the proposed panel could succeed as long as it focuses on solutions, not merely discussions about problems.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Film Industry's DVD-Copying Case Back in Lower Court"
Newsbytes (07/11/01); Kelsey, Dick
On Thursday, a California appeals court is expected to consider its ruling that open source developer Matthew Pavlovich defend himself in a lawsuit filed against him and 500 others by the DVD Copy Control Association (DVD-CCA). Pavlovich is accused with the other defendants of breaking California trade law by revealing the inner workings of DVD-CAA's Content Scrambling System (CSS) through the distribution of DeCSS. DeCSS is freely offered software that can break CSS encryption codes, and Pavlovich had a hand in the development of LiViD, Linux software that can play DVDs. The California Supreme Court declared earlier that a state appeals court must successfully argue why Pavlovich, a resident of Texas, should be held responsible for such a state-law claim. The DVD-CAA is attempting to force him and the other defendants into a state court case, defense lawyers contend. "The importance of Constitutional restrictions on the reach of state courts has never been more important than in the Internet age," insists HS Law Group's Allonn Levy, Pavlovich's attorney.
For more information and additional articles on DVD-based legal actions, see http://www.acm.org/usacm.
- "Companies Quicker to Patch Up Security Weak Spots"
Investor's Business Daily (07/13/01) P. A4; Howell, Donna
Security holes emerge in even the most popular software programs on a frequent basis, making it a constant priority for IT managers to be up-to-date with hacking news. Whereas in the past many software companies denied having weaknesses in their products, most have changed their perceptions of the problem and respond quickly, collaborating with those that first exposed the problem. Once a patch is devised, then the hole is made public. However, many network administrators and managers do not have the time or resources to respond to every vulnerability, says security consultant George Kurtz. The result, he says, is that many of the 20 or so vulnerabilities exposed every week are left open in many systems. PGP Security helps automate some of the patrolling that administrators must conduct on their system fronts with its CyberCop Scanner software. Another company, SecurityFocus, takes network data from a company, formats it, and gives it back to IT managers so they can analyze trends in their network flow and spot weak points hackers might attempt to exploit.
- "White House Raises Concerns About Federal CIO Proposal"
Newsbytes (07/11/01); McGuire, David
The Bush administration has expressed concern over the E-Government Act of 2001, which is currently before the Senate Government Reform Committee. Among its provisions, the act would authorize the position of federal-wide CIO. President Bush intends to assign that duty to the deputy director for management within the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), but the act's sponsors, Sens. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), propose to establish an entirely new office within the OMB to handle the IT duties currently managed by other offices. The CIO, a presidential appointee, would head the new Office of Information Policy. However, in testimony before the Reform Committee, OMB Deputy Director Sean O'Keefe warned that this would create a pigeonholed IT agency that would not be as effective as the President's plan in integrating IT into the broader government process. The proposed legislation, which Senate leaders say may come up for a vote in the fall, would also set aside an annual $200 million for the federal CIO to use on cross-agency IT projects.
- "Fading Bits of History"
ABCNews.com (07/09/01); James, Michael S.
Archivists are worried that new digital methods of recording history are susceptible to their own forms of corruption, decay, and obsolescence, prompting a rethinking of traditional record-keeping. CDs, floppy disks, and other kinds of common digital media diverge wildly in terms of quality and reliability--some have great durability, while others become unreadable after only a few years. The accelerated rate of technological development makes keeping up with software and hardware a difficult proposition, say industry insiders. One solution suggested by archivists is the preservation of data in simple standardized languages such as HTML and ASCII; another is to transfer data to fresh storage materials from time to time. Record-keepers can also take advantage of the falling cost of storage devices--and, by extension, digital copying--on a regular basis. However, says Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle, it is difficult for libraries to preserve and access material when copyright owners limit or prohibit storage, and typical copyright terms far outlast the lifecycle of electronic media. Some companies purge their archives to reduce their liability in the event of a lawsuit: online databases such as Lexis-Nexis do not preserve the advertising, photos, or illustrations that come with articles, while other databases simply delete articles rather than pay the authors' usage fees.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "The Next Big Things: 13 Trends You Can't Afford to Ignore"
ZDNet (07/10/01); Coursey, David
The next six months will determine whether the challenging phase the computer industry is currently facing will get better or worse, writes AnchorDesk columnist David Coursey. Coursey anticipates numerous trends emerging between now and the Comdex show in November, including a slowdown in PC and PDA sales. There remains no strong reason for consumers to purchase new PCs or upgrade their PDAs, he says. Coursey believes that Microsoft's plans for the Internet will be slowed because the industry still has not overcome the technical limitations that knock out MSN Messenger and eBay from time to time. Wireless will not be ready until the middle of next year, but Linux will be ready to challenge in the market for server operating systems. Although telecommuting is far from dead, more bandwidth and better services would allow for "face time" when workers are not in the office, but consumer bandwidth is likely to see a slowdown because the current Internet experience is not compelling enough. Coursey says the Internet era of Web-based software and services will replace the Windows era and that consumer electronics-style devices era will replace the PC era, and that the "Next Big Thing" in the industry will occur when someone finally triumphs over Microsoft. Also, the industry is likely to see more consumers become active on issues such as marketing and privacy as the government considers regulation.
- "Linux Prepares for Battle"
ZDNet UK (07/06/01); Broersma, Matthew
Linux developers have a host of new tools to advance the open source operating system into mainstream corporate applications. The Linux Expo held in London this week featured new software from Borland, called Kylix, that allows programmers to code programs in Borland's Delphi language and easily translate them into both Windows and Linux environments. Also unveiled at the expo were new Linux server enhancements from IBM, including the introduction of the JFS version 1.0 file system program and software to boost the capabilities of Linux-powered PCs with multiple CPUs used by businesses for high-end servers. With its pledge of $1 billion towards Linux development this year, IBM has positioned itself as the main corporate supporter of the open source system. Linux developers at the expo also received a better look at the operating systems' uses for embedded systems, such as for cell phones, PDAs, and other non-PC devices.
- "PC Sales Recovery: Maybe Next Year"
E-Commerce Times (07/11/01); DeLong, Daniel F.
The PC sector experienced further disappointment this week as Compaq announced another earnings shortfall and more job cuts. Compaq is responding to a bleak outlook for all brands in the PC industry, where analysts say there is no compelling reason for consumers in the saturated U.S. market to upgrade home computers. Gateway has reported that it will layoff one-third of its workforce in Asia and also close several retail branches in that region. Recent economic turmoil in Europe has foiled some predictions that overseas sales would save PC makers, although foreign markets are still performing better than the United States. Although some analysts are looking to the October release of Windows XP to drive sales, pessimists say consumers will likely forestall purchases until that time or later. International Data revised its PC sales projections downward for the year, saying sales will fall 17.3 percent and then rise next year by 4.6 percent.
- "What He Did on His Summer Vacation"
Business Week (07/16/01) No. 3741, P. 66; Port, Otis
The process of micro-manufacturing could soon be based on the motion of shaking a box of sand rapidly and the resulting tiny waves that ripple across the surface. The idea came three years ago from then-16-year-old Alexander D. Wissner-Gross, who unveiled his nano-sandbox idea at Mitre's elite summer camp for future scientists. Gross saw the sandwaves' motion as similar to fingers' movement and proposed replacing the sand with carbon buckeyballs 1 nanometer in diameter. He envisioned that the nanowaves would carry billions of molecules or atoms to a desired location. Moreover, nanofinger factories could be able to patch together carbon nanotubes into microscopic computer circuits, and such nanochips could be as powerful as all of today's superconductors combined. The computer simulations of the process created by Wissner-Gross impressed Mitre so much that the company filed for a patent in his name, and he was awarded the patent. Harvard physicist and Mitre associate David J.K. Goldhaber-Gordon believes that chips fabricated with a nanofinger system could become a reality within the next four years. The next challenge for Wissner-Gross, currently a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is to perfect a control system for arranging nanotubes in precise patterns to form transistors and connecting wires.
- "Man, Plan, Canal"
Industry Standard (07/16/01) Vol. 4, No. 27, P. 62; Downes, Larry
Big projects such as the pyramids or rockets to the moon often take a long time and are hard to finish, writes Larry Downes, strategy consultant and co-author of "Killer App." Other massive projects, such as the networks of railroads, tunnels, canals and airports, or electrical grids, water systems, and broadcast systems often take time before they become profitable. For example, the Suez Canal is a famous international infrastructure that promised speedier flow of goods around the world and cost savings for businesses that would make investors wealthy, writes Downes. However, just as enthusiasm for the Suez Canal sent the markets soaring, blunders and setbacks caused the markets to crash in disappointment. The Internet is similar to the Suez Canal in that it is a global infrastructure project that promises to speed the flow of goods, improve productivity, and make its builders wealthy, says Downes. Also, the development of the Internet has been threatened by impatient investors who have come calling for profits, crashing the Nasdaq. Still, the Internet is unlike the Suez Canal because it is being shaped by an army of designers, and because no one may never know when it is finished. Those who succumb to media backlash against the Internet, Downes writes, risk missing the boat.
- "Byting More Than They Can Chew"
Economist (07/07/01) Vol. 360, No. 8229, P. 34
Laid-off tech workers who hold H-1B visas are not taking their unemployment status kindly. Because H-1B visas expire as soon as the holder gets laid off, foreign workers who have lost their job must find a new job within days or risk being deported. At least 2,000 high-tech workers from India were sent home in March and April. Deals on cars, apartments, and a host of other goods can be found all over message boards as immigrants, mostly from India and China, prepare to go home. However, many tech workers are refusing to go because they do not want to be viewed as failures and are instead taking lower-paying jobs, marketing themselves as consultants, or trying to enroll in U.S. universities. Indians and Chinese tech workers are also using the clout that they have gained in the United States to form community groups to keep them in the country, lobbying Congress for looser restrictions on visas and calling for case-by-base considerations for deportations. One H-1B tech worker has even sued PricewaterhouseCoopers for being too slow in helping him gain permanent residence, and other visa holders may pursue a similar legal strategy.
- "Immigration and the Global IT Work Force"
Communications of the ACM (07/01) Vol. 44, No. 7, P. 34; West, Lawrence A.; Bogumil, Walter A.
A 1998 study from the Information Technology Association of America found that 10 percent of all IT positions in the United States were unfilled, and separate studies have suggested the number of computer-science graduates at U.S. institutions is not keeping pace with that demand. Indeed, a shortage of IT labor has struck nearly every country in Europe and in developing countries in Southeast Asia and Latin America. One major cause of this shortage is that IT workers have entered what West and Bogumil call "labor liquidity," in which IT workers can seek the strongest demand for their talents. This reality favors those nations which can meet that demand: in other words, those nations with the economy and opportunities to attract workers and immigration policies that favor their entrance into the country. In the United States, for example, the demand for IT workers has prompted the government to raise the annual cap on H-1B visas issued to highly skilled foreign workers to 195,000. Although other countries are in the process of modifying their own immigration policies and crafting programs to attract foreign IT talent, West and Bogumil argue that the United States has such an advantage in IT opportunities and investment capital that even countries with a generally well-off and well-educated populace, such as Australia, cannot hope to compete. The problem is especially dire for developing countries that have struggled merely to catch up with the mechanisms of the old economy, only to find that the Internet is becoming the dominant means of business. West and Bogumil argue that these nations' inability to establish infrastructure for the new economy, combined with the loss of their most skilled workers to IT leaders, will lead to a widening gap between the world's richest and poorest countries.