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Volume 3, Issue 228: Wednesday, July 18, 2001
- "Microsoft Pulls Back Its Support for Java"
Wall Street Journal (07/18/01) P. A3; Wilke, John R.; Clark, Don
Microsoft has removed all support for Java in the newest beta release of Windows XP in a step some say is meant to undermine support for the competing technology. Java is an open software platform engineered by Microsoft rival Sun Microsystems; it competes directly with the Web programming software Microsoft touts as the building blocks of its new .Net scheme. Microsoft representatives cited "business reasons" for the removal and said code could be downloaded from a Microsoft site that would enable Java if it had not already been installed by PC makers. Microsoft previously signed a settlement with Sun allowing it to use older versions of Java, although Microsoft was not committed to the programming language. Microsoft has also increased the tightness of its security to block Java programs on the Web when users set the security level to "high" and in email under normal circumstances. Many developers complain that while thousands of viruses have been created using macro programs in Microsoft Word and Excel, only a handful have been found that employ Java. Purdue University computer science professor Jan Vitek says the moves are intended to discourage companies from using Java because users would not be able to access that content on Microsoft's ubiquitous programs.
- "New Study Shows Spending on Tech Remains Healthy"
Investor's Business Daily (07/18/01) P. A4; Prado, Antonio A.
A majority of firms are increasing their tech spending this year, according to a new survey from Gartner. The annual "IT Spending and Staffing Survey," released Tuesday, surveyed 589 firms worldwide, although mostly from North America; those firms' annual revenue averaged $2.3 billion, and the size of their workforce averaged 8,900 employees. Gartner found that 56.4 percent of the firms surveyed plan to grow tech spending this year, 22.4 percent report a flat tech budget, and 21.2 percent say they are reducing tech spending for this year. In addition, Gartner found that, of the firms that are increasing tech spending, the average increase in that spending is 21.5 percent. Tech spending is decreasing in industries where it plays a less important role, notes Gartner analyst Jeremy Grigg--for example, the transportation and utility industries. In addition, Gartner says firms are cutting their capital tech budgets more than their operating tech budgets. Gartner reports that hardware firms are feeling the current economic downturn the most because firms are not upgrading their equipment, and this is having a ripple effect on component makers. However, software firms and ASPs are not suffering as much, Gartner says.
- "U.S. Arrests Russian Cryptographer as Copyright Violator"
New York Times (07/18/01) P. C8; Lee, Jennifer 8.
FBI agents arrested a Russian cryptographer at the Def Con hacker conference in Las Vegas on Tuesday for a criminal violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Dmitri Sklyarov, an employee of ElcomSoft, an encryption firm outside of Moscow, presented his research on breaking Adobe's eBook Reader software encryption to Def Con attendees the day before his arrest. ElcomSoft had previously tangled with Adobe over a software program that lets users convert Adobe eBook files into digital files that can be easily copied. Observers are paying special attention to this case not only because it tests the strength of the DMCA in criminal cases, but also because it tries the conventions of national jurisdiction--Sklyarov both works in Russia and is a Russian citizen. In addition, observers say it is somewhat surprising that the authorities decided to charge Sklyarov alone, and not his company as well.
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- "'Tech Wreck' Hits Home"
SiliconValley.com (07/14/01); Sylvester, David A.
Unemployment is on the rise in the Silicon Valley area, suggesting that the tech downturn has finally registered in the region widely considered its home base. Unemployment in Santa Clara County reached 4.2 percent in June, the highest rate since October 1995, while unemployment in San Francisco County hit 5 percent. The state of California currently has an unemployment rate of 5.1 percent, while the United States' overall rate is 4.5 percent. Silicon Valley firms have cut approximately 65,000 jobs this year, with some 15,000 of these directly affecting workers in the region. However, overall job cuts in Santa Clara County for the year stands at only 5,100, which analysts say is the result of firms firing large numbers of workers while hiring other workers in smaller, less publicized batches. However, analysts are unsure whether the unemployment rate has peaked or whether the downturn will worsen in the coming months. Steve Cochrane of Economy.com predicts that Santa Clara County will lose 7,800 jobs in the next two quarters, forecasting that the economy will not pick up until the second quarter of 2002.
- "Women in Tech Aim to Keep Making Strides Amid Economic Slump"
Investor's Business Daily (07/17/01) P. A8; Levaux, Janet Purdy
The seventh annual Women in Technology International (WITI) meeting, held last month in Silicon Valley, attracted about 1,250 IT professionals to discuss the role of women in an industry dominated by men. Women hold about 20 percent of all IT positions, reports the American Association of University Women, but few women hold upper-level management positions. Speakers addressed how women can get ahead in the tech industry, with Support.com CEO Radhu Basu telling attendees, "The worst thing you can do is to sit on the fence." She urged attendees to use their leadership qualities in unique, aggressive ways. Karenann Terrell, head of the e-business unit for DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler Group, said women should work for the advancement of all women but should not go too far in challenging entrenched opinion. For example, she said women should simply ignore men complaining about a female co-worker who has left early to pick up a sick child rather than argue with them. Attendees also discussed how to interest more young women and girls in the IT field, stressing that promoting the creative and collaborative side of the IT industry might help. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Education show that women comprised only 27 percent of computer-science degree recipients in 1998, down from 37 percent in 1984.
To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.
- "Clever Wiring Harnesses Tiny Switches"
New York Times (07/17/01) P. D1; Chang, Kenneth
Hewlett-Packard researchers Tuesday will announce a successful patent application securing the rights to a wiring technology that makes use of single-molecule electronic switches. Scientists had previously discovered how to create switches from carbon-based molecules, but wiring them--the tiniest of electronic components--had proven difficult. The new Hewlett-Packard approach uses a grid of 1,000 ultra-thin wires and 10 larger wires with the switch molecules wedged in between the wires. Randomly sprinkled gold dust serves to create unique identifying characteristics for each of the connections, a necessary feature for finding data stored on the microscopic chip. In theory, molecule switches would allow faster and cheaper production than is possible with silicon chips and would run on only a fraction of the power used with silicon chips. Researchers involved with the single-molecule chip technology say commercial applications are several years off and would likely be first incorporated into small consumer devices such as watches.
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- "Really Good 'Fellows'"
Washington Post (07/18/01) P. E1; Cha, Ariana Eunjung
Many large tech firms have given their most talented and experienced engineers superstar status within the company, allowing them major sway in the future of leading initiatives. Dubbed "fellows" or "distinguished engineers," these geniuses roam from project to project and give executives and development teams insight and guidance. After startups lured away many of these companies' brightest workers during the dot-com boom, the companies created more autonomous roles in order to keep their best thinkers. Sun Microsystems' Li Gong is one such fellow and is a main instigator of the current Jxta peer-to-peer project. As an example of the type of function these people play, he stepped in to give critical advice in the project's early stages, when many programmers involved were feuding over strategy. For the first time, Microsoft last year awarded 13 people the title, including Jim Gray, the 1998 recipient of the Turing Award. Gray is helping to lay the foundation for the massive .Net information database with which Microsoft plans to coordinate everything digital.
- "Russian Mafia Net Threat"
Interactive Week Online (07/16/01); Lorek, Laura; Ploskina, Brian
The FBI says computer hacking perpetrated by Eastern European organized crime groups represents the biggest economic threat to the United States and Western countries. These groups have already stolen over a million credit card numbers and have targeted 40 companies in 20 U.S. states, the FBI reports. The Russian Mafia is leading the charge, having established cells in 50 countries and having placed agents in every major U.S. city, notes expert Jeffrey Robinson. Ipsa International's Joe Rosetti calls Russian hackers some of the most skillful and sophisticated in the world. Some of the Russian Mafia's hacking rings break into e-commerce computers and steal bank account and credit card numbers, while others hold them for ransom, say security experts. Ex-KGB agents often lead these rings, with the actual work done by hackers they have recruited, who usually operate out of Russian Internet cafes. Russian hackers break into U.S. e-commerce computers through holes in Microsoft Windows NT operating systems, a fixable problem that many companies have yet to rectify, the FBI claims.
- "Hacking For a Better World"
IDG News Service (07/16/01); Costello, Sam
Hacktivism--the act of breaking into computer systems on behalf of a political cause or to make a political statement--can be used to further human rights, said panelists at the Def Con hacker conference in Las Vegas. Uncovering evidence of human rights violations convincing enough to bring its perpetrators to justice requires an enormous amount of research and security, said Patrick Ball, deputy director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Science and Human Rights program. To get involved, Ball advised interested hackers to seek out established human rights and computer rights organizations or to write their own software, provided it is simple to use. Encryption, proprietary code, and protective Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) software are just some of the technologies human rights groups can use, Ball said. Such groups have especially benefited from PGP, which shields data from those who would misuse it and features digital-signature verification.
- "Unions vs. Industry Over RSI"
Washington Post (07/17/01) P. E4; Reddy, Anitha
U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao on Monday opened the first of three hearings as part of her review of a federal law that mandates employer compensation and workplace rules for repetitive stress injuries. Congress quickly squashed the rule established by President Clinton earlier this year, prompting Secretary Chao to promise a review of the situation. Representatives of industry groups favor self-regulation and claim that a federal rule, such as the one approved by Clinton, would cost over $100 billion per year. Moreover, industry groups claim that injuries in many industries have been falling for 10 years consecutively, meaning that economic incentives to keep workers healthy has been enough to motivate companies to establish guidelines and rules. Union officials, on the other hand, point to specific examples--especially in the meatpacking and auto-manufacturing industries--where workers continue to be hurt from repetitive stress injuries. They contend that the testimonies from industry-sponsored doctors and scientists are biased and self-serving.
- "Webbys Go On Despite Dot-Bomb Threat"
USA Today (07/18/01) P. 5B; Swartz, Jon
When the dot-com community gathers in San Francisco Wednesday night for the fifth annual Webby Awards, many award nominees might use the event as an opportunity to pass out their resume. In the 14 months since last year's Webby Awards, 538 dot-coms and Internet-related firms have gone out of business. In addition, of the 135 dot-coms nominated for last year's awards, 20 percent are now closed, including several nominated this year, including software firm Popular Power and Feed Magazine. Still, organizers and attendees say they are somewhat optimistic that the industry, plagued by nervous venture capitalists and a dry market for Internet advertising, may be on the verge of a turnaround. For example, Jupiter Media Metrix predicts that online spending next year will total $47.8 billion, a 40 percent increase from this year. In addition, several dot-coms, such as eBay and Travelocity, have shown that success is possible. With the venture-capital-fueled boom now ended, investors believe that the surviving dot-coms will formulate more rational spending and expansion plans.
- "Third World Nations Embrace IT"
ZDNet News (07/16/01); Bowman, Lisa M.
The Digital Opportunity Initiative, formed to study the effects of technology on developing countries, says there are both opportunities and threats posed by IT development in poorer nations. The United Nations, the U.S.-based Markle Foundation, and Accenture--the core members of the Initiative--found that a broad approach is needed to integrate IT into developing economies successfully. Supporting physical infrastructure, workforce training, and responsible policies are critical in deciding whether IT will benefit other areas of the economy or deepen levels of poverty. The success of e-commerce by Tanzanian farmers, telecommunications in Estonia, and the expansion of Costa Rica's computer manufacturing industry are all given as examples of successful tech initiatives in the report. The study was issued in advance of this week's "Group of Eight" meeting, at which the world's leading nations will gather to discuss strategies about how to bring IT to developing countries.
- "Designing Duo Helps Shape Apple's Fortunes"
Wall Street Journal (07/18/01) P. B1; Tam, Pui-Wing
Apple Computer supports only three or four computer lines at a time, making the success or failure of any new release critical to its total revenues. Behind each release is the hardware design team, headed by Jon Rubinstein and Jonathan Ive. Their most recent releases have had success, such as the iMac in 1998 and the recent Titanium PowerBook G4 laptop. However, last year's Power Mac G4 Cube was deemed a market failure, although the two are proud of its design qualities. After Steve Jobs resumed leadership of the company in 1997, the hardware design team was revamped, cutting in half its staff and reorganizing it to be able to produce new computer designs in only 12 to 15 months, compared to a previous 24-month design schedule. Ive says Jobs participates in strategy and design discussions and has fostered a more permissive attitude toward design freedoms. Apple has increased its research and development contributions to 7.1 percent of its total revenue this year, up from 4.8 percent last year. Other computer makers invest less--Dell puts in only 1.5 percent of its revenue, and Compaq only 3.5 percent.
- "Firms Protect the Future by Shielding Small Tech Jobs From Incoming Pink Slips"
Small Times Online (07/13/01); Karoub, Jeff
Although U.S. companies have been forced to lay off workers due to economic pressures, they are protecting jobs in small-tech programs because analysts are confident that research in MEMS, nanotechnology, microsystems, and related sectors will play a big role in future products. Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimates that more than 770,000 layoffs have been announced over the last six months, a 27 percent rise over 2000 figures; job-cut announcements leapt from 80,140 to almost 125,000 from May to June, an increase of 56 percent. Cahners In-Stat Group MEMS analyst Marlene Bourne contends that small technology is well-positioned and predicts that the economy should recover about the same time that products from MEMS research and development hit the market. "The market has not really fully matured in [MEMS], so when you're not making and selling a lot of product, you're not impacted when people stop buying," says Corning's Paul Rogoski. A research-driven industry, MEMS is not subject to market fluctuations in the same way that semiconductors are, Bourne adds. Agere Systems, a MEMS-based optical switch manufacturer, has let 6,000 workers go since April, yet it will make two MEMS-enabled systems available for commercial sale later this year.
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- "One Law? Sure, But This One Isn't It"
eWeek (07/16/01) Vol. 18, No. 27, P. 50; Chen, Anne
CIOs and industry experts are both troubled by the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA). "Customers will be faced with the bulk of the economic risks, rather than the vendors, as it is now," says Robert Frances Group analyst Chad Robinson. UCITA contains a clause that many CIOs resent that lets independent software vendors (ISVs) turn off software at customer Web sites in the event of contract disputes. The ISVs would essentially be allowed to enter and shut down the computers of any customers who they think have failed to comply with UCITA. Furthermore, experts contend that the monitoring of software usage and UCITA compliance could lead to security problems. Some state legislatures are being pressured to reject or alter the bill, but amendments are a double-edged sword for CIOs--vendors can specify the state laws that govern their contracts under the original draft of UCITA, so CIOs will need to keep track of any amendments. UCITA has been passed by the states of Maryland and Virginia, and is currently in the legislatures of New Hampshire, Illinois, Texas, Oregon, Maine, and the District of Columbia.
For information about ACM's UCITA activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/IP.
- "A Long March"
Economist (07/14/01) Vol. 360, No. 8230, P. 63
Manufacturers are making progress in "mass customization," but the selling of highly individual products on a mass scale is believed to be years away. Flexible systems and Internet ordering have helped bring manufacturers a step closer to mass customization. With the Internet, manufacturers can link up supply chains in real-time in order to create leaner operations. Mass customization points toward build-to-order (BTO) manufacturing, which Dell Computer has mastered on its way to becoming the largest PC maker in the world last year. Dell's manufacturing process lets consumers specify the features they want on their PC and pay up front by credit card; the PC maker then has the PCs assembled and dispatched, and they often arrive within three days. Dell relies on a standard pre-assembly module, with most of the customization coming from the chosen software--PCs are put together in four minutes and it takes 90 minutes to load up the software. Car makers, in particular, are looking to take advantage of mass customization because it has the potential to lower supply-chain costs by up to $80 billion a year, and some industry players are optimistic about "virtual" BTO, or using the Internet to find where the desired car exists in the distribution system. Other manufacturers, such as Maytag, are approaching mass customization through the "build-to-replenish" model, the key BTO stage that requires a company to make another product once one is sold.
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- "Linux Attacks Exaggerate Issues"
InformationWeek (07/16/01) No. 846, P. 51; Ricadela, Aaron
Recent months have seen renewed attacks on open source software from Microsoft, with CEO Steve Ballmer saying Linux is "a cancer," while senior vice president Craig Mundie argued that the GNU General Public License (GPL) was bad for business in a speech at New York University. Microsoft argues that the GPL is a threat to intellectual property because it requires developers to share any changes or modifications they make to GPL-based software. This, Mundie told the audience at New York University, makes the commercial development of software a problematic endeavor. Microsoft instead supports a model known as shared-source programming, in which it makes available the source code of its programs; users can then browse through, but not change, this software in order to find possible problems. However, many observers scoff at this model, charging that it serves only Microsoft's interests, since it is essentially receiving a free debugging. Critics say Microsoft's attacks on open source software are an outgrowth of the growing presence of Linux in the market for low-end servers, which IDC estimates totaled 27 percent of server operating system licenses acquired last year. The worries that Microsoft has over the GPL may be moot, say commercial open source vendors, since few customers actually modify the software they use. Instead, they choose Linux and other open source programs because they do not cost as much as Windows and other proprietary software.
- "Fast Track Into Management"
Computerworld (07/16/01) Vol. 35, No. 29, P. 42; Vitiello, Jill
Interest in the position of IT project manager continues to surge, with some 27,000 project managers now certified worldwide, according to the Project Management Institute, and the average salary pushing $100,000 a year. Two profiles of IT project managers reveal some of the qualities necessary for success in this challenging position. Salomi Patel, an IT project manager at McGraw-Hill, is a quick learner, has initiative, and provides an excellent tech background, explains her superior, Corri Russell. Although Patel credits her MBA training for helping her through the experience, she says training provided by McGraw-Hill itself and the daily experience of actually managing others was the best teacher. Patel says learning to communicate with others was critical, especially when she had to challenge them to improve their performance; be strong but polite, she counsels. Bill Matasker, who now manages IT projects for Verizon after beginning his career there as a network engineer, says starting with smaller projects was an important early step, saying, "You can get your feet wet without the responsibility of a million-dollar account." Once he had such large accounts, Matasker says he learned that the keys to success were to solve problems as quickly as possible--trying to achieve what is best for both the company and the company--and never to lie. Matasker adds that evaluating the strengths of each member of a project team is also vitally important.
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- "Gene Machine"
Wired (07/01) Vol. 9, No. 7, P. 148; Morton, Oliver
IBM's Almaden Research Center is engaged in the development of Blue Gene, a $100 million supercomputer designed to predict the structure of proteins from their gene sequences through molecular dynamics. The problem is that using molecular dynamics to simulate protein folding is an unproven method, so many researchers at the Critical Assessment of Techniques for Protein Structure Prediction event harbor doubts that Blue Gene can successfully fulfill the task it is designed to do. A chip that contains an array of processors and memory via embedded DRAM will power Blue Gene--4 million such processors will be capable of delivering a petaflop, or 1,000 teraflops. The Blue Gene research team is developing prototypes of these processors, while construction of the supercomputer itself should commence in 2003. IBM expects Blue Gene's power to be 100 times that of ASCI White, currently the fastest machine in the world. It will take a year for a petaflop computer such as Blue Gene to calculate the shape of a protein from its gene sequence. Although it remains to be seen whether its protein-folding project will bear any fruit, IBM hopes that Blue Gene will refine supercomputing, leading to the creation of smaller and cheaper teraflop machines and self-healing computers, as well as significant strides in the fields of astrophysics, meteorology, epistemology, finance, manufacturing, and linguistics.