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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
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Volume 3, Issue 231: Wednesday, July 25, 2001
- "Senators Wants to Block Windows XP Release"
SiliconValley.com (07/25/01); Phillips, Heather Fleming
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday asked government officials to seek an injunction to prevent Microsoft from releasing the new XP version of its Windows operating system. Schumer also urged the U.S. Department of Justice not to settle its antitrust case against the software giant. "If Microsoft proceeds with its current plans and releases XP, there may be no going back," he said at a press conference in Washington, D.C. "Newer and better technologies may never see the light of day." Schumer objects to features in XP that tie the operating system to Microsoft's media player and instant messenger applications. Also, he is concerned about anti-competitive behavior in the company's business practices with AOL and Eastman Kodak. Microsoft, which has already made minor concessions in the design of XP to appease critics, contends that the new operating system will, in fact, bring consumers more choices. Meanwhile, Sen. Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said he would hold hearings on Microsoft's current business practices--a notable development because Congress has largely absented itself from the Microsoft antitrust case over the past three years.
- "Study: Despite Appearances, IT Spending Not Stalled"
E-Commerce Times (07/23/01); Morphy, Erika
A new report from Gartner Group contradicts recent findings that IT spending is declining as a result of the current economic downturn. Of the firms polled in the Gartner study, 56 percent intend to spend more on IT this year than they did last year. Gartner research director Barbara Gomolski says firms are allocating less money for discretionary spending and more for nondiscretionary spending. The report forecasts that "Type A" IT adopters such as the government will increase their IT budgets by 18 percent between 2000 and 2002, while telecommunications services will boost theirs by 13.9 percent. On the other hand, Gartner expects the utilities sector to reduce IT spending and investments by 15 percent, while the construction sector will shave off 13.5 percent. Gartner's findings go against a report from the U.S. Department of Commerce indicating that IT spending shrank significantly in the fourth quarter of 2000, along with ERP, CRM, and supply-chain applications spending. Meanwhile, over 10 percent of U.S. CEOs are planning to increase IT investments, while only one-third are planning to make cuts, according to a report from The Business Council.
- "In This Case, Repeating History Would Be Good"
USA Today (07/25/01) P. 3B; Maney, Kevin
New products and services, not just improvements on existing ones, are the key to revitalizing stagnant economies, say tech leaders. Indeed, the boom economy of the 1920s ended abruptly in part because industry stopped innovating. Charles Kettering, who developed the first electric car starter, called research "an organized method of keeping everybody reasonably dissatisfied." Attendees at this week's Internet Summit conference are echoing this thought. Programming wizard Ray Ozzie says products such as his Groove file-sharing software require time to develop--three years in his case--but are necessary to continue economic growth. The attendees of the Internet Summit are mostly the same as years past, but so are the technological ideas they represent. Only companies that open up entirely new services or markets, such as eBay has, will be able to sustain themselves after a boom period.
- "Greenspan: U.S. Nowhere Near Saturation in Tech Innovation"
The United States is unlikely to reach a saturation point soon in technology development, said Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan Tuesday. Addressing the Senate Banking Committee, Greenspan said the United States will get advance warnings of when technologies hit maturity. Although Greenspan did admit some signs of impending saturation, especially in the consumer PC market, he said the tech sector still trailed such markets as television. The United States is making use of only part of the many new technologies now available, Greenspan said.
- "Diverse Open-Source Advocates Face Common Threats"
SiliconValley.com (07/25/01); Gillmor, Dan
The open source community faces an uphill battle against corporate interests that are seeking to lock consumers into proprietary software systems. Representatives of the full spectrum of open source advocates attended the O'Reilly Open Source Convention in San Diego on Tuesday to discuss these threats as well as ways to improve the distribution and image of open source software. One topic of conversation was the failings of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which many argue has unduly issued patents that are used as corporate weapons, preventing market competition. Although generally an excellent product, open source software needs a better image, said Red Hat CTO Michael Tiemann. He said programmers should make more of an effort to educate people about the advantages of open source rather than attacking the common enemy, Microsoft. Microsoft's Passport system, which is necessary to use the company's .Net initiative, is the new scourge of the open source movement because it places so much control in the hands of just one party. However, the open source community has received strong backing from many other major tech firms, including IBM, Compaq, and Hewlett-Packard.
- "Adobe Opposes Prosecution in Hacking Case"
New York Times (07/24/01) P. C7; Harmon, Amy
Adobe Systems on Monday announced that it did not support the criminal prosecution of a Russian programmer arrested last week for telling how he hacked the copy-protection system Adobe developed for e-books. Dmitri Sklyarov is the first person to be charged under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, a law that makes it illegal to describe such methods of circumventing technologies for copyright protection. Sklyarov's arrest triggered a series of protests and condemnations, with roughly 100 critics marching outside the Adobe headquarters in San Jose, Calif. Representatives of the Electronic Frontier Foundation met with Adobe executives throughout Monday, and those discussions appear to have been the turning point. While affirming the company's support for copyright law, Adobe general counsel Colleen Pouliot explained, "The prosecution of this individual in this particular case is not conducive to the best interests of any of the parties involved or the industry." Although federal prosecutors can go forward with their case, supporters of Sklyarov say it would make little sense without Adobe's backing.
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- "House Pulls Carnivore Into the Light"
ZDNet (07/23/01); Bowman, Lisa M.
Congress has taken steps to reign in the use of Carnivore, the next-generation DCS1000, and other electronic surveillance systems used by the government. The House on Monday unanimously passed legislation that would force the FBI and attorney general to provide a detailed analysis on the use of such systems. The bill requires the report to include such information as how many times DCS1000 has been put to use, what types of unauthorized data have been collected, and how the system's approval process works. "It sends a message that Congress is watching and there will be accountability if this system is used," said a spokesman for Rep. Dick Armey (R-Texas). Attorney General John Ashcroft was recently quoted as saying that the FBI does not have a Carnivore system and if similar systems existed they would use "privacy neutral" technology.
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- "Government Plans Expanded Use of .US"
Washington Post (07/24/01) P. E1; Krim, Jonathan
The U.S. government is making plans to commercialize the .us domain and make it less cumbersome by streamlining the current system, which is made up of local managers, including volunteers who distribute .us domain names. However, the government's proposed changes have drawn a fair amount of criticism. The .us domain would be auctioned off for hundreds of millions of dollars or more if it were airwave "spectrum," or part of it would be delineated for public use, says Media Access Project associate director Harold Feld in a letter to Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans. Critics are also concerned that the guidelines for bidders are sufficiently vague, and therefore would enable the winning bidder to make significant policy decisions, including who can access the database of .us domain name registrants, how .us domain names would be distributed, and how .us domain name disputes would be handled. A coalition has asked Evans to postpone the July 27 bid deadline and revise the current guidelines to ensure that the .us domain is made available mainly for the public, and Sens. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.), John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), and John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) included the same request in a joint letter to Evans. Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) also supports a .us domain that is primarily non-commercial. The coalition is concerned that the government's actions will place the .us domain under the control of ICANN.
- "Africa Goes Online"
Boston Globe (07/22/01) P. A1; Bray, Hiawatha
The reach of the Internet could expand even further in coming years as digital entrepreneurs wire Africa through undersea cable projects such as SAT-3. Africa One is the latest effort to bridge the digital divide; the $1.8 billion plan will build a fiber-optic ring around the continent, bringing connections to every coastal nation. Since many of African countries are poor, tech firms are facing serious criticism for such projects--many observers think that the focus should be on supplying Africans with basic necessities, not the Internet. Although Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has chided such projects for these reasons, many digital entrepreneurs maintain that high-tech infrastructure is needed in Africa if countries want to boost economic development, such as from participating in the outsourcing market that other countries around the world have tapped. Also, digital entrepreneurs say the Internet groundwork will be a major investment in improving education on the continent. However, U.S. residents can point to the dot-com bust and its subsequent impact on the economy as a response to those who insist technology can "change everything." Although there have been no signs that African rulers are opposing the Internet to protect their power, consumer prices will be costly if state-run monopolies continue to control communications networks.
- "FBI Cyber Researcher Spreads Virus That E-Mails Private Documents"
Wall Street Journal (07/25/01) P. B4; Bridis, Ted
While the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee prepared to hold hearings on the effectiveness of the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center, one of the unit's researchers fell victim to the Sircam computer virus. The virus then emailed eight or more FBI documents to outside computers; one of those documents was classified under the designation "official use only." Among the recipients of the FBI documents were a Belgian expert on Internet security. A spokesperson for the FBI said none of the emailed documents contained classified information on open cases. The Senate hearings on the FBI unit are expected to address its troubled relationship with other federal agencies and with the private sector. Although the unit has received some accolades from observers, it has also received criticism for being late with warnings of viruses and other threats. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) notes that "a lot of work has to be done." In related news, the White House is creating a new network to provide advance warnings of Internet-related threats. The Cyber-Warning and Information Network (c-win) will be run by the Pentagon, not the FBI.
- "A City Takes a Breath After the Dot-Com Crash"
New York Times (07/24/01) P. C1; Richtel, Matt
San Francisco still boasts one of the most robust economies in the nation, but it is far off the frenetic pace set during the dot-com boom. Everyone in the city attributes the slowdown to the number of dot-com firms closing shop, which Webmergers.com says accounted for 31 percent of the total number of failed dot-coms nationally. The weeding out of business-to-consumer dot-coms is nearly complete, says Webmergers.com President Tim Miller, who adds that business-to-business companies are just now starting to feel the same effects. San Francisco residents say the city is noticeably more livable, with more parking, less traffic, and less expensive rents. In the South of Market neighborhood, a popular dot-com haven, vacancies are nearly 20 percent, up from under 0.6 percent just 18 months ago.
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- "Soft Keyboards Ease Messaging for Mobile Users"
Wall Street Journal (07/24/01) P. B11B
PDA and cell phone users may find inputting text into their devices easier with a new flexible keyboard from U.K. firm ElectroTextiles. The soft keyboard is made of a proprietary fabric known as ElekTex that can transmit an electrical impulse without the usual wiring or circuitry. Moreover, users can fold the keyboard or use it as a protective cover for their PDA or cell phone. ElectroTextiles officials believe the device will be a welcome remedy for the often frustrating task of entering text into handheld devices. They claim that the keyboard lets users enter text seven times more quickly than they can on cell phone keypads. The firm also says that wireless firms that charge users per text messages sent will support the technology because users will likely send more messages if they can type more quickly. Industry analysts are not convinced, noting that many handheld devices have programs to aid in entering text and that speech-recognition software could soon render keyboards obsolete.
- "More Bosses Keep Tabs on Telecommuters"
USA Today (07/24/01) P. 1B; Armour, Stephanie
Technological advances and increasing levels of employee surveillance are allowing managers to monitor the online activities of their telecommuting staff more effectively and pervasively. An American Management Association survey estimates that almost 80 percent of large companies keep tabs on employee communications, a 200 percent increase since 1997. Most monitoring is possible because employees usually enter the Web or use email through a company server, but products that make surveillance possible without a server have started to appear. Employers can read email containing certain words with a product from Pearl Software, while technology that can measure the number of keystrokes at-home workers make is also being used. Companies can also monitor remote workers' Web surfing activities and block employee access to Web sites that are not related to business.
- "Settlement Shows How Hard Life Is for Minorities at Tech Firms, Critics Say"
Washington Post (07/22/01) P. L1; Johnson, Carrie
A six-year racial discrimination lawsuit against tech firm Acropolis Systems illustrates how minorities face greater obstacles in the tech industry. BlackMoney.com executive editor John Templeton argues that African Americans are often considered not competent enough for the high-tech sector or even a threat to businesses. "What this means is that people don't go out looking for African Americans and if they have them, they're always in a vulnerable position," he says. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission took up the case of former Acropolis human resources manager Lisa Buchanan, who contended that CEO John Pham told her to lay off several African American employees because there were "too many blacks in the office," and later fired her for refusing to do so. Despite a $55,000 settlement awarded to the plaintiffs, Acropolis vice president Darwin Malloy denies the charge of racial discrimination. The prolonged time it took to resolve the Acropolis case demonstrates the level of difficulty facing discriminated minority employees, Templeton says.
- "German Net Official Throws Weight Behind ICANN"
Newsbytes (07/20/01); Stafford, Ned
Sabine Dolderer, a member of the board of directors of Germany's DENIC, which oversees the .de ccTLD, recently broke ranks with some of her European peers and publicly gave her support to ICANN. ICANN is a necessary component of a healthy Internet, particularly as the Domain Name System is concerned, said Dolderer. "DENIC supports ICANN in this, because consistent rules are the precondition for worldwide communication," Dolderer said. DENIC spokesman Klaus Herzig felt it necessary to offer an explanation for Dolderer's comments on ICANN. Dolderer's comments were in part a reaction to criticism from Germany's BORooN and France's CINICS, which have criticized the United States for its influence over the root system and the Internet in general, says Herzig. The two groups are urging the creation of a European root system, but Herzig says their efforts will likely fall on deaf ears throughout most of Europe. Dolderer had said that DENIC would provide unwavering support for ICANN, and Herzig agrees, noting that DENIC's board is unanimously behind ICANN.
For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/serving/IG.html.
- "'Bullish on Technology'"
Roll Call (07/23/01) Vol. 47, No. 7, P. 5; Curran, Tim
In an interview with Roll Call magazine, Assistant U.S. Secretary of Commerce Bruce Mehlman contends that the Bush administration is firmly dedicated to the IT sector, which has helped the United States boost its productivity growth nearly 200 percent. He says granting the president trade-promotion authority will allow the industry to take advantage of emerging overseas technology markets, while passing the tax bill will help quell concerns about consumer and business spending. Mehlman also supports Bush's national energy initiative and the bipartisan education plan, which allocates a billion dollars over five years to partnerships spearheaded by the National Science Foundation to improve math and science teaching. He says the administration sees broadband as an important jumping-off point for innovation, productivity, e-learning, and e-government, although it is still in the midst of listening to arguments both for and against government involvement. Mehlman says Bush still supports an extension of the Internet tax moratorium--not to have one would only lead to many states and localities imposing a hodgepodge of online tax policies. "Technology does indeed have the power to change our lives, to improve society, to make America a better, fairer, more competitive place," he declares.
- "Big Is Beautiful Again"
Economist (07/21/01) Vol. 360, No. 8231, P. 51
Large tech firms appear to be in favor now that venture capital has dried up. Startups and their disruptive technologies now pose less of a threat to the tech giants. During the first quarter of this year, venture capital investments were down 40 percent from a year ago, and the IPO market has become virtually nonexistent. Startups are no longer viewed as glamorous places to work, and many tech workers are returning to larger corporations. Also, many companies are weary of doing business with small players for fear that the vendor will sink, leaving them stuck with their products. Hardware startups are finding it very difficult to compete as the major rivals continue to slash prices. On the Internet, 60 percent of users are pointing their Web browsers to 14 sites. Still, market observers believe startups will thrive in the future as companies dole out their complex business processes across many organizations for outsourcing.
- "Outlook Turns Cautious"
InternetWeek (07/23/01) No. 870, P. 1; Violino, Bob
IT managers polled by InternetWeek expect IT spending to increase an average of 28 percent over last year, a 5 percent drop from March's forecast and a 12 percent drop from January's forecast. Of those polled, 44 percent say their firms have cut back on e-business spending due to the economic slowdown, even in the face of IT budget increases. This conservative attitude will be maintained unless economic conditions pick up within the next few months, says Cutter Consortium analyst Chris Pickering. There is uncertainty among most IT chiefs as to what level of e-business funding they can expect in 2002. PPG Industries vice president of IT David Smith expects funding levels to decline if the economy does not pick up in the third and fourth quarters. "We're more cautious than we would be if the economy were not as soft as it is," explains Certif-A-Gift's MIS director Mike Baumer. Executives from Continental Airlines and General Motors say the economy will not play a large role in their e-business spending for 2002, since their industries are relatively healthy. Despite overall feelings of caution, just over 50 percent of the IT managers polled are optimistic that the growth rate of online sales in 2001 will surpass that of 2000.
- "Internet to Mars"
Computerworld (07/16/01) Vol. 35, No. 29, P. 50; Anthes, Gary H.
Internet pioneer Vinton Cerf is now working with a group at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to develop what they are calling the InterPlaNetary (IPN) Internet. The IPN will facilitate communications among interplanetary outposts, spaceships, and robots. Cerf says, "It's conceivable that the IPN could go like its terrestrial counterpart, starting out as a network supporting scientific research and eventually evolving into something of commercial interest." The real-time, "chatty" nature of terrestrial communications protocols make them an unfavorable choice for the IPN, and so the developers are looking at building a network comprised of multiple Internets connected by what they call an "overlay network." Each Internet will have its own internal protocols, but the overlay network will subsume those and transport between distant points through what is called a "bundling" protocol. Researchers say the IPN's architecture could be of benefit to terrestrial networks, especially among mobile devices.
Look for an article detailing IPN by Adrian Hooke, principal member of the of the senior staff in the NASA/JPL InterPlanetary Network and Information Systems Directorate, in the September 2001 issue of Communications of the ACM.