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 242: Monday, August 20, 2001
- "Bluetooth Wireless Stumbles at the Starting Gate"
New York Times (08/20/01) P. C1; Gaither, Chris
The Bluetooth wireless standard is still awaiting the long-promised breakout in the consumer market. Some companies have begun to manifest worries about the viability of the standard, especially in light of the success of Wi-Fi, a technology some say could eventually assume all the duties of Bluetooth. Microsoft, for example, has included Wi-Fi support in its new Windows XP operating system, but has not included support for Bluetooth, citing a lack of Bluetooth-ready products. Much of the delay in Bluetooth rollout is also due to the high cost of Bluetooth chips, which cost about $20 currently, but could be made for only $5 apiece, given demand drives down production costs, according to supporters. But some say the Wi-Fi standard, which connects devices wirelessly via the Internet at broadband speeds, has already eclipsed Bluetooth as far as speed and device support and will also be able to compete as far as costs and power consumption as the technology advances.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors will need to register.)
- "Techno-Prophet Fears Computers will Outsmart Us"
Philadelphia Inquirer (08/16/01); Wendland, Mike
Speaking to Ford Motor IT executives last week, revered technology prophet James Martin predicted that machines could very well wrest control away from humans. While supersmart computers could perform many positive functions in the immediate future, such as solving world hunger through more efficient farming, Martin warned that the advent of alien intelligence--non-human machine intelligence--and alien superintelligence could become a threat as more and more decisions--corporate, governmental, and personal--are turned over to computers. "Right now, in one profession after another the machines are outperforming humans in critical tasks," he declared. "In the future, humans won't stand a chance against machines in certain areas." Martin anticipates that about 20 years could pass before the human race has to confront this problem.
- "The Search Engine Strategies Hits SF"
Speakers at the recent Search Engine Strategies symposium gave suggestions to companies and individuals about how to best position their Web sites on new search engines and directory listings. Sites such as Yahoo! and MSN that offer categorical listings and searches, as well as general search sites like Google and Alta Vista remain popular with all types of Web users, according to Search Engine Watch expert Danny Sullivan. He said the best way to make a Web site accessible to searchers was to use many methods of positioning it on the Web. One of the core strategies is keeping the key description succinct so that both users and search engine editors can easily discern the intent and validity of the site. Alta Vista's director of search services and Web marketing Chris Kermoian says this makes it more likely that the growing number of human search engine editors will approve the site for listing.
- "Court's Rebuke May Push Microsoft Toward U.S. Deal"
Wall Street Journal (08/20/01) P. B4; Simpson, Glenn R.; Wigfield, Mark
Microsoft's most recent appeal for a stay on remedial hearings was harshly rejected by the federal appeals court that last month reviewed and largely upheld a ruling against the software company. Experts say the strong language chastising Microsoft for their continued requests for a delay in remedial hearings may set the stage for an unfavorable decision. The Justice Department has remain dogged in its pursuit of a fast remedy through the courts, putting more pressure on Microsoft to soften its conditions for an out-of-court settlement. A district court judge could be appointed as early as Friday and the selection of candidates are mostly liberal judges with strong government-sided antitrust records. Microsoft's appeal to the Supreme Court--based on the misconduct of the original district court judge, Thomas Penfield Jackson--is seen as a long-shot and a possible hearing is not expected till the fall.
- "Patents: Software to Provide 'Personal' Attention to Online Customers with Service Untouched by a Human"
New York Times (08/20/01) P. C8; Chartrand, Sabra
Automated virtual representatives, or vReps, from NativeMinds is software that conducts customer service, sales, and marketing for companies using computer-generated images programmed to answer questions from Web site visitors in real time. vReps, developed by NativeMinds CEO Walter Tackett and colleague Scott Benson, uses pattern recognition and learning by example. A vRep is programmed to know answers as well as a battery of questions that generate such answers; a self-diagnostic program continuously verifies this knowledge. "The key thing is to get the user not to pick up the phone and talk to a person," says Tackett. "The key to that is to get the vRep to answer all the questions that can be reasonably answered and have a high probability of being correct." vReps are designed to satisfy consumers' need to get fast and accurate answers to their specific questions, and companies' need for money-saving customer support software that can be easily maintained.
- "Video Streaming Is a Sleeper Hit With Business Crowd"
Wall Street Journal (08/20/01) P. B6; Richmond, Riva
Video and audio-streaming is gaining momentum in the corporate sector as companies continue to realize the benefits Web casting offers in regards to applications such as training and product promotion. Jupiter Media Metrix analyst Billy Pidgeon says the market for these Webcasting services among the top 1,000 U.S. companies will reach $2.8 billion in 2005, up from only an estimated $290 million this year. Much of that growth will serve to rescue media streaming companies such as Digital Planet, which were originally geared for consumer applications. Other companies that create the platforms and infrastructure for media streaming--such as Microsoft, Real Networks, and Akamai Technologies--also stand to benefit from the growth. Experts are looking to the health care, pharmaceutical, software, and financial services industries to lead the way in adopting cost-saving uses of video-streaming, including online conferences, product promotion, and investor disclosure sessions mandated by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
- "Analysts: Tech Bottom Could Last for Years"
NewsFactor Network (08/17/01); DeLong, Daniel F.
Consumer spending and corporate IT spending are continuing to fall due to gloomy earnings announcements from Hewlett-Packard and Dell. Dell reported that its earnings flattened out despite shipping more units than any other PC maker thanks to price cuts, while HP reported that a slowdown in third-quarter PC and printer sales led to an 89 percent decline in profits. "Things are getting worse across the technology board and no one can say when they will improve," contends A.G. Edwards & Sons analyst Brett Miller. "It might not be until well into next year before we see any noticeable change." Most Wall Street analysts do not expect technology earnings to return to 2000 levels until 2005 at the least.
- "Canada Could Produce Next Generation of Internet Elite"
Miami Herald (08/13/01) P. 13; Newman, Heather
Some are predicting the next Internet boom could come from Canada. Already, Canadian youth use the Internet more than those in the United States and in several European countries. Also, Canadian adults are more likely to have high-speed Internet access than U.S. adults. These factors, plus the rising amount of available Canadian venture capital and the growing Technology Triangle, Canada's answer to Silicon Valley, all point to a possible boom in Canada's importance to the Internet and the high-tech economy. Still, some caution that Canadian high-tech businesses may become successful in Canada, but there is nothing forcing them to stay--many, like Nortel Networks, for example, relocate to the United States.
- "DOE Boosts Advanced Computing"
Federal Computer Week (08/15/01); Caterinicchia, Dan
The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded $57 million to 51 research projects under the aegis of its Scientific Discovery through Advanced Computing (SciDAC) initiative. "This innovative program will help us to find new energy sources for the future, understand the effect of energy production on our environment and learn more about the fundamental nature of energy and matter," proclaimed Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. The SciDAC program will utilize terascale computers to create new scientific simulation codes that can be applied to research in nuclear astrophysics, meteorological simulation, chemical sciences, high-energy physics, fusion energy, and high-performance computing. The simulation codes will also be designed to use modern parallel computers. SciDAC software will allow collaboration between scientists across great distances, easier data sharing, and remote control of scientific instruments, said acting director of DOE's Office of Science James Decker. Some 13 DOE labs and over 50 colleges and universities will be involved in the SciDAC projects.
- "Content Management: Integrate to Dominate"
InternetWeek (08/13/01) No. 873, P. 29; Reimers, Barbara Depompa
Content management can help facilitate an enterprise network-wide synchronization of legacy systems, databases, and applications. Fidelity Investments Institutional Services uses content management to supply syndicated information to its clients, brokers, and financial advisors without the need to leverage IT resources. UnumProvident is constructing a content management portal designed to combine content from four companies. The portal will enable 1,400 employees and 100,000 partners and agents to publish content on the corporate Web site, improve security and search capabilities, and streamline training. Content management companies are starting to emerge that offer their services to small and midsize companies outside the Fortune 1000 fold. Mitsubishi Electric Automation, for example, selected Participant Server from Eprise to manage its Web store and distributor extranet content. Customers and partners can learn about the availability of products and the location of suppliers, and enter and track orders more easily through Participant Server; the company will also use it to manage its revamped Web site content in the autumn. Vendors and analysts advise that customers place emphasis on content personalization, be flexible about how many systems they can integrate via content management, and shop for open/standardized implementations.
- "Feeling the Effects of Code Red II"
Computerworld (08/13/01) Vol. 35, No. 33, P. 14; Weiss, Todd R.
Although a Microsoft patch can protect computers operating on Microsoft's Web server software from the Code Red II worm, users and analysts warn that servers can still experience slowdowns as a result of port scans from other infected machines. Code Red II spreads in a manner similar to the original Code Red virus, but scans more aggressively and also installs a backdoor program, enabling hackers to easily commandeer infected computers. Marty Lindner of Carnegie Mellon University's Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Center says that ISPs have been hammered by Code Red II since they manage a huge number of IP addresses on behalf of their clients. CERT has verified that at least 150,000 systems have been infected by the worm since last Saturday, according to Lindner.
- "E-Mail is Set to Energize the Corporate PDA Sector"
Dataquest predicts that the corporate demand for personal digital assistants will be fueled by the addition of wireless email support. More profits and growth can be realized from the corporate PDA market than the consumer market, says Gartner Dataquest's Todd Kort. "IT managers have generally been dragging their feet in endorsing the use of PDAs," he says. "The resistance will subside as users are better able to justify the productivity enhancement offered by PDAs with wireless email and applications that sync smoothly with corporate data repositories."
- "E-Theft: Who's Liable?"
Interactive Week (08/13/01) Vol. 8, No. 31, P. 11; Brown, Doug; Ploskina, Brian
Legislation is being introduced that is intended to hold e-businesses liable for failing to secure private consumer information, including credit card numbers. While hackers, identity thieves, and credit card companies face liability in cases of fraud, a law has yet to be introduced addressing how companies protect personal customer information. California attorney Mari Frank says any business that puts a consumer at risk because of negligence should have to suffer the consequences. California and Wisconsin are among the states that are beginning to deal with identity theft. Allan Trosclair, the Coalition for the Prevention of Economic Crime's executive director, says merchant responsibility in instances of hacking is among the issues being discussed by legislators. Trosclair says some 3,000 stolen credit card numbers are traded in chat rooms each month. Federal watchdogs suggested guidelines last week that would cover how financial institutions secure private consumer data. VeriSign's Payflow product, which American Express adopted in late 2000, frees merchants from having to process and store credit card charges.
- "High Pay Doesn't Equal Affordability"
InformationWeek (08/13/01) No. 850, P. 53; Goodridge, Beth
Although IT managers and IT staffers are well paid, their base salaries do not always cover cost-of-living expenses. A survey conducted by InformationWeek Research and Carnegie Mellon University's Software Industry Center finds workers in Boston, New York, and San Francisco--traditional high-tech hubs--have difficulty maintaining affordability. In contrast, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Atlanta are far more affordable areas in which to work in IT. Real estate prices are relatively low in Houston, and Texas does not apply a state income tax, increasing the appeal. An atmosphere conducive to raising families and living a low-stress life is also a key selling point. "Tech professionals are looking to move because they know they can earn the same amount of money [as elsewhere], but their standard of living will be better," explains CareerEngine.com CEO Tom Carrera. But although these places may boast affordability, they are not immune to the IT labor shortfall that has also plagued the traditional high-tech regions.
- "Linux in China: Not Ready for Prime Time"
Salon.com (08/09/01); Greenberg, Jonah
Certain agencies of the Chinese government are fervently pushing Linux as a free alternative to Windows, but there is little doubt that Microsoft's dominance is in immediate danger, and Linux use is mostly restricted to more sophisticated users, who are a minority. Windows has more appeal among mainstream computer users. Another limiting factor is the fact that pirating foreign software is practically second nature in China, where poverty runs rampant. Furthermore, there are certain people who believe the relationship between China and the United States is adversarial, making acceptance of American products a dicey situation politically, according to Beijing Linux Users Group founder Danny Zeng. The relatively low level of computer penetration in China also acts as a barrier, explains early Linux adopter Wang Baomin. Still, open-source software will save a tremendous amount of money for schools that need to get wired with computer systems, says Red Flag Software Chairman Sun Yufang; a backlash against Microsoft for its high prices and strict installation policies could also work in Linux's favor. However, having a minimum knowledge of English to operate Linux intimidates many Chinese people, while Windows has the advantage of a user-friendly Chinese interface. Popular games and programs in China will also have to support Linux if it is to catch on, says Red Flag marketing manager Danny Huang.
- "Living Off the Land"
Smithsonian (07/01) Vol. 32, No. 4, P. 20; Hapgood, Fred
Self-feeding robots that power themselves on natural, local food sources are a possibility, if designers can solve some of the quirks of organic digestion that currently limit these machines. A team in England has built a robot designed to run on the power obtained from the digestion of slugs, but the machine lacks the means to digest animal protein and fat. Meanwhile, University of South Florida roboticist Stuart Wilkinson has developed the gastronome, a robot that breaks down refined sugar with little waste. Wilkinson conceived of the flatulence engine, a mechanism in which the carbon dioxide produced by the feeding of sugars to yeast is used to drive the wheels of a robot. One of the challenges, however, is that a robot would still need electrical components in order to fully function; Wilkinson believes that a microbial fuel cell could solve this problem. Self-feeding robots would also need to distinguish between a need for energy (hunger) and the fulfillment of that need (satiation). They would additionally require a way to excrete waste.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Old and Gold"
Economist (08/04/01) Vol. 360, No. 8233, P. 61
Vintage computers are gaining value as status symbols, collectibles, and historical artifacts, so it is not so surprising that computer festivals and swap meets are growing in popularity. Ham-radio fairs and auction Web sites are also focal points for this trade. The Apple 1, a forefather of the PC, sold for a staggering $25,000 at auction. Museums and university-taught computer history courses are also fueling the interest in older models. Meanwhile, the number of serious computer collectors is 500 to 1,000 strong, according to Sellam Ismail, organizer of the Vintage Computer Festival East and West.
- "Imminent Domains"
Business Week (08/13/01) No. 3745, P. 8; Wasserman, Elizabeth
New top level domain names will give businesses more choices while also increasing brand blurring on the Internet. For instance, Dallas-based Invision Advertising was forced to settle for its second choice in domain names, invisionadvertising.com, rather than invision.com, because the latter name was already taken. Rather than crying over spilled milk, the company has already pre-registered for invision.biz. Cleveland-based Original Mattress Factory was originally luckier in its ability to secure its ideal domain name, originalmattress.com. However, the company recently spent $10,000 in legal fees to stop its competition from using a pair of look-alike domain names, originalmattressco.com and the misspelled originalmatress.com. Nevertheless, if other mattress retailers set up under similar domain names in new TLD spaces, the North Carolina mattress firm may continue to lose customers to domain name confusion.
Click Here to View Full Article
(Access for paying subscribers only.)
- "Buyers Waiting for PC Functional Improvements, Not for More Speed"
Computer Technology Review (07/01) Vol. 21, No. 7, P. 1; Piven, Joshua
The PC market has reached the point of saturation, and market observers now say computer manufacturers can no longer rely on sales to new buyers to spur future growth. Instead, industry experts believe PC makers will have to come up with functional improvements that will convince present owners to replace their PCs with a new machine. The availability of faster machines is not likely to give a significant boost to sales because most consumers now use the PC as an appliance rather than as a tool. Even an upgrade in an OS, such as Windows XP, is not expected to generate huge PC sales these days because people tend to already have the machines that are able to perform the tasks they want to carry out. Industry experts say the corporate market is no different than the consumer market in this regard because the PC purchasing cycle is lengthening. Tom Nolle, president of Cimi Corp., a consultancy on computer technology, sees broadband as a compelling reason for consumers to buy new PCs, while turning PCs into wireless base stations by adding Bluetooth or 802.11b to motherboards is an idea for a killer app. Some analysts add that the PC industry is growing when one considers that tablets and Pocket PCs are personal computers as well. The Gartner Group projects PC sales in the United States to be flat or even negative this year, while worldwide sales are expected to grow 6.5 percent.