ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
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Volume 3, Issue 247: Friday, August 31, 2001
- "Brussels' Microsoft Probe Moves Closer to U.S."
Financial Times (08/31/01) P. 4; Spiegel, Peter; Mann, Michael; Abrahams, Paul
American and European antitrust investigations of Microsoft are beginning to dovetail. The European Commission has put forth allegations that Microsoft illegally tied its Media Player software into the Windows operating system, an expansion of an earlier investigation that the company was leveraging its dominant presence in the PC software market to control the server market. The American investigation argues that Microsoft is again committing antitrust violations it was deemed guilty of in June by bundling Media Player into Windows XP. "The EU alleged that Microsoft is illegally utilizing bundling [and] license agreements to achieve success in the marketplace, and not competing on the merits of the products," explains Iowa attorney-general Tom Miller. "This is the same type of activity as in the American case." This development could significantly impact the release of Windows XP in Europe, according to an EU official. People close to the matter add that this new investigation could spur the U.S. Justice Department to more aggressively probe any applications Microsoft adds to Windows.
- "Keep Digital Copyright Law Intact, Agency Says"
Washington Post (08/30/01) P. E1; Cha, Ariana Eunjung
Officials at the U.S. Copyright Office have issued their findings as to whether the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) needs to be amended, just three years after its issuance. The report, requested by Congress, says there is no need to drastically change the law, although government lawyers did say that small portions should be amended, such as the right to make backup copies of software. Napster, the now-defunct file-trading service, online broadcast music, and digital archives of magazines and newspapers have all been subject to legal wrangling due to the law. The American Library Association's Rick Weingarten said the Copyright Office report failed to realize the significance of the law on people's rights. Already, the effects have been far-reaching, with the first criminal case--the arrest of a Russian programmer--now in courts. In that case, Russian Dimitri Sklyarov was charged with distributing information on how to circumvent Adobe e-book encryption.
ACM filed a declaration earlier this month in a lawsuit challenging the DMCA. To read the declaration in its entirety, visit http://www.acm.org/felten.
- "Russians Deem Arrest Insult to Their Industry"
New York Times (08/31/01) P. C3; Tavernise, Sabrina
Russian computer programmers are taking offense at the arrest of fellow programmer Dmitri Sklyarov, who was detained for allegedly trafficking in e-book decryption software that ran counter to U.S. law. The anger stems from feelings that Sklyarov is being used as a scapegoat. Furthermore, the case reinforces a negative image of Russian programmers as software pirates. Sklyarov's employer, ElcomSoft, is also being charged. However, not everyone in the Russian computer programming industry is sympathetic to Sklyarov and ElcomSoft; Rambler Internet Holding President Anton Nosik, for one, thinks ElcomSoft must pay a price. He believes the decryption software is likely to be used by counterfeiters. "This doesn't look like a libertarian move to me; it looks like commercial blackmail," Nosik says.
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- "What Tech Wreck? Many IT Workers See Bigger Payday"
Investor's Business Daily (08/31/01) P. A5; Prado, Antonio A.
In its 15th annual salary survey, Computerworld magazine estimates that the growth rate of IT salaries exceeds that of the national average, despite the deluge of firings brought on by the economic downturn. Challenger, Gray & Christmas CEO John Challenger says that a strong demand for tech expertise is boosting salaries. According to the Computerworld survey, average IT wages rose just below 6 percent over the past year, while overall average pay grew barely more than 4 percent. However, few of the pay hikes surveyed were in the double digits, whereas past surveys indicated raises of up to 25 percent. Many companies are cutting back on bonus plans and other luxuries in the wake of a profits recession. Furthermore, demand for IT workers is still overtaking supply, according to Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA); the organization reckons that some 425,000 of 900,000 new positions will remain vacant this year. The Computerworld survey reports that network administrators will receive the largest raises over the next 12 months, followed by Web developers, database administrators, and technical support staff. IT jobs at non-technical firms are experiencing the lion's share of salary growth, says Challenger.
- "Germany Wants IT From U.S."
Wired News (08/30/01); Kettmann, Steve
The Stuttgart Region Economic Development Cooperation launched a campaign to bring German information technology workers in the U.S. back home. The Move-Back.com campaign is sponsored by Porsche, Bosch, and other corporations, as well as the local Stuttgart government. Hans-Ulrich Schmid, the project leader, says Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's green card program last year failed to bring in enough foreign IT workers, and that the ones it did lure in do not speak enough German. However, the Move-Back.com campaign also seems to be targeting American IT workers as well by offering a welcome package including language lessons and help establishing residence. Schmid did not deny that the Stuttgart effort would also like to attract Americans and said that the since the campaign was launched here, it may as well draw as many people as possible.
- "Law Enforcers Report Spike in Cybercrime"
USA Today (08/31/01) P. 1B; Iwata, Edward
Cybercrime units in high-tech areas of the United States, including Silicon Valley, Boston, and Austin, are reporting an increase in incidents of hacking, theft of trade secrets and hardware, and other computer crimes. Last year, a poll of 273 businesses conducted by the Computer Security Institute revealed that those firms lost $266 million to cybercrime, and the software industry estimates that it lost $12 billion in sales to piracy last year. The increase in reported incidents is largely due to the tightening economy, and the fact that many companies simply do not have the resources to investigate and prosecute cases. While in the past, many firms would not have reported an incident of a computer security breach, fearing that doing so would tarnish their reputation among consumers, now more cooperation exists between private companies and law enforcement agencies. IBM and Microsoft are among the giants that have taken an active role in stemming software piracy.
- "California E-Mail Privacy Bill Clears Legislature"
Newsbytes (08/30/01); MacMillan, Robert
An email privacy bill sponsored by California Sen. Debra Bowen is ready to be sent to the desk of Gov. Gray Davis (D). The California State Assembly passed the bill by a 43-22 vote, but there is no word yet whether Davis intends to sign the bill into law. Bowen's bill aims to protect the privacy of employee email communications by barring employers from accessing employees' work email addresses unless this kind of monitoring is part of company policy. The email privacy protections parallel those that govern employee phone use, says Bowen. "The bill doesn't prevent a company from monitoring what its workers do, it simply makes sure people know they're going to be watched before they log on to their computer," Bowen says. Nearly three-fourths of American businesses keep tabs on their employees' use of the Internet, and a nearly identical number monitor employees' email use, according to research from the Society for Human Resource Management.
- "Internet Body Debates Membership, New Web Addresses"
Reuters (08/29/01); Abreu, Elinor Mills
ICANN will consider whether to grant domain name owners the power to elect up to six ICANN board members at its upcoming meeting in Uruguay, with the goal of increasing user input at ICANN, a topic that ICANN CEO Stuart Lynn says will be atop the agenda. The idea is being recommended in a draft report by a special ICANN task force, which chose this option over allowing every citizen in the world voting privileges. Other issues on ICANN's horizon include multilingual domain names, and the new TLD roll-out that is embroiled in controversy. Currently, VeriSign, the Chinese government, and several other companies are pioneering Asian language domain names in test beds, but ICANN is concerned about DNS and trademark conflicts arising out of multilingual domains, and is seeking more control over such tests.
For more information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/serving/IG.html.
- "Rallying Cry in Open-Source War"
ZDNet (08/29/01); Shankland, Stephen
Lawrence Lessig, Stanford Law School professor, spoke recently at the LinuxWorld Conference about the dangers of copyright and patent law to innovation. He said that large companies were using their resources in Congress and the courts to stifle innovators such as Princeton professor Edward Felten and Russian programmer Dmitri Sklyarov, who pioneered encryption-breaking techniques in different instances. He advocated the establishment of better ground rules for copyright enforcement, such as shorter five-year periods for valid copyrights, renewable for up to 75 years. The current framework, including prohibitive laws such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, corrals independent innovation, he said. Lessig warned the LinuxWorld audience that "The old will defeat the new unless you do something to prevent it." He said programmers must become more active in the governmental process in order to protect their rights to innovation. He said, "You need to remind our culture of what you built and what its source is. You need to defend it."
ACM filed a declaration earlier this month regarding the legal challenge to the DMCA in the Felten case. To read the declaration in its entirety, visit http://www.acm.org/felten.
- "It's Still a Plain Gray Box, but the Innards Are Changing"
New York Times (08/30/01) P. E7; Selingo, Jeffrey
Computer processors may be gaining in speed, but the Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) standard has fallen behind, resulting in inefficient data flow. To solve this problem, a major overhaul of the standard, its first in nearly 10 years, is being planned. Intel is developing a new standard called 3GIO or Arapahoe. Arapahoe is expected to be 50 times faster than PCI, since it relies on serial technology and not parallel technology; computers could also shrink because serial technology saves space on the motherboard. Video quality will receive a significant boost from Arapahoe, according to Intel's Bala Cadambi. Plug-and-play technology will also make it safer to add peripherals without rebooting the computer. Arapahoe should be introduced in 2003, but the PCI standard will probably linger, since both standards will be compatible. The standard could one day lead to commercial machines with 10-gigahertz processors, and is receiving the backing of IBM, Compaq, Dell, and Microsoft, among others.
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- "Programming a Way Out of Poverty"
Wired News (08/28/01); Clewley, Robin
Students of Mission High School in the urban area of San Francisco are learning computing skills that will help them land good jobs upon graduation. The Multicultural Foundation for Technology and Science at the school is an effort to teach students four years of either multimedia or programming skills, including applications such as Dreamweaver, Visual Basic, Java, Adobe, and Cisco. The foundation is unique because the students play key roles in its continuance--maintaining the hardware, updating software, and even teaching computer classes to the community at night in order to help fund the project. The school also received a $20,000 grant from the Gap Foundation and was one of the first schools to benefit from California's Digital High program, which was established to modernize computers in all high schools by 2015. Aside from technical classes, students are taught job interview skills, manners, and other "soft skills."
- "Study Recommends Retooled ICANN Governance Structure"
Newsbytes (08/28/01); McGuire, David
The ICANN At-Large Study Committee has issued a draft of its reform report that recommends ICANN create an internal group to represent Internet users. The new group would function like ICANN's three other internal groups, which filter recommendations to the ICANN board. ICANN's board is the decision-making body of record, and while it currently has nine standing members to represent "stakeholders," such as for-profit interests, only five out of nine at-large members are in place to represent the public. The committee will present a final report in September at the Uruguay ICANN conference.
- "'Specialist or Generalist?' May Not Be the Question"
Washington Post (08/26/01) P. L1; Johnson, Carrie
Whether information technology workers have a better chance of retaining their jobs from gaining specialist skills or developing a wider background that can be applied to multiple areas is a matter of debate, but some researchers say intangible skills, such as teamwork and amiability, are more highly prized. Marjorie Bynum of the Information Technology Association of America notes that hiring managers favor loyalty and people skills most, according to an April survey of 685 personnel executives. A stronger orientation toward customers and products has made the IT field more diverse, she adds. Recruiters and teachers often agree that an employee's personality and career path determine his or her decision to specialize in a niche area or become a multi-talented worker. Although career consultant Lenore Webb of George Mason University's Train to Technology unit says program graduates often have generalist backgrounds, she acknowledges that specialist positions are also valid jobs to pursue.
- "Delhi Children Make Play of the Net"
BBC News Online (08/27/01)
Sugata Mitra of India-based software company NIIT wanted to see what role computers could play in educating the illiterate members of India's society, so in a study funded by the World Bank, the Indian government, and local institutions, Mitra installed a computer on the wall of his Delhi office, facing a slum, and observed what happened. Illiterate, curious children figured out how to use the computer and access the Internet, without any help, from the opening screen of MSN.com. Mitra explains that the children began experimenting with the touchpad and discovered that using it moved the cursor on the screen; it took them only eight minutes to get from discovery to actual Web surfing. Within days they were browsing online, cutting and pasting copy, dragging and dropping items, and creating folders--again, all without any help. They particularly enjoyed drawing with MSpaint, and downloading and playing games. By the second month of the experiment, they were downloading MP3 files. Mitra says the kids seemed to use incidental and peer-to-peer learning, and the experiment has been repeated in several locations with nearly identical results.
- "Programmers to Encode Human Behavior"
New Scientist Online (08/23/01); Knight, Will
The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) is outlining HumanMarkup Language (HumanML), a set of standards culled from around the world that would allow software programmers to encode non-verbal communications into computers. This would enable computer users to transcend language barriers by communicating their emotions and gestures over the Web. OASIS says that HumanML will be distributed freely and could be applied to virtual reality or artificial intelligence applications. HumanML will also be compatible with extensible markup language (XML). The first OASIS discussion of HumanML will take place on Sept. 17. University of York professor Michael Harrison says HumanML is "very interesting," but cautions that plans for it may be too ambitious. Still, he says, "Having some higher level of semantic in the Web is a very hot topic at the moment."
- "Justice Bans Foreign Nationals From Its Info Tech Work"
Washington Technology (08/27/01) Vol. 16, No. 11, P. 16; Wait, Patience
The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) wants to meet with representatives of the U.S. Justice Department regarding its decision to ban foreign nationals from working on the agency's IT systems. In a mid-July order, the Justice Department said IT companies will need waivers from the agency if they intend to use foreign nationals when working on its IT systems. The security clearances that workers receive to participate in projects are not the same as the waivers now required by the Justice Department. The agency says it has changed its IT security policy as an added precaution to protect its systems. Although the new policy will affect the IT industry, many companies are unaware of the change. In a letter to the Justice Department earlier in the month, ITAA President Harris Miller said the new policy will remove thousands of tech workers from projects, and suggested that the agency could expect contractors to need more time to complete jobs because the change affects procurement and the administrative process, among other concerns. The ITAA is also concerned about the change because other government agencies could adopt similar policies.
- "Linux Breaking Out in Clusters"
InfoWorld (08/27/01) Vol. 23, No. 36, P. 42; Neel, Dan; Scannell, Ed
More mission-critical Linux-based applications were deployed in 2000 than in 1999, according to an IDC survey. The continued maturation of the Linux operating system and its use in the corporate world depends on the open-source community working to improve its availability and clustering capabilities. IBM has made sizable investments in Linux and clustering technologies. Although most of its work is geared toward universities and other institutions, deals with Shell Oil, Chevron, and Western Gecco show that products are starting to insinuate themselves into the corporate sector. Furthermore, IBM's VP in charge of Linux products Steve Solazzo says that by the end of 2001 the company will start shipping "predesigned, preintegrated, factory-installed clustering systems" directed at the enterprise market. The release of the Single System Technology (SST) into the open-source community in June 2000 was also designed to accelerate Linux clustering. IDC's Dan Kuznetzky says that Linux needs to devise products that cover the critical areas of clustering management and monitoring if Linux is to be more thoroughly used in application or database layers.
- "Reinventing the Internet"
Computerworld (08/27/01) Vol. 35, No. 35, P. 52; Anthes, Gary H.
The federal government is not doing enough to make the United States the leader in e-commerce, according to Robert E. Kahn, chairman of the Corporation for National Research Initiatives. In an interview with Computerworld, Kahn says the government could initiate a number of pilot projects, such as creating a standard for verifying that information received over the Internet is accurate. Kahn, who co-invented TCP/IP and managed the development of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's online network, Arpanet, nearly three decades ago, would rather see the government continue to put forth standards for openness and interoperability because many organizations are creating their own standards, which can lead to a monopoly. He believes Congress could do more to identify and place a value on digital information so people will understand who owns data online, know the value of the data, as well as realize what they can do with the information they get off the Internet. Kahn's nonprofit organization is in the process of creating a platform for identifying, managing, and tracking digital data. The idea is to create a digital library, in which data are identified by a handle. The data would make use of a repository for its storage system. A Repository Access Protocol would provide access to the data, and this would serve as a way to protect rights and permission to use information.
- "Will Computers Rule the World?"
Utne Reader (08/01) No. 106, P. 24; Creedon, Jeremiah
Virtual reality creator Jaron Lanier, in his essay "One-Half of a Manifesto," is concerned about "cybernetic totalism," an unshakeable faith in technology and its power to transform the human race. Cybernetic totalists believe that technology--computers in particular--will soon make the leap from mechanical to organic systems and effectively usher in the next stage in mankind's evolution. Lanier argues that this philosophy is inherently flawed by the simple fact that there is no such thing as a perfect computer, contending that cybernetic totalists infatuate themselves with hardware advancements while overlooking how "correspondingly slower and more bloated" software becomes. "Treating technology as if it were autonomous is the ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy," he writes. "There is no difference between machine autonomy and the abdication of human responsibility."