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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
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Volume 3, Issue 250: Monday, September 10, 2001
- "Microsoft Drafts Settlement Bid in Antitrust Suit"
Wall Street Journal (09/10/01) P. A3; Wilke, John R.
Lawyers close to the Microsoft antitrust trial are saying the software giant is drafting a settlement to placate the demands of the Justice Department. Last week, federal officials dropped their bid to break up Microsoft in order to more effectively work to curb its monopolistic conduct when licensing the Windows operating system. However, the 18 state attorneys general on the case have warned that they could demand even more strict regulations on Microsoft's conduct. The details of neither the government's demands nor Microsoft's settlement proposal are available, but analysts agree the issues will center around the licensing contracts Microsoft uses to leverage its other software products, as well as issues regarding "middleware" on the new Windows XP, such as instant messaging software, media players, and Microsoft's Passport and other Internet services. Despite the lifted threat of a breakup, Microsoft lawyers are still under intense pressure from European antitrust regulators, as well as a possible private lawsuit from competitors such as Sun Microsystems or AOL.
- "Computer Service Jobs Drop, First Time In 10 Years"
Newsbytes (09/07/01); Kelsey, Dick
A decline in computer service and communications jobs added to the August unemployment rate, according to the Labor Department. Computer service jobs fell by 5,000 in August, according to the department; the numbers indicate the first decline in the sector since the 1980s, the department said. The sector includes such jobs as programmers, software developers, search engines, computer rental services, and other positions, said Labor Department economist Rachel Krantz. However, she added that the sector is still growing, but at a more sluggish rate. Similarly, the communications sector lost 8,000 jobs in August, the biggest decline since 1995. Telephone services such as the wireless industry suffered the biggest job losses, according to Labor Department economist John Mullins. He believes the poor performance of the communications sector could be linked to the struggling dot-com economy. The government pegged the August jobless rate at 4.9 percent, a 0.4 rise over July's rate.
- "Anger in Downturn Turns Against Foreign-Born Workers"
Washington Post (09/09/01) P. L1; Johnson, Carrie
A backlash against foreign-born tech employees working in America under the H-1B visa program is brewing in response to layoffs triggered by the economic slump. Georgetown University estimates that the number of H-1B workers in the United States last year totaled 420,000, and predicts that number could swell to 710,000 by next year. Those opposed to the visa program charge that allowing foreign workers in for cheaper salaries denies jobs for older Americans and minorities. Racist sentiments against foreigners are being expressed by email addressed to Proteus CEO Patrick McQuown, among others. H-1B permit holders are less worried about this backlash than they are about deportation, according to Amar Veda of the Immigrants Support Network. Immigrants who are not sponsored for permanent residency by their employers must leave the country after six years; those who are laid off and unable to secure work must leave even sooner. Furthermore, whereas about 50 percent of H-1B workers were able to secure permanent residency in the 1990s, less than 25 percent are expected to achieve that same status now, according to a report from the Georgetown Institute for the Study of
- "Linux Users Warned of New Trojan Danger"
VNUNet (09/07/01); Middleton, James
The Remote Shell Trojan virus could spell trouble for Linux users, according to a warning from security companies. The self-replicating Trojan virus proliferates via email and throughout infected systems, and its similarity to the Back Orifice program makes Linux users vulnerable to remote control from attackers. The worm's point of origin could be Britain, according to Qualys, the Trojan's discoverer. The security firm says that by alerting a U.K.-based Web site once it has achieved infection, the worm enables hackers to form lists of contaminated servers that could be commandeered "to construct chronic distributed denial of service attacks on specified targets." Qualys goes on to note that the Trojan's potential for damage could surpass that of Code Red, since more than 58 percent of global Web sites use Apache servers that usually run on the Linux platform.
- "Censors and Surfers Locked in a Battle Over Internet Access"
Los Angeles Times (09/10/01) P. A3; Kuhn, Anthony
Chinese authorities will soon face a more daunting task from an American startup when censoring Internet content viewed in their country. Currently, government workers monitor Web traffic in China constantly in order to block access to Web sites considered harmful, including sites that distribute Web-masking technology and provide access to proxy servers, which hide the identity of illegal Web sites. Recently, SafeWeb, which provides such technology to Chinese surfers via the Web, secured $1 million in funding from the CIA's venture capital arm, In-Q-Tel, and is set to receive another grant from the Voice of America's parent, the International Broadcast Bureau. The company uses software called Triangle Boy to shuttle censored Web sites from Internet address to address before Chinese authorities can add them to the list of blocked sites. However, CEO Steven Hsu admits that, so far, the Chinese government has been largely successful in stopping the rapidly growing Internet audience in that country from accessing SafeWeb technology, but he hopes that the 500 to 1,000 computers bought with U.S. government money will help in his efforts.
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- "Security Experts Protest Copyright Act"
ZDNet (09/06/01); Lemos, Robert
Two authorities on computer security have taken their research off their Web sites, fearing legal action from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. One of the two is Dug Song, an expert of security at Arbor Networks, a network protection firm; he eliminated his Web site, leaving only a link to an anti-DMCA site. The other is Fred Cohen, a security consultant and professor of digital forensics. He recently pulled his evidence-gathering tool, called Forensix, from his Web site. Similarly, Niels Ferguson of the Netherlands declined last month to publish work on a defect in Intel's Firewire encryption technology called HDCP (high-bandwidth digital content protection). He fears possible litigation in the United States, where he is a frequent visitor. But security testing is permissible under the DMCA, says Business Software Alliance CEO Robert Holleyman. Security researchers and others are criticizing the DMCA for stifling research, and high-profile cases such as the arrest of Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov have discouraged researchers from taking their work to the United States.
To read ACM's declaration in the Felten v. RIAA case, visit http://www.acm.org/felten.
- "Government Retreat Will Take a Toll On Competition"
SiliconValley.com (09/06/01); Gillmor, Dan
The Justice Department's abandonment of the breakup bid in Microsoft's antitrust trial could mean indefinite legal oversight of the company as it continues to extend its monopoly from operating systems to other areas. Columnist Dan Gillmor says a breakup of the company would have effected a permanent solution and that the federal government's aim to expedite the process by giving up on the breakup and tying claim is misled. Microsoft is too pernicious a legal foe to willingly concede any ground, even as the government so easily gave up important leverage in their case against Microsoft. Gillmor contends that the last nine months of maneuvering by the Justice Department was simply a pretense for the Bush administration to now let go of the breakup order, which some have warned would hurt the industry. Moreover, the state attorneys general have likely supported the federal government's new stance because they have wearied of the prolonged legal struggle.
- "For PCs, the 'Wow' Factor Is Gone"
Christian Science Monitor (09/06/01) P. 1; Sappenfield, Mark
Some analysts are saying that Compaq and Hewlett-Packard's recent merger signals that the personal computer revolution is over, or at least stopped for now. One reason is that two-thirds of American households now have computers and that new technology products such as digital cameras and Internet-enabled mobile phones are winning consumers' dollars. Consumers also have less of a need to upgrade their systems or buy new ones, mainly because they perceive computers as tools rather than toys. Studies indicate that Web surfing has lost its novelty, while companies are retaining their computers for longer periods of time. Another reason is that pricing competition and falling sales have pressured computer manufacturers into cutting research and development, while some companies, such as IBM, have drawn out of the market altogether. Gartner analyst Todd Kort says the industry could experience a revival if new must-have technology makes old desktops obsolete.
- "Risks of Grasping a Tiger By the Tail"
Financial Times (09/10/01) P. 9; London, Simon
Other analysts warn that the Hewlett-Packard and Compaq merger is fraught with dangers, such as those that befell the merger of Burroughs and Sperry in 1986 to create Unisys. That partnership was also meant to challenge IBM, a goal that HP Carly Fiornia blatantly stated as the reason for the Compaq deal. Harvard Business School professor Joseph Bower also notes that the type of acquisition the two tech giants are attempting is difficult because they share so much of the same products and territory. Although the merger could reap great benefits in terms of operational cost savings and market share, potential perils include conflicting cultures and disorganization. Other analysts say that HP's clear leadership in the deal somewhat negates those threats, but that the combined company would still remain weakest in the areas that are most important--software, services, and storage.
- "Net Crucial in Spreading U.S. Message"
Associated Press (09/06/01); Kim, Eun-Kyung
The U.S. State Department stressed the importance of the Internet as a diplomatic tool at the second annual Net Diplomacy conference. "We have got to use these technologies to tell America's story, to promote America's interests, and perhaps further the ideas of freedom and democracy around the world," said Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman. The Office of International Information Programs, which organized the conference, battles anti-American propaganda through a multilingual Web site that releases uncensored information. For example, Chinese people were kept abreast through the site of the dealings between their government and that of the United States concerning the crew of a U.S. surveillance plane that collided with a Chinese fighter and made an emergency landing in China. Furthermore, the Internet also supplied a complete transcript of a television interview with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell that made references to China's human rights record; Powell's remarks were originally omitted from transmission by Chinese authorities.
- "Pioneer Steps Out of Net Rutt"
Wired News (09/04/01); Delio, Michelle
Jim Rutt, non-executive chairman of Analog Design Automation, believes that the Internet no longer offers exciting advancements, and so has abandoned the Web for the field of complexity science. Complexity science examines the formation of efficiency and order from chaos, and Rutt plans to apply its principles to computers in the quest to produce machines, software, and applications capable of independent thought and learning. Rutt is coding software that follows an evolutionary path of intelligence, using genetic algorithms and neural nets to teach the software to play the Othello board game. The most intelligent neural nets are then "bred" to create even more intelligent iterations, thus increasing the code's skill. Rutt expects true machine intelligence to emerge within 30 years. His pursuit of complexity science is far preferable to the Internet, which is a dead end as far as he is concerned. "Mostly all I see in the Internet's future are mundane business applications, ad-driven content that will drag the intelligence of the Net down to the lowest common denominator, and the ever-growing selection of mostly boring porn," Rutt says.
- "Internet Address Debates Move to Uruguay"
Agence France Presse (09/06/01)
ICANN's upcoming Uruguay meeting will address two important issues: reforming ICANN's governing structure, and incorporating multilingual domains, which ICANN calls "internationalized domain names." ICANN structural reform should be a hot topic, with some charging that the recent "At Large" reform proposal is a step toward commercialization, while others are saying that reform provides a great opportunity to inject more public input into ICANN. A Non-governmental Organization and Academic ICANN Study Project report warns that ICANN itself must be protected form future special interests trying to use ICANN as a tool to manipulate the Internet. ICANN also plans to address the issue of multilingual domain names, and how to ensure it does not create general instability, and duplicate domain names in various languages on the Internet. Currently, China and other Asian countries are testing Asian-character domain names, while VeriSign is developing a global system for multilingual, non-ASCII domain name addresses.
For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/serving/IG.html.
- "Uncle Sam Wants His Geeks Back"
Wired News (09/06/01); McCullagh, Declan
The U.S. Army wants to hire IT professionals who have gone into the private sector, said Gen. Dave Bryan Wednesday at the InfoWar conference. He heads the Joint Task Force on Computer Network Defense, which was created in 1998 to protect Defense Department computer networks. Bryan welcomes programmers, system administrators, and other professionals who may have been hit hard by dot bombs. Others at the conference were more pessimistic. "Clueless people, politics, and competing policies are the problem," said Chey Cobb, a former technical advisor to the National Reconnaissance Office. Cobb says two-thirds of government security executives lack the proper training or time to perform their job, half believe security is not a top priority, and 43 percent did not know what they should be doing. Meanwhile, federal executives are troubled by potential information warfare from such nations as China and Cuba. Military officials hope tools they are developing will protect U.S. networks in case of an attack.
- "New Polymers Reveal Their Hidden Strengths"
Financial Times (09/10/01) P. 8; Harvey, Fiona
Researchers are exploring new types of plastic polymers that will likely serve as high-tech materials we take for granted in the future. One new polymer developed by NASA scientists expands and contracts according to an electronic signal, much like human muscles. Another could lead to polymer-based computer chips that could be produced inexpensively enough to be used for commonplace applications such as item-tracking in grocery stores and airports. These new chips would be manufactured through a fast inkjet process instead of the lithography used for silicon chips. Dow, the chemical firm, is also working to develop new polymers to save manufacturing costs. Dow's Mark Bernius says the new polymer studies are about finding solutions to problems rather than finding uses for new materials. Chemists at startup Cambridge Display Technologies are also developing polymers that emit light, which would be the core technology behind a flexible
computer screen in the future.
- "Report: Online and Offline Business Integration Services to Boom"
CRM Daily.com (09/04/01); Saliba, Clare
Businesses will spend $116.5 billion in 2005 on integration services that help them mesh together back- and front-end operations seamlessly, according to IDC. Moreover, the markets for customer relationship management (CRM), supply chain management (SCM), e-marketplaces, enterprise resource management, knowledge management, and Internet services will also meld as customers demand solutions for each of those six sectors. Consultancies and services firms that can expand their skills to meet those demands will be able to fully capitalize on the growth in the markets, according to the IDC report. Overall, last year the market for such integration services totaled just $38 billion. Over the next four years, IDC says that SCM will remain the largest integration market, but that knowledge management and CRM solutions will grow the fastest to reach $3 billion and $16 billion, respectively.
- "The Bill Comes Due"
Forbes ASAP (09/10/01) P. 32; Cannon, Carl M.
Although President Bush has taken the time to talk to leaders of the high-tech industry, the information technology community continues to view the Bush administration with suspicion. The IT industry is not happy about the amount of funds Bush wants to set aside for science and research in his budget, but its lack of confidence in the president goes much deeper. High-tech leaders still remember how officials of the Reagan and first Bush administrations made light of semiconductors at an economic conference in 1990, as well as how they responded to Japan's dumping of semiconductors. Ultimately, the reason why Bush has not done more to help the new economy so far is because he is merely following the Republican policy of taking a hands-off approach to the private sector. At the same time, some in the IT industry believe government can make industries winners and losers, while others view the Bush tax cut as a sign that new spending will not be a priority of the new administration. National Journal White House correspondent Carl M. Cannon believes that Bush should set aside more money for nonmilitary science and IT research, and there are lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who support greater funding. Other ideas with bipartisan support that Bush would do well to consider include expanding the R&D tax credit, making the tax code more friendly to the new economy, hiring a government technology czar, and nationalizing the electricity grid. Cannon says the high-tech industry would view Bush as a man of his word--that it is time to pay back the high-tech industry--if he addresses these issues.
- "More For the Money"
Computerworld (09/03/01) Vol. 35, No. 36, P. 26; Copeland, Lee
As a result of the economic downturn, employers are downgrading or eliminating bonuses and other special offerings for IT professionals, focusing more on job security and non-monetary incentives. The University of Massachusetts medical school is a case in point; instead of stock options and cash bonuses, the institution offers employees quality benefits, paid vacations, tuition waivers for them and their families, and annual 5 percent bonuses. Many companies are providing handsome bonuses to key IT personnel, especially those that work in areas such as security technology or who have skills in a specialized development language, while less skilled workers are not receiving such perks, says Foote Partners managing partner David Foote. Employees who leave are not severing all ties, in case they should wish to return to their old jobs if their new jobs do not work out, notes Duke Energy Field Services CIO Fred Kesinger. Meanwhile, new hires are increasingly being asked to work for probationary periods in order for employers to confirm that they possess the job skills they are looking for. With such salary restructuring, employers are planning to hire more IT people this year, despite the downturn. IT wage increases for this year run just below 6 percent, but that is significantly better than the 4 percent increase being doled out to average American employees.
- "IT Favors Telecommuting"
InternetWeek (09/03/01) No. 876, P. 10; Boyd, Jade
Working from home is highly desirable among IT professionals, according to a Techies.com survey. Fifty-one percent of 1,953 surveyed IT workers said that they want to work from home half the time, 19 percent wished to telecommute full time, and 17 percent desired nine hours or less of home-based work. Thirty-nine percent of those polled were willing to work for less if it meant they could work from home. At the same time, four out of five employees noted the importance of working at the office at least one day a week, as it promotes the exchange of ideas among co-workers and increases their chance of receiving bonuses. High-speed access rated the highest prerequisite for telecommuting among survey respondents. Furthermore, TeleChoice's Eric Rasmussen suggests that companies that wish to offer telecommuting options for IT workers could save as much as 20 percent off the basic broadband rates if they agree to pay for most or all of the carrier's footprint.
- "Age Schism"
Maryland Daily Record--Techlink (09/01) Vol. 112, No. 278, P. 6; Steinberg, Liz
Information technology remains a youth-filled industry that has not been able to shed the perception that ageism is rampant. Mike Oliver, former chair of the Maryland State Bar Association Technology Committee, says even the firms that do business with high-tech companies expect visiting IT workers to be younger professionals. Older IT workers add that their managers are likely to be a younger person, which creates some tension because supervisors might view them as a threat. One result of the dot-com fallout is that venture capitalists and angel investors want to see some older employees working at the firms they intend to invest in. In January, Techies.com conducted a study of more than 1,000 technology workers that revealed that 40 percent felt age discrimination is a big problem in the industry. Among the respondents who were at least 45 years of age, more than two-thirds said ageism is a widespread problem. Experts encourage all tech workers to make sure their skills remain up-to-date in order to meet the demands of the industry. And whether or not discrimination continues, they must be persistent, experts add.