Timely Topics for IT Professionals
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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
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Volume 3, Issue 264: Monday, October 15, 2001
- "Apple, HP Oppose W3C Patent Plan"
ZDNet (10/12/01); Kane, Margaret
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is mulling over whether to adopt regulations that would allow companies to charge royalties for patented technologies used in approved standards, but Hewlett-Packard and Apple Computer are set firmly against such a policy. Representatives from both companies helped develop the proposal, known as the W3C Patent Policy Framework. Although the policy does favor royalty-free standards, under the proposal companies can charge royalties through a "reasonable and nondiscriminatory" (RAND) licensing program. HP's Jim Bell submitted a statement in which the company urged that the policy be amended so that all W3C standards are royalty-free; Apple issued a similar statement. Critics also oppose the royalty-fee proposal on the grounds that it would stifle innovation and entangle software developers in a legal quagmire.
- "Security Experts Are on Alert Over Wireless Hacking Technique"
Wall Street Journal (10/15/01) P. B7; Clark, Don
Computer-security company Cigital has demonstrated a new wireless hacking method that could compromise companies' wired data networks. Researchers discovered that the data packet scrambling technology that 802.11b uses can be quickly broken by easily obtainable software; Cigital consultant Robert Fleck says that this technique, coupled with ARP poisoning, would allow a hacker with a wireless-connected laptop to break into a wireless network and view all data packets that are passed on the wired segment of the network. One way to solve this problem is to install routing devices or firewalls to wireless gateways. "Now is the time to identify these risks and help convince people to fix these things," asserts Cigital CTO Gary McGraw.
- "Legislation Puts Rights, Technology in Danger"
Baltimore Sun (10/15/01) P. 1C; Gillmor, Dan
Consumers' rights and technological innovation may be at risk as the country focuses on terrorism and loses track of copyright law. Congress is considering mandating that PC vendors and other personal electronics companies build in copyright protection schemes into their products. This would seriously infringe on consumers' fair use rights and effectively make free software illegal. At the same time, Hollywood's record companies recently launched a legal attack against the online music sharing services that rose up in Napster's place in an effort to shut down those services and promote their own. Technology patent holders are also working to change the way the World Wide Web Consortium builds standards used as the basis of operating on the Internet. If the proposed changes to the Consortium's Patent Policy Framework are enacted, companies with technology patents would be able to collect fees on what were previously open standards.
For information regarding ACM's work in the area of public policy and copyright, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.
- "Handspring Plans Line of Hybrid Devices"
Wall Street Journal (10/15/01) P. B7; Tam, Pui-Wing
Handspring is planning a new direction for the company's handheld computing products, which have previously cleaved closely to rival Palm's devices. A new Treo line of handhelds will replace the Visor and will tightly integrate the functions of a traditional PDA with those of an Internet-enabled cell phone. Handspring has yet to generate a profit since its inception in 1998 and analysts say that the $399 Treo line will be a major boost for the company if it takes off. With consumer spending down and the commoditization of the market, the handheld market has suffered. The Treo will launch early in 2002, connect to Verizon and Cingular wireless services, and target the corporate market. The company's founding team, Donna Dubinsky and Jeff Hawkins, also founded Palm, from which Handspring still licenses its operating system.
- "Circuits That Bug Out Bugs"
Wired News (10/11/01); Baard, Mark
American computer and electronic manufacturers are oblivious to the insects attracted to the heat and shelter their devices provide. Cockroaches and other bugs find a home in a wide range of electronic devices, from household appliances to computer servers. Although American firms have so far not addressed the problem, Japanese firms such as Matsushita Electronic Components have been working on coating their circuit boards with a special insecticide film called CORE Coat-R meant to keep the bugs away from sensitive components. Dead bugs can cause short circuiting and corrosion, such as was the case with a moth in Harvard University's Mark II Aiken Relay Calculator in 1947, when engineers coined the term "debugging" a computer. More recently, the state of Texas has fought a losing battle against foreign red ants that attack traffic signal switch boxes. Researchers there are looking into using the Japanese circuit board technology.
- "The Four Biggest Biz-Tech Trends of the Coming Decade"
ZDNet (10/08/01); Coursey, David
Gartner has identified four important tech trends for the next decade. The first is customer self service. By 2005, more than 70 percent of informational and service-based transactions will be done in the absence of other humans. Another trend is the increase of Web services. Web services will be the main driver of e-business as more business processes are transformed into software elements. The third trend is wearable computers. By 2007, more than 60 percent of Americans aged 15 to 50 are expected to wear wireless computing devices at least six hours a day. Finally, by 2008, a large portion of B2C and B2B buying decisions will depend on "tagging," which provides data and evaluations on the products being purchased; tagging will be a separate industry and drive behavior and new industries, says Gartner research director Alexander Linden.
- "'Collaboration' Replaces B2B"
Investor's Business Daily (10/11/01) P. A6; Bonasia, J.
Corporate executives expected more from B2B commerce, but experts say they need to hone their online procurement procedures and continue to push the entire supply chain online. After Hewlett-Packard implemented its Keychain private exchange, HP supply buyers have achieved a 30 percent productivity gain, says HP's Paul Petersen. That benefit has also spread to HP's direct suppliers and second-tier suppliers as well--everyone who has linked their system to Keychain in real time. Deloitte Consulting partner Eric Schlumpf says private exchanges for direct materials like HP's have proven most beneficial while big inclusive industry exchanges have been slow to show returns on investment. That is because collaboration among competitors has never worked as well as collaboration among partners in America's economy, according to Schlumpf. Overall, Jupiter Media Metrix still predicts a tenfold increase in B2B sales by 2006.
- "Web Translation: Human Touch Still Required"
NewsFactor Network (10/03/01); McDonald, Tim
Computer translation is helping globalize the Internet, which is increasingly becoming more international and moving from English to a number of local languages. But experts say that bilingual people are still needed to carry out the final touches in this work, since computers cannot make sense of many of the intricacies of human language. This human component, plus other Web site localization services, are expected to add up to a $22.7 billion market by 2005, up from $13 billion last year. Jupiter Communications warns companies to plan for an additional 5 percent tagged onto administration costs for each language added to a Web site. Forrester Research, however, says the payoff can be greater, as people are three times more likely to buy a product online if it is marketed in their own language.
- "Gartner Says Web Services Coming Soon"
InternetNews.com (10/10/01); Muse, Dan
Gartner Research predicts software Web services will be the next big business IT trend, picking up speed in as soon as six months. Gartner also says that businesses should seriously consider their Web services implementation plans no later than the second half of next year, especially small businesses that have few software applications currently installed on their systems. Web services can be expected to present some problems, especially regarding vendor interoperability, buy will produce considerable cost-savings as companies move from a coding task to simply connecting via the Web. By 2005, Gartner predicts companies will enjoy a 30 percent boost in the efficiency of their IT development projects thanks to Web services.
- "To Bag Jobs, Bug Busters Need Better Backgrounds"
Washington Post (10/14/01) P. L1; Johnson, Carrie
Although the recent terrorist attacks have intensified interest in security-related IT fields, laid-off workers are competing with recent graduates for a limited pool of employment possibilities. IT workers trained in such network security areas as computer viruses, worms, and network vulnerability can do well, but other IT veterans are advised to get certification instead of expecting employers to provide training in those areas. Federal Network Systems technology officer Bruce Fleming says, "The bar has been raised quite a bit because of the available pool of junior engineers." Still, a growing market exists for skilled security engineers. System Administration, Networking, and Security Institute research director Alan Paller says government agencies and consultancies around the Washington, D.C. area are especially keen on these skills. George Washington University computer science professor Lance Hoffman agrees, saying area schools are rushing to set up curricula for network security courses.
- "L.A. Judge Bars Lottery for '.Biz' Web Domain"
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Anthony Mohr has ordered NeuLevel, which was planning a lottery to randomly choose "winners" of the .biz domain names that had been applied for by more than one party, to allocate $3 million to reimburse applicants of .biz domain names who do not receive their request. NeuLevel says 20 percent of the .biz domain names have more than one applicant, and those parties are being contacted by the more than 80 registrars that are selling the .biz domain names. Although no trial date has been set, NeuLevel says it plans on releasing the other 80 percent of its domain names on Oct. 23, 2001. NeuLevel says it still has faith in the .biz process but that new registrations would be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis.
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- "Small and Getting Smaller"
InformationWeek (10/08/01) No. 858, P. 18; Rendleman, John
Professor James Meindl has shown that semiconductor engineers should not give up on their efforts to make integrated circuits even smaller, because he believes they will be able to reduce the size of chips to one-tenth of their current size. Meindl, a professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of the Microelectronics Research Center at the Georgia Institute of Technology, believes the further reduction in the size of microprocessors could place over one trillion transistors on every microchip and take engineers 20 years to complete. Meindl's research took into account the fundamental, system, material, circuit, and material size limits of semiconductors, leading Meindl to determine that advances in silicon technology will continue if engineers keep working on the issue, until the physical limitations are reached.
- "Tech Skills Still Sought"
Potomac Tech Journal (10/08/01) Vol. 9, No. 41, P. 1; Anderson, Tania
Certain tech specialists are still in high demand despite the overall tech slump. Companies are seeking software engineers, Web developers, and people who know languages such as Java. Those with wireless technology skills are also in demand. AOL, for instance, is gearing up to implement more wireless applications. Candidates who have a high degree of experience in developing software products are also in demand, says HireStrategy CEO Paul Villella. Moreover, firms are looking for people who can provide an end result or help build an infrastructure, he says. However, stricter technical assessment, reference checks, and an emphasis on referrals are all now part of the interview process.
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- "Browsers Converge on Standards"
InfoWorld (10/08/01) Vol. 23, No. 41, P. 57; Fain, Nick
Web applications promise to be compatible with any Web browser, and despite the efforts of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the European Computer Manufacturer's Association (ECMA) to oversee them, the adoption of these standards has not been swift. Although in the past application providers always reported that each one of their new browsers would adhere to standards when they knew they would not, the new browsers form Microsoft, Netscape, Opera, and Konqueror appear to show tremendous browser standards compliance. These standards include appearance, such as the W3C's HTML 4.01 and Cascading Style Sheets one and two, and behavior, including ECMA-262 and W3C's CSS Document Object Model (DOM). The W3C's CSS1 standard had been in place since 1996, but it has taken five years for it to become fully supported. Yet the W3C's CSS2 became standard in 1998 and is part of all of the new browser releases; so, it seems standards are being more readily accepted. Core scripting support is not difficult to add to a browser, but it is much more difficult to make the connection between script code and the Web document. Although standards compliance still needs work, the four new browsers being released represent a large step forward in the maintenance of these standards. The next step in standards implementation is ensuring that individuals make upgrades to the new browsers instead of remaining with their older and less complaint Web browsers.
- "Terror's Next Target?"
Newsweek (10/15/01) Vol. 138, No. 16, P. 68C; Sherman, Erik
Terrorists could use the Internet to attack the infrastructure of the United States, and many companies are more vulnerable to an attack than they realize. Security experts say enough information on the type of critical information systems, how they operate, and how they are wired can be found in piecemeal news articles about companies, and in case studies provided by product vendors, that would give terrorists a good indication of how systems are built. Still, experts says terrorist organizations would rather blow something up, and the highly visible act of physical destruction is considered more likely than cyberterrorism. But security experts add that the Internet is still vulnerable to a physical attack, with much of the Internet's resources being located in Virginia, including a major switching point and telecommunication facilities. The fact that companies can not close off their access points in the event of cyberattacks makes electronic security even more important. Although every house connected to the Internet does not need to be protected, experts say utilities, electricity, gas, nuclear plants, and military sites are among the resources that should be. The Justice Department and Congress want to get tougher on computer crime by allowing judges to order jail sentences of up to any length--including life. However, Shari Steele, the executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says the effort would go too far because it would treat the defacing of the IRS Web Site by a disgruntled taxpayer as an act of terrorism, instead of as a criminal act.
- "The New Shape of PCs"
PC Magazine (10/17/01) Vol. 20, No. 17, P. 140; Howard, Bill
Computer companies will need to design systems that are easier to use, better looking, and take up less space if they expect to reach households that do not have PCs. According to research firm Jupiter Media Metrix, only two-thirds of all U.S. households have PCs. Apple Computer continues to do an excellent job with aesthetics and innovation, with the iMac (fashionable appeal), Power Mac G4 workstations (accessible side panels), notebooks (built-in wireless Ethernet) as its latest successes. Although the rest of the PC and peripheral makers have some catching-up to do, the 2001 Ease of Use Roundtable gave industry players an opportunity to present ideas and to debate how to make personal computers more attractive and intuitive. PC Magazine reviewed the latest PCs and notebooks for ease of use, technology innovations, and product design, and the IBM ThinkPad TransNote and the Sony VAIO Slimtop Pen Tablet were among its Editors' Choice awards. Companies from China, Japan, and Korea offered more stylish products, but in general, the changes were largely incremental. For the most part, new features, such as integrated 802.11b and greater multimedia capabilities, made the computers more innovative. Much of the innovation took place in the notebook market, with companies offering local-area wireless networking and DVD combo drives.
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- "DARPA's Disruptive Technologies"
Technology Review (10/01) Vol. 104, No. 8, P. 42; Talbot, David
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) funds research for and promotes cutting-edge technologies that serve to both enhance the military and revolutionize industry. Its mundane outward appearance belies its tremendous influence; it was DARPA, for example, that helped birth the Internet, as well as stealth fighters and cell phone technology. The agency owes its leading edge to a unique strategy of teaming up people in multiple disciplines to push the development of often unusual research. "An awful lot of the good stuff we have today is there because DARPA was willing to take a chance on visionary projects," says NEC Research Institute President David Waltz. DARPA's operations run counter to bureaucratic thinking, as in the decision to borrow consultants from universities, corporations, and federal research labs to act as program managers. Current projects that DARPA is working on include Bio:Info:Micro, an effort to integrate biology with computing and microsystems through such potential breakthroughs as brain-machine interfaces and microfluidic devices that can monitor cellular activity; and Mixed Initiative Control of Automa-Teams, a convergence of artificial intelligence, robotics, and computer programming that aims to create robots designed to handle dangerous military operations. DARPA has been criticized of playing favorites with those it awards grants and contracts to, and asserting an intrusive amount of control. Some people also contend that the agency has narrowed its focus to more short-term prospects with primarily military applications.