Association for Computing Machinery
Timely Topics for IT Professionals

About ACM TechNews

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 Compaq or ACM.

To send comments, please write to technews@hq.acm.org.

Volume 4, Issue 299: Monday, January 14, 2002

  • "IT Spending Is Expected to Rebound in 2003"
    Wall Street Journal (01/14/02) P. B4; Fuscaldo, Donna

    Spending on information technology is expected to increase next year. Some reports from industry groups predict that spending this year on IT will be flat or even down, although others say there will a small amount of growth this year. However, all the reports predict that spending on technology will not see a major recovery until 2003. For example, Merrill Lynch forecasts a spending increase of 3 percent on IT this year, but says IT budgets will probably increase by between 8 percent and 9 percent next year. Steven Milunovich, a technology analyst who surveyed European and U.S. information chiefs, says companies will invest heavily on software and storage, but they will probably not spend a lot on services and personal computers. Although the amount of money to be spent on hardware this year is expected to decline, some companies--most notably those damaged in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks--will be purchasing new equipment. Lehman Brothers, for example, lost somewhere between 30 percent and 40 percent of its technology assets during the attack, and so far the company has spent only about 50 percent of the amount of money it plans to spend on new equipment.

  • "An Economic Snapshot of Silicon Valley"
    SiliconValley.com (01/14/02); Sylvester, David A.

    The Index of Silicon Valley for 2002, an annual survey conducted by Collaborative Economics in Mountain View, Calif., for Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network, says the area shows strong indications of staying robust despite the downturn in the economy. The report shows that Silicon Valley has been hurt by the economic downturn--25,000 people lost their job last year, for example--but the report says these are transient setbacks. Despite competition from other technology regions in the United States over the last 10 years, for instance, the California region's institutions and industries boosted their share of technological advances during that period, according to the number of patents awarded. Assuming that companies in Silicon Valley can turn these technological advances into successful products, such companies could sustain healthy growth for years. Collaborative Economics President Doug Henton says that bioscience and information technology could be a new source of strength for Silicon Valley. This combination of technological resources could lead to DNA-specific drugs and the creation of biological semiconductors. The survey also revealed that a number of social problems became worse during the 1990s. In particular, the survey found that some disturbing trends are developing in education, traffic congestion remains a major problem, and housing has become more expensive.
    http://www.siliconvalley.com/docs/news/svtop/valley011402.htm

  • "Experts Question Compression Breakthrough"
    IDG News Service (01/11/02); Costello, Sam; Sawa, Olo

    On Jan. 7, ZeoSync announced that that it could compress files to 1/100 their size without any data loss, but PhDs and analysts are dismissing such claims. Radical Systems director and project collaborator Jim Dyer explains that ZeoSync's technology allows files to be compressed multiple times, compared to the one-time-only scheme for standard compression. However, Aberdeen Group's David Hill says that ZeoSync has not released sufficient details to back its announcement, and urges the company to provide more proof and allow mathematicians to check its data and make evaluations. Meanwhile, Forrester Research analyst Eric Scheirer maintains that such an achievement is impossible and says that ZeoSync is merely hiding its failure under opaque and confusing terminology. ZeoSync CEO Peter St. George counters that his company has succeeded, "because we took an approach that took us out of the box that everyone was living in." ZeoSync points to its working relationship with leading mathematicians at Stanford University, MIT, and other institutions as evidence, but not all the individuals named give their wholehearted support. St. George says that a public demonstration of the compression method will be announced next week.
    http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,79223,00.asp

  • "Security Flaws May Be Pitfall for Microsoft"
    Los Angeles Times (01/14/02) P. C1; Menn, Joseph

    Microsoft desperately needs to boost consumer confidence if its interactive services initiative is to be successful. Central to this plan is better security, an area that the company has been found lacking. Microsoft's push to add more features leaves the technology more open to virus and hacker intrusions, and the disclosure of several high-profile security holes has rattled the general public. The FBI posted a warning about a flaw in the Windows XP operating system that allows hackers to commandeer PCs via the Internet, while its Internet browser could be used to uncover data on a PC. Microsoft has started to offer free virus support, ramped up vulnerability checks, and hosted an industry conference on "trusted computing," but security professionals say this is only part of the solution. Microsoft is taking a major risk with its .Net initiative, while threats of worse virus attacks this year and corporate clients clamoring for more security only add to its difficulties. Some experts are calling for measures to make Microsoft and other software companies more liable for their security holes. Companies need to take more responsibility for flaws that hackers can exploit, argues Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), who hinted that Congress may study the problem.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "A Vision of the Office of the Future"
    New York Times (01/14/02) P. C4; Deutsch, Claudia H.

    IBM and Steelcase have created a prototype "smart office" called BlueSpace that will be unveiled today at the T.J. Watson Research Center. The joint project represents the integration of architecture, furniture, and technology so that users can tailor the office environment to suit them, explains Mark T. Grenier of Steelcase. BlueSpace's features include a projector to display messages on any surface; sensors that read users' ID cards and adjust temperature, lighting, and furniture according to their preferences; a desktop with two screens, one of which can locate colleagues and provide a manual interface for environmental controls; and a programmable electronic door plaque. On the down side, BlueSpace will probably be expensive, while its environmental features could push buildings' physical systems to the limit. Furthermore, glitches or hacking could have drastic repercussions, while the corporate culture could be strained by the codependence between IT buyers and furniture buyers. Still, some academics say the configuration of furniture and electronic devices to office workers' needs is necessary. "The office is becoming like the mother ship in Star Trek, a docking station that seamlessly combines physical space and cyberspace," explains Michael L. Joroff of MIT's school of architecture and planning.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2002/01/14/technology/14NECO.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "High-Tech Scooter May Face Roadblock in Japan"
    Reuters (01/12/02); Stevenson, Reed

    A Japanese robotics engineer who claims to have created a scooter akin to the self-balancing motor scooter recently unveiled by U.S. inventor Dean Kamen wants recognition for his invention. The disclosure that a similar scooter was invented 15 years ago by Kazou Yamafuji, Professor Emeritus at Tokyo's University of Electro-Communications, may take some of the luster from the much anticipated unveiling of Kamen's "Segway Human Transporter," but legal experts do not expect it to challenge Kamen's U.S. patent. However, Kamen could run into patent trouble if Yamafuji decides to market his scooter in Japan; records show that Yamafuji applied for a patent for his machine in 1987, and was granted it in 1996. Kamen's invention features computerized sensors that drive the machine forward or backward depending on the balance of the rider, who stands on a platform and grips a handle. Yamafuji terms his invention a "parallel bicycle;" its major difference from the Segway being two wheels that are arranged front to back instead of side to side.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "New Theory Enhances Super-Enabled Digital Media"
    NewsFactor Network (01/11/02); Weisman, Robyn

    Akram Aldroubi of Vanderbilt University and University of Connecticut's Karlheinz Grochenig have developed a new theory that could vastly improve the renditions of audio and digital images. The current sampling process is imperfect, and digital representations can be affected by noise pollution, quirky sampling devices, and sampling pattern deviations. The researchers' theory maintains that more efficient manipulation of digital representations will produce a more accurate rendition. "It generates algorithms [sets of mathematical procedures] that are fast, efficient, stable, and robust," explains Aldroubi. Gartner G2 analyst Laura Behrens says that medical imaging could be significantly enhanced with this theory, facilitating more precise diagnosis and treatment and potentially saving millions or billions of dollars in diagnosis costs. She adds that the digital television industry could also benefit from better video quality and pave the way for streaming video services such as video on demand. When applied to computer games, the theory could yield greater photorealism and sound quality, but Jupiter Media Metrix analyst Billy Pidgeon says this is a mixed blessing. As a result, games could be less interactive and more nausea-inducing, he notes.
    http://www.newsfactor.com/perl/story/15716.html

  • "Data 'Swarms' Could Rescue Overloaded Web Sites"
    New Scientist Online (01/09/02); Knight, Will

    Web sites sometimes become deluged with visitors who are all clamoring for the same content, but can easily solve that problem using "data swarms" that would allow users to get portions of a file from each other rather than an overloaded central server. Two small software firms, OpenCola and Bit Torrent, are marketing such solutions to Web sites. Their software breaks in-demand files into smaller portions and allows new requests to retrieve data from those that have already downloaded it, rather than from the server. OpenCola founder Cory Doctorow says his company's Swarmcast solution is infinitely scalable. However, at least one expert says that these solutions would not solve the problem of Web sites serving up unique data, such as did the searchable, and overwhelmingly popular, 1901 Census Web site set up in the United Kingdom recently.
    http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99991761

  • "Data Very Hard to Hide From Computer Sleuths"
    New York Times (01/14/02) P. C2; Markoff, John

    The advent of the Internet and the increasing sophistication of computer technologies has made the destruction of electronic documents all the more difficult. Email can usually be recovered even when it has been periodically deleted per corporate policy. Copies may be available on the machine of both sender and recipient as well as the server, notes Predictive Systems' Mark Rasch. "Unless there is a tool to remove it using military-grade technology, it can be recovered," he adds. Although others may try to delete or conceal files by wiping or defragmenting disks or reformatting the drives, more advanced computer forensics techniques may render these options useless. Guidance Software President John Patzakis says that investigators can use such techniques to not only retrieve documents, but to determine what deletion method was used. He notes that an electron microscope can scan a disassembled disk for signs of deleted data by reading magnetic spots on its surface. Patzakis believes computer forensics will be used to recover Enron documents allegedly deleted by Arthur Andersen.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2002/01/14/technology/ebusiness/14DELE.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "Africa Touts for Hi-Tech Firms in Development Quest"
    Reuters (01/11/02); Sakyi-Addo, Kwaku

    West Africa is becoming a haven for companies looking to outsource IT services. ACS-BPS processes U.S. medical insurance claims through an office in Ghana, while IBM, Compaq, and Apple have offices in Senegal. ACS-BPS Ghanaian director Bossman Dowuona-Hammond says his branch maintains high levels of efficiency and quality at cheaper costs. West African nations are also pushing computer skills among their citizens as a way to boost their economies through data processing and other value-added service industries. Leaders such as Ghanaian technology advisor Dr. Sam Somuah urge that they shift to exports that are less subject to the vagaries of climate and that promise to radically improve economic growth. African nations are looking to the example of India, and the development of Bangalore as the Silicon Valley of India, for inspiration in developing a high-tech culture. Ghana communications minister Owusu Agyapong says, "We see IT as an industry, but also as a new tool for making a leapfrog in development."
    http://dailynews.yahoo.com/htx/nm/20020111/tc/tech_ghana_dc_1.html

  • "Virus-Busters: Worms, Flaws More Than Doubled in 2001"
    NewsFactor Network (01/11/02); Lyman, Jay

    In 2001, both computer security incidents and vulnerabilities more than doubled, according to the CERT Coordination Center. The research center reported 52,658 security incidents in 2001, compared to 21,756 in 2000. For 2002, CERT predicts security incidents will surpass 100,000. Similarly, CERT recorded 2,437 security vulnerabilities in 2001, compared to 1,090 in 2000. A greater number of PCs and a growing Internet are responsible for the higher numbers, says CERT Internet security analyst Chad Dougherty. Moreover, more security gaps emerge as software offers more features, he says. People are also more aware due to such incidents as Nimda and Code Red, Dougherty says. Security Focus analyst Ryan Russell says the trend toward more computer security problems is troubling, although he notes that there are now many outlets for reporting and tracking incidents. He also says hackers have become more sophisticated and that vendors must tighten their code.
    http://www.newsfactor.com/perl/story/15764.html

  • "Opportunity Knocks for Government IT Suppliers"
    InfoWorld.com (01/10/02); Garretson, Cara

    Increased interest in IT security products and services poses a huge opportunity for IT vendors, but there are some important points to be noted when selling to the government, said experts at the Homeland Security, Technology, and the Role of the Government conference. Data sharing systems, biometric identification, and redundancy backups for networks are among the products most in demand, says Howard Vine, a lobbyist for Greenberg Traurig, a conference sponsor. He said the newly established Homeland Security Office would channel suggestions for security products, but cautioned that its influence over other agencies was still unclear. Some suggested strategies for marketing to the federal government were partnerships with other companies making compatible technology, targeting the correct agency, and using previous government clients as references. Greenberg Traurig lawyer Harvey Sherzer says the new boost in security spending will result in a spree of new outsourcing contracts from the government. However, he warned private firms that the government can cancel contracts for any reason and that citizens can also sue if they are affected by any unmet contractual obligations.
    http://www.infoworld.com/articles/hn/xml/02/01/10/020110hnhomeland.xml

  • "How Computers Recognize Faces"
    Red Herring Online (01/08/02); Zeichick, Alan

    There are two chief methods of computerized identification, biometrics and facial recognition. Biometrics involves the voluntary participation of the individual, who has his fingerprints or retinas scanned for positive identification. Facial recognition is more complex: Faces in a crowd are captured by a video camera and fed into a computer. Skin color and eye movement are detected, usually using artificial intelligence technology. The software describes facial landmarks in three dimensions as a sequence of numbers, and the distance and relative angles between each landmark are calculated to take position and lighting into account. The computer then checks a database of known criminals to see if there are any matches. One of the disadvantages is that the video or photos in the database are of poor quality. Nevertheless, the current world situation is fueling the use of facial recognition technology in the corporate and the governmental sectors.
    http://www.redherring.com/insider/2002/0108/1016.html

  • "Domain Dispute Mechanism Works Well--Study"
    Newsbytes (01/11/02); McGuire, David

    The UDRP process for domain names is "functioning satisfactorily," concludes a recent study by the Germany-based Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Patent, Copyright and Competition Law. The study looked at 700 UDRP cases and found that in 76 percent of them domain names were ordered transferred, while in 21 percent defendants won. The study concluded the high win-rate was not a result of systematic unfairness. UDRP critics still disagree, and ICANN board member Karl Auerbach says that trademark rights should never trump free-speech rights. The study did suggest that the UDRP find better ways to protect free-speech rights, improve the definition of what constitutes "confusingly similar," and clarify standards regarding burden of proof.
    http://www.newsbytes.com/news/02/173598.html

  • "Talking the Talk"
    CIO (01/01/02) Vol. 15, No. 6, P. 122; Hapgood, Fred

    Standards are similar to free trade in that they cut prices, give rise to new services, and result in more integrated and inclusive culture, writes Fred Hapgood. Also, interest in standards and free trade falls out of favor over time, since they encourage companies to stop competing, give away access to their clients, and offer tacit agreement to a new set of rigid rules. The last time standards and free trade were both popular occurred this past decade, which may not be a coincidence. At that time, everyone was in favor of free trade through NAFTA, and standards, such as those for HTML. As for today, more affordable information exchange will not benefit everyone, and there are new protections and extensions for both copyrights and patents. These days, companies want patent protections for techniques that would once have been part of the public domain. Another factor is that countries see intellectual property more as a national asset that should be protected. Standardization will now have to fight such battles one at a time, just like globalization.
    http://www.cio.com/archive/010102/et_revisit.html

  • "Great Work, If You Can Get It"
    Computerworld (01/07/02) Vol. 36, No. 2, P. 30; Hamblen, Matt

    The economic recession is likely to produce more IT staff cuts and other forms of corporate belt-tightening, at least until mid 2002. Job seekers will be under pressure to demonstrate a higher level of performance, and many perks such as hiring bonuses, double-digit pay increases, and full benefits packages no longer exist. Training budgets also appear to have plateaued. On the plus side, IT professionals will maintain their salary levels this year, while polls and several IT managers indicate an average IT salary increase of about 4 percent. IT security professionals will be highly sought-after in the current environment. John Madigan of the Hartford Financial Services Group advises job candidates to focus on well-established companies, while Marriott's George Hall adds that they "should be more flexible and be willing to take on unusual assignments that support a company's short-term business needs in this changing economy." Meanwhile, Hewitt Associates CIO emeritus Len Tenner suggests that job seekers try to boost their skills through training programs, many of which are available at regional sites. He also stresses that networking may be central to successful hires.
    http://www.computerworld.com/storyba/0,4125,NAV47_STO67124,00.html

  • "Disruptive Technologies: How to Snare an 800-Pound Gorilla"
    InfoWorld (01/07/02) Vol. 24, No. 1, P. 33; Borck, James R.; Udell, Jon; Yager, Tom

    InfoWorld Test Center analysts have studied 10 disruptive technologies and their potential to restructure the enterprise computing model. The publication and consumption of business documents will be reshaped by Web services, which promise to squeeze out inefficiencies and eliminate programming language skill's reliance on domain expertise. New knowledge sharing models could be organized through peer-to-peer technologies, while computer worms and viruses could conceivably be turned around to use as software delivery systems, although the security implications make the concept iffy. Microsoft's .Net application framework and C# programming language will open up powerful Windows applications to developers, ease the creation and implementation of Web services, and challenge Java and Unix platforms; the trade-off is that developers will have to acquaint themselves with a spate of recodings and language changes. Instant messaging makes real-time collaboration possible, and enterprises should come to accept it more once security issues and usage policies have been worked out. Serial ATA and iSCSI can ramp up the performance of network-attached storage appliances and help build low-cost storage networks; these developments should help facilitate computing built atop of Web services and ubiquitous data access. 802.11 wireless LANs are on track to take off with the increasing corporate use of handhelds and the resolution of security and interoperability concerns, but implementation will be complicated by a raft of different products hitting the market in early 2002. Finally, second-generation handhelds promise to offer more computing power, always-on wireless connections, built-in operating systems, printing and scanning features, and voice and handwriting recognition capabilities.
    http://www.infoworld.com/articles/tc/xml/02/01/07/020107tcintro.xml

  • "Out the Windows"
    U.S. News & World Report (01/14/02) Vol. 132, No. 1, P. 54; LaGesse, David

    Linux vendors and volunteers continue to make it easier for consumers and corporate users to break away from Microsoft's Windows. Over the past two years, programmers have focused on making Linux a more polished product, with a streamlined look and sleeker programs for performing the most common tasks. Polishing Linux only makes it a more enticing alternative to Windows and Apple's Macintosh, considering that it has already gained a reputation for being stable and secure. IDC estimates that today's market share for Linux is nearing 3 percent, but Linux advocates believe the figure will improve shortly. Some observers believe the real change will come once consumers see big firms turn to Linux; Ford and Royal Dutch/Schell are among the large companies that are using Linux in some capacity. What could really put Linux over the top is the participation of programmers from Sun Microsystems and IBM in the effort to refine Linux. Although some open-source advocates are skeptical about the involvement of former rivals Sun and IBM, others are encouraged by their participation in the movement to improve Linux to challenge Windows.
    http://www.usnews.com/usnews/issue/020114/tech/14linux.htm