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 4, Issue 308: Wednesday, February 6, 2002
- "Bush Budget Would Boost Technology Spending"
Washington Post (02/05/02) P. E1; Merle, Renae
The fiscal 2003 budget proposed by President Bush would double the rate at which federal IT spending has been growing, and promises to send even more money toward government technology contractors. Federal Sources CEO Jim Kane was surprised by the size of the increase, as his company, which researches the federal IT market, had not expected the federal IT budget to reach $52 billion until fiscal 2004. IT sectors that were given the biggest boosts included homeland security, defense spending, and cybersecurity. Under new Office of Management and Budget rules, federal agencies' proposed budgets would not be approved without a thorough assessment of cybersecurity and allowance for updating security systems included in the budget. The influx of money into federal IT spending will benefit well-established government contractors the most, according to Gartner analyst Rishi Sood, and will help lessen the impact of the private-sector slowdown. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) said, "Funding for information security, for tracking foreign visitors, for coordination between governments, for emergency prepardeness" is a key part of the government's war on terrorism. Mark Forman, OMD's director of information technology and e-government, said the budget reflects a shift in "focus to making the government more citizen-centered and results-oriented."
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- "ABA: UCITA Law Confusing, Susceptible to Litigation"
Computerworld Online (02/04/02); Thibodeau, Patrick
The American Bar Association's (ABA) committee to review the Uniform Computer Information Transaction Act (UCITA) has decided the law would only increase litigation over software licenses. UCITA is meant to simplify and standardize business software licensing, but opponents say the bill is unfairly weighted in favor of software vendors. Recent revisions to the bill that eliminated the self-help provision--the ability of vendors to remotely disable applications in case of a dispute--still do not make the law palatable, according to the ABA committee, which said ambiguous language afforded software vendors leeway to do what they like in case of a contract dispute. However, University of Houston law professor Ray Nimmer said the ABA committee's decision is uninformed about the intricacies involved in software licensing and noted that UCITA has been in development for over 10 years. One ABA committee member, Donald Cohn, corporate counsel for DuPont's e-commerce unit, disagreed with the majority view of UCITA, saying that it is no more complex or ambiguous than many state and federal statutes.
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For information about ACM's UCITA activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/IP.
- "Lucent's Invited Hackers Search for Flaws"
Wall Street Journal (02/06/02) P. B7B; Richmond, Riva
Scientists at Bell Labs' Internet Research Lab, owned by Lucent Technologies, are working to create comprehensive pictures of ISP networks from a hacker's perspective, highlighting dangerous infrastructure flaws that could cripple the system. Lucent offers the third-party assessment to its customers, the large carriers and ISPs that make their own Internet infrastructure, for free or at reduced prices. The Internet Research Lab scientists mimic hacking techniques, such as stealth surveys of a system's weaknesses, in a way that other third-party auditors do not, since they examine the network from inside, says researcher Thomas B. Reddington. The results go both to the targeted company so they can improve security, and back to Lucent researchers who use it to design better equipment, especially for the next-generation devices. Lucent is one of the most vocal proponents of an all-optical Internet, and AT&T, one of Lucent's major customers, already offers a localized solution to large corporations in the New York metropolitan area. All-optical networks are several years away from large deployment, but would offer great security enhancements because optical signals are much more difficult to track and translate than electronic ones.
- "Civil Liberties Group: Copyright Law Unconstitutional"
Newsbytes (02/04/02); McGuire, David
The U.S. government is prosecuting Russian software company Elcomsoft for violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) by distributing software that bypasses Adobe eBooks safeguards, but public interest groups led by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) say the federal judge overseeing the case should throw out the statute on the grounds that it is unconstitutional. The rights of copyright owners and content users are supposed to be balanced by copyright law, says EFF intellectual property lawyer Robin Gross. "The DMCA is being used to replace the copyright bargain," she argues. Two briefs filed by Elcomsoft's attorneys in January contend that the DMCA tramples over the First Amendment rights of software programmers, while the language it uses to define criminal elements are too broad and opaque. Elcomsoft programmer Dmitry Sklyarov was arrested last year for writing the eBook software, even though he was the citizen of a country that has no DMCA equivalent. The charges against him were eventually dropped, but Elcomsoft faces a $2.5 million fine if it loses its case.
To read more about ACM's arguments against DMCA, visit http://www.acm.org/felten.
- "Budget a Boost for Valley"
SiliconValley.com (02/05/02); Puzzanghera, Jim
Information technology spending is a prominent factor is each of President Bush's three goals laid out for the fiscal 2003 budget--the war on terrorism, homeland security, and economic revitalization. Rick White, CEO of the TechNet lobbying group, says IT spending itself is a good way to kick-start an economic rebound, and that the new budget proposal shows the administration is heeding the advice of the technology industry. Overall, the proposed 2003 budget will boost IT spending by 15 percent, from $45 billion to $52 billion. The jump surprised many in the industry, who did not expect that number until fiscal 2004, especially after comments within the administration last year that the federal IT budget was too high. President Bush did cut two IT programs created by his predecessor: The Advanced Technology Program, which funds promising technology firms, and the Technology Opportunities Program, which helps create Internet awareness. Both programs' aims have largely been met, said administration officials. Most of the IT spending, $26 billion, will go to the Defense Department, while the Office of Homeland Security will spend $722 million on IT and $298 million on cybersecurity.
- "White House Heaps Accolades, and Money, on National Science Foundation"
GovExec.com (02/04/02); Vaida, Bara
The National Science Foundation (NSF) received a 5 percent budget increase in President Bush's fiscal 2003 budget proposal, a huge gain over last year's budget hike, which was only 1.3 percent. NSF director Rita Colwell said the increase showed that the administration recognizes the importance of basic research in science and technology. Indeed, the budget itself noted that eight Nobel Prizes were awarded to research funded by the NSF in 2001, and has been key to the early development of Internet infrastructure and technology. The NSF also received a good review in President Bush's recent agency management review. Along with the budget increase, which will allow the NSF to hire 70 new staff, President Bush also increased funding to two separate programs that will also benefit the NSF. The Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Program and the National Nanotechnology Initiative both received proposed funding increases. Additionally, the NSF's math and science partnership with the Education Department was allotted more money to teach those skills to primary and secondary students across the United States.
- "IBM to Unveil Index Card-Size Computer Prototype"
IBM Research is slated to reveal a prototype portable computer about the size of an index card at a Phoenix, Ariz., conference on Feb. 11. The 5" x 3" MetaPad module features a 10 GB hard drive, 128 MB of dynamic RAM, and an 800 MHz microprocessor. The unit is three-quarters of an inch thick and interfaces with a 6" x 4" screen accessory as well as PC docking stations. Although the device could be ready for the commercial market in several years, IBM Research's Kenneth Ocheltree says the company has no current plans to sell it, focusing instead on understanding its uses. IBM is currently researching the MetaPad's wireless applications, he notes. Wireless devices are on the rise while spending cuts by consumers have slowed down the growth of the handheld market. Ocheltree suggests that the medical industry, airlines, hotels, and international customs are some sectors where the MetaPad could find use.
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- "Administration Touts Tech in Commerce Dept. Budget"
Newsbytes (02/05/02); McGuire, David
Commerce Department officials praised the proposed 2003 budget from President Bush that increases funding for key technology programs within the department, even as it phases out support for the Technology Opportunities Program (TOP), which is meant to increase awareness of the Internet and computers. Anti-terrorism efforts within the Commerce Department would receive a 200 percent increase in funding, and major increases were also doled out to other areas, including research and development at governments and universities, and streamlining Patent and Trademark Office operations. National Telecommunications Information Administration Chief Nancy Victory explained the cut in funding for the TOP by saying the focus had moved from creating awareness to implementing solutions. Increases in the Education Department's technological applications funding and the Agriculture Department's rural telecom infrastructure funding would help to finish the TOP's mission, she said. Patent and Trademark Office Director James Rogan said the additional 950 new patent examiners his agency would be able to hire will help to dramatically cut down the current two-year wait for patent approval, a key factor in continuing technological innovation.
- "Indian Software Weathers Global Recession"
Financial Times (02/06/02) P. 6; Merchant, Khozem
The economic recession in the United States has scarcely made a dent among Indian software companies, whose exports rose 25 percent to reach $1.9 billion in the quarter that ended in December. Some $8.5 billion in revenues is expected for the full year, representing a 30 percent gain. "This is our first recession and the key message is that we are resilient," boasts Infosys CEO Nandan Nilekani. Although many of India's biggest U.S. clients have significantly cut their R&D budgets, the country's major companies are putting their energy into outsourcing deals in European markets. Forty percent to 50 percent of Indian software revenues are derived from outsourcing contracts. Companies are also making investments in business-processing operations such as bill payment services and call centers, which represent the industry segment with the fastest growth. However, India has not been untouched by the downturn: Small software programmers who rely on single-project commissions have been affected.
- "Predictions, Prevention Key to Cybersecurity"
IDG News Service (02/04/02); Costello, Sam
U.S. National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) director Ronald Dick said government and private industry was doing a better job reacting to cyberattacks, but that a system to predict cyberattacks would help prevent them. Dick's speech at the CyberCrime 2002 conference highlighted successes in networking cybersecurity efforts between different levels of government and industry, even at a time when cyberattacks are happening more frequently than ever. He said the Infraguard network of public/private groups is growing its membership by 20 percent each month, and has become one of the largest forums to share information on cybersecurity. Dick said the NIPC, the cybersecurity branch of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, can do more to provide businesses with tools to protect themselves against imminent cyberattack. One such program in development at the NIPC, a "cyberweather forecast," would allow corporate computer security managers to prevent entirely or mitigate the effect of near-term threats.
- "Studios Race to Choke DVD Copying"
CNet (02/04/02); Borland, John
As part of a large effort to stem a tide of digital piracy before it gets out of control, Hollywood film studios aim to put technology in place that will block the copying of DVDs, a formidable task compounded by the rapid sale of off-the-shelf DVD burners that lack copying safeguards. Falling prices will lead to the sale of 15 million burners by next year, according to Jon Peddie Research. Currently working for the studios is the paucity of high-speed Internet connections, which so far has prevented the swapping of large movie files from reaching Napster-like proportions. The first DVD anti-copying measure was the Content Scrambling System (CSS) created by the Copy Protection Technology Working Group, but teenage Norwegian hacker Jon Johansen found a way to break the encryption with the creation of DeCSS descrambling software. Although the film industry was able to have DeCSS declared illegal, the distribution of SmartRipper and other pirating software has spurred the development of digital watermarking technology that would prevent DVD hardware from playing illegally copied DVDs. Consumer electronics companies claim they are willing to install the watermarks, provided they do not create too many technical headaches for consumers. However, civil liberties groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) are concerned about the implications. "If you want DVD watermarking to do what they say it's going to do, it's hard to get around the fact that they'll have to mandate this in all PCs," notes EFF attorney Fred von Lohmann.
- "Slump Creates Reverse Exodus of Immigrant Tech Workers"
SiliconValley.com (02/02/02); Bjorhus, Jennifer
Immigrant tech workers are returning to their homelands in large numbers now that the tech industry and the U.S. economy are struggling. For example, H.H.L. Viswanathan, India's consul general in San Francisco, believes about 2,000 H-1B visa workers returned home last year, but Indus Entrepreneur President Raj Desai, puts the figure in the tens of thousands. The number would include Indian programmer Niranjan--who requested no further identification--who lost his job at a San Jose optical-networking startup last August and was unable to find another job in the United States before his visa expired. H-1B visas allow immigrants to stay in the United States for up to six months if they are not being sponsored by a company. Niranjan now works for a startup outside Mumbai, which used to be known as Bombay. The experience has left Niranjan, who preferred to remain in the United States, feeling as if he were migrant labor. Indeed, Antonia Juhasz at the International Forum on Globalization in San Francisco compares H-1B visa workers to factory workers, while AnnaLee Saxenian, a professor at the University of California-Berkeley who is an expert on transnational communities, describes the tide of foreign workers returning home as "brain circulation." Over time, Saxenian believes the movement will help the economies of the countries.
- "China's Hi-Tech Companies Love Britain"
VNUNet (02/04/02); Williams, Peter
Invest UK reports that Chinese high-tech companies favor the United Kingdom as the site of their first international beachhead. Roughly 125 Chinese mainland firms have set up British offices while 90 more recently entered the market, according to the investment agency. Britain's long-term relationship with Hong Kong appears to be one of the reasons why Chinese companies are drawn to the country. "This is a neat combination of British [mainland] China and Hong Kong venture capital working together," notes Invest UK investment advisor Chris Fraser. "It demonstrates Britain's strength in value-added services such as R&D." Relaxed taxation statutes are another reason why Britain is considered prime real estate for regional headquarters. Among the sectors being spurred to set up shop in England are biotechnology, telecommunications, and IT hardware and software.
- "Tech CEOs Take Dim View of 2002 Rebound Scenario"
Reuters (02/04/02); Auchard, Eric
Technology executives speaking at the World Economic Forum see little promise of an economic resurgence in the second half of 2002. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, for one, was circumspect in his analysis, saying that "the sobriety will stay, the somberness will stay" in the technology sector; he said it was very healthy for companies to spend according to real business needs, and expects no huge turnaround this year for either Japan or the United States, though Europe may begin to do better. Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina was more upbeat, saying that strong consumer technology spending was enough to drive a revival in late 2002, even though she admitted corporate spending would likely remain depressed. UBS Warburg analyst Pip Coburn said that it would take new product innovations, probably to come in 2004, to spur a new round of good technology growth; following that line of logic, Applied Materials CEO James Morgan said he was worried about the slowness of orders for his company's advanced semiconductor manufacturing equipment, which is used by the likes of Intel, Sony, and Taiwan's TMSC to create speedier and smarter computer chips. Unless those companies begin investing heavily in next-generation equipment, there will not be the huge advances in technology that have helped spur further growth in the semiconductor sector, he said.
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- "Congress Sees Rise in Tech-Related Legislation"
Los Angeles Times (02/05/02) P. C3; Shiver Jr., Jube
More than 500 new pieces of legislation affecting the technology industry have been introduced in Congress so far this session, according to a recent study by the Cato Institute. Part of the reason technology issues comprise 10 percent of all the bills currently on the table is heightened concern for security following the Sept. 11 attacks, as well as increased lobbying from Silicon Valley firms. Proposed laws run the gamut of technology issues, and include broadband deregulation, e-commerce taxes, and licensing of online music. The new spate of technology-related laws shows that lawmakers are targeting the Internet after the dot-com crash. Alan Davidson of the Center for Democracy and Technology says the Internet is a scapegoat for the current recession and no longer something lawmakers want to leave deregulated. Still, experts see little likelihood of any of the current regulatory measures passing since they lack significant public support.
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- "Apple Wants Developers to Get Cocoa While It's Hot"
NewsFactor Network (01/31/02); Wilson, Ben
Development for Macintosh's OS X is taking two tracks after Apple decided to merge its application programming interfaces. The official Apple API set, Carbon, is based on legacy code so it is easier for large developers to port their applications to the Macintosh. A new development API set, named Cocoa, runs much faster and is easier to write, according to Omni Group President William Shipley. Apple CEO Steve Jobs has encouraged major Macintosh application developers such as Microsoft and Adobe to write their code in Carbon, however, because Apple does not want them to fear that their applications will have to be entirely rewritten. Shipley says that reasoning is understandable since both Microsoft and Adobe applications have millions of lines of code invested and Carbon would be much easier to port to. Microsoft's Office v.X is already written in Carbon and displays many of the touches that are possible with Cocoa, but, in the end, still has the trademark inhibitions inherent to Carbon, Shipley says.
- "Colleges Go to Tech Experts to Create Courses"
Potomac Tech Journal (01/28/02) Vol. 3, No. 4, P. 1; Anderson, Tania
Colleges around the Washington, D.C., area are seeking the advice of the technology community as they fine-tune their new degree courses to meet the needs of local technology companies. Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), for example, surveyed nine local IT security firms for skills and knowledge they think are important for graduates of a planned two-year information security degree. NOVA is expanding its certification in information security to a two-year degree after seeing a need in the business community. Nearby, George Mason University is readying a new IT bachelor's degree that undergraduate studies associate dean Bernard White says is based on needs of businesses, as described by the Northern Virginia Technology Council. Schools began turning to the IT community for advice about five years ago, in an effort to learn why they weren't getting more IT degree candidates. Mindbank Consulting Group conducted a local study that found that curriculums were too heavily focused on mathematics, when many of those skill areas had become less important in the actual workplace because of automated programs. Mindbank's Peter Brooks says, "A lot of students were scared of IT programs because of the math requirements." David Hunn, a director with the Northern Virginia Regional Partnership, says educators formed focus groups with the tech community in 1998 to produce more aptly skilled graduates. He says at first it was hard to get companies to cooperate, but today "there's more corporate interest to really fine-tune the curriculum."
- "Where Does H-1B Fit?"
InformationWeek (02/04/02) No. 874, P. 34; Khirallah, Diane Rezendes; McGee, Marianne Kolbasuk
The H-1B visa program has raised the hackles of many, who claim that it is little more than an excuse for companies to hire cheap foreign IT workers, thus taking jobs away from Americans. Employers and industry groups counter that the issue is more complex: It is not a matter of hiring cheaper employees but finding people qualified to do the job, regardless of nationality--an assertion that hints that the United States is not producing enough domestic workers with the necessary IT skills. Out-of-work business-technology employees are responsible for continually updating their skills, which would better their chances of finding a job, argues ITAA President Harris Miller. The H-1B visa cap of 195,000 was not met last year, an indication that the marketplace is on track, he says. However, some contend that the American tech labor pool has improved, and Microsoft is one company that appears to be following this trend by hiring fewer H-1B workers; at the same time, Microsoft's David Pritchard acknowledges that they are critical for positions where there is a shortage of U.S. talent, such as programmers who understand Arabic or Chinese. Adding to the complexity of the issue are increasing complaints from H-1B workers that they are being mistreated by their employers, such as receiving salaries lower than prevailing wage rates.
- "A Collaborative Approach to Ontology Design"
Communications of the ACM (02/02) Vol. 45, No. 2, P. 42; Holsapple, Clyde W.; Joshi, K.D.
Organizations that use knowledge management, such as e-tailers, distance learning firms, and virtual enterprises, need a solid ontology in place. Ontologies can be designed according to five schemes--inspiration, induction, deduction, synthesis, and collaboration--which can also be combined. An inspirational methodology creates ontologies designed to fulfill a specific need through the developer's personal view; inductive design is dictated by specific case studies that are applied to all similar cases; the deductive design approach uses general principles about the domain that are adapted to each case; the synthetic technique creates a coherent ontology by merging the characteristics of existing ontologies; and the collaborative approach relies on the viewpoints of multiple persons working together. This last methodology follows an iterative process bolstered by the diverse perspectives of the participants, who evaluate each design iteration until they are all in agreement. There are four steps to the collaborative approach in designing a KM ontology: Preparation, in which design criteria, boundary conditions, and assessment standards are defined; anchoring, which furnishes an initial, synthesis-based ontology from which the collaborative effort stems; iterative improvement that specifies participants, combines their views, and revises the ontology until consensus is reached; and application, in which the ontology's practical uses are demonstrated.