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Timely Topics for IT Professionals

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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.

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Volume 4, Issue 330: Monday, April 1, 2002

  • "Why Europe Trails U.S. In High-Tech Innovation"
    Wall Street Journal (04/01/02) P. A1; Davis, Bob

    In terms of technological investment and development, Europe is lagging behind the United States mainly for political reasons, according to European Union research chief Philippe Busquin. Europe is composed of multiple markets, all of them competing with each other, while the United States boasts a single, unified market. Statistics indicate that the United States spends more money on tech research and development than EU governments, while Busquin notes that a significant portion of European R&D funds is wasted because governments are working on practically identical technology. Commercialization is often stymied by European regulations; the flow of research monies is not as smooth as it is in America because funds are distributed among hundreds of small European institutions, whereas in America the funds are kept among a few major institutions. The development of a pan-European stock market is also complicated by political infighting. UNICE estimates that regulatory approval for gas stations in Europe takes three times as long as it does in the United States on average, resulting in a lack of superstore chains that use state-of-the-art software. Europe is also ridden by xenophobia, while Silicon Valley companies in the United States often look overseas for engineering talent. Furthermore, rigid European worker-rights regulations that complicate layoffs and the provision of severance packages have had a chilling effect on entrepreneurism.

  • "A Power Shift in Technology"
    New York Times (04/01/02) P. C4; Lohr, Steve

    Technology vendors are no longer driving the corporate information technology sector as a contracted spending environment makes them much more beholden to their customers. At this year's PC Forum, the mix of chief executives from veteran and startup technology companies was also peppered with CIOs of major non-tech brands, such as American Airlines and General Motors. American Airlines CIO Monte E. Ford spoke about the trend every few years toward new enterprise software that promises to transform business. He said the decisions of large corporations had tremendous influence on which vendor's software would rise to prominence as well as determining whether or not a new startup would receive the prestige necessary to win further funding. One example of corporate clout in technology is the Liberty Alliance, a conglomeration of technology companies and large businesses that aims to consolidate disparate Web services, such as Microsoft's Passport and AOL's Magic Carpet. General Motors CIO Tony Scott said the groups aligning under the Liberty Alliance made it clear that Sun, the major technology provider, would not be permitted to use the group as a competitive tool and that its aim was to avoid inoperability in Web services, which would turn consumers off to the entire idea. Since the announcement of the Liberty Alliance last year, Microsoft has said it would make its Passport Web services platform work with the group's technology.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/01/technology/ebusiness/01NECO.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "Building the Linux of the Robot World"
    IDG News Service (03/29/02); Williams, Martyn

    Three and a half years of funding from the Japanese government has been funneled into the development of a humanoid robot whose software and hardware specifications are being published over the Internet to encourage the development of more sophisticated robotics. "We hope that universities and research laboratories will build on our work and, just like Linux, any development must be provided back to the Open Pino community," declares Yukiko Matsuoka of the Kitano Symbiotic Systems Project. The initiative has set out to design a machine with a non-threatening, human-like appearance that features a self-learning system based on artificial intelligence. The team has built a working prototype and is now pouring its efforts into software systems development, according to Matsuoka. Pino (short for Pinocchio) is the name of the robot, and the research team is selling component kits so that interested parties can build their own. Only universities and researchers can purchase the Pino kit for now, but the team is planning to introduce a slimmed-down kit for individuals, the Pino-lite, before the year is out.
    http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,91923,00.asp

  • "U.S. Government Trains Cyberdefenders"
    Associated Press (03/31/02)

    Students that receive computer security scholarships in exchange for government service are expected to help boost cybersecurity, but critics such as Computer Economics' Michael Erbschloe do not see the program making any significant impact. For one thing, President Bush has requested a fiscal 2003 budget of only about $11 million for the cybercorps, while the number of participating students will probably total about 300 by the end of the year. Most college-level computer science programs emphasize basic skills such as programming rather than making networks hackerproof; that will probably change as more vulnerabilities are disclosed and terrorists attempt to exploit them. Students participating in the cybercorps program will also have better chances of netting lucrative private sector jobs when their two years of government service are up, since security is becoming more of a priority among companies. BindView security strategy director Scott Blake says the key to security training is to concentrate on instilling in students a particular analytical process rather than teaching them certain kinds of knowledge.
    http://www.cnn.com/2002/TECH/industry/03/31/cyber.corps.ap/index.html

  • "High-Tech Firms Vie to Fight Terrorism"
    Washington Post (03/31/02) P. A1; Cha, Ariana Eunjung

    The federal government is inundated with proposals from technology companies that would battle terrorism if given the chance. Since the Sept. 11 attacks and the tremendous budgetary increases President Bush has put forward for his war on terror, technology companies of all stripes have bolstered or created new government services departments, and worked existing technology into solutions for preventing and eliminating terrorism. The CIA venture capital fund, In-Q-Tel, is reviewing four times the normal amount of proposals, and the Pentagon and new Homeland Security Office are sorting through thousands of ideas from individuals, scientists, and companies. Firms such as Silicon Graphics, which produced the graphics hardware used in the Jurassic Park and Toy Story movies, are entering the fray with suggestions such as Silicon Graphics' idea to digitally recreate Middle Eastern towns so that soldiers will be familiar with the terrain before landing. Siebel Systems CEO Tom Siebel is in Washington, D.C., to market a database analysis system that would alert "every three-letter agency" in government law enforcement of terrorist activities based on credit card, housing, and communications information. IBM and Oracle are also taking the data analysis track and offering their technologies to help identify terrorists based on calculative estimates of their known histories.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A41390-2002Mar30.html

  • "On a Search Mission to Outdo Google"
    Los Angeles Times (04/01/02) P. C8; Liedtke, Michael

    The Teoma search engine, which premieres today, is designed to give Google a run for its money as the Web's most effective search service. Teoma, developed by Rutgers mathematics professor Apostolos Gerasoulis, claims it is better than Google because it splits the Web up into online communities and better categorizes search results. A Teoma search lists primary results as well as secondary lists of related sub-categories and "expert" sources. Teoma only gained the financial clout to challenge Google following its acquisition by Ask Jeeves, which has concealed its most powerful features until now. The parent company will also be able to give the search engine a serious marketing push. Ask Jeeves reports that the number of clicks on its search results has risen 25 percent since incorporating Teoma's technology, and is planning to allow other sites to license the technology starting this summer. SearchEngineWatch.com editor Danny Sullivan explains that Teoma will first need to beat lower-tier search engines such as Wisenut.com and Alltheweb.com before it can compete with Google. Online searching is the second-most popular Internet activity, behind only email, and Google, which claims to have 3 billion documents in its index, is the leading search site with 150 million search queries daily.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Plan to Change Internet Group Is Criticized as Inadequate"
    New York Times (04/01/02) P. C1; Stellin, Susan

    Virtually no one has disagreed with ICANN President Stuart Lynn's assertion that ICANN is in need of reform, but many have disagreed with his reform proposal, especially because the proposal aims to exclude public representatives from the ICANN board. Lynn's proposal to remold ICANN into a "public-private partnership" has become a cause of alarm for U.S. government officials, who worry about handing the Internet over to a multi- governmental body. Lynn is open to changes to his proposal, and the ICANN Committee on Evolution and Reform is scheduled to present a new reform proposal by May 31. Former ICANN Chairwoman Esther Dyson believes the Commerce Department should spearhead reform efforts, as do a number of senators and congressmen. The Commerce Department may be able to help clarify ICANN's mission scope, though Commerce has been reluctant to involve itself in ICANN squabbles. Commerce Department assistant secretary Nancy J. Victory says that Commerce is waiting to see what reforms ICANN ultimately endorses. Victory endorses ICANN's ability to structure and restructure itself, but adds that Commerce does play a role in events because Commerce has "a contractual relationship with them, which we have the ability to modify, or, if we want, terminate."
    http://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/01/technology/ebusiness/01DOMA.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "Popular Technology Changing Wireless Landscape"
    SiliconValley.com (03/30/02); Fan, Maureen

    The Wi-Fi wireless standard is making a significant impact, thanks to its affordability and ease of use. In-Stat/MDR industry analyst Gemma Paulo estimates that global sales revenues of Wi-Fi gear skyrocketed from $811 million to $1.78 billion between 2000 and 2001, and projects that they will reach $5.21 billion in three years. The standard's proliferation is especially apparent in Silicon Valley, New York, and other high-tech hubs. RealNetworks administrator and Seattle Wireless member Matt Westervelt says that many Wi-Fi experiments are being undertaken because they engender a sense of community as well as save money. The Bay Area Wireless Users Group is setting up a seamless, multi-county wireless network linked together by mountaintop-based antennas; contributing radio engineer Tim Pozar believes firefighters, police, and the like could take advantage of it. The development of Wi-Fi will undoubtedly bring into conflict advocates of free public access and those who favor the adoption of business paradigms. Users of Tallahassee, Fla.'s "Digital Canopy" network will have to start paying for it by the end of May, while WiFi Metro has adopted a subscriber's fee model for a wireless hot zone in Palo Alto.
    http://www.siliconvalley.com/mld/siliconvalley/news/local/2970491.htm

  • "DMCA Still Faces Its First Criminal Test"
    Recorder (03/28/02); Hoppin, Jason

    Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov, charged with violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) for distributing the advanced eBook processor (AEBPR), may have had his prosecution deferred, but his employer, ElcomSoft, still faces trial. Defense attorneys are calling for U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte to throw out the case because the DMCA is too vague to give companies a clear picture of the risks they face in breaking it, and that it also violates First Amendment and fair use rights. Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) general counsel Cindy Cohn is disturbed that the law allows people to be prosecuted simply for developing technology, and is worried that similar cases would stifle innovation. In the government's corner are Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph Sullivan and Scott Frewing, who claim that the fair use issue is being overstated, and that the defense's argument that the use of AEBPR helps exercise those rights is "misleading." They further write that Whyte should be cautious in determining how broadly the speech definition can be applied to computer code. "The court should be reluctant to extend First Amendment protection to the act of trafficking in a functional product or good that merely acts as a machine," they argue.
    Click Here to View Full Article

    To read more about ACM's argument against DMCA, visit http://www.acm.org/felten.

  • "Stallman: Patents Victimize Developers"
    ZDNet (03/28/02); Loney, Matt

    GNU Public License writer Richard Stallman declared in a speech at the Cambridge University Computer Lab that patents are a serious threat to software developers. He compared them to the lottery in that the benefits to people are rarely realized, and adds that the sheer number of issued patents and the turgid legal jargon that defines them makes avoiding claims a difficult proposition. In his speech Stallman outlined three strategies to handle patents--avoiding them altogether by removing contentious features or ideas, although this could ultimately ruin the program; licensing patents, which can be prohibitively expensive, except for large corporations that plan to cross-license patents; and going to court to overturn a patent, although this is also very costly. Stallman made the case that software differs across different fields, because it is easier to design and build than physical products, it involves mathematical concepts, and large systems can be constructed with fewer people. Thus, many ideas that may already be patented are incorporated into software. Stallman offered two solutions to the problem, one of which can be applied to Europe and the other to the United States. The European solution requires changing the patent laws to ban the patenting of software ideas, while the solution for America, where software patents are running rampant, is to implement a change in patent scope.
    http://zdnet.com.com/2100-1104-870390.html

  • "W3C to Open SOAP Envelope"
    InfoWorld.com (03/29/02); Krill, Paul; Jones, Mark

    Increasing the sophistication of Web services is the mission of the World Wide Consortium's Web Services Architecture Working Group, which is tasked with drafting a Web services deployment architecture. Issues the group will address include widening the operational scope of Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), developing standards for creating Web services, enhancing security, and implementing reliable messaging. The modular architecture, which the group will publish in April, must not be tied down to any platform and use XML-based technologies. The architecture will be designed to feature extensibility support, create a common baseline for differing document formats and communication protocols, and settle differences between disparate XML vocabularies. The group consists of 67 members, including Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, and ChevronTexaco, among others.
    http://www.infoworld.com/articles/hn/xml/02/04/01/020401hnstandards.xml

  • "Pretty Geeky Privacy"
    Salon.com (03/27/02); Lamb, Bill

    Encryption software is highly desirable for people who want to protect sensitive data online, but companies such as Network Associates are not updating their encryption products, forcing users to look for alternative means of protection such as Gnu Privacy Guard (GnuPG). Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) was a very effective encryption program that was purchased by Network Associates, which buried it under a slew of services that most users did not want. GnuPG, which stemmed from the OpenPGP project, offers a basic package of security services, including e-signatures, key management, and email and file encryption. GnuPG is a freely available open-source program, and GnuPG movement director Werner Koch notes that downloads are rising--about 2,000 are registered on GnuPG's main server each week, compared to roughly 1,700 earlier in the year. However, one of the key challenges the open-source software movement faces is making encryption software easy to use, a major selling point of PGP. GnuPG is more difficult to install than PGP because of a dependence on command-line entries, while graphical interfaces are separate. Open-source developers are still ill-equipped to handle overwhelming numbers of consumers demanding specific services, but Open Source Initiative President Eric S. Raymond predicts that they will eventually adjust and develop products that better serve end users.
    http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/2002/03/27/gnupg/index.html

  • "GPS Now Found in Everyday Products"
    Philadelphia Inquirer (03/28/02) P. C7; Wong, May

    Global positioning system (GPS) devices today work much better, are much smaller, and much cheaper than Stanford University professor and GPS pioneer Per Enge ever imagined. He says consumer applications have definitely boosted the technology, which was first projected to be built into 40,000 units for the military alone, but has blossomed into a market for 100,000 receivers each month. GPS has been put into wristwatches, golf carts, dashboards, cell phones, and is under development for skin implants. Allied Business Intelligence says the U.S. market for GPS devices reached $4.2 billion in sales and 5.3 million units last year. Government requirements that cell phone service carriers enable "E911" services are also expected to bolster the sector. Wherify Wireless recently announced a new cell phone battery that allows the device to act as a personal GPS locator, and SiRF Technology, which leads the market in GPS chipsets, says it can now manufacture chipsets just the size of a thumbnail.
    http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/business/technology/2951230.htm

  • "New Tools Give Machines Ability to See"
    Electric News (03/26/02); McDonald, Sheila

    Canesta of Silicon Valley has unveiled a new technology that could enable electronic devices to perceive their environment in three dimensions. Possible applications include baby monitors that issue warnings when the baby is trying to climb out of its crib, automotive alert systems that can detect treacherous lane changes and other hazardous road conditions, and gesture-controlled consumer devices such as televisions that change channels at a signal from their owners. Canesta even goes so far as to imply that the perception technology could render input devices such as mice and keyboards obsolete. 3D electronic perception sensor chips embedded with image processing software lie at the heart of Canesta's system, which continually bounces invisible light off of the surrounding environment so that shapes and distance are measured. The company describes pricing for the technology as "ultra low-cost." CEO Nazim Kareemi says that even the cheapest electronic products are likely to feature the technology, and PDA and mobile phone manufacturers are intrigued.
    http://uk.news.yahoo.com/020326/95/cv7nj.html

  • "Power Play"
    Technology Review Online (03/27/02); Cameron, David

    Berkeley's Wireless Research Center is preparing a test launch of a new, super-low-power wireless network technology that would make possible vast sensor networks at low cost. Head researcher and Berkeley professor Jan Rabaey says each node in the network would be about the size of a shirt button and use such little power that they would not need batteries. By using radio waves to communicate with the node nearest them, the small devices in the picoradio system can save on power and pass on information and requests much like a database system. One potential application would be a network that senses the environment in a building and automatically adjusts vents, blinds, and heating according to desired conditions. But the Berkeley group's sponsors in industry and government, such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, see the technology as an enabler for as-of-yet undiscovered innovations. Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney offers muted optimism, saying that such ambitious technologies often add hidden costs or difficulties while eliminating others, and suggests that other wireless technologies such as Bluetooth might be better suited for the same type of applications.
    http://www.technologyreview.com/articles/wo_cameron032702.asp

  • "Hit Hard by Recession, Women IT Pros Regroup"
    eWeek (03/25/02) Vol. 19, No. 12, P. 51; Stackpole, Beth

    The gains that women have won in the IT industry may have been lost as a result of the downturn in the economy. IT firms are said to be cutting back positions currently dominated by women, such as project management, quality assurance, and application support, lowering the number of women in the industry. IT job board Dice reports that the salary gap between men and women has widened from 9 percent in 2000 to 12 percent last year. What is more, IT firms are no longer as generous about flextime and telecommuting arrangements, which were particularly attractive to women with children. "It will be a long time before we get back to the point where we were in past years," says Liz Ryan, founder and CEO of WorldWIT, an online networking community for women in IT. Although more positions involving network administration, specialized programming for enterprise resource planning and database applications, and IT security are becoming available, women can also pursue contract and consulting work as an option. In fact, Ryan says an increasing number of women are performing IT work as independent workers. For women who have not been laid off, experts suggest they would do well to update their skills; engage management about the prospects of their positions; and be willing to compromise hours of work, pay, and flexible working arrangements to secure their jobs.
    Click Here to View Full Article

    To learn more about ACM's Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.

  • "Teens Skilled in Technology will Shape IT's Future"
    InformationWeek (03/25/02) No. 881, P. 72; Colkin, Eileen; George, Tischelle

    The next generation of IT talent, many still teenagers, have several advantages over their non-IT-oriented brethren: They have a wider range of technological experience and use technology more often. RoperNOP Technology's mKids survey of 1,000 U.S. teenagers finds that those who are planning IT careers spend an average of 13 hours a week on the Internet, compared to 7.5 hours for those who expect to use computers in some capacity in their jobs, and less than 6 hours for teens who expect no computer usage. The survey also indicates that the percentage of teens who want to join the IT workforce is growing, but experts say those numbers will not solve future personnel shortages. Both industry and academia must meet a formidable challenge--instilling an interest for IT in students, especially in an economy that has dampened the once-unbridled enthusiasm people had for business technology. Businesses need to be more far-sighted in terms of developing the future labor pool, says A.T. Kearney's John Ciacchella. Sharon Jordan-Evans of the Jordan Evans Group suggests that companies can foster closer ties with future IT workers by hosting internships, career days, and promoting themselves to kids on a daily basis via advertising. Riverstone Networks' Rebecca Guerra adds that IT needs an image makeover in the mass media, which usually portrays tech professionals as geeky or uncool.
    http://www.informationweek.com/story/IWK20020321S0026

  • "IT Training Rip-Offs"
    Network World (03/25/02) Vol. 19, No. 12, P. 44; Gaudin, Sharon

    A large number of schools and training centers offering IT training continue to close down. And some experts think the school closings may be a good thing if students and IT managers respond appropriately. Students would do well to investigate schools before signing up for classes and programs, and companies can do their part by creating some guidelines for employees to follow as they consider IT training centers. BankOne in Chicago goes even further, having created a team to set up training for some 2,000 IT workers, and its effort includes checking the backgrounds of vendors and instructors, and auditing classes. Students and companies should look at IT training as an investment, considering students can pay up to $20,000 a year out-of-pocket for the training and companies paid about $12 billion in 2001 to train their employees. School closings are a concern because students and companies often lose their money. Schools are known to fail because of their inability to bring in enough students, while underestimating the cost of offering courses. Another concern is the training itself, and that schools are preparing students to take tests rather than to perform on the job.
    http://www.nwfusion.com/research/2002/0325feat.html

  • "Short Course, Internet 101"
    Fast Company (03/02) No. 56, P. 132; Hammonds, Keith H.

    In an interview with Fast Company writer Keith H. Hammonds, Cluetrain Manifesto co-author David Weinberger explains the principles of his new book, "Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web." His goal in writing the book, Weinberger says, is to address the misinterpretations, enmity, and bad publicity that has dogged the Web as a result of the dot-com era. He contends that hype has not focused very strongly on the way the Web can facilitate idiosyncratic expression, which differs from offline expression because the constraints of distance and consistency are removed. Weinberger therefore calls the Web a domain of "pure connection." He also notes that ownership often gets misinterpreted by businesses on the Web: Companies may think of Web sites as their personal property, when the reality is that the Web, in its entirety, belongs to everyone. This misassumption severely limits a company's potential for connecting to customers. Weinberger goes on to say that the Web can eliminate the need for centralized management and radically alter the way companies oversee projects. "The Internet was specifically designed to grow in number and richness of applications without having centralized controls," he explains.
    http://www.fastcompany.com/online/56/internet101.html