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 email@example.com.
Volume 4, Issue 356: Monday, June 3, 2002
- "Industry Allies Seek to Limit Microsoft Drive Into New Fields"
New York Times (06/03/02) P. C1; Lohr, Steve; Markoff, John
Microsoft is facing tough competitors in new markets it has targeted for growth, such as the cell phone and set-top box software markets. Handphone makers, such as industry leader Nokia, fear that they would be relegated to commodity hardware business if Microsoft were to gain dominance of the majority of cell phone operating systems, similar to its preeminence in PC software. As a result, Nokia has made much of its cell phone software available for licensing, Palm has spun off its mobile operating system business, and much of the industry has come together in a joint effort named Symbian. Microsoft's ambitions to grow online are also rallying industry leaders to head off any possible monopoly on online identification. The Liberty Alliance now has signed on 43 companies, including technology giants and leaders in major industries--Sun, General Motors, United Airlines, American Express, and Sony, for example--whose goal is to create an open framework for Web services and easier e-commerce. If Microsoft's .Net Passport platform were to become the de facto standard, competitors and other companies fear they would be beholden to the software giant if they wanted to offer ubiquitous Web services. So far, opposition in all the areas Microsoft has made moves into has limited that company's growth, despite the billions of dollars it spends in product development and acquisitions. When the company invested $5 billion in AT&T's cable operations in exchange for 2.5 million licenses of proprietary Microsoft set-top software, for example, AT&T took the money, paid Microsoft for the software, and decided to go with another platform anyway.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Data Collection: More the Merrier"
Wired News (06/03/02); Patrizio, Andy
A simulation of proton collisions was carried out on a computing grid comprised of systems from five U.S. universities and research sites connected by a high-speed Internet backbone. "This is an example of an increasingly important trend, where communities of scientists are facing the need to process increasingly large amounts of data and the physical resources at any individual institution can bring together is moderate," says Ian Foster of the University of Chicago. The first test involved simulating 50,000 proton collisions, with the project coordinated by the United States, the International Virtual Data Grid Laboratory, and the Particle Physics Data Grid. Free open-source Globus Project and Condor Project software was utilized to establish connections between systems at the University of California at San Diego, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Florida, Caltech, and Fermilab. The simulation project falls under the aegis of the Compact Muon Solenoid Collaboration, an experiment that will be performed on the Large Hadron Collider, a Swiss particle accelerator currently under construction. The physics and computer scientists involved in the project hope that the grid will comprise 20 sites by the end of 2002, with half of them operating in Europe and half in the United States. Fermilab's Ruth Pordes believes that grid computing technology could move out of academic circles and into more commercial sectors, such as the financial industry, once issues such as computer heterogeneity and error recovery have been resolved.
- "Study: Open Source Poses Security Risks"
ZDNet (05/31/02); Broersma, Matthew
Open-source advocates say the software is less prone to bugs and security holes because of the large number of programmers working to develop it, but a recent study by a conservative think tank warns the opposite. According to a new white paper from the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution (ADTI), open-source software such as Linux makes it easier for hackers and terrorists to find ways to break into computer systems using it. This assertion is of particular importance to the federal government and the military, since computer systems form the basis of digital security, said ADTI Chairman Gregory Fossedal. In an advance statement, ADTI said "open source might facilitate efforts to disrupt or sabotage electronic commerce, air traffic control, or even sensitive surveillance systems."
- "Comms Companies Seen as Next Computing Giants"
EE Times Online (05/30/02); Merritt, Rick
High-tech entrepreneur Larry Boucher believes the future of computing lies in storage technologies, which is already a burgeoning sector. He notes that the Internet has made data delivery more important than processor efficiency, thus shifting the system's center from the processor to the switched backplane. Boucher dismisses current blade servers as "a joke" in terms of data-transfer capability, and proposes a configurable switch made from blades that plug into a switch with a blade that goes into Fibre Channel or iSCSI featuring RAID. He believes that communication companies are poised to become the next major computing companies, if they are willing to open up their architectures. At the moment, Boucher says that "The switch guys don't have a clue about how to build storage, file systems, or processing blades." His company Alacritech is pursuing hardware-accelerated TCP/IP based on earlier research at Auspex, which demonstrated that embedding the protocol in hardware was unworkable; Boucher formed Alacritech to make it workable. He notes that "The world no longer thinks it can't be done, but the networking world still doesn't think it needs to be done."
- "Despite Soft Economy, a Call for Foreign Tech Workers"
Christian Science Monitor (06/03/02) P. 21; Francis, David R.
Three years ago, the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) successfully lobbied that Congress increase the cap on H-1B visas so that more foreign workers could be brought in to shore up the U.S. tech workforce at the height of the high-tech boom; its argument was that there was a severe deficiency of domestic tech workers. But even with the economic downturn and employee reductions, employers were pushing the INS to allow 105,800 more foreign workers into the United States from October 2001 to late March 2002. Norman Matloff of the University of California, Davis, believes there are plenty of home-grown tech workers and tech graduates available, and argues that high-tech firms desire foreign workers because they are cheaper than American employees and easier to control. Although H-1B workers are supposed to receive prevailing wages, Matloff and immigration consultant Paul Donnelly say that employers are taking advantage of their desire to get a green card by forcing them to work longer hours, and curtailing benefits and regular pay hikes. ITAA President Harris Miller denies allegations of program abuse: For one thing, only 163,000 H-1B applications were processed last year, less than the 195,000 visa cap. This drop in applications is in keeping with the softening economy, according to Miller. Furthermore, the INS has not made any plans to track H-1B workers for security reasons; a Center for Immigration Studies report last month found that none of the 48 terrorists who entered the country since 1993 got in on H-1B visas.
- "Wireless Focus at Computex"
Experts believe products that boast wireless Net connectivity will be the highlight of Computex, the world's third-largest computer industry trade show. Computex's chief focus is on products that are ready for the commercial sector, rather than state-of-the-art technologies still under development. Taiwan PC analyst James Huang says, "Nobody cares about the gigahertz," while other analysts say PC power has improved only incrementally of late, with no big breakthroughs to give sales a boost. Analyst Paul Wang says, "Bigger improvements may come next year." Organizers expect 1,108 firms to be represented at the show, as well as 133 foreign companies such as Intel. Among the technologies to be showcased at the Taiwan exhibition is Microsoft's "Mira" initiative, which embeds wireless features in portable flat-panel displays. Although Taiwan tech firm revenues indicate some recovery from the economic downturn, analysts still see low PC demand due to gradual improvements to PCs and few major breakthroughs. Wireless is one of the few sectors gaining ground in the region, which is why it is expected to be so well represented at Computex.
- "Hypocrites Have a Point on Broadband"
SiliconValley.com (06/02/02); Gillmor, Dan
The U.S. government should do more to make broadband Internet pervasive because of the technology's promise of economic growth, national security, and innovation, writes Dan Gillmor. Whereas a funded rollout similar to the nation's Interstate highway system would be the most reasonable and fair foundation for a healthy broadband industry, that option is unlikely to become reality because of the powerful lobby of cable and telecommunications providers. A second-best alternative would be to foster greater competition in the industry by reining in the monopoly controls exerted by the cable and especially incumbent phone companies, which control the local access needed to offer DSL. Doing so would not only ensure the decentralized infrastructure needed to withstand terrorist devastation, but would also prevent industry controls on the content that flows over broadband connections. Even as lawmakers and the FCC work on a national broadband policy, their decision to allow the 802.11 high-speed wireless standard to flourish is yielding tremendous rewards in terms of innovation. Because 802.11 service operates in an unregulated spectrum, companies and individuals are rapidly improving the technology and developing new uses.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "The Supreme Court and Patents"
New York Times (06/03/02) P. C2; Chartrand, Sabra
Patent holders claim to have scored a major victory last week when the Supreme Court overturned a lower court prohibition on suing infringers under the doctrine of equivalents, but a deeper analysis shows that new requirements instituted by the court will disqualify most patent owners from using the law. The 19th-century doctrine states that rivals that make cosmetic changes to another company or individual's patented invention are still infringing on that patent. However, two years ago the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled--in the case of Festo versus SMC--that the plaintiff could not sue because it made amendments to its patent applications while they were still being processed. Most applicants opt to file an amendment rather than an appeal when certain patent application components are rejected, which is a common occurrence. Although IBM, Intel, and other advocates applauded the appeals court's decision as an effective way to reduce frivolous lawsuits, most patent holders claimed such a measure would downgrade patent value and stifle research and innovation. The restoration of the right to use the doctrine of equivalents was authorized by Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who nevertheless opined that patent owners who revise their applications would have to contend with an additional burden of proof if they sue for infringement. "The Supreme Court ruling expands the law a little compared to what the appeals court said," explained James T. Carmichael of the Association of Patent Law Firms. "But the long-term prospect restricts the scope of patents because it presumes the appeals court decision is what is in effect, and gives some inventors a chance to prove otherwise."
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Will Computers Read Your Mind?"
Tech TV (05/30/02); Mercer, Brandon
Computers that can interpret a user's emotional state through his or her facial reactions are under development. NCR and the University of Southern California's Integrated Media Systems Center are designing a better class of ATMs that map emotions: A camera focuses on users' features, and then software creates a map of facial expressions and compares them to a database of emotions to find a match. The ATM can then tailor the user experience based on these results, eliminating promos in response to customer irritation or enlarging font size for better legibility, for example. Teradata engineer Dave Schrader says such technology could also be applied to information kiosks, while Dr. Skip Rizzo of the University of Southern California believes it could be even more useful for counseling and psychological evaluation. "We still have a long way to go with this, but we believe by tracking facial expressions it gives us added information that a therapist can use to get a better insight into a patient," he explains. The technology could also be used to uncover suspicious individuals at airports and other security checkpoints who display conflicting emotions in response to certain questions. However, some emotions may be harder to detect than others--for instance, Schrader notes that confusion and frustration are similar, while depression is even more nuanced. The technology also opens up concerns about privacy; Sonia Arrison of the Center for Freedom and Technology warns that its accuracy could be hampered if people knew they were being watched and displayed different emotions than they were actually feeling.
- "Cannibals in Cyberspace; Internet Governing Body Feasts on Itself"
MSNBC (05/30/02); Meeks, Brock N.
ICANN has reduced itself to an organization that should be called "I can't," and even ICANN CEO Stuart Lynn argues that ICANN is seen by interested parties as more of a debating society than as an effective organization, writes Brock Meeks. ICANN has failed because it is too tilted toward commercial interests and because it conducts meetings in secret rather than in the open manner mandated by ICANN's founding mission. Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) once commented in a congressional oversight hearing that ICANN's decision-making process is more shrouded and mysterious than the Vatican's. ICANN lawyer Joe Simms defended ICANN in a recent mailing-list email by saying that "transparency to me means that all actions taken are disclosed and explained on the public record, for all to see and react to, not that they can only be done in a stadium or on a Webcast." ICANN's own rules state that ICANN should be run from the bottom-up, yet Simms dismisses ICANN critics as door-mice trying to hear every ICANN conversation--which to Simms is intrusiveness, not openness. ICANN's contract with the U.S. government is approaching renewal time, and a number of ICANN critics have written the U.S. Commerce Department asking Commerce to open the contract to bidding as a means of forcing ICANN to reform itself. In addition, such a bidding process would give the U.S. government options to ICANN, these critics say.
- "Totally Awesome Software?"
Salon.com (05/29/02); Williams, Sam
Extreme programming (XP) is hailed by many as a major breakthrough in software development, while others criticize it as an overhyped fad. The methodology involves "pair programming" in which the development of the software is overseen by several people. This face-to-face interaction can take place between developers and clients, as well as developers and developers. It saves companies the headache of trusting other firms to develop the software, only to deliver buggy products that do not function the way they are contracted to. Programmer and XP pioneer Kent Beck says it also makes more economic sense, eliminating the need for lots of software documentation and a big quality assurance team. A lack of testimonials about the value of XP has fueled critics' skepticism, while author Matt Stephens objects to the methodology requirement that all XP components get used, even when they are risky. "If something goes wrong, then things can really go awry," he warns. Kent believes XP can bridge the sociological gaps that appear to plague most software projects, while others say it can help lower software development stress levels.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "IBM Offers Data Storage Alternative"
CNet (05/30/02); Spooner, John G.
IBM's Haifa Research Lab has developed a remote storage technology for PCs called iBoot that promises to cut down PC maintenance costs for companies, create more efficient servers, and allow for vastly more computer storage. Although for users the technology is largely transparent, iBoot would use the Internet Protocol-based iSCSI networking standard to retrieve and store data on a central server instead of on a local disk drive. That would allow administrators to update PC software in one place, instead of reconfiguring each desktop system, for example. IBoot would also allow for PCs to be remotely booted up. IBM's other research into diskless storage dovetails with the iBoot technology because servers would be able to squeeze more storage into a rack setup when equipped with the thinner drives. Together, IBM says the two technologies pose a tremendous opportunity for corporate PC systems. IBoot could also allow for notebook computers to be built with much smaller, temporary drives that would sync with remote main drives later, when connected to the network.
- "Hackers v. Colleges: Security Bolstered for University Computer Systems"
Cox News Service (05/29/02); Holsendolph, Ernest
Universities and colleges are boosting security as hacker intrusions increase. University networks are attractive environments for nefarious online activities because of their open nature and plentiful bandwidth and storage. However, a recent intrusion at Georgia Tech shows that universities are changing the way they look at their entire network infrastructure as the hacking threat increases. Although the break-in was not financially exploitive--the hackers simply wanted somewhere to store and trade pirated movies--Georgia Tech President Wayne Clough says the school is having to re-examine its overall IT plans as a result. Clough says the focus of their system was on usability, efficiency, and the like, but now may have to take on a more restrictive stance. Indiana University Vice President of Information Technology Michael A McRobbie recently sounded the alarm for his colleagues at a speech, saying that it was time for more monitoring, user education, and access limitations regarding campus systems.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "DOD Adjusts Plans on Hiring Foreign IT Workers"
Government Computer News Online (05/30/02); Onley, Dawn S.
The Defense Department has reversed its plans to ban foreign nationals from jobs involving unclassified IT projects that are still considered sensitive. The candidates can be hired if they pass background checks and submit letters of approval from the agency chiefs who want to hire them, according to high-ranking DOD managers. The number of contractors affected by the proposal is still unclear. Despite the new policy, defense agency chiefs are still asked to hire U.S. citizens first for such positions, says DOD's deputy director for personnel security Pete Nelson. The DOD had originally called for banning foreign nationals in March, but industry officials had expressed concern over those that might possibly be removed from their positions. Sensitive but unclassified data includes personnel data and information on weapons systems. Nelson adds that foreign workers as well as U.S. citizens would need to pass background investigations to be able to access secure data and that a final policy can be expected by September.
- "Md. IT Education Program Cut"
Potomac Tech Journal (05/27/02) Vol. 3, No. 21, P. 1; Anderson, Tania
The Maryland Applied Information Technology Initiative (MAITI) had approximately 75 percent of its budget cut last month, a serious setback for its effort to increase enrollment in IT degree programs in state universities. Whereas its 2002 budget was $5 million, its 2003 budget will be only slightly more than $1 million; this indicates that the state of Maryland is not planning to renew the program after its conclusion in 2004. MAITI funding gives a boost to university initiatives such as IT research grants and the expansion of targeted degree programs. MAITI executive director Ron Larsen says instructional faculty will be let go and class hours cut back next year as a result of the budget downgrade; this will limit new enrollments and delay the graduation of students currently enrolled. Since MAITI's inception in 1999, undergraduate IT enrollment has increased 53 percent while graduate enrollment has risen 44 percent, adding up to almost 16,000 enrollments this year. Furthermore, the number of awarded degrees has exceeded expectations. It is hoped that graduates of Maryland IT degree programs will join the state's technology workforce, but MAITI has yet to determine how well that goal has been reached. Meanwhile, Virginia was chosen as a pilot site by the Computing Technology Industry Association for an IT apprentice program that will use community colleges to boost the IT workforce.
- "Cryptography for the Masses"
Computerworld (05/27/02) Vol. 36, No. 21, P. 56; Anthes, Gary H.
As computers are increasingly linked to networks through wired and wireless connections, the need for an easy-to-use cryptography system becomes more apparent. Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) principal scientist Tom Berson predicts that cryptography will be seamlessly integrated into the infrastructure in the future, so that users do not have to make a special effort to protect simple data transfers, such as email. PARC is currently trying to convince more vendors to integrate cryptographic schemes into their products, and is developing a system for user authentification in ad hoc networks without using public key infrastructure digital certificates. Stanford researcher Dan Boneh is working on a similar concept that would allow users to use their email address for authentification purposes, as the network would send them an encrypted email to be used for access. Cryptographic systems take years to develop and gain acceptance, and the Advanced Encryption Standard algorithm is just now beginning to replace the Data Encryption Standard, developed in the middle of the last decade. Meanwhile, quantum computers being developed at research facilities promise to make algorithmic encryption standards unnecessary within 10 years to 15 years, according to Stanford University's Martin Hellman.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Section 508 'Not as Hard as People Thought'"
Washington Technology (05/20/02) Vol. 17, No. 4, P. 10; Emery, Gail Repsher
Government and IT industry experts say considerable progress has been made in agencies' efforts to make their electronic and information technology applications accessible to people with disabilities. Although government IT is not fully accessible today, many agencies now realize meeting the accessibility requirements of Section 508 is not as difficult as initially believed. A year ago, agencies and IT vendors appeared to be in state of panic because of Section 508, which took effect June 25, 2001. Agencies were afraid of lawsuits for not having accessible Web-based and IT applications, while IT companies had doubts about whether they could produce the IT accessible products that the agencies needed. Officials say much of the compliance comes as a result of collaborations involving the government, industry, and the disability community. The latest efforts include the General Services Administration's purchase of a Section 508 training CD-ROM and the agency's' new lab for testing assistive products, such as screen readers for the blind. Section 508 required agencies to purchase accessible Web-based and IT applications after June 25 last year, but some agencies, including the U.S. Postal Service, are updating older Web sites and IT systems. "We took the approach that the customer isn't going to know and won't care when a particular application or document was created," but would want all applications to be accessible, says Ray Morgan, manager of the Postal Service's Section 508 program.
- "This Is War"
Fortune (05/27/02) Vol. 145, No. 11, P. 83; Leonard, Devin
The battle lines have been drawn up between technology companies and Hollywood over how to combat digital piracy. Studio CEOs believe technology companies have a responsibility to curb piracy, since they market products that consumers are using to steal movies online. Tech leaders such as Intel's Andy Grove argue that the blame lies with studios for not putting their content on the Web, a policy that alienates consumers and encourages them to rip studios off. Viant statistics estimate that movies are being swapped on the Internet as many as 500,000 times a day; such trends have spurred studios to endorse legislation such as Sen. Ernest Hollings' (D-S.C.) bill to have anti-piracy requirements enforced by the FCC if technology and studio interests cannot reach an agreement within a year. However, if both sides could compromise, it would benefit them enormously: More people would buy new computer systems and broadband access if online movies were lawfully available, while studios would generate more revenue if their films could be safely distributed over the Net. With this in mind, Intel and a group of consumer-electronics firms have been seeking Hollywood backing for a technology that secures movies distributed to home networks via a set-top box, but negotiations were scuttled because studios were impatient to have the file-sharing issue settled. The Hollings bill has triggered overtures from tech CEOs for "inter-industry cooperation" to secure copyrighted content, but now studios such as Disney want Silicon Valley to make PCs that scan all incoming content, including emails, for watermarks. Such a move infuriates Silicon Valley and has caused the tech community to appeal to consumers, warning them that legislation such as the Hollings bill will curtail their right to privacy.
- "Blazing Trails"
CommVerge (05/02) Vol. 3, No. 5, P. 30; Suydam, Margot
Multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) could be laying the groundwork for the converged IP network. Not only can MPLS streamline and speed up IP traffic, but it also allows quality of service (QoS) to be worked into networks so that ISPs can route packets according to customer requirements and the class of data. Bandwidth can be managed and networks can be made more resilient through MPLS. Early MPLS adopters are mainly using it to transport IP service data applications such as virtual private networks and guaranteed bandwidth. "Now that IP technology is available to service providers, MPLS is taking the IP network out of the realm of the best-effort, unpredictable infrastructure that we know and love into one that is business-ready, high-quality, and predictable in terms of bandwidth," notes Telcordia Technologies' Tony Bogovic. MPLS deployments among service providers are taking place for a number of reasons, including the need to fully implement layer-3 IP services as well as to overlay layer-2 services on a common core IP. MPLS also appears to be gaining momentum in the metropolitan area network market.
Click Here to View Full Article