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 HP or ACM.
To send comments, please write to email@example.com.
Volume 4, Issue 373: Monday, July 15, 2002
- "Royalties May Force Standards Stalemate"
CNet (07/11/02); Festa, Paul
The World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) Patent Policy Working Group is near a final decision on the issue of whether to allow patented technologies with royalties attached into its standard specifications. Sources close to the discussions say that a proposal currently on the table could prove the last chance for the group to include exceptions to its patent-free policy, announced last spring. A group of three unidentified companies have introduced a proposal that would split W3C specifications to include two types, one with technologies requiring RAND (reasonable and non-discriminatory) licenses, and the other without any royalties attached. ZapThink analyst Jason Bloomberg says the scenario since last fall, when the royalty-attached standards issue came up, has Microsoft and IBM sided against everyone else. He says other companies, such as Sun Microsystems, do not have enough influence to get their own technologies into specifications with royalties and so support a royalty-free policy. Meanwhile, Microsoft is making efforts to build up a library of intellectual property in the video graphics arena by purchasing technologies from a number of leading companies, including Intel, Nvidia, and SGI, according to Jon Peddie Research. Microsoft recently approached the OpenGL 3D graphics standards group, claiming that some of its intellectual property was included in key standards, and that the company would trade licenses for those technologies in exchange for other OpenGL technology licenses.
- "NSF Announces New Funding for Nano Research, Education"
Small Times Online (07/12/02); Brown, Doug
On Friday, the National Science Foundation (NSF) earmarked roughly $70 million to fund several nanotech projects, including the establishment of two additional Nanoscale Science and Engineering Centers and an undergraduate nanoscience curriculum revolving around interdisciplinary collaboration. National Nanotechnology Initiative director Mike Roco says the apportionment constitutes about one-third of the NSF's $221 million nanotech budget for 2003; the two centers will receive an annual grant of about $5 million, while the curriculum initiative will receive around $4 million. Approximately $60 million of the solicitation will be used to support scientific teams collaborating on nanotech initiatives and conducting exploratory nanoscale research. The grants will encompass seven research and education themes, including nanoscale biosystems, system architecture, and nanoscale machines. Potential bidders will be encouraged to propose projects centered around nanotech manufacturing processes, instrumentation, technology integration that boosts human efficiency, and devices designed to detect explosive, chemical, radiological, and biological agents. The centers will be involved in nanoscale manufacturing, while the NSF will apportion 40 grants of approximately $100,000 each to provide supplies, instrumentation, expenses, and salaries for undergraduate curriculum courses.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Tapping Brainpower: New Generation of Engineers"
CNet (07/10/02); Kanellos, Michael; Wang, Danica
China is becoming a hotbed of researchers and engineers that multinational companies are eager to snap up for global applications. It is estimated that Chinese schools produce 700,000 engineering graduates a year, and these graduates are attracted to the comparatively high salaries, technical education opportunities, and burgeoning market offered by industry. One of the attractions for hiring Chinese engineers is their willingness to work for far less money than their American equivalents, but the $4,800 to $8,800 that single-degree Chinese engineers draw annually is much higher than the $4,300 that average city dwellers earn. Still, U.S. multinationals insist that their chief priority is to secure top talent, particularly engineers who are familiar with local languages and cultural conditions. U.S. companies are setting up mainland centers where domestic engineers can not only conduct general research, but can build specific expertise--for instance, large segments of IBM, Microsoft, and Intel's "natural computer interface" initiatives have been transferred to China. The Chinese government has set a mandate to connect all of the country's middle schools and most primary schools to the Internet by 2005, and projects such as the Elite University Program and the 2/11 campaign have apportioned billions of dollars toward increasing the number and quality of local institutions. The country's educational system is characterized by fierce competition spurred by a rigorous work ethic, and companies find top recruits by forging close relationships with universities and offering grant programs, computer education initiatives for educators, and joint research projects. However, there is a serious lack of management expertise among Chinese engineers, although the government is ramping up investment in executive education and business degree programs, and U.S. companies are exposing engineers to management as well.
- "National Science Foundation Boosts Grid Computing"
Internet.com (07/11/02); Shread, Paul
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has apportioned $12.1 million for its Middleware Initiative, which program director Alan Blatecky says is designed to "lay foundations for middleware infrastructure and spur adoption of the advanced services that will define the networks and distributed systems of tomorrow." Two teams--the Grid Research Integration and Support (GRIDS) Center and the Enterprise and Desktop Integration Technologies (EDIT) consortium--comprise the NSF program. The GRIDS Center reports in its July 8 newsletter that NMI-R1, the initial NSF Middleware Initiative release, includes core software that consists of such applications as the Globus Toolkit, Condor-G, and Network Weather Service (NWS). According to the newsletter, the Globus Toolkit supports Grids and Grid tools via a series of services and software libraries that cover security, data and resource management, information infrastructure, communication, fault detection, and portability; Condor-G facilitates multi-domain job scheduling and resource management; and NWS uses a distributed set of performance sensors for instantaneous readings in order to monitor and dynamically predict network and computational resource performance. Users do not necessarily need a supercomputer to run GRIDS software because the applications are highly scalable, says the center. "The availability of such affordable computing power can let scientists and engineers completely reconceptualize their research, taking advantage of distributed systems for resource sharing, collaboration and data management," the center adds.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Deja Vu"
Wall Street Journal (07/15/02) P. R13; Totty, Michael
Comparisons between the Internet and once-revolutionary technologies like the printing press, the telegraph, railroads, and radio offers some insight into what the near future may hold for online communications and commerce. Like the printing press, the Internet has allowed content originators to bypass traditional carriers of mass communication and speed sharing of scientific knowledge. But, like the telegraph, accessing printing press technology meant going through expensive channels. In contrast, there is no similar bottleneck for information today and communications carriers are suffering financially for it. The advent of railroads in the early 1800s led to a investment boom similar to the dot-com bubble, and burst in the same dramatic fashion, wiping out the wealth of many households. Yet five years after the railroads investment market went bust, railroad companies tripled their revenues and doubled the number of passengers. Radio technology required fairly quick government intervention--the formation of the FCC--in order to sort out the licensing of radio spectrum and radio broadcast licenses. Similarly, the government is still testing different licensing schemes regulating online radio.
- "Handheld Finds Little Luck Spanning Digital Divide"
Associated Press (07/12/02); Srinivasan, S.
The production and proliferation of an inexpensive handheld computer designed by Indian scientists to serve rural and poor people has been seriously hampered by a lack of commitment on the part of investors and customers. The Simputer (simple, inexpensive, multilingual computer), which was developed on the Open General License system so users could change applications without worrying about copyright infringement, is based on the Strong Arm processor from Intel, uses nonproprietary software such as the Linux operating system, and comes equipped with 32 MB of RAM, a speaker, a telephone jack, a modem, and USB and smart card connectors. High-volume sales of the Simputer that were expected to start in November 2001 failed to materialize; such sales are critical in order to bring the price down to an affordable level of $200, according to Swami Manohar of the Indian Institute of Science. He adds that many potential investors are hesitant to fund Simputer development because there is currently no hardware or software license. Manohar's Picopeta Simputers--which is licensed to make the device along with Encore Software--is planning to deploy several of the machines in rural villages located in the Indian state of Chhatisgarh.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Nanocontacts Could Make Hard Drives Go 'Ballistic'"
EE Times Online (07/09/02); Johnson, R. Colin
Harsh Chopra and Susan Hua of the State University of New York have changed magnetoresistance in magnetic media 3,000 percent via the application of atomic-scale metal contacts. Such gains in the phenomenon known as "ballistic magnetoresistance" (BMR) could vastly increase hard-disk drive density. BMR-based read heads can potentially give magnetic media terabit storage capacity per square inch, whereas "giant magnetoresistance"-based read heads give the media a density of approximately 20 Gbits per square inch. Electrons traveling through the atomically small conduit of BMR read heads do not zigzag as they would in a conventional conductor, but stream through in a ballistic, draftlike path; this is because the width of a nanoconductor's domain wall is about 1 nm, compared to a normal bulk conductor's domain wall width of 100 nm to 200 nm. Chopra fashioned the nanocontacts using an electrodeposition method, which is also used in the production of scanning tunneling microscopy tips. The next phase of his experiment is to embed the nanocontacts onto test chips using e-beam lithography in an effort to define the device's behavioral parameters, which should yield insights on the technology's real-world potential. Chopra believes the nanocontacts could also be applied to probes designed to detect magnetic domains.
- "Transistors Spin Toward Quantum Computing"
NewsFactor Network (07/11/02); Lyman, Jay
A significant breakthrough on the road toward quantum computing has been performed by scientists at the Institute for Microstructural Science in Ottawa, Canada, who have created a spintronic transistor fashioned from a "quantum dot" semiconductor. Research team member Andy Sachrajda reports that they have successfully isolated a single electron spin and proven through a proof-of-concept experiment that "spin-polarized leads can be used to determine the spin state of the electron." The device is the first of its kind to direct current that passes between gates via electron spin, according to the team. Such a operating principle could lead to exponential increases in computing power, while combining memory and processing could lead to "a sort of computer on a chip," says Bruce McCombe of the University of Buffalo. He adds that consumer and industry spintronic devices could be available in three to five years, while the basic components of room-temperature spintronic assembly could be ready within a year. However, Sachrajda projects that quantum computing is at least 25 years off. Although McCombe considers the spintronic transistor's reliance on a magnetic field to be a drawback, he has indicated an interest to collaborate with the Canadian team to bring ferromagnetic materials to the process so that it can occur at room temperature.
- "U.S. House Passes 'Tech Talent' Bill"
ITWorld.com (07/10/02); Garretson, Cara
The U.S. House of Representatives has approved legislation to boost the number of undergraduates focusing on science and technology by offering universities almost $390 million in grants during the next five years to boost science, math, and technology programs. Called the Tech Talent Act, the bill, which has now moved to the Senate for debate, requires universities to graduate more students in these areas in exchange for funds, according to a House committee press release. The grants proposed by the bill would be used to help train teachers and acquire equipment, as well as expand undergraduate programs. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) says U.S. science and technology graduates are declining even though technical competency is required in almost every job today--not just for technical, scientific, and engineering positions. Engineering graduates have been in decline for 10 years running, reports a National Science Foundation study.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Java JEFF Inches to Market"
J Consortium has won approval from the International Organization for Standards in France for its new JEFF executable object-oriented Java-language file format designed for use with PDAs, set-top boxes, cellular phones, EFT machines, and other mobile devices. J Consortium is comprised of individual developers and companies that want to see more Java code used in embedded and real-time systems. The new JEFF would drastically reduce the file size and run-time memory requirements, though current files for mobile Java devices are relatively rudimentary and do not need to be shrunk. However, Sun Microsystems' Java Software group manager, Ken Tallman, says the JEFF standard has not yet passed review with the Java Community or submitted a Java Specification Request. He also notes that the unilateral development of new Java file standards could lead to incompatibility in the future. Sun Microsystems, the originator of the Java Software language, is not a part of the J Consortium.
- "Militants Wire Web With Links to Jihad"
USA Today (07/10/02) P. 1A; Kelley, Jack
U.S. officials are worried that the increase in the volume of Internet messages being sent by suspected al Qaeda operatives in the last month, nearly doubling normal amounts, indicates that another terrorist attack may be imminent. Terrorist organizations routinely use the Web to solicit donations, recruit members, and plan attacks through encrypted messages hidden in digital photographs. The FBI, CIA, and National Security Agency have hired dozens of Arabic-speaking analysts and mathematicians to decode information. However, locating the Web sites used is often difficult since the terrorist organizations involved frequently change their site addresses. Recently, hundreds of messages hidden in photographs on the auction site eBay.com have been discovered, most sent from Internet cafes in Pakistan and libraries throughout the world.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "The GUI Gold Standard"
NewsFactor Network (07/10/02); Millard, Elizabeth
Graphical user interfaces (GUIs) have become more sophisticated, useful, and unique since their inception, but their evolution is far from over. Jupiter Research analyst Matthew Berk believes that users' familiarity and comfort level with GUIs determines their commitment to operating systems. Each new version of an operating system often includes components from prior versions so that users stay familiar. User preference appears to be a more determining factor for GUIs of certain operating systems, rather than usability standards. "You wouldn't see a Linux GUI on the desktop of a graphics person, or someone at a large corporation, but you might on the computer of a Web developer or gaming manufacturer," Berk notes. "The gold standard is less about the way in which user interfaces are designed and more about how different groups use them." Standards that experts such as Giga analyst Dan Benatan say GUIs should adhere to include simplicity and consistency, but maintaining these qualities without confusing users is a common problem. He says that right now there is an imbalance between simplicity and additional features, with system and software engineers edging toward customization.
- "Net Body Faces Criticism Over Reform Plan"
Singapore Straits Times (07/06/02)
ICANN's reform plan is meant to streamline ICANN's decision-making process, and has received praise from ICANN President Stuart Lynn, though not from those who believe ICANN needs to make further changes. Nominet Chairman Willie Black says ICANN has moved in the right direction, but that "whether it's sufficient or not, I'm not persuaded yet." Black says many people want a restricted ICANN that focuses solely on managing the Internet's root servers, with policy handled elsewhere. Internetters director Ken Sorrie believes ICANN needs to promulgate tougher and tighter industry standards. The void of regulation has led to registrar-launched legal suits against competitors over various business practices, says Sorrie.
- "Guarded Optimism"
InformationWeek (07/08/02) No. 896,; Hulme, George V.
Results of InformationWeek Research's fifth annual Global Information Security Survey indicate a decline in the number of companies that were successfully attacked by computer viruses or worms in the past year, but this confidence booster is tempered by the increasing sophistication of such attacks, which translate into higher costs and longer downtime for their victims. The theft of sensitive data is of even greater concern, with 15 percent of U.S. companies surveyed reporting such incidents. According to the poll, Sept. 11 has spurred many companies to increase security awareness among employees and invest more on intellectual property safeguards--and although deployment costs remain high, other factors such as time constraints and management support are less troubling. The most common type of intrusion are virus and worm attacks, with denial-of-service attacks holding second place, but experts such as Brian Amirian warn that many companies may be under assault from "mild" denial-of-service attacks without realizing it; he characterizes such attacks as "dress rehearsals" for larger, more damaging breaches. These attacks can originate from numerous sources--cyberterrorists, corporate spies, or malicious insiders, for instance. FBI special agent Dave Drab advises that companies not only need to sustain solid security measures such as firewalls, encryption, and user authentication, but must also set a clear dollar value for their information assets. Hacker Adrian Lamo says corporate security systems are vulnerable because many security managers share a system-centric mindset that comes from similar backgrounds, be they derived from law enforcement, intelligence agencies, or the military. More sophisticated attacks can be stopped if companies seriously revise their security policies and add measures such as penetration testing and risk assessment, but not many companies are doing that.
- "Open-Source Enterprise"
eWeek (07/08/02) Vol. 19, No. 27, P. 35; Donston, Debra
Open-source software is proving very attractive to many companies as a way to save costs thanks to its high level of configurability and the elimination of licensing fees. Advocates also cite the open-source community for offering far better and faster support than vendor help desks; being freely and widely available is definitely a plus. However, there are still issues that need to be addressed if the software is to expand its reach: Open-source applications must be imbued with more ease of use for average business users, and they must also be more compatible with Windows. Certain enterprise customers are also unsettled by the frequent updating typical of the open-source model, although Forrester Research analyst Carl Howe says that "it's important to recognize that it's a big hurdle now because applications are all being constantly updated, with service packs and the like." Over the last few years, the open-source software movement has migrated from enterprise IT departments to technology vendors such as IBM and Apple Computer. Howe estimates that open source has been tried by almost 75 percent of all firms, and expects 20 percent of licensing revenue to be displaced by open-source software by 2004.
- "The Incredible Shrinking Storage Media"
Computerworld (07/08/02) Vol. 36, No. 28, P. 30; Anthes, Gary H.
Advancements in storage media promise to drive prices down and fundamentally change companies' data storage strategy. For example, IBM announced in June that it had successfully written data to a medium that boasts a storage capacity of 1 TB per square inch; one month earlier, the same company reported that it had created a digital tape cartridge capable of storing the same amount of data. Boosting magnetic media's data storage capacity becomes more and more difficult as magnetic grains come closer together and start to interfere with one another at about 100 GB per square inch, so researchers are investigating new technologies. These include IBM's Millipede, a card-punch-like recording device that stores 1 TB per square inch and allows film to be rerecorded. Meanwhile, Atomic Resolution Storage (ARS) from Hewlett-Packard could lead to devices with scalable bandwidth and access times up to 100 times shorter than current hard drives, according to Chuck Morehouse of HP's Information Storage Laboratory. Heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) from Carnegie Mellon University's Data Storage Systems Center will foster the production of disk drives with 1 TB per square inch storage density within five years. Center director Robert M. White says HAMR technology in five years could bring storage costs down to 10 cents per gigabyte from $1 a gigabyte today.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Next-Gen Enterprise Apps"
InfoWorld (07/08/02) Vol. 24, No. 27, P. 1; April, Carolyn A.; Harreld, Heather
A new generation of collaborative, XML-based enterprise applications will blend functions from several applications systems to facilitate a broad, almost real-time Web service, and industry observers say their infrastructure will be determined by business processes instead of data. This will enable seamless data connections between customers, suppliers, and financial programs that extend behind and beyond corporate firewalls, offering tremendous value to business-to-business and supply-chain management efforts. Traditional enterprise application integration (EAI) vendors are attaching value-added services such as business process management to their proprietary platforms; application-server vendors are scrambling to deploy integration servers; enterprise application suppliers are more tightly integrating their product offerings and exposing their applications as XML; and a fourth class of vendors are moving to expose legacy and custom applications as Web servers and create new Web services applications. EAI vendors maintain that the architecture of the support infrastructure will be both service-oriented and message-based. Collaborative applications can also be used to build a unified customer data model that spans across distinct applications or business units. "I think we are within a year of doing real collaborative apps," declares Meta Group's Joanne Friedman. "Right now we are really only at the point of defining how one Web service should interact with another, how it should behave, and what the expectations are."
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Voices in Harmony"
Speech Technology (06/02) Vol. 7, No. 3, P. 15; Dhawan, Vishal
Speech technology that could, for example, allow a person to carry out multiple tasks in the course of a single telephone call using natural language could emerge within the next five years, if the technology keeps up its momentum. The merging of customer service solutions across multiple touch points via the advent of VoiceXML, SALT, and other standards is giving rise to a Voice Browser model. Companies that adopt such a model will be able to reduce spending and operational costs, exploit existing IT resources better, and scale rapidly on demand. Increased acceptance of speech technology will spur the growth of content and application providers, enabling enterprises to speed up the delivery of speech services to clients. To link isolated speech applications will require advances in collaboration and interoperability. The former allows a caller in an enterprise application to get content from another enterprise via the voice browser, while the latter gives the caller the ability to move between voice sites on multiple platforms during a single phone call via speech commands. The acceptance of Session Initiation Protocol and Voice Over IP will play a key role in the development of interoperability. The convergence of the Internet and the telephone network will culminate in the Speech Web, which will grant callers access to a wide array of multiple platform content and applications through a voice browser.
- "Still Waiting for the Revolution: A Conversation with Alan Kay"
Perspectives on Business Innovation (06/02) No. 8,; Kane, Kate
In an interview with Kate Kane, Xerox Palo Alto Research Center co-founder Alan Kay explains that the so-called revolution in the computer industry is actually a gradual, evolutionary process because of the nature of innovation. He does not consider commercialization or mass appeal to be defining factors of innovation, but rather its ability to educate others on ways to appreciate beauty. The trick to successful innovation, especially one that follows a scientific model, is to strike a balance between practicality and blue-sky thinking. Kay explains that many companies do not adopt the scientific approach to innovation because the goal-oriented corporate culture often acts as a barrier, and the corporate instinct is to fund projects rather than people. The culture also operates on the assumption that people are more productive if they adhere to strict guidelines, when the truth is that innovators prefer freedom. Kay says that innovation can be less mired in corporate bureaucracy if the innovators have a high-level executive to act as their champion: "A company needs to have a process in place for handing off the ideas to someone else who can see them through the process," he notes. He also warns of the dangers of being "a one-product company" like Xerox, which was not very open to innovation because of such narrow-mindedness. Bridging what Kay calls "the gap between the inventors and the executors" involves rewarding innovators for their contributions and giving them a say in the commercialization process.
Click Here to View Full Article