Association for Computing Machinery
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 HP or ACM.

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Volume 5, Issue 482: Monday, April 14, 2003

  • "Future of Technology Is Hardly Ever What Anyone Has Predicted"
    Wall Street Journal (04/14/03) P. B1; Gomes, Lee

    Technology companies are often considered to invent the future, but even as they construct the components for a future killer app, they are not likely to realize what it is until it happens. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison recently predicted that the technology industry was set for a long period of little innovation and a staid corporate style of taking few risks. Many experts concur that it is unlikely that technology hype will become so deafening, at least for some time, but it is likely that future successes will come without warning. Apple Computer's laser printer in the 1980s became a success not because it printed more quietly than other printers, even though that was Apple's marketing line. The device printed graphics, text, and images without regard to layout, unlike other printers that were essentially glorified typewriters. The laser printer's tremendous value came in conjunction with PageMaker software, which allowed users to do desktop publishing for the first time. More recently, hobbyists experimenting with wireless networking have pushed another quiet technology into the limelight--Wi-Fi. Today, technology firms see potential in Wi-Fi to solve the troublesome last-mile gap for broadband Internet. Besides being unpredictable, technology's future is also not likely to flaunt well-learned lessons from the past. Business-to-business e-commerce, for example, failed to fundamentally transform the way steel and automaking industries get their supplies, but instead added incremental efficiencies on top of proven methodologies.

  • "I've Seen the Real Future of Tech--And It Is Virtual"
    Fortune (04/14/03) Vol. 147, No. 7, P. 390; Alsop, Stewart

    Ten years after entrepreneur Bill Davidow presented the concept of the virtual corporation, virtualization has started to usher in a transformation of corporate infrastructure, writes Stewart Alsop. Widely distributed networks have become easier to understand, manage, and administer, and this development is changing how companies leverage IT resources, and retooling the design and marketing of business technologies. Alsop cites storage as an case in point: The cost of storage gear is rapidly falling, but the amount of data large companies are storing is increasing even faster thanks to rising speeds and network capacity. To save money and space, enterprises are turning to network attached storage, storage area networking, and other methods that centralize resources, making the warehoused data available to computers on an as-needed basis. IT departments are currently considering how to apply virtualization to other resources, and Alsop forecasts a number of possible trends stemming from this development. One trend is the consolidation of servers with the advent of standardized technology; another is the elimination of server appliances through larger systems that include central management and accommodation of multiple applications. Alsop also observes that application service providers are making a comeback, while Web services tools, still in their infancy, could accelerate program development.
    http://www.fortune.com/fortune/alsop/0,15704,439409,00.html

  • "Master of Innovation?"
    Business Week (04/14/03); Einhorn, Bruce

    China aspires to become a technology standards-maker by leveraging its growing consumer base, national brainpower, low-wage workforce, and central government control. Although many technology products are made in China today, Asian neighbors Japan and Korea have moved ahead into design and intellectual property. Chinese leaders see an opportunity to take the reins away in many areas, including digital media, cell phone technology, and computer software and hardware. Government-owned companies are collaborating with independent Chinese firms and outside players, an example being Datang Mobile and Siemens' joint TD-SCDMA cell phone protocol venture. Besides providing better phone performance, TD-SCDMA would allow China, the world's largest cell phone market, to avoid paying license fees to foreign firms. Similar motivations lie behind other initiatives, such as a Chinese consortium effort to develop "enhanced videodisc" (EVD) technology, a successor to the DVD standard created by Japanese firms. The Beijing government has pledged $2.4 billion to start 35 software colleges around the country that would foster a homegrown software industry creating Chinese operating systems, for example. The Chinese military is already expert at encryption, security, and Linux systems, and uses the open-source platform to create supercomputers not available for export from the United States. Dell Computer Asia Pacific President William J. Amelio says it is only a matter of time before China becomes the world's largest PC market. Still, China risks spending its resources on standards with little value outside China, while analysts say pressure from China is pushing Japan and Korea to stay ahead in the technology race, particularly for such emerging areas as nanotechnology.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Sharpening Our Senses"
    Forbes (04/14/03) Vol. 171, No. 8, P. 56; Helman, Christopher

    The Department of Homeland Security is expected to create a new Web site fielding solicitations from sensor technology vendors. Although some proposals may give some the feeling that Big Brother is watching, new sensor technology will help law enforcement officials in their efforts to track down intended targets. For example, March Networks in Canada has introduced new digital cameras that are triggered by motion sensors and are able to record events at speeds of four frames per second to 240 frames per second for superfine imaging. Banks and electricity companies have already installed the surveillance cameras, which can be connected to the Internet. Image feeds can be monitored from wireless PDAs and delivered to systems that store up to 5 trillion bytes of data. American Technology has unveiled the HyperSonic Sound system that produces a high-frequency sound equivalent of a laser beam, allowing users to talk to someone standing in a crowd 150 yards away while nearly inaudible to others in the vicinity. The Navy has installed similar technology that allows users to shoot sound beams (100 times as loud as a gunshot) into the ear of a terrorist 500 yards away and knock him to the ground. Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee has developed sensors that are able to distinguish between deadly biochemicals and airborne pollen, mold spores, and car exhaust. Researchers at Virginia Tech have developed a prototype lab-on-a-chip that emits potassium when it detects toxins in water. And airports, schools, hospitals, prisons, and government offices are already using BioMetric Solutions' fingerprint-scanning system at doors to manage employee access based on their roles and clearance levels.
    http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2003/0414/056.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "Intrusion Prevention Touted Over Detection"
    Computerworld Online (04/11/03); Vijayan, Jaikumar

    The upcoming RSA Conference 2003 will showcase security technologies that focus more on intrusion prevention than detection, and enforce authorized network activities through the application of behavioral rules, usage models, and correlation engines. However, users and analysts warn that the technology is still immature and has not been thoroughly tested in the enterprise space; as a result, many offerings will lack the full range of purported functionality. Arlington County, Va., director of infrastructure technologies Vivek Kundra and others note that the tools are not yet able to consistently block intrusions without hampering legitimate traffic, forcing companies to extensively tailor the products to their operations. Arbor Networks President Ted Julian adds that the new intrusion-detection system (IDS) devices do not seem like much of an improvement in terms of reducing the number of false positives they are prone to generating. "The need for better filtering and detection methods is patently obvious," he insists. Companies with an excessive reliance on IDS tools could be severely impacted if they become single points of failure. RSA announced on April 1 that it would purchase IDS provider Intruvert Networks for $100 million, and three days later declared that it would also buy Entercept for $120 million in cash. Kundra reports that Entercept's technology was used to shield Arlington County's core databases from the Slammer worm and has helped make the county more proactive when it comes to computer security.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Humanoid Robots: The Face of the Future?"
    Independent Online (04/10/03); Duggan, Alan

    Robotics experts such as Dallas University's David Hanson believe the future of human-machine interaction will be robots equipped with human faces that can model a range of expressions. Hanson's K-bot is a case in point: The machine consists of a head with realistic artificial skin that can carry out 28 facial movements, and features camera-equipped "eyes" that can recognize and respond to people. MIT's Cynthia Breazeal, who built the famous Kismet robot, thinks the practical applications of sociable machines are limitless--they could be used as nursemaids, servants, entertainers, and even substitute friends. Hanson is particularly enthusiastic about the medical possibilities of such robots--they could, for instance, help people suffering from cognitive disabilities communicate. He also believes the basic head unit could become the chief component of a completely humanoid emulation machine, and be used by laboratories to test the integration and usability of locomotive and other technologies. Carnegie Mellon University researchers have organized the Project on People and Robots to discover through experimentation what the optimum robot head should look like. Their work involves the use of a head whose dimensions, facial features, and other myriad characteristics can be reconfigured. Among the conclusions they have reached is that the nose, eyelids, and mouth greatly influence the robot's human-like appearance, as does the number of facial features as well as the shape of the head. However, Breazeal notes that popular media such as science fiction films have raised people's expectations about humanoid robots, often unrealistically.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Itanium Gets Superconducting Software"
    CNet (04/10/03); Shankland, Stephen

    National Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (NPACI) researchers announced on Thursday that version 2.3.2 of the NPACI Rocks software (a.k.a. Annapurna) will fully support Intel's high-end Itanium processor, thus simplifying the installation of the open-source Linux operating system on different computers. Philip Papadopoulos of the San Diego Supercomputing Center (SDSC) reports that this development will enable Rocks users to add Itanium-based systems to supercomputing clusters that use Advanced Micro Devices' Athlon as well as Xeon and Pentium chips from Intel. Northwestern University, the University of Macedonia, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Stanford University, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are among the sites currently using the NPACI Rocks software. "Gartner believes [the Itanium processor family] is safe for high-performance computer clusters immediately and will be ready for mainstream database use on all operating systems by year-end 2003," Gartner analyst John Enck stated in a March 26 report. "Other application usage models will quickly follow." Rocks is based on Red Hat Linux version 7.3, and was a joint development between the University of California at Berkeley, Singapore Computing Systems, and individual programmers. The software was developed under the aegis of the SDSC.
    http://news.com.com/2100-1012-996357.html

  • "Government Urged to Bridge Skills Gap"
    BBC News (04/09/03)

    Karen Price, CEO of e-skills UK, has called on the U.K. government to do more to improve the level of computer skills taught in schools. Price made an appeal to Education Secretary Charles Clarke during an event in which e-skills UK, the government-aided organization responsible for bridging the IT skills gap in the United Kingdom, received a five-year license to be the Sector Skills Council for IT, Telecoms, and Contact Centers. "In the U.K., less than three-quarters of the workforce possess the necessary IT skills to perform their job; it's simply not good enough," Price said of the potential impact of a tech skills gap on the U.K. GDP. In addition to putting the skills gap at the top of his agenda, Price urged Clarke to support Computer Clubs for Girls, which has become popular among young girls, and embrace the idea of giving every undergraduate a basic understanding of technology. Computer Clubs for Girls promote technology in a way most girls can accept readily, such as by designing Web sites dedicated to their favorite pop idols. Price also favors creating an e-skills passport for the United Kingdom's 21 million tech workers, who would gain credits as they pursue further IT training.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/2929257.stm

  • "Space Net Would Shift Military to Packet Communications"
    EE Times (04/09/03); Wirbel, Loring

    A next-generation space-communications architecture designed to be shared by American intelligence, defense, and space agencies was revealed by the Defense Department and National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) on March 8. Called the Transformational Communications Architecture (TCA), the multi-service infrastructure has features in common with the public Internet, including packet communications and last-mile bandwidth overcrowding, according to Rear Adm. Rand Fisher of the NRO. Former head of U.S. Space Command Howard Estes says the goal of merging NRO and NASA resources is to "close the last mile to the tactical war-fighter, by extending bandwidth to forces on the move." A major ingredient of the TCA will be a pair of new satellite systems: Extremely High Frequency (EHF) satellites that operate in the Ka and X bands called Transformational Satellites (TSATs), and a high-speed system covering IP and circuit-switched data called the Advanced Polar Satellite (APS); $6.3 billion of the TCA's approximately $9.6 billion federal budget will be channeled into TSAT and APS development. Fisher said the most useful component of the TCA program will be the dissolution of parallel or redundant programs across military and civilian organizations. He also said that a wish list of TCA capabilities and features includes prevalence in the face of nuclear war and a dynamically tunable communication system that supports thin clients. Troy Meinke of the Air Force Space and Missiles Center noted that plans call for the inclusion of laser-based satellite communications and optical aircraft connectivity in the TCA network.
    http://www.commsdesign.com/story/OEG20030409S0034

  • "W3C Advances Semantic Web Drafts"
    CNet (04/08/03); Festa, Paul

    The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) issued a quintet of Semantic Web revisions last week, describing in more detail several elements of the Web Ontology Language (OWL), including the OWL overview, guide, reference, semantics and abstract syntax, and use cases and requirements. "We're trying to make the Semantic Web as easy as it is now to join relational database tables," explains MIT research scientist Eric Miller, who serves as activity lead for the W3C's Semantic Web Activity. "The Semantic Web technologies are designed to enable data from different places to be seamlessly integrated." The five OWL updates follow up a half-dozen Resource Description Framework (RDF) updates the W3C released earlier this year, covering RDF concepts and abstract syntax, the revised RDF/XML syntax standard, semantics, the primer, test cases, and the Vocabulary Description Language 1.0: RDF Schema. The 2003 Semantic Web updates are characterized by Miller as an "overall cleanup." Two free educational events focusing on the Semantic Web will take place in May and June. The purpose of these events is to reform the Semantic Web's image from an overly futuristic or eccentric project to a more realistic and worthwhile initiative. Miller says the Semantic Web and Web services have a "symbiotic" relationship. He says, "I see the Semantic Web as providing the enabling technologies that do effective data integration, and Web services doing the technology for effective data transmission."
    http://news.com.com/2100-1032-995916.html

  • "Andreessen Assesses Browser Prospects"
    Network World (04/07/03) Vol. 20, No. 14, P. 25; Cox, John

    Opsware board chairman Marc Andreessen, who co-developed the Netscape Web browser precursor Mosaic, notes that the browser has not undergone any major changes since its debut a decade ago: "After 10 years, it's still a user sitting in front of a Web browser viewing HTML services," he says, adding that the only real difference is that there are vastly more browser users. Andreessen predicts that Wi-Fi will emerge as the chief "wireless Internet" application and change usage patterns by making it easier to log on to a network. He does not see much future in cellular data services, characterizing the user experience as "deeply inferior" to that of browsers or even handhelds. Andreessen foresees a model in which each person uses multiple devices rather than multipurpose devices, thanks to wireless networking. Although he acknowledges that the proliferation of the Web browser owes a lot to Microsoft's efforts, those same efforts have had a negative impact on the commercial browser market and have discouraged major modifications to the browser model. The lack of a market has eroded commercial incentive to change the browser, which in turn has stifled creativity since 1997. Andreessen notes that many developers and users are drawn to the Mozilla open source browser, a trend that could revitalize the browser market. "But, again, there's no commercial incentive to create a competitor [to Microsoft's Internet Explorer]," he admits.
    http://www.nwfusion.com/news/2003/0407andreessenqna.html

  • "Honeypots: The Next Intrusion Detection Solution"
    ZDNet Australia (04/07/03); Spitzner, Lance

    Honeynet Project founder Lance Spitzner details the usefulness of honeypots--bogus systems and services designed to lure malicious hackers--and how they can be used to substantially improve intrusion detection. Honeypots are supposed to cost-effectively mitigate the disadvantages of Network Intrusion Detection Systems (NIDS), although Spitzner cautions that they should not be viewed as a replacement for NIDS. Drawbacks of NIDS include very large volumes of generated intrusion alerts, whose analysis can cost an organization time, money, and resources; honeypots do not gather data unless someone interacts with them, which makes data collection, management, and analysis less of a strain. Unlike NIDS, honeypots need only a minimum of resources to fulfill their function, and capture data even if it is encrypted. Another problem NIDS have that honeypots can reduce is the generation of false positives, since all interaction with honeypots is by its nature unauthorized. Certain NIDS technologies are unable to uncover or detect unknown forms of intrusion or hacker behavior, but honeypots do not have this drawback. Spitzner recommends that the best honeypot tools for detection are simple programs that mimic systems and services, such as Specter and Honeyd. He also points out that honeypots can be used for other purposes, including intelligence-gathering on malicious hackers and cyberattack prevention.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "GUIs Face Up to the Future"
    VNUNet (04/03/03); Sharpe, Richard

    A number of U.K.-based companies are working to radically enhance the function and usability of graphical computer interfaces (GUIs). Visual Information (VI) is a family-owned affair whose flagship product is Vi Business Analyst (ViBA), a front-end database that presents a geographically-based representation of data, which has the potential to save users vast sums of money. Edinburgh University spinoff Rhetorical Systems is developing a text-to-speech computer tool based on language processing research spearheaded by CEO Marc Moens and CTO Paul Taylor; with such a tool, a user can ask the computer a question, thus prompting a spoken answer. Rhetorical Systems' goal is the rapid and cost-effective generation of voices, which can be delivered in a variety of accents. Meanwhile, Lexicle is building animated "agents" that can respond to inquiries in real time and in a user-friendly format. A key component of Lexicle's tool is Rhetorical Systems' voice-generation software. Lexicle's offering is based on artificial intelligence research carried out by Patrick Olivier and Suresh Manandhar, with the former's focus being the generation of mouth movements by an animated figure in response to typed-in queries. Moens notes that GUI developers should launch products based on their readiness, rather than the economic climate.
    http://www.vnunet.com/Features/1139942

  • "Smart Tools"
    BusinessWeek 50 (04/03) No. 3826, P. 154; Port, Otis; Arndt, Michael; Carey, John

    Artificial intelligence is being employed in many sectors, both public and private, and has led to significant productivity and efficiency gains across the board. Financial institutions have reduced incidents of credit-card fraud through the application of neural networks, which feature circuits arranged in a brain-like configuration that can infer patterns from data. Several AI technologies--neural nets, expert systems, and statistical analysis--are implemented in data-mining software that retailers such as Wal-Mart use to sift through raw data in order to forecast sales and plan appropriate inventory and promotional strategies. The medical sector is also taking advantage of data-mining: One application involves a collaboration between IBM and the Mayo Clinic to detect patterns in medical records, while another project uses natural-language processing to map out the "grammar" of amino acid sequences and match them to specific protein shapes and functions. Government organizations such as the Defense Department and the National Security Agency are using AI technology for several efforts related to national security, such as the Echelon telecom monitoring system. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is a leading AI research investor, and the breakthroughs that come out of DARPA-funded projects are more often than not put to civilian rather than military use. IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, and Unisys are also intensely focused on AI, especially in their pursuit of self-healing, autonomous computer systems that can automatically adjust their operations in response to fluctuating demands.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Gathering in Clusters"
    CIO (04/01/03) Vol. 16, No. 12, P. 116; Edwards, John

    More and more enterprises are considering clustering technology as a way to save money and boost the performance of their computer systems, especially for intensive data management chores; among the advantages clustering offers for such companies is load balancing, scalability, fault tolerance, and high availability. Experts such as Delphi Group's Nathaniel Palmer and Yankee Group's Jamie Gruener attribute clustering's growing popularity to a number of trends, including computer design, the development of new software standards, the emergence of Web services, and the advent of new blade systems. In terms of redundancy, clustering is far superior to standalone systems, a major selling point in an environment that places high priority on data consistency, availability, and reliability. To successfully deploy clustering, a company must choose the most suitable hardware and software suppliers, and train employees to familiarize themselves with the technology. Maintaining smooth operations during cluster installation requires a tight relationship between the IT department and the technology vendors, while the cluster's performance specifications can be ensured by thorough testing. Influential software that is fueling the mainstream IT sector's interest in cluster systems includes Oracle 9i RAC and IBM DB2 Enterprise Edition, notes Gruener. Palmer adds that Linux, Java, and other low-cost operating systems and development environments that support application logic partitioning are also causing clustering's stock to rise. Clusters' power has started to rival that of standalone supercomputers thanks to faster CPUs and the ability to harness the power of multiple processors within a single server, while grid computing could hasten the technology's growth even further.
    http://www.cio.com/archive/040103/et_article.html

  • "UCITA: Blessing or Curse?"
    Siliconindia (03/03) P. 48; Ananthakrishnan, Kris

    Almost 10 years ago, the National Conference of Commissioners of Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL) proposed a national software licensing law that stirred up resentment from consumer groups, IT business users, and others because it allowed software vendors to force buyers to agree to licensing terms before they could use the products, thus absolving them of legal responsibility for any consequent damages suffered by users. Shrinkwrap and clickwrap licensing terms popular among software vendors include forbidding users to join class action suits against vendors and no liability for damages caused by software bugs. Consumer advocates worry that the latest incarnation of the NCCUSL proposal, the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA), will legalize such practices. UCITA includes many revisions designed to silence critics, yet the rancor between supporters and opponents has not evaporated. UCITA's benefits for licensees include ensuring that perpetual licenses remain perpetual, making licenses transferable, and giving consumers a statutory right to waive the consequences of mistakes in online transactions. Despite UCITA's goal to establish a software licensing framework that encompasses all 50 U.S. states, only two--Maryland and Virginia--have embraced it, while the 48 holdouts fiercely defend long-cherished individual consumer protection laws. UCITA drafting committee member Ray Nimmer claims that the licensing abuses critics are fighting would be prevented by court oversight. Both sides of the debate need to work together to settle the UCITA fairness issue, because without a uniform software licensing standard transaction costs will rise and growth will suffer, writes AXA Financial senior technology manager Kris Ananthakrishnan.

    For background information on UCITA, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.