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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 AutoChoice Advisor or ACM. To send comments, please write to technews@hq.acm.org.
Volume 6, Issue 698: Friday, September 24, 2004

  • "Tallying the Woes of Electronic Balloting"
    Los Angeles Times (09/24/04) P. A1; Gaither, Chris

    Voters and election officials around the country are becoming increasingly concerned about touch-screen voting machines, which process and store votes electronically and have proven unreliable in recent balloting exercises. Palm Beach County Commissioner Addie Greene in Florida, for example, now regrets spending $56 million on new touch-screen machines in 2001, along with Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Florida state officials, including Gov. Jeb Bush, insist the concerns are unfounded, except that in a state Senate election last fall, a Fort Lauderdale candidate won by just 12 votes while 132 votes recorded by the touch-screen machines were blank; even though Florida state law requires a recount, election officials only had the electronic data to refer to and so certified the results anyway. Other incidents have occurred since federal funding was passed out to help local governments upgrade voting equipment, and computer scientists have also raised alarms. ACM and Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility have rallied to add paper receipts to touch-screen voting, and Purdue University professor and Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security director Eugene Spafford says paper receipts provide a verifiable, permanent record. Research has shown e-voting machine code from Diebold Election Systems to be substandard, though the company says it now uses improved software. Some computer scientists say federal money would have been better spent on optical scanning machines, which have the lowest error rates among all vote-counting systems. Other engineers are working to construct a hybrid machine that uses a touch-screen interface--useful for non-English-speaking citizens and the disabled--with paper ballots that would be read by optical scanning machines.
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    For more on ACM's activities involving e-voting, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.

  • "Internet Task Force Shuts Down Anti-Spam Working Group"
    eWeek (09/22/04); Seltzer, Larry

    The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has dissolved the MTA Authorization Records in DNS (MARID) working group because of disagreement on fundamental issues, such as Microsoft's claims of copyright over technologies in mail authentication standards the group was considering. Creating such a standard as a countermeasure against spam, mail worms, and other forms of email exploitation was MARID's goal. Open source proponents and others refused to agree to the licensing terms Microsoft proposed, calling them excessive and incongruous with their own licensing policies. Another sore point was a trademark claim for the name "Sender ID," which was employed in the standards documents for many proposals, while co-Area Director Ted Hardie wrote in an email that a scarcity of real-world experience with the proposals was impeding the effort to develop a single standard. It was the directors' recommendation that the various advocates' work should migrate to Experimental Request for Comment status so that the proposals could be tested. VeriSign's Phillip Hallam-Baker suggests that the process should be assigned to a "more professional outfit" rather than to the IETF, but Yakov Shafranovich, formerly with the Internet Research Task Force's Anti-Spam Research Group, claims that most such firms are less welcoming of participants than the IETF. SPF author and Sender ID co-author Meng Weng Wong supports the proposal for Unified SPF, an architecture upholding one or more authentication methods authorized by the system administrator, which reportedly permits all the standards process' diverse backers the option of implementing the standard of their preference.
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  • "World's Top Collegiate Programmers Go Head-to-Head at IBM-Sponsored 'Battle of the Brains'"
    Market Wire (09/23/04)

    IBM is sponsoring the 2004-2005 ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC), which will enlist thousands of collegiate programmers worldwide to participate in the 29th annual "Tech Olympics." The last three ACM-ICPCs have run on an open-source platform; this year programmers will be exposed to IBM's POWER-based parallel supercomputers. "With much of the leading work in programming today dedicated to developing applications that will run on parallel supercomputers, this contest will give young programmers exposure to advanced programming environments," notes sponsorship executive Gabby Silverman with the IBM Centers for Advanced Studies. Students are grouped into three-person teams, and tasked with solving complex problems with traditional and newer software tools in five hours; IBM will have a close working relationship with team coaches to supply technology and software to universities, and discover how professors keep their curriculum up to date in a dynamic educational arena. The goal of the competition is to cultivate next-generation IT experts and maintain the flow of talent in computer sciences education. "IBM, ACM and the world's universities have partnered to offer the best and brightest students the opportunity to challenge themselves to achieve far beyond classroom expectations so that they can build the cutting edge technology of tomorrow," declares ICPC Executive Director and Baylor professor Dr. Bill Poucher. The number of teams participating in ACM-ICPC has increased fourfold since IBM began sponsoring the contest seven years ago.
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    For more information on the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest, visit http://icpc.baylor.edu/icpc/

  • "Women, and the Future of IT"
    Register (UK) (09/22/04); Sherriff, Lucy

    Women will once again re-emerge in computer science as the field shifts from a purely technical focus to supporting other fields, says British Computer Society President and Southampton University professor Wendy Hall. In the early days of computer science, there were a significant number of women participating in both industry and academia, but the advent of the personal computer changed the culture. "It became about playing and coding war games," Hall says, which made many young women lose interest in computing. For the short term, this probably will not change significantly, but a focus on educating pre-adolescent girls about the possibilities of IT could encourage a greater number of them to study computers in school. Just as people in 1994 did not fully anticipate what has occurred nowadays, IT students today should not expect to be system administrators 10 years in the future; instead, the technology infrastructure will reflect natural systems, such as insect behavior and human interaction. Even hardware design can be seen trending toward evolutionary principles, such as research projects allowing circuitry to design itself. Women have natural inclinations that allow them to deftly handle these types of subjects, and Hall predicts that computer science courses will require more multidisciplinary study in a few years, such as in biology, psychology, and sociology, where women are already more prevalent. With the nature of the computer industry changed, more women will find interesting careers in this area, Hall says.
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  • "Tiny Sensors That Can Track Anything"
    Washington Post (09/24/04) P. E1; O'Harrow Jr., Robert

    Wireless, battery-powered sensors dubbed "smart dust" are moving out of the research arena and into the commercial domain: Dust Networks announced this week that Science Applications International would employ the sensors for electronic perimeter security systems, and Sensicast Systems declared a contract to supply sensors to monitor environmental conditions at a nuclear generating facility. The potential security applications of smart dust or mote technology aroused the interest of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which has bankrolled university research. Researchers say any number of sensors can be deployed to track activity or monitor temperature, weather, and other factors to evaluate their surroundings. The motes can broadcast the data they collect to their neighbors from as far away as 100 feet, and redundancy is built into a "smartmesh" so the network can compensate when individual devices malfunction. The Intel Research Laboratory has deployed smart sensor networks on an island off the coast of Maine to take climate and other environmental readings as part of an effort "to develop a habitat monitoring kit that enables researchers worldwide to engage in the non-intrusive and non-disruptive monitoring of sensitive wildlife and habitats," according to a report on the project. Until recently, the technology's commercial prospects were limited by size and affordability issues, along with a lack of wireless communication. Analysts expect sensor networks to become as populous as computers on the World Wide Web, and some predict that one day practically any object could be linked to the Internet and monitored remotely through these networks. Challenges that remain include figuring out how to make the sensors more power-efficient and eliminating their vulnerability to signal disruption from physical obstacles or electrical interference.
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  • "SIGGRAPH 2005 Calls for Participation"
    Business Wire (09/22/04)

    ACM's SIGGRAPH Committee is calling for contributors and volunteers to the SIGGRAPH 2005 event scheduled for July 31-Aug. 4, 2005, at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Participants will submit outstanding achievements in the field of computer graphics and interactive methods. Upon acceptance of submissions or volunteer work, participants will be able to directly interact with dynamic industry leaders; gain acumen and illumination into a sector characterized by a convergence of art and science; and take advantage of opportunities to network and broaden their skills. "As the industry's best resource for compounding experience and expanding networks, we will not only continue to focus on core topics, but also encourage submissions from new technology and tangential areas," declared Purdue University's James L. Mohler, SIGGRAPH 2005 Conference Chair. SIGGRAPH is looking for participants to submit works or offer to help in the categories of presentations (awards, courses, panels, posters), experiences (art gallery, the Computer Animation Festival, emerging technologies and Guerilla Studio workshop), or service volunteers (GraphicsNet, student volunteers, international resources). Requirements for participation, deadlines for submissions, and other important information are available at http://www.siggraph.org/s2005.
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  • "Africans Get Tools to Cross Digital Divide"
    Globe and Mail (CAN) (09/24/04) P. A15; Nolen, Stephanie

    Bridging the digital divide in Africa depends on adapting software to the inhabitants and their various languages--not the other way round, according to computer enthusiasts committed to translating open-source software into African languages. Software translation pioneer Dwayne Bailey notes that children in South Africa have little recourse but to learn English so they can use computers and browse the Internet. He explains that a lack of a technical vocabulary in most African languages can be a formidable obstacle for translators: However, many routinely used words have corresponding terms in dialects such as isiZulu--the concept of "secret" can be substituted for "password," for instance. Bailey's group, Translate.org.za, recently launched versions of Open Office software in Zulu, Afrikaans, and Northern Sotho, which together represent the primary language groups in South Africa. Translate.org.za has set a June deadline to furnish software translated in South Africa's 11 official languages. Meanwhile, a team of IT businesspeople in Uganda is testing a Lugandan version of the open-source Mozilla Web browser, and a Lugandan version of Open Office is expected to follow shortly. The Swedish government is funding a software translation project for 130 million Kiswahili speakers in East Africa, coordinated by the University of Dar es Salaam's computer science department. By employing open-source software, translators can access the code without fear of copyright infringement.
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  • "Goal Makes Machines More Human"
    Oklahoman (09/21/04); Clay, Diane

    Researchers at the University of Oklahoma are working on a computer that will make use of molecules from DNA, rather than silicon processors. Qi Cheng, a computer science professor at the University of Oklahoma, says his work is still in the theoretical stage, but adds that DNA molecules are being used by scientists to handle difficult mathematical problems. "Right now, there's no good DNA computer that competes with the electronic computer," acknowledges Cheng. "But, we believe in a few years, we will have a good DNA computer." DNA molecules, each having different sequences of nucleotides for each bit of information, will be used to make a biochip. A mix of 1,018 strands of DNA could operate 10,000 times faster than today's supercomputers, according to the journal Nature. DNA computers would offer unlimited storage and be able to perform more complex tasks, and could have applications in medical treatment and in learning more about the brain. Cheng says they could replace PCs in a couple of decades, but to do so he says scientists much create a different architecture than current PCs use.
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  • "Flexible Sensors Make Robot Skin"
    Technology Research News (09/29/04); Smalley, Eric

    Recreating the pressure sensitivity of skin for robots and other objects is the goal of a University of Tokyo research project using pressure sensor arrays that can be widely distributed due to their fabrication from cheap organic or polymer transistors on a flexible material. Potential applications of the technology suggested by University of Tokyo electrical engineering professor Takao Someya include pressure carpets that can identify people, in-vehicle systems for monitoring motorists' mental and physical health, and an artificial epidermis to facilitate more sensitive interaction between robots and their environments. The researchers have developed a prototype eight-centimeter-square sheet comprised of a 32 by 32 array of organic pressure sensors supporting a density of 16 sensors for every square centimeter. Conductive graphite particles in the prototype's pressure-sensitive rubber layer cause its electrical resistance to shift in response to pressure, while the layer and a copper electrode are enameled to an array of organic transistors. Only one transistor operates for each activated sensor thanks to an active matrix design, making the array less power-consumptive than a simpler array in which sensors are wired into a grid. The active-matrix control scheme makes the arrays intelligent enough to permit individual sensors at specific feedback points to check the heartbeat and respiration rate of collapsed hospital patients, for example, enabling the skin to determine whether the patient is simply resting or is in trouble, according to Someya. Organic transistors' inexpensiveness can offset their increased size and slower performance compared to silicon transistors. Someya expects electronic skin to be ready for practical applications in about half a decade.
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  • "Canada's Biggest Calculator"
    ExpressNews (University of Alberta) (09/17/04); Cairney, Richard

    The Trellis Project led by University of Alberta computer science professor Dr. Paul Lu pooled the computational resources of more than 4,000 computers at 19 universities, a half-dozen high-performance computing consortia, and three research institutions into a virtual supercomputer over a 48-hour period to aid medical research projects at the University of Calgary and Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children in mid September. The Toronto hospital study focuses on how protons are transported across biological membranes, while the University of Calgary project is examining the protein folding process using complex mathematical models of atomic interaction within the protein. Lu notes that other, more established research groups are working on the same problems; however, he explains that "We've made some fundamental design decisions that are different and the consequence is that I can get all these systems across the country working together a lot easier than they can." Those decisions allowed Lu to add more computer clusters to the virtual supercomputer in the middle of the project. The Trellis Project's support infrastructure includes the WestGrid grid computing consortium, the University of Alberta's Computing and Network Services, and facilities in Quebec and Atlantic Canada. There was a power outage at an Atlantic Canada center during the project, so auxiliary power to other operations was suspended while team members kept their machines cool and operational using fans. The Trellis Project was able to perform 3.5 years' worth of computation in 24 hours in November 2002 by employing the first Canadian Internetworked Scientific Supercomputer to study the basic characteristics of chiral molecules; this latest experiment crammed two decades' worth of computing work in two days.
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  • "Experts Convened by AAAS Call for Voter-System Research and Reform, Warning of Broad Vulnerability"
    AAAS (09/21/04); Gwynne, Peter

    A Sept. 21 report from an 18-member panel of experts convened by Advancing Science, Serving Society (AAAS) concludes that the U.S. voting system must be reformed if the public's confidence in American elections is to be restored, especially as the country transitions to Internet-based voting. Formulating and implementing reforms that ensure maximum voter turnout and trust while simultaneously upholding privacy and integrity will be the result of detailed research into new voting technology and how voters, election officials, and poll workers comport themselves. Panelists noted that paperless touch-screen voting systems have become a lightning rod for criticism due to their lack of an audit trail to confirm the final tally, as well as vulnerabilities uncovered last year by Johns Hopkins and Rice University researchers. The panelists recognized four areas of research and potential reform: Voting technologies; the knowledge, perception, and behavior of voters; election administration; and accountability mechanisms. Jim Dickson of the American Association of People with Disabilities pointed out that improving the voting system can better serve disabled, poorly literate, and non-English-speaking voters. The panel's report came out of a National Science Foundation-funded workshop organized by personnel in AAAS' Science and Policy and Education and Human Resources divisions. Conference participants included election officials, social and behavioral researchers, cybersecurity and voting machine specialists, public interest group representatives, and spokespeople for government and nonprofit funding agencies. "Ultimately, the findings and recommendations produced by this effort could contribute to an improved understanding of the comparative advantages and disadvantages of various voting systems and to knowledge that can inform critical personal and policy decisions about voting in the United States," proclaimed conference organizer Mark S. Frankel with the AAAS.
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  • "Surpassing Customers' Needs: When Technology Is Too Good"
    Small Times (09/20/04); Karoub, Jeff

    Of the 60-plus small tech startups that offered superior technology to fulfill the telecom market's bandwidth needs at the turn of the 21st century, a mere two dozen or so have survived the fallout of the economic recession, and only about 12 of those are selling products. The survivors have scaled back the promotion of technology in favor of traditional business benchmarks such as repeatable, reliable, and traditional manufacturing and delivery, strong customer relationships, and finding new applications for tools or technology. Former Apple VP Don Norman argues that a technology's superiority is irrelevant to business success, when what is critical is whether the product satisfies the customer's basic needs without being overly complex, too expensive, or unreliable. The tech enthusiasts and idealists Norman identified as early adopters in his book, "The Invisible Computer," comprise a small portion of the marketplace, which mostly consists of late adopters who crave reliable, simple, and affordable products. Norman notes that research into small technologies touted as successors to long-standing products, such as silicon and cathode ray tubes, can actually spur industry to improve and find new uses for the older products, and extend their longevity. "New products succeed not by displacing old ones; they do it by finding a new niche," Norman explains. Some products may be too good for their targeted market, a trait Norman defines as excess quality. One such product is the dendrimer, a synthetic, tree-like molecule whose price is too high for many potential customers, but dendrimer supplier Dendritech thinks making the molecule less symmetrical will not only reduce fabrication and sales costs, but also make the product good enough to fulfill customer needs.
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  • "Death of the Net"
    Star (Malaysia) (09/21/04); Madhavan, M.

    The Internet is succumbing to growing numbers of users, a rapidly expanding scope, more demanding applications, and unruly netizens such as hackers and spammers, said ICANN Chairman and "Father of the Internet" Vinton Cerf at the Fall 2004 Intel Developer's Forum. There are more and more ways of accessing the Internet, such as through WLAN hotspots or through 3G cellular technology, which is helping to increase the number of users; then there are the billions of people who still do not have Internet access and will want it. With the increase in users, Web infrastructure will have to accommodate more dramatic spikes in usage and varying usage patterns. "As the total population of the Net goes up, there will be larger flash crowds concentrating at certain sites," said Cerf. Intel chief technology officer Pat Gelsinger said his company was ready with a solution in its PlanetLab effort, which aims to simplify management of the Internet by creating a "computational services overlay" similar to the Transmission Control Protocol that allowed early Internet developers to link disparate networks. According to Intel's Internet roadmap, routers will be replaced by vast arrays of virtual machines that are built into the network. In addition to providing Internet connectivity, this infrastructure would also allow administrators to more easily manage their networks by alerting them to events and providing network mapping services. A number of universities and companies have signed onto the PlanetLab effort, including the University of California at Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon University, Hewlett-Packard, and Google. Cerf says the PlanetLab initiative is "taking this gigantic system and using it as a scaffolding to build the next generation Internet."
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  • "A True Master of Invention"
    Investor's Business Daily (09/22/04) P. A4; Deagon, Brian

    Renowned inventor Ray Kurzweil is famed for his farsightedness, and has become a leading authority on far-reaching, technology-driven trends such as the global expansion of the Internet in the late 1990s, which he predicted about a decade earlier. Based on research demonstrating that the pace of progress is increasing by a factor of two every 10 years, Kurzweil sees even more amazing technological breakthroughs on the horizon: He expects the boundary between computers and humans to blur with the advent of computers that function as caretakers and companions. Kurzweil also foresees computers overtaking the human brain in terms of their capacity for logic and conclusions, and the incorporation of technology into the human body to boost people's thinking processes and knowledge input. The inventor additionally forecasts the advent of virtual reality and the ubiquitous presence of embedded computers. Kurzweil's chief areas of concentration are genetics, robotics, and nanotechnology, and how these fields will change the world over the next four decades. He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2002 for the creation of the Kurzweil Reading Machine nearly 30 years before; the device, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the visually impaired, was a combination of flatbed scanners and a text-to-speech synthesizer. Kurzweil also won the National Medal of Technology in 1999, and the following year earned the Lemelson-MIT Prize, the highest honor for invention and innovation in the United States. He says, "Most inventions fail because the timing is wrong," and he traces his perspicacity to his determination to mathematically model the evolution of communications, biology, technology, humans, and other key areas early in his career.

  • "IT Women Smash Glass Ceiling"
    VNUNet (09/17/04); Mortleman, James

    The Chartered Management Institute's (CMI) 30th annual national management salary survey indicates that salaries and opportunities for female IT professionals are at their highest level yet, with women's pay raises overtaking those of men for the eighth consecutive year across all sectors. Women achieved a median pay raise of 5 percent this year, 0.3 percent more than men, while female IT managers currently earn 47,315 pounds a year, on average. "Today's talented females have the same opportunities for professional development as their male counterparts, and with the right skill sets women can achieve pay parity with men," notes CMI head of policy Petra Cook. Over the past five years, the percentage of female board directors has jumped from one in 10 to one in seven, and Cook expects this figure to continue to rise. "Cultural changes do not happen overnight, but in 10 years' time I believe there will be far greater parity across the board," she predicts. Cook says that both male and female employees desire a balance between their work and home life, and employers should make a greater effort to provide workers with the flexibility to achieve this alignment. Meanwhile, Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt opened the U.K. Resource Center for Women in Science, Engineering, and Technology (SET) last week. The facility is designed to encourage women to pursue careers in those three fields through close collaboration with industry and academia.
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  • "Humanoid Robot Gets Pocket PC Brain"
    WindowsForDevices (09/20/04)

    NimbRo RS, a diminutive humanoid robot from the Institute for Computer Science at Germany's University of Freiburg, was built out of mostly off-the-shelf components by replacing the head of a RoboSapien robot with a Toshiba e755 Pocket PC and a FlyCamCF CompactFlash camera. The e755 was enabled to mimic RoboSapien's remote control through the deployment of the Ultramote shareware package, while the combined weight of the e755 and the camera was offset through the removal of the robot's arms and corresponding motors. RoboSapien's usual control element is a handheld remote infrared controller, while the infrared sender of the Pocket PC is directed at the robot's infrared receiver to alternate autonomous control. Programmatic control of the infrared link is supplied by a "RoboSapien API," scripted in embedded Visual C++ 3.0, that runs on the e755. The free download that includes Visual C++ 3.0 also includes a sample program for NimbRo that allows the machine to head toward an orange pole upon perceiving the object. NimbRo earned third place in the balancing challenge of RoboCup 2004's Human League Competition through its successful negotiation of a ramp without falling down. The RoboCup competition was organized to encourage research in artificial intelligence and intelligent robotics by setting a specific challenge--namely, the development of a fully autonomous robot soccer team that can beat the human world champion team by 2050.
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  • "Cell Phone Video Gets Real"
    EE Times (09/20/04) No. 1339, P. 1; Yoshida, Junko

    Broadcasters, semiconductor firms, and mobile network operators gathered to showcase the latest in mobile television technology at the International Broadcasting Convention in Amsterdam. Technology to pipe short video clips and live broadcasts is already working, but the number of options and possible business models have yet to be worked out by vendors, operators, and broadcasters in the United States, Europe, and Asia. Technologists gathered at the convention agreed that mobile television broadcast would have to be limited in duration, with users accessing short clips rather than full-length features; broadcast content would have to be reformatted for the smaller screens, with the addition of zoom and slow-motion functions. Among the front-running broadcast standards are Digital Multimedia Broadcast (DMB), which uses terrestrial or satellite airwaves, and Digital Video Broadcast-Handheld (DVB-H), which utilizes the digital TV standard. Multimedia Multicast/Broadcast, meanwhile, uses 3G cellular networks. Semiconductor companies already offer a number of products for DMB, including demodulation/baseband processors for DMB-based mobile television receivers and tuners. Korean broadcasters are ready for terrestrial-based DMB mobile digital television broadcast, having modified the Eureka-147-based Digital Audio Broadcasting technology for video; the Korean implementation uses a multiplexed stream of ITU-T H.264-coded video and MPEG-4 bit-sliced arithmetic audio, using a MPEG-4 synchronization layer and MPEG-2 transport stream. In the United States, Crown Castle USA has purchased a recently opened terrestrial license over the 5 MHz band of the nationwide L-band spectrum from an FCC auction, and the company is testing a DVB-H network deployment in Pittsburgh.
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  • "5 Challenges for Open Source"
    Chronicle of Higher Education (09/24/04) Vol. 51, No. 5, P. B1; Young, Jeffrey R.

    Hundreds of colleges have initiated or joined open-source software projects that serve higher education by providing products to run email, combat spam, manage school finances, and facilitate other important services. Examples of such projects include Moodle, Pachyderm, and Sakai software for building course Web sites; the University of Southampton's E-Prints for creating personal, shareable online archives; and MIT's DSpace for constructing digital libraries. One of the chief lures of open source to academia is the free software, but support costs can run as high as 75 percent or 85 percent of the cost of purchasing and managing a commercial software package. Among the challenges facing the higher-education open-source movement is building a critical mass of users; some institutions are setting up consortia to coordinate software project development, while others are supporting development through existing bodies. Colleges should also allocate a budget sufficient enough to train staff members and customize the software, according to Bradley Wheeler of Indiana University at Bloomington. Furthermore, the definition of open source varies among different people: This is spawning a bewildering jumble of open-source licenses, and participants at a summer open-source software conference hosted by Educause advocated standardized licenses as a solution. Facilitating a college's switch or "migration" from closed-source to open-source software requires both users and computing-staff members to be re-skilled, while another challenge is collaborating with commercial software providers. Academia's push toward open source could compel vendors to open up their products, or offer support and services to institutions that use open-source software.
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  • "Linux Is Finally Offering Windows Users a Real Choice"
    Technology Review (09/04) Vol. 107, No. 7, P. 50; Roush, Wade

    Consumers can now avail themselves of numerous commercial versions of the Linux operating system offering instant Internet connectivity, stylish and sophisticated interfaces, and free open-source upgrades via the Web. The rollout of Linspire and other open-source products finally gives desktop users an alternative to Microsoft, which currently dominates 94 percent of the desktop software market. Open source's growing availability is driving down prices, which in turn is causing the general population of computer and Internet users to swell while improving IT departments' ability to leverage frugal tech budgets, and delivering many free and often novel desktop capabilities to home and office users. These advantages, as well as Linux's purported superiority over Windows in terms of reliability and virus protection, are hastening enterprise adoption. Linux's chief constituencies include casual home PC users who prefer the most inexpensive system available; corporate workers who use their office computers for only a few tasks; government managers looking to save money; and developing countries that wish to avoid vendor lock-in. IDC estimates that the portion of Linux-powered computers in the home and office PC space--nearly 3 percent--is about twice as much as it was three years ago, and is likely to double again before the end of 2005. Microsoft has publicly stated that open source is of little concern to the company, but its decision to dramatically cut prices and disclose segments of its source code appear to contradict its official position. Concurrent with this is a major publicity campaign highlighting alleged shortcomings in Linux, although some open-source supporters anticipate that proprietary and open-source software providers will eventually achieve a symbiotic, complementary relationship.
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