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Volume 1, Issue 11: Monday, December 27, 1999

  • "Federal Officials Give Reassurances of Y2K Readiness"
    Washington Post (12/27/99) P. A2; Barr, Stephen

    Government officials yesterday repeated the message that Y2K will have a limited or nonexistent impact on Americans. "We would like people to be prepared for a long mid-winter weekend, but we think that that's all that's necessary," says President Clinton's top Y2K adviser John Koskinen. "And for most Americans, they probably won't experience any Y2K glitches at all." Officials say air traffic control, federal prisons, and power plants are all ready for the date change, and 95 percent of all 911 emergency response systems are compliant. Americans are advised to take precautions such as keeping a three-day supply of food and water and copies of important financial records. The U.S. has spent about $100 billion on Y2K repairs, but some other nations are less prepared. Russia, for example, has been slow to move on Y2K, but U.S. officials say they are confident that nuclear missiles will not launch accidentally. Meanwhile, the U.S. still has concerns about small businesses, such as small hospitals that might have trouble with billing systems. Y2K glitches might continue to emerge through March, Koskinen says, and some problems might occur on Feb. 29, since many Y2K programmers failed to take the 2000 leap year into account.

  • "Dell's WebPC: Not Quite a Net Gain"
    Washington Post (12/24/99) P. E10; Kay, Alan S.

    Dell's WebPC, the company's first attempt at a legacy-free offering, focuses more on style than computing, writes Alan Kay in a recent Washington Post review. Many computer makers this holiday season released legacy-free systems that exist primarily to provide Internet access, and therefore lack older technologies such as disk drives. Dell's WebPC offers a stylish design and is "a decent PC that'll do most things you want," Kay says. The WebPC does not have a floppy disk drive or serial or parallel ports, and the system has only five USB ports. The WebPC has no PCI expansion slots and still runs Windows 98, which could pose problems for some users. Finally, Kay is unsure why the new system is called a "WebPC," as it lacks the Ethernet jack necessary for high-speed Internet connections through cable modems or DSL. However, Kay notes that the WebPC offers keyboard buttons that allow users to connect to the Internet and get email. In addition, the system has a shortcut key to Dell's "e-Support," which helps with troubleshooting and could be especially useful to beginners.

  • "Feds Seek IT Help on Net Security"
    Computerworld (12/20/99) Vol. 33, No. 51, P. 1; Thibodeau, Patrick

    The government is trying to partner with private companies to share information about cyber-attacks, but some companies are skeptical about how the government will use the private information. Federal officials say cyber-attacks on private companies could damage U.S. infrastructure, and note that national security cannot be enhanced without the help of private firms. This month Commerce Department officials met with representatives from 75 companies from sectors including transportation, finance, energy, and telecommunications. In return for the companies' cooperation, the government says it will offer incentives to students looking to high-tech careers, and will provide funding for security-related research and projects. Union Pacific's Rick Holmes says government research could result in a new encryption algorithm with a key-recovery mechanism that the government could have access to without the knowledge of private firms. In addition, Holmes views the recent meeting as a "veiled threat" of regulation if the companies do not cooperate in the security partnership. Although some companies are tempted by the benefits of the partnership, they are concerned that private information could be revealed to the public, according to both government officials and private sector officials.

  • "Powerful Internet Ability: Custom-Made Electricity"
    Investor's Business Daily (12/22/99) P. A6; Tsuruoka, Doug

    Technological advances and Internet software are enabling power providers to offer different "grades" of electricity to customers for the first time. The emergence of "power-quality technology" gives homes and businesses the option to pay a premium for more reliable power, even if it is only for certain areas of the building that have a more critical reliance on energy flow. For instance, Web-based software could allow homeowners to choose a lower grade of power supplied to their garage but a higher grade for their refrigerator or heating system. Customers would also communicate their power specifications to suppliers through the Web. In addition, the Internet could act as a link between a utility's power-control equipment with devices on the consumer's end. Power companies could install smart chips or Internet devices to power lines in order to ensure more efficient and reliable electric flow. As more states choose to deregulate their electric industries, smaller companies with the most advanced technology are seeing an opportunity to penetrate the power market by offering custom-made electric current. Currently, the power-quality market is small but on the rise. Internet-based energy management firm Silicon Energy offers software that allows companies to control the amount of electricity from their generators. However, several obstacles to power-quality equipment still exist. For example, installation of a system could require the rewiring of cables; and many consumers are put off by the fact that they must pay more for reliable service.

  • "The Next Waves of Electronic Commerce"
    New York Times (12/19/99) P. C36; Richtel, Matt

    The Internet is transforming the marketplace by providing greater communication, according to industry experts. Cisco Systems, for example, already generates 85 percent of its business to customers connected to the Internet. The company also handles much of its internal operations via intranets. Greg Wood of the Internet2 project, says, "Before long, other companies are going to look like Cisco looks today." Stuart I. Feldman, director of the Institute of Advanced Commerce at IBM, says today's Internet is slow and clumsy compared to the technologies expected in the next five to 10 years. A truly high-speed Internet will transform businesses by facilitating real-time communication and transactions with parties all over the world. Feldman says the future of the marketplace harks back to the old-fashioned marketplace, or market ground. He says, "People got together; they argued; they traded things." Companies are now researching the power of the Internet to incorporate mobility into commerce. In one experiment of how the next wave of e-commerce might evolve, IBM gave 170 British Safeway shoppers Palm Pilots with which to do their grocery shopping. Oracle's Mark Jarvis says the business world of the not too distant future will operate in a virtual environment where geography and price are less important and cooperation and competition rules. Cisco's Mark A. Tonnesen says soon businesses will compete in a world "with multiple buyers, multiple customers, and multiple complementary processes."

  • "More Details Emerge on IBM's Wearable PC"
    C|Net (12/20/99); Wilcox, Joe

    IBM is currently testing a wearable computer as part of an Edge of Network (EON) initiative to develop specialized devices that may replace the all-purpose functionality of PCs. The wearable PC is a fully functional, Windows-enabled computer that weighs about 1.5 pounds and features a head-mounted display, a PC card slot, a USB port, a handheld mouse, and IBM's ViaVoice speech recognition software. Like many upcoming EON devices, later versions of the wearable PC are expected to feature Bluetooth technology, which provides wireless communication among different devices. IBM's Phil Hester says the ultra-portable computer "does not compromise on your PC applications. You can walk around with this thing attached to a wireless network, browse the Web, talk to it, do voice navigation, email, and all that stuff." The EON initiative is seen as a crucial strategy to boost revenues within IBM's Personal Systems Group. While the unit traditionally defined its markets by product type, such as server, PC, or notebook, IBM is now beginning to focus on customer type as a way to distinguish between markets. This customer-oriented focus will enable the company to look beyond hardware toward services to drive revenues, says analyst Joe Ferlazzo. In marketing the wearable PC, IBM will initially focus on specialized markets, including stock trading, manufacturing, and health care.

  • "How the Fixers Fended Off Big Disasters"
    Wall Street Journal (12/23/99) P. B1; Gomes, Lee

    Many large U.S. companies say if they had not made the necessary repairs, Y2K would have brought catastrophic consequences. The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), for example, says if it had not spent $30 million fixing software and hardware over the past four years, no trading would have taken place on Jan. 3. Without repairs, NYSE's SuperDot program, which manages communications between the stock exchange and its brokerage-house members, would have crashed at 2 a.m. on Jan. 3 when technicians arrived at work to start up the mainframes. Later in the day, NYSE's Order Automated Reporting System, which lines up orders to be executed, would also have crashed. NYSE's computer networks, which connect the exchange floor with data centers, would probably have also failed without repairs. Other companies including Allstate give similar estimates of what would have happened without Y2K fixes. Allstate says its problems would have started years before the date change. For example, if a car owner had a five-year bank loan in 1995, Allstate's computers would have interpreted the loan as expiring in 1900 and stopped informing the bank of changes in the policy. In addition, the company says its flawed programs would have continued operating through Y2K, spreading errors that could go unnoticed. In terms of the power supply, Edison International Y2K program manager Eric Trapp says relay lines, substations, and transformers that carry power would have kept working without any fixes. Power would have stayed on for a while, but eventually the utility network's control rooms that rely on computers would not have the information needed to maintain power. Technicians would not have received accurate reports on regional power usage and would not have known how to distribute power according to demand, resulting in brownouts. While many Y2K fears might have been unwarranted, large companies, especially those that use mainframes, say the fixes were necessary.

  • "What Wonders with the Year Bring?"
    Business Week (12/27/99) No. 3661, P. 32; Wildstrom, Stephen H.

    The technology industry will flourish next year, accelerated by the Internet. Information appliances--devices that allow Internet access but have few other amenities--will appear in greater numbers, increasing the number of U.S. households with Web access. DSL and cable modems will continue to supplant dialup lines, and while broadband Internet will take a few years to spread, the new legislation that allows satellite broadcasters to carry local stations will mean that cable companies will begin offering fast Internet access in order to compete. This will encourage phone companies to hasten the proliferation of DSL. Web-enabled wireless phones are already popular overseas, and while they are currently novelties in the U.S., services such as traffic reports and trading will be added to the instant stock quotes and weather reports now available. New handheld wireless devices will appear and a new technology is coming that will allow portable devices to communicate with one another. Microsoft is to release Windows 2000 in February and Millennium, its successor to Windows 98, is due out at the end of 2000. Laptops will gain Pentium III chips, which can reach speeds of 700 MHz when connected to AC power, and Advanced Micro Devices and Intel will compete to release the first 1 GHz desktop chip.

  • "Online Holiday Sales Beat Expectations"
    E-Commerce Times (12/20/99); Spiegel, Rob

    Eighty-three percent of e-tailers are increasing revenues over 1998's revenues, according to a study from International Data (IDC). Twenty-six percent of e-tailers have almost doubled their online business, and 23 percent report growth of more than 61 percent, according to the study. Amazon had the most holiday sales, followed by Buy.com, barnesandnoble.com, and eToys, while Toys "R" Us moved up 19 places to number seven on NextCard's list of the top 10 retailers by transaction volume. The IDC study also shows a decrease in the percentage of frustrated online buyers, but shows that the Internet still has customer service problems. Only 25 percent of Internet purchases were abandoned in mid transaction, down from 65 percent abandonment last year, according to the IDC study. Greenfield Online research has concluded that 8 percent more e-buyers in 1999 are not as concerned about using their credit cards online.

  • "Telecom Deregulation Fails to Lower Rates"
    InfoWorld (12/20/99) Vol. 21, No. 51, P. 42B; de Bony, Elizabeth

    The European Union is experiencing a rise in telecommunications competition, but prices have not yet fallen and new entrants to the market are still delayed in getting services to market, according to the European Commission's Fifth Implementation Report on the telecom market. The report says the implementation of EU rules into national laws is satisfactory for the most part, but there are some gaps and most EU nations have reportedly failed to implement the Commission directives on telephone numbering and data protection on telecom networks. Germany and Spain alone have enacted every EU rule. The report also investigates effective liberalization, finding that the United Kingdom, though the first nation to liberalize its telecom market, has not managed to introduce competition or lower prices outside of London. The Commission notes that competition hinges on access to the local loop, which is frequently still under the control of the former monopolies. Prices are comparable to those in the U.S. in nations where competition exists in the form of alternative networks. But on average, European consumers pay more than three times the amount that U.S. consumers pay for a three-minute phone call, and almost twice the U.S. average for international calls. Belgium is the worst EU member when it comes to compliance with the EU telecom rules; France's new entrants to the expanding market complain about a lack of transparency among National Regulatory Authorities (NRAs); and Italians say their NRAs are not impartial, among other problems.

  • "Trends and Predictions for 2000"
    E-Commerce Times (12/20/99); Dembeck, Chet

    E-Commerce Times columnist Chet Dembeck predicts that 2000 will bring many changes in e-commerce. For example, U.S. users will receive free online access from Microsoft and AOL, while the Linux operating system will become a mainstream alternative to Windows 2000. Americans will embrace portable Internet devices and AOL will acquire several companies in the beginning of 2000 to increase its broadband capacity, he predicts. New technology will make the broadband issue less important, but taxation of e-commerce will be a defining issue of the American presidential elections in 2000. The Microsoft antitrust case will not be resolved in 2000, and many brick-and-mortar companies that did not form strong ties with their online counterparts will fail, Dembeck says.

  • "Developers Tackle All-Optical Illusion"
    Interactive Week (12/13/99) Vol. 6, No. 51, P. I-8; McGarvey, Joe

    Despite the industry's talk about the attributes of all-optical networks, the majority of industry executives say photonic technology is not ready to be deployed as the network base. Pure optical networking allows for larger, speedier networks and lower operational costs, but electronic technology is the surest foundation for advanced network equipment. In an attempt to combine the benefits of optical technology and electronic circuitry, equipment manufacturers are unveiling hybrid switching equipment. Sycamore recently debuted its SN 16000, which has optical-based internal connections that allow the optical switch to reroute 512 wavelengths. The bulk of SN 16000's circuitry is electronic-based. The optical technology used, called Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Laser, eventually will allow the device to reroute upwards of 1,024 wavelengths, according to Sycamore's Jeff Kiel. Although an all-optical switch could be created on existing technology, the design would not allow it to adjust according to need, says CIMI analyst Tom Nolle. Hybrid technologies may not provide the speediest performance, but they do offer an economical solution to carriers, says Ciena's Charles Chi.

  • "Not What the NSA Had in Mind"
    tele.com (12/13/99) Vol. 4, No. 24, P. 20; Weinschenk, Carl

    The details of the fabled Project Echelon may finally come to light in the next several months. The surveillance project, which is believed to be a joint effort between the National Security Agency (NSA) and its sister agencies in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, reportedly intercepts over 3 billion emails, cell phone calls, faxes, and wireline communications every day. The NSA has remained mum as to whether Echelon even exists, but most experts in the surveillance field say it does, and last year the European Parliament and officials in the Australian government admitted as much. Various players are attempting to push the NSA into revealing more about the project. The Electronic Privacy Information Center recently filed a federal lawsuit requesting that the NSA provide Echelon-related documents that the agency had earlier refused to give to the White House Intelligence Committee. Hearings on Echelon may also soon be held by the House Government Reform Committee, and a provision of the Foreign Intelligence Authorization Act for 2000 requires that the NSA, CIA, and Department of Justice reveal the legal statutes that those agencies use to justify surveillance on the communications of American citizens. While it is possible that Echelon falls within the confines of the law, analysts say the NSA could face a severe backlash if it comes to light that rumors of industrial spying are true, or if it is revealed that the agency has been illegally spying on American citizens. Technology experts say the NSA has to be in collusion with service providers for Echelon to work, because the messages that the agency intercepts are transferred via public networks. Certain laws force providers to allow intelligence and law enforcement agencies access to things such as Signaling System 7 networks and dialup IP address databases in certain circumstances. Legal experts say the only way providers can fight Echelon is to ask government officials to look more deeply into the project and to advise customers to secure their communications with high-level encryption.

  • "Dell, Gateway Join Season's Top Web Sites"
    Investor's Business Daily (12/27/99) P. A3

    Dell and Gateway joined the ranks of major online retailers in terms of the number of visitors to their Web sites for the week ending Dec. 19, according to a Media Metrix survey. Traffic on Dell's site increased 75 percent, averaging 171,000 daily visitors. Meanwhile, Gateway's site had a 40 percent rise in traffic, with an average of 108,000 daily visitors. Amazon.com attracted the most traffic, with a total of about 7 million visitors to its site for the week ending Dec. 19. By comparison, eBay drew about 4 million visitors the same week. Other top 10 sites according to the survey include Barnesandnoble.com, Toys "R" Us, EToys, and CDNow.

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