ACM TechNews is intended as an objective news digest for busy IT Professionals. Views expressed are not necessarily those of either Gateway Inc. or ACM.

To send comments, please write to [email protected].

Volume 2, Issue 25:  Friday, March 3, 2000

  • "Win NT Powers Small Office Server"
    PC World Online (03/02/00); Krasne, Alexandra

    Microsoft on Wednesday revealed that its new Windows NT operating system, designed to offer a small office shared Internet access for as many as 25 computers, will be available in mid March. The system is called Windows for Express Networks (WEN) and, although Microsoft plans to license it to others, will originally only be available pre-installed on Intel's InBusiness Small Office Network appliance server. The server carries a starting price tag of $1,300 and features a Celeron processor, 64 MB of RAM, a 13 GB hard drive, a 56K modem, and an eight-port hub. A second server model, the InBusiness Small Office Network Plus, will also be available and features an additional 13 GB removable drive. The Plus unit is expected to begin at $1,675. Both Microsoft and Intel within the next few months will offer upgrades to the software and hardware that will allow WEN to support a broadband Internet connection. The unveiling of WEN was originally scheduled for a month ago but had to be postponed in order to allow Intel time to upgrade the memory on one of its machine models to make it compatible with WEN.

  • "Sun Warms Up to Open Java Spec"
    TechWeb (02/29/00); Booker, Ellis

    Sun Microsystems has responded to pressure from large Java licensees by agreeing to change the current manner in which Java specification technology is developed to give Java stakeholders, vendors, and contributing developers more authority in the process. Currently, Sun has sole control over the specification process. Among revisions to the Java Community Process (JCP) is Sun's creation of a "blue-ribbon" advisory group comprising licensees, developers, and perhaps large corporate customers, that will have ultimate approval of any changes to the Java specification. Sun intends to present a draft of the revised JCP to its top licensees in a meeting scheduled for March 1.

  • "Compaq Set to Build Alpha Supercomputer"
    EE Times Online (03/02/00); Wade, Will

    Compaq Computer has agreed to build a supercomputer based on its Alpha chip for the French Atomic Energy Commission that will be one of the most powerful computers ever developed. The supercomputer, which will simulate and analyze nuclear explosions, will process up to five trillion operations per second. The system will have about 2,000 Alpha chips that run in the range of 1.25 GHz, or 2,500 chips running at around 1 GHz, and will be based on the EV6 line. The agreement validates the Alpha microprocessor as one of the top designs for the supercomputing market, says Alpha Technology's Jesse Lipcon.

  • "Strange Webfellows"
    Christian Science Monitor (03/02/00) P. 15; Belsie, Laurent

    Analysts are now speculating that Web businesses may be environmentally friendly. These experts cite as tentative evidence a process known as "dematerialization" in which companies and consumers create less material waste and perform operations more efficiently by conducting activities electronically. Also, companies consume fewer resources by using the Internet to sell products directly to consumers. With telecommuting on the rise, the amount of emissions and pollutants being generated is dropping because companies do not need to build and maintain as much office space, and employees do not need to drive to work every day. Trucking companies are using the Internet to coordinate with shippers to ensure trucks travel with full loads, determining which vendors have products destined for the same location and then combining the separate wares together in one vehicle. But experts caution against making snap judgments and say it is too soon to see any significant measurable effects that would allow them to determine definitively whether the Internet is a positive environmental force. They also note that so far Internet traffic has had the negative environmental consequence of increasing energy consumption. Regardless, the electronic revolution is not likely to abate much in the coming years due to the powerful financial incentives for Internet use, such as decreased operating costs, streamlined operations, and reduced consumer prices. Environmentalists only hope such incentives may prove more advantageous than originally expected.

  • "Free Speech or Cyber-Slander?"
    Boston Globe (02/29/00) P. C1; Kerber, Ross

    Several lawsuits currently in court across the country may define how much anonymity Internet users enjoy in online chat rooms. Those who support anonymity say there is a First Amendment right to post anonymous messages on electronic bulletin boards without fear of the messenger's identity being disclosed. However, some companies and individuals have recently been successful in forcing ISPs to reveal the real identity of those whom they have accused of libel, slander, or sharing a company's proprietary information. A case pending in a Florida state court, in which a former executive of a shipping firm wants to know the identity of online chatters whose emails he claims got him fired, may set a broad precedent for online anonymous chat, legal analysts say. First Amendment experts say if plaintiffs are given greater power in discovering anonymous identities, it could have a stifling and self-censoring effect on the average emailer. Courts have traditionally denied defendants the right to remain anonymous except for cases dealing with sexual abuse or minors. However, they have also protected certain anonymous speech, saying it has historically provided a shelter for those who fear retribution for espousing unpopular views. Regardless, legal experts say the momentum may be on the side of the plaintiffs in these cases. An Ohio judge recently ruled that ISP CompuServe had to reveal the identity of a person who Stone & Webster claims revealed proprietary information and defamed the company.

  • "Internet Tax Ball Now in Governor's Court"
    E-Commerce Times (02/29/00); Dembeck, Chet

    President Clinton recently met with members of the bipartisan National Governors' Association in an attempt to bring the federal and state governments together on the issue of e-commerce taxation. The discussion has many market observers speculating that the two sides are moving toward a compromise. Although the governors are opposed to a ban on Internet taxes because of the negative impact that would have on state revenues, there is strong support for a ban on sales taxes for Internet merchandise on the federal level. On Monday White House press secretary Joe Lockhart said, "The president has made it clear that he's against access taxes for the Internet and against any discriminatory taxes for the Internet." However, Lockhart added that a solution "may have to involve some simplification of sales taxes." Although a Supreme Court ruling prevents states from collecting taxes on interstate sales, a simplification of states' tax rules would solve the constitutional issue of taxing pure-play Internet e-tailers. The compromise proposal that President Clinton is said to be supporting would have Congress ban e-commerce taxes for five years, and have states simplify their tax structures. States would then be in position to tax online sales after five years. Furthermore, Virginia Governor James Gilmore, chairman of the Advisory Commission on Electronic Commerce, is believed to be in general favor of such a solution to the issue.

  • "Integration Is Key for E-Business"
    VNUNet (02/23/00); Leung, Linda

    Sixty percent of e-business initiatives will fail because they are not tied to back office systems like ERP and CRM, which can be used to collect data on customers and allow customers to obtain relevant information, said Dale Cutnick, president of Meta Group, this week at the firm's Metamorphosis 2000 conference in San Francisco. Successful e-businesses will be those that know how to use that information, which will ultimately transform companies from manufacturers to customer management organizations. "Market valuation is the perception of how good you are at using the information you have on your customers," says Meta analyst Karen Rubenstrunk. Successful branding of e-businesses will also be pivotal to market valuation. "By 2003 IT infrastructure operations will be more important to e-branding than marketing," says Meta's Peter Burris.

  • "First America, Then the World"
    Economist (02/26/00) Vol. 354, No. 8159, P. 49

    Although it may appear that American businesses are destined to dominate the Web, there are some indications that a different scenario will play out. For example, fulfillment and delivery remain major issues that e-commerce outfits have had problems with in local markets. Some American Web sites have even decided to limit their potential difficulties in handling overseas markets by only taking orders in the U.S. As American e-commerce companies consider crossing borders for retail, tax and regulatory obstacles and concerns from foreign markets are likely to become a major challenge as well. Although the U.S. government has encouraged the development of the Internet, European governments and others around the world may not be as inclined to not collect taxes on Internet transactions. Countries of the European Union must contend with the value-added tax, similar to the U.S.'s sales tax, which can be as high as 25 percent, and it represents 40 percent of the tax revenues in Europe. However, regulatory concerns could prove to be a bigger issue for American e-commerce companies than taxes. Privacy and data protection are among the foremost points of contention when dealing with the governments of other markets. However, the slow move to other markets may also keep American businesses from dominating e-commerce. By the time U.S. companies enter foreign markets, a country such as Scandinavia has more Internet penetration than the U.S., and Britain and Germany are gaining. Asia expects $6 billion in Web sales this year. French consumers have been involved in e-commerce with the Minitel proprietary network for years. Foreign firms are not only ready to challenge American companies on their own turf, but are ready to do so even in the U.S. European companies even believe they have an advantage over American companies because the technology may be heading in the direction of moving over mobile telephones and handheld devices rather than computers.

  • "Protecting Against Viruses"
    Interactive Week (02/28/00) Vol. 7, No. 8, P. 40; Duvall, Mel

    Security vendors are scrambling to offer new, managed antivirus products as concerns sparked by the recent wave of denial-of-service attacks proliferate. The denial-of-service attacks, which targeted prominent Web sites such as Yahoo!, eBay, and Amazon.com, could easily have been prevented using common antivirus software. This lack of security among even the most heavily trafficked sites serves as a reminder that most corporations and home users fail to use or update antivirus software. To eliminate this oversight, vendors such as Symantec and Trend Micro are now launching antivirus protection services that automatically update software and offer stronger protection against viruses. Antivirus software maker Symantec has partnered with IBM on a project dubbed Striker 32 to develop an antivirus engine that would automatically identify and disable new viruses. These "smart engines" would provide the greatest possible protection at a time when computer viruses are spreading faster than ever before, says Sarah Gordon, an antivirus expert at IBM's Thomas Watson Research Center. Ultimately, companies aim to design an engine that can identify a new virus and then provide protection to other computers on the network. While "all of this is a pretty tall order," Gordon says that pilot tests have been positive.

  • "Foil the Hackers? A Security Maven Discusses the Impossible"
    Business Week (03/06/00) No. 3671, P. 32F; Gross, Neil

    Bruce Schneier, the chief technical officer of Counterpane Internet Security, recently discussed his views on the nature of cyber-crime and what can be done about it. Schneier says the Internet has turned crime into a no-skill art, as even a novice can simply download an attack program and press a button. He also says crime on the Internet, unlike street crime, is not restrained by distance, and that hackers can attack from anywhere in the world. Schneier contends that the recent denial-of-service attacks against sites such as Yahoo! were basically "petty vandalism," but that one day a much more serious attack in which huge amounts of money was stolen could occur unbeknownst to a Web site until after the fact. Schneier also warns that the advent of cable modems and DSL Internet connections will decrease the security of the Net, as these are always on and often carry the same Internet protocol address for long periods of time, making them easy prey for hackers. Schneier admits there is really no defense against denial-of-service attacks, claiming that even if firewalls were implemented on 99.9 percent of computers, "sniffer" programs could detect the computers that were not secured, which would number in the thousands, and great damage could still be done by attacking those unsecured computers. He also says software is inherently bug-ridden, and probably will always remain so. Schneier says his basic philosophy is that "security is a process, not a product," meaning that there is no one silver bullet to make computers secure, but rather a whole range of measures must be implemented simultaneously. However, Schneier says the creators of malicious attack software and tools should be held criminally liable for their actions, and says this could help cut down on the number of cyber-attacks.

  • "From Ambitious to Controversial, Tech Bills Highlight Annapolis Session"
    Potomac Tech Journal (02/28/00) Vol. 1, No. 5, P. 20; Hutzwell, R.W.

    The Maryland General assembly is discussing several technology bills aimed at establishing the state as a leader in the Internet economy. When the current session began in January, Gov. Parris Glendening (D) proposed several technology initiatives, including the formation of a board of e-commerce advisers, an increase in funding for ASP projects, and an agenda to move 80 percent of state services to the Internet by 2004. The most significant bill that Maryland lawmakers are considering is the controversial Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA). UCITA defines what users can do with the software they license and outlines software vendor warranties. Opponents of the bill object to a provision that would permit vendors to remotely shut off unauthorized access to software in a user's system. In February, critics voiced concerns about the bill before the Maryland House of Delegates, noting issues of consumer rights and privacy. Many amendments to UCITA have been suggested, and lawmakers believe some form of the bill will pass this year. Another bill aims to acknowledge the shift of business transactions to the Internet by giving legal weight to digital signatures and contracts delivered online. The assembly is also evaluating bills that would outline rules for access to private information, regulate spam, and turn hacking into a felony. In addition, Glendening has set aside $11 million of his budget for the creation of Net.Work.Maryland, a high-speed network that would connect Baltimore, Annapolis, and Washington with Western Maryland, and eventually to the rest of the state.

  • "Making the Internet Fit for Commerce"
    Issues in Science and Technology (02/00) Vol. 16, No. 2, P. 72; Peha, Jon M.

    Many of the problems associated with e-commerce, such as taxation, privacy, illegal sales, and fraud, stem from the fact that information and identities are difficult to confirm in an online environment, writes Jon M. Peha, associate professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University. In addition, once an exchange is complete, it is hard to later ensure that transaction records are correct. With e-commerce sales on track to reach an estimated $1.3 trillion by 2003, new laws are needed to govern e-commerce in a way that is fair to everyone involved. Current commerce laws were designed for in-person transactions, and are fundamentally unsuitable for e-commerce, Peha says. In the issue of Internet taxation, for example, vendors need accurate information about customers, such as state of residence, to make tax laws enforceable. In addition to the fact that it is very difficult to verify information, privacy concerns arise as vendors try to gather customer data. Privacy is an especially complicated Internet issue, because protecting privacy can detract from efforts to protect against fraud, apply a fair tax system, and prevent illegal sales such as the sale of guns to criminals. Rather than choosing between objectives such as privacy and fair taxation, policies should strive to make both possible by having third parties keep transaction records, Peha says. All parties should keep signed records of transactions, and a party that is subject to audits should have its record notarized. To make reliable audits possible, verifiers, notaries, and auditors should participate in record keeping. Verifiers would confirm the identities of all parties, while notaries would record the time and date for every transaction to ensure that no one could change a record. The verifier and notary would not have access to each other's records, so no single organization could invade a consumer's privacy by matching an identity with specific transactions. Meanwhile, auditors would review and verify the accuracy of these records. Verifier and notary organizations would be private commercial groups that would be voluntarily accredited so federal laws would uphold the information they provide.

  • "Migrating Enterprise Networks to High-Speed"
    Business Communications Review (02/00) Vol. 30, No. 2, P. 40; DeNoia, Lynn

    Companies are now moving toward faster LANs and LAN backbones, with businesses progressing at different rates due to various driving and inhibiting factors. Status quo companies, which account for over half of today's corporations, do not yet have business objectives that rely on network infrastructure. These companies are expanding their networks to support more users and traffic, and the migration to switched LAN technology is opportunistic rather than driven by business needs. Almost a third of enterprises are adopting faster LANs because of mission-critical applications such as ERP, and have made large investments in switching. These companies use server farms that sometimes have gigabit Ethernet, and these firms are considering load balancing for services distributed across several systems. In addition, these companies have addressed reliability and redundancy, although not necessarily as a part of the overall design of the serving infrastructure. Companies with mission-critical applications are typically looking into quality of service (QoS) as a way of prioritizing traffic in specific applications. Just 15 percent of companies are readying their networks for real-time applications or trying out convergence. These companies recognize the need for QoS and have laid out initial rules, such as voice taking priority over data traffic. Reliability and redundancy are significant to these companies. One factor driving the adoption of high-speed networks is the move to place browser front ends on applications, which is raising traffic volumes and altering traffic patterns. As more applications are "Webified," it will become increasingly necessary to include additional header information to distinguish different types of traffic.

  • "Full-Service Brokerages: Fighting Back"
    Financial Service Online (02/00) Vol. 5, No. 3, P. 30; Iversen, Wesley R.

    Full-service brokerage firms such as Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley Dean Witter are increasing their presence on the Internet and investing in technology that will make their sites superior to those of discount firms. New companies such as Ameritrade and E*Trade and discount brokerages grew in popularity during the 1990s. Now, more traditional firms plan to regain some of the business lost to these companies. William L. Burnham, an online brokerage industry expert for Softbank Capital Partners, believes that "with a little faster movement off the mark, the full-service guys could have prevented some of these new companies from being created." Presently, all brokerages that are on the Internet are marketing themselves toward baby boomers. Full-service brokerages believe that they can best provide this demographic with needed advice and planning services. Full-service firms have traditionally offered broker access and unlimited trades for standard fees, requiring customers to maintain minimum balances of between $50,000 and $100,000. The average account at an online discount brokerage is smaller, running from $20,000 to $90,000. Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley Dean Witter now offer a discount firm-based service that allows an online customer to pay a fee for each trade made on the Internet. Both of these firms have brokers readily available to give advice. Only last year did Charles Schwab began offering a program that allows online clients to receive expert analysis on their portfolios. Merrill Lynch's Frank Zammataro says his company's "integrated platform of choice...[is] really the best of both worlds." Merrill Lynch will soon offer its investors rewards for trading online. A Forrester Research study showed that 20.4 million online trading accounts will exist by 2005. Analysts expect online brokerages eventually to provide the same services as full-service firms.

  • "Invasion of Privacy? E-Mail Monitoring Is on the Rise"
    InformationWeek (02/21/00) No. 774, P. 142; York, Thomas

    Companies in today's business world face the tough decision of whether to monitor employee email. It is a controversial subject with a variety of problems and no clear answers. Advocates of email monitoring say it is a way for businesses to prevent the abuse of email by employees, ensure compliance with federal and state workplace regulatory policies, avoid breaches of corporate security, guard against potential lawsuits, and help ensure corporate computer networks function smoothly and efficiently. Others disapprove of email monitoring because they believe it is a violation of privacy and infringes upon personal rights. Currently, the generally accepted rule is that employers have the right to monitor employee email as long as the employees are given advance notice that monitoring may occur. Of course, simply because a company has the right to monitor does not necessarily mean it will do so. There are reasons companies may not want to keep a watchful eye on employee email messages, including the expense and large amounts of labor involved, potential influence upon employee morale, and the fact that companies can be held liable for not catching damaging messages during monitoring procedures. Some employees are even fighting back and finding ways to bypass monitoring, often using the free email services offered by Hotmail and others. Although there is no universal solution, many have learned that the implementation of email monitoring policies often goes more smoothly if an employer is open and honest with employees about the details of a policy and why one is required. Having a written copy of the policy also helps.

  • "E-Pharmacies a Slow Go"
    InternetWeek (02/28/00) No. 802, P. 31; Stevens, Larry

    Online drug companies last year accounted for only $160 million of the $101 billion in overall sales of prescription drugs. Among the reasons for the small percentage: health insurance co-payments do not always cover online drug purchases; customer prefer familiar brands; and customers want prescriptions filled immediately. Various tactics are being employed by drug companies as they seek to break down consumer resistance to online purchases. Among other things, online drug companies are forming partnerships with brick-and-mortar stores, partnering with pharmacy benefits management companies (PBMs), and establishing e-pharmacy sites for insurance companies and HMOs. PlanetRx.com and drugstore.com, which have lost 90 percent of their potential customers due to lack of coverage from standard co-payment, have partnered with PBMs Express Scripts and PCS Health Systems, respectively, to capture that business. But PBMs, which are hired by payers of health care services to negotiate prices and provide reduced-rate mail-order prescriptions, still decide what pharmacies its members can buy drugs at and have not drawn any distinction between online prescription retailers and mail-order services. While this is a potential problem for e-pharmacies like PlanetRx.com and drugstore.com, it falls right into the business model of sites like cranespharmacy.com, which customizes Web pages for payers, allowing them to participate in all revenue and to interact with their members, while cranespharmacy.com simply supports back-end operations and provides customer service. "Our strategy is to partner with the one entity that so far has had nothing to gain from the online pharmacy business: the payer," says cranepharmacy.com CEO David Crane. "The companies we're selling to say they will either buy [an online drugstore], build their own, or go with someone like us."

  • "EIP: The Second Wave"
    Intelligent Enterprise (03/01/00) Vol. 3, No. 4, P. 58; Davydov, Mark M.

    The enterprise information portal (EIP) is emerging as an important way to organize online corporate information, says Intelligent Enterprise's Mark M. Davydov. Although EIPs were introduced only a few years ago, the industry is already experiencing a second wave in the technology, as the focus of EIP shifts from broad organization to highly targeted and personalized distribution of data. Davydov says that EIP is expanding into four major areas: enterprise business intelligence portals, to connect users with the information they need; enterprise collaborative processing portals, to connect users to both the necessary information and relevant co-workers; enterprise mission management portals, to provide specialized content to enable teams to perform mission-critical management activities; and enterprise extended services portals, to organize teams of channel partners, suppliers, distributors, and customers. Davydov says intelligent agents are becoming crucial to EIP as it develops. Intelligent agents filter corporate information stores to compile such information as customer profiling, prospective customer requirements, and negotiation of prices and payment schedules.

  • "In the Know"
    Computer Business Review (02/00) Vol 8, No. 2,; Pringle, David

    Although knowledge management is a term that has been used to describe simple information processing, real knowledge management is the tapping of the tacit and implicit knowledge of a company, and creating software to meet this challenge has been a difficult task for the companies that have undertaken it. But the lack of such resources, which cost Fortune 500 companies an estimated $12 billion in 1999, will be unacceptable by 2002, when analysts say the majority of jobs will be "knowledge work." Still, some doubt exists as to how valuable information gathered by such systems will be, which has led developers to encourage extensive and consistent human input to keep systems up to date. Knowledge management also has to be able to deal with different file formats since knowledge is not limited to text, which has led to the adoption of XML--a standard Internet language recognizable by most computers--as the filing system of choice for knowledge management. Developers say knowledge management will eventually become the natural corporate culture and that the term itself will vanish. Companies currently developing knowledge management tools include GrapeVine, Orbital Software, IBM, Microsoft, SAP, Peoplesoft, and Oracle.

[ Archives ] [ Home ]