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Volume 2, Issue 120:  Friday, October 20, 2000

  • "Running on Empty"
    USA Today (10/20/00) P. 1B; Maney, Kevin

    Innovation in the U.S. high-tech industry appears temporarily frozen as technologies such as HTML reach the limits of their potential, according to attendees at this week's Agenda conference. HTML fueled a large part of the high-tech boom in recent years, but now the industry is having trouble finding new ways to use the technology, which only presents and displays information on a browser. New technologies such as Napster and streaming media provide innovative ways to use the Internet, but users cannot fully leverage these new tools without broadband connections, which few homes and small businesses have at this time. The wireless Internet is another potential area of innovation, but the wireless Web on cellular systems is not yet user friendly and third generation systems are years away. "We're running into a technological brick wall," says Microsoft senior vice president Craig Mundie. However, the industry remains confident that innovation will improve as emerging technologies such as XML, broadband, and third-generation wireless advance. Microsoft and others are embracing XML, which will allow Web sites to communicate with one another and with programs in the user's PC and wireless devices. Cable modems and DSL are advancing as well, and third-generation wireless is gaining steam in European and Japanese cities. Although these advances will help spark innovation, experts wonder whether Silicon Valley will remain at the forefront of the tech industry. The U.S. could lag Europe and Japan if wireless becomes a major driver of new technology, said venture capitalists at Agenda.

  • "Nurturing the Techie in Girls"
    Los Angeles Times (10/19/00) P. T9; McLester, Susan

    Today's school-age girls should be encouraged to take an interest in technology so that the next-generation of women will play a larger role in the digital economy, according to several recent studies. Although young girls and boys display the same skill level and interest in technology, girls tend to retreat from technology more and more as they grow older, research suggests. A recent study from the American Association of University Women shows that women receive less than 28 percent of bachelor's degrees in computer science, compared with 37 percent in 1984. Educators and parents can help increase the presence of women in the high-tech field by introducing children of both sexes to female role models in the high-tech field. For example, educators can invite successful women in the IT field to speak at schools, assign research projects on women IT leaders, and help girls take part in mentoring opportunities. Girls should also be encouraged to build objects and take them apart, read science and technology magazines, and take the most advanced science and math courses available. In addition, teachers and parents should ensure that girls and boys have equal access to computers and participate equally in computer-related activities.
    To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.

  • "Microsoft Judges to Brush Up on PC Basics"
    Bloomberg (10/19/00)

    The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Wednesday said it might hold a briefing on Nov. 14 to help the judges hearing the Microsoft antitrust case understand basic concepts of computer technology. The appeals court is considering inviting Michael H. Hites, chief technology officer of the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, to serve as a technical expert for the briefing. In addition, the court said both sides could send their own representatives to the briefing to "supplement Dr. Hites' presentation as appropriate."

  • "Privacy Treaty a Global Invasion?"
    Wired News (10/17/00); McCullagh, Declan

    A proposed treaty crafted by the Council of Europe and the United States would compromise the privacy of Internet users and the freedom of computer programmers, according to civil liberty groups. Designed to help police deal with online crimes that cross national borders, the treaty expands the surveillance authority of U.S. and European police agencies. "It's a direct assault on legal protections and constitutional protections that have been established by national governments to protect their citizens," accuses Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). Thirty civil liberty groups around the world have sent a letter insisting that the council members postpone finalizing the treaty and consult with technical and privacy experts. According to the letter, "this concept lacks sufficient specificity to ensure that it will not become an all-purpose basis to investigate individuals engaged in computer-related activity that is completely lawful." The government would police scientific innovation and discourage development of new security systems, the letter states. EPIC and other groups are also planning to stage a protest rally at a Berlin summit. Under the terms of the treaty, creating, downloading, or posting anything that can access computer systems without permission would be a crime, and software that can delete or alter computer data would be banned. People also could be ordered by authorities to reveal their pass-phrases for encryption keys. The treaty would make illegal the possession of any images that could be interpreted as children's genitals or children in sexual situations; linking to sites that feature such images would also be a crime. Each country signing the treaty would have "to establish as criminal offenses under its domestic law the infringement of copyright," while Web sites and ISPs would be required to collect data about their users.
    For information regarding ACM's activities on behalf of privacy matters, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/privacy.

  • "U.S. Relaxes Encryption Rules"
    Associated Press (10/19/00)

    The U.S. high-tech industry, as of Thursday, is allowed to export strong encryption products to 23 foreign governments, under relaxed encryption rules approved last year by the Clinton administration. The new rules allow companies to sell a wider range of security products to local and national governments. The high-tech industry lobbied for many years for looser encryption standards, and welcomes the new rules. "These rules guarantee the largest access to world markets for U.S. software security products that we've ever seen," says Business Software Alliance President Robert Holleyman. The new rules will help U.S. software companies maintain their lead in the global market, and will help international governments offer secure online services for their citizens, industry leaders say.

  • "The Place That Tech Forgot"
    Los Angeles Times (10/19/00) P. A1; Piller, Charles

    The habits of workers in the new, tech-driven economy may be breaking down the idea of community, social scientists suggest. "Technology, by erasing distance, is erasing also our sense of place," says Harvard University professor Robert D. Putnam. Consider Harriet Donnelly, who runs high-tech marketing firm Technovative. Her company has 100 employees but no central office. Her travel totals 15,000 miles each month, and she works in hotels, clients' offices, and, sometimes, at home. Neil Daswani, a manager at Yodlee, works in an office that does not have a phone system--employees call one another's cell phones. He only recently bought a bed, saying he had been too busy to think about such things. He estimates that he gets 250 emails a day on his text-message pager. Many in the social science field believe those with habits such as these risk falling into, as researcher Paul Saffo calls it, "the electronic squirrel cage," unable to separate their life from their work. Social scientists argue that people are cutting themselves off from their immediate surroundings because mobile phones, email, and other devices allow them to remain in constant communication with loved ones or co-workers. However, some researchers are wary of blaming this development only on the recent technology boom. For several decades, American workers have been becoming more mobile, they argue, as more people become free-lancers or self-employed. Also, the proliferation of malls, chain stores, and look-alike suburbs has eroded the sense of identity among different communities. Still, social scientists worry that this atmosphere of constant availability, where anyone can reach anyone else at any time through cell phones or email, is creating an atmosphere of distraction that may lead to feelings of frustration and overload.

  • "Germany Won't Tax Net Surfers at Work"
    Newsbytes (10/19/00); Stokell, Ian

    Germany has decided to nix its plans to tax the personal use of the Internet in the workplace, fearing that the proposed tax law would hurt Germany's ability to attract technology workers and would keep workers from developing needed Internet skills. The government has done a rather abrupt about-face on the issue, as just months ago the German Finance Ministry officially decreed that the personal use of the Internet in the workplace should be viewed as a taxable benefit. Frank Sarfeld, senior vice president at Bertelsmann's e-commerce unit, says the German government is serious about making Germany the top Internet country in Europe. "It would not make sense to punish workers for acquiring the Internet skills it is looking for," Sarfeld.

  • "Geeks, Proud of the Name, Start a Volunteer Corps"
    New York Times (10/19/00) P. E7; Dewan, Shaila

    High-tech workers have formed their own group aimed at narrowing the digital divide between Western countries and developing nations. Geekcorps sends IT professionals to places such as Ghana to teach such computer skills as Java and Unix. The idea for Geekcorps came from Ethan Zuckerman, who helped found Internet startup Tripod, which Lycos purchased in 1998. Zuckerman, who funded Geekcorps' $350,000 first-year budget with his own money as well as donations from high-tech colleagues, recognized the need for the Internet in developing countries while studying at the University of Ghana in 1993, when he noticed most of the books at the school's libraries were published before 1957. Although 400 of every 1,000 Americans use the Internet, only 3.5 percent of every 1,000 Africans are wired, according to the International Telecommunication Union. The United Nations is addressing the digital divide, and has sent 37 high-tech volunteers to developing countries since the beginning of August. Meanwhile, the State Department runs its Global Technology Corps, which has sponsored over 20 projects aimed at closing the digital divide since 1998. The Peace Corps is also beginning to focus on IT, and has sent 10 high-tech volunteers to Belize. Still, Geekcorps is in the best position of all of these groups to appeal to the high-tech sector, as it was founded by dot-com insiders, says Geekcorps cofounder Elisa Korentayer.
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "Crystal Clarity for the Printed Word"
    Financial Times (10/20/00) P. 13; Talacko, Paul

    A number of technologies are emerging that aim to help e-books replace their traditional print counterparts. Early attempts at selling e-books have not been widely successful, but experts such as Microsoft head researcher of e-books Bill Hill say improving the e-book reading experience is essential to making the transition to the digital format. Improving readability requires sharper text and higher resolution screens, Hill says. Microsoft has created more readable fonts such as Verdana and a technology called ClearType that sharpens letters on the screen. ClearType already offers higher resolution than newsprint, and Hill predicts that liquid crystal displays (LCDs) will provide higher resolution than glossy magazines within two years. Meanwhile, John Feldcamp, CEO of electronic publisher Xlibris, concurs with Hall's prediction that the digital format will replace paper within 20 years. However, Feldcamp says higher resolution screens are the key to widespread adoption of e-books, noting that Microsoft technology alone will not be enough to improve image quality. Toshiba is also betting on high-resolution screens, and believes its polysilicon technology will help it make more robust LCDs with improved resolution and reduced power consumption to allow for lighter batteries. Meanwhile, some e-book experts believe high-resolution screens will not ensure the technology's popularity among consumers, who like the feel of printed books. To address this issue, some researchers are working to create flexible sheets of plastic and electronic ink that would approximate the experience of reading a traditional book.

  • "EarthLink Flaw Exposes Domains"
    ZDNet (10/17/00); Lemos, Robert

    A software flaw and an improperly protected file exposed the passwords to 81,000 domain accounts held by MindSpring, a subsidiary of EarthLink. EarthLink has begun an investigation of the incident but says no consequences have resulted as of yet from the exposed passwords. A Dog Owner's Network, the Web site that ran the flawed software, said its customers' credit-card numbers were never exposed. A Dog Owner's Network was using Web Store, shopping cart software from Extropia. A flaw in this program allows users to access files on a server on which it has been installed. This alone is not a serious threat, security experts said, but a file on the MindSpring server holding the encrypted passwords to the accounts of some 81,000 users did not have the proper protection. Security experts have yet to discover why the file lacked protection. Some have suggested that access to the file could have been misadjusted, while others have speculated the flawed Web Store software may have been given "superuser" status. A spokesperson for EarthLink said the breach may have resulted from an outdated server. Security experts said users should not overreact to the situation. Anyone gaining access to the encrypted passwords might not have been able to very much with them, says the security consultant Rain Forest Puppy, explaining that "if you can't log in with those passwords, all you can do is trivial stuff." While Extropia was aware of the flaw in its software, many of the sites that run Web Store were not.

  • "Candidates Offer Insights to Net Policies"
    CNet (10/17/00); Jacobus, Patricia

    Tuesday night's debate between Al Gore and George W. Bush provided insight into the shape of each presidential candidate's Internet policy. Responding to a question about the plethora of pornography and bad language in movies, music, and other entertainment media, Bush called attention to his support of a GOP-led bill that cracks down on Internet smut. This bill, sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), has been added to a spending bill that may be voted upon this week. The McCain-Santorum bill ties federal funding for public schools and libraries to the installation of Internet filters on those institutions' computers. The bill will ensure that "if kids get on the Internet, there's not going to be pornography or violence coming in," said Bush. A coalition of conservatives, civil libertarians, and industry representatives is opposing the bill. Gore said he supports technology that allows parents to monitor their kids' Internet surfing with the click of the mouse. Gore also said "Internet-based activities" could provide farmers with additional income during lean times.

  • "Internet Rain Puts a Bloom on the Business-to-Business Marketplace"
    Financial Times--IT (10/18/00) P. 1; Newing, Rod

    The number of electronic business-to-business (B2B) marketplaces continues to expand and will total 3,000 by 2001 and 20,000 by 2003, according to Net Market Makers. The rise of B2B exchanges surprised many observers, who expected e-commerce to eliminate intermediaries from the transaction process. Instead, B2B exchanges have attracted buyers and sellers alike by providing lower transaction costs, lower prices for goods and services, higher sales volume, lower inventory, and quicker delivery. The exchanges have improved efficiency along the supply chain and have created a means of integration for fragmented markets. At their present rate of growth, B2B exchanges will account for 65 percent of business-to-business transactions worldwide, a market worth $47,000 billion, and the exchanges could claim as much as $400 billion of that if they charge subscription or transaction fees, according to Credit Suisse First Boston. Both private and independent exchanges have emerged. Private B2B exchanges, often formed by competitors within an industry, face scrutiny from regulators who believe such marketplaces could hinder competition. Both private and independent exchanges must convince buyers and sellers that they are liquid enough to succeed. However, while the number of exchanges has grown, the number of industries they serve has remained constant, and observers believe consolidation of many exchanges is inevitable. Indeed, John Thorpe of European B2B-exchange provider Ventro believes there will be a complete consolidation of all marketplaces. He says, "It will take more than 10 years to get them working together, but then they will amount to the total economy."

  • "Temps Rule in Big Reversal, Unions Open Up"
    Interactive Week (10/16/00) Vol. 7, No. 42, P. 10; Brown, Doug

    The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Aug. 25 decided to allow temporary workers into labor unions, in a major shift of U.S. labor policy that could lead to labor organization in the high-tech industry. The decision, which reverses almost 30 years of rulings and goes into effect immediately, allows contingent workers to join the unions of the firms at which they are temporarily employed. The NLRB wrote in its decision that past rulings had "erred," and that "a growing number of employees who are part of what is commonly described as the 'contingent work force' are being effectively denied representational rights guaranteed them under the National Labor Relations Act." However, the decision is not likely to immediately impact high-tech companies, few of which participate in collective bargaining, says Washington Alliance of Technology Workers (WashTech) cofounder Marcus Courtney. Still, WashTech and other labor groups are working to unionize high-tech workers, who face job security concerns and increasingly long work weeks. Traditionally, the large number of contingent workers in the high-tech industry has been a barrier to organizing workers, but the situation is now beginning to change, says Courtney.

  • "Who's In Charge of IT?"
    InformationWeek (10/16/00) No. 808, P. 50; Swanson, Sandra; Goodridge, Elisabeth

    Managing IT operations and projects in an era when technology is fast becoming integral to every business process demands that IT managers have as much general business experience as technical experience. Meanwhile, business managers must possess an understanding of what is applicable, practical, or even possible from the IT department. "If you don't understand the [overall] business extremely well, it's hard to deliver the right [IT] capability to the businesses," says Ford Motor CIO and vice president Jim Yost, a 26-year Ford veteran who has spent most of that time in finance. Yost typifies the sort of manager many large organizations, particularly established, so-called Old Economy firms, are seeking to run their IT operations. New Economy e-business organizations, on the other hand, are more likely to place overall IT responsibility in the hands of the chief technology officer (CTO). In these organizations, the CTO is increasingly responsible for product development, strategic marketing, partnership alliances, and keeping current with emerging technologies, while responsibility for day-to-day IT matters is allocated to the CIO or equivalent officer. No matter whether the organization at issue is a New or Old Economy firm, the CEO must be involved in IT decision-making. Many CEOs are now initiating IT projects, and many CIOs now report directly to the CEO. However, "superficial involvement of a CEO is detrimental, but committed and knowledgeable involvement is quite valuable," observes Boise Cascade information systems director Robert Egan.

  • "Is the PC Boom Over?"
    Newsweek (10/23/00) Vol. 136, No. 17, P. 48; Stone, Brad

    Although personal computer makers are quick to blame everything from a weak European market to consumers' concerns about the economy, Wall Street does not agree that these factors are responsible for slowing PC sales growth. After recording slow sales at stores and an increase in shipments of just 0.3 percent through the first six months of the year, PC makers saw their stocks sent scurrying after several companies came forward with their profit forecasts. Over the past few weeks Apple fell 65 percent and Dell sunk 37 percent. Market observers tend to believe the market is saturated, and that PC makers can no longer expect to see the 15 percent to 20 percent growth rates they enjoyed during the mid 1990s. Many businesses and consumers already own PCs and are waiting longer to replace them. Odyssey says 57 percent of households now have PCs. Gartner Dataquest analyst Martin Reynolds does not think PC makers will have much success selling computers to households that do not have computers. "We're looking at households that have very limited resources or have no need for a PC," he says. Reynolds sees growth possibly stopping completely by 2002. PC makers are also expecting slimmer profits because consumers are buying low-end models, which now have enough processing power to access the Internet and run popular software.

  • "DNS Security Upgrade Promises a Safer 'Net"
    Network World (10/16/00) Vol. 17, No. 42, P. 1; Marsan, Carolyn Duffy

    The new DNSSEC security technology will prevent spoof attacks on the Internet, but it must overcome a number of obstacles before it can be widely adopted. DNSSEC will fix a glitch in the Internet Domain Name System (DNS) that allows hackers to easily hijack Web traffic to alternate sites. The technology lets a Web site's DNS server use public-key encryption to transmit a digital signature to the local DNS server, thereby ensuring the site's authenticity. Last month DNSSEC was released in BIND 9 open source software, a total rewrite of the open source code that runs most DNS servers. BIND 9 will be bundled with operating systems from Hewlett-Packard, Sun, Red Hat, and others next year, which will greatly facilitate the upgrade to DNSSEC. Although DNSSEC improves security, it requires administrators to devote more setup and management time to their DNS servers. DNSSEC also uses more network bandwidth and places new processing and memory requirements on DNS servers. Some observers say the additional effort required with DNSSEC will hamper the technology's adoption. However, new management tools are emerging from companies such as IPWorks, which next year plans to release a version of its IP address management software that supports DNSSEC. Meanwhile, companies such as Nominum and Ultra-DNS intend to offer outsourced services for DNSSEC. Another difficulty in upgrading to DNSSEC is that ICANN has not yet decided how to modify root and top-level domain servers to support DNSSEC.

  • "Tech Industry Doubles Its Campaign Contributions"
    Washington Business Journal (10/19/00) Vol. 19, No. 23, P. 16; Hoover, Kent

    The high-tech industry is now among the top 10 industries making political contributions. According to research by the Center for Responsive Politics, high-tech companies contributed $22 million to campaigns this year, which ranks the industry ninth just ahead of oil and gas companies. And high-tech firms have something to show for their contributions, namely support for more H-1B visas, permanent normal trade relations with China, and binding digital signatures. Just a few years ago high-tech firms were much more reluctant to funnel their money to politicians. For example, the industry contributed just $9.48 million in 1998, and $8.89 million in 1996. Microsoft and America Online are the most generous givers. Their contributions account for more than 20 percent of the contributions from the high-tech industry. Although Democrats have received more than half of high-tech contributions, the industry is not neglecting its friends in the Republican Party. For instance, Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.), an advocate of raising the H-1B visa limit, has hauled in more than $200,000 from the industry. For the most part, the industry considers its approach to be nonpartisan. Although the industry likes the economic vision of Republicans, tech workers favor the social agenda of Democrats. Firms see the industry as "a moderating force" that must be wary of Republican censorship policies for the Internet and Democratic over-regulation of the new economy.

  • "Enforcing Moore's Law"
    Business 2.0 (10/10/00) Vol. 5, No. 19, P. 232; Orenstein, David

    Design engineers and chipmakers are researching new ways to extend the life of silicon as the primary building material of semiconductors. Moore's Law states that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every two years, thus increasing chip performance and shrinking chip size. Semiconductor industry revenue is expected to grow from $222 billion this year to $320 billion in 2004, predicts GartnerGroup's Dataquest unit. Chipmakers are pushing to develop innovative methods to fabricate smaller silicon chips. The lithography process uses short wavelengths of light to etch circuits on chip wafers. With the move from visible light lithography to ultraviolet light lithography, the next generation of chip transistors is expected to be 157 nanometers. Extreme ultraviolet light lithography must be carried out in a vacuum and requires equipment made with mirrors instead of lenses. Wafers will require different light-sensitive chemicals and masks may need to be reflective as well. Furthermore, developing new lithography methods is costly. The gradual thinning of silicon dioxide in chip production leads to insulation breakdown, so the industry is looking for alternative materials. IBM has been replacing aluminum wires with copper to boost chip speed since 1997 and is using Dow's SiLK technology as a between-wire insulating material. IBM is also researching silicon-on-insulator technology to fix leaky transistors, but some companies do not think the improved chip performance is worth the associated cost increases and manufacturing upgrades. Another IBM project under consideration is the use of electron beams rather than light waves to etch chip transistors, says director of silicon technology John Warlaumont.

  • "Internet Has Just Begun to Change Government"
    Government Computer News (10/16/00) Vol. 19, No. 30, P. 21; Ryan, Stephen M.

    The Aspen Institute of Washington recently held a meeting to discuss what effect information technology will have on democracy. The invention of radio and television transformed politics, but voter participation has declined since 1900--so it appears that the Internet may not be able to transform politics again. The meeting participants were worried that a few giants such as Microsoft and America Online could dominate access to the Internet and online content, and they were also concerned about attempts to control the privatized domain system. The recent election at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) saw far more citizens from Asia vote than the 20,000 Americans who registered, and meeting participants wondered if the U.S. thus gave up control of domain name and routing systems to Asian corporation members. They believe that more states will emulate Arizona, which permitted online voting in its Democratic presidential primary and saw a high turnout. They also noted that deliberation and good manners are generally missing from online debates, and brought up the fact that ordinary political campaign Web sites can suddenly become important--as did Sen. John McCain's when he got donations from supporters using credit cards. Politicians in the future will be using targeted email to reach voters with personal messages. The Internet allows odd ballot initiatives to garner petition signatures, but participants pointed out that the initiatives could revive citizen involvement in the political system. The Internet could improve governmental mission delivery and administration, but it will be a while before politicians use the Internet to change the democratic process.
    For information regarding ACM's work on matters of public policy, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.

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