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Volume 2, Issue 139:  Friday, December 8, 2000

  • "Conference Seeks to Balance Web Security and Privacy"
    New York Times (12/08/00) P. C4; Schwartz, John

    Microsoft yesterday hosted SafeNet 2000, where high-tech leaders met to discuss security and privacy issues. One conference objective was to help the high-tech community devise standards for reporting software glitches, such as the flaws in Microsoft software that led to the Melissa and "I Love You" viruses. Microsoft would benefit from standard reporting procedures because reports about the company's software flaws are often publicized before the software giant can fix them. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said in his keynote that his company will incorporate the Platform for Privacy Preferences Project (P3P) into the next version of Internet Explorer. The new privacy features will let users decide, for example, whether their computers can accept cookies. Meanwhile, Nick Mansfield of Shell Services International lauded the European Union's consumer privacy rules, while criticizing North America's approach to privacy. Offering a similar view, Microsoft chief privacy officer Richard Purcell said consumers do not believe the U.S. tech industry is making any progress on privacy issues. In terms of security, Gates announced that Microsoft recently gave smart cards to 1,000 system administrators to control access to the company's computer networks. Barry Steinhardt of the American Civil Liberties Union observed that smart cards show the conflict of interest between security and privacy. Although smart cards improve security, they damage privacy by identifying users every time they open a door or use a PC, said Steinhardt.
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "Bugs, Viruses and User Errors Bedevil Hand-Helds"
    Wall Street Journal (12/08/00) P. B1; Tam, Pui-Wing

    The increasing reports of problems with handheld computers are a natural outgrowth of the devices' rising popularity, analysts say. Users have complained of operating-system bugs, faulty hardware, and even viruses. The problem is magnified, analysts say, because many users store their important personal information and business contacts on the devices. Losing that data, if only temporarily, can be devastating. Palm, the leading handheld maker, says it is aware of some flaws in its devices, including units that were installed with bad chips and units that sometimes lose count of the calendar when the batteries run low. Microsoft, maker of the PocketPC operating system, says it also knows of bugs in its software, but the company claims handhelds are no more vulnerable to such problems than any other computer device. However, now owners of handhelds must also worry about downloading viruses to their devices, as August saw the first virus designed specifically to infect handhelds. Handhelds can catch viruses when downloading data while docked with PCs or when exchanging data with other handhelds by infrared beam. Analysts say the problem may become more acute in the near future, when wireless handhelds are commonplace, offering a sitting target to hackers.

  • "Computer Sales Worldwide Still Healthy, IDC Asserts"
    CNet (12/07/00); Wilcox, Joe

    Worldwide computer sales will increase by almost 20 percent this quarter compared with last year's quarter, despite slow consumer PC sales in the U.S., according to an International Data (IDC) study released today. Many analysts are making abysmal predictions for the PC, with U.S. consumer PC sales this holiday season down by as much as 30 percent. However, strong global demand for portables will mitigate the weakness in the U.S. PC sector, IDC says. In the third quarter, worldwide portable sales jumped 33 percent from the same quarter last year and will see similar growth in the fourth quarter, IDC says. The Asia-Pacific region will contribute significantly to worldwide growth, with a 33.4 percent rise in shipments for the fourth quarter, excluding Japan, which will see 29.4 percent growth. Consumer PC sales worldwide will grow 19.6 percent over last year, IDC says. In addition, the business market in the U.S. might compensate for the U.S. consumer market to some extent as companies upgrade to Windows 2000, says IDC analyst Roger Kay. The long-term growth of the U.S. PC market could pick up next year, but the rate of growth will continue to slow due to market saturation, Kay says. Compaq led the worldwide PC market in the third quarter with 14 percent of the market, while Dell held 11.6 percent, IDC says. However, Dell led the U.S. market with a 19.7 percent market share, while Compaq took 17.3 percent.

  • "IT World's Paychecks Grow, But They're Working Longer for It"
    InformationWeek Online (12/06/00); Goodridge, Elisabeth

    IT workers earned larger salaries this year than last year, but also spent more hours on the job, according to a recent Meta Group report. As the labor shortage continues, salaries increased an average of 6.6 percent this year, up from 6.4 percent last year. However, IT workers globally worked 30 percent more hours, averaging 2,138 hours per year. For U.S. workers, hours increased 36 percent with the average employee putting in 2,157 hours per year. The increase in work hours is due to increased corporate technology spending, the report says. Technology spending at U.S. firms accounted for 8.7 percent of gross revenues this year, up from 3.4 percent last year. Despite the higher salaries, the U.S. turnover rate rose from 8.4 percent last year to 11.4 percent this year.

  • "Like Garden.com, More E-Tailers Dying on the Vine"
    Los Angeles Times (12/07/00) P. A1; Piller, Charles

    Garden.com last week became the latest e-tailer to fall victim to the ongoing dot-com shakeout. Although the five-year-old site brought in over half a million visitors each month and was on track every quarter, the company could not raise any more money without turning a profit, says Garden.com CEO Cliff Sharples. Online sales are expected to bring in about $10 billion from about 35 million consumers this holiday season, but only about 2.2 percent of total retail sales take place over the Internet, experts say. A poor showing this holiday season could send dozens of e-tailers on their way to collapse. Only 12 to 14 of the remaining publicly traded all-Internet retailers will still be around in July, predicts Goldman Sachs analyst Anthony Noto. Likely candidates for collapse include eToys, Egghead.com, PlanetRX, and Vitaminshoppe.com, Noto says. During last year's holiday season Internet retailers had few concerns as investors showered them with money. Without the expense of running brick-and-mortar stores, e-tailers seemed poised for success. However, startup costs proved higher than expected and fierce competition led many companies to sell items below cost. Furthermore, consumers complained about poor customer service and unreliable technology at many dot-coms. Privacy concerns also prevent many shoppers from entering their credit-card numbers online. However, mail-order companies such as L.L. Bean are gaining ground in online retail by leveraging their catalog-sales models. In the future, online retail sites are expected to play a large role in driving sales at real-world stores. E-tailers will help generate $500 billion in sales by 2005, mostly by providing information for consumers who purchase the items later at physical stores, according to Forrester Research.

  • "Cybercrimes Face Lax Prosecution"
    Associated Press (12/06/00); Strope, Leigh

    A survey of 52 countries has concluded that a dearth of cybercrime laws means that companies must fend for themselves against computer hacking attacks and the dissemination of computer viruses. "The long arm of the law does not yet reach across the global Internet," said Bruce W. McConnell, president of McConnell International, the company that conducted the survey. The scant number of cybercrime laws makes prosecution of computer crimes difficult, the report says. The United States has laws against all types of computer crime but computer forgery, while Japan only lacks laws covering the spread of viruses, according to the report. The report states that the Philippines is the only country with comprehensive cybercrime laws. The report also found that 10 countries have laws for five or fewer forms of computer crime; nine have laws for six or more forms; and 33 have no computer crime laws whatsoever, although 17 are working to pass such laws.

  • "A Race to Feed the Web's Voracious Appetite"
    Financial Times (12/07/00) P. 11; Harvey, Fiona

    There is some question as to whether or not the current Internet protocol version 4 (IPv4) ought to be upgraded to Internet protocol version 6 (IPv6). IPv4 can handle approximately 4 billion Internet addresses. However, the expansion of wireless technologies will eventually require that every device, whether it be a television, car, or mobile phone, have its own Internet address. There are many reasons that IPv6 has been adopted so slowly, including a lack of foresight among programmers and businesses. In order to enhance wireless commerce and help the new economy, companies should implement the newer version soon, says Vinton Cerf. Companies in the United States had first dibs on Internet addresses, so the bite of address scarcity is felt more keenly abroad. Europe, for example, stands to gain more from IPv6 implementation because it is likely to leverage wireless technology more quickly, says Giga Information's Stan Schatt. "There is a huge imbalance between the U.S. and the rest of the world on this and while American Internet companies may not see the need to move to IPv6, for the rest of the world the need is more pressing," Schatt says. Others believe that the current IPv4 system can be tweaked to handle any future Internet address needs. Currently, many ISPs can use temporary Internet addresses for users, providing Internet addresses only when a user is actually online. However mobile phone networks, which require an Internet connection, will need to have a permanent Internet address. User device addresses can be converted to IPv4, making it possible for a few IPv6 addresses to maintain a sea of IPv4 addresses, says Gartner Group's Neil Rickard. It is even possible to have large quantities of users all utilize a single public IPv4 address, Rickard says.

  • "Showing Off Tech Wizardry"
    Baltimore Sun (12/07/00) P. 1C; Hirsh, Stacey

    Several new devices and software programs are on display at the sixth annual Maryland Technology Showcase, which concludes today in Baltimore. At the conference attendees can use a handheld microscope to view a magnified image on an iMac screen. They can also check out plasma-based monitors for computers and DVDs and software that allows users to have a "conversation" with a pre-recorded voice on topics ranging from breast-cancer awareness to how to order from a menu in a Mexican restaurant. Software on display from Siebel claims to simplify the call-center operations of transit departments, allowing workers to view multiple screens of information on one screen. The conference's last day will feature an announcement on the partnership between area telecommunications firms and public schools to provide free public-service advertisements on school-related issues.
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  • "Deliveries of Faster Chips Could Be Delayed"
    Financial Times--IT Review (12/06/00) P. 5; Foremski, Tom

    Chipmakers are adopting new technological processes to produce faster chips and increase output, but must overcome several challenges before implementing the technology. Reducing chip geometries will allow more chips to be placed on each wafer, and companies such as Intel are building new fabrication plants to achieve this step. However, a shortage of steppers and scanners will delay pilot fabs by three to four months, according to K. Bala of Texas Instruments. The industry also faces the challenge of converting from 200 mm silicon wafers to 300 mm wafers, but a shortage of 300 mm wafers and a considerable learning curve will make the transition difficult, Bala speculates. Applying copper and silicon-on-insulator (SiON) technology to chip production is another major hurdle. Using copper wiring instead of aluminum can boost chip performance by as much as 30 percent, while the SiON process can improve performance by 25 percent to 30 percent. IBM is integrating both SiON and copper in a chip line scheduled to debut in 2001. Copper can be unpredictable when reacting with other materials, but Applied Materials and other semiconductor equipment suppliers have solved many problems in this area. Some manufacturers have opted to integrate software with existing chips rather than design new chips. STMicroelectronics is devising a design process that uses both hardware and software to produce customized chips, claims STMicroelectronics' Andrea Cuomo. German startup Systemonic and Intel are employing a similar methodology for their own products.

  • "Asian Nations Clash Anew With U.S. Over Internet"
    International Herald Tribune (12/06/00) P. 11; Crampton, Thomas

    On Tuesday, the dispute between Asia and the United States over dominance of the Internet intensified as Asian representatives led by the Chinese Information Minister, Wu Jichuan, asserted that the United States maintains cultural, economic, and technical control of the Web. Jichuan focused on the fees Asian countries pay for using the cables that connect the computers holding up the Internet, all of which center on the United States. Often Internet users in developing countries must send information through the United States in order to communicate, and U.S. Web users can link to sites abroad through connections financed by Asian companies. Most of the current criticism comes from countries that misapprehended the Internet and are attempting to reestablish national sovereignty, says Gregory Rohde, assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information. The billing dispute stems from proposed regulations on portions of the telecommunications industry that the United States would rather were left to the private sector to handle, says Rohde. The battle for control of Chinese character domain names also intensified as China reiterated its desire to control Chinese domain names, calling VeriSign's registration system inferior. Domain name disputes should be left in the hands of ICANN, a non-governmental organization, rather than national governments, says Rohde. The problem is ICANN was formed by the U.S. government and continues to report to the U.S. government. The Internet reduces the power of national governments, and some are unhappy with this reality, says Rohde. "The Chinese government absolutely is not saying people can't use these things, but we must find a more healthy way to manage them to ensure the protection of individuals' reputation and privacy," says Jichuan, expressing hope that this sentiment is not misinterpreted.

  • "Are Keywords Still Key?"
    ClickZ (12/05/00); Meskauskas, Jim

    The current click-through rate (CTR) for normal ad placements on the Web is about 0.51 percent while keywords on portal/search engines have a CTR of 1 percent, according to AdKnowledge's Q2 2000 Online Advertising Report. Such performance levels cause Mediasmith's chief Internet strategist Jim Meskauskas to speculate whether keywords are still a vital part of successful Internet ad campaigns. Although keyword inventory is a fluid quantity, users are conducting fewer Web searches with server engines when compared to past levels, according to Meskauskas. As a result, keyword inventory is down throughout the Internet, Meskauskas writes. Keywords may not be the optimum promotion strategy for all advertisers, and the need for keyword lists depends on whether an advertiser wants to establish direct response (DR) or branding/brand awareness, contends Meskauskas. Furthermore, low CTRs have little impact as long as companies are converting at a reasonable rate, Meskauskas comments. An advertiser who is after branding/brand awareness can make do with a short keyword list consisting of his name as well as the names of his products and even his competitors, in Meskauskas' opinion. There are other, less costly inventory sites an advertiser can utilize that will have the same amount of impact, claims Meskauskas. Meskauskas predicts that regular content sites may rise in value to equal that of keywords as more and more people become aware of "soft conversions"-- transactions where a users sees an advertiser's message and goes to the site without clicking.

  • "IBM, Siemens Unit Form Joint Venture For Magnetic Chip"
    Wall Street Journal (12/07/00) P. B10; Hechinger, John

    IBM and Siemens subsidiary Infineon have joined forces to develop products that use Magnetic Random Access Memory (MRAM) chips by 2004. MRAM could replace a large portion of the traditional Dynamic Random Access Memory market, which generates annual revenues of $30 billion. Other chipmakers are working on MRAM, but the IBM-Infineon alliance places IBM in a leadership position, says Richard Doherty of Envisioneering Group. IBM plans to spend "tens of millions of dollars" annually to develop MRAM products, according to Bijan Davari, IBM's vice president of technology and emerging products. The project will involve the participation of about 80 engineers and scientists from both companies. Potential MRAM products include laptops capable of running in standby mode for years, cell phones with 1,000 hours of battery life, and handheld computers that only need batteries recharged or replaced once a month.

  • "Isn't Life More Than Work?"
    SiliconValley.com (12/05/00); Gunn, Moira

    The fact that the employees of a dot-com company in San Francisco are beginning to move toward unionizing is no surprise due to the horrible working conditions of most dot-com workers, writes Moira Gunn. Over 30 percent of etown.com's 120 employees have signed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board. The move to unionize is likely related to the bursting of the Internet bubble, as employees realize they are working long hours in poor conditions for little besides stock options. The lagging dot-com sector is asking even more of its employees while offering them little tangible rewards, a situation that is breeding dissatisfaction. Gunn says treating employees poorly is simply bad business.

  • "Keeping it Clean"
    Internet World (12/01/00) Vol. 6, No. 23, P. 48; Isenberg, Doug

    Although forced filtering of the Internet is popular, its future is still in doubt and hinges on how broadly it is applied, writes attorney Doug Isenberg, editor of GigaLaw.com. Isenberg notes that every federal effort to regulate the Internet--including the Communications Decency Act and the Child Online Protection Act--has been struck down by the courts as unconstitutional. However, a much more narrowly written law focusing on public facilities could possibly withstand judicial scrutiny. The courts have given private employers much leeway in regulating employee use of the Internet, especially if the employees are alerted to the fact that they are being monitored, and this is not likely to change. Regardless, the author says companies that are too heavy-handed in their Internet regulation may face a backlash from workers angry at such a restrictive work environment. The author also contends that excessive "spying" could offend current privacy laws or even spur Congress to create new ones that minimize the degree to which businesses can monitor Internet use.
    For information regarding ACM's work on matters of public policy, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.

  • "Three Views of the American Dream, Tech Style"
    InformationWeek (12/04/00) No. 815, P. 208; Greenemeier, Larry

    Many foreign IT workers come to the United States because the U.S. industry offers them opportunities that are not available in their home countries. Programmer Sasha Apreleu came from St. Petersburg, Russia, to Research Triangle Park in North Carolina because he says software products have a better chance of selling in the U.S. than in Russia. In addition, Apreleu says Russia offers few jobs with high salaries and convenient locations. After developing telephone and networking systems for the Russian government for several years, Apreleu in 1998 came to work on an H-1B visa for Relativity Technologies, which makes a code-conversion tool called RescueWare. The biggest cultural difference for Apreleu, who plans to remain in the U.S., was the 9-to-5 schedule at American companies, because Russian employees tend to work variable shift hours. Subramanya Gore, an H-1B visa holder from India, also says he had to adjust to regular work hours. Gore, an IT consultant at Knightbridge Solutions in Chicago, also came to the U.S. because of the job opportunities. Another difference between the U.S. and India is the huge volumes of data that U.S. companies handle compared with Indian firms, says Gore, who plans to eventually return to India. Meanwhile, Deepak Verma worked in the U.S. for a few years and then returned to India to work at an American subsidiary located there. However, Verma felt that the bureaucracy of the Indian government interfered with his company's ability to conduct business. Indian companies also have a more hierarchical management style than do American firms, says Verma, who is now working at Dedham, Mass.-based eCredit.com

  • "Screen Wars"
    Newsweek (12/11/00) Vol. 136, No. 24, P. 66; Levy, Steven

    The race is on to create the graphic user interface of the future. Twenty years ago Apple cofounder Steve Jobs led a team that created the interface for the Macintosh computer, which was accompanied by the mouse, windows, icons, menus, and dialogue boxes. Many of these same designers, some now at different companies, today are working on new screens designs that account for the presence of the Internet. Once again, Jobs is in the picture for Apple. The company's new OS X will run its Aqua interface, now available in a beta version for $30. Aqua sizzles with its colorful screen, dialogue boxes that pulse like "sleep" lights on iMacs, transparent menus, a range of viewing choices, and entire windows that can be sucked into an icon in the storage "dock" at the bottom of the screen. However, Apple's effort has not gone without heavy criticism from Mac fans who want the browser to be an integral part of the interface. Microsoft is just as interested in redefining the interface as Apple, and the software giant expects to do so by creating a technology that abandons the old concept of opening, closing, and saving applications and embraces the new concept of a computer automatically knowing when a user wants to use, for example, the spreadsheet function instead of the word processor. "We want users to be able to run applications without even knowing it," says Microsoft's vice president of interface technologies, Kai-Fu Lee, formerly of Apple. The "Universal Canvas" will be a key part of its .NET interface. Meanwhile, the upstart Linux system now has a world-class interface thanks to Eazel, a startup company founded by former Apple executive Andy Hertzfeld. Eazel also employs Susan Kare, the artist behind the aesthetics of the Mac. Eazel offers a system shell through its free Nautilus software. In addition to Web-style navigation, the interface displays files in a manner that enables users to quickly know the content and to label their files as favorites or secrets for conducting more sophisticated searches.

  • "Sam's Folly"
    Interactive Week (12/04/00) Vol. 7, No. 49, P. 40; Brown, Doug

    FirstGov, the federal government Web portal introduced this summer, has found only 31 corporate partners to date, according to the latest figures from the General Services Administration. The government intended to partner with thousands of companies through the portal, which indexes the complete Web presence of the federal government. Of the 31 companies that have signed on to FirstGov, none has much clout in the Internet world. Software and Information Industry Association general counsel Mark Bohannon says many in the computer industry expected this. Bohannon says few companies want to agree to the requirements FirstGov imposes on its partners, which includes standards for advertising and privacy. Also, few companies want to lay out the cost needed to meet the government's fees and to negotiate with both the GSA and the non-profit group behind FirstGov, the Federal Search Foundation. However, Marty Wagner of the GSA disputes the notion that this slow start equals a failure for the young portal. "It's just starting," he says.

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