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Rocky Mountain Forest

1998 on the Web
Daily Technology Diary

Rocky Mountain Forest
  March 1998  

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Monday, March 2  

Get ready to hear a lot about Microsoft Corporation and its chairman, Bill Gates this week. They seem to be right in the middle of just about everything. In U.S. District Court in San Jose, Ca. there's still no word today from Judge Ronald Whyte about Sun Microsystem's request for an injunction preventing Microsoft from using the Java logo. In Redmond, Wash., Microsoft's home, there comes an announcement about Microsoft's Internet Explorer Web browser and Internet Service Providers. And Gates, Sun's Scott McNealy, and Netscape Communications Jim Barksdale prepare to testify before a Senate sub-committee in Washington, D.C. investigating software industry practices. Whew!

Microsoft has agreed to drop some of the requirements it imposes on U.S. Internet Service Providers in its cross-promotional licensing deals, the company said Friday. This move is seen as an effort to cool the momentum of the U.S. Department of Justice in its actions against Microsoft related to unfair competitive practices. Microsoft's deals with ISPs have been the focus of regulatory inquiries both in Europe and the United States. The company's latest move comes amid continuing antitrust investigations, which include this week's congressional hearings on industry competition. U.S. lawmakers have questioned provisions of deals that allegedly forbid some ISPs from telling some of their new customers about the existence of Web browsers that compete with Microsoft's Internet Explorer, such as Netscape Communications' Navigator. The decision affects about ten to 15 ISPs in the United States--including EarthLink, my ISP--and 30 ISPs in Europe.

Gates, meanwhile, said he welcomed the chance to speak about competition in the computer industry, a topic that has dogged his company in recent months. "This is an amazing business that has thrived as a deregulated business", said Gates. Speaking to reporters, Gates made his remarks in anticipation of tomorrow's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, called "Market Power and Structural Change in the Software Industry." In addition to Gates, top executives from some of the industry's other software titans also will attend, including Barksdale, McNealy, Michael Dell of Dell Computer, and Doug Burgum of Great Plains Software. Gates also said that Windows 98, the successor to the Windows 95 operating system, is slated to ship by midyear despite a flurry of investigations by the Justice Department and at least 2 dozen state attorneys general.

Should be an exciting week, are you ready?

Thought for the day: "A computer program will always do what you tell it to do, but rarely what you want to do."



Tuesday, March 3  

Because of a very busy day today, my knowledge of the goings on at the U.S. Senate Judiciary hearings with software industry bigwigs is limited to a few sound bites, and perusal of the online news summaries. I haven't had a chance yet to read through all the testimony like I wanted, so I'll comment on my conclusions from the little I heard. It seemed to me that everyone looked bad today. Scott McNealy, chairman of Sun Microsystems, and Jim Barksdale, chairman of Netscape Communications came off as whiners, wanting the government to reign in Microsoft, but not to touch them with regulation. Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft Corporation, and the brunt of the majority of the criticism, was placed in a no-win situation. I feel he scored points merely by showing up. And the biggest losers today were the Senators themselves, particular those from the Republican party, generally regarded as pro-business.

My favorite quote came from Senator Slade Gorton of Washington, Microsoft's home state: "It is truly a strange day when business speaks out against free enterprise and promotes big government." Referring to comments by Sun's McNealy regarding Microsoft's alleged anti-competitive practices, Gorton echoed my sentiments that if the government jumps into the software fray full-time with regulation, the days of the free-spirited, independent software industry as an innovative economic force will be short lived. And we the consumers will suffer even more than we may now with Microsoft having a 90% corner on the personal computing operating system market. What's your opinion?

I've got to ask, why wasn't Steve Jobs, interim chairman of Apple Computer, invited to this proceeding? If there is any one company that has truly suffered the anguish of Microsoft's monopoly in the PC OS arena over the years, it is Apple.

All but one of NASA's 15 campuses, including its headquarters in Washington, were the targets of "denial of service" attacks yesterday evening, according to a spokesman. NASA systems managers said that, while the attacks cost them time, there was no reported data loss or other permanent damage. The attacks, which affected computers running Microsoft Windows NT and Windows 95 operating systems, were of the type known variously as "New Tear," "Bonk," or "Boink," according to a Microsoft security product manager. The attacks made computers crash and caused what is known as the "blue screen of death"--a reference to the blue screen that accompanies Microsoft's "fatal error" message. Microsoft is working with affected NASA centers and educational institutions to hunt the source of the attacks. Systems were restored simply by rebooting the computers. In some cases the computers were programmed to reboot automatically in response to the attack, so users returned to work this morning without any knowledge that their computers had been targeted. Simply put, a "denial of service" attack essentially fools servers into thinking they are going to receive a certain type of data packet and then sends a different kind. The server then hangs up, waiting for the kind of packet it has been promised, but the packet never arrives.

Thought for the day: "Life is what happens while you are making other plans." - John Lennon



Wednesday, March 4  

How tough could it be to change the year from 1999 to 2000, you ask? Well, computers may be smart, but their programmers weren't very farsighted. In the '60s and '70s, many businesses were looking to cut costs. And since computer storage space was pricey at the time, programmers cut year dates to two digits (i.e., 1969 became 69). It doesn't sound like a big deal, but these machines are more date-sensitive than you might think. Computers routinely add and subtract digits in a date to make a variety of logical calculations, ranging from travel reservations to how much interest you've accrued on your savings account. The problem lies in the fact that many computers designate century data using only two digits, 00, and will read 2000 as 1900. And the bug affects more than just computer systems. Many manufacturers have built products with software instructions embedded onto chips; equipment ranging from fax machines to auto assembly lines could all be affected by the bug. See where this might cause some problems?

The two primary approaches to remedying the problem are to expand the date fields to four digits or to add code that looks at those two existing digits and appends the proper century. To do this, code writers must first find all the dates, which could get tricky because of unconventional date coding by programmers. The code folks must then identify all instances in which an organization or corporation exchanges data electronically. Unless both exchanging parties are 2000-compliant, either could become easily contaminated by the noncompliant system. These changes don't come cheap. The consulting firm Gartner Group estimates up to $600 billion will be spent worldwide to rewrite 250 billion lines of code. Even more daunting is the testing of these changes, which could be the most time-consuming part of the process. If those affected by the Millennium Bug can't correct all the problems by Dec. 31, 1999, they must establish priorities and contingency plans to tackle the most important issues first.

While Y2K issues for PCs have been pretty well documented, Mac users look like they'll be able to squeak by relatively unscathed. Perhaps it's because of its 1984 introduction, four years after the first IBM PC went on sale. Or maybe it was just plain old common sense. But the Mac OS has always been Year 2000-savvy, even on that first 128k machine (before it was called the Mac OS). Here's the reason: The original Mac's date and time utilities store the date as one long number, counting up the seconds from January 1, 1904, 'til whatever the current time is. This plan is not foolproof, however, for while it handles 2000 with nary a shudder, it has a 6:28:16 a.m., February 6, 2040, problem. That's because the original scheme alotted only enough space to count the seconds until that moment in time. Current versions of the Mac OS have moved on to a more forward-thinking time-storage system (a 64-bit signed value, if you must know), which should allow it to keep on ticking until the year 29,940 -- and count back to 30,081 B.C. (handy for archeologists).

Thought for the day: "The saddest moment in a person's life comes but once."



Thursday, March 5  

After approximately a year and a half of delays, Sun Microsystems is finally going to release its JavaStation for general commercial use at the end of this month. Most likely, the release will coincide with Sun's JavaOne conference in San Francisco, which will take place during the week of March 23. Introduced as a concept to great fanfare in early 1996, the JavaStation was touted as an inexpensive, easy-to-manage desktop that would promote the use of programs written in Sun's Java computer language. Indirectly, the JavaStation would also weaken Microsoft's grip on the computing platforms of corporate America. JavaStations were to be released in late 1996 for $750 to $1,000. Unfortunately for Sun, the ability of competitors to copy the low-cost desktop concept outpaced its ability to roll out JavaStations. Desktop prices plummeted drastically in 1997, first in consumer markets and later in corporate markets. Corporate computers using 200-MHz Pentium MMX chips now sell for under $900 and will sell for $800 within a few weeks. In the meantime, Sun had difficulty in working out all of the kinks with its JavaStation platform, especially the JavaOS and HotJava productivity application bundle, said sources. A computer engineer who participated in a JavaStation demonstration in June of 1997 said that the HotJava email client, for instance, took "about ten minutes to load." Demonstration units of the JavaStation were released in October 1996, and Sun was to begin shipping in December of that year. Pushed back to February 1997, the JavaStation general commercial release was then moved back again to midyear and then to October of 1997. Do you want one?

The Home Radio Frequency Working Group has been established to back a wireless networking standard for the home. The ten companies forming the working group include Microsoft, Intel, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Motorola, Phillips, Proxim, Symbionics, and Ericsson. Their vision is to have display screens around the house that access a home server, handheld computers that synchronize data with other digital devices, and a cordless phone system with all the perks of those found in large companies. The best solution is a radio-frequency network. At present, security and prohibitive cost are the limiting factors. For these reasons,
Tut Systems, a solution provider supported by Microsoft's Windows 98, has targeted phone line networking as the key to home networks. Able to reach 10 megabits/second speeds without interfering with phone calls, such a network is as good as a corporate Ethernet. Still, a phone line network requires the device to plug into the wall. The vision of the HRFWG is still a number of years off.

Thought for the day: "Everyone thinks about changing the world, but no one thinks about changing himself." - Leo Tolstoy



Friday, March 6  

There is a high probability that water ice exists at both the north and south poles of the Moon, according to initial scientific data returned by NASA's Lunar Prospector. The Discovery Program mission also has produced the first operational gravity map of the entire lunar surface, which should serve as a fundamental reference for all future lunar exploration missions, project scientists announced this week at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA. Just two months after the launch of the cylindrical spacecraft, mission scientists have solid evidence of the existence of lunar water ice, including estimates of its volume, location and distribution. "We are elated at the performance of the spacecraft and its scientific payload, as well as the resulting quality and magnitude of information about the Moon that we already have been able to extract," said Dr. Alan Binder, Lunar Prospector Principal Investigator from the Lunar Research Institute, Gilroy, CA.

The presence of water ice at both lunar poles is strongly indicated by data from the spacecraft's neutron spectrometer instrument, according to mission scientists. Graphs of data ratios from the neutron spectrometer "reveal distinctive 3.4 percent and 2.2 percent dips in the relevant curves over the northern and southern polar regions, respectively," Binder said. "This is the kind of data 'signature' one would expect to find if water ice is present." However, the Moon's water ice is not concentrated in polar ice sheets, mission scientists cautioned. "While the evidence of water ice is quite strong, the water 'signal' itself is relatively weak," said Dr. William Feldman, co-investigator and spectrometer specialist at the Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory, NM. "Our data are consistent with the presence of water ice in very low concentrations across a significant number of craters." Using models based on other Lunar Prospector data, Binder and Feldman predict that water ice is confined to the polar regions and exists at only a 0.3 percent to 1 percent mixing ratio in combination with the Moon's rocky soil.

How much lunar water ice has been detected? Assuming a water ice depth of about a foot and a half (.5 meters) -- the depth to which the neutron spectrometer's signal can penetrate -- Binder and Feldman estimate that the data are equivalent to an overall range of 11 million to 330 million tons (10-300 million metric tons) of lunar water ice, depending upon the assumptions of the model used. This quantity is dispersed over 3,600 to 18,000 square miles (10,000-50,000 square kilometers) of water ice-bearing deposits across the northern pole, and an additional 1,800 to 7,200 square miles (5,000-20,000 square kilometers) across the southern polar region. Furthermore, twice as much of the water ice mixture was detected by Lunar Prospector at the Moon's north pole as at the south.

There are various ways to estimate the economic potential of the detected lunar water ice as a supporting resource for future human exploration of the Moon. One way is to estimate the cost of transporting that same volume of water ice from Earth to orbit. Currently, it costs about $10,000 to put one pound of material into orbit. NASA is conducting technology research with the goal of reducing that figure by a factor of 10, to only $1,000 per pound. Using an estimate of 33 million tons from the lower range detected by Lunar Prospector, it would cost $60 trillion to transport this volume of water to space at that rate, with unknown additional cost of transport to the Moon's surface. The third launch in NASA's Discovery Program of lower cost, highly focused planetary science missions, Lunar Prospector is being implemented for NASA by Lockheed Martin, Sunnyvale, CA, with mission management by NASA Ames. The total cost to NASA of the mission is $63 million.

Thought for the day: "When I was young, I could remember anything, whether it happened or not." - Mark Twain



Saturday, March 7  

Thanks to a translation service provided by Systran Software and AltaVista, 1998 on the Web can now be enjoyed in French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish in addition to the original English. The front page, the Tips and Tools, 1998 predictions, visitor comments, and awards pages now all have 6 different language versions to demonstrate the global reach of the World Wide Web.

To choose the language you prefer, simply go to 1998 on the Web's home page with the navigation bar at the top of each page, and select the country flag for the language you wish to display. Navigation from then on will remain in your language of choice. I do not speak any of the languages on the menu besides English, so I can't vouch for things like grammar and context. Hopefully none of the software generated translations will be offensive to anyone. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts about this new feature of 1998 on the Web.

For now, this diary will remain English only, it is difficult enough to work a full-time job during the day, and then provide daily commentary on the goings-on in the world of the Internet and the computer industry. Rest assured, though, I am working diligently at creating an automated method of translation for each daily diary entry. Look for the translation feature to be included for the diary in the coming weeks. In the mean time, enjoy the rest of the site in 6 languages, and keep coming back for more.

Thought for the day: "If you love what you do, you'll never work another day in your life."



Sunday, March 8  

c|net has a nice feature article this week entitled The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Surfers. If you are a Net newbie, or even a regular who wants to tune up their browsing skills, this article has some good tips for improving the speed and usefulness of your Web experience.

For a change,
Microsoft Corporation took the offensive in a court matter by suing German computer magazine PC Welt for allegedly giving detailed instructions on how to use Microsoft products illegally. The magazine has been cautioned and told to recall its March issue, Microsoft said. PC Welt denied the accusations that it had incited its readers to commit software piracy. Microsoft said the magazine detailed how the protective mechanism of the Windows operating system could be bypassed. Microsoft said it has tried in vain to get the magazine to issue a distancing statement in its next edition.

The brackets and seedings are out for the 1998 NCAA Men's and Women's basketball championships. Did your favorite team get in? Mine did, the West Virginia University Mountaineers will play the Temple Owls in Boise, Idaho on Thursday, March 12th. You can check out all the schedules at the
ESPN Sportszone.

Software Money-Back GuaranteeIf you've ever purchased "lemon" software and had no recourse for satisfaction, a movement is underway to notify software vendors of what is expected. Sponsored by Jesse Berst's Anchordesk at Ziff-Davis Net, the Software Money-Back Guarantee petition is a campaign to compel software makers to stand behind the products they sell. Click on the graphic to find out more.

Thought for the day: "Imagine if every Thursday your shoes exploded if you tied them the usual way. This happens to us all the time with computers, and nobody thinks of complaining." - Jeff Raskin


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