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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 9  

Not long after America Online raised its prices to $21.95 a month, MCI Internet, operated by long-distance provider MCI, has responded by offering monthly Net access for $14.95. The pricing strategy (which is only available to MCI long-distance customers) could be the beginning of a trend by telecommunications companies to undercut smaller ISPs. The new pricing plan is mainly a way to get a competitive edge against MCI's long-distance competitors. But it has the side effect of undercutting regional ISPs, which usually charge about $19.95 a month. Telecommunications behemoths, such as MCI, own their own backbones and can offer packages of low rates, consolidated billing, and national network access to their customers. This offers them an advantage over ISPs that lack such extensive resources.

Microsoft Corporation argued today that a judge's order requiring it to offer its Windows 95 operating system without its Internet browser components is based on a legal interpretation that "does not make sense." In final written arguments to a federal appeals court, the software giant said the order should be vacated because it is based on a mistaken interpretation of its 1995 agreement settling federal antitrust charges. Microsoft is asking the appeals court to vacate the December 11 order issued by U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson and to dismiss the Justice Department's charges that the company is in violation of the antitrust settlement. The company contends the case should have ended when Jackson failed to find it in contempt for violating the consent decree, as the DOJ had asked. Instead, Jackson issued a preliminary injunction requiring that Microsoft offer computer manufacturers a version of Windows 95 without the Internet Explorer browser. "Every software company, including Microsoft, must have the ability to continually innovate and continually create new features for consumers," Microsoft spokesman Mark Murray said. "We believe the preliminary injunction would have a chilling effect on innovation throughout the software industry."

Thought for the day: "The most overlooked advantage of owning a computer is that if they foul up there's no law against whacking them around a little." - Porterfield



Tuesday, March 10  

Apple Computer plans to develop portable and TV set-top entertainment devices that offer Internet access and play everything from music CDs to DVD movies. The computer maker is hoping to capitalize on the convergence of consumer electronics and PC technologies, refashioning itself in the face of dwindling market share and a struggling financial picture. This also appears to be the first tangible evidence of a major project conceived by interim CEO Steve Jobs. The top-secret project could thrust Apple back into the high-tech industry's limelight if, as planned, the company combines a WebTV-like Internet access device with a CD or DVD player to create an easy-to-use, low-cost computing device. The entertainment devices would hook up to the server computers of Internet service providers. The devices are expected to be able to connect to any ISP running any operating system on its servers--which contrasts with WebTVs, which must use special server software. But Apple apparently hopes the devices will connect with servers that use Rhapsody, its upcoming next-generation operating system. As a final component to the strategy, Apple could offer content developers tools based on its QuickTime technology to create multimedia content and WebObjects software to build e-commerce ready Internet sites.

Simply stated, it's network etiquette -- that is, the etiquette of cyberspace. And "etiquette" means "the forms required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be required in social or official life." In other words, Netiquette is a set of rules for behaving properly online. When you enter any new culture -- and cyberspace has its own culture -- you're liable to commit a few social blunders. You might offend people without meaning to. Or you might misunderstand what others say and take offense when it's not intended. To make matters worse, something about cyberspace makes it easy to forget that you're interacting with other real people -- not just ASCII characters on a screen, but live human characters. So, partly as a result of forgetting that people online are still real, and partly because they don't know the conventions, well-meaning cybernauts, especially new ones, make all kinds of mistakes.

With that in mind, I intend to present a short feature on Netiquette for the next several days. Most of the ideas come from the book Netiquette by Virginia Shea from Albion Books.

In the latest instance of Internet service providers placing limits on so-called unlimited access,
AT&T WorldNet acknowledged today that it has been cutting off users after three hours during peak times. Although the practice was part of a test that concluded yesterday, WorldNet spokesman Mike Keady said the company probably will make it policy. Keady said WorldNet had to institute the policy to save the network from overcrowding. "We implemented the time-out simply because some people are hogging the network," he said. "We found that 4 percent of users were using 50 percent of the resources." Keady said WorldNet ran the disconnect tests after noticing that its success rates for users connecting to the service the first time they dialed it were dropping despite WorldNet's efforts to strengthen its network. WorldNet claims its connection success rates are higher than the industry average. WorldNet, which provides Internet access for $19.95 per month, is not alone among unlimited-service providers curtailing usage in some way. In January, IBM Internet Connection Services announced it put a 100-hour limit on its $19.95-per-month "unlimited" access plan. IBM implements an hourly fee after that. And citing increased network costs among other factors, America Online last month announced it will increase its monthly charge by 10 percent to $21.95, starting with the April billing cycle. Both IBM's time limit and AOL's rate hike met with hostility from users, but neither company has backed down from its decision.

Thought for the day: "The Future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is." --Clive Staples Lewis



Wednesday, March 11  

Macromedia is introducing relatively low-cost software designed to unify the production environment for creating and optimizing graphics for the Web. Company executives are touting Fireworks as software that simplifies Internet image creation for designers who now use several applications to lay out text, compose text and bitmap images, and then optimize the GIF size. The change back and forth causes chronic complaint among graphics professionals. Other Web-focused features include the ability to "slice" an image for faster downloading and then export the component graphics and the HTML table for reassembly in the viewer's browser. Fireworks also has a built-in "image map layer" to simplify assignment of URL links, and a button generation feature which produces up, down, rollover, and hit states for button graphics. Because it's limited to Internet graphics, Fireworks is able to undercut the combined price of image creation and image compression software. Fireworks will sell for $299, while Adobe Photoshop and Debabelizer together can easily cost some $800. Fireworks images would not be exportable to traditional print and motion picture media, however. Fireworks is due to ship this summer for Windows NT, Windows 95, and the Macintosh PowerPC platforms.

When you communicate electronically, all you see is a computer screen. You don't have the opportunity to use facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice to communicate your meaning; words -- lonely written words -- are all you've got. And that goes for your correspondent as well. When you're holding a conversation online -- whether it's an email exchange or a response to a discussion group posting -- it's easy to misinterpret your correspondent's meaning. And it's frighteningly easy to forget that your correspondent is a person with feelings more or less like your own. It's ironic, really. Computer networks bring people together who'd otherwise never meet. But the impersonality of the medium changes that meeting to something less -- well, less personal. Humans exchanging email often behave the way some people behind the wheel of a car do: They curse at other drivers, make obscene gestures, and generally behave like savages. Most of them would never act that way at work or at home. But the interposition of the machine seems to make it acceptable. The message of Netiquette is that it's not acceptable. Yes, use your network connections to express yourself freely, explore strange new worlds, and boldly go where you've never gone before. But remember the Prime Directive of Netiquette: Those are real people out there. This series comes from the book Netiquette by Virginia Shea from Albion Books.

Apple Computer first took the forbidden fruit from Microsoft's helping hand, the two companies have developed an intimate--albeit controversial--relationship. From an office in San Jose, California, dubbed "MS-Bay," the two companies that were once bitter rivals meet weekly to collaborate on Microsoft's development of Macintosh products. Apple interim CEO Steve Jobs has called Microsoft's $150 million investment in the company he founded, announced seven months ago, a key element in the expansion of the Mac platform. The collaboration still is being scrutinized by regulators, however, and Apple loyalists continue to battle mixed emotions about it. In the latest example of teamwork, Microsoft unveiled an updated Java development tool today and disclosed plans for unifying Java applications on Windows and Macintosh systems. The software giant announced that it is working with Apple to create a Java Virtual Machine for the Mac OS. News of the deal helped push up Apple's stock as much as 2 points in morning trading, before closing at 26-1/8, up about 9 percent from yesterday's close of 24-1/16. Last August's investment calls for the two companies to jointly develop and ship future versions of Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer, and development tools for the Macintosh. At the time, Microsoft also pledged to offer the Office business productivity software suite for the Mac platform for the next five years. Microsoft Office 98 Macintosh Edition, Internet Explorer 4.0 for Macintosh, and Mac OS 8.1 all debuted in January at Macworld Expo, and Office 98 is expected to roll out on March 23.

Thought for the day: "The holy passion of Friendship is of so sweet and steady and loyal and enduring a nature that it will last through a whole lifetime, if not asked to lend money." --Mark Twain



Thursday, March 12  

The U.S. Justice Department probably won't block Microsoft's Windows 98 software from coming out with a version that includes Internet browsing software, according to reports. While antitrust enforcers continue to gather evidence for a new, wider case against Microsoft, their next legal step is likely to be narrow, the Wall Street Journal reported today. Citing people close to the case, the Journal said the government may ask a U.S. District Court judge to order the company to also offer a separate Windows 98 version without Internet software. The probable requirement that Microsoft offer the separate version of Windows, with access to the browser hidden, would likely be fiercely resisted by the company, according to the Journal. The company says it hasn't violated antitrust law and that move would further limit its ability to innovate.

In real life, most people are fairly law-abiding, either by disposition or because we're afraid of getting caught. In cyberspace, the chances of getting caught sometimes seem slim. And, perhaps because people sometimes forget that there's a human being on the other side of the computer, some people think that a lower standard of ethics or personal behavior is acceptable in cyberspace. If you encounter an ethical dilemma in cyberspace, consult the code you follow in real life. Chances are good you'll find the answer. If you use shareware, pay for it. Paying for shareware encourages more people to write shareware. The few dollars probably won't mean much to you, and they benefit all of cyberspace in the long run. If you're tempted to do something that's illegal in cyberspace, chances are it's also bad Netiquette. This series comes from the book Netiquette by Virginia Shea from Albion Books.

A startup Silicon Valley company will launch a new Internet address system that does away with the multiple dots and slashes and replaces them with Web site addresses that purportedly even a child can remember. Looking for Disney's Bambi page? Instead of typing in www.disney.com/DisneyVideos/masterpices/shelves/bambi you now only need one word: bambi. (Warning: without the new system, typing in "bambi" would hyperlink a user to an X-rated site). The new system was developed by Palo Alto, Calif.-based centraal corp., which has so far signed on 150 customers, such as Walt Disney Co. For $40 a year, they buy the right to use the simplified address in print and media advertising and other company materials. Centraal has also built a directory of 200,000 other popular Internet addresses of companies that are not currently clients. Although the companies themselves can not advertise these names unless they buy the rights to them, users can find them in a directory and use them to simplify the online experience.

Thought for the day: "Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana." - Groucho Marx



Friday, March 13  

Netscape Communications announced this week at Spring Internet World it is adding professional services to Netcenter in an attempt to make the portal site more appealing as an end destination for business users. The company hopes that its 3.6 million registered Netcenter users will be interested in participating in Netcenter Professional Connections and Netcenter Member Directory, two services aimed at giving business users a forum for technical, newsgroup, and site and product reviews. The Member Directory is built on SuiteSpot and uses LDAP to handle the large number of anticipated addresses. Both services are available now and are free of charge. Netscape also announced availability of Client Customization Kit, a set of free tools for ISPs and OEMs to change the Navigator interface. Using these tools, large customers and business partners can change the look and feel of the Netscape client.

What's perfectly acceptable in one area may be dreadfully rude in another. For example, in most TV discussion groups, passing on idle gossip is perfectly permissible. But throwing around unsubstantiated rumors in a journalists' mailing list will make you very unpopular there. And because Netiquette is different in different places, it's important to know where you are. When you enter a domain of cyberspace that's new to you, take a look around. Spend a while listening to the chat or reading the archives. Get a sense of how the people who are already there act. Then go ahead and participate. This series comes from the book Netiquette by Virginia Shea from Albion Books.

98 ON 25TH
At its retail summit next week,
Microsoft will finally disclose the June 25 delivery date for Windows 98, sources said this week. The operating system upgrade, which offers an integrated Internet Explorer as well as universal serial bus support, will be released to manufacturing May 15. They said retailers can officially begin selling the new box June 25. Details of the Win 98 rollout will be announced at a company-sponsored retail summit in San Francisco early next week. In anticipation of that gathering, Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft announced this week that Microsoft Plus 98, the consumer companion to Win 98, has moved into beta testing and "will ship in the second quarter simultaneous with Windows 98." While Microsoft is intent on shipping Win 98 before the end of the quarter and its own fiscal year on June 30, there are still concerns and speculations about possible interference by the U.S. Justice Department, which is investigating, among other things, Microsoft's integration of IE with Win 98.

Thought for the day: "The secret of getting ahead is getting started."



Saturday, March 14  

While its star fades in its traditional computing business, Apple Computer will graft a bold new strategy on its continuing attempt to ward off the Microsoft-Intel onslaught. The computer maker apparently is gambling on the wide-open market for "convergence" devices. It is an area that neither Microsoft, Intel, Compaq Computer, nor any of the large Asian consumer electronics have figured out yet, leaving it up for grabs. Named for the fusion of consumer electronics and computing technologies in a single device, the convergence market is becoming the Holy Grail of the electronics, PC, and broadcasting industries. Apple's entry into this space will be a device based on the Macintosh operating system that combines the functions of a WebTV-like Internet access device with a CD or DVD player to create an easy-to-use, low-cost product, as first reported by CNET'S NEWS.COM. Generically referred to as a "media player," the device will be the cornerstone of the Columbus project, the code name for Apple's overall consumer strategy. Initially reported as the name for the media player, Columbus also encompasses low-cost Macs, education products, portables, and handhelds that are on the horizon. The media player device figures prominently in this strategy because many analysts think that the next big leap in the computer market will result from sales to the large body of consumers who have previously been averse to the vexing world of personal computing.

When you send email or post to a discussion group, you're taking up other people's time (or hoping to). It's your responsibility to ensure that the time they spend reading your posting isn't wasted. The word "bandwidth" is sometimes used synonymously with time, but it's really a different thing. Bandwidth is the information-carrying capacity of the wires and channels that connect everyone in cyberspace. There's a limit to the amount of data that any piece of wiring can carry at any given moment -- even a state-of-the-art fiber-optic cable. The word "bandwidth" is also sometimes used to refer to the storage capacity of a host system. When you accidentally post the same note to the same newsgroup five times, you are wasting both time (of the people who check all five copies of the posting) and bandwidth (by sending repetitive information over the wires and requiring it to be stored somewhere). Today, it's as easy to copy practically anyone on your mail as it is not to. And we sometimes find ourselves copying people almost out of habit. In general, this is rude. People have less time than ever today, precisely because they have so much information to absorb. Before you copy people on your messages, ask yourself whether they really need to know. If the answer is no, don't waste their time. If the answer is maybe, think twice before you hit the send key. This series comes from the book Netiquette by Virginia Shea from Albion Books.

On a personal note, basketball fans around the mountain state of West Virginia are jumping for joy today as their Mountaineers continued their improbable advance in the NCAA Men's Basketball Championships by defeating the Cincinnati Bearcats 75-74 on a last second three point basket. You can get all the latest scores and more from the
ESPN Sportszone. Let's Goooo Mountaineers!!!

Thought for the day: "Given a conflict, Murphy's law supercedes Newton's."



Sunday, March 15  

When creating your Internet storefront, design to serve -- rather than impress -- the customer. This means that easy navigation and fast page-download times are musts, so cut the extraneous images and clear a path to the cash registers. Approach your page layout as if each visitor is new to the site and needs a simple guide. Links to a search mechanism and a site map are always good ideas for customers who know what they are looking for. For those who want to browse, make sure there is a navigation bar highlighting product categories on each page so they can skip from section to section. The most important buttons on any navigation bar should be those that let customers make purchases, or add items to their shopping carts, if you use that paradigm. For more tips in this series visit the CMPNet NetBusiness article How to Avoid 10 Fatal Website Mistakes.

As in the world at large, most people who communicate online just want to be liked. Networks -- particularly discussion groups -- let you reach out to people you'd otherwise never meet. And none of them can see you. You won't be judged by the color of your skin, eyes, or hair, your weight, your age, or your clothing. You will, however, be judged by the quality of your writing. For most people who choose to communicate online, this is an advantage; if they didn't enjoy using the written word, they wouldn't be there. So spelling and grammar do count. Pay attention to the content of your writing. Be sure you know what you're talking about -- when you see yourself writing "it's my understanding that" or "I believe it's the case," ask yourself whether you really want to post this note before checking your facts. Bad information propagates like wildfire on the net. Finally, be pleasant and polite. Don't use offensive language, and don't be confrontational for the sake of confrontation. This series comes from the book Netiquette by Virginia Shea from Albion Books.

I spent the day improving the JavaScript for the diary navigation bar found at the end of each day's entry. I coded it to function much like the site navigation at the top of each page. Load time and throughput should be improved by this enhancement. I will implement the change beginning tomorrow with next week's diary. For those of you who may be new to
1998 on the Web, the keys to diary navigation are as follows: H is Home, P is Predictions, T is Tips and Tools, left-bar-double-arrow is beginning, left-double-arrow is previous month, left arrow is previous week, up arrow is top, down arrow is bottom, right arrow is next week, right-double-arrow is next month, right-double-arrow-bar is end of diary. Let me know next week if this update is an improvement for you.

Thought for the day: "Hire a teenager while they still know it all."


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