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Rocky Mountain Wildflowers

1998 on the Web
Daily Technology Diary

Rocky Mountain Wildflowers
  March 1998  

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Monday, March 23  

Hewlett-Packard is doing Java its own way, but it might not be legal. Despite assurances from HP executives that the company will avoid legal hassles over Java, it is far from clear that HP's do-it-yourself, slimmed-down version of Java follows Sun Microsystems' rules. "We haven't given anyone the rights to 'clone' Personal Java, Embedded Java, or JavaCard," said Jon Kannegaard, vice president of software products for Sun's JavaSoft division. "If that's what they're doing, we need to sit down and talk with them." He added, however, that Sun isn't necessarily putting its lawyers on red alert.

"We feel confident that we're on solid legal ground," said Jim Bell, general manager of HP's Internet software business unit. "Sun has raised no objections and has known all along." Sun executives gave HP the thumbs-up last week because they didn't realize HP was cloning Embedded Java, Kannegaard said. Embedded Java is used for devices that need much less computing power. Instead of licensing Java from Sun, HP has decided to create its own version of Embedded Java from scratch to run on small devices such as pagers and printers. HP developers used the written Java blueprint, or specification, but did not use any technology from Sun. Whatever the outcome, HP has made it clear that it will not use the Java logo in its home-brewed version. Microsoft ran afoul of Sun last fall when it shipped its browser and software development tools with a slightly altered version of Java but didn't remove the high-profile "steaming cup" logo. The companies traded lawsuits and their legal battle is likely to continue for some time.

Finland has more Internet users per capita than any other country, and "greater Scandinavia" is, hands down, the world's best-connected region, according to a new compendium of Net-related statistics called the Internet Industry Almanac. The study found that Finland, which has long taken pride in its wired-ness, has 244.5 Net users per 1,000 people. Its northern neighbors also rated high: Norway second (231.1), Iceland third (227.3), Sweden eighth (147.3), and Denmark 10th (125.6). The United States clocked in at fourth, with 203.4 Net users per 1,000 people. The worldwide user rate is 16.9. Netizens from each of the Scandanavian countries have stopped by to visit 1998 on the Web.

Thought for the day: "There's so much comedy on television. Does that cause comedy in the streets? -Dick Cavett



Tuesday, March 24  

It's been awhile since I added anything to the Tips and Tools section of 1998 on the Web. Today you will find a new demonstration of GIF animation construction. A few weeks ago I got a note from a reader, Ian in the United Kingdom, requesting I make an animation of his Radiology Group logo. The new tip describes the process I used to help with Ian's request. If you need some assistance with Web graphic creation or editing, let me know. I might create another tip with your suggestion.

Coinciding with Sun Microsystems' JavaOne conference in San Francisco, a federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction ordering Microsoft to pull the Java-compatible logo from all its products. Sun is suing Microsoft over the software giant's implementation of the programming language. The ruling, handed down late this afternoon by U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte of San Jose, California, requires Microsoft to remove the Java logo from its Internet Explorer browser and Software Developer Kit for Java. In the past, Microsoft has used the logo to promote both products as being Java-compatible. The preliminary injunction stems from a suit Sun filed in October, which alleged Microsoft's implementation of Java did not pass compatibility tests required of all licensees. Sun argues that until Microsoft passes the tests, the licensing contract prevents the software giant from using the Java logo to promote its products. In its lawsuit, Sun is asking the court to enforce those terms. The outcome of the dispute could have important repercussions for the entire computer industry. A programming language that runs seamlessly on any platform eventually could threaten Microsoft's dominance in PC operating systems.

In another development at the JavaOne conference today, Sun announced the commercial availability of its JavaStation network computer (NC) in subdued, almost muted tones. The official announcement of the oft-delayed "thin client" computing device was buried inside a press release about new JavaStation customers. Pricing for a JavaStation with 32MB of memory is $699, including a keyboard and mouse. Monitors and software are sold separately. The announcement comes after a number of product delays and amid competition from Windows-based Terminals and low-priced PCs. A lack of compelling applications has also conspired to make the introduction low-key.

Thought for the day: "Watch for big problems; they disguise big opportunities."



Wednesday, March 25  

Too much surfing - the TV clicker and Web site variety - is making Americans sleepy, by cutting into the amount of time they spend slumbering, experts from the National Sleep Foundation say. "Fifty-one percent of men and 42 percent of women would go to sleep earlier if they didn't have a television or access to the Internet," the foundation said in a study, noting that most Americans - 64 percent - sleep less than the recommended eight hours, and 32 percent sleep six hours or less. More than a third of the people surveyed said they were sleepy during the day and 30 percent said it interfered with their jobs. The National Sleep Foundation's main concern was that people were driving while sleepy. The National Transportation Safety Board estimates that 100,000 crashes, causing 1,500 deaths and 71,000 injuries, are caused by drowsy drivers every year. So let's be careful out there, but make sure you take time to visit 1998 on the Web every day.

A mysterious signal hitting a Chinese telecommunications satellite is disrupting share trading, earthquake monitoring systems, and pager services in China, a newspaper reported today. Puzzled technicians had ruled out a problem with the satellite and tests showed that the interference, which began on March 14, was Earth-based, said the Beijing Youth Daily, which reported that investigators had not ruled out an attack by domestic or foreign saboteurs. A transmitter aboard the Apstar-1 orbiter had "suddenly received a signal of neutralizing interference from an unknown outside source," the paper said. The disruption reportedly affected more than 400 securities and futures companies and 100 paging services, cutting off service to more than 10 million pager users. Service had been restored to most users of the satellite by switching them to other channels. Apstar-1 was launched in 1994 and targets television users across Asia. It was not clear if the disruption also affected other users of the satellite in the region.

Traffic to 1998 on the Web has been holding steady at 25-30 unique visitors per day with occasional peaks in the 50s. One difference recently, though, has been the number of you taking the time to comment about what you find here. Just this week, I have had four requests for additional information about dynamic HTML. DHTML is by far the most popular reason you are coming to 1998 on the Web. The Yahoo! search engine with keyword "DHTML" is reponsible for more than half of all the traffic. With that in mind, I have been working on enhancing the Tips and Tools pages with more about this emerging technology. Look for additional tips in the weeks to come.

Thought for the day: "Despite the cost of living, have you noticed how it remains so popular?"



Thursday, March 26  

Andy Grove had three simple words today to explain his decision to step down as CEO of Intel Corp. "I was ready," Grove said in an interview with ZDNN(Ziff-Davis Net News). Grove plans to use his new-found free time to study issues that would benefit not just Intel Corp., but the PC industry as a whole. He chose to step down as CEO, turning the position over to President and Chief Operating Officer Craig Barrett, because he felt he had served out his term. "I have been CEO for 11 years, president for 19. Intel's 30 years old, and I'm the third CEO. I have done my tenure a little above the average," he said. "I was ready." Grove said there was no particular incident that sparked the decision. He wouldn't speculate as to who will replace Barrett in the COO position. "When I was promoted from COO to CEO, we didn't have a COO for five years or so," he said. "We've got to digest the change and Craig's got to think about who he wants."

By turning over the day to day tasks to Barrett, Grove frees up his time to study. "I have responsibilities inside pertinent to running of the company that I have to do. Financial reviews, strategic reviews, preparations for this and that. That constrains how much attention I can give to external issues and how much responsiveness I can muster." The top three issues he thinks need studying are bandwidth, network applications, and "the delivery of network computing products and services" to small businesses, an area which he says the computer industry hasn't paid nearly enough attention to. "The information technology industry was developed by large companies for large companies, and the benefits have accrued to large corporations for some time," he said. "Spreading those benefits around and incorporating and invoking small businesses is a major challenge."

Microsoft Corp. bid an unceremonious farewell to DOS, the vintage operating system that's been one of the few constants in the personal computer industry during two decades of breathtaking change. Since 1981, DOS has been at the core of almost every PC run by Microsoft software; even as the company moved to the heavily graphic, point-and-click operating style of Windows 3.1 and Windows 95, large pieces of DOS code remained just below the surface. But company officials told an industry conference that Windows 98 -- due out in June -- will be the end of the line. From then on, Microsoft will focus on an operating system it pioneered in the early 90s and first peddled to business users: Windows NT.

For the Redmond, Wash., software giant, the death of DOS comes not a moment too soon. Company programmers have found it increasingly difficult to craft operating systems that can work both with older, DOS-based hardware and software and with the cascade of new features and products characteristic of an increasingly digital world. To do so has required compromises, including one that is painfully clear to most PC users: the operating systems that evolved from DOS crash far too often.

Thought for the day: "If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?" - Albert Einstein



Friday, March 27  

If you're like me, many of you have been wondering what to do about Windows 98. Ed Bott of PC Computing magazine has prepared an article entitled Top 10 Reasons to Upgrade to Windows 98, to help with our decision.

On the surface, Windows 98 looks just like Windows 95 plus Internet Explorer 4.0. Under the covers, though, are some noteworthy improvements. We’ve got the lowdown on the top 10 reasons you should switch.

1. Smart Setup, Easy Upgrades: The retail release of Windows 98 will roll up three years’ worth of patches, bug fixes, updated drivers and enhanced features -- all on one CD.

2. Better Crash Protection: The most noteworthy Windows 98 improvement in the stability category is the completely rewritten System Information utility. By gathering information from the Registry, from startup files and from running applications, it presents a complete picture of the current system configuration.

3. Reclaim Your Hard Drive: At a nickel per megabyte, the disk space you’ll recover by converting a typical 2GB drive to the FAT32 format will pay for a major chunk of the Windows 98 upgrade cost.

4. Your PC Will Run (Slightly) Faster: Most of Win98’s core components have been fine-tuned for performance: The swap file manages itself more intelligently. A built-in Registry Checker compacts the system Registry when needed. The memory management and cache modules are tuned to work optimally with FAT32’s 4K clusters.

5. Hassle-Free Startup: Windows 98 is far more helpful than Windows 95 when you have startup problems. A corrupt hardware driver can still keep your system from booting -- but only once thanks to the Automatic Skip Driver agent.

6. Runs Better on a Notebook: Windows 98 gives you total control over your notebook’s power consumption, and if your system is less than a year old you’ll experience major benefits by upgrading.

7. Double Your Desktop Space: Windows 98 includes a cool capability that can give you more viewable screen area for a fraction of the cost of a large-screen upgrade. Keep your 17-inch monitor, pop in a second PCI video adapter, plug in a second monitor and use both displays simultaneously.

8. Phone Smarts: Look in the Windows 98 Control Panel and you’ll find a Telephony icon, packed with nifty features designed to help your PC get along better with the telephone network.

9. Web TV on your PC:Microsoft is integrating Web TV into Windows 98. Web TV for Windows works with the Windows Task Scheduler, allowing you to set reminders for shows you want to record.

10. Plug and Play Works (Finally): Plug and Play is still imperfect, but it works much, much better in Windows 98 than ever before.

Thought for the day: "If you think you have it tough, read history books." - Bill Maher



Saturday, March 28  

Just days after shipping its long-awaited Office 98 Macintosh Edition, Microsoft Corporation has discovered a bug in the program that could bring down the entire Macintosh operating system. According to sources close to the software developer, Microsoft identified a problem with an Administrative Tool called the Remove Office 98 utility. Matthew Price, group product manager for Microsoft Office and Desktop Applications, called the bug "isolated but serious." Microsoft "recommends not using this utility," which is included on the ValuePak CD. The utility is designed to remove the entire Office 98 program by finding and automatically moving a library called Microsoft Office 98 to the Trash. Glitches can occur when the Microsoft Office 98 library, which normally resides in the Microsoft Office 98 folder, is manually moved to the Extensions Folder, according to Price.

When a user then attempts to launch the program while the Microsoft Office 98 library, which includes the Remove Office 98 utility, is in the Extensions Folder, the operating system mistakenly causes the Systems Folder rather than the Microsoft Office 98 folder to be moved to the Trash. This brings down the Mac OS, the documents said. Once the user attempts to restart the system, the Mac OS becomes inoperable and a boot disk is required to launch and operate the computer. After the Mac OS has been restarted using the boot disk, VARs can correct the OS problem by retrieving the misplaced system files from the Trash, the document said. Microsoft officials said the company is "working on a patch and in the next two days will post an updated Remove Office 98 utility to the Web.

There also are a couple of other glitches in Office 98 for the Mac. Ironically, the problem with the Remove Office utility was discovered because Microsoft technical support representatives were directing users and VARs to remove the program in order to deal with two other small bugs. One of the automated Wizards in Word that helps perform tasks including creating Memos and Resumes was not functioning correctly and causing system freezes. Microsoft said a patch for that problem was posted on its Web site earlier this week. In addition, moving shared library files to the Extension Folder can impair the performance of the application and cause the elements in that shared library to function incorrectly, Price said.

Office 98 for the Mac is part of the much-hyped renewed partnership between Apple Computer Inc. and Microsoft. Office 98 was touted as a milestone because it includes features that the Windows equivalent will not have and it was available on the Mac before Windows. In addition, the Macintosh platform has up until now not had a counterpart to the popular Office 97 for Windows. Last August, Microsoft invested $150 million in Apple and made a commitment whereby the two companies would jointly develop future versions of Office and Internet Explorer as well as Mac-based development tools. As part of the deal, Microsoft also said it would continue to upgrade Office for the Mac for the next five years.

Thought for the day: "Experts are people who know more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing."



Sunday, March 29  

Managers often dismiss requests for non-traditional work schedules as disruptive to the normal workday. But in the case of application development, a flexible schedule can greatly improve the quality and timeliness of the code produced. Flexible schedules may be crucial to improving your development efficiency. Not everyone functions best between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.. Most jobs fall into these hours for a variety of reasons, mostly having to do with getting everyone together at the same time and coordinating work efforts. But if left to their own devices, many people would choose a different work schedule. This is clear from watching employees who have made the shift from a 9-to-5 office job to working at home on their own hours. Many are night owls, starting their work after dinner and working almost until the break of dawn. Some keep their previous schedule to the second, especially if they need to be in constant contact with others who will be reachable only during normal business hours. Others prefer early morning schedules.

A developer working for a progressive company where everyone has an office can just reach over and close his or her door when workplace noise and bustle get too distracting. A closed door is also a relatively effective deterrent to folks "just stopping by to say hi" when he or she is in deep concentration and can't be disturbed. But most companies understandably opt for cubicles for most of their employees. For those developers stuck in the vast warren of cubes, programming during normal working hours can be a nightmarish exercise in broken concentration. The normal operations of any business include a variety of phone calls, meetings, non-work related banter, typing, and other noises that contribute to a constant level of background noise. Where cubicle noise is a given, it makes sense to move programming shifts to off-hours, allowing developers to work with fewer distractions.

The argument against off-hours for most employees is clearly that most people need to be reachable to do their jobs. One major purpose of the 9-to-5 workday is to provide a time frame when we can all expect each other to be at our desks and reachable by telephone, e-mail, and fax. This is obviously vital to those who hold sales, marketing, and management jobs that require them to be constantly available and in touch with outside clients and partners. And, admittedly, it's important for most other jobs as well -- almost no one in a company performs his or her job completely alone. Team, employee to manager, and cross-departmental communication are all crucial to successful project completion. While it's true that most IS staff also need to be in during business hours, especially to deal with trouble tickets and network downtime, the same does not apply equally to those whose main job is programming. In fact, the potential for distracting phone calls and office visits can be detrimental to getting code finished on time and with a minimum of errors.

In a sense, you can often just wind up the programmer on project specifications and let him or her go -- as long as you have a decent set of checkpoints and a clear deadline, of course. If your programmers request flexible hours, it's to your benefit to say yes -- with fewer distractions and a workday that best fits their intellectual energy cycles, most developers will be able to turn out better code more quickly.

Thought for the day: "An expert is someone who can take something you already know and make it confusing."


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