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Rocky Mountain Wildflowers

1998 on the Web
Daily Technology Diary

Rocky Mountain Wildflowers
  April 1998  

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Monday, April 6  
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LINING UP FOR TV
Apple Computer interim CEO, yes still interim(see predictions for Apple elsewhere on this site), Steve Jobs delivered the opening keynote speech of the annual National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas, pitching his company's QuickTime software as pivotal technology for the new--and confusing--era of digital content creation. "We're dying to work with you guys. We can bring some architecture to this Tower of Babel that's happening today," intoned Jobs, who was missing the beard and rugged appearance that have marked recent public speeches. New broadcast services are going to be possible because of the advent of digital TV, which offers the alluring prospect of combining video broadcasts with information from the Internet as well as various other sources, Jobs said.

The NAB convention, which is meeting in Vegas until Thursday, is fixated on the move to digital television. Broadcasters in the top ten markets must switch to digital broadcasts in November, and the TV networks are slowly unveiling plans. NBC already has said it would transition to high-definition TV beginning this fall. Moreover, the fact that the cable and television industry is tapping the Apple cofounder--a legend in the PC industry--for its trade show speaks to how computer technology and the Internet has become important in entertainment and other markets. Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, for instance, recently spoke to a gathering of newspaper publishers, whose interests seemingly lie outside the realm of software sales and development.

NEXT BATTER UP
The Web might be slow, but ways to make it faster are always being tossed about. The latest entry in the chase: Web 3000 Inc., which today began offering a
free download of NetSonic Internet Accelerator 1.0. The company says the software, which works by storing frequently visited pages in a special cache, "reduces the amount of round trips and data transmitted over the Internet by up to 80 percent." As a page is displayed from its cache, NetSonic checks for and fetches any changes, then notifies users of those changes. NetSonic supports Internet Explorer, Navigator, America Online, Compuserve, and Opera, and requires no reconfiguration of the browser to use.

Thought for the day: "Start every day off with a smile, and get it over with." - W. C. Fields

 

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Tuesday, April 7  
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WISH LIST
It's not only the U.S. Justice Department that's out to smash the Microsoft monopoly. Now, computer-industry execs have apparently lined up against the software maker, approaching federal regulators with recommendations that would pull in the reins on Redmond. Among the 10 proposals is one that would force Microsoft to divest its applications businesses from its operating system business and establish a monitoring system to track the company's business practices, The New York Times reported, citing a document circulating among the execs. The Justice Department was not considering breaking up Microsoft, a source told The Times, but it was looking at a range of other possibilities.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department now believes that it has enough evidence to bring a new antitrust case, Reuters reports, and antitrust chief Joel Klein and his staff will meet with Microsoft officials later this week. Justice Department officials who favor bringing the case would like to do so as soon as possible, before the release of Windows 98, which integrates the operating system and Internet capabilities more tightly than ever.

THE WORM IS TURNING
Java's heralded "write once, run anywhere" capabilities were supposed to level the playing field within the software industry. But a look at
Sun Microsystems' various licensing agreements for Java indicates that the playing field may not be so level after all. Just ask Microsoft, Apple Computer and Netscape Communications. Microsoft apparently paid the largest sum for its Java license -- a whopping $18.75 million, according to documents made public in its lawsuit with Sun. That includes license and support fees over a five-year period with no royalties. Apple, meanwhile, paid $5 million with no royalties, while Netscape paid a lean $750,000 with no royalties, say developer sources.

In my opinion, prediction #1 elsewhere on 1998 on the Web, is getting close to happening. Java is essentially dead on the World Wide Web because of developments over the past fortnight. There will be no mainstream browsers left to run the code. By securing a preliminary injunction against Microsoft using the Java logo in Internet Explorer and the MS Internet Software Development Kit, Sun has just about guaranteed that Microsoft will never develop a "pure" Java implementation. Netscape's recently released Communicator 5.0 source code contains no Java at all, none, nada. And Netscape's own update to their Navigator browser, 4.05, does not contain the Java 1.1 upgrade that Netscape has had posted as a patch for months. Write once, run nowhere. What do you think?

All this negative publicity is beginning to affect Sun's bottom line. Sun's shares hit 50 in early February but have since retreated into the 30s. Today the stock dropped to 38-3/8, down 2 points from yesterday's close of 40-3/8.

Thought for the day: "The reason most people fail instead of succeed is that they trade what they want most for what they want at the moment."

 

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Wednesday, April 8  
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ARE YOU THIRSTY?
For more than two years, the European Space Agency’s Infrared Space Observatory, known as ISO, has been exploring the universe at wavelengths that can’t be seen with the human eye, giving astronomers a new view of the solar system and beyond. They have been able to see water throughout the universe, to see where stars are forming, to shed light on distant galaxies — and to solve riddles that have puzzled astronomers for centuries. The discovery of water vapor in the atmosphere of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, has generated the most excitement, because that moon may duplicate the conditions that led to the creation of life on Earth, said Roger Bonnet, the agency’s director of science. “Now that water has been discovered ... this lends more support to the possibility that we have all the conditions which prevailed on Earth 4 1/2 billion years ago to give birth to life,” he said. “These conditions may also exist on Titan, and the only thing you need is a little heat to heat up Titan, and maybe [the] birth of life may be seen.”

WINTEL COLLABORATE AGAIN
WebTV for Windows will provide TV capabilities on the PC and support a wide variety of services, including data broadcasting, an electronic program guide and interactive TV programming, Microsoft has said. Intel's Intercast technology allows television programmers to create full-screen interactive programming by combining TV signals with Web-based enhancements sent over an unused portion of analog transmissions known as the vertical blanking interval. The two computer industry giants are collaborating to provide an integrated system for broadcasting interactive television content to personal computers and other devices. As a first step, Intel's Intercast software will be integrated into certain Microsoft products, starting with the WebTV for Windows feature of the Microsoft Windows 98 operating system. Windows 98 is expected to be released in late June of this year.

HTML TAG DISCOVERED
You may have noticed a slightly different look to the
1998 on the Web pages the last few days. The entry page, this diary, the predictions page, and the tips and tools page have been updated to include the align="justify" HTML tag, aligning the text at both the left and right margins. Previously I had been using align="left". The reason I hadn't used this option before is simply that I just now discovered it. Let me know which you like better.

Thought for the day: "You can't hold a man down without staying down with him." - Booker T. Washington

 

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Thursday, April 9  
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DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS
A federal judge has ruled that a government fund with more than $50 million collected from Internet domain name registrants is an illegal tax because it was never approved by the U.S. Congress. U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan yesterday ruled in favor of a group of registrants who called the tax "a license to steal" and sued Network Solutions and the government. Network Solutions has collected the fee--$15 per year--from millions of registrants on behalf of the National Science Foundation since 1995. "Congress may have intended to grant NSF the authority to collect the assessment, but it has not yet done so," Hogan wrote. The National Science Foundation is the government body that oversees the domain name system. Network Solutions has a contract with NSF to register names within the most popular top-level domains, such as ".com," ".net," and ".org."

SMIL UP AND COMING
A new Extensible Markup Language-based language, designed to give Web developers better control over multimedia content, has passed a major hurdle on its road to becoming a standard. The World Wide Web Consortium today announced the release of
Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL) as a W3C "proposed recommendation." SMIL allows designers to choreograph simple media objects in different formats -- audio, images, text, and streaming audio/video -- using only a handful of simple tags. If adopted, designers would use SMIL to program several streams, images, and text elements into a kind of "schedule" for playback. SMIL is a markup language on par with HTML, but based on XML. It is much simpler to use than other existing multimedia-supporting technologies such as Java, JavaScript, or dynamic HTML, and it is not a proprietary format such as Shockwave.

CNET'S ERROR EXPLANATIONS
Every Web surfer, even the newbie doggy-paddler, knows those dreaded phrases: "404 Not Found," "Connection refused by host," "You can't log on as an anonymous user." But do you know what they mean, and what to do about them? CNET has devised a simple, straightforward
set of pages that gathers together the usual annoying suspects. Click on any of them and you will get a plain-English explanation of what they mean (OK, OK, as close to plain English as techies can get), plus a tip on how to circumvent them. And you get the two Golden Rules of URLs. Check this one out...oops, "Too many connections -- try again later."

Thought for the day: "If the funeral procession is at night, do folks drive with their headlights off?" - George Carlin

 

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Friday, April 10  
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I'VE BEEN BUSY
If you came in through the entry page today, and have been here before, you noticed a new look for 1998 on the Web. Call it version 1.3, my third generation site design. So far I have updated the home page and the awards page for each of the six languages supported. Look for other sections of the site to sport the new face in the coming days, and be sure to tell me how you like it.

Speaking of awards, 1998 on the Web received two more today. The first is the Médaille d'Or for Web Site Excellence. Web Sites qualify for the Médaille d'Or on the basis of a range of criteria, but primarily they ask if you have thought about your Web site from the point of view of the visitor surfing into it for the very first time? Really thought about it? If the answer is "yes" then it might be worth your while nominating your site for the Médaille d'Or. If the answer is "no", or "maybe", or "some"; then take another look at it - from that visitor's point of view - first.

The second, À voir de suite or Award e-sweet comes from France, and is an indication my decision and work to provide multi-lingual support for this site is paying off. This award looks at the Web site as a whole, not just single topics. Recipients must show originality and technical realization, and keep the visitor's interest.

I'd like to thank both the Rasmussen's and Thierry Thomas for reviewing 1998 on the Web and honoring me with their awards. Both awards are highly rated by Focus Associates' Web awards rating service. You can read more about Focus Associates on the Tips and Tools page in the site promotion section.

While there, you will notice that I added another how-to in the graphics section. Titled Transparent GIFs and Drop Shadows, this tip demonstrates how to make your GIF images transparent for viewing on any color background, and how to create the popular drop shadow effect using the Paint Shop Pro shareware from Jasc Software, Inc. Please let me know if you find these techniques helpful.

Thought for the day: "You'll never leave where you are, until you decide where you'd rather be."

 

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Saturday, April 11  
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DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY SOFTWARE
If digital photography is to continue growing after the novelty of emailing photos to friends wears off, practical software applications will have to become the catalyst that transforms the technology into a mass market phenomenon. Editing software allows digital photographers to go beyond a simple exchange of photos or creating T-shirts with pictures. Users can add value to small-business Web sites with image files, publish brochures from their homes, or print high-quality, frameable shots. Applications which address this market include PhotoDeluxe from
Adobe, PhotoSuite from MGI, or PictureIt from Microsoft.

But the power of these applications may be a double-edged sword, analysts say. While some consumers appreciate complex editing software, others may long for the idiot-proof model of the point-and-shoot camera market, which relies on a well-established service industry to do the developing. No matter how easy they make it, it's still a hassle compared to one-hour [traditional film] processing. In what could be a good sign for software makers, the shortcomings of bundled software that's been "dumbed down" seem to be driving the sales of standalone products. The simplified software is bundled with hardware products, such as a digital camera or scanner, to encourage usage. Often, the bundled version of an application is far less robust than the off the shelf version, prompting users to invest in the "real" product.

SPAM MORATORIUM UPDATE
One week after a spam-canceling "moratorium" was declared by a group of Usenet anti-spam activists, predictions that the Net would be buried in spam have, so far, fallen short. The boycott was intended to pressure complacent news administrators to play a more active role in the war on spam, but a lack of solidarity among the ranks of despammers seems to have thrown a wrench in the plan.

Since the early days of Usenet, a number of individuals and groups have issued cancel messages that traverse Usenet and nuke spam postings. On 31 March, Chris Lewis, a Canadian security consultant and member of the despamming group Cabal Network Security/SPUTUM, declared the moratorium. The group hoped to pressure Internet service providers (ISPs) to do their part by installing anti-spam filtering tools such as Cleanfeed and Spamhippo. The most active despammer, who goes by the name "Cosmo Roadkill," has decided to continue his canceling unabated. So, as the result, most spam still gets canceled. William Kronert, manager of the San Diego regional news group hierarchy, said that Roadkill's abstention has hurt the boycott.

Thought for the day: "There is a microscopically thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on Earth." - Cynthia Heimel

 

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Sunday, April 12  
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LOOKSMART DIRECTORY
Advertised as the next-generation Internet directory,
LookSmart organizes the Web for you like no other directory. Actually, LookSmart is three powerful Internet tools in one: Explore speeds you through familiar categories to help quickly pinpoint web destinations tailored to your interests. Whether you're looking for the latest stock quotes, home repair tips, or the hottest downloads - if it's out there they've got it. LookSmart Search, packs the best searching technology on the planet. Type in your query and Search will first find sites selected and reviewed by their editors, next it will hunt in AltaVista's index of over 30 million web sites. Personalize LookSmart lets you choose your favorite software, and news sources, and browse the top links from your home town - including the best entertainment guides. I added 1998 on the Web to about a dozen categories in the LookSmart directory today. I'll let you know if it generates any visitor traffic.

UPGRADE CONTINUES
As first mentioned on Friday, I have been updating the look and feel of 1998 on the Web. The change continues today as you will see on the entry to the
Tips and Tools pages. The content in this area has expanded to the point of being too much for a single page, so I have segmented it into three sections: Dynamic HTML, Graphics, and Web Site Promotion. Each of the six available languages are ready to go in this area. I hope you find the look more appealing and the navigation easier. Let me know what you think.

THE GREEN JACKET
Congratulations to Mark O'Meara, champion of the 1998 Masters golf tournament. With a dramatic birdie putt on the final hole of the competition, the 41 year-old O'Meara captured his first professional major championship. Presented the traditional green jacket that goes to the Master's winner by last year's record-setter Tiger Woods, O'Meara said "this feeling is what I play golf for. I'll remember this moment for the rest of my life." A popular veteran of the PGA Tour, O'Meara, a former U.S. Amateur champion birdied the final two holes to snatch the victory from Fred Couples and David Duval.

Thought for the day: "Should vegetarians eat animal crackers?" - George Carlin

 

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