TBTF for 4/13/98: A blushing crow
T a s t y B i t s f r o m t h e T e c h n o l o g y F r o n t
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This issue: < http://www.tbtf.com/archive/04-13-98.html >
C o n t e n t s
Microsoft buys Firefly
Spin-control plan spins out of control
Settling for "palm-size"
NSF's $45M fund is illegal
Mozilla runs free
No "modem tax," again, yet
104 Windows NT vulnerabilities
New international version of PGP is available
Java news ticker
..Microsoft buys Firefly
The latest victim, or beneficiary, of the Redmond vacuum cleaner is
the 2-year-old Cambridge company founded by MIT and Media Lab pro-
fessor Pattie Maes. Firefly's 70-odd Cambridge employees (but not
Maes) will relocate to Redmond. The price was reported to be $40M,
but both companies have disputed this. Firefly  developed intel-
ligent agent software for managing the exchange of users' personal
information, and is a driver of the World Wide Web Consortium's
privacy initiative, P3P . Firefly is also involved in the ICE
initiative , an industry consortium working on protocols for Web
sites to talk among themselves.
Privacy advocates are less than universally overjoyed with the ac-
quisition . As Need To Know 's anti-news column succinctly put
> Bill Gates buys Firefly: I don't remember putting *that*
> in my preferences.
Another loser may be Netscape; the company has been working with
Firefly on a P3P plugin for Communicator 5. Wired  finds an
informant to opine that the purchase deals a blushing crow  to
the company's Net commerce plans. I'm not convinced that Netscape's
plans are as fragile as this story makes out. After all they just
enlisted 10,000 new developers to work on Communicator 5.
..Spin-control plan spins out of control
On Friday the Los Angeles Times broke the story  of Microsoft's
large-scale, stealth campaign to influence public opinion in states
threatening legal action against the company. It makes fascinating
reading. The Times says, "Even in the modern world of corporate spin
control, the proposed plan is unusual in its scope, tactics, and
targets." The campaign is being choreographed by Microsoft's PR firm
Edelman Public Relations. It is designed to appear not as a major
campaign by Microsoft or Edelman, but as an upwelling of grass-roots
support. When told of the planned campaign, the Michigan Attorney
General said: "I've been battling this type of PR gimmickry for a
long time, and I can smell it 40 yards away. Bill Gates would have
been better off if he or one of his representatives had picked up
the phone and called me."
..Settling for "palm-size"
Microsoft caved in the trademark lawsuit filed by 3Com , agree-
ing to change the name of its handheld computers from "Palm PCs" to
"Palm-size PCs" .
..NSF's $45M fund is illegal
Refunds coming? Don't hold your breath
On Wednesday a federal judge ruled ,  that the $30 "Intel-
lectual Infrastructure Fund" fee paid as a part of every domain
name registration until this month had been illegally collected.
He dismissed nine other counts against NSI, including the claim
that it is an illegal monopoly. The plaintiffs will get refunds
of their $30 fees; whether the rest of us do will hinge on a de-
termination of class-action status in the case. This could take as
long as six months. The ruling noted that even at this late date
the fund could be made legitimage by an act of Congress.
..Mozilla runs free
Netscape releases the source code for Communicator 5, and the nerds
jump on it
As promised , on the morning of March 31 Netscape released the
source code for Communicator 5. At 10:00 Pacific time a link 
appeared on the top page of mozilla.org reading:
> Looking for this?
The company has set up 101 mirror sites  around the world to sup-
port tens of thousands of downloads of a package weighing in at 9 MB
on Unix, and nearly 12 MB on Windows and Macintosh.
The earliest reports said the source compiled cleanly on Linux and
worked well with Motif. Later came news of buggy code , but most
developers felt that Netscape had played fair about the condition
of the pre-alpha code.
Within hours of the release an Australian-led outfit called the
Mozilla Crypto Group  has put the crypto back in Netscape's
browser . Netscape had removed Communicator's crypto code before
releasing it in order to comply with US export laws. A pre-release
binary for Linux is available here  (2755K).
These two tidbits come courtesy of slashdot.org : a screen shot
 of "Mozilla Navigator 5.0b1," and a photo  from the launch
event. The caption for the latter reads
> The main three people in this picture are Jim Barksdale,
> Jamie [Zawinski], and Tara Hernandez. Tara is manager of
> the build team. Just to the left of JimB is Jim Roskind,
> who led the Java-ectomy.
Zawinski has honchoed this source release. His URL  is surely
one of the coolest on the planet (don't try this with Internet
Explorer). Zawinski closed his release message to the mozilla.-
general mailing list with:
> PS: if you try to understand NET-GetURL your head will
..No "modem tax," again, yet
ISPs and Net telephony providers are not required, for now, to pay
into a universal service fund
Like a game of Slap a Spice Girl , the so-called modem tax keeps
popping up and getting whacked. Proposals that the FCC impose "uni-
versal service" charges on ISPs have been raised and dismissed on
several occasions since 1995 (here's one from last year ), and
rumors that the FCC is contemplating such a charge are common enough
to qualify as an urban legend .
At the urging of telephone companies, two congressmen had asked the
FCC to re-examine its ruling that ISPs are exempt from the charges
paid directly by local phone companies and indirectly by long-dis-
tance companies to subsidize US rural and low-income phone service.
The telcos want to clip the wings of the nascent Internet telephony
business. The new companies lobbied hard, writing a letter to the
Vice President to say a new tax would "threaten to extinguish the
private investment that makes these services possible" . In turn
the Clinton administration urged the FCC "to do nothing that would
thwart the growth and vibrancy of the Internet." On Friday the FCC
ruled  that ISPs are still to be classified as "information ser-
vice providers" immune from the access charge. The ruling also
classified Net telephony providers under the same rubric, but left
open the possibility that the agency might mandate access charges
in the future .
Print your own stamps on envelopes
The U.S. Postal Service is beta testing the first electronic stamps
, which it calls "information-based indicia," based on tech-
nology from E-Stamp Corp . Initial testing in the Washington, DC
area will be followed by San Francisco and Tampa, Florida. IBIs are
paid for and downloaded over the Net, then printed onto an envelope
or label along with a recipient's address. IBIs are two-dimensional
encrypted barcodes that look like this . The IBI is stored in
a small dongle-like hardware device that attaches to a PC's printer
port. E-Stamp is available for Win95, Win98, and NT only. It is ex-
pected to replace postage metering machines and will cost somewhere
in the hundreds of dollars, reading between the lines on E-Stamp's
..104 Windows NT vulnerabilities
Everything you ever wanted to know about security holes, for a price
Risks 19.65  carries a notice from Shake Communications Pty Ltd
, an Australian security firm, advertising their subscription-
based vulnerabilities database. They claim to list over 3,000 known
security holes, updated daily, with solutions where available, on 33
OSs, 44 applications, and 74 OS commands. Shake claims to list 104
known vulnerabilities in the NT operating system, but to see the
details you need to subscribe to their database, which costs AU
$3750 for a 6-month subscription, or US $2522 . Shake's compe-
tition consists mostly of free vulnerability databases. For example,
the ISS X-Force database  lists 52 vulnerabilities for Win95/NT;
it is searchable and you can retrieve details of any vulnerability.
A little maze of twisty items, all different
..New international version of PGP is available
Windows and Macintosh binaries of PGP 5.5.3i are now available for
download here .
..Java news ticker
This modest and useful service comes from the folks at the 7 AM News
. Put the following code on any Web page of your choosing and
your visitors will (if running with Java enabled) see a rotating
ticker of clickable news items. You can choose from USA, antepodal,
or world news, either general or Net-flavored. The ticker is live on
the TBTF site .
<PARAM NAME="channels" VALUE="+USAnetnews +WORLDnetnews ">
<PARAM NAME="target" VALUE="_blank">
In TBTF for 3/30/98  you read of possible trouble when the Dow
Jones Average breaks into five figures. Risks for 4/2/98  brings
news of another overflow problem, this one already spotted in the
wild by Frank Markus <email@example.com>. Berkshire Hathaway
stock is traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Warren Buffett,
Berkshire Hathaway's chairman, for his own reasons has chosen never
to split the stock or to pay dividends. Berkshire Hathaway has done
famously well over the years, with the result that its stock now
trades at $60,000.00 per share. Newspapers can't list it and online
portfolio services can't deal with it.
N o t e s
> The Reverend William Archibald Spooner, Warden of New College, Oxford
from 1903 to 1924, probably didn't emit the first Spoonerism. But he
did lend his name to the business beginning about 1885, according to
the OED  (those without an OED account may visit ). Wayne
Baisley <firstname.lastname@example.org> has one of the better Spoonerism pages on
the Web, with links to a number of others .
S o u r c e s
> For a complete list of TBTF's (mostly email) sources, see
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Keith Dawson email@example.com
Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.
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