TBTF for 2/9/98: Hell makes ice

Keith Dawson (dawson@world.std.com)
Sun, 8 Feb 1998 18:05:03 -0600


TBTF for 2/9/98: Hell makes ice

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

Timely news of the bellwethers in computer and communications
technology that will affect electronic commerce -- since 1994

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This issue: < http://www.tbtf.com/archive/02-09-98.html >

C o n t e n t s

Microsoft news
Appeals court suspends special master Lessig
11 states, the Feds (again), and Congress
New SPA guidelines ding Microsoft practices
Two cream cakes
On the Microsoft culture
$30 domain name fee may be illegal
Another country TLD available to all comers: .TM
The Spam King apologizes
ICE: a data exchange protocol for e-commerce sites
Is Big Brother really watching?
The view from Softpro

..Microsoft news

The company took a few on the chin this week, but won some too

..Appeals court suspends special master Lessig

The best news Microsoft has heard recently: its appeal of the ap-
pointment of a special master received a favorable hearing [1].
The appellate panel took the unusual step of reaching down to undo
the decision of a lower court. The suspension will last at least
until April 21, when the appeals court has scheduled a hearing on
Microsoft's request to dismiss Lessig. Judge Jackson's case is,
if not 0on hold until then, at least slowed down; the judge may
need to schedule hearings and perform other aspects of the fact-
finding he had delegated to Lessig [2].

[1] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,18746,00.html?pfv
[2] http://www.zdnet.com/pcweek/news/0202/03aless.html

..11 states, the Feds (again), and Congress

Attorneys general of 11 US states have issued or will soon issue
subpoenas demanding of Microsoft documents relating to the release
of Windows 98 [3]. The states are concerned with the company's an-
nounced intention to integrate the Internet Explorer browser even
more tightly and inextricably with Windows 98 than was done in Win-
dows 95. The action came as no surprise -- prosecutors from nine of
the states had met in December [4] to discuss the case. The states
are California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts,
Minnesota, New York, Oregon, South Carolina, and Texas. One report
I read quoted a Microsoft spokesman to the effect that the company
welcomed the subpoenas -- the court proceedings based on a subpoena
incorporate strong protections for a company worried about its in-
tellectual property.

In a further widening of inquiries into Microsoft, the Justice De-
partment has asked for material from Microsoft's partner content
providers listed on Microsoft's Active Desktop [5], such as Digital

Congress was full of anti-Microsoft rumblings last week as well [6],
though some Senators sided with the company, including Jack Kemp, a
probably presidential candidate in 2000.

[3] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,18692,00.html?pfv
[4] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/12-24-97.html#s01
[5] http://www.infoworld.com/cgi-bin/displayStory.pl?98025.wcmsbattle.htm
[6] http://www.techserver.com/newsroom/ntn/info/020698/info8_26694_noframes.html

..New SPA guidelines ding Microsoft practices

The Software Publishers Association, of which Microsoft is a mem-
ber, has issued a series of "competition principles" [7] intended
to serve as an antitrust guideline in the modern age of software.
The principles are aimed squarely at the anti-competitive practices
of the dominant player, though Microsoft is not mentioned by name,
and though the SPA officially denies any such targeting. Microsoft
is taking these developments with little grace -- it has threatened
to leave the organization in August when its membership expires [8].
The SPA's actions have opened up a schism within the organization,
as members dependent on and close to Microsoft leap to its defense
while the anybody-but-Microsoft crowd -- Novell, Netscape, Oracle,
IBM, etc. -- returns fire.

[7] http://www.techweb.com/news/story/TWB19980203S0014
[8] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,18777,00.html?pfv

..Two cream cakes

You've heard, no doubt, that a "pastry terrorist" hit Bill Gates in
the face with a cream cake [9] in Belgium. This news spread on the
Net faster than any story in history, not excluding the Heaven's
Gate suicides [10]. Here's a movie of the attack [11] (725K). The
bandwidth-challenged may prefer this 98K animated GIF of the after-
math [12]. Win95/NT users can play an interactive pie-throwing game
[13] (requires the ThingViewer ActiveX control). The perpetrator --
or "entarteur" -- was a Belgian by the name of Noel Godin [14]. Two
accomplices were arrested at the scene and released [15] two days
later when Microsoft (wisely) chose not to press charges.

The second cream cake, this one virtual, was thrown by old Internet
hands after Gates delivered a speech [16] in Finland in which he in-
troduced the term "digital nervous system," meaning a network (pos-
sibly wireless) of interconnected devices. Here's a representative
virtual cake from Einar Stefferud, who has lead or participated in
Internet standards efforts since 1975, posted on an IETF mailing

> It seems to me that someone at MS might want to say a few
> words to Bill Gates about how this shows at least one of
> two things:

> 1. That Bill is not well informed about the Internet,
> especially after the last two years of hell that we
> have gone through; or

> 2. He appears to not give a damn about prior use of Acronyms
> of great significance in his main target market.

> Question: Will the Internet need to get a usage license for
> our long exisiting Domain Name System when MS Trademarks
> "DNS"?

Gates is likely to pay no attention to the virtual cream cake. Stef-
ferud mistakes Gates's audience: not techies, but CEOs and CIOs, who
probably haven't heard of the Domain Name System and wouldn't care
if they had. The physical cake may have focused his attention on the
level of security appropriate to a very rich and influential man
travelling in the dangerous world.

[9] http://www5.zdnet.com/zdnn/content/reut/0204/282299.html
[10] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/04-04-97.html#s02
[11] http://www.xs4all.nl/~ranx/gates/
[12] http://www.tbtf.com/pics/creamcake.gif
[13] http://www.thingworld.com/events/pies/index.html
[14] http://www.cinenet.net/users/jaybab/noel.html
[15] http://www.usatoday.com/life/cyber/tech/ctc091.htm
[16] http://www.yahoo.com/headlines/980206/tech/stories/dns_1.html

..On the Microsoft culture

The Economist this week has a thought-provoking article [17] on the
top-down culture at the Redmond campus: honed for competing and win-
ning, not for bowing the neck to a government decree. (The cartoon is
worth the price of admission.) Expressing its culture, Microsoft an-
nounced a reorganization [18] -- something the company does approxi-
mately yearly -- and raised eyebrows by moving responsibility for
Internet Explorer Development into the Windows 95 product group.

[17] http://www.economist.com/editorial/freeforall/current/index_wb9227.html
[18] http://www.techweb.com/investor/story/INV19980206S0001

..$30 domain name fee may be illegal

1.7 million registrants may be due a refund

On 2/2 a federal court issued an injunction [19] barring the govern-
ment from spending $46 million collected from NSI's registration of
domain names. The money has been held in a fund intended for Inter-
net infrastructure improvements, as specified in the 1995 amendment
to the 1993 contract between NSI and the National Science Foundation
setting up the current monopoly domain-name registration system. $30
of each $100 initial registration fee has been allocated to the In-
ternet Intellectual Infrastructure Fund. No plan was ever developed
for spending these funds, and last year the Congress conducted what
amounted to a raid on the account, earmarking half for the Internet
II project. Last October a group of domain-name holders filed suit
in federal court claiming that the NSF had no authority to allow NSI
to collect any money in excess of its cost of providing the regis-
tration service. Judge Thomas Hogan said Monday that the plaintiffs
had "made a significant showing that the fund is an illegal tax."

[19] http://www.msnbc.com/news/140967.asp

..Another country TLD available to all comers: .TM

Naming as an export product is growing fast, and a new TBTF
resource keeps you up to date

Turkministan has teamed up with NetNames [20] to offer names in its
country top-level domain, .tm, to any applicant worldwide. Turk-
ministan thus joins the elite early company of national homestead
ers in the namespace land rush: Niue (.nu), Tonga (.to), and the
earliest, Norfolk Island (.nf). NetNames is one of the 88 companies
that signed up with CORE as a registrar to handle their 7 proposed
new gTLDs, now facing an uncertain prospect [21]. See the TBTF Guide
to Non-US Domain Name Registries [22] for details on the offshore

[20] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,18788,00.html?pfv
[21] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/02-02-98.html#s01
[22] http://www.tbtf.com/resource/nics-non-us.html

..The Spam King apologizes

Hell makes ice

At a Philadelphia debate featuring anti-spam workers and the self-
proclaimed Spam King Sanford Wallace, the latter stunned his aud-
ience by apologizing for the spam excesses he perpetrated with his
company Cyber Promotions. The Philadelphia Enquirer coverage [23]
provides local color:

> He quietly acknowledged that there was "too much obnoxious
> e-mail advertising out there on the Web" and said that he was
> sympathetic to people who received spam. He said he was a
> reformed spammer and would mend his ways and send only tar-
> geted e-mail, not mass bulk mailings. He even said he was
> leading a movement to encourage other spam companies to clean
> up their acts.

> He then apologized for his company's bulk e-mailing practices.
> He said he was wrong to pursue an aggressive business practice
> that resulted in many Internet "vigilantes" pursuing him and
> sending him life-threatening messages.

[23] http://www.phillynews.com/inquirer/98/Feb/05/tech.life/DUDE05.htm

..ICE: a data exchange protocol for e-commerce sites

Industry group seeks agent protocol to grease friction-free

A coalition of commerce and content sites is defining a standard way
for Web sites to talk amongst themselves about prices [24]. The vision
of Firefly Network, Vignette Corp., Adobe Systems, and other working
on ICE (the Information & Content Exchange Protocol) is to allow cat-
alog sites and content aggregators to interrogate commerce sites auto-
matically for price information. Microsoft joined recently [25]. ICE
is being built on XML, the emerging metalanguage of the Web. The co-
alition does not seem to be working on the real problem with such
schemes: the lack of motivation for commerce sites to publish their
prices in such a was as to allow a robot to compare them on a single
page. Most merchants would sooner throw sand into this friction-free

[24] http://www.zdnet.com/intweek/daily/980129b.html
[25] http://www.zdnet.com/pcweek/news/0202/06mice.html

..Is Big Brother really watching?

The long-running Inslaw scandal reawakens

>>From Edupage, 2/5/98:

> A secret hearing of Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board was
> told the Canadian government paid $31-million during the early
> 1980s for state-of-the-art software to track Canadian citizens
> by interfacing with credit card transactions, banking data,
> driver's license information, pension records, taxation infor-
> mation, criminal records and immigration records, according to
> transcripts. The U.S.-made Promis system could provide details
> of a person's health care and even library transactions. Up-
> dated versions are reportedly still being used by the RCMP and
> CSIS, but neither agency could be reached for comment. (Ottawa
> Sun 2 Feb 98)

Promis was developed by the US company Inslaw under government
contract in the early 1980s as a tool to assist law enforcement
agencies and prosecutors to track caseloads, witnesses, evidence,
etc. The Justice Department at that time deployed Promis; but in
1981 it stopped payments to Inslaw, forcing the company into bank-
ruptcy. Inslaw sued Justice on the advice of their counsel, Elliot
Richardson (the attorney general fired by Richard Nixon in Water-
gate's infamous Saturday Night Massacre a decade earlier). In 1987
a bankruptcy court judge found in favor of Inslaw and ordered the
government to pay the company $6.8 million. (Within months that
judge was off the bench, his renewal rejected by the Reagan ad-
ministration.) The judgement was upheld on appeal but was immedi-
ately appealed to the Supreme Court. Two Congressional inquiries
into the affair have made no headway partly because Justice has
consistently refused to hand over records related to the case.
Meanwhile, rumors have swirled around the Inslaw affair -- most
persistently that the Justice Department modified its unauthorized
copy of Promis to serve the needs of widespread surveillance of
citizens, and that government officials gave and/or sold copies of
this modified Promis to a number of foreign governments, including
Canada, Israel, Iraq, and South Korea. Spiraling out from Inslaw
are a bewildering array of ever wilder-sounding allegations and
charges, which you can read about here [26], [27], [28]. These
references are not particularly authoritative, and since I could
recent mainstream coverage on Inslaw and Promis I will not repeat
not find any their allegations here. Personally I don't know what
to make of this affair. It smells very bad indeed. If one percent
of the accusations have any truth to them then President Clinton's
current tribulations vanish to insignificance in comparison.

[26] http://www.sonic.net/sentinel/gvcon7.html
[27] http://www.garlic.com/ufo/txt3/2774.ufo
[28] http://www.eagle-net.org/

..The view from Softpro

A look at trends from the developer's POV

This TBTF feature looks at the industry through the lens of sales
patterns at an established bookstore for computer professionals,
founded in 1983. Rick Treitman, who with his brother Bob runs Soft-
pro in Burlington, Massachusetts, writes:

> Our view of the industry is a bit different than most. We tend
> to see where the development action is -- as opposed to the
> marketing noise. Our customers are people who need to crank
> out code and who are generally trying to take advantage of the
> latest technical developments.

<> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> The View from Softpro

by Rick Treitman <rick@softpro.com>
and Bob Treitman <bob@softpro.com>

Softpro, 112 Mall Road, Burlington, MA 01803-5300
v.781-273-2917 f.781-273-2499 www.softpro.com

This month's column picks up a couple of trends from 1997 sales
and looks at what's changed and what hasn't as reflected in Jan-
uary books sales.

The newer technologies attracting attention last month were UML
and COM/DCOM. What hasn't changed: books on NT, Java, and Perl
continue to sell as strongly as ever.


We aren't taking sides in the object wars, but sales indicate a
strong and growing interest in COM and DCOM and waning interest
in CORBA. COM/DCOM books outsold CORBA books 3 to 1 in January.


When you run a technical bookstore you have to be sure your sec-
tion markers can change easily: a whole new category can appear
within a month. A year ago there was not a single UML title on
the market. Today there are over a dozen titles; half are sell-
ing very well. If books sales are any indication, UML has high
interest among software developers.

Cisco and Routing

For years customers have been asking us for books on Cisco rout-
ers. In recent months we have received a small number of titles,
all of which have enjoyed healthy sales. Until recently we car-
ried routing in our communications section, but now routing and
switching are becoming a large enough category to require their
own section.


Sales of generic HTML books -- those that don't mention any spe-
cific HTML version number in their titles -- declined gradually
over 1997. Books on HTML 3/3.2 were steady until the fall, when
HTML 4 titles began to take off. Titles related to CGI program-
ming declined progressively over the year, to almost nothing at
present, as attention shifted to dynamic HTML and XML. Sales of
books on SGML were small and steady over the year.

UML http://www.softpro.com/softpro/object-oriented-uml.html
Cisco http://www.cisco.com/

N o t e s

> Shameless promotion: your correspondent has returned to consulting
full-time. Please visit the home of the Technology Front [29] and
get in touch if you know anyone with problems at the nexus of
technology, marketing, and business that I might help to solve.

[29] http://www.technologyfront.com/

S o u r c e s

> For a complete list of TBTF's (mostly email) sources, see
http://www.tbtf.com/sources.html .

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