TBTF for 1/12/98: Immune response

Keith Dawson (dawson@world.std.com)
Mon, 12 Jan 1998 22:58:25 -0600


TBTF for 1/12/98: Immune response

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

Your Host: Keith Dawson

This issue: < http://www.tbtf.com/archive/01-12-98.html >

C o n t e n t s

Microsoft makes nice
The fringes of spam fighting
Chinese Internet regulations
Why SGI should worry
A spy satellite of one's own
Multilingual chat
The view from Softpro

..Microsoft makes nice

Many voices debate the questions of monopolies and anti-trust in
the information age

TBTF for 12/24/97 [1]

With its contempt hearing coming up on Tuesday 1/13, Microsoft last
week decided it was time to apply some salve to the wounds it had
opened by treating the judiciary and the Justice Department in the
same manner it treats competitors. The company sent top executives
(but not Bill Gates) fanning across the country late last week giv-
ing interviews such as the one described here [2], in which COO
Robert Herbold (as Eddie Haskell) said that both the company and the
Justice Department may have made statements that were too strong.
A Bloomberg story (not online) reported this exchange with Herbold
during one of these damage-control sessions.

> Asked how small software companies could compete on products
> that Microsoft plans to fold into its operating system, Herbold
> said smaller rivals had three possible paths: They could fight a
> losing battle, they could produce a successful product and then
> sell to Microsoft or another large company, or they could "not
> go into business to begin with because, hey, if you're a betting
> person, you know which way it's going to go."

The Justice Department, meanwhile, has filed a motion asking that
Microsoft be assessed $1M / day in fines for contempt of Judge Jack-
son's Dec. 11 order [3].

To bolster its request for the removal of Special Master Lawrence
Lessig, Microsoft published [4] what it called disparaging email
notes [5] that Lessig had written last summer to an attorney at
Netscape. Following a telephone conference on 1/6, Lessig refused
to step down [6].

Here are a few other sidelights on the Microsoft-Justice dispute.

- A software entrepreneur, Rich Seidner, gives a blow-by-blow
account [7] of the Microsoft takeover of a small corner of
technology: "What I learned is exactly how Microsoft's com-
petitive practices can do harm."

- Virginia Postel writes that it was Apple, not Microsoft, which
has habitually behaved like a monopolist [8].

- Obtain if you can a copy of the 1/12/98 issue of the New Yorker.
(As far as I know the magazine does not have a Web presence,
although it secured the domain name newyorker.com in 1993.) In
this issue John Cassidy relates the gradual acceptance of the
big idea of Stanford economist Brian Arthur: that conventional
antitrust thinking is simply inapplicable to large parts of the
modern economy, in particular to high tech and telecomms. These
markets are characterized by "increasing returns" (this is
Arthur's term -- other economists tend to say "network extern-
alities"), and in such markets the value of a product increases
along with the number of people who are already using it. Network
externalities obviate the expectation that unfettered markets
will select the best products and maximize benefit to the con-
sumer. Instead, inferior products can win out because of mere
happenstance: small events, such as a misleading marketing cam-
paign or a "vaporware" leak, can be magnified into large swings
in sales. In this environment it is expectable that a few firms
will establish lasting and lucrative monopolies, almost regard-
less of the merits of their products; and competition will not be
restored without government intervention. These ideas were ana-
thema to mainstream economists in 1984 when Arthur first tried to
publish them; his paper "Competing Technologies and Lock-in by
Historical Small Events" did not see print until 1989. Arthur's
ideas have influenced, among many others, the economist Steven
Salop (an advisor to the Justice Department on the Microsoft
case) and the Silicon Valley lawyer Gary Reback, who works with
Netscape against Microsoft.

[1] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/12-24-97.html#s01
[2] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,17921,00.html?pfv
[3] http://www.techserver.com/newsroom/ntn/info/011198/info11_17086_noframes.html
[4] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,17800,00.html?pfv
[5] http://www.microsoft.com/CorpInfo/DOJ/1-5lessigltr.htm
[6] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,17867,00.html?pfv
[7] http://www.news.com/Perspectives/Soapbox/rs12_30_97a.html
[8] http://www.reason.com/9801/ed.vp.html

..The fringes of spam fighting

The Internet's immune system kicks into high gear

Two brothers in Chico, California, proprietors of several spam fac-
tories, threatened to post 5 million AOL email addresses on the Web
for easy harvesting by their spamming brethren. This cheap and ob-
vious PR trick -- a pebble in the building avalanche of organized
spamming -- attracted an unholy quantity of press attention [9],
[10] before the threat fizzled [11]. Techweb offers a glimpse at the
teeming Net life swarming on the underside of the business of spam

The Net's reactions against spam are escalating along with the prob-
lem. Here are some of the stronger immune responses I've seen in
recent days.

One ISP has called for recognition that the trappings of spam are
being used, _without the intent to sell anything_, to effect denial
of service [13].

Another ISP has been billing spammers for the resources, time, and
expertise squandered in dealing with their spew [14]. Since the
spammers have not paid his invoices, he has turned the matter over
to a traditional collection agency.

Finally, Paul Vixie runs a service called the MAPS RBL [15], the Mail
Abuse Prevention System's Realtime Blackhole List. The RBL lists
known spammers, or ISPs friendly or merely neutral to them, or "in-
nocent by-sender" ISPs who aid spammers (perhaps unwittingly) by
relaying their product, or the upstream backbone network providers
who don't cooperate in tracking down the perpetrators. System man-
agers can access the RBL in real-time to verify whether or not an IP
address of unknown provenance is considered spam-friendly by Vixie,
and can use that information to (for example) reject email from that
address. System managers and ISPs more hostile to spam can peer with
Vixie's network using multihop eBGP4 to forbid any IP connection to
their network from the networks of spam-friendlies. Vixie requires
all such peers to sign a license and indemnification agreement, and
not to redistribute the RBL. These precautions assure that he can
reverse the black-hole effect in a matter of seconds for any network
that provably mends its spam-friendly ways.

[9] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,17742,00.html?pfv
[10] http://www.zdnet.com/zdnn/content/msnb/1231/267991.html
[11] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,17784,00.html?pfv
[12] http://www.techweb.com/news/story/TWB19980102S0001
[13] http://www.merit.edu/mail.archives/html/nanog/msg02942.html
[14] http://www.kclink.com/spam/
[15] http://maps.vix.com/rbl/

..Chinese Internet regulations

You can't say "Tibet" and you can't say "Taiwan"

On 12/30/97 the Chinese government promulgated final regulations gov-
erning the use of the Internet, replacing interim rules that had been
in place since early in 1997. On the web site of the US Embassy in
Beijing you can read an informal translation [16] of the regulations.
Some excerpts:

Section Five -- No unit or individual may use the Internet to
create, replicate, retrieve, or transmit the following kinds
of information:

- Inciting to resist or breaking the Constitution or laws or
the implementation of administrative regulations;
- Inciting to overthrow the government or the socialist
- Inciting division of the country, harming national
- Inciting hatred or discrimination among nationalities or
harming the unity of the nationalities;
- Making falsehoods or distorting the truth, spreading rumors,
destroying the order of society...

Of course many of these activities would be protected in the US as
free (if perhaps impolite or ill-advised) speech.

[16] http://www.redfish.com/usembassy-china/sandt/netreg.htm

..Why SGI should worry

Digital Domain rendered visual f/x for Titanic on 160 Digital
Alphas running Linux

Like many high-end Hollywood creative houses, Digital Domain [17]
relied on Silicon Graphics workstations for most of its creative and
rendering work. When DD won the contract for the film Titanic, they
knew they would need to bolster the complement of 350 SGI worksta-
tions to meet the volume and time constraints the project imposed.
An article in Linux Journal [18] describes the outcome. DD purchased
and installed 160 Alpha machines, pre-configured with a tinkered Red
Hat Linux 4.1 distribution and individual names and IP addresses, on
a 100-Mbps network, inside of two weeks. They found the compatibility,
stability, and above all price/performance of the Alpha/Linux combin-
ation unbeatable. SGI should worry.

[17] http://www.d2.com/
[18] http://www.linuxjournal.com/current/2494.html

..A spy satellite of one's own

Soon you'll be able to buy images from space that show the car
in your driveway

Spying on the earth from space was a monopoly of governments for its
first two decades. In 1986 the French company SPOT IMAGE [19] began
selling images from its SPOT satellite to all comers. At 10 meters
minimum resolution, the images were sufficient to resolve objects
the size of houses.Now a US company -- EarthWatch, of Longmont, Colo-
rado -- has launched EarlyBird [20] atop a Russian booster [21]. For
a few hundred dollars charged to your credit card you'll be able to
order a 3-meter resolution photo of any place on earth. Visit this
simulation to appreciate the difference between 3-meter and 10-meter
resolution [22]. In 1999 EarthWatch plans to launch the first of two
next-generation QuickBird satellites with a minimum resolution below
1 meter. That's just about sharp enough to resolve people from space
[23]. Here are specs for the EarlyBird and QuickBird satellites [24].
Eyes in the sky with such acuity must begin to raise privacy concerns.
Visit the Freedom Forum [25], [26] for some cautionary thoughts from
technology director Adam Clayton Powell Jr.

[19] http://www.spot.com/
[20] http://www.digitalglobe.com/news/pr_eb1launch.html
[21] http://www.sjmercury.com/breaking/headline2/080192.htm
[22] http://www.hitachi.co.jp/Prod/remosen/eng/3mimage.htm
[23] http://www.hitachi.co.jp/Prod/remosen/eng/1mimage.htm
[24] http://www.digitalglobe.com/company/ewconstell.html
[25] http://www.freedomforum.org/technology/1997/12/31satell.asp
[26] http://www.freedomforum.org/technology/1997/12/05sputnik.asp

..Multilingual chat

This simple technology demonstration harnesses the Babel fish
for simultaneous translation

Art Medlar <art@archive.org> has made unauthorized use of the SYS-
TRAN / Alta Vista translation facility [27] to construct a multi-
lingual, translating chat room [28]. (He posts a greeting on the top
page for "Mr. AltaVista," from whom he expects a complaining visit.)
You choose one of the six supported languages to write in, and an-
other or the same to read, and you can chat with your friends around
the globe, each reading and writing in his/her native language.

[27] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/12-24-97.html#s12
[28] http://www.archive.org/~art/babelchat.html

..The view from Softpro

Forget the hype, here's where it's really at

This week TBTF introduces a new feature -- a look at the industry
through the lens of sales patterns at an established bookstore for
computer professionals. Rick Treitman and his brother Bob run Soft-
pro [29] in Burlington, Massachusetts (founded 1983). (A third bro-
ther, Jim, runs Softpro in Denver, Colorado.) Rick 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.

Please let me know what you think of this feature; it could be-
come a TBTF regular.

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

| |
| The View from Softpro |
| |
| by Rick Treitman <rick@softpro.com> |
| |
| Softpro, 112 Mall Road, Burlington, MA 01803-5300 |
| v.781-273-2917 f.781-273-2499 www.softpro.com |
| |
| Linux |
| |
| 1997's best seller was not a book, it was Red Hat Linux 5.0. We |
| have observed the Linux phenomenon steadily gathering steam for |
| a couple of years now. In 1997 Red Hat took the sales lead, by |
| a wide margin, over all of the other Linux distributors (Yggdra- |
| sil, Debian, Caldera, & Infomagic). Even more compelling is the |
| momentum Red Hat is building: release 5.0 has sold at twice the |
| rate of the previous release, 4.2. What we're seeing represents |
| a victory for garage-shop software development, in that Red Hat |
| is able to compete successfully against well-financed companies |
| ten times its size. Red Hat Linux is also considerably more pop- |
| ular than the long-established FreeBSD. |
| |
| Red Hat's popularity has not gone unnoticed. SCO, until now the |
| high-priced Unix, just released through Prentice Hall Technical |
| Publishing a professional version of SCO Unix, for $79.99. They |
| have to be feeling the market heat of so much good free Unix. |
| |
| Red Hat has forged a couple of valuable alliances: with Applix, |
| whose Applixware software suites Red Hat now offers (in a separ- |
| ate box), and with the Free Software Foundation, whose familiar |
| "Gnu" logo graces the latest release of Red Hat Power Tools. |
| |
| Java |
| |
| We have now seen 345 Java titles -- of which 240 were active in |
| 1997. We do not see interest in Java going away. It remains one |
| of the strongest categories in the store. In 1997 we sold 9000 |
| of 'em. Contrast this with C++ books -- roughly the same number |
| of titles tracked and active, but 6000 sold. The pattern seems |
| to be that students learn C++, while professionals buy books on |
| Java. |
| |
| NT, 95, and what used to be |
| |
| The demand for NT books continues to grow beyond the publishers' |
| abilities to keep up. Programmers and corporate customers need |
| NT programming books; the admin side is over-published. Windows |
| 95 gets much less attention. By contrast in the entire year we |
| sold only 50 books on Novell -- and of those, 10 were on migrat- |
| ing to NT! We can't find even a single book on OS/2 to sell. |
| |
| Year 2000 -- does anybody care? |
| |
| Publishers think that books on the much-hyped Y2K crisis should |
| be a big deal. In 1997 we saw 10 titles published on the topic, |
| with minimal interest on the part of our customers. Either this |
| is a problem most people think they have under control, or they |
| already understand Y2K and don't need a book on it. |
| |
| Softpro http://www.softpro.com/ |
| Red Hat http://www.redhat.com/ |
| Yggdrasil http://www.yggdrasil.com/ |
| Debian http://www.debian.org/ |
| Caldera http://www.caldera.com/ |
| Infomag http://www.infomagic.com/ |
| SCO http://www.sco.com/ |
| Applix http://www.applix.com/ |
| FSF http://www.fsf.org/ |
| |


S o u r c e s

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