TBTF for 11/11/98: Quizzical

Keith Dawson (dawson@world.std.com)
Wed, 11 Nov 1998 22:56:01 -0600


TBTF for 11/11/98: Quizzical

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://tbtf.com/archive/11-11-98.html >

C o n t e n t s

Trial and tribulations
Halloween aftershocks
Jon Katz gets it
Barnes & Noble buys a large book distributor
Microsoft buys LinkExchange
DigiCash goes down
Under the radar
A standard for organizing Web sites
Carbon nanotubes promise superior flat-panel displays
Year 2000 corner
An obscure and controversial Y2K bug
Better news on embedded processors
Bank of Canada prepares for a run on cash
Spectre of military intervention raised in Scotland

..Trial and tribulations

Minor slips in the market and major slaps in court

The Microsoft trial, running at a witness a week, may drag into next
March. Imagine our joy. By then even diehard reporters may tire of
the cut-and-thrust. Netsurfer Digest puts it nicely [1]:

> The government everybody loves to abuse sues the company
> everybody loves to hate. Throw in a bunch of faceless law-
> yers cross-examining techies [with] all the charisma of a
> video driver and you've got a spectacle of thoroughly min-
> iscule proportions.

So I'll just mention one highlight, or lowlight, from the trial to
date and pass on to some intriguing movements in Microsoft's market
share numbers.

- The Justice Department has posted the direct testimony [2] of
Apple Senior VP Avadis Tevanian, Jr., but unfortunately has done
so in the form of three PDF-ized scans, each over 700K. Eric M.
Bennett did us the favor of excerpting some of the salients
of Tevanian's testimony. They are posted on the TBTF site by
permission [3].

- Sales of Lotus Notes are on the rise against Microsoft's compet-
itive product, Exchange [4]. Market-research company Electronic
Mail & Messaging Systems tracks these trends. In the first half
of 1998 Exchange outsold Notes 6.7M new seats to 5.8M. But in
the third quarter, Notes moved 3.4M new seats vs. 3.2M for Ex-

- Corporate browser use has recently swung 6% in Netscape's favor,
in the first reversal of that company's browser numbers' slide
since the 1996 introduction of Internet Explorer 3.0. Since 1966
Zona Research has periodically been conducting a small-scale sur-
vey (100-250 users) of corporate browser usage. In their October
survey [5] Zona reported a 60%-40% split in Netscape's favor,
after the July survey [6] had found 54%-46%. Here's a summary of
these results.

Oct. 1998 July 1998
n=113 n=259

n % n %
Microsoft -- -- -- --
IE4 36 32 88 34
IE3 9 8 30 12
--- ---
40% 46%
Com4 33 29 69 27
Nav4 24 21 40 15
Nav3 10 9 32 12
Nav2 1 1 0 0
--- ---
60% 54%

[1] http://www.netsurf.com/nsd/nsd.04.33.html
[2] http://www.usdoj.gov/atr/cases/f2000/2010.htm
[3] http://tbtf.com/resource/tevanian.html
[4] http://www.techweb.com/wire/story/TWB19981109S0018
[5] http://www.zonaresearch.com/browserstudy/1998/oct98/98browser.html
[6] http://www.zonaresearch.com/browserstudy/1998/july98/98browser.html

..Halloween aftershocks

Reverberations from a leaked Microsoft memo

The leaked internal Microsoft document [7] profiled in last week's
TBTF [8] continues to echo in the nerd media and far beyond.

- The original document, now called Halloween I, was followed by
Halloween II [9] -- a similar treatment focusing on the Linux
operating system, then by Halloween III [10] -- Microsoft's re-
action to the press attention to the above. (It's hard to pin
down how official Halloween III is. Surely it emanated from Mi-
crosoft, but from what altitude?)

- Robert X. Cringely took it upon himself to advise [11] the Open
Source community to stop reacting like deer in the headlights
to Microsoft's baleful glare.

- The Observer opined [12] that the Halloween Document marks the
apogee of Microsoft's dominance. Conclusion: "If you have Mi-
crosoft shares, prepare to sell them now."

- Linux Today investigated [13] most of the 20 Microsoftie review-
ers and endorsers whose names appear at the end of Halloween I.

- Halloween II predicted that complicated Web standards such as
the developing DAV (Distributed Authoring and Versioning) will
prove difficult for the Open Source community to grapple with.
Last week an Apache developer announced the first release of an
open-source DAV module for the Apache server on Linux [14].

[7] http://www.opensource.org/halloween1.html
[8] http://tbtf.com/archive/11-03-98.html#s02
[9] http://www.opensource.org/halloween2.html
[10] http://www.opensource.org/halloween3.html
[11] http://www.pbs.org/cringely/pulpit/pulpit19981105.html
[12] http://reports.guardian.co.uk/articles/1998/11/8/32026.html
[13] http://linuxtoday.com/stories/638.html
[14] http://www.lyra.org/greg/mod_dav/

..Jon Katz gets it

Moral media for a new age

Self-described "technologically challenged media critic" Jon Katz
discovered Slashdot.org [15] and straightaway got religion. (He got
such a case of it that yesterday he subscribed to TBTF. Welcome,
Jon.) Katz believes that bottom-up sites such as Slashdot, untidy
and boisterous, deliver on the promise of a revolutionary new med-
ium in a way that crossover old media such as Slate and Salon can
never aspire to. The white-hat character of the Open Source move-
ment spawns media with built-in moral authority.

> Moral media are the ones that shape events, while amoral media
> sag and fade away... This is what put Microsoft's now mythic
> Halloween Document and the Open Source Software movement in
> such stark relief -- here was a greedy, arrogant company
> struggling to figure out how to close down or control access
> to the freest culture in the world so they could make more
> billions, and here is one of many Web sites devoted to im-
> proving and giving away for free the systems that might run
> the Digital Age.

It's funny, though: Bill Gates insists he is developing a stable
operating system, and Linus Torvalds claims to be bent on world

[15] http://slashdot.org/features/98/11/09/1124251.shtml

..Barnes & Noble buys a large book distributor

Purchase of Ingram gives Amazon.com pause

On 5 November Barnes & Noble announced it will buy the closely held
Ingram Book Group [16]. Ingram is the country's largest book distrib-
utor and Amazon.com's biggest supplier -- 57% of Amazon.com's book
purchases came through Ingram last year. Amazon.com officials immed-
iately voiced their concern over the combination, as did industry
analysts [17]. Barnes & Noble's online unit, Barnesandnoble.com, is
Amazon's principal Web competitor. Ingram insists it will honor ex-
isting contracts and distribution arrangements.

For a good time, follow these links and read the press releases in

- Amazon.com Issues Statement Regarding Barnes & Noble's Acquisi-
tion Of Ingram Book Group [18]

- Barnesandnoble.com Issues Statement Regarding Amazon's State-
ment About Barnes & Noble, Inc. [19]

- Amazon.com Issues Statement Regarding BarnesandNoble.com's
Statement Regarding Amazon.com's Statement About Barnes &
Noble, Inc. [20]

[16] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,28452,00.html?tbtf
[17] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,28474,00.html?tbtf
[18] http://biz.yahoo.com/prnews/981106/wa_amazon__1.html
[19] http://biz.yahoo.com/bw/981106/barnesandn_1.html
[20] http://biz.yahoo.com/prnews/981106/wa_amazon__2.html

..Microsoft buys LinkExchange

And privacy loses, again

As if to demonstrate that the Justice Department is not about to
slow it down, Microsoft has purchased [21] the LinkExchange adver-
tising network and its family of related sites servicing mostly
small businesses. LinkExchange will be folded into Microsoft's MSN
collection of Internet properties. The services the new acquisi-
tion brings to MSN include:

- Express Store -- offers online ad packages on LinkExchange

- SubmitIt -- submits a URL to numerous search engines

- ClickTrade -- an affiliate program

- Merchant Planet -- helps users build storefronts and accept
credit cards

- ListBot -- builds and hosts e-mail lists

The acquisition has a privacy wrinkle that none of the traditional
media outlets caught. Stephen Heise <stephen@streetprices.com> de-
scribes the problem this way.

> With that purchase they buy all the email addresses in ListBot
> as well as historical stats on 400,000 LinkExchange web sites,
> 10-100 million user cookies, and the clicktrail for every sur-
> fer on a LinkExchange site. Should they wish to combine the
> LinkExchange cookies with their other electronic profiles (by
> a trivial redirection of gifs from LinkExchange to MSN, passing
> along the LE cookie info), they could even find out _who_ was
> surfing what pages when.

> This dwarfs the Netscape URL sniffing software [22] because
> it's not optional and, what's more, it's retroactive.

[21] http://www.thestandard.net/articles/article_print/0,1454,2391,00.html
[22] http://tbtf.com/archive/10-27-98.html#s03

..DigiCash goes down

Flawed concept or just flawed execution?

The pioneer in e-cash, the company considered by privacy experts to
offer the gold-plated standard for anonymous transactions, announced
[23] on 4 November that it will seek Chapter 11 protection in bank-
ruptcy court. The demise of David Chaum's groundbreaaking company
has stimulated reams of commentary on mailing lists such as e$, mi-
cropay, and cryptography. Some posters paint DigiCash's demise as
indicative of the fatal flaws they see in the very idea of anony-
mous digital money. Others chalk up the failure to Chaum's dogged
insistence on unrealistically high royalties for using his patented
blind-trust process. These two views are reflected in this posting
[24] to the Red Rock Eater News Service, in which moderator Phil Agre
introduces Robert Hettinga playing Gordon Gekko [25]. I agree with
Hettinga more than I do with Agre in this case, but Agre's prose is
not to be resisted.

> Interactive television, VRML, Active X, network computers,
> "push" technology, agents, "social" interfaces, resource
> visualization, cryptographic payment mechanisms... [this]
> sad line-up of underperforming technologies should be under-
> stood not as serious attempts at innovation but as a kind
> of ritual, an expensive and counterproductive substitute
> for the chants and dances that healthy societies perform
> when they are placed under stress.

[23] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,28360,00.html?tbtf
[24] http://www.egroups.com/list/rre/952.html
[25] http://us.imdb.com/Title?Wall+Street+(1987)

..Under the radar

A new hacker tactic: low-frequency, coordinated scans

Beginning last July, security experts began to document a new type
of probe directed against protected networks. Low-frequency scans
originating from multiple IP addresses could slip in beneath the
notice of most intrusion-detection software. In September the Sha-
dow group, an anti-hacker coalition, issued a report on the tell-
tale signs of such stealth attacks [26]. See [27] for a readable
summary of this report. Developers of intrusion-detection systems
such as Network Associates and ISS are hard at work on detectors
for low-frequency attacks [28].

[26] http://www.nswc.navy.mil/ISSEC/CID/co-ordinated_analysis.txt
[27] http://www.andovernews.com/cgi-bin/news_story.pl?90350
[28] http://www.zdnet.com/pcweek/stories/printme/0,4235,360254,00.html

..A standard for organizing Web sites

Finding things where you expect to

The ever-reasonable Greg Knauss has proposed a standard to help ease
the complexity of navigating unfamiliar Web sites [29]. He writes:

> Just as convention suggests a Web server start its host name
> with the now ubiquitous "www," the other end of the URL is
> ripe for standardization.

The suggestions are common-sensical and in fact resemble the conven-
tions already adopted by many sites concerned to ease the journey of
first-time or infrequent visitors.

[29] http://theobvious.com/archives/110298.html

..Carbon nanotubes promise superior flat-panel displays

Grown like grass on glass

Nanotubes are thin, elongated versions of buckminsterfullerenes --
soccer ball-shaped carbon molecules named for the late Buckminster
Fuller, architect and inventor of the geodesic dome. Buckyballs have
intrigued scientists since they were first made in 1985. Now a team
at SUNY Buffalo has found a way to grow nanotubes onto thin sheets
of glass [30], in rows resembling a buzz-cut head of hair, for use in
display panels. The nanotubes are much stronger than steel and are
highly efficient electron emitters. "Our nanotubes are beautifully
aligned, they grow at relatively low temperatures, and they grow on
glass," one of the researchers said.

[30] http://www.infobeat.com/stories/cgi/story.cgi?id=2556956475-31f

..Year 2000 corner

Declan McCullagh's Politech email list [31] has become a rich source
for edgy year-2000 news bits. See Sources below for subscription in-

[31] http://www.well.com/~declan/politech/

..An obscure and controversial Y2K bug

A mysterious anomaly called the Crouch-Echlin Effect may strike com-
puters with a nonbuffered real-time clock even after they have been
checked for Y2K problems and fixed. This NY Times article [32] (free
registration and cookies required) describes the reported glitch and
gives equal time to its critics, who suspect the motives of Msrs.
Crouch and Echlin and claim that the problem cannot be reproduced.
Compaq Computer, nee Digital, exacerbated the controversy recently
by announcing for sale software to check for Crouch-Echlin, and pay-
ing a royalty to the discoverers.

[32] http://www.nytimes.com/library/tech/98/11/biztech/articles/09bug.html

..Better news on embedded processors

Electric and gas utility Washington Water Power tested 540,000
embedded components and found only 1,800 (3.3%) that contained
year-2000 date dependencies [33]. Of that number, only 234 needed
to be fixed or replaced -- only 4/100 of 1% of the total. Earlier
guesstimates of likely failure rates ranged up to a few percent
overall for imbedded processors in the power and transportation

[33] http://www.computerworld.com/home/print.nsf/all/9810126DF6

..Bank of Canada prepares for a run on cash

The bank is ready to print more money should people become anxious
about the millennium bug and want to withdraw extra money as a safe-
guard [34]. A spokeswoman for the Canadian Bankers Association said
banks expect consumers' worries to increase as Jan. 1, 2000 draws

[34] http://www2.thestar.com/thestar/editorial/money/981102BUS01d_FI-CASH2.html

..Spectre of military intervention raised in Scotland

A leaked letter [35] reveals a warning that the millennium bug
could spark a Scottish civil emergency requiring military inter-
vention. The letter is part of a feud between a Scottish parlia-
mentarian and the British defense secretary over cuts to the
Territorial Army north of the border. It reads in part:

> Labour have previously assured us that they were in control of
> the millennium bug problem. Fears are now growing that this is
> no longer the case.

[35] http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk_politics/newsid_208000/208029.stm


Blinding 'em with science

On the 20th anniversary of its coverage of science and technology,
The Economist is running its second science quiz [36]. The first was
10 years ago. I've subscribed to the magazine for 8 years and have
read the science news religiously -- their coverage often surpasses
that of Scientific American in clarity and comprehensibility to the
layman -- but I found this tightly designed little quiz humbling.
The Web quiz [36] rides an easier medium than the dead-trees edition
and it scores you automatically.

[36] http://www.economist.com/editorial/freeforall/current/st4654.html

N o t e s

> Your correspondent will be in attendance at the Cato Institute's an-
nual conference on technology and society Nov. 19-21 in San Jose
[37]. This year's conference, "Washington D.C. vs. Silicon Valley,"
is co-sponsored by Forbes ASAP. Drop me a note if you're planning
to attend -- perhaps we can pull together a TBTF dinner.

[37] http://www.cato.org/events/technol.html

S o u r c e s

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

> Politech: email majordomo@vorlon.mit.edu with any subject and with
message: subscribe politech .

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Keith Dawson dawson@world.std.com
Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.

Version: PGP for Personal Privacy 5.5