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TBTF for 1998-01-19: With a whimper

Keith Dawson (dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com)
Sun, 18 Jan 1998 11:48:11 -0400


Contents


Microsoft's bid to remove the Special Master is rejected

The company loses another round; may be biding its time for the appelate court

In an order handed down on 1/14 [1], Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson refused Microsoft's request to remove Lawrence Lessig, the Special Master assigned to the case. The judge called Microsoft's allegations against Lessig "both trivial and altogether non-probative" and slapped the company for besmirching Lessig in public. "[The accusations] are, therefore, defamatory, and the court finds that they were not made in good faith," Jackson wrote. "Had they been made in a more formal manner they might well have incurred sanctions." Microsoft has appealed the ruling [2] (as it has the judge's main ruling in the Justice Department's favor).

Infoworld speculates [3] that Microsoft has simply given up on Judge Jackson and is placing its bets on the appeals panel, scheduled to hear the case in April. Infoworld quotes a Washington law professor: "Jackson is showing all the signs of a man who is ready to side with the government on this one. His response to Microsoft's arguments reveals a real irritation with Microsoft's advocates and their position." Another Washington lawyer notes that the three judges who will hear the Microsoft appeal are known for their conservative, anti-regulatory stances. "When Microsoft saw that list [of judges], they thought, 'this is the first bit of light we've seen.'"

[1] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,18117,00.html?pfv
[2] http://www5.zdnet.com/zdnn/content/reut/0116/272186.html
[3] http://www.infoworld.com/cgi-bin/displayStory.pl?980116.wmsconcede.htm

______

Japanese officials investigating Microsoft

"One of the most frequently used words around here these days is 'incoming' " -- a Microsoft employee

Japan's Fair Trade Commission raided Microsoft's offices [4] in Tokyo on 1/13 and searched for more than six hours for evidence that Microsoft may be violating Japanese antitrust laws. The FTC also visited several Japanese computer manufacturers, including NEC. The Japanese FTC later said it would launch an investigation into Microsoft's bundling practices. The Japanese authorities' concerns are broader than the issues in the Justice Department case, involving Excel and Word as well as Internet Explorer. (In the US Microsoft won the battle for desktop office supremacy a long time ago.) Wired reports [5] that Japanese and US antitrust officials have conferred on the Microsoft question.

[4] http://www.newsbytes.com/pubNews/98/106308.html
[5] http://www.wired.com/news/news/business/story/9651.html

______

Another factor in Microsoft's ascent: quality

Many customers are frustrated with Microsoft software; here's some who appreciate it

Simson Garfinkel's article "The firm we love to hate" [6] accentuates the frustrating side of dealing with Microsoft software, in particular its operating systems. Garfinkle proposes that a huge reservoir of pent-up frustration and rage against the Redmond giant simmers inside everyone who has been obliged to install and reinstall Windows NT on half a dozen occasions. Well, duh.

Here is another view of Microsoft's march to dominance -- that the company, at least in some markets, has earned its market share by paying careful attention to local requirements. This article is copyright 1998 by EM Ganin <eganin at ici dot net> and is published here with permission.

I just returned from a family visit to Israel. As I traveled around visiting friends and relatives, I found that nearly every one of them is running Windows 95 on their home computers. In earlier visits, I had found most people using DOS and very few people running any windowed OS (Mac or earlier versions of Windows). Microsoft has clearly won the Israeli market. They did this partly by bundling components into the OS, but also by doing an excellent job adapting to the language needs of the market.

I was initially surprised at how effectively Microsoft translated every single English-language text item into Hebrew. The menus, icons, and dialog boxes all look the same as the US version, yet the text is correctly translated into Hebrew and formatted for right-to-left display.

I also saw a Russian version of Windows 95 that seemed as comprehensively translated as the Hebrew version (I don't read Russian, so this is just an impression).

All of the common Microsoft applications were similarly translated -- in particular, the components of MS-Office and Internet Explorer. When working on the Internet, URLs still appear in English (even for Israeli sites with all-Hebrew content). The only time I saw English text appear from the OS was when the system crashed.

Microsoft Office is not automatically bundled in with the OS, yet it is very widely used. I heard (but did not verify) that MS-Word is the #1 word processor used in the country. Even if MS-IE were unbundled from the OS, I suspect that it would still remain as the dominant Web browser in this market.

At least for the Israeli market, I think that Microsoft earned its monopoly position by spending the time and resources to offer fully localized applications that easily integrate into the OS.

Note added 1998-01-19:Alexander Gagin <gagin at cityline dot ru> editor-in-chief of the Russian magazine Internet, commented on Ganin's perception of the Russian version of Windows 95, and on the larger Russian Internet and software scene.
Yes, I have to approve: the Russian version of Windows 95 is fully translated and the language doesn't "cut the ears." Microsoft has also translated all their other products, including Internet Explorer 4.0.

Microsoft is paying huge attention to the Russian market. As an example, the December issue of Internet magazine [6a] (circulation 20,000) was distributed with the Russian version of MSIE 4.0 on CD-ROM. The newsstand price for that issue was unchanged at $2; the CD-ROM was paid for by Microsoft Russia [6b] and two local ISPs, Cityline [6c] and Glasnet [6d]. This issue also included 5 free hours of connectivity from Cityline, which is one of the newest and most progressive Moscow providers, with a flat-rate price of $36.60.

In Russia MS Office is not just number one, it's the only one. It includes not only a Russian interface, but also dictionaries, hyphenation, thesaurus, syntax checking -- all the language-dependant features in the original version.

The piracy rate here is something like 95% -- anybody can freely buy a CD-ROM filled with stolen software (including MS products) at any shop on the street; the price is about $5.80. For this reason Microsoft has a harder time fighting Netscape: the MSIE "free" argument doesn't mean anything, since people usually don't think about price at all. But the high-quality Russification of MSIE is a very strong argument. Also, MS has made agreements for information channels with major Russian content providers.

Netscape is represented here by two or three persons. One of them, Pavel Krasyuk, told our magazine (for publication in the next issue) that they don't really pay a lot of attention to browser competitition with Microsoft. Both companies sell server products and office software. The "browser war" is just an advertisement for both.

[6] http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe/globehtml/015/The_firm_we_love_to_hate.htm
[6a] http://inter.net.ru/
[6b] http://www.microsoft.com/rus/
[6c] http://www.cityline.ru/e_index.html
[6d] http://www.glasnet.ru/

______

What programmer shortage?

A professor questions the ITAA's cry of "wolf"

The US administration announced plans to spend $28M [7] on a program of technical training and public education -- monitor tans are attractive, really -- to ease what it called a critical shortage of programmers, citing industry figures that 1 in 10 programming jobs (a total of 346,000) are going unfilled. A UC Davis professor has published a paper [8] called "Debunking the Myth of a Labor Shortage." He claims the hidden agenda of the Information Technology Association of America's campaign is to "develop an image of a software labor shortage in the public consciousness" and thereby increase the number of cheap college graduates available to employers. Thanks to Walter Lamia <lamia at hpfcla dot fc dot hp.com> for the tip.

Note added 1998-01-21: A reader pointed out that the ITAA is not alone in documenting a programmer shortage, and supplied references [8a] and [8b]. Another reader, a seasoned manager who has been hiring programmers for many years, spluttered in utter exasperation at the UC Davis paper [8], saying "There's too much dreck in Matloff's article to read all the way to the end, but I could find something to object to in every paragraph I did read." He notes that he hires only about 2% of the people whose resumes come by "for the damn good reason that that's about the number who are competent."

[7] http://www8.zdnet.com/pcweek/news/0112/15aitaa.html
[8] http://heather.cs.ucdavis.edu/itaa.real.html
[8a] http://www-scip.stanford.edu/scip/sirp.html
[8b] http://www-scip.stanford.edu/scip/avsgt/

______

A "fixed" MSIE security hole reopens

Renewed vulnerability in code that integrates browser and desktop

A security problem Microsoft thought it had laid to rest last October [9], #15 on the TBTF list of Microsoft security exploits [10], is back in slightly modified form. Dildog -- who discovered the original weakness -- found that the bug in Internet Explorer's processing of the res:// scheme is also present in mk://. The mk:// scheme is a proprietary Microsoft method used internally by programs to extract information from compressed files, such as InfoViewer Topics. Here is dildog's complete description of the exploit [11], including code for IE 4.01. Finally, Lloyd Wood <L.Wood at surrey dot ac dot uk> offers this exploit page [12], which will crash your Pentium by invoking the f00f bug. (Remember f00f [13]?)

[9] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1997-11-10.html#Tmsb
[10] http://www.tbtf.com/resource/ms-sec-exploits.html
[11] http://l0pht.com/advisories/ie4_x2.txt
[12] http://www.ee.surrey.ac.uk/Personal/L.Wood/IE4mk/
[13] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1997-11-10.html#s02

______

Excite warns of a security vulnerability

Thousands of webmasters are asked to patch Excite's free search engine

Excite for Web Servers is a free (and unsupported) package that webmasters can download to provide flexible search functions across a Web site. On 1/15 Excite sent a notice to everyone who has ever downloaded EWS that it contains a security vulnerability that could be used to compromise Unix or NT systems on which it is installed. Excite has submitted a patch to CERT for verification and pointed EWS users to a patch page [14]. The company stresses that the bug does not affect the Excite home or partner pages, only sites that have installed EWS.

[14] http://www.excite.com/navigate/patches.html

______

Palm Pilot to use elliptic curve cryptography

Cracks are appearing in RSA's dominance of commercial cryptography

3Com, makers of the popular minature organizer, announced [15] that future versions of the Palm Pilot will use ECC crypto technology from Certicom. The Palm Pilot should provide an ideal test-bed for ECC's claims to robust security with small key sizes and a minimal computational footprint.

In other Certicom news, on 1/12 Robery Harley <Robert.Harley at inria dot fr> announced [16] the fall of the third in Certicom's series of crypto challenges. Harley's ever-growing team, now numbering 56, has been first to overcome each of the Certicom challenges broken to date. (I wonder if any other teams are even competing.)

[15] http://www.internetnews.com/prod-news/1998/01/1401-palmpilot.html
[16] http://www.tbtf.com/resource/certicom3.html

______

Site to charge only IE4 visitors

An escalation of bad feeling in the TBTF Exclusionary Sites Hall of Shame

The practice of building exculsionary Web sites has taken a turn for the nasty. The Official Lost & Found site [17] will begin charging visitors who reconnect with lost property -- but only those who come in using IE4. Users of all other browsers, including older versions of IE, will continue to get free service. The site owners say they are taking this step to protest Microsoft's increasing tendency to produce and to encourage IE-only content. C|net covered this story [18] as a followup on their recent interest in exclusionary sites [19]. (But you read it here first.)

[17] http://www.lost-found.org/olfcore.html
[18] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,18188,00.html?pfv
[19] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,17676,00.html?pfv

______

Culture hacking

These folks will pay you to mess with the mind of the consumer society

The rTMark site [20] is the public face of a shadowy organization that sponsors and pays for acts of culture hacking. Their aim is to "encourage the intelligent sabotage of mass-produced items." (The name is intended to suggest "® TM ark," and is pronounced "art mark.") This is the organization that solicited and then paid money to a programmer at Maxis who added kissing boys action figures to the game of SimCopter just before it shipped [21], [22]. The programmer, Jacques Servin, was fired for his trouble but has bounced right back with the Whistlesmiths Web site [23], from which he offers career counselling for those dismissed for acts of product sabotage. In 1993 rTMark orchestrated the notorious Barbie Liberation Organization's GI Joe / Barbie voicebox switcheroo [24]. Read the rTMark manifesto here [25]. Wired covered the emergence of rTMark from its veil of secrecy last April [26].

Incidentally, the Web host for the rTMark pages is paranoia.com in Austin, Texas, whose owner, as Zero Micro Software, registered the domain name micros0ft.com. After Redmond lawyers convinced the InterNIC to suspend the name, he preserved the joke page at [27].

Another prolific and lifelong culture hacker is Joey Skaggs, self-described "socio-political satirist, media activist, culture jammer, hoaxer, and dedicated proponent of independent thinking and media literacy" [28].

Finally, a tip of the Tasty Hat to the Boston Globe, which on 1/11 ran an article (not online) profiling two software evangelists. The article describes a game they play called "reality hacking": They invent a meaningless jargon term, brainstorm a plausible meaning for it, then drop it into business conversations. The point is to get the term into play. Sort of like Jargon Scout [29] does, but less aboveboard.

Note added 1998-01-19: Udhay Shankar <udhay at pobox dot com> sends this reinforcing note by Marc Abrams, editor of the Annals of Improbable Research [29a] (from the mini-AIR mailing list):
1997-12-03 Language Experiment

We invite you to take part in a large-scale language experiment. It concerns the word "cogno-intellectual." This noble word can be used as an adjective or as a noun. We just invented it. The fact that "cogno-intellectual" has no meaning makes it a useful word. Meaning nothing, it can be used for anything.

Here is the experiment. Use the word "cogno-intellectual" in written and oral communications with colleagues, especially with colleagues whom you do not know well. If you are a student, use it with your most impressable teachers. If you are a teacher, use it with your most impressable administrators. Use it at meetings. Use it with significant strangers. Use it with abandon. Use it with panache. The main thing is: use it.

The most interesting, and the most useful, stage of the experiment will be to then gather evidence that the word is seeing into general use. When you see such evidence, please send a copy to us at:

  Institute of Cogno-Intellectual Research
  c/o AIR, PO Box 380853, Cambridge MA 02238 USA

[20] http://www.paranoia.com/~rtmark/
[21] http://www.wired.com/news/topframe/775.html
[22] http://plato.divanet.com/mansco/qnn/1996/dec/QNN-96-12-08%20NYT%20(more...
[23] http://users.quake.net/jacq/whistle/
[24] http://www.virago-net.com/brillo/No1/blo.htm
[25] http://www.paranoia.com/~rtmark/document.html
[26] http://www.wired.com/news/culture/story/2997.html
[27] http://micros0ft.paranoia.com/
[28] http://www.joeyskaggs.com/html/topsec/index.html
[29] http://www.tbtf.com/jargon-scout.html
[29a] http://www.improb.com/

______

Netscape needs a laugh

j.gates, santa The poetic justice goes on for days

The ossifragian speculation on how many layoffs the company will announce along with its final earnings figures on 1/27 -- estimates center on 400 [30] -- must be freighting the atmosphere in Mountain View. But the boys can still enjoy a laugh at Microsoft's expense. Steve Kremer has just the thing on his Joke Wallpaper site [31] -- a 640 x 480 picture [32] captioned "Bill Gates' daughter Jennifer visits Santa Claus." The girl is saying, "It's homemade cookies Santa. You can have them only if you agree to use Internet Explorer 4.0 on all your computers at the North Pole." Kremer's logs show that between 1/4 and 1/10 this file was downloaded 568 times from 113 different addresses inside Netscape. Whether any of them was Marc, Bark, or Clark is not known.

[30] http://www.yahoo.com/headlines/980115/tech/stories/netscape_1.html
[31] http://www.jokewallpaper.com/
[32] http://www.jokewallpaper.com/htm/166.htm

______

Quick bits

A collection of notes on e-commerce, domain naming, and the farther reaches of scientific research

bul 1997 e-commerce totalled $7B

A new survey by Simba Information [33] says that the largest category was business-to-business, with Cisco doing $3B and Dell $1B. Online sales at a number of organizations (for example amazon.com and Digital) grew year-to-year by triple-digit percentages.

[33] http://www.internetnews.com/ec-news/1998/01/1601-report.html

bul Office Depot opens its virtual doors

The office-supply superstore [34] joins the growing ranks of "category killer" retailers, such as Walmart [35], selling merchandise on the Web [36]. The category should have strong appeal in the small-office, home-office market, but the trick for Office Depot, as for the others, will be to grow the online business without cannibalizing its bricks-and-mortar sales.

[34] http://www.officedepot.com/
[35] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1997-04-04.html
[36] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,18136,00.html?pfv

bul Sun sells on the Web

Sun has adopted two key concepts from the PC world: online sales and offshore manufacturing [37]. The company's new, low-cost Ultra 5 and Ultra 10 Solaris servers are available at the company's online store [38] at prices starting below $4000.

[37] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,18067,00.html?pfv
[38] http://sunexpress.usec.sun.com/sunplaza/

bul NSI opens up for Web-based registration

Long noted for its arcane and consumer-hostile email-based registration procedures, the current monopoly registrar of .com and .net names may be responding to impending competition [39] as it offers simplified, 90-second registration [40] from your browser. The WorldNic service [41] costs $10 more than the bad old way: $110 for two years. US customers can also call 1-888-642-9675 for speedy registration.

[39] http://www.infoworld.com/cgi-bin/displayStory.pl?971231.winternic.htm
[40] http://www.infoworld.com/cgi-bin/displayStory.pl?980114.wdomain.htm
[41] http://www.worldnic.com/

bul You want to shine what behind my knees?

New research [42] by scientists at Cornell University suggests that jet lag and insomnia can be relieved by a beam of light being shone behind the knees. Three hours of blue light applied before a certain point in the circadian rhythm retards the body's clock; light stimulus after this point advances it. The treatment is most effective when applied during the time in which the subject would normally be asleep.

[42] http://news.bbc.co.uk/low/english/sci/tech/newsid_47000/47947.stm

bul With a whimper

At last month's AAS meeting in Washington three separate groups presented research [43] on the ultimate fate of the universe. Different lines of evidence all underscore the liklihood that the universe contains insufficient matter ever to reverse the expansive impulse imparted by the Big Bang [44]. Tens of billions of years after the sun expands to engulf the earth and then contracts to a fading white dwarf, the universe will be sliding towards the state dreaded by the protagonist of Pamela Zoline's 1972 story [45]: The Heat Death of the Universe.

[43] http://www.aas.org/publications/baas/v29n5/aas191/SessionList.html
[44] http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe/globehtml/012/The_end_...
[45] http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISBN=0914232894/tbtf/


Notes

bul The readership has spoken: last week's inaugural number of "The view from Softpro" [46] was an enormous hit. I'll lose the Ascii formatting, though, and content myself with this isolated example of the warlord's art [47].

[46] http://tbtf.com/archive/1998-01-12.html#s07
[47] http://tbtf.com/resource/the-lips.html

bul The Tasty Bit of the Day is back. Since 1/12/98 I've been posting one or a few bits of intelligence daily on TBTF's top page [48]. Visit each day after 10:00 eastern US time if you can't wait for the weekly retro-push.

[48] http://tbtf.com/


Sources

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

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