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TBTF for 1998-02-09: Hell makes ice

Keith Dawson (dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com )
Sun, 8 Feb 1998 18:14:43 -0400


Threads Ganging up on Microsoft
See also TBTF for
1999-08-16, 07-19, 02-15, 02-01, 01-13, 01-04, 1998-12-23, 12-15, 12-07, 11-11, 10-19, more...

Microsoft news

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

bul Appeals court suspends special master Lessig

The best news Microsoft has heard recently: its appeal of the appointment 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 on 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

bul 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 announced intention to integrate the Internet Explorer browser even more tightly and inextricably with Windows 98 than was done in Windows 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 intellectual property.

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

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/1997-12-24.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

bul New SPA guidelines ding Microsoft practices

The Software Publishers Association, of which Microsoft is a member, 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

bul 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 aftermath [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 introduced the term "digital nervous system," meaning a network (possibly 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 list:

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. Stefferud 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/1997-04-04.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

bul 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 winning, not for bowing the neck to a government decree. (The cartoon is worth the price of admission.) Expressing its culture, Microsoft announced a reorganization [18] -- something the company does approximately 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


Threads Domain name policy
See also TBTF for
2000-04-19, 03-31, 1999-12-16, 10-05, 08-30, 08-16, 07-26, 07-19, 07-08, 06-14, 05-22, more...

$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 government from spending $46 million collected from NSI's registration of domain names. The money has been held in a fund intended for Internet 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 Internet 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 registration 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


Threads Businesses based on domain names
See also TBTF for
2000-07-20, 04-19, 1999-12-16, 08-30, 07-08, 02-01, 1998-08-10, 04-20, 02-23, 02-09, 1997-12-08, more...

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. Turkministan thus joins the elite early company of national homesteaders 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 NICs.

[20] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,18788,00.html?pfv
[21] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1998-02-02.html#s01
[22] http://www.tbtf.com/resource/nics-non-us.html


Threads Email spam and antispam tactics
See also TBTF for
2000-07-20, 1999-07-19, 1998-11-17, 07-27, 03-30, 02-09, 01-12, 1997-11-24, 10-20, 09-29, 09-22, more...

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 audience 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 commerce

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 others working on ICE (the Information & Content Exchange Protocol) is to allow catalog sites and content aggregators to interrogate commerce sites automatically for price information. Microsoft joined recently [25]. ICE is being built on XML, the emerging metalanguage of the Web. The coalition 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 way as to allow a robot to compare them on a single page. Most merchants would sooner throw sand into this friction-free exchange.

[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, 1998-02-05:

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 information, 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. Updated 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 bankruptcy. Inslaw sued Justice on the advice of their counsel, Elliot Richardson (the attorney general fired by Richard Nixon in Watergate'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 administration.) The judgement was upheld on appeal but was immediately 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 not find any recent mainstream coverage on Inslaw and Promis I will not repeat 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 Softpro 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 at softpro dot com>
and Bob Treitman <bob at softpro dot 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 January 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 section 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 selling 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 routers. In recent months we have received a small number of titles, all of which have enjoyed healthy sales. Until recently we carried 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 specific 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 programming 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/


bul 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/


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

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