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...
An eventful two weeks for the software giant and its government (and other) pursuers
Unless you you've been deprived of Net access for the past two weeks, you've been immersed in a storm of news, as pervasive as pre-holiday commercialism, about the DoJ / Microsoft antitrust battle. News.com collects URLs to all of its coverage here . To recap:
12-11: Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson issues a preliminary injunction  requiring Microsoft to offer a version of its operating system that does not include Internet Explorer. He also appoints a Special Master, Lawrence Lessig, to advise the court on the legal and technical intricacies of the case .
12-15: Microsoft complies  with the injunction in a way that the San Jose Mercury News calls "compliance with a raised middle finger"  (this link requires Mercury Center membership). Here is Wired's coverage , which sums up Microsoft's response in two words, the first of which is not printable and the second of which is "you." The company said it would proceed full steam ahead with Windows 98, in which IE is so completely integrated with the OS that it practically disappears.
12-17: The DoJ files a motion accusing Microsoft of contempt of court .
12-17: Other parties are lining up to take their whacks at Microsoft. Attornies General from nine US states meet for three days to discuss a coordinated antitrust action .
12-18: Users post their own solutions to removing IE from Windows 95, and Netscape promises to post detailed instructions for removing IE , complete with a button for replacing it with Netscape's browser.
12-19: Judge Jackson deinstalls Internet explorer from a new computer in 90 seconds  and asks both sides to file comments. A Microsoft spokesman acknowledges informally that the "deinstall" program shipped with Windows 95 will remove visible portions of the browsing software, but stressed that it deletes only about three percent of the IE code; some of the remaining 97% is needed by other applications.
12-23: Microsoft files its comment  in response to the above, says these shenanigans demonstrate that "poorly informed lawyers have no vocation for software design." (A bit arrogant, do you think?) In a separate filing  the company asks Judge Jackson to remove the Special Master , claiming that Lessig's writings betray an anti-Microsoft bias.
12-23: Former Senator and presidential candidate Robert Dole is quietly building an anti-Microsoft coalition .
12-23: Mother Jones weighs in with an investigative piece  claiming that Microsoft so dominates the Business Software Alliance that it can and does offer foreign countries relief from copyright and trademark actions if they agree to replace their current software with purchased Microsoft products.
12-24: Hiawatha Bray, writing in the Boston Globe [15a] (the article may not be online more than a few days), notes that some of the fellow BSA members cited in the Mother Jones article disclaim its accuracy.
12-24: Microsoft stock falls to a 6-month low . (MSFT is still up 45% over year-end 1996.)
The state of Washington moved quietly to deny overtime pay to software professionals who work on a part-time or contract basis. The Department of Labor & Industry held hearings behind closed doors; the Seattle times carried no word of the planned rule change until after the period for public comment had closed. The first coverage  caused such a storm of calls and letters to government officials that the comment period was reopened .
The proposed rule would exempt from overtime "any employee who is a computer-system analyst, computer programmer, software engineer, software developer, or other similarly skilled worker" who has experience and theoretical knowledge of computers. Those employees would be paid "straight time" for extra hours, while those earning under $27.63 per hour would continue to receive an overtime premium. Most software temps earn well above this cutoff.
The exemption was proposed by the Washington Software and Digital Media Alliance, whose largest member is Microsoft. The company supports the rule change but has let the Alliance and contract-employment agencies lead in lobbying for its adoption. Microsoft is the state's largest employer of contract software professionals, with an estimated 3,500 to 5,000 temps in its Seattle-area work force of 16,000.
This item from Edupage (1997-12-02) sheds light on another reason why such a no-overtime rule might appear politically attractive.
One side effect of the increasing shortage of qualified high-tech workers is a sharp rise in salaries for technical jobs, which is causing morale problems among non-technical staffers working side-by-side who are beginning to see the pay scales diverge. "Salaries are escalating really quickly," says one technical director. "Sometimes, it's difficult for human-resources people to comprehend how fast that is hap- pening." The increase in salaries is also making it harder to pitch technology projects to top management, says another information technology director: "Management always reads about technology costs going down. But now costs are going up, and it's hard for them to digest this." (Wall Street Journal 1 Dec 97)
The proposal would bring Washington labor regulations into conformity with federal law, which was changed in 1995 to exempt software professionals from overtime rules. Most other states already have adopted the change, said Greg Mowat, the Department of Labor and Industries' program manager for employment standards. The $27.63 cut-off was borrowed from the federal law.
David Black <d.black at opengroup dot org> sent the following account from the recent IETF meeting in Washington.
A truly amazing story was told by Robert Kahn (CNRI) and Don Heath (Internet Society, a/k/a ISOC). In 1990, a company called "Internet Inc.," working on electronic networks for banking, registered the word "Internet" as a trademark to refer to interconnecting banking networks. At that time, Robert Kahn says the company CEO assured him that there was no problem with using "Internet" to refer to the Internet -- that was a completely separate domain of usage. Since that time, they have retracted that assurance, and claimed that use of the word Internet in "Internet Society" (and by implication in IETF also) infringes their trademark. CNRI and ISOC filed a petition to cancel the trademark in 1994, so that the term "Internet" would be freely usable when referring to the Internet, and that case has been winding its way through the works ever since. The owners of the trademark apparently regard the trademark as a valuable asset and are not inclined to part with it. The US Patent and Trademark office is not being helpful at the moment -- they're apparently inclined to uphold the trademark on the basis that nobody seems to care. Among the evidence that the term Internet has gone into widespread public usage is the fact that an Alta Vista search during this presentation turned up over 8 million documents online that use the word "Internet."
Since the US Patent and Trademark office does not want to be contacted via email (e.g., see ), it's necessary to contact the Secretary of Commerce (US Department of Commerce):
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 202-482-2112 Fax: 202-482-2741 Mail:The Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks, Bruce Lehman, may also be reachable via email at Bruce.Lehman@uspto.gov .
The Honorable William M. Daley Office of the Secretary Rm. 5854 U.S. Department of Commerce 14th & Constitution Ave. NW Washington, DC 20230
A new report focuses on the questionable, and the simply inexplicable, exclusions of a leading vendor of censorware
A new organization of Net activists and writers, The Censorware Project, has produced an in-depth look at some of the sites blocked by a leading censorware product. The report  is called Blacklisted by Cyber Patrol: From Ada to Yoyo. It lists entire ISPs blocked, sites with names similar to offensive sites, and sites on gay issues. Cyber Patrol blocks all of the Tripod site -- 1.4 million members' home pages -- even though Tripod's terms of service explicitly forbid members to post the kind of material that censorware is meant to deflect.
The English predated Diffie and Hellman by 3 years. Did the Yanks also invent PK, 7 years eariler still?
The British intelligence agency GCHQ last week released a paper  stating that officers of the British intelligence service discovered public-key cryptography years before Hellman, Diffie, Merkle, Rivest, Shamir, and Adelman. The New York Times coverage of the story is here ; those without an account at CyberTimes may prefer this TechWeb article .
John Ellis wrote the history of the British development in 1987, soon after his retirement from government service; the document was classified until last week. Ellis published an existence theorem in a secret memo in 1970 for what he called non-secret encryption. Colleagues at GCHQ then developed algorithms equivalent to RSA in 1973 and to Diffie-Hellman in 1974. The first public step toward public-key encryption was the publication of Diffie and Hellman's paper in April of 1976.
Evidence is beginning to emerge that may award first discovery to American spooks. The CD-ROM version of the 1997 Encyclopedia Britannica says, under "Cryptology: Cryptography: Two-key Cryptography":
To date the NSA has not followed the lead of GCHQ; they have said nothing on record about the early development of PK crypto. It's safe to assume that the last word has not been spoken on this historical question.
A Web site of reference emerges for signed breakins
Hacked.net is developing into a complete historical reference for hacked Web sites, including copies of the pages with which hackers have replaced the front doors of Coca-Cola, NASA, Amnesty International, and a couple of hundred other sites. Here is a summary  of all known hacks of public pages since March 1977, and here are details  for the month of December. The totals:
12/97 83 Fox Network, Yahoo, Trivial Pursuit 11/97 27 Spice Girls 10/97 44 Iomega Corp., ValuJet 09/97 31 Coca-Cola Company, USGS 08/97 15 First Michigan Bank 07/97 8 Minnesota State Government 06/97 11 Geocities, Face-Off film site, USDA 05/97 7 Asahi TV Japan, Polish Cabinet 04/97 8 Amnesty International 03/97 3 NASA
This is getting repetitive, repetitive
Robert Harley, who announced  the solution of the first increment of the Certicom challenge two weeks ago, succeeded with the aid of a larger group of collaborators in breaking the second challenge goal as well .
Users say they want the secure container technology embedded in applications, not standalone
IBM is shutting down  the operation developing its much-hyped Cryptolopes  software, a secure container technology used for sending content over the Internet and for tracking intellectual property rights. Elements of the technology may be appear in Lotus Notes and/or in IBM's net.Commerce merchant server. An IBM spokeswoman said the company will not be bringing the Java-based Cryptolopes Live product to market as planned. Beta testing revealed that customers wanted to see that technology melded into other applications.
The Net is getting big enough that the most accurate way to track its growth may be statistically
This site , developed at BellCore for internal use, recons the size of the Internet by purely statistical means. (It uses a Java applet for display, so enable Java before you visit.) The authors figure that the Net is now large enough that statistical methods for estimating its size will give better accuracy than sampling or enumerating :
So how big is the Net right now? 29,920,069 hosts and counting.
More entries in the TBTF Exclusionary Sites Hall of Shame
Lots of responses to the Hall of Shame feature , . "Shame" is a strong word; it grabs attention, perhaps more attention than putting up a less than universally available site deserves. Here are two more such sites pointed out by readers, in both cases excluding visitors using MSIE; and one response from a Hall of Shamer.
Joel Rosner <joelhr at columbia dot edu> writes that his school, Columbia, discriminates against the Internet Explorer browser. To enable access to the Internet, members of the Columbia community need to register their Ethernet card for the network. The page on the site that lets you do that says:
Finally, Tesco  got wind of their inclusion in the Hall of Shame and sent this note:
Oh heck, you weren't talking about email?
Peter Langston <psl at langston dot com> forwards the following perfect little item from David A. Bayly <dbayly at udena dot ch>.
Sorry to disappoint those who thought email when they read the title.
The collaboration of Alta vista with SYSTRAN is good news for non- English speaking users of the Web. It's good fun, too
SYSTRAN language-translation software was first reviewed here in TBTF for 1997-01-29  when it was in an early stage of development. At the time, it took me four days to get the Jargon Scout page  translated into Spanish  -- the server was that overloaded. Now Digital's Alta Vista search service has teamed up  with a more mature SYSTRAN to offer on-the-fly translation of non-English Web pages returned from Net searches.
Given Alta Vista's track record in maintaining sub-second search times over tens of millions of requests per day, capacity limitations in translation should be a thing of the past.
You can go directly to Alta Vista's translate page  and enter text to be translated, or a URL. Five languages are supported: German, French, Spanish, Portugese, and Italian. In its alpha test SYSTRAN also offered Russian but this has been dropped. The service requires English on one end of each translation, so you can translate from, e.g., German into Italian only indirectly.
The translations are serviceable for simple text and should prove a boon for their intended audience of Web searchers. Some Net wags couldn't resist torture-testing the translation engine, however, and I must number myself among them . It was from Anthony Baxter <arb at connect dot com dot au> that I got first word of the Alta Vista - SYSTRAN collaboration. Baxter tried a simple experiment using the common phrase "Go stick your head in a pig." (Douglas Adams would have us believe  that this phrase is a registered trademark of the Sirius Cybernetics Corp. Complaints Division.) Art Medlar <art at ua dot com> provides a tool  to automate this sort of transmogrification.
English: Go stick your head in a pig. French: Disparaissent le baton votre tete chez un porc. English: Disappear the stick your head in a pig.What we're seeing here is the linguistic equivalent of successive multiplication by a number less than one. If each translation is 70% faithful to its source, for example, two trips through the translation engine result in a 51% degradation in meaning, four trips a 76% degradation, and so on.
English: Go stick your head in a pig. German: Verschwinden der Stock Ihr Kopf in einem Schwein. English: Disappear the stick your heading in a pig.
English: Go stick your head in a pig. Italian: Va il bastone la vostra testa in un maiale. English: Your head in a pig goes the stick.
English: Go stick your head in a pig. Spanish: Va el palillo su cabeza en un cerdo. English: Its head in a pig goes the small stick.
English: Go stick your head in a pig. Portugeuse: Vai a vara sua cabega em um porco. English: Vai the pole its head in a pig.
SYSTRAN makes so bold as to claim to handle idiom in its various languages. Baxter's example, and these experiments of mine , demonstrate the hollowness of the claim. Here is a prose sample from SYSTRAN's Web site  -- obviously rendered, by the very software in question, into a language curiously like English, and not since examined by any eyes attaching to an English-speaking person.
Edupage -- mail email@example.com without subject and with message: subscribe edupage Your Name . Web home at http://www.educom.edu/ .
TBTF home and archive at http://www.tbtf.com/ . To subscribe send the message "subscribe" to firstname.lastname@example.org. TBTF is Copyright 1994-1997 by Keith Dawson, <dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com>. Com- mercial use prohibited. For non-commercial purposes please forward, post, and link as you see fit. _______________________________________________ Keith Dawson dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.