The latest victim, or beneficiary, of the Redmond vacuum cleaner is the 2-year-old Cambridge company founded by MIT and Media Lab professor Pattie Maes. Firefly's 70-odd Cambridge employees (but not Maes) will relocate to Redmond. The price was reported to be $40M, but both companies have disputed this. Firefly  developed intelligent agent software for managing the exchange of users' personal information, and is a driver of the World Wide Web Consortium's privacy initiative, P3P . Firefly is also involved in the ICE initiative , an industry consortium working on protocols for Web sites to talk among themselves.
Privacy advocates are less than universally overjoyed with the acquisition . As Need To Know 's anti-news column succinctly put it:
Spin-control plan spins out of control
thread("gum") ?> On Friday the Los Angeles Times broke the story  of Microsoft's large-scale, stealth campaign to influence public opinion in states threatening legal action against the company. It makes fascinating reading. The Times says, "Even in the modern world of corporate spin control, the proposed plan is unusual in its scope, tactics, and targets." The campaign is being choreographed by Microsoft's PR firm Edelman Public Relations. It is designed to appear not as a major campaign by Microsoft or Edelman, but as an upwelling of grass-roots support. When told of the planned campaign, the Michigan Attorney General said: "I've been battling this type of PR gimmickry for a long time, and I can smell it 40 yards away. Bill Gates would have been better off if he or one of his representatives had picked up the phone and called me."
Settling for "palm-size"
Refunds coming? Don't hold your breath
On Wednesday a federal judge ruled ,  that the $30 "Intellectual Infrastructure Fund" fee paid as a part of every domain name registration until this month had been illegally collected. He dismissed nine other counts against NSI, including the claim that it is an illegal monopoly. The plaintiffs will get refunds of their $30 fees; whether the rest of us do will hinge on a determination of class-action status in the case. This could take as long as six months. The ruling noted that even at this late date the fund could be made legitimate by an act of Congress.
Netscape releases the source code for Communicator 5, and the nerds jump on it
The earliest reports said the source compiled cleanly on Linux and worked well with Motif. Later came news of buggy code , but most developers felt that Netscape had played fair about the condition of the pre-alpha code.
Within hours of the release an Australian-led outfit called the Mozilla Crypto Group  has put the crypto back in Netscape's browser . Netscape had removed Communicator's crypto code before releasing it in order to comply with US export laws. A pre-release binary for Linux is available here  (2755K).
ISPs and Net telephony providers not required to pay into universal service fund
Like a game of Slap a Spice Girl , the so-called modem tax keeps popping up and getting whacked. Proposals that the FCC impose "universal service" charges on ISPs have been raised and dismissed on several occasions since 1995 (here's one from last year ), and rumors that the FCC is contemplating such a charge are common enough to qualify as an urban legend .
At the urging of telephone companies, two congressmen had asked the FCC to re-examine its ruling that ISPs are exempt from the charges paid directly by local phone companies and indirectly by long-distance companies to subsidize US rural and low-income phone service. The telcos want to clip the wings of the nascent Internet telephony business. The new companies lobbied hard, writing a letter to the Vice President to say a new tax would "threaten to extinguish the private investment that makes these services possible" . In turn the Clinton administration urged the FCC "to do nothing that would thwart the growth and vibrancy of the Internet." On Friday the FCC ruled  that ISPs are still to be classified as "information service providers" immune from the access charge. The ruling also classified Net telephony providers under the same rubric, but left open the possibility that the agency might mandate access charges in the future .
Print your own stamps on envelopes
The U.S. Postal Service is beta testing the first electronic stamps , which it calls "information-based indicia," based on technology from E-Stamp Corp . Initial testing in the Washington, DC area will be followed by San Francisco and Tampa, Florida. IBIs are paid for and downloaded over the Net, then printed onto an envelope or label along with a recipient's address. IBIs are two-dimensional encrypted barcodes that look like this . The IBI is stored in a small dongle-like hardware device that attaches to a PC's printer port. E-Stamp is available for Win95, Win98, and NT only. It is expected to replace postage metering machines and will cost somewhere in the hundreds of dollars, reading between the lines on E-Stamp's site.
Everything you ever wanted to know about security holes, for a price
Risks 19.65  carries a notice from Shake Communications Pty Ltd , an Australian security firm, advertising their subscription-based vulnerabilities database. They claim to list over 3,000 known security holes, updated daily, with solutions where available, on 33 OSs, 44 applications, and 74 OS commands. Shake claims to list 104 known vulnerabilities in the NT operating system, but to see the details you need to subscribe to their database, which costs AU $3750 for a 6-month subscription, or US $2522 . Shake's competition consists mostly of free vulnerability databases. For example, the ISS X-Force database  lists 52 vulnerabilities for Win95/NT; it is searchable and you can retrieve details of any vulnerability.
A little maze of twisty items, all different
New international version of PGP is available
Windows and Macintosh binaries of PGP 5.5.3i are now available for download here .
Java news ticker
This modest and useful service comes from the folks at the 7 AM News . Put the following code on any Web page of your choosing and your visitors will (if running with Java enabled) see a rotating ticker of clickable news items. You can choose from USA, antipodal, or world news, either general or Net-flavored.
<APPLET CODE="sevenAMNewsTicker.class" CODEBASE="http://www.7am.com/java" WIDTH=450 HEIGHT=15> <PARAM NAME="channels" VALUE="+USAnetnews +WORLDnetnews "> <PARAM NAME="target" VALUE="_blank"> </APPLET>
In TBTF for 1998-03-30  you read of possible trouble when the Dow Jones Average breaks into five figures. Risks for 1998-04-02  brings news of another overflow problem, this one already spotted in the wild by Frank Markus <fmarkus at pipeline dot com>. Berkshire Hathaway stock is traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway's chairman, for his own reasons has chosen never to split the stock or to pay dividends. Berkshire Hathaway has done famously well over the years, with the result that its stock now trades at $60,000.00 per share. Newspapers can't list it and online portfolio services can't deal with it.
TBTF home and archive at http://www.tbtf.com/ . To subscribe send the message "subscribe" to firstname.lastname@example.org. TBTF is Copyright 1994-1998 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.