Operator No. 9: March 26, 2001

I didn't mind that Bill Gates called Microsoft one of the pioneers of the graphical user interface and said it brought GUIs to the attention of the computing masses (thought Apple Computer did that).

Getting Way Too Personal

I didnt mind that Bill Gates called Microsoft one of the pioneers of the graphical user interface and said it brought GUIs to the attention of the computing masses (thought Apple Computer did that). I had no trouble with him saying Microsoft is working to support open industry standards as part of its plan to build its .Net architecture for Internet services (yes, he actually said open industry standards). But at the rollout of HailStorm — a new .Net technology — at Microsofts headquarters last week, I had a hard time swallowing the chicken they served for lunch after listening to Gates and company say we should trust Microsoft to be the central repository for all of our data. He means everything: calendars, credit-card numbers, bank-account information, contacts, documents — everything. Im all for next-generation technology, but this may be carrying the idea of personal computing just a wee bit too far. Do we really need to get that personal with Microsoft, Bill?

Baggage Woes

Chuck Martin, CEO of the Net Future Institute, tickled the funny bones of attendees at the IBM Link_2001 supply-chain conference in Las Vegas last week when he talked about the vast improvements new technologies would bring to the bane of air travel — lost baggage. He said airlines are experimenting with placing inexpensive chips on bag tags that will allow a piece of luggage to be pinpointed anywhere in the world using global positioning system technology. Martin said, "The way it is now, you go up to a counter and say, My luggage is lost. They say, It will show up. You say, When? They say, In a day or two, " In the vastly improved future, Martin said, you will walk up to a counter and say, "My luggage is lost." Theyll say, "Ah, weve found it in Malaysia." Youll say, "When will it get here." And theyll say, "In a day or two." "Now isnt that much better," Martin quipped. Ill say yes — but only if my luggage picks up frequent-flier miles for me.

At Your Service

Now that Novell has bought itself a consulting arm — through its $266-million deal to acquire Cambridge Technology Partners — the word on the street is that Hewlett-Packard is feeling added pressure to get itself a big-name consulting division. HPs proposed acquisition last year of PricewaterhouseCoopers fell through. Now, sources in the consulting industry say that HP may be in talks with troubled Internet systems integrator Scient. Of course, so many integrators are in trouble these days, HP could probably strike favorable terms with iXL, marchFirst, Razorfish, Viant or any of a number of other targets. I believe this is what is known as a buyers market.

Spy Vs. Spy

Heres one from the Kooky Conspiracy Theory Dept.: The CEO of a worldwide security consulting company, who asked not to be identified, says several huge corporate customers secure their Internet connections using both Check Point Software Technologies FireWall-1 and Cisco Systems Secure PIX firewall. Why? "They think that Mossad [the Israeli intelligence agency] has a back door into Check Point, and that the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] has one into PIX," the CEO says. A spokesman at Israel-based Check Point says this is an old rumor that is completely untrue. A Cisco spokesman also notes that this yarn comes up every now and then. He says, somewhat cryptically: "There is no government-mandated back door built into the PIX." Does that mean theres some other kind of back door in the product? Jokes the Cisco rep: "You find one, you let me know!"

Intel Exposed

Intel recently announced that it will completely halt construction on its $124 million, 10-story, chip design center in downtown Austin, Texas. The work is being stopped with only six stories erected, and Intel says it is putting up a chain-link and barbed-wire fence to keep out passersby. The company, which got $2.56 million in fees waived by the city as an incentive to lure it to downtown Austin, says that it doesnt know when it will complete the project, and that it will re-evaluate it in November or December. And that leaves Austin citizens with a rather prominent eyesore. Perry Lorenz, an Austin developer who sits on the Downtown Commission, an advisory board to the Austin City Council, says Intels move was "boneheaded" and "makes it look like were in Beirut [Lebanon]." Yikes!

A Musical Heritage

ArsDigita is a promising company with a name you want to pronounce carefully. Company spokesmen, such as David Menninger, ArsDigitas senior vice president for marketing, enunciate clearly as they say "Ars," with a rolling a string of Rs. The company, a producer of Web site content management and e-commerce applications, says it selected its name as a modern equivalent to the innovative 14th-century musical development, Ars Nova. And just in case you dont believe that ArsDigita takes musical forms seriously, theres a grand piano sitting in a meeting room just off the entrance of the companys offices near Central Square in Cambridge, Mass. My rendition of Chopsticks sounded lovely.

An Ounce of Prevention

Bruce Schneier, Counterpane Internet Securitys founder and chief technical officer and a self-described "internationally renowned security technologist," had some interesting thoughts to share on the emerging market of hacker insurance: "What will happen when the CFO [chief financial officer] looks at his premium and realizes that it will go down 50 percent if he gets rid of all his insecure Windows operating systems and replaces them with a secure version of Linux? The choice of which operating system to use will no longer be 100 percent technical. Microsoft and other companies with shoddy security will start losing sales, because companies dont want to pay the insurance premiums. In this vision of the future, how secure a product is becomes a real, measurable feature that companies are willing to pay for . . . because it saves them money in the long run." Everything usually comes down to money, doesnt it?

0 6 6

The number of days — as of March 26 — that President George W. Bush has been in office and without a technology adviser.

Lets Be Honest

Also on hand at Microsofts HailStorm introduction was Bob Muglia, group vice president of the .Net Services Group. An amiable guy, he got everyones attention by kicking off his remarks with the phrase: "Ill be honest." Microsoft, which wants to run this amazing database containing everyones data so it can create a world in which all sorts of information is interconnected in meaningful ways, knows it doesnt have a great track record running big Web sites. Hotmail, The Microsoft Network and even Microsoft.com have been hit quite a few times by outages and/or hacker attacks. So, while it has experience running sites, Muglia said, "being honest, some of that experience is very good and some of its not so good, but were committed to taking and learning from the mistakes that weve made." While I admire honesty, I dont feel particularly reassured — especially since Microsoft would be "learning" with all my data. Maybe Im just too paranoid. What do you think?