bruceb news archives 10/01/00 - 01/31/01previousnext

WHAT IS IT? 1/11

WORDPERFECT 2002 11/27
GOOGLE 11/27
ALICE 11/27
NETSCAPE 6.0 11/27
AOL 6.0 BUGS 11/7

NEW AOL, MSN 10/25

January 16, 2001
A few months ago I mentioned that Comet Cursor is accused of being "spyware" because it sends information about your surfing to its corporate parent without your knowledge or consent. Comet denies that it has any intent to invade privacy, of course. Here's my previous notes about Internet privacy.

There's a new release of RealPlayer which is crashing some systems - and the culprit appears to be Comet Cursor. Under some conditions it can crash Internet Explorer when the browser is closed. One more reason to look in Control Panel / Add-Remove Programs and take Comet Cursor off if you find it there. (On Windows 2000, it may not be that easy to uninstall it, by the way - it fails to appear in the Remove Programs list. You might need help to get rid of it.) Here's an article about the problems, and a followup article with more information.

If you're feeling paranoid, you might want to browse PC Magazine's feature on Internet privacy, with reviews of anonymous browsers, cookie managers, and firewalls. At the least, take a look at their list of 15 steps to protecting your privacy. I don't feel compelled to follow all the suggestions, but you should at least be making conscious decisions about them.


January 11, 2001
Looking for the next big thing? Harvard Business School Press just paid $250,000 for a book about IT, an invention as important as the PC or the Internet. And nobody knows what IT is.

Dean Kamen is a 49 year old scientist, recent winner of the National Medal of Technology, described by a heavyweight venture capitalist as "a combination of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison." He has an invention under wraps that has been shown to a select group of people, including Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos (Amazon), and journalist Steve Kemper. Bezos: "IT is a product so revolutionary, you'll have no problem selling it. The question is, 'Are people going to be allowed to use it?' " Jobs: "If enough people see the machine you won't have to convince them to architect cities around it. It'll just happen." Kemper: "IT will sweep over the world and change lives, cities and ways of thinking."

And nobody that's seen it will say what IT is. Kamen fears competition, so IT is under wraps until 2002.

Kamen is a smart guy, and smart people have seen IT and come out saying all these gushing things. Is it science fiction, hype, foolishness? It's kind of romantic to think that some of it might be true and we're going to see something genuinely new in a year or two.

Here's the article with more information. And if you're interested enough to read more, here's a profile of Dean Kamen from Wired Magazine.


December 27, 2000
How about a quick roundup of the high-speed alternatives in Sonoma County at the end of the year?
  • DSL is available in many areas, but definitely not all. If you're in the country, or if you're in Healdsburg or north, you're out of luck. You can click here to see if DSL is available at your location. If it is, Pacific Bell is undercutting most other prices at $39.99/month. Pac Bell's DSL service is flaky, technically inferior, and the software is annoying and buggy, but it's so much cheaper that many people choose it anyway.
  • Cable access might be coming, but if so it's a well-kept secret. (UPDATE: @HOME is offering cable service in Windsor! When I spoke to them on January 8, they had no information about any other Sonoma County city, however.)
  • Wireless access through land-based dishes is offered by Sonic's partnership with Broadlink at a reasonable price. Sonic and Broadlink are quirky companies and I'm suspicious that this venture won't work out - but who knows? AccessPort and OpenAirNetworks are also teaming up on wireless access, starting in Healdsburg. Higher price, but they promise higher quality signal. A brand new venture, with all the uncertainty that comes with startups.
  • Satellite access has only been available from DirecPC up to now. Many DirecPC customers have been frustrated by varying speeds, unexpected slowdowns, and the need to have a dialup connection to initiate browsing and to handle all outgoing traffic. In the next few months, DirecPC will begin to offer two-way, always-on satellite connections. In the meantime, another company got the jump on them. Starband is now offering two-way, always-on satellite connections for $69.99/month. I don't have any hands-on experience, but some info from their website:
  • You can get the service through Radio Shack, but only if you buy a computer.
  • You can get the service through Dish Networks for the cost of the dish - about $199.
  • They kinda promise speeds of 500k for downloads, but the real promise is only 150k - and even that promise is hedged a bit.

The next year or two will be full of new satellite ventures. Keep your eyes open! 


December 14, 2000
One extra thing to ponder before you decide whether the US Supreme Court has disgraced itself. Read it and weep.

When it reversed the Florida Supreme Court, the US Supreme Court prohibited further recounts solely because no constitutionally adequate recount could be completed by December 12, the oh-so-crucial deadline.

From today's Washington Post:

"Only 29 states and the District of Columbia had certified their presidential electors to Washington by the Tuesday night deadline that the U.S. Supreme Court had said was so important for Florida. 

"Nine more states submitted their "certificates of ascertainment" yesterday.

"The reason for the seemingly slow pace, according to officials in charge of such matters at the National Archives' Office of Federal Register, is that the real deadline is Dec. 18, when the members of the electoral college meet in their respective states and here in the District."


December 13, 2000
Handheld devices are very personal choices. Lots of people think a Palm is the perfect answer, and their Palms are the center of their lives. I never got a Palm because it just didn't feel like the right answer for me. But a notebook computer wasn't the right answer, either - very inconvenient to try to look up a phone number or appointment.

I found a device that isn't well known. I love it. Others would hate it. The Rex 5001 is the size of a credit card. More precisely, it's the size of one of the cards that plug into a notebook computer, which is one of the things you can do with it. It has a small but surprisingly readable display. (No light, though.) And it synchronizes with Microsoft Outlook. It holds calendar, to do list, and address & phone numbers - up to 6,000 entries, more than enough for most people. It's virtually impossible to enter information into it directly, but that's fine with me. Enter the info into Outlook and hit "Sync." It's dirt cheap - under a hundred dollars.

It was mildly challenging to get it set up. At one point, I was terribly glad I had followed the advice to do a backup of my Outlook info. But now that it's working, it's adorable. Here's one review, just to give you some background. 


December 13, 2000
Google is great for web searches. I usually resist add-on toolbars and floating windows and the like, but I went ahead and installed the new Google toolbar. You can download it from here. It joins the other toolbars in your browser and gives you a Google search box, of course, for full Internet searches. But it also lets you search for a word on the page on screen much more easily than the search tool built into the browser. And it lets you do a search that's focused on the pages of the web site you're visiting. There's a privacy issue - some information is transmitted back to Google when you use the toolbar - but they fully disclose the issue, and they seem committed to handle information responsibly. Here's a story about the privacy issue. Give it a try!


December 3, 2000
An interesting article today about the proceedings down in Florida. The author (Cass Sunstein, contributor to New Republic) argues that contrary to the impression created by the pundits, in fact Gore and Bush are taking reasonable positions and making substantive arguments in appropriate forums. It's easy to forget that when the press so freely tosses around its buzzwords about "spectacle" and "debacle" and "wrangling" and "reckless" and the like. Here's a couple of sentences:

"In fact, the great neglected story of November has been the eminent reasonableness of almost every legal position the Gore and Bush campaigns have taken, and the eminent reasonableness (if ambiguity) of the very Florida election law both campaigns are fighting over.

"It's possible to disagree with the legal arguments put forward by the two camps; but they are neither reckless nor absurd, and the frequent suggestion that they are says more about the instinctive cynicism of many commentators than about the arguments' legal merits."

Click here to read the entire article.


December 1, 2000
It appears that Lexis has begun offering free state and federal case law through its web site. Somebody check for me - on a quick look I don't see the pagination from the official citations on California cases, which would significantly limit the usefulness of this source. Free cases are only available from 1996 to the present, also. But the price is right, eh?

The current alternative for free California case law is Here's some more info and links.


November 27, 2000
WordPerfect lives! There will be a new version that fixes all its problems and makes it a worthwhile competitor to Microsoft Office!

No, not really. But just so you know, I'm obligated to report that Corel announced plans to release an updated WordPerfect during the first half of 2001. Here's an article about Corel's presentation at Comdex.

Look, I hate to be cynical, but the article sounds like a joke to me. WordPerfect is failing because it's full of bugs, it can't read or write Word files very well, and it doesn't integrate itself well with Microsoft Outlook. With that in mind, look at the description of new features in the next release: "In the WordPerfect word processor, many of the changes relate to tools for formatting and navigating complex documents, a longtime WordPerfect specialty. Its table tools will have more spreadsheetlike features, and let you turn existing raw text into an attractive table with a few clicks. The word processor will also boast a built-in version of the Oxford English Dictionary." They can't be serious. Yes, the article goes on to say that WordPerfect's compatibility with Word will be beefed up, but I've heard that for too many years now. They're lying.


November 27, 2000
Try using Google to do web searches. It's currently at the top of the heap, indexing a mind-boggling number of web pages and using an astonishingly smart algorithm to put up search results. I've been amazed at how accurate some of my search results have been with Google - there seemed to be a bit of mindreading going on. PC Magazine just chose it as the best search engine on the web. If you're using my Web Favorites as a home page, there's a Google search box on the left, just below the top.


November 27, 2000
Gamers take note: American McGee's Alice will be on store shelves next week. The reviewers have been looking at a preview release for the last couple of weeks and they're stumbling over themselves to heap superlatives on the game. Not to everybody's taste, but some of you will definitely be interested. Here's one site that did an extensive writeup. 


November 27, 2000
Hot on the heels of America Online's new software comes the final release of Netscape 6.0. It's not "final," of course. Reviews concede that it has bugs a'plenty and it's a sluggard at displaying web pages compared to Internet Explorer 5.5, according to the review at Stroud's. The new interface is a mess, as far as I'm concerned, although that's a personal thing. Given Netscape's history, you can count on seeing "version 6.0, build 2137" and "version 6.1" and "6.1 release 2" or whatever, at regular intervals. Loyal Netscape users: the world changes, Netscape is a mess of a company, and its browser just isn't competitive. Internet Explorer isn't perfect, but it's a heckuva lot better than Netscape's tired product. Time to switch!


November 25, 2000
There's still a few days left to see Penn & Teller at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco (thru December 3). If you've seen Penn & Teller, you probably want to see them again. If you haven't, I won't try to describe the show. If I were to tell you it's comedy and magic, you'd get a picture in your head which is terribly wrong. It's far more eccentric than that. Treat yourself! You deserve it. Here's the Chronicle's review of the show. For more information, head over to the official Penn & Teller web site. And for a bit of serious reading suggested by Penn, here's a thought-provoking article by author and scientist Richard Dawkins about the relationship between religion and science, and why it's important not to confuse the two.


November 8, 2000
You've just gotta look forward to the fun things coming down the pike. Here's a good one: is finishing work on a fabric keyboard. Click here for the press release and pictures. You can roll it up and put in your pocket, it's waterproof, lightweight and robust, it can be folded, scrunched and washed, without losing functionality.

While you're in the mood, go read the Wired magazine story about the developments in e-paper - material that can display crystal clear text that can be changed or updated at will, and that is also lightweight, foldable, and part of a package that can fit under your arm with the same ease as a newspaper. This ain't science fiction any more, folks, it's right around the corner.


November 7, 2000
Although Linux has an interesting future, don't let the news coverage let you get a distorted idea of its current place in the world. Market researcher IDC estimates that Linux will find a niche in the server market, but IDC expects that Linux revenues will grow at a barely perceptible rate between now and 2004. Linux generated a total of $67 million in 1999. An IDC exec put it this way: "Our research indicates the total market for Linux OS software in 1999 was about the same amount of revenue that Microsoft's operating systems' business generated by noon on the third working day of January 1999."


November 7, 2000 is a web site devoted to America Online's shortcomings. You should probably read their comments about the new version 6.0 software before you install it. Hint: it's not good news. If that's not enough to convince to just say no, here's another article with some similar complaints.


November 1, 2000
The Federal Trade Commission posted a list of the top ten Internet scams and ripoffs. You can read the list here. It's worth a look - some of them will probably be new to you.

If you don't have time to read the details, the advice is basically: Don't be stupid. Don't be greedy. Don't be stupid and greedy. If it looks too good to be true, it is too good to be true. And read the small print. 


October 30, 2000
Neil Gabler wrote a column this weekend about why the presidential campaign has turned into a "contest of ephemera and superficialities." I've posted a copy of the article here in case you missed it. Read it, think about it, and resist buying into the news coverage being foisted off on us! 

I've contended for a long time that we are being grossly ill-served by the media - and yes, that means treating the newspapers and television news and magazines as a monolithic block, and yes, I think that's essentially accurate. It's no longer true that news coverage has a "liberal" slant, if it ever was. Coverage now is truly non-partisan. Instead of pursuing an ideological agenda, the press simply seeks the cheap, tabloid angle on every story. If it finds a particularly juicy angle, it bludgeons us with overcoverage and constant repetition. I wince when people tell pollsters that they don't think there's any meaningful difference between Bush and Gore - and I blame the media for presenting this campaign as a contest between personality defects, as if that's all that matters.

Vote. This election matters a lot. And if your eye strays towards Ralph Nader while you're standing there in the booth, please, please remember: 

Vote with your heart in the primaries. Vote with your head in the general election.


October 30, 2000
A number of news outlets picked up Judge Jackson's recent public comments about the Microsoft judgment.

"Virtually everything I did may be vulnerable upon appeal," said Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson during an antitrust symposium. Jackson repeated earlier comments that he didn't really want to impose the breakup but was left with no choice when Microsoft and the government failed to settle the landmark antitrust case. "The structural remedy was never my remedy of choice and is not even today," Jackson said. But when attempts to negotiate a settlement ended, Jackson said, a "forcible application of the law became the last resort." The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the 19 states involved in the case wanted Microsoft to be broken up, he noted, and they obtained advice from "multiple consultants who know vastly more about economics . . . than I do." 

Maybe it's just me, but, umm, this is outrageous and bizarre behavior for a judge. This is a trial judge commenting about a case on appeal - a case that the appeals court might send back to him. You can safely assume that he'll be yanked from handling any future proceedings in the case (or he'll recuse himself), but this also poisons the appeal itself. How can the appeals court affirm the judgment if the trial judge is undermining it every time he opens his mouth? Not to mention that it makes the judgment itself seem incredibly arbitrary and boneheaded. (Well, it was arbitrary and boneheaded, but it's just weird to hear the judge acknowledge it.)

What in the world is he doing?  I'm speechless. 

Here's the article that first brought this to my attention.


October 25, 2000
New releases yesterday:
  • America Online unveiled version 6.0 of its software, with all kinds of (yawn) improvements and new features. HTML-formatted e-mail! New "buddy" icons for instant messages! Just doesn't get more exciting than this. Whee. Here's an article with news coverage, or download the software here.
  • More interesting: AOL also claims to have fixed up version 5.0 of its software so it runs on Windows 2000 and Windows NT. Do you realize America Online couldn't be used on Windows NT or Win2000 systems until yesterday? The company did nothing about it for years. I'll be watching for reports about this new release. Based on their history of mind-bogglingly awful, buggy, destabilizing software for Windows 98, I'm going to hold off on installing the AOL software for NT/2000 for, roughly, the rest of my life. If you're feeling masochistic, download the new release here.
  • Microsoft released MSN Explorer, an attempt to mimic America Online's software within the framework of Internet Explorer. One-click access to e-mail (delivered through a customized version of Hotmail), instant messaging, media streams, stock portfolios, and on and on. It's cartoonish, slick, full of cute tricks and gimmicks. Here's a screen shot of the cluttered front page. You can use the software for free, or you can sign up to use MSN as your Internet provider as well. Expect a major promotional push. It looks just awful to me, but that's a personal thing. Besides, it couldn't possibly be as bad as America Online, could it? Here's an article about the launch, or download the software here.


October 19, 2000
The new issue of Wired Magazine has a very long, detailed story about the Microsoft / DOJ trial - the inside story, written with style by a reporter who obviously had rich access to the players while events were going on. Lots of previously unknown details about the drive by industry leaders to get the Department of Justice to move forward, the settlement negotiations, the trial - it's fascinating stuff. You can read it online here after November 14.


October 19, 2000
Many concerns about Internet privacy are overblown, I think. But I'm uncomfortable with some widespread programs that report information about you - not to the site where you're surfing, but to somebody else, in such a way that you don't know about it.

It's an issue with three utilities designed to help you recover from failed downloads. RealNetworks RealDownload, Netscape/AOL SmartDownload, and NetZip Download Demon get installed quietly as part of your installation of something else completely - RealJukebox or Netscape's browser, for example. Steve Gibson has done a thorough review of the programs at his wonderful website devoted to Internet security. Here's his conclusion:

"EVERY TIME you use one of these utilities to download ANY FILE from ANYWHERE on the Internet, the complete "URL address" of the file, along with a UNIQUE ID TAG that has been assigned to YOUR machine, and in the case of Netscape's SmartDownload only YOUR computer's individual Internet IP address, is immediately transmitted to the program's publisher.

"This allows a database of your entire, personal, file download history to be assembled and uniquely associated with your individual computer . . . for whatever purpose the program's publishers may have today, or tomorrow."

The complete story of Steve's investigation and conclusions can be checked out here. It's fascinating reading.

Comet Cursor is a browser extension that gives websites the power to change your cursor, substituting any image or animation instead of the arrow. There's a controversy about how much information is transmitted to the Comet Cursor folks when you surf a site that uses Comet Cursor, but it's clear that some information is sent to them, including a "globally unique identifier" which is associated only with your computer. Comet Cursor has a strict privacy policy. They promise that they won't do anything bad with the information they're collecting without your knowledge. They say they really, really mean it. They promise. They cross their hearts. Here's some more information about Comet Cursor.

You can remove these programs by going to Control Panel / Add-Remove Programs. Take them off. It's sneaky stuff and it just doesn't feel right.


October 17, 2000
Additional details have come to light about Microsoft's investment in Corel. Paul Thurrott, Windows 2000 Magazine Update News Editor, sees it this way:

"The Corel/Microsoft deal is apparently worse for Corel than was obvious originally. Thanks to a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing that became public last week, we now know the specifics: Corel has promised to support a slew of Microsoft technologies--including .NET, Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), and various Windows Media Technologies--and to potentially port the .NET Framework to Linux. Most alarming, however, is the price of Corel's continued existence: Microsoft won't pay Corel for any future work. And, if Microsoft decides that Corel must undertake the Linux port, Corel is contractually obligated to complete the project within a year.

"When a company's life is on the line, it will do surprising things--and Corel obviously bargained away its soul in a bid to survive. On the other hand, what choice did Corel have? The company was reeling from years of downward-spiraling financials, thanks to its previous CEO, Michael Cowpland, who left Corel last month. Cowpland is widely blamed for taking Corel down a risky path on which the fledgling Linux business consumed more attention than the bread-and-butter Windows division. But Corel's problems were even more fundamental than that: At the Fall Comdex last year, I saw a demonstration of WordPerfect 2000 and was amazed at features such as its ability to preview style changes on the fly, before applying them to the selected text. I talked to some Corel folks about this product, expecting to hear their marketing plans. In essence, however, the company had no plans: Corel was focusing its efforts on retaining as many existing WordPerfect customers as possible. It was ludicrous: The company was basically end-of-life-ing the product."

One more thing: It was widely noted that the deal resolved "legal issues" between the companies, and the commentators guessed that Corel had been threatening Microsoft. The new filings spell out that Microsoft was about to sue Corel on claims of patent infringement.  


October 12, 2000
Al Gore's comment about "creating the Internet" has been fodder for comedians, talk show hosts, and political opponents. You should know that there's a lot more truth to it than you think.

The two research scientists that developed the TCP protocol and first sketched out the connections between universities and laboratories are Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf. According to them, Gore had a major role in turning the Internet from a research tool into something pointed squarely to education and the economy at large. According to Cerf, Gore was among the first of the members of Congress to recognize the importance of the Internet. In 1986 Gore, who chaired the Senate Commerce science subcommittee, oversaw passage of the legislation that created five super-computer centers. That in turn led the National Science Foundation to grant money to link the centers to other universities through a dedicated network. Through the late '80s and into the '90s, Gore sponsored legislation and spoke favorably about optical networks, high performance computing. He was involved in the creation of of programs such as the National Research and Education Network program, the Next Generation Internet program and so on. 

In Cerf's words: "The Vice President has graciously and repeatedly explained that he really doesn't believe he "created the Internet" but he feels a justifiable pride in his support for the research programs that continue to drive Internet's growth and for legislative and administration initiatives to embrace and encourage the development of e-commerce on a global basis. His remark was almost certainly a slip of the tongue, because he'd be quite correct to say "I helped create the Internet" - because of his work to provide an environment of support for research, technology transfer and e-commerce initiatives so fundamental to the Internet today. I think the Vice President is very deserving of credit for his active support for the Internet and the businesses that depend upon it daily."

Phillip Hallam-Baker, a former member of the CERN Web development team that created the basic structure of the World Wide Web calls the campaign to tar Gore as a delusional Internet inventor "a calculated piece of political propaganda to deny Gore credit for what is probably his biggest achievement." 

The jokes at Gore's expense are driven by politics, not facts. Salon did a good article about the reasons some people are uncomfortable admitting that the Internet simply would not exist without bureaucratic and legislative patrons like Gore.

You can read Vinton Cerf's history of the Internet here, or a more general history of the Internet here. Also, here's an article written shortly after Gore's infamous comment, setting the record straight.


October 5, 2000
David Boies is one of the lawyers responsible for Microsoft's antitrust defeat in the trial court. He was brought in to represent Napster just a few days before the hearing on the preliminary injunction that almost closed Napster down, at a time when things looked bad for Napster - its lawyers just hadn't been effective. 

Boies has done a terrific job of articulating the legal reasons that Napster ought to survive. In three months he has turned things around so much that it's now looking more and more likely that Napster will be left alone during a lengthy appeal, and perhaps even come out on top after Supreme Court review. 

Here's an interesting perspective on why the case is important, from an interview with Boies:

"When you think of Napster, you think of music. But the first thing that struck me was that this was an important case not only for the music industry but for the whole of the Internet. Here you have a new technology - in terms of peer-to-peer sharing of information - and if that technology is going to work, you must allow people to provide central indexes of the data. Somebody's got to maintain those indexes. I mean, it's just like a newspaper that publishes classified ads. You've got to have a place where people can go who want to participate in that kind of activity. And if you, in effect, impose on the directory-service provider liability to investigate, monitor, and control what the users are doing, it is very difficult to see how that kind of technology is ever going to work."

This article has a good discussion of the Ninth Circuit arguments, and puts them in historical and legal context. And Wired magazine did the interview with Boies where he discusses additional legal arguments that presumably will be made during the appeal process. It's very convincing stuff.


October 3, 2000
The world works in mysterious ways! Late Monday Microsoft announced that it is swooping in to save Corel, which has been on the edge of bankruptcy all year. Microsoft will purchase $135 million of Corel stock and Corel will contribute its technologies to Microsoft's .NET initiative. There was no specific mention of the future of WordPerfect, but that's a telling omission, because it means neither side cares what happens to WordPerfect. Even if it is sold, its days are simply over. Here's a link to one of the first stories that brought this to my attention. You'll see more in the news today and tomorrow.