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Nashville Scene A Convergence of Techies

ITEC Expo showcases networking.

By James Hanback Jr.

JUNE 15, 1998:  What do you get when you put a bunch of computer guys, some marketing tools, and a desire for information together in one place? You get the annual ITEC (Information Technology Expositions and Conferences) Expo. Last Wednesday and Thursday, dozens of computer geeks and gurus with lofty titles like "Information Systems Manager" gathered at the Nashville Convention Center to examine the latest technological advances in the field of networking.

On the plus side, there appeared to be more showmanship at this year's expo. A highlight was a sleight-of-hand presentation (and a free T-shirt) from Digex, a business Internet company connected to InterMedia. Realizing that every other booth at the expo would be occupied by an Internet solution provider, Digex opted for a marketing presentation by a former Las Vegas cardsharp, who connected his razzle-dazzle card tricks back to the company with phrases like, "Digex will always tell you the truth." His turn of phrase was nearly as quick as his sleight of hand. Product is important, but there is something to be said for the entertainment value.

Aside from the glam and sham, there were a number of companies that all wanted to train me, connect me, improve my efficiency, and secure my network. But even with all the excitement, I still found myself wondering, "Hmmmm. What is Microsoft up to?"

In an hour-long presentation by representatives from MicroAge, a Microsoft vendor, I discovered that the corporation is still pushing its "Zero Administration Initiative" for networks. That means it wants to make life easier for office computer guys like me, who must currently move from computer to computer to correct problems and install new versions of software.

With Windows NT 5.0, the rep explained, Microsoft is building tools that allow systems administrators to deploy new software without having to visit each machine in an office. It will also allow end-users to keep their data up to date, even though they may not be connected to the server all the time. Nice.

The only problem is, I heard a lot of the same things last year. No doubt, the technology is on its way (and some comparable software tools are already available). My worry has more to do with Microsoft's current conflict with the government. The battle lines have been drawn around Windows '98 and Internet Explorer: Microsoft says IE is just a component of Windows, while the government says it's a separate product and thus should be sold separately. All of this makes me wonder: If Microsoft realizes its NT 5.0 dream, will network-management software makers gang up on the industry giant?

Shhhh, Bill. Don't say the word "integration" around here! Not that I'm sticking up for Internet Explorer--I think Netscape has a much better product.

Sadly absent (again) from the ITEC showcase this year were Apple Computer and its products. Networking still seems to be a PC-dominated world, although it's much easier to do on the Mac.

I did hear the Macintosh--more specifically, the new iMac--discussed at one point, when I visited the Imation booth. Imation makes data media such as floppy diskettes, tapes, and the new SuperDisk, a 3.5-inch diskette that holds 120 megabytes of data. The manufacturers of the drives that read those disks are planning to make some iMac-compatible versions.

For those who missed this year's expo, the next one comes to town June 8 and 9, 1999.


Sue 'em all

Apparently, some members of the Federal Trade Commission have decided that Microsoft isn't the only company in the technology industry with a monopoly. According to a report on the Internet from Reuters, the FTC's competition chief has recommended an antitrust lawsuit against Intel Corp., claiming the company has an unfair monopoly on processors in personal computers.

The Reuters report indicated that a dispute between Intel and Intergraph Corp. factored into the decision to sue. Intel allegedly cut off Intergraph from vital information that it needed to conduct business during an undisclosed argument between the two companies.

The computer industry has worked hard to increase compatibility between systems, processors, and operating systems over the past few years. Never before have people been able to use applications, documents, and data across widely varying platforms as they do now.

These antitrust issues could ultimately lead us backward, making computer systems less compatible and businesses less able to communicate data back and forth. In a highly networked world, we need that compatibility for smooth operation. Leave it to our government to turn back the clock.

More from the FTC

Sigh. The Federal Trade Commission has apparently spent a lot of time studying the Internet lately. (Or maybe they just don't have enough to do, so they surf.) Another statement by the FTC last week indicates they are not happy with the way the Internet "regulates itself" concerning the privacy issues of children.

Some Web sites, they claim, ask children for their name, age, address, and e-mail address--but without informing the children that they must first obtain their parents' permission before providing the information. Likewise, the FTC is upset that many sites do not inform their visitors what they plan to do with the information when they retrieve it.

Just when it looked as though the Internet had won its battle for freedom, Uncle Clinton has stepped in again. Yes, children should be protected. But if the government intervenes, where will it end? Read on!

The battle's not over

Last year, the entire Internet celebrated when the Supreme Court struck down the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which attempted to regulate Internet pornography. Because of its broad wording, the act could have blocked truly informative sites offering material that some might consider objectionable.

Now several new versions of the CDA have hit U.S. congressional committees. Proponents claim they're considerably more defined than the 1996 CDA, but opposition with the American Civil Liberties Union says, "Not so."

I remember Hong Kong's efforts to regulate Internet content. Earlier this year, the HK government put http://www.smarties.com. on its list of blocked sites. Smarties, for those who do not know, are disk-shaped candies similar to M&Ms. The company's site is simply an advertisement for its candies; it's completely harmless.

When word got out, techies with the Hong Kong government claimed they didn't know how the Smarties site got on the list. My guess is that they attempted to automate the list, looking for keywords that are giveaways for identifying an adult site.

On the main page of http://www.smarties.com. is a sentence that reads, "Thank you for visiting the Ce De Candy Web site! This site is currently under construction. Please excuse us while we build a fun, interactive, and informative Web site for kids and adults alike!"

The words "fun" and "adult" in the same sentence probably contributed to the site's blocked status. If our government is allowed to restrict the Internet, the same thing could likely happen here.

James Hanback Jr. is systems administrator for the Scene. E-mail him at james@nashscene.com.

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