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Apple's in the news, announcing a deal to license the Mac OS to Motorola plus the first beta of Cyberdog, its set of OpenDoc-based Internet tools. Also this week, we have news on Macromedia's Shockwave plug-in and Sun's Java Development Kit for the Mac, Garry Kasparov's chess match against Deep Blue, and a TidBITS survey (the future of the Reviews column hangs in the balance!). Finally, Matt Kall contributes an overview of the reality and the implications of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
Copyright 1996 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
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New URL Format -- We've finally bowed to pressure and will be listing URLs with angle brackets around them, starting next week with TidBITS-316. We've resisted making this change because our previous URL style was almost completely unambiguous, and we didn't want to add unnecessary characters to each URL. But, with more and more programs wanting URLs to be delimited with angle brackets, we figure this change will make TidBITS easier to read. Note that we still won't give email addresses with the mailto URL format. It's just too ugly (especially in running text) and takes up too much space. Email addresses, especially when delimited with angle brackets, are unambiguous without the mailto part of the URL format. We wanted to call attention to this change so that anyone who has written scripts that depend on the way we write URLs can modify their work before next week. [ACE]
Chat with Tonya -- I'm currently warming up my fingers for Tuesday night, 20-Feb-96, because I'll be the featured person at an America Online conference about Web authoring (I can also answer some TidBITS questions). The chat begins at 10 PM Eastern Standard Time, and I'll be there until 11 PM. At the end of the hour, AOL plans to raffle off two copies of Create Your Own Home Page (a book Adam and I wrote). To join the chat, use the keyword DWP and then click the conference room door. [TJE]
Smart Licensing Move -- On 19-Feb-96 Apple announced a licensing agreement that allows Motorola to distribute the Mac OS with computer systems based on Power Macintosh designs and the PowerPC Platform specification. For the first time, today's agreement allows a Mac OS licensee to sublicense the Mac OS to other computer manufacturers. This means that Motorola could sell Mac OS compatible motherboards or complete systems to other manufacturers for resale under other labels. Apple says they will retain control over certification of systems sold with the Mac OS. [MHA]
Beta Java Development Kit Released for Mac -- Javasoft, Sun's subsidiary handling Java development, has released the first beta of its Java Developer's Kit (JDK) for Macintosh. The JDK includes a Java Applet viewer and a Java Compiler, as well as sample Java applets and API documentation for programmers. Though these materials are preliminary, there's more than enough here for programmers to start experimenting with Sun's Virtual Machine (VM) implementation. One important fact: the materials run on Power Macs and 68K Macs with a 68030 processor or better, putting to rest persistent rumors that Sun's VM would only be available for Power Macs. If you aren't a developer, have 3 MB of free RAM and System 7.5, and absolutely must use Java today, the Java Applet Viewer can be used to run applets downloaded from Internet sites. The binhexed version of the JDK weighs in at about 3 MB. [GD]
Cyberdog Beta Available for Power Macs -- Last week, Apple released the first beta version of Cyberdog, its long-awaited OpenDoc-based Internet technology. Cyberdog b1 requires a Power Mac, OpenDoc 1.0, System 7.5.1 or later, Internet Config 1.2, and (of course) a TCP/IP connection to the Internet. Because Cyberdog uses OpenDoc, you realistically need at least 16 MB of RAM to run it. Although initial reports that I've seen have varied, the general impression of the beta seems to be positive, and it's an excellent demonstration of OpenDoc's potential. The beta release is about 5 MB to download, not including OpenDoc. [GD]
Shockwave Beta 1 Netscape Plug-In -- Macromedia has released beta 1 of the Mac version its Shockwave Plug-in for Netscape Navigator 2.0, which allows Netscape to download and play multimedia content created in Macromedia Director. The plug-in runs on both 68K and PowerPC based Macs, and this beta seems more stable than its pre-beta predecessor (see TidBITS-311). Although some Shockwave authors are becoming more proficient at producing content that's conceivably usable over a modem connection, I can't recommend the plug-in unless you can give Netscape Navigator at least 8 MB of RAM and 5 MB of disk cache. Shockwave also has known difficulties with virtual memory and Speed Doubler. [GD]
Corel "Quadrupling" Mac Team -- In an apparent effort to squash speculation it will not pursue development of WordPerfect for Macintosh (see TidBITS-313), Corel announced it is "nearly quadrupling" its Macintosh development staff and plans to release CorelDraw for Macintosh this June. However, Corel's release doesn't actually say it will pursue development of Mac WordPerfect, just that it's "committed to the Mac" and "more good things are on the way." WordPerfect users can only hope the intent is clear, even if the language is not. [GD]
Netscape Live3D -- Last Friday, Netscape announced that it plans to acquire Paper Software Inc., makers of the popular WebFX VRML (Virtual Reality Markup Language) software for Windows. Paper Software's VRML technology will be rolled into future releases of Netscape Navigator as Netscape Live3D, which will allow inline support of three-dimensional VRML graphics as defined by the just-announced "Moving Worlds" VRML 2.0 standard. Though more than 50 companies have announced support for VRML 2.0, Apple noticeably has not. Beta releases of Netscape Live3D are available for Windows 95 and Windows NT, with a Macintosh release expected "later this quarter." [GD]
Royal Software Acquires Heizer -- Royal Software, Inc. and Heizer Software jointly announced on 17-Feb-96 that Royal Software will acquire Heizer General Corp. for an undisclosed amount. Heizer has long been the leading publisher of tools such as CompileIt! and WindowScript for use with HyperCard and other authoring environments. Royal Software, conversely, is an unknown entity led by long-time Heizer client Ro Nagey, who's famous for sponsoring trips to the former Soviet Union to fly Russian jet fighters. Royal Software will continue to use the Heizer Software name and plans to pursue online marketing and add products aimed at entry-level HyperTalk users. [GD]
by Adam C. Engst <email@example.com>
We're considering dropping our Reviews column, and we want to know what you think of the idea. The Reviews column is located at the end of each TidBITS issue, and lists product reviews from several major Macintosh magazines. The utility of the column is that you can search a group of TidBITS issues for a given review topic and locate publication dates and page numbers corresponding to those reviews. When we started TidBITS almost six years ago, most Macintosh magazines were paper-based, and it was almost impossible to find back reviews. The magazines did publish yearly indices of reviews, but until the index you needed came out, you were out of luck. The ability to search TidBITS online and find reviews has helped many people, and that utility outweighed the fact it's a lot of work to type in the reviews each week.
The reason for the Reviews column is essentially gone now that MacWEEK, MacUser, and Macworld all have Web sites that provide search engines and often the full text of the reviews online. These searching facilities are great - we use them ourselves when we need to tread backwards in time. It seems pointless to continue our monk-like copying efforts when the magazines' Web sites offer much more than our meager lists. Before you ask, no, we are not considering adding URLs to online articles in the Reviews column, since that would add to our already formidable workloads.
However, rather than make a unilateral decision (something we're perfectly capable of, I assure you), we thought we'd try a simple survey technique. On our Web site, we've set up a survey page where you can register your opinion about dropping the column. There's nothing fancy about the survey, and - in fact - the survey totals will exist only in our WebSTAR log file. Sure, we could put a CGI behind the pages and record the count in that manner, but there's no real point in wasting effort on something this simple.
Since running the survey on our Web server only allows people with Web access to vote, you can also vote by email. To vote that TidBITS continue its Reviews column, send mail to <firstname.lastname@example.org>; to vote to discontinue the reviews, send mail to <email@example.com>. Please note these messages will not be read, merely counted. As usual, comments about TidBITS should be sent to <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Both survey methods will remain open until the end of February, when we'll tally the votes.
We realize that voting on whether or not we keep our review listings isn't that titillating, so - to enhance the excitement level - the survey page on the Web has a picture of Tonya and me, a picture of Mark, and Geoff's GeoffCam picture. So, if you want to check out the faces behind TidBITS, stop by. And while you're there, click either the Yes or No link to register your vote.
by Mark H. Anbinder, News Editor <email@example.com>
If he hadn't lost the first game, world chess champion Garry Kasparov says, a false sense of security might have gotten him in trouble in last week's historic man-versus-machine chess match against a massively parallel IBM SP supercomputer. On Saturday, Kasparov won the final game to take a 4-2 match victory over Deep Blue, when the computer conceded after 43 moves and three hours and 45 minutes of play.
At a panel last week about the next fifty years of computing, the director of the Cornell University Theory Center, physicist Malvin H. Kalos, said the evenly divided match shows "we are on the cusp" of what increasingly powerful computers can do. "In the past, no computer could beat the best human chess player. Now, the computer can play as well as the best human. Within the decade, no human will be able to beat a computer." Kalos added, "Humans with the tools will do much better than humans without the tools."
Kalos directs a national supercomputing facility at Cornell that houses a more elaborate version of the IBM SP supercomputer with 512 processors. He and other computer scientists took the opportunity on ENIAC's 50th birthday last week to reflect on the past fifty years of computing innovation and to speculate on the next fifty. [ENIAC was the first general purpose electronic computer - see the URL below. -Geoff] "Fifty years ago, no one could have come anywhere close to predicting where computers are now. Just what's in my laptop in power and memory was inconceivable back then. The transistor hadn't even been invented, and to imagine millions of them on a chip just was not possible." Within fifty years, Kalos envisions adequate computing power and memory for a "personal brain clone," a computer so powerful it can simulate the human brain and learn along with its human counterpart.
The last several days have unearthed ironic quotes from the likes of IBM chairman Thomas Watson, who reportedly commented in 1943, "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers," and Digital Equipment Corporation founder Ken Olson, who in 1977 expressed his doubts, "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home," just as a new company, Apple Computer, began to prove him wrong.
Cornell's Theory Center uses its 512-processor supercomputer (in fact one of only a handful in the world, but that's not what Watson meant) to help solve Grand Challenge problems. These are worldwide conundrums identified by the federal government as requiring high-performance computing capabilities for solution. The system is funded primarily by Cornell, IBM, New York State, and the National Science Foundation, and is used by scientists in such areas as astrophysics, environmental science, biochemistry, and medical technology - when it's not playing chess.
Kasparov, needing only a draw to win the match, played his last game with apparent determination to trounce Deep Blue and its ability to compute more than 200 million operations a second.
by Matthew Kall <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Amidst much hoopla, on 08-Feb-96 President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 into law. This law has been almost universally condemned by the online community due to a single provision making it a felony to distribute "indecent" materials to minors. However, there are many other provisions of this law which radically reshape the way telephone, long distance, cable, and other companies do business.
This article first gives a brief background on the perceived need for modernization of U.S. telecommunications law. Second, it highlights some lesser-known provisions of the law and speculates on how they will affect consumers. Finally, it summarizes the Communications Decency Act and the fight against it. The full text of the law (close to 400K) is available from the Library of Congress.
Breaking Down Barriers -- When Congress passed the 1934 Communications Act, the telecommunications industry was decidedly different from how it is today. AT&T was the sole provider of long distance service and communications equipment, and it was the sole owner of local service providers. The laws were passed with AT&T solely in mind and assumed that regulated monopolies must exist for things like local telephone service. Broadcasting - which was primarily AM radio at the time - had a very limited bandwidth and was heavily regulated to prevent signal interference.
Despite enormous changes in the intervening years, there have been only a few substantial revisions to the law, including the 1982 break-up of AT&T into smaller, independently owned units called Bell Operating Companies or Regional Bells. Although the break-up opened the long distance market to competition, regional telephone companies continued to monopolize their assigned markets, and the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) restrictions remained in place. The FCC kept the regional Bells out of the long distance, cable, and information service markets.
One other major change came in the 1984 Cable Act, which established the FCC's regulatory authority over cable operators and prevented regional telephone companies from operating cable services within their region. Congress feared allowing the two industries to compete would lead to another AT&T-like monopoly.
For several years, all the regulated companies complained to Congress that the restrictions on competition were no longer necessary. The differences between cable, local telephone, and long distance companies had become relatively small, and each could do business in one another's markets without much effort. The only things preventing them from doing so were rules established when one company monopolized the market.
Simply put, the Telecommunications Act eliminates barriers preventing cable, long distance, and regional telephone companies from entering each other's markets, and opens up the market for information services. In the near future, Americans may be able to sign up for Internet service through a phone company, cable company, or long distance company. The monopoly the regional Bells have had over local telephone service will no longer exist, since AT&T, MCI, and your cable company will start offering service. Further, NYNEX, Ameritech, and other regional Bells will begin offering long distance service.
Those aren't the only industries which benefit from the new law. Broadcast television stations (which have only been able to send one signal through their designated frequency) will be allowed to use modern compression techniques to offer multiple signals as long as they accompany the current one. In addition, The Electric Company will no longer be just a fondly remembered children's show on PBS, since local electric companies may now enter all the other industries as well.
Unfortunately, it will take some time before the goals of the law become reality. The responsibility for disassembling the barriers that have existed for as much as 60 years has been delegated to the FCC. The FCC faces the herculean task of promulgating over 80 rules and regulations designed to achieve the purposes of the new law by August. These rules will ensure local companies give long distance access to their poles and switch boxes at competitive rates. In addition, the FCC will still ensure that universal service (i.e. telephone service of some sort for all persons) is available.
Due to the time it will take for the FCC to enact rules allowing competition in these industries, it will be months or years before competition really gets rolling. Once it does, unfortunately, you can expect mass marketing campaigns (like those from AT&T vs. MCI vs. Sprint today), only in more industries. The changes are likely to start in larger metropolitan areas; smaller cities and rural areas may never see a significant change.
What will happen to prices? There are two schools of thought on this. Most members of Congress will say that increased competition will lead to lower prices and higher quality of services. Many consumer groups don't buy this reasoning. They are suspicious because the law was passed after years of negotiations between the players in the telecommunications and cable industries. Consumer groups fear removing the barriers between these industries will lead to a number of mergers and joint ventures, and bigger companies will be able to dominate markets and control prices.
The truth likely lies somewhere between these two positions. Though mergers and increased concentration in certain markets are likely, the existence of behemoth companies does not necessarily lead to market domination. For proof, one need only look at the long distance market, where huge companies like AT&T, MCI, and Sprint compete effectively with each other and a number of smaller companies, while consumers get the benefit of lower prices. So, as long as different companies are offering service in your area, you are likely to be better off. However, some fear small or geographically remote markets may fail to attract competition, effectively granting a monopoly to whatever service provider happens to be there.
The Communications Decency Act -- Title V of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 is known as the Communications Decency Act. Congressional intent, as stated in the Senate Report accompanying the law, was to "modernize the protections... against obscene, lewd, indecent, and harassing use of a telephone" and bring those protections into the digital age. However, the method for achieving this goal is analogous to killing a fly with a sledgehammer: the law goes beyond what is necessary and, as some claim, beyond what is constitutionally permissible.
The new law makes it a felony, punishable by up to two years in prison or a fine of $250,000, to use a computer service to distribute "any comment, request, suggestion, proposal, image, or other communication that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards, sexual or excretory activities or organs, regardless of whether the user of such service placed the call or initiated the communication."
[This material is also available via the search facilities on Library of Congress Web site at the URL given above. -Geoff]
According to most critics, this law is written too broadly and violates the First Amendment to the Constitution, which states that "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech...." It could potentially be illegal under this new law to discuss venereal disease, contraceptives, or anatomy online, for fears it might be deemed offensive. Another provision of the bill (section 507) amends section 1462 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code so as to forbid any discussion of abortion over the Internet.
Contrary to some reports, the Communications Decency Act does not merely apply current obscenity laws from television and radio to the Internet. The new law attempts to go far beyond that. A person using a four letter word in private email could be prosecuted for a felony, even though using the same word in a telephone call would be legal. Online copies of controversial books such as Catcher in the Rye or The Color Purple would not be permitted. Museums might not be able to display images of certain artworks on their Web pages for fear of prosecution. The new law is not necessary for prosecuting individuals who distribute child pornography or obscene materials. Current laws can be (and are) used to prosecute the online distribution of illegal pornography, as well as other illegal activities carried out via computer networks.
A number of groups have started campaigns to show their disapproval of these indecency provisions. After President Clinton signed the bill into law, a number of Web pages turned their backgrounds black for 48 hours to protest. [The TidBITS home page was black. -Tonya] All over the Web, blue ribbons of protest are popping up. Perhaps the most extreme reaction to this new law was John Perry Barlow's Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.
Moments after the bill was signed by President Clinton, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, and several other organizations filed suit in Philadelphia challenging the constitutionality of the law. The case will be heard by three judges and their decision could be appealed directly to the Supreme Court. The entire process will certainly take over a year (see below).
While this case is pending, there is a fight in Congress to repeal the Communications Decency Act. Senators Pat Leahy (D-VT) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) have introduced legislation to eliminate the provisions. Don't expect to hear much about this legislation, though - it's extremely difficult to get anything through Congress.
If you are looking for more detailed analysis of the censorship provisions in the Telecommunications Act or are interested in joining the fight against it, the following sites will be of interest:
On Thursday, 05-Feb-96, U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter issued a preliminary injunction against certain provisions of the Communications Decency Act. This is a victory, albeit a small one, for the anti-censorship activists.
Judge Buckwalter forbade the Justice Department from prosecuting anyone for distributing "indecent" materials, noting the term is vague and undefined. Anyone who distributes material deemed "patently obscene" can still be prosecuted. The difference between the two terms is not entirely clear, and lawyers and judges have argued about it for the better part of a century. Technically, "obscene" material is not entitled to any First Amendment protection under current laws, though "indecent" material is. Judge Buckwalter felt the new law did not adequately define what constitutes indecent material; therefore, the law was ambiguous and unenforceable.
The decision grants a temporary restraining order, and is not final. The EFF and other organizations have promised to continue to fight all censorship provisions of the new law.
The Unknown Future -- Though the battle in the courts and Congress rages on, it is unclear what law, if any, will eventually apply to the transmission of controversial material. One potential solution is allowing users to choose for themselves which sites to visit and which to ignore. Software companies are introducing products which allow material received via online services to be filtered or restricted by a number of criteria, including the nature of the content, the location of the site being accessed, the time of day, the program being used, and other parameters. Such filtering software would not censor anyone and is commonly cited as an alternative to content legislation by civil rights advocates. The software would allow users to visit any site, but would also allow parents, teachers, and others to block access to material they deem objectionable. So far, SurfWatch and Cyber Patrol are available for the Mac; other products are sure to come.
[Note these products work in the depths of already finicky communications software, and have known problems. As these products mature, they're likely to become more stable. -Geoff]
If you are worried you might be subject to liability, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself. If you run a bulletin board service or Web site which contains potentially controversial material, you can avoid liability under the new law by taking reasonable steps to ensure those areas are not available to minors. Should you happen to be the unlucky soul first prosecuted for violation of this new law, contact the EFF and the ACLU, who will be able to provide legal assistance.
Non-profit, non-commercial publications and Web sites may reprint or link to articles if full credit is given. Others please contact us. We do not guarantee accuracy of articles. Caveat lector. Publication, product, and company names may be registered trademarks of their companies. TidBITS ISSN 1090-7017.
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