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Nashville Scene Oh FUD!

As in fear, uncertainty, and doubt about Y2K

By James Hanback Jr.

APRIL 5, 1999:  Shining the light of day on previously dark corners of human existence often serves to educate us about our fears and doubts. On many occassions, we discover that those fears and half-truths we clung to for so long were completely unfounded and simply a result of our own ignorance. Sometimes it happens on an individual level, like when a child discovers for the first time that there really isn't a monster under his bed, or on a global scale, as when the world finally discovered that the Martians aren't attacking.

In fact, one need only look back at Orson Welles' radio broadcast of War of the Worlds in October of 1938 and the panic it caused to understand that our gathering of knowledge serves not only to enlighten us, but also to remove those elements of our nature that inhibit us. FUD, as those elements are called in the technological world, stands for fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

Certainly, it was not Welles' fault that a number of Americans tuned into his special Halloween-related broadcast and, because they didn't understand what was happening, assumed they were hearing news reports that the Earth was under attack by Martians. For years, science fiction writers painted Mars' red face as angry and warlike. And the public, because we didn't know any better, believed that we could, indeed, be under the telescopic watch of the "envious eyes" of H.G. Wells' original monsters. It's only been in recent times (in the 1970s and again a couple of weeks ago) that we've taken a closer look at our planetary neighbor and seen not green men with big heads, but a gigantic crater shaped like a smiley face.

While it's true that we no longer fear a Martian invasion, and countless other fears have fallen away as knowledge penetrates humanity, there are new fears gripping people that are just as potent as those of more unenlightened times. And a majority of those fears have something to do with technology.

The Y2K bug, the computer glitch that causes some hardware and software to misinterpret the year 2000 as 1900, has been in the forefront of the human fear factory for the past few years. Although many say the problems resulting from Y2K won't mean the end of civilization, lawsuits over the glitch are already underway. Some people are running for the hills to "live off the land" and get out from under what they perceive as impending chaos.

In an effort to help curb some of the fears, last week the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Small Business Year 2000 Readiness Act, which seeks to provide loans for U.S. small businesses to help them deal with any Y2K issues that crop up at the beginning of next year. Media reports throughout 1998 and this year have indicated that small business lags behind larger industry and government agencies in Y2K compliance, mainly due to a lack of resources.

The bill authorizes the Small Business Administration to provide loans to small businesses of up to $1 million to help fix their Y2K problems. The Senate passed the bill on March 2, and reports at CNN.com indicate that President Clinton will probably sign the bill into law.


World Wide Printing

We're one step closer to a world where fax machines are replaced by printers connected to the Internet. Soon, people will be able to send e-mail, word processor documents, and computer images not only to Internet e-mail addresses, but also directly to remote printers.

As reported in this column last year, several big names in technology have been working to create the Internet Printing Protocol (IPP). The Printer Working Group, which is made up of some of the largest printer makers, last week ratified "IPP 1.0" and sent it to the Internet Engineering Task Force for review and final approval.

Once approved, printing companies like Hewlett-Packard will begin to implement the new technology in printing hardware. Eventually users will be able to access printers in much the same way they access World Wide Web sites.


Apple Opens

Apple Computer, which has long had a history of maintaining proprietary secrets, surprised many recently by joining (in part) the Open Source Movement.

The Open Source Movement describes a broad movement among computer software developers who allow others to view and modify their software source code. The changes others make may or may not be incorporated into the official source code for the software. Examples of open source include the Linux operating system and Netscape's Mozilla project.

Apple's entry into open source is limited to its Darwin project, which is related to Mac OS X Server (a network operating system based on open standard technology like BSD Unix 4.4 and implemented with an easy-to-use Macintosh interface).

The Darwin project is, according to Apple, a "complete open source operating system based on the core foundation layers of Mac OS X Server." By providing the source code for download, Apple hopes to gather ideas and improvements from outside developers, which will then be incorporated into Darwin and, perhaps, the Mac OS X Server.

With the cooperation of open source developers, Apple may carve itself a larger chunk of the networking market.


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