Changing Worries

Remember some of the things we used to get all worked up about -- like disintermediation? They rarely work out the way we expect. Now we see a business model built on travel agents, who've been hard hit by E-commerce, handing out technology that lets travelers book electronically, without a live agent or even a Web browser. Corporate meddling in open-source projects was another teeth-grinding concern for some. Now Sun is leading another open-source crusade as it, IBM, and others jostle for who's
Why Sun Is Poking Into DRM
Moviemakers and music companies aren't the only content creators who need to think about digital-rights management. Any company that publishes content to the Web needs to consider how that information is used. Trouble is, the digital-rights-management software available today doesn't work across all of the different platforms and devices used to download and play the music and videos available on the Web.

Glenn Edens

Glenn Edens
Sun Microsystems jumped into the middle of that problem last week by proposing an Open Media Commons initiative, a group of open-source projects that could help standardize digital-rights-management software. Sun Labs' Dream--which stands for digital-rights-management everywhere available--software forms the core technology for Open Media Commons. Dream consists of three applications, each under Sun's Common Development and Distribution License.

So why is Sun doing this? The company says it has a huge stake in the future of digital content. "We've enabled close to 1 billion Java-based cell phones," says Glenn Edens, a senior VP with Sun and the director of Sun Labs. "We've also created a Java software stack that we sell to virtually every telecom carrier. Worldwide, content distribution happens through mobile devices."

-- Larry Greenemeier

E-Travel, No Web Browser
Just how multichannel is the travel business? Now you can skip the Web browser, keep the travel agent, and still book electronically.

A company called Portaga Inc. is selling travel agents a Web-services platform they can give to their clients, who download it into their Microsoft Outlook E-mail software. Travelers click on it to book a trip, and it automatically integrates travel information into their calendars, as well as those of any colleagues who are set up to be alerted. The software is free, but Portaga gets a cut of the agent's fee.

The tool uses the Open Travel Alliance's industry-standard XML messaging schema to pull flight data from Sabre Holdings Corp.'s global-distribution system. Portaga hopes to add connections to other distributors, as well as the reservations systems of airlines, hotels, car-rental companies, limousine providers, and restaurants.

Portaga last year built something of a miniversion of its new service for Cendant Corp.'s Avis Rent A Car System Inc., which works the same way through Outlook. John Turato, VP of technology for Cendant Car Rental Group, says the trend toward building travel-booking interfaces that rely on direct connections to reservation systems is going to accelerate, giving travelers more options in a single interface. "From the supplier point of view, more roads are better," Turato says. "It'll be interesting to see how the suppliers adapt to this new world and develop new distribution strategies."

-- Tony Kontzer

Cisco Tries Modular Security
Cisco Systems later this year plans to make the operating system of its flagship Catalyst 6500 line of switches, widely used by businesses to run their LANs, more efficient and secure by breaking it into modules. Breaking its Internetwork Operating System into modules makes it less likely that a problem in one module will affect other parts of the operating system. That also will make it possible to upgrade a module without shutting down the entire switch and disrupting E-mail, Internet, and other network traffic. A new embedded event manager will let customers automate and offload routine tasks to the network. Cisco says the upgrade will be available for larger switches in the fourth quarter and for smaller switches in the first quarter of next year.

-- Paul Travis

India Trusts Testing
When in doubt, certify. Certification has served the Indian services sector well, as its top IT-services firms have touted Capability Maturity Model and similar process certifications to great advantage. Now it's looking to certification for individual workers. Nasscom, which represents the IT-services industry, is doing a four-month pilot of a certification test for call-center and other services workers in basic skills. The test will cover skills such as typing, spoken and written English, and concentration. Nasscom expects it will slash human-resources processing costs for companies by weeding out not just unqualified candidates but "nonserious" ones.

-- Chris Murphy

Lucasfilm Powers Animation
Lucasfilm Ltd. is making a three-year, $4 million investment in Hewlett-Packard technologies that will provide the force behind its Star Wars video games, animated TV series Clone Wars, and future movies.

It's buying 1,000 HP xw9300 Workstations to be installed at Lucasfilm's new Letterman Digital Arts Center at the Presidio in San Francisco and in its Singapore facility, scheduled to open in November. "The big benefit is our move to a 64-bit workstation, which is something we've planned on," says Cliff Plumer, Lucasfilm's chief technology officer. "Our entire back-end infrastructure has been 64-bit, and we wanted to deploy the same type of workstation."

Yoda --

The workstations are powered by dual-core Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Opteron processors, and Plumer says the switch from the Intel Pentium 4 workstations will enable Lucasfilm's graphic artists to perform more interactive tasks and render images at a higher resolution. Depending on the complexity of the images, renderings could take minutes, hours, or days to finish.

Lucasfilm Animation in Singapore will get the same workstations as the San Francisco complex. That's where LucasArts, a video-game producer, and Industrial Light & Magic, which created visual effects for films including the Harry Potter series, are based. Some of the HP xw9300 Workstations will run both Linux and Windows XP on the same machine, with help from a custom-built sign-on program that appears when the machine boots up. The artist will then have an option to boot up the machine in either operating system.

-- Laurie Sullivan

Java Development, A Bit Easier
IBM has released a toolset that will let companies build their own component applications on top of the Workplace platform.

Workplace Designer 2.5 is the first iteration of an Eclipse-based tool for building applications for IBM's Java-centric Workplace environment. IBM shipped Workplace Collaboration Services 2.5 and Workplace Services Express 2.5 earlier this summer. "It takes this really complex J2EE machine and makes it malleable so that even your average non-Java techie can work on it," says Rob Novak, president of Snapps, an IBM partner and collaboration specialist.

While the primary languages are JavaScript and XML, Workplace Designer also includes an array of wizards and other tools aimed at developers from the traditionally proprietary Domino/Notes world. IBM will add full support for Ajax controls next year to Workplace Designer. Ajax, or Asynchronous JavaScript and XML, is a toolset for building fast-response interactive Web applications. IBM also will continue to offer Domino Designer for Domino-centric developers and other tools for server programming. Workplace Designer starts at $649.

-- Barbara Darrow, CRN

Geez, Can CA Catch A Break?
Executives have been fired. An accounting scandal endured. But it really upset Computer Associates' shareholders when the management-software company failed to feed them at their annual meeting last week. Several shareholders complained that CA showed a lack of sensitivity by moving the meeting to Manhattan from Long Island, N.Y., where the company is based, and not serving food. The first shareholder who mentioned it drew laughter. As more people joined in, and some contrasted it with executive amenities, the tone grew angry.

One man, identifying himself only as a 90-year-old shareholder, drew applause when complaining that he received little while executives have been treated generously. "All you people sitting up there got dinner before this and get dinner after," he said. "I'm hungry, and I didn't get anything, and I demand food."

CA leaders said they moved the shareholders' event because only a small percentage of employees, investors, and clients are from Long Island, and Manhattan is more accessible. They said they didn't expect people would want breakfast during a 10 a.m. meeting, and they promised to provide food in the future.

-- K.C. Jones, TechWeb