Friday, June 26, 2009

Cisco sends employees home to work

 today revealed it has garnered more than $277 million in productivity savings by letting employees work from home using the company’s own virtual office technology.

Slideshow: Taking a look at telework ]

Not only does Cisco's telecommuting technology help the company save on collaboration technologies, but also the company’s telework programmakes employees happy, survey results show. Cisco based its productivity savings on the number of billed hours at an average of $91 per hour, with the total figure reaching about $277 million. In addition, the vendor estimated employees garnered fuel cost savings exceeding $10 million per year.

Yet cost savings was not the primary goal of the survey, Cisco executives say.

“Our main intent was to really evaluate the social, economic and environmental impacts associated with telecommuting,” says Rami Mazid, vice president of global client services and operations at Cisco. “We sampled employees who have the flexibility and desire to telework to get the most up-to-date information, and the key conclusion is that employee productivity is much higher and collaboration is the same if not better when working remotely.”

Cisco also found that 91% of the nearly 2,000 respondents to a late 2008 survey believed the ability to telecommute is “somewhat or very important” to their overall satisfaction on the job, improving the vendor’s talent retention rate. More specifically, 69% of employees surveyed cited higher productivity when working from home and 75% said the timeliness of their work improved. More than 80% of respondents reported that their ability to communicate and collaborate with coworkers is the same or better when working from home. About two-thirds said their overall work quality improved when telecommuting, and 80% cited an improved quality of life by telecommuting.

Cisco’s survey showed that responding employees spend about 63% of their time communicating and collaborating, and 40% of those polled are not located in the same city as their manager. The average Cisco employee telecommutes about 2 days per week, and 60% use the time saved by telecommuting to work, while 40% put the extra hours toward personal activities.

The company, which about 18 months ago ramped up its telework program in response to a request from CEO John Chambers, estimates that about 20,000 Cisco employees use its Cisco Virtual Office (CVO) to work remotely from their homes. Another 80,000 Cisco employees and vendors have the company’s software product installed on their clients, which enables end users to VPN back to Cisco’s network securely from any location.

“Teleworking has been going on for quite some time at Cisco, but not at the scale we have today. It increased 18 months ago and we provided additional capabilities about 12 months ago and are seeing a huge demand to have CVO installed in employees’ homes recently,” Mazid adds. “A properly executed program for telecommuting can be extremely effective at unlocking employees’ potential by increasing work-life balance, productivity and overall satisfaction.”

Friday, April 3, 2009

Facebook rolls out storage system to wrangle massive photo stores

Homegrown system, Facebook Haystack, built to handle multiplying files of user photos

Needing to better deal with 50 billion files worth of photos, engineers at Facebook are installing a new photo storage system they say is 50% faster than traditional systems.

The storage system, dubbed Haystack, has been under development in-house for the past couple of years, and Facebook has been rolling it out in limited test versions to parts of the network for the past few months. The company expects to use Haystack to store all Facebook photos by next week, according to Bobby Johnson, director of engineering at Facebook.

And Jonathan Heiliger, vice president of technical operations, toldComputerworld today that based on tests, Haystack is more than 50% faster than traditional photo storage systems.

"In terms of cost, if it's twice as efficient, we can have 50% less hardware," said Johnson. "With 50 billion files on disk, the cost adds up. It's essentially giving us some [financial] headroom."

Johnson and Heiliger said they began building the new storage system to better handle the growing number ofphotos Facebook has to store. Many of their 175 million and 200 million users share photos of everything from their pets to vacations, weddings and days at the beach. That means users are posting and calling up their own photos, as well as their friends' and family members' photos. Keeping the system running efficiently was a growing challenge.

Johnson noted that Facebook deals with 15 billion photos - not including all of the replications. User data grows by 500GB per day. And Facebook has 50 million requests per second to its back-end servers.

A spokesman for Facebook said more specifics about the new system will be released in a few weeks.

Johnson, though, said the system is so much faster than the previous one because of changes made to its setup. Haystack is tailored for small files that don't change very often, instead of for a small number of large files that are changing all the time. Traditional file directories also need file names, and a lot of resource cost goes to just finding the files. The new system uses ID numbers instead of names; that mapping is very small and doesn't involve directory structures or file names.

Johnson said that so far, the rollout of the new system has gone very smoothly.

Five-year-old Facebook's user base passed one-time leader MySpace last year, according to a recent report.

Facebook, once regarded as the up-and-coming social network, had almost 222 million unique visitors last month, while MySpace came in at 125 million, according to online researcher comScore Inc. That's a dramatic change, since the Facebook-MySpace race for unique visitors was a near dead heat in April 2008.

The company is closing in on a big milestone -- 200 million users, executives said today.

Massive computer spy network uncovered

Massive computer spy network uncovered; Google downplays Google Docs security concerns; and Intel to release faster low-power laptop chips.

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A 10-month cyberespionage investigation has found that 1,295 computers in 103 countries and belonging to international institutions have been spied on, with some circumstantial evidence suggesting China may be to blame. The 53-page report, released on Sunday, provides some of the most compelling evidence and detail of the efforts of politically-motivated hackers while raising questions about their ties with government-sanctioned cyberspying operations. It describes a network which researchers have called GhostNet, which primarily uses a malicious software program called gh0st RAT to steal sensitive documents, control Web cams and completely control infected computers. The analysts did say, however, they have no confirmation if the information obtained has ended up being valuable to the hackers or whether it has been commercially sold or passed on as intelligence.

Google Docs users shouldn't lose sleep over the security concerns a security analyst has raised about the hosted suite of office productivity applications, Google said late Friday. In an official blog posting, Jonathan Rochelle, Google Docs' product manager, details why the company has determined that the issues included in the analyst's report are far from critical. Google's conclusions aren't a surprise. Hours after Ade Barkah published his report last Thursday, Google responded with a preliminary statement saying it was investigating the matter but that it didn't believe there were significant security issues with Docs. Nonetheless, Google evidently sees some merit in Barkah's report. Google has added information regarding Barkah's observations to its Docs "help" pages about creating drawings and about adding viewers and collaborators to documents.

Intel is expected to refresh its line of laptop chips Monday with new ultra-low-voltage processors that should make ultraportable laptops operate faster without sacrificing battery life. Intel currently offers ultra-low-voltage processors for fully functional thin and light laptops, such as Apple's expensive MacBook Air and Lenovo's ThinkPad X300. These chips fit into small spaces and draw less power than conventional laptop chips. The chips are about the size of a dime, or 60 percent smaller than mainstream laptop chips. The chips will run at clock speeds of up to 1.6GHz, a speed bump from earlier chips that ran at up to 1.40GHz.

The U.S. Library of Congress has begun uploading its audio archives to iTunes, and it will soon begin to post videos on YouTube, in an effort to make its materials easier for the public to access. The library already offers the materials at its own Web site but the expansion to YouTube and Apple's iTunes is part of the library's efforts to make its 15.3 million digital items more accessible. The decision to post audio and video on iTunes and YouTube follows a successful launch early last year of a library photo archive on Flickr. Since January 2008, the library's photos on Flickr have been viewed about 15.7 million times

...And those are the top stories from the IDG Global IT News Update, brought to you by the IDG News Service. I'm Sumner Lemon in Singapore. Join us again later for more news from the world of technology.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Bribery case creates possible IT security nightmare in D.C.

Arrest of security exec leaves district officials facing 'huge mess' over potential security issues

After being arrested on bribery chargesyesterday, the District of Columbia's top information security official is being held without bail, partly because of uncertainty about whether he still has the ability to access the district's IT systems.

That's just one of many potential security issues facing D.C. government officials after the FBI raided the district's IT offices and arrested Yusuf Acar, its acting chief security officer, and a second man in connection with an alleged bribery scheme.

For instance, Acar had access to personnel data and other confidential information in the district's systems as part of his job. Court documents submitted by the FBI claim that several other district employees were also involved in the bribery scheme. Security analysts warn that Acar and his alleged accomplices could have created backdoors into systems. And since the alleged scheme included misdoings on a purchase of security software, there may be questions about the quality of the district's security tools.

From an IT security standpoint, municipal officials in Washington have a nightmare on their hands, said Johannes Ullrich, chief technology officer at the SANS Institute's Internet Storm Center in Bethesda, Md.

As a security official in the IT department, Acar would have had widespread access to the district's networks and probably also its databases and password files, Ullrich said. In addition, he would have been privy to details about its user-access-control procedures. That level of access and knowledge could have enabled him to do a variety of things, virtually undetected, if he so chose, according to Ullrich.

Without a thorough forensics investigation, there's no telling whether anything nefarious was actually done to the district's systems, Ullrich noted. He said some of the classic rogue-insider actions that D.C. officials should look for include installing backdoors, stealing data andplanting logic bombs designed to destroy data after a specified period of time has elapsed. Another is tricking other users into installing malware or compromised devices on their systems.

At Acar's arraignment in U.S. District Court yesterday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Hibarger cited a number of reasons why the IT worker should be held in jail pending a bond hearing scheduled for next Tuesday. First and foremost, Hibarger said there was a "serious risk" that Acar, who has relatives in Turkey, would try to flee the country. But Hibarger also pointed to Acar's broad system-access privileges and said prosecutors didn't know for sure that he would be blocked from accessing the district's network.

Federal investigators haven't said whether they think any of the data in the district's systems was compromised as part of the alleged bribery scheme. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office said today that he couldn't comment on the investigative steps being taken.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Asus soups up Lamborghini laptop with 1TB SSD

Lamborghini VX5 also sports a Blu-ray drive

March 3, 2009 (Computerworld) Asustek Computer Inc. unveiled a new laptop at the CeBIT show in Hannover, Germany, today that comes equipped with a 1TB solid-state disk (SSD) drive, a 16-in. high-definition display, a Blu-ray drive and leather-covered panel rests.

The Asus Lamborghini VX5 laptop comes with an LCD cover designed to remind users of the Lamborghini Reventon sports car's aluminum-alloy fuselage.

Its piano-painted mirror surface is also supposed to mimic the car's finish. The notebook comes with a 1TB SSD from pureSilicon Inc., which launched the compact flash-memory drive in January.

The purSilicon SSD boasts a data-transfer burst speed of 300MB/sec., a sustained read speed of 240MB/sec. and a sustained write speed of 215MB/sec.
Asus' new Lamborghini VX5. Pricing and release date have yet to be determined.

The pureSilicon SSD boasts a data-transfer burst speed of 300MB/sec., a sustained read speed of 240MB/sec. and a sustained write speed of 215MB/sec.

The Lamborghini VX5 will also come with an Intel Core 2 Quad CPU and 4GB of RAM. "It features a 'twin turbo' mode that users can utilize to accelerate CPU and GPU performance via a speed key," Asus said.

The notebook also has an illuminated "chiclet" keyboard that automatically lights up in low light conditions.

The laptop's display is a 16-in. "full HD" screen -- 1080p, or 1920 by 1080 pixels -- along with a dedicated Nvidia GeForce GT 130M graphics chip with 1GB of GDDR 3 video RAM.

The laptop's Blu-ray drive and the onboard HDMI socket allow output to an HDTV for watching movies.

Asus has not yet set a release data or price for the new laptop.

iPhone apps that foretell the future page 2

NumberKey Connect makes a perfect companion to Apple's wireless Bluetooth and laptop keyboards, which lack number keys. It even offers four different themes, and its behind-the-scenes use of Bonjour translates to an automatic and reliable connection for your Macs running 10.5.5 and above, with an iPhone 2.1 or later. Simple in form and execution, this solution is both infinitely useful and potentially prophetic concerning future device interaction.

Of course, there's always full-on computer control, and for that you can use the free Mocha VNC Lite. As long as there's a wireless network connection -- including 3G signal -- and a properly configured Mac or PC, you can access your computer and control it as if you were in front of it, all from your iPhone.

The software provides support for all sorts of interaction using gestures and taps, including different input modes for controlling the screen or for manipulating icons on the computer.

Mocha VNC Lite
Use Mocha VNC Lite to control either a Mac or a PC remotely.
Click to view larger image

For my part, I've used Mocha a few times to access mission-critical servers, allowing me to input commands via Mocha's on-screen keyboard remotely and helping me avoid a very bad day. At home, I use the software for accessing the Mac that controls my optical disk carousels. With Mocha and some not-so-fancy AppleScript, I can access the Mac to pick one of several hundred movie titles without having to interrupt the current program on screen.

My own examples are just scratching the surface as to what can be done with the ability to control a computer from anywhere you are.

Clearly, these are the first steps for the iPhone in device interactivity. Although the pairing of two wholly different devices to perform a specific task isn't anything new to the computer scene, the iPhone's software platform and wireless connectivity options portend an almost endless array of possibilities.

Note to Apple: For this to truly become the future, you need to open up hardware accessibility to third parties! (Although logic dictates you may already be working on this.)

iPhone + home automation

Apps: iPhone Home Controller 2.0, Smarthome

Imagine being able to read the contents of your fridge by glancing at a list stored on your iPhone; dimming the kitchen lights with a gesture on the touch screen; and finally being able to determine beyond all doubt that you did, in fact, turn the iron off.

As we march into the future, there is an emerging marketplace for mainstream hardware that bridges the gap between the iPhone and household appliances. While direct-connectivity options built into appliances are the next logical step, there are currently third-party options that enable home automation for existing homes.

Be warned, however; home automation is getting better, but it's still all rather geeky and niche-y, complete with dedicated online forums run mostly by ├╝ber nerds who are to regular nerds what nerds are to normal people. If you're still curious after that caveat, there are a few sites that offer complete solutions, including Smarthome.com and the iPhone Home Controller 2.0.

For examples of home automation via the iPhone, the Smarthome site even offers a Web video that demonstrates dimming lights, turning on and off sprinklers and adjusting temperature. It also shows the ability to monitor all of the actions remotely using an IP-based Web camera.

If you still want more, check out this list of home automation software, compiled specifically for the iPhone, including many more options than I'm able to cover here.

iPhone apps that foretell the future

More than just useful or fun, these iPhone apps point the way toward the future -- of the iPhone and smartphones in general.

Ah, the Apple App Store. Since July 2008, the month when Apple opened its wildly popular library of applications for the iPhone and iPod Touch, the world has been treated to more than 20,000 apps, with some 500 million downloaded as of February 2009.

Programs run the gamut from necessary, useful and a ton of fun all the way through to "none of the above."

And then there's another class of software -- iPhone apps that foretell the future.

These are the applications that offer clues as to how mobile users are likely to use their smartphones -- whether it's an iPhone or one of the iPhone's rivals -- in the months and years to come. (Just today,Amazon.com released a Kindle e-reader app for the iPhone.) While I focus specifically on the iPhone here, it's likely that other smartphone platforms will take a similar course as well.

iphone

With an eye on what's out there now in the App Store -- and what that inventory indicates about what could be coming next -- I've sorted through thousands of programs to pick a few apps that indicate the direction we could see the iPhone and other future mobile devices take.

Ready for a little reading of the tea leaves? Here's my personal list of iPhone apps that best exemplify the future of mobile applications.

iPhone + computer

Apps: Remote, NumberKey Connect, Mocha VNC Lite

In the future, we will definitely see a higher degree of interaction between the iPhone and the computer, and there a few popular products out right now that point the way.

Remote from Apple
Use Remote to access your tunes from afar, particularly if your computer or AirPort Express station is hooked up to a sound system.

Since the beginning, Apple has offered Remote, which has become a very popular app (and the price is right -- it's free). For the two of you who have never tried it, Remote allows the iPhone to access and control, via local Wi-Fi, iTunes content stored on a computer, which is incredibly useful if your computer or AirPort Express station is hooked up to a sound system.

The app offers an impressive amount of control, supporting nearly as many features remotely as you'd get if the content were stored on the iPhone itself.

In fact, the single thing that I found missing is the inability to view lyrics within music tracks.

Despite that one shortcoming, it's simple to set up, simple to manage and extraordinarily useful. This free app is a perfect example of cross-device interactivity.

NumberKey Connect from Balmuda
NumberKey Connect lets your iPhone act as the Mac's number pad.
Click to view larger image

Another excellent example of computer-to-iPhone interaction is NumberKey Connect ($1.99) from Balmuda, which allows the iPhone to act as a Mac's number pad.

The software works in tandem with a small program running on your Mac (this computer-specific software is Mac-only as of press time, supporting both Intel- and PPC-based Macs) and like Remote, it utilizes Apple's Bonjour service-discovery networking protocol.

Friday, February 27, 2009

6 timesaving tips for Word 2007 End Part

5. Give yourself some extra room between paragraphs.

If you're someone who likes to make notes between paragraphs while you edit or revise a document, or if you want to add new text to a single-spaced outline, give yourself a little extra room to work in by automatically adding a line of space between your paragraphs.

Select the whole document by hitting Ctrl-A, then hit Ctrl-0 and a new empty line will appear after every paragraph. Select All again and hit Ctrl-0 to make the extra lines go away. (This tip works in earlier versions of Word as well, except hitting Ctrl-0 a second time doesn't remove the extra spaces.)

6. Add random placeholder text.

Sometimes you need to add random text to a document as part of a demonstration or to get a feel for a new layout. The designer's standby is lorem ipsum, a block of Latin derived from Cicero's De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum (On the Ends of Good and Evil).

The lorem ipsum text has no meaning for modern readers, which makes it perfect for not being distracted by what the text says, so you can instead focus on what it looks like.

Place your cursor where you want the random text to start and type:

=lorem(x,y)

where x is the number of paragraphs you want to insert and y is the number of sentences each paragraph should contain. When you hit Enter, Word will insert the desired chunk of text. For example, =lorem(1,4) generates this:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Maecenas porttitor congue massa. Fusce posuere, magna sed pulvinar ultricies, purus lectus malesuada libero, sit amet commodo magna eros quis urna. Nunc viverra imperdiet enim.

Prefer your dummy text in English? Word 2007 will also insert English text, drawn from a Word 2007 tutorial, by replacing lorem with rand, like this:

=rand(1,4)

(Interestingly, in earlier versions of Word, the =rand function inserts repetitions of the classic typesetter's dummy sentence, "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." The tutorial text that Word 2007 uses is longer and more varied.)

Both =lorem and =randare handy ways of generating natural-looking text at blazing-fast speed.

I hope these tips save you some time next time you use Word 2007. Some of the features mentioned here were available (in some form or other) in earlier incarnations of the program, but if you didn't go digging through layers and layers of menus, you'd have never known it. New or old, though, all these functions can be useful to anyone who works with Word.

And there are probably further functions yet to be discovered -- I'm still looking for that Write Article button I just know has to be hidden in there somewhere.

Logan Kugler is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer who has written about technology and business for more than 30 national magazines, including MacLife, PC Magazine, Success and Advertising. Age.

6 timesaving tips for Word 2007 Part two

You can even use this trick to find and replace one term with another -- "run" with "walk," "ran" with "walked," "running" with "walking" and so on. (Rather than choosing Replace All, it's better to review Word's suggestions individually to be sure the correct form is used each time.)

Combined with the new Reading Highlight feature in Word 2007, this makes for a powerful editing tool. For instance, most writers try to avoid using the verb "to be" too often in their work, preferring more active and descriptive verbs (e.g., "runs" rather than "is moving quickly").

Enter "be" as the search term, select "Find all word forms" and click Reading Highlight --> Highlight All. Every use of "is," "was," "has been," "are" and so on will be highlighted, making it easy to pay special attention to them while editing.

highlighted forms of search term 'to be'
The various forms of "to be" are highlighted.

3. Work in two parts of a document at the same time.

Word's Split View allows you to view and work in two parts of the same document in one screen. This makes cutting and pasting chunks of text from the start to the end of a long document a breeze; adding references or endnotes is also a piece of cake.

You can even keep your outline or table of contents visible in one pane while you work away in the other. Each pane in the Split View can be scrolled independently, so you can move around as much as you need to.

To activate it in Word 2007, simply go up to the View tab, and in the Window area select Split. (In earlier versions of Word, select Window --> Split.) Your cursor will jump to the middle of the page on top of a horizontal "split line," and moving your mouse will move the split line up and down. Find a place where you want to split the page and click your mouse to place the line.

Your document will now be viewed through two independent panes, and you can work in either one. If you don't like where you put the split line, just grab it with your mouse and you can move it around as much as you want.

Word's Split View
Look at two separate parts of your document in the same screen with Word's Split View.

Once you've entered Split View, changing back to the default is as simple as repeating the process. Just go up to the View tab and instead of Split, this time you'll see Remove Split. (In earlier versions of Word, select Window --> Remove Split.) Click that and presto -- your screen is back to normal.

4. Make changes in the Print Preview screen.

You're all ready to print, but first you decide to have a look at the Print Preview screen (select Office button --> Print --> Print Preview or hit Ctrl-Alt-I) to see how the document will appear on paper. That's when you spot the glaring error you missed. Normally, you'd have to exit out of the Print Preview screen and return to the document, then find the error all over again.

But with Word 2007, you can easily change the behavior of the Print Preview screen so you can edit your document without exiting Print Preview. In the Preview area in the Print Preview ribbon, uncheck the box next to Magnifier. As soon as that's done, clicking on the document will place your cursor just as it would in the normal editing screen. You can fix a typo, add a word or even rewrite whole paragraphs if you choose.

Unchecking the Magnifier option
Uncheck the Magnifier option to edit your document in the Print Preview screen.

Then click Print and send it directly to the printer. You can save your changes here in Print Preview or back in normal view.

6 timesaving tips for Word 2007

Unleash the power of Word 2007 with these quick tips

Microsoft's Word has always been an impressively powerful piece of software, with dozens, if not hundreds, of features most people never knew existed. The new"Ribbon" interface in Word 2007 attempts to make some of those features easier to find and use, but there are still a lot of really handy features that you may not even know to look for.

Here are six quick things you can do with Word 2007 that will save you oodles of time. Once you give them a try, you'll never want to do without them.

(Editor's note: Some of these tips work in earlier versions of Word. We've noted where that's the case, along with the variations in the steps you'll need.)

1. Highlight all appearances of a word or phrase in a document.

Traditionally, to find a word or phrase in a Word document, you would hit Ctrl-F (or select Edit --> Find from the pull-down menu), enter your search term and click Find Next to go to the next instance of the word in the document. From there, you'd continue to click Find Next to search for the next usage, and the next one after that, and rinse and repeat.

In Word 2007, you can run a single search that highlights every instance in the document, making it easy to scan through and find the exact instance of the word or phrase you're looking for (or to see if you've used the phrase far too often).

choosing Highlight All
Choosing Highlight All in the Find dialog

Start a search as you normally would by hitting Ctrl-F and entering your search term. But instead of clicking Find, click on the Reading Highlight button at the bottom of the search window and select Highlight All. Every instance of your search term will be highlighted in whatever highlight color you have selected on your Home tab (yellow by default).

highlighted search term
Voila! Your search term is highlighted throughout the document.

To remove the highlighting, simply hit Ctrl-F again to bring up the search window, click the Reading Highlight button and select Clear Highlighting. The highlighting will disappear.

2. Search for a word and all its variations.

Another powerful feature in Word 2007's search function is the ability to search for variations on a word, like plurals or verb tenses. (Earlier versions of Word can do this as well.) Click Ctrl-F to open the search form as usual, enter your search word and click the More button at the bottom. Check the box next to "Find all word forms."

Choosing 'Find all word forms'
Choosing "Find all word forms" in the Find dialog

When you run the search, Word will locate not only the word you entered, but all its variations. For example, say you want to find every time you describe the sport of running in your document. Enter "run" and Word will locate not just every instance of the word "run," but also "ran," "running" and "runs."

Note that Microsoft's terminology here is a little misleading. It doesn't actually find all forms of all words. For example, if you search on "music" and select "Find all word forms," it won't find "musical" or "musician." But if you enter a verb, Word will find all its tenses; if you enter the singular form of a noun, it will find the plural as well; and if you enter an adjective like "good," it will also find "better" and "best."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

When good browsers go bad -- and they all do Page 6

For example, Apple Inc. released its Canvas design element in Safari for developers to play with, and then later offered the Canvas element to W3C as a possible CSS module. The idea has been accepted, although the first working draft has yet to be created.

For its part, IE8 will include a new feature called Access Control Specification, which handles cross-domain requests. "It's a new object, a new API that lets Web developers make a request across Web site domains," and it creates an object called a CrossDomainRequest (XDR) object, Wilson says. But it may be at odds with a similar effort at the W3C, the Access Control for Cross-Site Requests draft specification.

While Access Control is a standards draft in the Web Apps Working Group, says Wilson, "the working group declined our proposal of the separate object XDR, and wants to use Access Control" instead. While Microsoft has "concerns" about that approach, Wilson says that developers can allow the use of both objects by writing code that switches between objects as needs dictate. But in the long run, he says, "We hope to implement the working group's final spec."

Do developments like these foreshadow a return to the bad old days of browser wars? "If one of the teams starts ignoring that hard-won wisdom, we could be back where we were before," Meyer says. Adding lots of new capabilities outside of the standards-making process could easily "break forward movement" on standards.

Wilson doesn't see the XDR action as a move away from standards. "We were pragmatic, however, in recognizing we were better off building a parallel object for the time being," he says.

But all in all, Meyer thinks that Microsoft and other vendors are more cautious than they once were about getting too far ahead of the curve. "To a large degree, the browser vendors have learned their lesson."

Broken browsers: A sign of life?

While most of the Web code out there still isn't fully standards compliant, most major Web sites are much better than they used to be. Even with the 95% of Web sites that aren't fully compliant with all W3C specifications, in most cases the violations are trivial to the end user experience. "They forget an Escape or an ampersand," says Le Hegaret.

Browser spoofing
The browser's user agent string can easily be changed to fool browser detection schemes. Click to view larger image.

"There are developers who are unwilling or unable to follow the specifications.... there are gaps in the specifications that allow vendor-specific technology to take off, and there are parts of the existing specs that have not been implemented by all major browsers," says Lawson. But, he says, "I think the situation is improving."

Web standards are an ongoing process in which the goal posts keep moving all the time. They will never be perfect, nor will Web pages that follow them, even when those pages are created by standards-aware professionals with the best of intentions, says Meyer.

He points to one project where he was pulling images from Flickr into a Web site as an example. "The code [from Flickr] had unencoded ampersands in the links," he says. Meyer had a choice: "I could spend a half a day writing code to make sure I encoded every ampersand or I could do some real work." He chose the latter.

For all of the recent gains, the open Web is still very much a work in progress, but that's a good thing, Meyers says. "The only time you don't have issues to be resolved is when a system is closed and dead."


THE AUTHOR OF THIS FANTASTIC STORY IS Robert L. Mitchell.

When good browsers go bad -- and they all do Page 5

Corporate holdouts

The last to get standards religion may be internal-facing corporate Web sites, many of which were built specifically to work with Internet Explorer. "You find more proprietary approaches in the corporate environment because they control which browser they're using," says Le Hegaret. For example, ActiveX controls, which work only on Windows and are supported only in Internet Explorer, are more common on internal-facing Web sites.

Because IT can control which browser is used, organizations can protect themselves in the short term from the move to a standards-based Web. However, as market share for earlier versions of Internet Explorer drops over time, more and more Web developers will stop building customized sets of style sheets for Internet Explorer. It's simply too expensive to keep supporting a one-off case.

"If your Web site has to work with IE6, you have to add 20% to 30% in extra development time," says Koch. He predicts that developers will start dropping support for IE6's quirks within the next 12 to 18 months.

By making IE8 standards compliant by default, Microsoft is putting its corporate customers on notice that it's serious about standards. Koch was pleasantly surprised by Microsoft's change of heart. The broader community of Web developers is "suddenly more important than corporate developers. That's something I never expected to see."

Several other factors keep developers stuck in the past when it comes to coding Web sites. Many people are learning using outdated tutorials or are working with tools that aren't up to date and generate noncompliant Web pages. And the ease with which designers can borrow from one another on the Web helps propagate problematic practices.

"We're feeling the effects now of decisions that were made seven years ago. That's what frustrating to me," Featherstone says. And the challenge doesn't just involve overcoming technical problems such as the need to rework Web sites built exclusively for IE6. The attitude toward Web authoring was different then, he says: "It was, 'Let's get it out there quick and get it live,' not 'What's the best way to do this?'" In some quarters that attitude still persists.

Chrome bugged by Gmail
The first release of Google's Chrome had a problem loading Gmail.

But Web developers who want to learn can find plenty of up-to-date educational resources online says Zeldman. These include information offered by the Web Standards Project; the W3C's W3C tutorials and validation suite for Web pages, and Opera Software's Web Standards Curriculum. Resources are also available at sites such as Zeldman's A List ApartDigital Web Magazine, and many others.

Zeldman says if you're not on the standards bandwagon, it's time to get on board. "Your Web sites will load faster, on more browsers and devices, reaching more people at lower cost," he says. "You'll spend more time iterating new features and coming up with new designs and net content ideas, and less time just getting the damn thing to work."

Innovations

As in the bad old days of browser wars, browser vendors still develop and include new features in their browsers that aren't yet standards -- and it may not be clear to developers that what they're embedding in their Web sites could change. In some cases, features are added to browsers and then submitted as possible standards later -- a process that could force developers who implement those technologies too early to rework their Web sites as the specification evolves.