There is a guy, Peter Shipley - famous in Silicon Valley for having a black car with the number plate LIV 2 HAK - who spends his time hacking into computers. He calls himself a security consultant.
The PCs at his house spend all their time dialling random numbers in the San Francisco area and assessing the security of the computers they come across. It seems that so many companies are concerned with internet security that they forget the simple necessity for dial-up protection.
Over 2.6 million calls and 20,000 modems later, Shipley has found that one per cent of networks have no security and three quarters are hackable.
He does not break into the computers but uses the results of his research to win business for himself.
If he finds any morally crucial weaknesses, as he did when he dialled the Oakland emergency services, he anonymously gives the network administrator some advice on how to protect their network.
It may sound like scare tactics, but Shipley's cause is a legitimate one. And what is wrong with scare tactics that actually scare companies into protecting their networks properly, potentially saving themselves a lot of money and paying a friendly Var to do it?
Treat 'em right
IBM has cut its ThinkPad notebook and Netfinity server prices by up to 32 per cent. But no, Intel hasn't made its chips any cheaper. Nor has IBM found a cheaper way to manufacture the boxes. Naturally, it hasn't volunteered to take a margin cut.
Instead, IBM admits the price cut is a direct result of the savings it has made from channel assembly and deliver to order manufacturing.
So what do the resellers get? Lower prices and the same margin. This means the reseller makes less money, because each box yields a lower absolute profit.
But IBM corporate resellers should be happy they can offer cheaper kit to their customers and IBM must be lauded for one thing - at least it is giving credit where credit is due.
Super San slowdown
Shock, horror. The San Francisco Bay area economy is not going to grow quite as fast as it did in previous years. The way that some of the locals talk about it, it is the end of the world.
Personal income is only going to increase by 6.3 per cent this year, according to local government, down from 7.2 per cent in 1997. That is only 3.3 per cent above inflation, and some are acting as if penury is the next step. Salaries here are huge anyway and the local technology economy is continuing to explode.
But don't think that every one of you could come here and have a great time. The average price of a two bedroom house in Pacific Heights is $2.2 million. Average. People with semi-normal mortgage costs have to commute for hours to get to work and every road, every construction team and every bit of patience is stretched to the limit.
It will get worse. The only industry creating more jobs than construction here is technology - there will be 111,500 new technology jobs by the year 2000 alone. By 2005, there will be a housing deficit of 234,992 units within the area covered by a two-hour drive. And you thought salaries and house prices were bad in Berkshire.
Wearing your wellington reboots
At this time of year, you worry about being cold. Unfortunately, in New England and some parts of Canada, they worry about being frozen because it is so outrageously cold.
A Canadian Var has found an enterprising way of making money from inclement weather. It specialises in frozen PCs, and I don't mean computers continually locked up because they run Windows 95. According to the Reynolds & Reynolds, power cuts have caused the worst problems for its customers. When the power goes off, heating systems fail and the extreme cold affects the whole office. Hardware gets frozen, power is restored and the machines restarted.
But mechanical components like disk drives cannot handle boot-ups in super sub-zero temperatures and are often damaged. Reynolds & Reynolds steps in with careful reboot procedures or thawed machines. I presume they also realise there is an opportunity to sell some uninterruptable power supplies.
US Var Inacom has made an acquisition in southern California. The acquired company is a relatively small reseller but still turns over about $85 million, and its president said it had many suitors. So why did it choose to sell to Inacom?
The company president claimed Inacom offered the best deal for its customers, staff and management.
I have another theory. The match may have had something to do with the company name - the name of the company that Inacom bought was Inacomp.
In the public (and Bill's) eye
Microsoft is generally loathed in the industry - but that does not mean the American public feel the same way. Only in this country could people raise their opinion of a president during a sex scandal and also continue to like Microsoft.
Surveys show that the majority of Americans think the government should not intervene in Microsoft's business and don't mind the company's dominance in software. Only 15 per cent of those surveyed felt unfavourable towards Bill Gates.
Europeans tend to support the underdog and treat the successful with a mixture of jealousy and mistrust, but if this American support for the powerful worries you, don't. The vast majority of Americans I surveyed said they thought it was funny when Gates had that cream pie had thrown in his face in Belgium.
James Harding is US editor of VNU Newswire based in San Francisco.
He can be reached at [email protected] or on 00 1 415 306 0879.
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