Armando's Notes from WWW-5

France Telecom Talk

A big wheel from France Telecom gave a plenary address (in French; I was even able to follow, without using the simultaneous translation headset!). It was fluff, but at least it seems like France Telecom groks the Internet thing, unlike some US carriers I could name. Intersting point: the Minitel system has taught FT but good that if it ain't easy to use, it won't get used. So they see the NC angle.

FT's position is that the telecommunicat ions pie will now be shared by more than just a few big companies, but fortunately, the pie is getting bigger (and it's FT's mission to encourage that growth, to preserve its earnings). They also see that IP telephone software is forcing them into a new business model and they don't plan to try to simply outlaw it as the US carriers did. Their belief is that the Internet economic model will rely on paying for QOS, not just for bits. (Will this discourage NC's and encourage capable laptops? Or better, will it encourage NC's served by smart proxies?)

It seems that if someone could propose a system solution for charging for and reliably delivering QoS, they could make a lot of money. (My opinion, not FT's.)

Nokia Industry Talk

A clueless droid talked about the Nokia 9000 (Euro price about $2000). Amazingly, he did not sell it as a Web device or even email device, and equally amazingly, most questions were about the phone functionality, weight, etc.

Multimedia and the Web

Rob Glaser (pres/CEO of Real Audio) gave a talk that was better than I expected. He understands, unlike John Patrick from IBM who spoke at the opening session, that the bandwidth for quality A/V will not be there unless we start doing intelligent bandwidth management; simply throwing more fiber at the problem won't solve it.

Global Cryptography

Perhaps surprisingly, this panel session was mostly content-free. Panelists represented British Telecom, the European Commission, a British security consulting firm, Novell. The high order bits were: Someone brought up the standard argument "when crypto is outlawed, only outlaws will have crypto". Panelists were in agreement on the response: the purpose of deciding policy and setting up crypto infrastructure is to protect law-abiding parties who want to conduct business with integrity. There will always be sophisticated outlaws anyway. Of course this completely circumvents the question of private use of strong crypto, but the panelists seemed less concerned to address that debate.

An interesting tidbit: even though US export laws prohibit not only crypto engines of certain kinds but even modular interfaces to those engines ("crypto with a hole"), Novell's strategy for a worldwide crypto-enabled NetWare will be "controlled modular crypto": they will indeed define a narrow modular (even layered) crypto interface, but their runtime linker will refuse to load all but "properly signed" crypto modules, which can be made available by Novell or partners as local legislation and export laws permit. (The guy said "it's crypto with a hole, but a hole that onle we (Novell) can plug.") I was stupefied and asked the obvious question. The response was that "we are protected [from people subverting the kernel] to the extent that our licensing agreement already protects us from people reverse-engineering our product." When I pressed him, he said that reverse-engineering NetWare, even to find the crypto hooks, was "hard enough" and therefore he wasn't concerned that they needed to de-modularize the interface. I guess Ian and Dave have their work cut out for them.

Most of the other panelists thought NetWare's approach was misguided: it was a technical answer (and a bad one, IMHO) to a policy question that will eventually need to get resolved anyway. Frankly I thought Novell's talk was the most offensively blatant marketing spiel I saw at the whole conference, and that includes the industrial demos pavilion.

Metadata for the Masses

I didn't know this was such a spirited debate but evidently it is. It was about URC's -- universal resource characteristics, metadata about URN's/URI's which may be stored physically separately from the resources themselves. Consistent URC information would allow high quality indexing/search, resource discovery, cross-protocol location services (e.g. server maps URN to URC + set of URL's) and other wonderful things. The issue is what exactly URC's should be. Some points/perspectives:

Panel: Internet Indexing

I thought Eric would attend this, but evidently he had other stuff to do. As a personal aside, my first-order impression of Tim Bray, both in the content of the positions he advanced and the way in which he advanced them, was "We are OpenText, fuck you very much for your patronage." If there is a major crawler shakeout, I will enjoy watching him die (though that's not necessarily realistic). Interestingly, he got an award for "Meritorious research and interesting presentation" (he presented a paper similar to Allison Woodruff's et al. about measuring the profiles of Web documents, presumably using the OpenText database.)

Social Issues

I was surprised there wasn't more discussion of social issues related to Internet access, etc. Everyone agreed that the Internet had "changed everything" -- it's a big publishing democracy, the power is being taken from big companies and put into consumers' and individuals' hands, voice oriented telco's and their arcane tariff structure are dinosaurs, etc. However, there are a number of respects in which the current Internet bears no resemblance to reality: Interestingly, Steve McGeady (Intel Arch. Labs, the think tank/research lab in Portland) made a "play the skeptic" presentation during the opening session of "business on the web" that did address the above issues. I was pleased that of all the business speakers, the representative of my former employer seemed to have the best grip on reality.

Random Ideas

These came to me at various times in various contexts