The network is the story: News on the latest Internet standards and struggles
While the French are noted for sometimes being slow to adopt someone else's latest technology, they are not known for a lack in their own technological advancements, said Jacques Dondoux, minister of exterior commerce, in a speech to the conference. And now, France has set its mind not only to adopting Internet technology from other countries, but also to developing its own expertise.
"The `French delay' is without doubt, first and foremost cultural -- happily -- and not intellectual," Dondoux said.
Industry and government officials alike agreed that this year will mark a serious change in how French businesses use and develop for the Internet.
"From the point of departure, the take-off is going to be nearly vertical," promised Bruno Oudet, ISOC France's president.
The rate of Internet usage in France is growing more quickly than it is in the U.S., noted Michel Gien, chief technology officer at Chorus Systems SA, now owned by Sun Microsystems Inc. Unfortunately, this is mostly because the French market is small and the U.S. market is saturated, rather than pointing to impressive growth rates in France, he said.
Still, Gien said, hopes are high that this is the year that serious progress will be made for commercial and private Internet use here.
"The visibility of the Internet in France is clearly increasing," noted Vinton Cerf, co-author of the TCP/IP protocol and MCI Communications Corp.'s senior vice president of Internet architecture and engineering.
The Internet stakes are high, because, as France Telecom's executive director of development Jean-Jacques Damlamian put it, the Internet is central to the growth and health of the French economy.
French Senator Tregouet expressed the same message of importance as Damlamian in terms of a shift in societal norms. Tregouet noted that threatening pressure from the Internet's non-hierarchical nature makes some local people want to reinforce the traditional pyramid structure of French society.
"But the rules of society are in the midst of change," Tregouet said. "There is no doubt that our society must reorganize, and the Internet can play a critical role."
Like other French officials at the conference, the senator urged that citizens take an active, rather than a passive role in the Internet. "You can't just speak about it, you must practice it," Tregouet said.
MCI's Cerf echoed the same advice. When it comes to the oft-mentioned complaint of there not being enough French content on the World Wide Web, "the solution is not complaining," Cerf said. "The solution is put some content on."
A certain segment of French society will always remain resistant to technology, admitted Minister Dondoux, but the Internet offers a gateway to international business and so is critical to the country.
Small to medium-sized businesses, representing a serious force in France, will have a key role in the Internet's growth here, many ISOC speakers explained. To help with that, Dondoux said his ministry is putting aside 20 million francs (US$3.3 million) over the next two years to finance Internet sites "oriented to export." The funding program will be in place by the end of this quarter, he added.
Last Friday, Industry Minister Christian Pierret announced a 50 million franc program for the promotion of Internet use in small to medium-size businesses.
Big businesses too, are doing their part, as France Telecom's long-time Internet proponent Damlamian promised that the telco is taking a new attitude to the Internet.
Rounding out efforts for France's Year of the Internet are plans for an Internet Festival similar to the popular Music Festival held each year in Paris. Plans for the event, to be held this year on March 20 and 21, were hatched among participants at the ISOC meeting over the weekend.
With all of the efforts France is putting into Internet development, the country will also need to be mindful of challenges that pave the road to success. For example, corporate CEOs need to change their attitude to high-technology, and corporate Internet development has to reach out to users who didn't previously have access to corporate information, France Telecom's Damlamian said.
In order to export French products successfully via the Internet, there is no point in denying cultural differences, Minister Dondoux noted. Rather, businesses here need to take such differences into account to better create a favorable environment for the successful export of French products. "You don't sell a product the same way in China as you do in Chile," Dondoux said.
"We French like to stay too much among ourselves," said ISOC's Oudet. "Competing groups multiply, each with a 'unique' goal. This spirit of parochialism has also manifested itself in our fear of the exterior." To overcome these tendencies, Oudet pointed to Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's suggestion that "boldness alone allows us to invent the future."
--Jeanette Borzo, IDG News Service
According to the January survey, 50.24 percent of the 1.8 million survey respondents reported using the Apache Web server or related products. The second most popular server is from Microsoft Corp., which 20.81 percent of respondents said they used. Netscape Communications Corp. was in third place with 5.3 percent of respondents, according to Netcraft Ltd., a Bath, England-based network consultancy that regularly conducts the survey.
Its current 5.3 percent share, marks a significant drop for Netscape, which scored over 12 percent in the January 1997 Netcraft survey. Conversely, Microsoft's percent share nearly doubled from 10.5 percent in 1997.
Apache's popularity derives in part from its technological sophistication, according to a statement by C2Net Software Inc., which makes network security software for Apache Web servers, including the Stronghold Web server. Apache, which began as a set of patches to the NCSA Web server, was one of the first Web servers to implement the HTTP/1.1 protocol, according to the statement.
C2Net president Sameer Parekh says that Netcraft's numbers are a good way of keeping track of server usage by domain on the Internet, but he notes that they do not provide an accurate representation of copies of server software being used, since one ISP hosting, say, 40 domains on a single Web server would count as 40 hits in the Netcraft survey.
"It's impossible to do an empirical survey of actual servers on the net," says Parekh.
Apache is also popular because it is available for free via the Internet. Users can download the entire source code for the server to compile it themselves, or download selected precompiled versions which are ready to run. In addition, because the source code is available, users can enhance the server's capabilities by adding modules which extend the server's functions or by editing the code to suit their requirements, C2Net said.
The latest version of Apache's Web server is 1.2.4, which runs on most Unix platforms, including Solaris. Version 1.3 is currently in beta and will run on both Unix and Microsoft's Windows NT, C2Net said.
Netcraft reported the following figures for the number of hosts responding to its survey and their percentage share:
|Server||Jan 98||Percent||Jan 97||Percent|
--Rebecca Sykes, IDG News Service and Robert McMillan, SunWorld
The first standard since HTML 3.2, HTML 4.0 was designed during the past year to foster neutrality among browser types -- such as competing browsers from Netscape and Microsoft -- and to make the Web more visually appealing and easily accessible through different interfaces. It also adds many international features.
The W3C released the HTML 4.0 specification on December 18, 1997.
HTML 4.0 adds support for advanced forms, in-line frames, and enhanced tables, as well as support for objects, scripts, and style sheets, according to representatives at the W3C. Many of the functions were developed by Microsoft for its DHTML and then submitted for consideration by the standards body.
"The style-sheets feature enables the DHTML stuff from Microsoft, so sites can have more depth and move things around for more dynamic page creation," said J.P. Morganthal, president of NC.Focus, a consultancy in Hewlett, N.Y.
The new features in 4.0 will need to be incorporated into browsers, tools, and Web servers before end-users can enjoy their benefits, and that whole process of integration could take a year or more, according to Tim Sloane, an industry analyst at the Aberdeen Group.
HTML 4.0 also provides the markup scheme required for any language, including multilingual documents. This allows document and Web authors to manage differences in language, text direction, and character encoding schemes, according to W3C officials.
Because table and form text can now be uniformly rendered into Braille or speech, the new HTML version is also more accessible to users with disabilities, according to W3C representatives.
The approval is the second momentous move by the W3C within a month. On Dec. 8 1997, the group gave Extensible Markup Language (XML) a nudge forward by releasing the XML 1.0 specification for review and voting by W3C members.
Accompanying the latest HTML version is a new service, HTML Validator, a free offering that is designed to help the Web community more easily comply with HTML 4.0, according to members of the standards body.
Validator is designed to allow content providers and tool makers to "validate" their Web pages and products against the new HTML 4.0 specification.
--Dana Gardner, InfoWorld
Most respondents to the survey, conducted by the Graphic, Visualization & Usability Center at the Georgia Institute of Technology, agreed strongly (39 percent) or somewhat (33 percent) that there should be new laws to protect privacy on the Internet. Only 7 percent of respondents disagreed strongly, according to the survey.
The survey also revealed that, for the first time, the delicate balance between privacy and free expression has tipped in favor of privacy, which 30 percent of respondents identified as the most important issue facing Internet users. Censorship was tagged as the most important issue by 24 percent of respondents, the survey said.
But just as more Americans now appear willing to sacrifice some freedom for privacy protection, the U.S. government has declined to pursue legislation to that end.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) last week endorsed a self-regulating, rather than legislative, approach to governing the availability of personal information online. The FTC issued a report expressing satisfaction with online information companies' agreement to adhere to voluntary restrictions on how they make personal information available.
The survey also revealed respondents' strong opposition to companies which sell the personal information of those who visit their Web sites. Fully 63 percent of respondents disagreed strongly with the practice, and 19 percent disagreed somewhat, the survey showed. In addition, 64 percent of respondents agreed strongly that they should have complete control over their own demographic information, the survey said.
The FTC also expressed reservations about users' current level of control of their personal information, most notably that the voluntary restrictions have no provision for making people aware of information about them or for letting them make corrections to that information. However, FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky said in a statement that "We trust the industry will bring the same spirit of cooperation to resolving these remaining issues" as they have in agreeing to the voluntary restrictions.
But respondents may think the issue is not how, but if, companies should be permitted to use their personal information. Seventy-five percent of respondents disagreed with the statement that third-party advertising agencies should be permitted to compile usage data on them for direct marketing purposes, according to the survey.
--Rebecca Sykes, IDG News Service
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