More Buzzwords Busted

March 1, 2000

Delia Venables is a computer consultant for lawyers and is alsoeditor of the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers and other Internet publicationsand co-author, with Nick Holmes, of the Butterworths book Researching the LegalWeb. She can be contacted on 01273 472424 or her web pages are at

This article is the second of an occasional series, explainingsome of the trends and ‘buzzwords’ currently associated with developments inIT and particularly the Internet.

Several of these sections were written after a visit to the Comdex Show, inNovember last year. This show, which takes place at Las Vegas each Fall, is thelargest computer show in the world with around 200,000 people attending eachyear. It is completely overwhelming – vast, frustrating and tiring but worth theeffort, since this is always where the trends for the next few years can be seenemerging.

For the last few years, at Comdex, there has been a special section devotedto the Internet. This time, there was no special section, but the whole show wasreally about the Internet. All of the developments described here are in factrooted firmly in the Internet.

Information Appliances and WAP

Around half of USA households have a computer and most of these have accessto the Internet. The big topic now is – how to get to the other 50%?

The emerging answer to this question is that you do not actually need acomputer to access the Internet – all sorts of other devices can be used.Phones, fixed or portable; mobile and hand held computers; watches (yes,really); TVs, sometimes called Web TV; ‘tablets’ working with the TV butproviding an ‘extra’ screen – the list of possible new devices seems to beendless. These go under the general name of ‘Information Appliances’.

The protocols to transfer information for mobile devices are generally knownas Wireless Application Technology, or WAP for short. One of the most prominentof the standards being developed is codenamed ‘Bluetooth’, and there was awhole area at Comdex devoted to these devices. This standard is not entirelytrouble-free; Bluetooth apparently uses the 2.4GHz radio frequency which caninterfere with some other wireless LANs and this issue is not yet resolved.

Another problem with such devices is that they have very small screens.However, there is now a new version of HTML being developed called WML (WirelessMarkup Language) which enables developers to create content suitable forsmall-screen devices. For example, 3COM, the manufacturer and developer of thePalm series of handheld computers, uses the phrase ‘web clips’ to describethe information which can be obtained with the new Palm VII.

Web developers generally will have to accommodate new types of ‘pages’suitable for different types of device, from Web TV to mobile phones. Microsoftis forming an alliance with Ericsson to develop a version of Internet Explorerwhich can support both HTML and WAP.

What are the implications for the UK legal market? I thought it wassignificant that, when I asked Grahame Cohen (originator of Desktop Lawyer) whathis plans are for the future, he put ‘Web TV’ at the top of the list. He didnot mention mobile phones (and I do not think that even Desktop Lawyer wouldrecommend initiating a divorce from a mobile phone) but, in the financialservices arena, Barclays Stockbrokers are planning to deliver personalisedmarket information to their clients in this way. On a slightly frivolous note,Heineken is planning to bring information on the nearest pub selling itsproducts to mobile phones and palmsize computers, combining WAP with globalpositioning systems.

Application Service Providers

We are used to ISPs (Internet Service Providers) and now we have ASPs(Application Service Providers). These are companies which will run users’applications on remote computers, over the Internet.

In other words, if you are a company needing to run a number of essentialapplications – accounts, client database, order processing, even word processing- you do not have to buy your own servers and your own software to do the job,or employ expensive experts to keep it all running. Instead you can use thesoftware at an ASP to do it for you. The software is managed and kept up to dateby the ASP and you the user simply use it as and when you need it – likeelectricity (which is one of the models given for how it works).

For people already familiar with the concept of the ‘thin client’, whererelatively modest PCs or even dumb terminals are used within an organisation toprovide the user-access for applications actually running on large centralservers, this is just the next step. Instead of having your own servers with allthe central software, you run the applications over the Internet, using theASP’s servers. Indeed, some versions of this idea use software especiallydeveloped for Internet use by Citrix, the originator of the thin client concept.(Current non-Citris methods are rudely described as the ‘fat client model’.)

This development could well change the whole model of how the computerbusiness operates and no one can afford to ignore it. Even Microsoft, which hasbased its whole existence on the selling of software for PCs is now starting tooffer some of its software along these lines. A new organisation called the ASPIndustry Consortium ( was formed in May 1999 with 25members. When I looked at the Web site in November, it said that there were 200members; having just looked again in January, it now has 300 members, with allthe big names in the industry rushing to be included. Something big is clearlyhappening here.

Whilst the ideas are appealing, there are problems in the ASP approach,including the fact that massive, and always-open, communication lines areneeded, and that security becomes even more difficult than at present. For fastentry-type applications, such as word processing, the speed of screen responseto the keyboard is slightly slower (known as ‘latency’) which is also adisadvantage.

Implications for the UK legal market? I see two particular problems for thelegal market: one is the particular concern with confidentiality and the otheris that, with modern legal software becoming more integrated, the sheer volumeof interaction with the remote servers would be enormous and we are a long wayfrom the low prices of telecommunications which this would need. Even running‘ordinary’ case management across phone lines has brought several systemswhich I know of to their knees.

Despite these problems, I would expect to see a small number of softwaresuppliers testing the market within the next two years. There are a small numberof UK bureau-type legal accounting services operating which might wish toconsider this development. It might also provide a ‘way in’ for USA firms,quite possibly operating from servers in the USA, to get into the UK market.

Open Source Software (and, in particular, Linux)

Open Source Software is software where the full program code is madeavailable over the Internet for all users and developers to work with. Thetheory behind it is that if thousands of programmers work with the software, andthen feed back their improvements, the underlying product will just get betterand better.

Although the software is free, there may be licensing conditions attached toit. Sun Microsystems, for example, applies conditions to the use of itsprogramming language (Java), which insist that it must not be developed for someplatforms only (this is the subject of current litigation between Sun andMicrosoft, who developed a Windows-only version of Java).

There was a whole section at Comdex – the size of many normal exhibitions initself – devoted to Linux. Linux (note that the first syllable is pronouncedlike linen rather than line). Linux was described in the Comdex programme asfollows:

‘Linux is a completely free re-implementation of the Unix operating system. It is a multi-user, multi-tasking, multi-processor, network operating system with true protected mode. It includes the standard Unix graphical interface, the X Window system, and is one of the most popular operating systems for providing Internet services.’

Linux can be downloaded free from the Internet but is rather large for thattreatment, typically taking 1 Gigabyte of storage. Generally, it is purchased ata nominal cost on a CD.

It is loved by many thousands of Unix-based programmers and developers whohave shared new applications and uses in a manner similar to the original ethosof the Internet. It is now developing a more commercial outlook with a number ofcompanies providing special Linux systems and Linux implementations, includingRed Hat, VA Linux and Caldera. Big players in other markets are also involved,such as Sun Microsystems and Corel, both of whom have recently launched free, ornearly free, implementations of their Office Suites for Linux.

Implications for the UK legal market? The fact that the operating/networkingsystem is free or nearly free, and that much of the subsidiary software can beobtained free or nearly free (like word processing as part of an Office Suite)must sooner or later encourage some of the UK suppliers to develop a Linuxversion of their systems. If they do this, it should be noticeably cheaper thanother systems.

Content Security

The risks inherent in opening up your networks to the Internet are notgetting easier to manage as time passes. Indeed, the very opposite is the case;the risks are splitting, amoeba-like, into whole new types of problem. Here is asummary of the main types of security problem:

  • Viruses. These are small programs which attach themselves to e-mails or to downloads from the Internet, or are picked up from other people’s floppy disks or even commercial CDs. Most organisations which use the Internet now have virus checking software on their networks, such as F-Secure, McAfee, Norton, Sophos, Symantec or Dr Solomons (see for a very full list of virus software available, some of it free). Apparently, over 60% of viruses use Microsoft Word macros as a method of infection.
  • Access Security. This is the problem of keeping people out of your system (hackers) who might want to take data from you, or corrupt your files in some way. Software to prevent unauthorised access to a system is often called Firewall software and comes from companies like BorderWare at, CyberGuard at, and Radware, at
  • Content Security. What do the e-mails or attachments actually contain? This is even harder to control, since some concept of ‘meaning’ is involved rather than just technical tests. For example, there could be problems of employees sending company information out of the organisation, employees sending or receiving unsuitable e-mails (perhaps libelling someone or harrassing someone), employees downloading pornographic material or just surfing for private purposes, employees making deals or speaking on behalf of the firm or company without authority, or breaches of confidentiality, generally. Software is developing to combat this type of content-generated risk, including Mime Sweeper from the UK-based Content Technologies, at

Incidentally, you cannot use content security software without first having apolicy in place. You first of all have to decide what sort of material youremployees are allowed to download (for example) before you can put in placesoftware to stop them doing it!

To be really secure, you need all these types of software and there is no onebrand, at present, which covers all of these risks in depth.

For those responsible for the security of a network, an excellent magazine isSecure Computing, also known as SC, published by West Cost Publishing Ltd,William Knox House, Britannic Way, Llandarcy, Swansea SA10 6EL, 01792 324000, magazine has a cover price of £33.75 an issue, but free subscriptions alsoseem to be available – it would be worth asking for this.