Features

Handier computing

National | Reining in the Wild, Wild Web, PalmPilot to fly solo, and tracking the online gender gap

Issue: "Fleeing Hurricane Floyd," Sept. 25, 1999

Squashing cybersquatters
Brenan Hofstadter registered the Internet domain names www.Wendys.org, www. WendysRestaurant.com, www. WendysRestaurants.com, and WendysIntlInc.com, then urged the fast-food chain to buy the sites back from him. Wendy's refused to pay and is now suing to protect its names. Mr. Hofstader and his Dallas company Beswick Adams Corp. are accused cybersquatters, people who gobble up domains then try to sell them to their copyright holders for a profit. Wendy's claims its trademarks are being violated and says that, without court intervention, the names could be sold to someone else or a website could be hosted at the disputed addresses. According to the suit, Mr. Hofstader is playing this game with other corporate brands belonging to Miller Brewing, Taco Bell, State Farm Insurance, Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, McDonald's, Ameritech, Sony Corp., Subway restaurants, and Burger King. American Internet domains are controlled by a Virginia company called Network Solutions, which has dished out domain names from McDonalds.com to AOL.com on a first-come, first-serve basis. Those who lost out could either find another name or go to court. After years of fighting between squatters and corporate lawyers, a court ruled in favor of trademark holders in April, 1998. A federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled that registering someone's registered name, intending to sell it back, violates federal trademark laws. Now corporations are winning battles over their intellectual property. A February court order forced two Houston men to turn over 11 Internet domain names to Microsoft, including microsoftwindows.com and microsoftoffice.com. Amazon.com was angry enough to file suit against the owners of Amazon.gr, Greece's Biggest Bookstores, claiming the operators were running a "thinly veiled shakedown" attempt. The e-commerce giant claims the squatters tried to sell their company to them for over $1.6 million. Like Wendy's, Amazon.com refused to pay and claimed the interlopers were threatening their company's reputation. In the palm of Wall Street
The PalmPilot is about to fly solo. About four million of these handheld computers have been sold since they were introduced four years ago. So owner 3Com is spinning its Palm computer unit into a separate company, letting executives focus on the company's less profitable lines and find new investors willing to venture some capital, and handing stockholders a nice boost from the spin-off. Palms have become as commonplace as business cards for on-the-go businessmen who want to store notes, appointments, and contacts. Even college students are starting to grab up the $300 gizmos. The devices, whose revenues have doubled every year, face competition from Microsoft, which offers Windows CE to companies making competing devices. While Gates & Co. hope that Windows desktop developers will write more software for CE and expand its power over the pocket-sized computers, so far 3Com's Palm family has survived. Palms are typically rectangular devices with LCD screens that can often fit in a shirt pocket. Users tap out commands on a stylus that resembles a Cross pen with no ink. It takes some getting used to, but many users swear by these things as replacements for big, bulky pen-and-ink calendars and appointment books. The problem with the Palms is the same one that haunts Franklin Planners: You have to be organized already for these things to work. Many buy these companions to help them get their lives in order, then never learn how to use them properly or toss them aside when the toy isn't new anymore. Others become strangely devoted to these things as if they were virtual helpmeets, slavishly spending an hour or more a day with them. The current top of the line is the Palm VII, which has more interactive features that let users do things like buy movie tickets, get directions, and track their stocks. They aren't powerful enough for serious Web surfing, but they can perform a few essential tasks. Those who need information from anywhere at anytime may find that indispensable. Men are from mars.com, women are from venus.com
Men and women are both going online in vast numbers, but they don't do the same things once they log in. A survey released this month by research firm PC Data Online claims members of the different sexes approach cyberspace with different mindsets. Believe it or not, women are more likely to check their email than men (81 percent vs. 70 percent) and do research more often (52 percent vs. 44 percent). Yet the guys are twice as likely to download software and three times more likely to look up sports information on the Net. According to the poll of 1,592 males and 1,445 females, men are more likely to use the Net the way men use supermarkets: to look only for something specific. Guys often head for a search engine and hunt down their digital prey. Men are less responsive than women to banner ads, those rectangular pitches placed on most commercial sites. The poll reports that about half of women and only two-fifths of men click on them occasionally. Another one-third of women seldom do so. The gender gap extends to what people buy online. For example, greeting cards are preferred purchases of 27 percent of women. Meanwhile, regrettably, a big chunk of men-26 percent-say they prefer to buy pornography over the Net. The Internet doesn't make its users into new people; they carry their interests and attitudes into cyberspace and explore them. No egalitarian will ever change that.

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