Features

Intelligent designers

National | New software and a suddenly prevalent crime are the latest fruit of high-tech evolution

Issue: "High stakes at the Court," Jan. 29, 2000

Random evolution or intelligent design?
Steve Jobs's hard-working computer engineers may not understand the insult, but Apple's maximum leader is dubbing their newest creation "Darwin." This month he unveiled Darwin, the code that runs the new Mac OS X. This 10th revision of the main software that makes Apple Computer's machine work is coming to Mac desktops later this year. Darwin boasts a new look and feel that gets it own buzzword: Aqua. It's an interface that has what Apple calls the "liquid look" with lots of light blues and translucent objects on the screen. The design has also been simplified to eliminate the cluttered computer desktops. Lurking in the background is Darwin, the centerpiece or "kernel" of the operating system. The evolutionary reference is supposed to show off how the operating system has improved stability. But the operating system clearly did not arise from time plus chance; Darwin is a story of intelligent design. For Steve Jobs, Mac OS X is a test of whether his rescue of Apple is permanent. Ousted in the 1980s, he returned as interim CEO to the troubled company and streamlined Apple's product line. Although the company's stock has risen, it no longer boasts leadership technologically. Instead it has emphasized user-friendly and pleasing design, offering cutesy-looking computers like the iMac and iBook. While 25 million people are now using Apple computers, that only represents about 5 percent of the world market. Many say the ease of use can't be beat, but others complain that the machines are sold at high prices that only attract the Mac faithful. And precious little new software is available for the Mac, compared to the bottomless pit developed for Windows-based PCs. They know who you are
Ever seen someone become angry when his romantic gestures are rejected? What if that spurned lover decided to get even? What if he decided to steal his unrequited's identity, withdraw her from school, and apply for credit cards in her name? What sounds like the plot of a paperback thriller allegedly happened at the University of Massachusetts last year, authorities say. Beng Ky, 24, faces up to 7 and 1/2 years in prison if found guilty of identity fraud and trespassing by computer. He allegedly became obsessed with a 20-year-old classmate last September and began pestering her with calls and letters. When she asked him to stop, he allegedly took the harassment to a higher-tech level. First he opened up an Internet account under the young woman's name. Then somehow he tapped into her student file and dropped her out of every class she was in. He also replaced her street address with his and opened up credit cards (which he never used) in her name. Today, Mr. Ky says his whole campaign was harmless, and he pleaded innocent to all charges. "It was just for the fun of it," he wrote in a statement to police. Identity theft came out of nowhere in the last few years to become one of America's most sensational crimes. If a stalker can't get you, he might get your personal information. It can be done by low-tech means like rifling through trash, stealing mail, and making prank phone calls. Some thieves conned people out of account numbers by posing as bank representatives calling about the Y2K problem. This new crime is a side effect of our dependence on databases. Information is like money and as long as it exists, someone will want to mess with it. Fit to survive
Goodbye, Windows CE. Hello, Pocket PC. Microsoft is overhauling its software for handheld devices in hopes of catching upstart Palm Computing, which dominates the market. Coming next spring, the Pocket PCs are supposed to be more media intensive than the others, allowing people to read electronic books and listen to music in the new MP3 format. Microsoft doesn't actually make either the Pocket PC or Windows CE devices; Bill Gates & Co. makes the software and sets the standards for what others build. This is the second time recently that a member of the Windows family has changed names. Windows NT was flipped to Windows 2000 after it was fraught with delays and glitches. The CE name is going away after lagging sales and complaints about bulky handhelds with unnecessary features. While Microsoft dominates desktop, it does not have nearly this power in other areas and it wants to catch up. That means trying to find success in an area that is growing but underachieving. Most handhelds are used as personal digital assistants. These are the glorified desk calendars that many businessmen and geeks carry in their vest pockets. For those who are extremely busy, handhelds are as essential as cell phones. For others, the gadgets are a fashion statement-a sign of being hip to high-tech. Still, the handheld is a cool tool looking for a use. How long will it be until one lives in every purse and backpack?

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