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Technology

National | Technology

Issue: "Spain waves white flag," March 27, 2004

Browsing but no browser

A budding technology called RSS promises to help users streamline their web surfing-and avoid obnoxious ads, pop-up windows, and other distractions. Sites from The New York Times and the BBC to countless small weblogs already use RSS to send headlines and articles.

RSS (Rich Site Summary) allows users to collect updated information from their favorite websites without making several visits with a browser. Netscape developed the idea back during its war with Microsoft and it has slowly spread to prominence. One RSS directory, Syndic8.com, lists about 62,000 feeds.

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While RSS may be a little too geeky for nontechnical users, it comes in handy for busy people who want to track numerous websites. Once a website enables an RSS feed, it can syndicate content to readers. Various programs with names like Feedreader, NewsGator, and NewsDesk automatically collect headlines and summaries throughout the day.

Right now, RSS is primarily a cool new novelty-and like other new web technologies, it isn't clear how the feeds will generate much money for websites. Users adopt the technology as a way to avoid clutter-which includes ads-which means media companies will have a difficult time recouping their expenses. It may wind up as just a transmission belt for bloggers, most of whom don't expect to make money anyway.

Bits and megabytes

Michael Dell will step down as CEO of the namesake computer giant as president Kevin Rollins prepares to take the post in July. He will remain as chairman of the company he founded 20 years ago. Dell Inc. is expanding from its traditional line of PCs into other types of electronics.

The Justice Department, FBI, and DEA want new regulations forcing high-tech companies to let authorities install digital wiretaps on online traffic. Officials filed reports with the FCC claiming that &quotcritical electronic surveillance" is compromised when they cannot record communications-such as instant messages or internet-based phone calls-between suspects. Manufacturers would likely pay for any design changes and pass the costs on to customers.

As spam filters work harder to zap unwanted messages, the risk of losing helpful e-mail increases. Nearly 19 percent of mainstream commercial e-mails (newsletters, greeting cards, and requested catalogs) tracked by market research firm Return Path never reached their recipients' inboxes. A big reason for this is that many users never check their spam folders for incorrectly scrubbed messages.

Microsoft, Nokia, and other tech giants support the creation of a new .mobile internet domain for wireless services. It could launch this year. Backers want .mobile to identify sites intended for the small screens of wireless phones and PDAs.

BJ's Wholesale Club warned that someone may have stolen &quota small fraction" of the credit-card numbers in its database of 8 million members. The retail chain announced a security clampdown to prevent further thefts. It advised members who suspect unauthorized use to contact their banks.

... it's a phone booth

They might best be remembered as Superman's locker room, but now that phone companies are pulling the plug on phone booths, the old bulky boxes are becoming collectors' items.

BellSouth decided to tap nostalgia by selling old pay phones modified for home use, selling them for $135 each. It reports it now has a waiting list of about 300 people waiting to buy one.

The FCC reports that the total number of pay phones nationwide dropped nearly 30 percent over the last five years. The remainder often charge 50 cents or more for a single local call. While still popular in airports and bus terminals, the phones are disappearing from gas stations, stores, and city streets. Local phone companies either sell them to smaller operators or remove kiosks from unprofitable locations.

Many local officials complain that pay phones are vital in emergencies and provide access to the poor. (Some areas require that at least one unit stay active in each local exchange.) Phone companies respond that the coin-operated business is declining to the point that they must make cutbacks.

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