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Michael Robertson scored a major win last week when Walmart.com started selling bargain-basement computers loaded with his renegade Lindows operating system. The founder of MP3.com hopes to keep the momentum going this week. Lindows-a version of Linux that runs Windows applications-plans to disclose this week that any computer maker can put Lindows on as many machines as it wants for $500 a month. Walmart.com is selling PCs by Microtel Computer Systems loaded with Lindows for $300 to $600. Robertson's grander vision is a revolution of cheaper computing, with people paying $99 a year for the right to download unlimited amounts of software from a "Click-And-Run Warehouse" that now holds some 1,400 applications. For some, if Robertson and Lindows can cause even a little pain and annoyance to Microsoft, it's a success. But even those of us more impressed than repulsed by Microsoft have to be pulling for Robertson to expand choices in the industry.
There was more than smoke swirling around Aspen, Colo., last week. Big ideas were flying as well, as a slice of the top echelon of IT executives gathered for an annual meeting put together by the venture-capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield, & Byers. The IT execs-think AOL Time Warner's Steve Case, exec-turned-VC Ray Lane, Sun Microsystems' Bill Joy-talked about everything from biological weapon threats to the human genome project to the IT economy. It's a group prone to pouncing on opportunity. Yet, Thomas Noonan, CEO of Internet Security Systems, says there was strong feeling among group members that while there will be growth in the broad technology market, it will be significantly slower for a long time-possibly five or even 10 years. "Overall, the attitude in that group was 'Prepare yourself
for that reality,' " Noonan says. "Too many people have the expectation that 'bounce back' is back to the bubble."
Noonan had what most would consider a high-powered week. Before hopping out to Aspen, he joined a panel leading the last of the town-hall meetings run by the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board as part of its development of a policy on national cybersecurity. Other panelists included Fran Dramis, BellSouth's CIO; former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn; and Howard Schmidt, vice chairman of the Critical Infrastructure Board. From an audience of more than 500, Noonan was pleased to hear that, compared with three years ago, people are very aware of cyberthreats. But he was disappointed how little even businesspeople knew about what they could do about that threat. "The awareness is at the concept level, not the action level," he says. He sees one final sign of encouragement: When it comes to security, IT people are overcoming an innate aversion to government policy-making in any form to recognize that protecting critical infrastructure will involve business and government working, shudder, together.
Few people know the territory of public policy and technology better than those at the Markle Foundation, a New York nonprofit trying to accelerate the use of technology to address critical public needs. The most recent example is a $2 million grant for a nine-month project in which health-care leaders try to create industry standards for collecting and sharing patients' clinical information. The health-care industry is used to watchful regulators, and its latest challenge is the strict privacy clauses of the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act. "If a patient is prescribed a drug in an outpatient setting but goes to be treated as an in-patient, that drug information can't be shared with the [hospital] doctor," says Carol Diamond, a physician and a Markle managing director of IT. Diamond will chair the group, along with three other doctors: John Lumpkin, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health; Herbert Pardes, president and CEO of New York-Presbyterian Hospital; and Russell Ricci, general manager of IBM Global Healthcare. By creating clinical data standards, Diamond says, patients might someday be able to keep their own integrated medical records online, and public-health officials would be able to more quickly identify and respond to a biological or chemical terrorist attack.
John Soat will be back writing IT Confidential next week, so send him your industry tips at email@example.com or phone 516-562-5326 or fax 516-562-5036.