• United States

In brief: Bush touts H-1B visa increase

Feb 06, 20064 mins
Data Center

Many high-tech companies welcomed the news last week that President George W. Bush is calling on Congress to increase the number of H-1B visas available for highly skilled foreign workers. H-1B visas always have been a political football, and Bush didn’t say how many more he wanted. The current annual allotment is 65,000. Congress attempted to boost the H-1B allotment last year, but the provision was dropped. Published reports say high-tech lobbyists are working to resurrect an H-1B visa increase this year that could add as many as 40,000 openings.

General Motors last week announced a five-year, multibillion-dollar systems integration plan that divvies up the work among a host of vendors, including Capgemini, Compuware Covisint, Electronic Data Systems, HP, IBM and Wipro. The multisource contract picks up where GM’s expiring 10-year single-source deal with EDS leaves off. EDS, which GM bought in 1984 and spun off in 1996, will continue to have more business with GM than the other integrators awarded the contracts. EDS estimates its share of the contracts will be worth $3.8 billion over five years. GM did not specify how much it expects to spend on the contracts, though it said it will be significantly less than the $15 billion it would have spent over the next five years at its current spending rate. The deal should not be affected by GM’s restructuring announcement in November 2005, with its plan to cut 30,000 jobs and a number of plants in the United States. The car company has been beset by high costs and sluggish growth. GM has lost money in five straight quarters, recently reporting a fourth-quarter loss of $4.8 billion.

An independent researcher needed just 15 minutes to find the first bug in the Beta 2 preview release of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 7 browser. Tom Ferris, of Mission Viejo, Calif., published his findings last Tuesday, just hours after Microsoft released the beta code. Ferris discovered the bug, which causes Internet Explorer 7 to crash when it tries to read a specially crafted HTML file, using an automated security testing tool called a fuzzer that he wrote to test Microsoft’s browsers. Right now the bug can be exploited only to crash the browser, but Ferris says it’s likely that his attack could eventually be modified to run unauthorized code on a user’s machine. The vulnerability appears to be exclusive to the Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2 browser, he says. Microsoft did not comment on Ferris’ findings. Microsoft has spent millions to improve its software development process to make it more secure. The company has promoted Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2 as a more secure product. Ferris, however, believes that his research shows that the software giant still has work to do.

Mozilla has released a new version of its Firefox browser containing critical security updates. Version of the browser also contains a number of “stability” fixes to address problems causing the browser to gum up the performance of some systems. The new release’s eight security fixes cumulatively have been rated as “highly critical” by security firm Secunia, because some of them could be exploited to take over an unpatched PC. This risk is mitigated, however, because there is no known code in circulation that exploits any of the bugs, according to Mozilla. Also last week, Secunia warned of a “moderately critical” bug in the way Mozilla’s Thunderbird e-mail client processes e-mail that uses the JavaScript Web programming language. To avoid any associated problems, users are advised to disable JavaScript and to be careful about opening e-mail from untrusted sources, Secunia said.

The Western Union telegram is no more. After more than 150 years in the business, the company sent its final missive last week, shelving technology some historians say kicked off the information revolution. Formed in April 1856, the company was an information provider through the Civil War and beyond – promising to send cross-country messages in less than a day. But the firm, which has morphed into a financial-services provider and is owned by First Financial Management, saw little need to retain its telegraphy business in a communications world of inexpensive long-distance telephone service, faxes and e-mail, the company says. At its peak in 1929, it sent some 220 million telegrams – last year it sent about 20,000.

U.S. technology executives predict IT spending will grow more quickly in the next 12 months than economists and industry analysts believe, according to the monthly “FutureScan” report on IT spending by IDC. IDC polled 359 IT buyers in January and found they on average expect IT spending to grow 7% over the next 12 months, says John Gantz, chief research officer for the research group. IDC, which bases its forecast on a host of market indicators, predicts IT spending will grow only 5% in the same time period, however.