POSTSCRIPT / March 11, 1999 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Marcos victims to plead their case all over again?

WHY should the victims of atrocities during the Marcos regime be required again to present themselves and prove individually the validity of their claim for damages? Why, haven’t they won their case?

Before payment of damages, Marcos lawyers still want each victim to prove that he/she qualifies to share in the $150-million settlement approved by the US District Court in Hawaii last month.

The insinuation is that some of the claims are spurious or some claimants bogus. The Marcos heirs have been saying that after a thorough screening, only about 800 of the 9,539 claimants would qualify!

This is Marcos Torture, Part II. It’s like requiring a rape victim who had won her case to again relate in a public plaza what she went through before she is finally given the damages awarded her by the court.

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BUT while we urge the speedy payment of the legitimate victims, we are not comfortable with the prospects of combatants or armed rebels being paid for having been wounded or even killed in battle.

War is war. When a man rises in rebellion, when he takes up arms against the government, he should know what he is getting into. He should know that he could get maimed or killed in the process.

If a rebel gets wounded, or is captured and tortured, or even shot in a running gunbattle, that’s it. He should not cry and demand damages for the supposed violation of his human rights.

We are turned off by rebel leader Jose Ma. Sison’s demanding from his luxurious lair in the Netherlands that he be paid more than the rest, reportedly some $800,000.

In contrast, after the high-flying lawyers grab their astronomical fees and deduct expenses, what is left for the claimants is only about P650,000 for each of them. This is not enough for the poor victims to start life anew.

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IN November last year, Postscript reported that Microsoft god Bill Gates has encrypted into his Windows 98 certain secret codes for tracking down users of unlicensed Windows and pirated Microsoft software.

Technicians say that when you log on to the Internet, an encrypted code number from your Windows 98 registry is automatically sent to Microsoft. The same thing happens when you register your software copy or ask electronically for updates.

This coded file contains the serial numbers of your Win98 and other Microsoft software installed in your computer. Only Microsoft can decode this encrypted file.

If the serial numbers are confirmed to be authentic and that you are the licensed buyer of the software, no problem. But if Microsoft doubts their legitimacy, or if it finds that the numbers were sold to or are owned by someone else, you are tagged as a suspected illegal user.

* * *

IN nearby Singapore, Microsoft is reportedly prosecuting more than 50 such cases of piracy traced by that procedure.

Some friends using unauthorized Win98 copies and some Microsoft software who read our Postscript report promptly erased their pirated software or stopped using them, while cursing Bill Gates for his sneaky procedure.

Some technicians speculate that the additional procedural check may explain why some Win98-operated computers slow down when hooked on to the Internet.

Those using or planning to use unlicensed software are advised to stick to the older Windows 95, whose revised edition has proved to be reliable anyway. Or they can use non-Microsoft browsers (such as Communicator and Eudora) instead of Bill Gates’ built-in Internet Explorer.

[Tip: If you want a free full-version authorized copy of Communicator 4.5, go to Downloading takes more than one hour, but with the slick updated features (including a spellcheck), it’s worth it.]

* * *

OUR Postscript report has just been confirmed. Microsoft admitted last Sunday having planted in its Win98 a number code that is automatically copied in electronic documents generated by computers and could be used to trace the authors’ identities.

The admission was a reaction to a complaint of programmer Richard M. Smith of Brookline, Massachusetts. He had noticed that some Word and Excel documents created in his Win98-operated computer carried part of a number unique to his computer inserted into the file’s code.

Microsoft, whose software run most of the world’s personal computers, said it would verify if it has been collecting the coded numbers from customers even if they explicitly indicate they didn’t want them disclosed.

“If it is, it’s just a bug,” said Robert Bennett, Microsoft product manager for Windows. “If it is indeed happening, … we’ll absolutely fix that.”

Steven Sinofsky, a vice president for MS Office products, assured home PC users that Microsoft will disable the feature in upcoming versions of the programs.

* * *

THE encrypted number also appears in a log of information sent to Microsoft when customers register their Windows copies. The disclosure about the automatic gathering of user information will have significant implications in privacy-conscious America.

In the Philippines, the more dramatic implication is in Microsoft’s being able to trace users of pirated Win98 and spurious copies of Microsoft software such as Word and Excel that are bundled with its Office97 collection.

The industry claims annual losses from software piracy at more than $11.4 billion worldwide. Win98 itself runs an estimated 85 percent of the world’s personal computers.

In the Philippines, the availability of cheap copies of the latest software has helped raise the computer literacy and competence of Filipinos who would have been unable to cope because of the prohibitive price of genuine software.

* * *

USA Today said in a report on the subject that the spying bore remarkable similarity to the plot of “Ulterior Motive,” a book published last year by Daniel Oran, a Microsoft programmer who worked on Windows until 1994 when he quit to write his first novel.

Oran wrote about the top executive at the fictional company “Megasoft” who builds eavesdropping technology into its dominant computer operating system that he exploits during a campaign for the US presidency.

“This is a very serious privacy problem,” said Oran, who laughed about life imitating art. “The technology isn’t good or bad. It’s like a knife; it can be used both ways.”

* * *

THE controversy follows criticism of Intel Corp., the world’s largest manufacturer of computer processors, for designing its new Pentium III chips to transmit a unique serial number internally and to websites requesting it to help verify the identity of users.

In privacy-conscious America, you don’t just do those things. Back here, however, it seems that not that many consumers care enough to make noise and prompt corrections.

Pentium III, by the way, has just been introduced locally, but many users who claim to be satisfied with the earlier Pentium II, appear to be waiting for consumer feedback before shifting to it.

Another dampener on sales is the Pentium III’s stiff price for higher speed (like 500 MHz) that most PC users don’t need anyway.

* * *

EVEN the earlier Pentium II (good for 333 MHz to 450 MHz), has been found by many users to be too expensive at P7,500 to P14,000. Mind you, this price is just for the Pentium processor inserted into the motherboard. The board itself costs several additional thousand pesos.

Pentium II became very expensive with the integration of 512 kb cache memory into it. Cache is a reserved memory (aside from RAM or random-access memory) where frequently used data are temporarily moved closer to the processor and held in readiness for faster accessing without having to go to the hard disk.

This cache used to be kept in the motherboard, but market leader Intel told motherboard makers to dispense with the cache because Intel said it was going to integrate it na lang into its Pentium II.

* * *

SO, we now have motherboards without cache because that gap is supposed to be filled by the Pentium II and Pentium III processors inserted into them. But if instead of a Pentium you use another processor without any built-in cache? The result is a slower machine.

To gain speed using the cache-less motherboards, users are forced to buy Pentiums loaded with 512 kb cache. But the Pentiums are too expensive.

To go around this cost problem, Intel came up with a modified Pentium called Celeron, which it made cheaper by removing from it the 512 kb cache. With a cache-less processor stuck into a cache-less motherboard, however, the computer slows down despite its Intel marking.

Intel nga siya at mura kaysa sa Pentium, pero mabagal naman.

What to do? Intel went back to the drawing board and put 128 kb cache into Celeron (compare with the 512 kb of the Pentium and the older motherboards) to make it move a little faster.

The new Intel Celeron with a little cache memory is puede na rin. But make sure that the Celeron-run computer you’re buying has at least 128 kb cache. Don’t buy if both the Celeron processor and the motherboard have zero cache.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 11, 1999)

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