Over 100,000 computer users were cut off from Internet access in March when NorthPoint Communications, a nationwide DSL provider, shut down operations. Although NorthPoint had been in bankruptcy since January, it repeatedly assured the small ISPs it partnered with that it would keep its DSL network running. As a result, many NorthPoint customers were left unprepared for the shutdown. NorthPoint sold most of its assets to AT&T for $135 million. AT&T, however, chose not to acquire NorthPoint's customer base.
Most people agree that spam's a nasty nuisance, and Congress is debating a bill that would force spammers to play by certain rules. The Unsolicited Commercial Electronic Mail Act would require all unsolicited commercial e-mail to have a valid return address that would allow receivers to unsubscribe. Those who did not conform to the rules could be sued for $500 per message, up to $50,000 total, by ISPs and state attorneys general.
Businesses large and small may find online advertising more effective now that Web sites are incorporating larger virtual billboards. The Internet Advertising Bureau recently unveiled seven new standardized ad formats intended to supplement the long-standing banner ad. Most banner ads -- usually a rectangular box measuring 5-inches wide by 1-inch high -- are too small to convey a complex marketing message. And most banner ads fail to generate "clickthrough" (when a user clicks on an ad to visit an advertiser's site). The latest research indicates that only one-half of 1 percent of viewers click on banners. The new formats allow much larger ads, such as "skyscrapers" that run the length of a page along one side, and rectangles up to 3.5-inches wide by 3-inches high. Advertisers can use this expanded on-screen real estate for dynamic company images or products to build sales down the line, rather than simply relying on clickthrough. Businesses creating expanded ads won't have trouble finding sites to run them. Prominent ad-supported Web sites endorsing the new formats include America Online, CNet, MSN, Terra Lycos, Walt Disney, and Yahoo.
A Question of Honor
The smallest of business transactions aren't easy to complete on line. It's far more cost-effective for e-retailers to charge a customer $500 for a Web purchase than 5 cents. Amazon.com has come up with an unusual solution, called the Amazon Honor System, which taps the company's sophisticated billing system. At the Honor System's recent unveiling, Amazon described the program as a way online visitors could contribute voluntary "tips" to favorite Web sites. Not surprisingly, the plan was greeted with more than a little skepticism. There's a practical side, however; the Honor System allows online businesses to charge fees ranging from $1 to $50 without setting up their own billing structure. Amazon provides templates to produce Honor System pages for collecting fees and handles all aspects of credit-card billing. The only catch is the relatively steep fee: Amazon keeps 15 percent of each transaction, plus 15 cents. If you're a musician, for example, and you sell an online song for $3 through the Honor System, Amazon keeps 60 cents and sends you $2.40.
U Need Unix?
Unix, the operating system of choice for heavy-duty computing and Web hosting, is no longer a costly alternative to the familiar Windows personal computer. Sun Microsystems is now offering Unix workstations and servers for under $1,000, the first time Unix boxes have been competitively priced against entry-level PCs. The Sun Blade 100 workstation has a 64-bit processor (Windows machines have only 32-bit processors), and can accommodate as much as 2 gigabytes of memory. This number-crunching power is the reason Windows still hasn't unseated Unix for high-end tasks such as computer-aided design, software development, financial analysis, and 3D graphics. The Netra X1 server can run an office network or Web site with far more reliability than a PC, because the more streamlined Solaris operating system -- Sun's version of Unix -- is much less crash-prone than Windows.