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Businessweek Archives

A Higher Speed Limit For Downloaders

Bits & Bytes


YOU KNOW THOSE WINDOWS that pop up on your screen during a file transfer, saying how many bytes have been sent and how much longer it will take? Well, the horsepower that goes into displaying that information can slow the transfer by a third, in the case of a 486 personal computer running a high-speed connection such as ISDN.

Pacific CommWare Inc. in Ashland, Ore., has a software utility for Windows 95 called TurboCom 95/Pro that shows more information about the data connection and pays a speed penalty of about 1%, according to John S.H. Loram, president and CEO. It notes the data flow rate and long-term average flow rate, and it records any errors.

The original TurboCom software was designed in 1991 as a way to work around the speed limitations of Microsoft Corp.'s Windows. Back then, Windows was designed to work with serial-port chips called UARTs that could hold only one byte of data in their buffers. If data came too quickly, the computer's processor couldn't scoop it out of the small buffer in time to prevent a backup. Microsoft tried to deal with that in Windows 95 by supporting UART chips with 16-byte buffers. But a bigger buffer isn't enough for 33.6-baud modems or ISDN connections using data compression, says Loram. TurboCom 95/Pro supports UARTs--such as a new one from Texas Instruments Inc.--with 64-byte buffers.EDITED BY PETER COYReturn to top


SELLING A HUGE BLOCK OF stock at a good price isn't easy. Buyers get scared, so the price dips. You can hide your intentions by breaking the block into smaller sales, but that increases transaction costs, and word tends to get around. It's the same problem in reverse for buyers of big blocks.

Wall Street veteran William A. Lupien says supercomputers will come to the rescue. His company, OptiMark Technologies Inc. of Durango, Colo., has worked with IBM to develop what amounts to a discreet computer dating service for buyers and sellers of stocks. He says private, computer matching should stimulate more trading and produce fairer prices for both parties to a transaction--while taking billions of dollars a year away from players who exploit the price gaps in today's market. Brokers would get their regular commissions.

Here's how it should work: Players prepare a profile that says what they would consider a fair price per share for various quantities of a stock. For instance, someone needing a big block of IBM might pay slightly more per share to acquire it all at once rather than in dribs and drabs. The supercomputer compares the profiles of buyers and sellers, figures out where their preferences overlap, and then ranks all possible trades between all the buyers and sellers in order of how much "mutual satisfaction" would be created.

That takes a whole lot of arithmetic. For the Pacific Stock Exchange, which hopes to use the OptiMark system next year, IBM figures it will need an SP supercomputer with 20 to 30 processors built on the PowerPC chip.EDITED BY PETER COYReturn to top


WITH ALL THE PUBLICITY about hackers and viruses, you'd think companies would be tightening computer security. Not according to a new survey by Datapro Information Services, a unit of BUSINESS WEEK's parent, The McGraw-Hill Companies.

Datapro says 54% of 1,342 respondents to its international survey this year said they had computer security policies. That's down from 82% in 1992, the first year Datapro included companies outside the U.S. For U.S. companies, the trend was flatter, rising from 71% in 1991 to 82% in 1992, before falling to 69% in 1996. A change of five percentage points or more is probably statistically significant, says one author, Rebecca J. Duncan.

Why the laxity? Duncan cites staff cuts, demand for Internet access, and corporate computing decentralization.EDITED BY PETER COYReturn to top

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