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July 21, 1997, Issue: 963
Section: Opinion/Letters

Humble pie

By Richard Wallace

Like reformed abusers in a 12-step recovery program, Intel and Microsoft overcame their cosmic arrogance recently to make some startlingly honest admissions about the vulnerability of their respective hardware and software.

Intel's confession is embodied in its so-called BIOS update technology, designed to fix bugs quickly when they surface in its most complex microprocessors. EE Times computer editor Alex Wolfe reported on the technology's quiet introduction in a recent series of articles (see June 30, July 14; page 1)

In talking publicly about the bug-busting BIOS update, Intel has clearly gotten beyond the expensive and counterproductive denial phase in dealing with its manufacturing vulnerability. It has entered a more realistic phase of acceptance from which it can address its limitations in managing its own technology.

Also facing some unpleasant realities is Microsoft, which admitted recently that it has changed its policy -and its attitude-about the hackers who have been taking potshots at Windows NT. Microsoft now acknowledges that hackers perform a useful service by bringing to light serious flaws in software security. As reported by Internet editor Larry Lange (see July 14, page 6), Microsoft even sent several high-level NT experts to a "Black Hat Briefing" in Las Vegas at which NT marketing director Carl Karanan acknowledged having "opened up a dialogue" with the hackers. "We're listening and we're learning," Karanan said.

Some may applaud the admissions. Others may be appalled by their implications.

Indeed, in touting its microprocessor bug-busting technology, Intel has made a sobering admission-that the required rate of technology advancement has outstripped the microprocessor giant's own ability to control defects. Or, as one Intel expert put it, "The ability to manufacture in high volume and to provide a reliable product through validation are somewhat mutually exclusive." Ouch.

Microsoft, in agreeing to sit down with NT's saboteurs, made the same humbling confession.

The phenomenon may affect the likes of Intel and Microsoft most visibly, but its impact is far-ranging. We wonder what you think about Intel's and Microsoft's admissions and what they mean for the future of computing.

Let us know by e-mailing me at the address below.

Copyright 1997 CMP Media Inc.

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