Trendlines from 4/15/08: New, Hot, Unexpected

In this issue: The cap on H-1B visas; Corporate mash-ups; Face-reading computers; The lapsing landline; China and RFID; Banning of social networks; The value of big monitors; Efficiency in IT shops; and By the numbers, including IT modernization.

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Now Businesses Can Get Mashed Up

Mash-ups are going corporate. IBM recently announced it has created code to secure mash-ups for businesses. Analysts say the technology will let companies merge data from websites or corporate systems to create rich Internet applications without exposing proprietary information

"This technology will allow people to create a mash-up without worrying that it will go phishing for personal data or financial information," says IBM Vice President of Emerging Technology Rod Smith. IBM calls the technology Smash, short for "secure mash-up." Big Blue contributed the code for Smash to the OpenAjax Alliance, a vendor group dedicated to the adoption of open and interoperable Ajax-based Web technologies.

According to IBM, the technology keeps mash-ups secure by separating the code and data from the two applications being combined. Once the code of the applications is separated, it merges the apps by opening a secure communications channel.

Smith says that business users, not just developers and technologists, will be able to utilize the tool to create their own applications. He adds that the apps can be pushed as widgets onto corporate workspaces on the intranet or over the Web. "They can grab snippets of information or parts of applications," he says. "They need the flexibility of assembling information based on their current business needs."

Developers still must do some work to make Smash more accessible to the novice user on the front end, notes Forrester analyst Jeffrey Hammond. "The technology provides the framework or the basis for users to do it on their own, but [developers] will need to build on top of it first," he says.

-C.G. Lynch

Coming Soon: Computers That Read Faces

Your computer may soon know when you're in a bad mood. Researchers have developed an algorithm that can recognize a person's facial expressions and categorize them as expressing anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise.

Researchers at the Department of Artificial Intelligence of the Polytechnic University of Madrid's School of Computing worked with Madrid's King Juan Carlos University to develop a prototype software that can process a sequence of moving faces and recognize the person's facial expression. The software monitors facial movements in several parts of the face, examining up to 30 images per second. The data is compared to expressions captured from 333 sequences of people from the Cohn-Kanade database, with an 89 percent success rate.

According to the researchers, applications that might take advantage of these capabilities include advanced human—computer interfaces, metaverse avatars and e-commerce.

Paul Williams, a software architect at LexisNexis Examen, believes the technology would make a great usability testing tool to help developers learn whether users are frustrated by the software or device.

"This kind of objective measurement would be far more useful and accurate than subjective measurements, such as surveys, questionnaires or even third-party observation," he says.

-Esther Schindler

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