Forrester: U.S. on-line spending slumps in May

Nipped by a decrease in travel shopping, consumer on-line spending dropped from US$4.3 billion in April to US$3.9 billion in May, according to a survey released recently by technology research company Forrester Research Inc. The number of households shopping on-line also decreased over the period, notching down to 14.8 million in May from 15.7 million in April, the Forrester Online Retail Index indicated.

Forrester research director James McQuivey, noted that on-line shopping activity jumps during special occasion months such as February, when people in many parts of the world are busily ordering flowers and candy for their sweethearts, and during the Christmas season. Looking ahead, McQuivey said June is usually a disappointing retail month across the board, so if the figures continue to drop, it will still be hard to tell whether the economy is in a rut or if it is just the effects of a summer slowdown. “It’s too early to say,” McQuivey said.

Dell ditches live on-line support

It’s back to basics for Dell Computer Corp., as the leading PC maker pushes low-tech alternatives for tech support: e-mail and telephone. The company plans to ditch its Resolution Assistant, a technical support option that connects customers immediately to support technicians via the Internet. The connection was designed to provide remote trouble-shooting and PC fixes – a high-tech alternative to phone support.

Dell has installed Resolution Assistant on most of its business and consumer desktop and notebook computers over the past two years. Starting July 31, Dell will discontinue the feature in new PCs, leaving only the direct connection by telephone or delayed-response e-mail. Current customers who try to run Resolution Assistant after that date will be directed to Dell’s e-mail-based tech support, said Bryant Hilton, Dell spokesperson.

Microsoft, AOL can’t agree on Windows XP deal

Microsoft Corp. and AOL Time Warner Inc. recently abandoned talks over whether to include a link to AOL’s Internet service with Microsoft’s newest operating system, Windows XP. The talks collapsed after the two companies failed to come to terms over a number of issues, including support for competing media players. At the heart of the negotiations between the two companies were in disagreement over AOL’s presence on the new operating system, including the placement of an AOL icon on the Windows XP desktop interface.

For months the two companies had attempted to reach a deal that would have kept AOL’s icon on the operating system and worked out issues such as which media player AOL would support and interoperability concerns between both companies’ instant messaging applications, said Chris Le Tocq, principal analyst with Guernsey Research in Los Altos, Calif.

UDDI business directory widens reach

UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery, Integration), the foundation of an on-line directory to facilitate business-to-business electronic commerce, opened up to more international and complex businesses recently with the announcement of version two of the UDDI specification. UDDI V2 supports description of complex corporate organizational structures, allows additional categorization of business activities, and supports multiple languages. UDDI V2 also has improved search functionality, according to a UDDI Project statement.

UDDI, a brainchild of IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Ariba Inc., is aimed at smoothing electronic business by making it easier for businesses to provide information about their products and services on the Web as well as locate partners and customers. The UDDI initiative was started in September 2000; the registry was officially launched in early May.

New Japanese PM is hot property on the Web

Could Junichiro Koizumi, Japan’s most popular prime minister in years, be the Internet’s most popular author? Koizumi, who entered office in April, surprised his opponents a short while ago when he said he planned to start a regular e-mail newsletter. The “Koizumi Cabinet e-mail magazine” distributed its first edition on recently and delivered another surprise: Between the opening of the subscription list on June 9 and June 15, 1.35 million Internet users had signed up to receive the newsletter, the Cabinet Office said.

NetRatings Japan Inc. estimates there are 28.3 million Internet users in the country. On this basis, the current subscription total – which has jumped by half a million after media coverage of the first edition – represents about one in 20 of Japan’s Internet users. The purpose of the magazine is to encourage more people to participate in politics, Koizumi said in a speech announcing the newsletter. The first edition includes an introductory article by Koizumi and essays from three ministers.

Analysts: Vendor’s woes due to a variety of factors

Nortel Networks Corp.’s US$19.2 billion net loss in Q2 and an additional 10,000 job cuts sent another wave of tremors through an already-shell-shocked industry recently. But many observers believe that the once-high-flying networking hardware industry will eventually emerge from the downturn, although major vendors will have to readjust their business strategies in the meantime.

Maria Zeppetella, an analyst at Cedar Knolls, N.J.-based think-tank Probe Research Inc., believes that the drastic measures announced by networking companies such as Nortel merely signal a return to reality after years of unrealistically high hopes. “We just came out of a couple years where telecom was the hottest thing in the world,” Zeppetella said. “There was just too much hype. The stocks were trading like mad, everything was overvalued, and now it’s back to reality. This is just the result of the last two years of mayhem.” Laurie Gooding, an analyst at Boston-based research firm Pioneer Consulting, said that a spending freeze is not the only culprit for equipment vendor woes. Too much competition, in fact, has hurt all the players’ chances for profitability, she said.

Metal marketplace grinds to a halt

MetalSpectrum LLC recently became the latest marketplace to announce it was closing operations, joining the likes of PetroCosm Corp., FreightWise Inc. and dozens of others. MetalSpectrum, a marketplace for specialty metals such as aluminum, stainless steel and brass, closed its doors immediately, claiming there wasn’t enough user acceptance. MetalSpectrum launched in May. Its investors included Kaiser Aluminum Corp. and Alcoa Inc., which initially pumped in approximately US$40 million. At its peak, MetalSpectrum had more than 80 employees.

MetalSpectrum wasn’t the only metal marketplace to announce its demise. MetalSite suspended operations recently in the wake of a cash shortage. Equity partners in MetalSite, one of the first metal marketplaces, included LTV Steel and Weirton Steel.

Ford launches massive corporate portal

After working on the large IT project for a year, Ford Motor Co. recently unveiled a corporate portal that contains more than 300,000 Web pages accessed by more than 200,000 users from about 1,000 locations worldwide.

The portal, aimed at boosting employee productivity by making access to information about the sprawling corporate empire easier to get, was designed to be simple. And it was put together under strict project management guidelines put in place by the automaker, according to Martin Davis, portal program manager at Ford. Davis wanted to provide Ford’s users with single sign-on capability, allowing them to log on to both Ford’s intranet and the new portal in one step.

Gartner: Network convergence still has a long way to go

The convergence of voice and data networks with various services holds promise, but it is still far from being universally deployed, said Gartner Inc. senior analyst Juan Ignacio Fern