Digital World: Mythbuilding and factfinding

Israel has been at the head of technological innovation for decades, have developed lots of scientific and technical achievements.

By DAVID SHAMAH
May 2, 2006 08:06
pentium chip 88

pentium chip 88. (photo credit: )

As someone born in the USA who had Richard Nixon as his political role model during his formative years, and a New York native to boot, I've got a healthy (maybe too healthy) sense of skepticism about - well, about everything. Count on me to be the devil's advocate when it comes to just about any sensitive issue - political, technological, or social. I'm especially good and adept at arguing with positions I really support - all the better to make sure I'm thinking straight. So when I came across this poster (http://tinyurl.com/juq3s), designed by a group of obviously talented San Francisco Israel-loving advertising copywriters, my first reaction was "Cool!" We all know that Israel has been in the forefront of technological innovation for decades, and that lots of important scientific and technical achievements used all over the world have been developed here. But this poster seems to be a little too "boosterish." Drip irrigation technology that "turned the desert into a garden of Eden" we all knew about. But Windows NT invented in Israel? Wouldn't that mean that Microsoft as we know it owes its existence to Israel? Anti-virus software? Instant Messaging systems? Surely these are not all Israeli inventions? So said cynical me but, as an honest cynic, I figured there had to be some basis for these claims. They couldn't say it if it wasn't true - could they? So I set out to find them. We all love Israel, but for this study we're going to stick to just the facts, ma'am and sir. AOL Instant Messenger: Well, that's an easy one. Everyone knows the rags to riches saga of four post-IDF kids who came up with the idea for the first instant messenger, ICQ. They sold out to America Online, and the rest is history, as documented at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ICQ. Pentium MMX processors: This, too, is well known and has been covered extensively in the computer press over the past several years. Relevant data and links available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentium. Intel Israel's involvement with the development of the Pentium architecture goes far beyond the MMX, encompassing also the Centrino processor, now the standard bearer of the Intel processor line for Windows-based laptops. Even the development names for the products have Hebrew titles like Timna and Banias (http://tinyurl.com/nz6xr). Blue-Laser Acne Treatments: According to http://tinyurl.com/orj6u, "Israel-based Lumenis Inc. studied about 48 patients with moderate inflammatory acne, treating half the face with the ClearLight and comparing the result with the untreated other side of the face. The treatment consisted of eight, twice-a-week, 15-minute light sessions. About half of the patients who finished all eight treatments saw at least 50 percent decreases in the number of pimples." "Gut Cam" Ingestible Video Camera Pill: Given Imaging's "camera in a pill" (http://tinyurl.com/o8eaz) allows doctors to see what a patient's internal status is in real-time. A miniscule color camera is cleverly hidden inside a pill that does not get broken down or absorbed by the body. The camera transmits data via probes attached to the body connected to a computer, which then reconstructs the image of the patient's insides on the screen. Given went public on Wall Street as a result of this innovation (http://tinyurl.com/rkm9s). It certainly sounds a lot easier, not to mention neater, than the "invasive" technologies (i.e. operations) required to get this kind of a view in the past. Anti-Virus Software: Here's where things start to get a bit sticky. I found references to the "invention" of anti-virus software attributed to a company called Kapersky (http://tinyurl.com/kd4x5), IBM (http://tinyurl.com/mkw9n), and a hacker in Pakistan (http://tinyurl.com/qfnqg), who came up with virus, as well. There is also a reference to the discovery of a virus by a Hebrew University professor inside a DOS system file (http://tinyurl.com/zzxw6). What they're probably talking about is Zvi Netiv's InVircible, billed "the world's first allgeneric antivirus package." InVircible has been around since 1991, and was the first package to take on all viruses, as opposed to the patchy solutions that dealt with only individual viruses that had been the norm before (http://www.invircible.com/). FireWall - Notice the Copyright symbol on the poster next to this term. Did anyone say "Check Point?" The first, the one that invented the whole concept, and the granddaddy of all the freebie PC versions in use today. (http://tinyurl.com/nn2py). Windows NT: Well, it certainly is a tall order; after all, we're talking about the operating system (along with its descendants, Windows 2000 and XP, which are based on NT) that power most of the world's PCs. As a matter of fact, the statement "Most of the Windows NT and XP operating systems were developed by Microsoft-Israel" appears on hundreds of sites, such as http://tinyurl.com/mptxu. It's heartening to know that little old Israel is responsible for most of the good (and large) fortune Bill Gates is lucky enough to be in charge of. But cynical ol' me wasn't satisfied with declarations from Israel fan sites. I wanted facts - which, in this case were hard to come by, at least on the Web. There was nothing on official Microsoft sites about NT's development in Israel, other than a reference to the opening of the company's development center in Haifa in 1989 (http://tinyurl.com/k2sg8). NT was officially released in 1993, so one could assume most of the company's research during the early '90s was going into developing NT. After lots of Web surfing, I decided to give Microsoft Israel a call. Apparently, they get this question a lot. The very pleasant young lady I spoke with said that "parts of Windows NT were definitely developed in Israel," but that she could not specify which ones - other than to say they were "probably" mostly "security related." Security, of course, was NT's biggest selling point, so this young lady may have said more than she meant to. Hmm. On the other hand, she seemed to indicate that NT, as are all of Microsoft's products, was a team effort with different research groups working on different parts of the program. This would mean that Israel, although perhaps an important contributor, did not necessarily develop "most" of NT or XP. I was ready to take that as the situation and attribute the statement on the poster to overenthusiastic Israel-loving (not that there's anything wrong with that). That was until I came across this site (http://tinyurl.com/nwe5w), a technical site that made this statement, in the context of a computer show it was covering in Tel Aviv: "Microsoft also announced Windows NT Embedded, which is to be released this year and is being developed at Microsoft R&D centre in Haifa, here in Israel." Well, if they developed NT Embedded, why not NT itself? Microsoft Israel's secret actually is the moral of our story: Israel is more than it seems - a lot more - and when you get past the headlines and bombast, whether political or technical, and examine just what it really has managed to accomplish in its short lifetime, you can't help but walk away impressed. Instead of a flag, I think I'll fly my BlueStarPR poster this year!


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