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Vista, VoIP and a load of old Polonium

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Yes, there’s only been story in the news this week. Rogue Russian agents have apparently been racing around the UK, knocking off ex-KGB spies, and endangering sushi chefs, flight attendants and Italian Academics, using rare radioactive isotopes. The fact that it was Polonium 210 that was used to permanently shut-up former KGB man Alexander Litvinenko was taken as proof of Russian state involvement. Only past poison experts such as the KGB had access to such a devastating material, it was reasoned. Well, only them and anyone with a web connection, a credit card and the web address for United Nuclear. So, beware come office party season. If the cocktails look a little more lurid than usual, someone may well be settling scores.

Microsoft sets world aglow

One of the more bizarre aspects of the Polonium Poisoning furore was that the hitmen are reported to have slipped into the country in October amongst football fans attending the tie between Arsenal and CSKA Moscow. Indeed, one of Litvinenko’s associates is thought to have been at the game, and it has been suggested that the stadium has been visited as part of the investigation.

This all emerged after Microsoft staged the UK launch of Vista, Office 2007 and Exchange at the stadium. And we thought the graphics accompanying the launch just represented the sun rising to bring a new day. Those slides did look particularly glowing.

To many, this will be the first major Microsoft product launch this side of the millennium. Indeed Microsoft is pitching it as its most important launch since Windows 95/Office 95. The presenters skated right past such land marks as Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows ME, and XP. Certainly, the new products look to be a distinct break with the past, assuming you’ve got the graphics firepower to run the Aero UI - and you’re not a Mac user.

That said there will be few surprises for anyone who takes even a cursory interest. Vista and Office 2007 have been years in the making, sucking up $10bn in R&D along with Exchange. The company has been throwing around pre-briefs and betas the way rogue Russian spies throw around rare radioactive isotopes.

Looking for an angle, Microsoft put productivity at the centre of its UK launch, arguing that Britain’s productivity lag with the US is largely down to being behind the curve on exploiting IT.

Of course, this is only the business launch. The man on the high street will still have to wait until the New Year before he can get his hands on the software.

Trades embargo Ils Kim Jong

One person who may have to satisfy himself with the beta software is our favourite Far Eastern dictator Kim Jong Il. The US has slapped a trade embargo on Il, which covers top US goods such as Segways, iPods, and jet skis. Fine cognac and cigars are also covered by the ban. We‘re assuming it will also cover Microsoft‘s latest software. Still, it’s the first time we’ve seen Segway crop up in the context of international security.

Keeping us all secure

And talking of security, plenty big vendors have been filling some serious holes this week. Adobe is working on a patch for an Acrobat flaw which could allow botnets to seize control of a PC.

Apple plugged a score of holes in the Mac OS.

Meanwhile, security researches have warned that heavyweight software such as Oracle is whetting the lips of hackers. After all, get into an Oracle database and you’ve really hit the motherlode when it comes to ID details.

Don’t touch that phone

Enough to send you to a help line?

Be very wary about VoIP. A survey warns that VoIP systems typically used by call centres are ever so slightly insecure, with seven out of ten calls exposed to attacks, such as ripping off the tones which represent PIN numbers. Part of the problem is down to administrators at the centres assuming someone else - such as the VoIP provider - has already take responsibility for security.

Seriously, put it down

Another VoIP headache comes in the form of changes from Ofcom. Telecoms trade body ITSPA reckons Ofcom changes will mean VoIP providers in the UK do not have to provide access to emergency service numbers but those that do will face changes to regulations. A recipe for confusion, and pain of all kinds the group reckons.More here

Just cool it, OK

A hot topic indeed. And here’s another one. Heat. HP made a song and dance about its latest cooling management system . Yep, you can now ensure your data centre is not a toasty retreat from Winter, but is, instead, a corporate meat chest.

On a more domestic level, Uniblue Research Labs has launched Local Cooling, which should allow you to rein back power use in XP machines. More details here .

And, to round off this theme, the University of Nottingham has opened a research institute dedicated to developing clean energy technologies.

No answers from Google

Heat, as in too much of it, is of course the topic du jour for the sensitive IT manager these days. We all know the problem, but what is the answer? Don’t go to Google Answers - the search giant shuttered the Q&A service this week. Google told us the site had simply served its purpose and that it was time to move on, adding, “We don’t have an awful lot to say other than that really.”

21st century reaches South Wales

If you’re in the village of Wick in South Wales and have something to say, you can now say it over BT’s 21st century network. The first 100 voice lines of the all optical network went live this week. Of course, those of us not fortunate enough to be in the environs of Cardiff won’t be able to appreciate the difference for a while. Still, we can all take advantage of the Telco’s foray into entertainment. BT Vision will quietly go live next week, though the vendor won’t be throwing the marketing cash at the service until next spring.

NHS IT makes us sick with worry

BT’s approach is being described as wary. The same word could also be applied to the public’s perceptions of the NHS’s problem-dogged IT upgrades. Part of the program is the uploading of everyone’s medical data to The Spine. Not so fast, say GPs and patients (i.e., all of us), who want records kept locally. Connecting for Health, which is pushing the scheme, is hearing the same message from its own consultants. Maybe someone will change their mind. Or maybe they’ll have their mind changed for them, now that the new NHS chief exec has ordered a review of the entire National Programme for IT, delays and all. More here.

Cost overruns a la MoD

Things don’t seem a whole lot better at the MoD, where the NAO's Major Projects Report 2006, shows that the cost of the 20 biggest military equipment projects is now £2.6bn higher than agreed at the outset.

Wow. We’re going to read that report in full, and see if we can crib some excuses for why the drinks bill for the Reg Xmas lunch next week might just come in a little higher than the original cost estimates.

See you same time, next week.®

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