28th > March > 2000 Archive

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Exit the Dragon – Belgian firm eats it, smacks its lips

Speech firm Lernout & Hauspie bought Dragon Systems yesterday for $587 million in a share trade, so snapping up the lion's share of the speech recognition market in the US. The acquisition by the Belgian company makes it the biggest speech recognition player in the US market. Dragon Systems had nearly 50 per cent market share in the US. Lernout & Hauspie, which last November opened a speech recognition science park in Flanders, and is also promoting a third-party venture capital scheme based in the small European country, has equity investments from both Intel and Microsoft. The latest acquisition will make Lernout & Hauspie one of the biggest players in the market. Although IBM has voice recognition software, the large investments it made in research and development over a number of years have so far failed to catapult it into the position it originally wanted. Speech recognition technology, is unlikely ever to [supply the] supplant keyboard technology, [that] but is likely to have a significant role in hand-held and other vertical [or decay us] applications. The paragraph above used trained L&H speech recognition technology and shows the type of difficulties that can be encountered by relying on it completely. The incorrect words or phrases are in brackets. Training the software to completely recognise human speech patterns takes some time, requires a relatively quiet ambience. People talking to their PCs is not completely outre - people screaming at them is, however, rather more common. Nevertheless, the technology has made great strides in recent years, aided by fast microprocessors and larger quantities of DRAM on systems. As well as making inroads into speech recognition, L&H also has an ambitious machine translation programme, augmented by worldwide bureaux, manned by humans, which tweak the results. ® Related Story Flanders Valley Park sails into action
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Intel 700MHz mobile part will cause tears

The notebook manufacturers Intel considers to be tier one PC companies will receive supplies of a 700MHz Pentium III notebook processor shortly, with other firms in the food chain queuing up in the chip equivalent of a soup kitchen. Intel told PC vendors, system builders, distributors and dealers that a 700MHz Pentium III notebook chip was to be introduced yesterday, but now we understand from reliable sources that tier one firms are going to get first bite of the mobile cherry. That has angered smaller companies fighting desperately to maintain margins and compete with the PC giants on their notebook offerings. The 700MHz part, which uses Intel's SpeedStep technology to help eke out battery life, will go to vendors Toshiba, Compaq, HP, IBM and Dell long before other customers get a chance to integrate the processor into their notebooks. That follows disquiet amongst the Big Five at the introduction of 0.18 micron Coppermine mobile Pentium III technology on 25 October last. PC companies, including Toshiba and IBM, moaned bitterly at Intel for only giving them samples of the mobile chips a couple of days before their launch, which turned out to be an introduction in name only. Intel's famous "level playing field" now resembles the soccer pitch we used to play on as kids, which had a ramp of around 15 degrees, meaning that those on the top of the hill had an advantage in the first half, as the football, abetted by gravity, trickled downwards, and the opposing team struggled to climb the hill. Yesterday we reported price reductions Intel made on its range of mobile microprocessors. ®
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Dutch demand flat fee access

A Net user in the Netherlands trying to emulate the success of Britain's Campaign for Unmetered Telecommunications (CUT) by starting his own lobby group. Volkert de Buisonjé has set up an online petition calling for the Government to stimulate more competition in the Dutch consumer Net access market. The petition, at xs2thepeople.com, is calling for flat-rate analogue and ISDN access at a "reasonable" price. It also wants to accelerate the introduction of ADSL and to force cable companies to open up their networks to competitors as well. "The petition is addressed to Mr W Kok, our prime minister, as well as to Mrs J Jorritsma, minister of economic affairs and Mrs. T Netelenbos, minister of infrastructure," said Buisonjé, who reckons this is the first campaign of its kind in the Netherlands. The campaign has received 500 signatures since its launch earlier this month. * Lernhowtospeakfactoid. Cut is a very rude word in Dutch. Only it's spelled with a 'K'. Related Links xs2thepeople.com
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Big talk, small hopes from dotcom summit

Opinion Now that our political leaders have made their way back from the European Council meeting in Lisbon it's time to examine a little more closely why the dotcom summit wasn't the triumph it was cracked up to be. European leaders decided (or rubber-stamped really, because the European Commission essentially told them what to agree) that the EU should become "a knowledge-based economy". But the EU's track record for interfering in markets has not been exactly good - witness the common agricultural policy, with its subsidies for unwanted produce and interference with traditional food production, and a monetary policy that has caused the Euro to lose around 20 per cent of its value against the dollar. So could there be a bad outcome from an EU Internet policy? It depends on whether you believe in compulsory medication, for that's what our leaders have in mind. All mouth and no routers When the EC launched its eEurope programme last December, the grand objective was to speed the uptake of "digital technologies" in Europe, in the belief that this would help growth and employment. The invited public reaction on the Europa web site was minimal - there were less than 200 responses, but Brussels still plans that by the end of 2003, all school leavers should be Internet-literate when they leave school. That sounds like compulsory medication to us - and would all these digital game-playing experts, brought up on CD-ROM encyclopaedias, be ordinary-literate as well, we wondered. The EU heads of state - with a couple of exceptions - are not exactly shining examples of computer illiteracy. There's a story is circulating that Dutch prime minister Wim Kok once tried to use a mouse on the screen of his monitor, and Tony Blair hasn't yet obtained his Microsoft certification. The Commission also expects to accelerate e-commerce by proclaiming four directives and two regulations on intellectual property, legal aspects of e-commerce, e-money, and distance-selling of financial services. In addition, two directives will be modified to promote online procurement, with regulatory and complaint mechanisms being studied. A consultation document on the top-level eu domain name has also been prepared. The Commission seems to want to continue putting its own level of bureaucracy over the existing tiers, for example with health professionals and managers being able to link to a "telematic health infrastructure" by 2003. Emergency calls will have to be to 112, presumably on the theory that Greeks visiting Finland will more easily be able to summon emergency assistance. It has finally dawned on the Commission that it will have to take its own medicine and become the e-Commission, but its web sites do not give us much confidence of its prowess as a technology policy developer. It is also time that the EU realised that there are European web sites "in the most frequently visited rankings" other than European ISPs, but we are too modest to step forward. Internet II - again Other plans include a very-high speed European network for research use, which sounds rather like Euronet, the Commission's X.25 effort in the 1970s that turned out to be a way of increasing telecom tariffs by manipulating leased-line costs in favour of a public packet-switched network, with higher prices. So far as patents are concerned, the Council wants, by the end of next year, to be able to issue a European patent "as comprehensive in its scope as the protection granted by key competitors". This is worrying if it implies that bad US patent practice, for example regarding business processes, will be made easier in Europe. Perhaps the most foolish aspect of the Lisbon summit is the belief that EU policy towards the Internet could really make a significant difference to how things will develop in Europe. It sounds very much as though the EU's plans will mostly result in higher taxation, increased administration, and an inability to make any significant impact in the Internet world. The heads of state failed to get to grips with the pressing problems in Europe, such as corruption in the EU and the Commission, as well as the reform of its less successful policies. Instead, they preferred to act politically and bask in some afterglow from the Internet, which has prospered despite their actions, and would probably be better off without heir intervention. Not quite all was bad in Lisbon, for we were told that: "The European Council calls in particular on the Member States, together with the Commission, to work towards introducing greater competition in local access networks before the end of 2000 and unbundling the local loop in order to help bring about a substantial reduction in the costs of using the Internet." But is this a date for a plan or a date for action, we wondered. ®
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Micron, Mosel Vitelic settle patent dispute

While the share price of Rambus may well have had Wall Street in a twitter for most of this year, the Taiwanese PC industry has pressed ahead with its plans to adopt PC-133 and PC-266 synchronous memory as the one it's going to use. Full stop. At last year's Computex show in Taiwan, Mosel Vitelic, which is the largest memory manufacturer on the island, hit out at the Rambus solution, alluding to a new phenomenon we hadn't come across before, called "cache trashing" (we think he said cache, not cash). That position was underlined by practically every motherboard manufacturer on the island, each of which insisted that PC-133, because it worked, was the technology they would be using. A representative from Acer's module company, Apacer, told us back in June that there were technical problems which meant that the Rambus RIMMs on show would not actually work until the end of the year. Mosel Vitelic has, apparently, stuck to its guns, and just now has announced the release of a 256Mb SDRAM chip to manufacture, claiming it is the first Taiwanese vendor to get to the target. Last week, it announced it would benefit from a technology share with the newly floated Infineon, the former semiconductor division of Siemens. Said Rajit Shah, the firm's VP of worldwide marketing and sales: "Mosel Vitelic's 256Mb SDRAMs products target high-end PCs, network servers and workstation markets. We project to sell several million units of 256Mb SDRAMs in the year 2000. It is important for our sales revenue this year. We have been working closely with major PC makers and chipset makers." And, in the latest news from Taiwan, it appears peace has broken out between Micron and Mosel Vitelic. The companies have just announced that they have settled a legal spat over alleged infringement of patents, and have agreed to cross license their IP on current and future memory technology. Micron, although like many another semiconductor company publicly supports Rambus, has told us that it cannot understand Intel's insistence that the up-and-coming Willamette processor use RIMMs rather than double data rate memory. The firms refused to give details of the deal they have just brokered, saying they are confidential, but did say the agreement puts an end not only to pending, but to anticipated litigation between the two. ® Related Stories Mosel Vitelic announces PC-133 support Computex 99 Coverage Infineon to gift technology to Mosel Vitelic
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EuroISPA slams French Net privacy plans

The French Parliament could force Web page owners to register their personal details in a bid to improve accountability on the Net. The proposal was parachuted into the second reading of a new law set before the lower house of the French Parliament last week as part of a freedom of communications bill. However, the bill does not specify that it affects only Web pages. The fear is that it could also include anyone who writes anything on a message board or chat room. Although the idea of being able to trace who is behind Web sites has its supporters, industry body EuroISPA fears it could be the thin end of an extremely divisive wedge. A spokesman said: "This has got tremendous scope for going wrong." In particular, EuroISPA is concerned that the proposal was introduced without any industry consultation. And while ISPs will not be required to police the new system, there is nothing in the bill to limit liability of ISPs for policing, nor any guarantee that ISP will not have policing duties imposed on them in the future. EuroISPA president Cormac Callanan said: "ISPs are at the forefront of the fight against illegal content on the Web - actively participating in the setting up of hotlines and 'notice and takedown' procedures. "Given the French ISP industry’s exemplary record in this regard, it is particularly disappointing that their government appears bent on disadvantaging them in this way," he said. Those who fail to register their details - or who give incorrect details - risk up to six months in prison or E7000 (£4250) in fines. French consumers using hosting services abroad would not be required to undertake this potentially cumbersome procedure. Ironically, if the new law is introduced later this year without amendment it may backfire on the legislators. For it could force French Web authors to set up shop outside the country and make it impossible for French plaintiffs and judges to obtain information without international co-operation. ®
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MS poaches Symbian exec for wireless ops

Microsoft has poached Symbian executive VP Juha Christensen to take charge of sales and marketing for its wireless business. Christensen will report to Paul Gross, who's currently in charge of the wireless business, within Paul Muglia's group. The organisation of Microsoft's wireless operations however remains somewhat opaque to the outside world - it's pretty clear that the company is putting a lot of resources into ramping them up, but who's doing what seems to change radically as the weeks go by. With a bit of luck, Steve Ballmer (or indeed Judge Jackson) will reinvent the company again, and issue some up to date orgcharts. Christensen is a serious catch for Microsoft, having been one of the senior VPs at Symbian, in charge of marketing and sales, and a high-profile public face. ®
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Court report: ex-Bay City Roller, ex-JP, ex-headmaster sentenced

Ex-Bay City Roller Derek Longmuir has escaped jail over possession of Web child porn. The former drummer with the tartan-clad 70s band was given 300 hours' community service on Friday at Edinburgh Sheriff Court. Longmuir pleaded guilty to two charges of having indecent photographs, videos and computer disks of children at his home. He also admitted making indecent photos of children. The material was seized during a police raid on the Old Roller's home. The haul included 22 videos, 40 computer disks with 117 images of indecent material, some showing sex involving children. Longmuir, who has been suspended from his job as a nurse at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, claimed the material belonged to an American friend. See Ex-Bay City Roller found with kiddie porn
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Mattel buys copyrights to Cyber Patrol crack

Minutes before a copyright complaint hearing against two hackers who published a crack to Mattel's Cyber Patrol Web filtering application was to begin, the company filed documents indicating it was ready to abandon its suit over a utility program called cphack, which enables Cyber Patrol users to view the program's encrypted list of banned URLs. Mattel reported that in a settlement agreement, reached on 24 March with the two crypto buffs who developed cphack, it had acquired the copyright. The agreements were signed by cphack authors Eddy Jansson of Sweden and Matthew Skala of Canada, who held out for one dollar in exchange for relinquishing his rights. The agreement gives Mattel all rights to the utility's source code, binaries and associated explanatory notes. In spite of the feel-good solution with the authors, Mattel renewed its request for District Judge Edward Harrington to grant a permanent order citing mirror sites with contempt charges. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorney Chris Hansen asked that mirror sites be exempt from court orders, noting that Mattel can sue anyone who violates their copyright on cphack. Harrington has agreed to rule by Wednesday, and continued his previous restraining order for the interim. ®
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Kahn battles Agfa to keep e-words free

Former Borland boss Philippe Kahn has become embroiled in a trademark wrangle with Belgian company Agfa-Gevaert over the word ePhoto. And characteristically, our opportunistic entrepreneur has claimed e-words have become part of the language, and as generic terms shouldn't be trademarked. Citizens of E-xeter will no doubt be grateful for Kahn's protection from rapacious Belgian trademarkers. Agfa is going for Kahn's company LightSurf, and last month filed suit in Boston claiming trademark infringement, seeking an injunction and triple damages. LightSurf is involved in wireless photography, and owns the domain ePhoto.com. This was registered in 1995, a year before Agfa applied for the trademark. Agfa claims to have put considerable resources into establishing the word as its brand, but that'll cut little ice if the courts decide it wasn't trademarkable in the first place. LightSurf has meanwhile counter-sued, asking for Agfa's trademark to be cancelled, and for triple the company's profit from use of the word as damages. ®
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Judgement day: will the judge string MS up?

Despite the government's cool reaction to Microsoft offer to settle the antitrust case last week, the company could yet escape the judge's verdict, which is due to be issued today. Although settlement talks didn't restart on Monday, mediator Judge Richard Posner was in contact with both sides, and Microsoft has been clarifying its proposals. These, as we noted yesterday, are pretty sweeping by Microsoft's standards, but it seems the government thinks they're hedged with too many qualifiers and restrictions. So although it might sound like Microsoft is willing to introduce open, standard pricing for PC companies and let them do as they wish with the desktop, user interface, browser et al, it's possible the proposals don't actually read like that at all. Microsoft only has itself to blame if this is what the DoJ and the States think, because last time around, when the DoJ and MS negotiated the consent decree, this was precisely how it came out. The DoJ thought it had got a lid on Microsoft's activities, but Microsoft was later able to point to the wording and claim it specifically said it had the right to integrate whatever it liked into the OS. And of course the fatal wording was inserted at Bill Gates' behest. But today, Microsoft's proposal may be pointed sufficiently in the right direction for it to achieve a stay of execution while the clarification process continues. The big questions are how clear it's going to have to be, and how far it will have to go. Microsoft's choices at the moment are stark - if it doesn't deal now, then Judge Jackson's findings of law will be issued, and although the company will undoubtedly appeal, this will boost a host of private antitrust actions. But if it is going to deal, it'll have to come up with major concessions - as it's already offered some source access to PC companies, we could perhaps see this widening towards full-scale access, and widespread licensing. ® Related stories: MS offers free OEMs, disintegrated Windows to escape noose
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TUC wants Internet at work for all

Employers must do more to get workers online, or face being left behind in the race to acquire new skills, the Trades Union Congress (TUC). It wants employers to give their staff access to the Net during working hours. The TUC's position was outlined during the launch a new TUC virtual classroom -- learnOnline -- and the publication of a TUC report, Learning for the 21st century. In the report, the TUC explains that it is in employers’ interests to ensure that their staff can use the Web to learn. Workers who are able to learn through the Internet are likely to be much more productive as well as being more in tune with the latest IT skills, the TUC says. John Monks, general secretary, TUC, said: "Too few people have Web access. "If people are not to be left behind as learning online continues apace, those currently offline need to be provided with access to the Internet, preferably during their working hours." Last month the Ford Motor Company said it would offer each of its 350,000 employees the chance to lease an Internet-ready PC for just $5 a month. ® Related Stories Ford workers drive home with a cheap PC
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Motorola, IBM – cold warriors

Analysis What are we to make of the claims that Motorola has been nobbling IBM's attempts to supply Apple not only with all the extra PowerPC 7400 (aka G4) processors it needs but cheaper and faster ones than Motorola itself can? It has to be said right that the allegations have been presented without any corroborative evidence. And, so far at least, none of the parties concerned have made any official comment. We're solidly in rumorland here, but such is the importance of the PowerPC alliance to Apple that it's worth taking a closer look at the allegation. Even if there's nothing factual to the claims - if they're simply a distillation of the hostility one 'partner' feels for another - that exposes the cracks in what's always been portrayed officially as three good chums working in harmony. So what charges are being levelled at Motorola? Essentially, that it's using certain clauses within IBM's licence to use its AltiVec - or the Velocity Engine, as Apple now calls it - to prevent IBM selling chips to Apple. The key to the story is IBM's previous indifference to AltiVec. When Motorola unveiled the technology back in 1998, hailing it as a major advancement in desktop processing power, which it is, IBM's response was a lukewarm 'we'll take a look and see what we think'. Not exactly the overwhelming statement of support Motorola was looking for. But consider IBM's position. IBM's focus has long been on server and workstation applications. The Power chipset from which PowerPC evolved was originally developed for IBM's large-scale servers and workstations containing multiple CPUs operating together. IBM's has always been a brute-force approach to computing horsepower, which is essentially what 'pure' Risc is all about. AltiVec, on the other hand, was developed primarily to help Motorola target the embedded market, in particular customers interested in Digital Signal Processor (DSP) applications. DSPs are designed to manipulate large streams of data in well-defined formats. Motorola's goal was to develop a technology that could allow a general purpose chip to do the same thing without taking any performance hit - in other words, to allow it to sell CPUs to DSP buyers. And what, asked IBM, do DSP-clones have to do with us and our servers? On the face of it, not an awful lot. The result was the first real split in the PowerPC alliance, and held out the very real prospect of IBM heading off in one direction and Motorola taking the architecture in another. And, until last year, that's pretty much what has happened. Apple's need to present a united front to the world - after all, it's staked its future on the PowerPC in the face of almost overwhelming competition from the Intel-led x86 world - has ensured the split hasn't impacted on the public too much. While Motorola has pushed the G4 and AltiVec, IBM has pursued its own Power chips, all of them developed to operate along far more traditional Risc lines than the semi-Risc G4. The architectures are broadly compatible, but you can't slot, say, a Power 3 inside a Power Mac G4 and expect it to work right. However, some eight months after IBM initially dismissed AltiVec and fell out with Motorola, it discovered that it might have made a bad move. While AltiVec remained of little interest to Big Blue server developers, a company called ArtX, which develops 3D graphics systems, had been sounding out IBM as a possible supplier for the core processing technology for Nintendo's successor to the N64 games console. What appears to have appealed to ArtX was not only IBM's ability to manufacture large quantities of CPUs at a good price - Big Blue's chip fabrication process are among the best in the field - but the possibilities AltiVec have for accelerating 3D graphics, video streams and the like. Sony's Emotion Engine, the core of the recently released PlayStation 2, has an AltiVec-style system of its own, and ArtX knew Nintendo would need something similar if it were to compete with the Sony box. At the same time, Apple was not only continuing to tell IBM that it wanted it back in the alliance, but that it was keen to extend its contract to buy PowerPC 750 (aka G3) chips from Big Blue to take in the then upcoming G4 too. When IBM snubbed AltiVec, Motorola struck back by saying AltiVec and the G4 were inseparable. In turn, IBM said 'yah boo sucks to you then, we won't back G4 either'. With the Nintendo Dolphin a likely design win, IBM must have gone back to Motorola to negotiate the right to use AltiVec. It got it, and by the end of 1998, IBM staffers were saying that the two companies would once again be firm friends. "The three companies [Apple, IBM and Motorola] are motivated to co-operate, and we will co-operate," Mike Attardo, then general manager of IBM's Microelectronics Division, told EE Times. And eventually, that's what happened. Last autumn, IBM announced it had gotten the Nintendo gig, to develop a 400MHz PowerPC chip codenamed Gekko, and not long after Apple said it had signed up IBM to provide it with PowerPC G4s. The only trouble, by this stage Motorola had already been forced to admit it couldn't ship a 500MHz G4 that worked at that speed, and Apple had publicly said its financial results would be adversely affected by Motorola's production problems. And they may again. Comments from other sources suggest that Motorola is still having a tough time getting its G4 yields up, particularly above 500MHz, which the chip can now deliver, thanks to a recent revision of the silicon. IBM, on the other hand, is said to be well able to churn out all the extra CPUs Apple needs - the snag: Motorola allegedly is preventing it from doing so. It's certainly possible that Motorola would add a 'no competition' clause to IBM's AltiVec licensing agreement and that IBM would accept it on the grounds the CPU it was developing for Nintendo was not for widespread release. But by getting back at IBM this way - Motorola clearly hasn't forgotten IBM's initial rejection of its technology - it risks seriously annoying Apple, one of it's major customers. Then again, Apple has no choice but to stick with Motorola for now. MacOS X makes such a move away from PowerPC easier, but it hasn't even shipped yet, so we can probably rule out a switch to Intel at this stage. Apple needs Motorola far more than Motorola needs Apple. And having been blamed for the dip in Apple's Q4 1999 results, Motorola may now not be feeling to kindly to its PowerPC partner. It's a recipe for disaster, but fortunately each company's interests are best served by co-operation rather than confrontation. All three clearly do have their differences - some more than others - but at this point they really must come together. Intel and AMD are already at 1GHz, and they're not going to wait around for IBM and Motorola to catch up. ®
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German firm confirms it owns MP3™

As we revealed last week, German firm Hypermedia has registered MP3 as a trademark. The firm confirmed it had done so today, and issued a statement on its intentions. Norbert Boehnke, MD of hypermedia GmbH webcasting and MusicPl@y GmbH, said that the firm has filed MP3 as a common European trademark. He said, and we quote directly: "This is to ensure that everyone can use the term MP3, at present the term the most sought in the Internet." The company's Web site is a home for establishing new MP3-based services, Boenhke said. "The registration of the trademark is designed to protect the term MP3 against access by MP3 opponents," he said. "At the moment considerations are being made about sponsoring young artists and musicians through a licensing scheme and thus helping to enhance the MP3 scene with even more musical content." "The aim is to show important MP3 is to the music scene, and the common goal is to safeguard MP3 for the general public and to maintain and promote the MP3 music scene," said Boehnke. ® Related Story German firm registers MP3 as trademark
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Intel, Science Museum open Web wing preview

Intel has put together an interactive Web preview of the £50 million Wellcome Wing which opens at the Science Museum at the end of June. The wing, which has taken 10 years to develop and build, and cost £50 million, is dedicated to providing information on contemporary science. Intel helped sponsor the wing to the tune of £1.5 million. The site, which can be found here, was put together by Intel and allows visitors to "fly through" the four main areas covering digital technology, biomedicine, future science and hot topics in science. The Science Museum said that the Web site will be expanded as individual displays are added. You don't need a Pentium III to visit the Science Museum site, there are 2D and 3D versions available too. ®
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Watch out! There's a Cyberterrorist about

London police are warning banks to look out for cyber terrorists when recruiting staff. Anarchist sympathisers may try to infiltrate companies and sabotage computer systems to help the anti-City protests expected in May, a senior crime prevention officer said yesterday. Norman Russell, head of the City of London police community safety branch, said firms should grill new staff for any cyber-spy tendencies. Job applicants who support the aims of anarchist umbrella group People's Global Action might help demonstrators enter company buildings during the forthcoming Stop the City protests. Alternatively, they could insert viruses in computer files or leak passwords to let hackers penetrate computer systems, the Mail on Sunday reports. And Russell's advice to spot these saboteurs? "Employers should make sure that they take up references of new employees." Sound advice. The Register has gone further, and compiled a few suspicious comments to help employers when they are interviewing City slicker applicants. Anyone letting slip comments like "Bring the Capitalist dogs to their knees!" Or "Cream the City fat cats!" should definitely be treated with caution. As should utterances along the lines of: "The roar of profit and plunder will be replaced by the sounds of rhythms of party and pleasure as a massive carnival of resistance snakes its way through the square mile." (genuine quote - Reclaim the Streets). But in case these cyber-saboteurs have become more CV-savvy, it may be as well to develop your own techniques to pinpoint a likely candidate. The Register welcomes any tips on how to spot a likely lord or lady of misrule. Meanwhile, a new nation has emerged to take the cyberwarfare crown. According to Newsbytes, Canada is now a hotbed of cyberterrorism, responsible for 80 per cent of foreign attacks on US computers. FBI director Louis Freeh went so far as to describe this normally law-abiding Mounty nation as a "hacker haven".® Related stories Anarchists run riot on the Web City faces up to hack attack
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MS trial waste of money, says poll for MS-backed outfit

It's a tale of incest and more incest. Polling outfit Zogby International has quietly conducted a poll of the top issues facing state attorneys general, and found from a sample of 1,004 "likely voters"  that the Microsoft case was the ninth most important issue, with 37 per cent of respondents wanting the case pursued. But some two thirds said that the Microsoft suit was "a bad use of tax dollars." Offering more good news for Microsoft, 75 per cent apparently believed that it would be a waste to spend public money on any appeal. Furthermore, 82 per cent expressed the view that the case should be settled out-of-court, with just 17 per cent favouring the breakup of Microsoft. Of course, it would be proper for the DoJ to press to have its legal costs paid, as it asked in its original Complaint, but there are some higher-level issues that need considering before the results can be assessed. Although the client list on Zogby's web site names Microsoft first, the poll was not commissioned by Microsoft. The mystery deepens because Americans for Technology Leadership, which did commission the poll, seems to be completely silent about it on its web site. Are we to assume that Zogby didn't come up with the right numbers? Surely not. You've probably guessed that Microsoft is a founding member of Americans for Technology Leadership, along with the Association for Competitive Technology (which has Microsoft as its most prominent member), the Small Business Survival Committee, and the 60-Plus Association. When John Zogby was interviewed on MSNBC, he was asked "why polls are rigged to meet a predestined result". He admitted to "some disagreement over methodology" for public polls, but defended "the honesty and integrity" of his colleagues. ®
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3Com readies Palm-beating Net access box

3Com is preparing its first Internet appliance, a home-oriented device that company chairman Eric Benhamou claims will be "bigger than Palm". Interviewed by Reuters, Benhamou said: "It is the sort of appliance you might enjoy having on your kitchen counter, but it will start much more quickly than Palm because there is already a base of Palm users, six or seven million well-connected people who are primed for the kind of product we are bringing onto the market." The device will be unveiled in three months' time. Benhamou didn't reveal much else in the way of specifics, but it's clear from the tone of his comments - it will be sold through the same kind of channels that handled 3Com's now-sold modem products, he said - that it has been designed for domestic Net access. "We expect that service providers will also be attracted to selling the product because it will provide access to your favorite brands and content, like the Palm 7, but being at home you would also have access to other kinds of networks such as broadband, cable and DSL," he added. ® Related Story 3Com to ditch products and up to 3000 jobs
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Stop the Great British Car Rip-Off

The Consumers' Association has started flogging cars over the Net in its bid to clampdown on what it calls the "Great British Car Rip-Off". The not-for-profit organisation will accept orders online from today before importing the cars from the Continent where they are considerably cheaper. Carbusters.com has been on trial over the last three months and during that time 83 cars have been ordered online. The haul - worth £1.5 million - delivered a saving of £270,000 on the UK list price for the vehicles. Sheila McKechnie, director of Consumers' Association, said: "Carbusters.com will put the manufacturers' unfair pricing regime further under the spotlight and will at long last give the public the opportunity to beat the manufacturers and buy cars at a fair price." A spokeswoman for the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said that e-commerce was changing the shape of the industry. Even though carbusters.com can deliver discounts of between £3000-4000 per motor, the spokeswoman said that this did not pose a threat. "It's just competition," she said. ® Related Story Big dealer flogs cheapo car imports on the Net
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Second spy loses laptop

A second British spy has lost a laptop brimming with state secrets after getting "blind drunk" in a London bar. The latest secret service blunder came from MI6, and followed the agent getting blotto in a tapas bar in Vauxhall. According to today's Sun, the sozzled spook left the £2000 machine in a taxi he took from Rebato's tapas bar on 3 March. To add insult to injury, the loss happened the night before a thief stole a laptop from an MI5 agent at Paddington Station. MI5 is the branch of British Security that deals with domestic matters - MI6's remit covers the rest of the globe. MI6 bosses were said to be so worried about their loss that they took out a newspaper ad offering a "substantial reward" for the machine's return. The advert, in 9 March's Evening Standard, said: "Academic urgently seeks information leading to the recovery of PhD vital research notes stored on Toshiba 4000 Series CDS laptop computer in black carrying case lost in London on evening 3 March 2000. Please call 0171 245 0053." The computer was recovered by police a week later, but it is unclear if this was thanks to the ad. "There is a massive panic on about all this and the security chiefs are just hoping that the code of the MI6 machine was not cracked," a source told the tabloid. ® Related Stories Sneak thief steals secrets in MI5 laptop Web site names UK spies
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3dfx to grab Gigapixel for $186m

Troubled 3D graphics hardware developer 3dfx is to buy Gigapixel in a stock swap that values its smaller rival at around $186 million. The deal will see Gigapixel shareholders offered nearly 15.6 million 3dfx shares valued at around $40 apiece - rather more than the $13 or so they're trading at these days.
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Intel claims it's licked dual CPU problem

Intel has moved quite a way to dispel confusion over dual processing systems using its flip chip (FC-PGA) Pentium IIIs by releasing specifications for them using the i840 (Carmel) chip set. It has also rectified conflicting messages on its Web site. The firm recently posted a PDF file on its download site, which you can find here. This is a very large document which relates to making dual systems using the FC-PGA packaging work with the i840 chipset. The paper gives recommendations for system board layouts as well as suggesting ways to overcome possible thermal problems. The latest version of its FC-PGA Pentium III datasheet, which you can download from here, now seems to suggest Intel has the problem licked. According to this sheet, it now claims that all FC-PGA processors are dual system compatible. Yesterday, we reported that Intel was sending conflicting messages to system builders, with some confusion as to which microprocessors in its Coppermine Pentium III family actually support dual configurations. Meanwhile, several readers have pointed us to a Web site which offers more information on the problem, and debates dual configurations, at this page on BP6. Meanwhile, a reader who posted a message on the Intel support forum has had a reply from a techie at the behemoth, which read: "Dual processing capability validation for FC-PGA packaged Pentium(R) III processors has been concluded. Most, but not all, FC-PGA packaged Pentium III processors indicate they have been validated for dual processor capability. This is new information, and all our websites referring to this feature will be updated soon. "The Pentium(R) III processor Specification Update contains the latest information available: http://support.intel.com/design/pentiumiii/specupdt/244453.htm "The website stating, "[FC-PGA packaged processors have] been hardware disabled for such functionality" is incorrect, and will be updated soon as well." The existence of the specifications for the i840 shows the extent of the problems Intel has had to deal with in making the move from SECC2 (Slot One) to the newer flip chip packaging. At the same time, the problem was doubtless compounded by fresh steppings of Coppermine processors, following a rash of errata which started to show up in the chips shortly after launch. We reported this fresh stepping in January (link below). ® Related Stories Muddle erupts over dual CPU Intel platform Intel to make major Cumine stepping change 7 April Intel erratum-not-bug not-good-enough Intel moves to re-assure industry on bugs
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L0pht develops Palm Pilot war dialler

Self-styled 'ethical hacking' outfit L0pht Heavy Industries has developed a free war-dialling utility for use with the Palm operating system. Known as TBA, the programme combines carrier logging, data-file manipulation, calling-card dialling options, and a handy battery meter display. Scans can be pre-set to attack a range of numbers at a predetermined time, and the selected range can be attacked in sequence or at random, L0pht says. Other user-defined options include sub-ranges of numbers to be excluded, the wait-time for no dial tone and the delay between attempts. Each number that answers with modem handshake tones is stored in a log file, which can be edited freely by the user. The purpose of this nifty little toy is to enable network administrators to test their security. Right, we're sure no one would, say, use it with a phreaked calling card to break into a remote system.... The utility can be downloaded, with detailed instructions, from the L0pht Web site. ®
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Dodgy software found in Nokia WAP phones

Vodafone has sent more than 2,000 WAP phones destined for UK users back to Nokia because of a software fault. Dodgy software in the Nokia 7110 caused Vodafone UK to return 2,500 of the handsets to Nokia HQ in Finland this month. Vodafone said it noticed the problems when the WAP handsets arrived at its testing warehouse. According to a representative of the network operator, Nokia's first batch of handsets launched late last year had glitches in the software. These were related to how the browser worked: connection to the gateway, page display and navigation were all very slow. Nokia has now upgraded the software, and solved the problems, Vodafone claimed. But the delivery it returned to Nokia this month contained phones with the original version of the software in it. "We've had WAP handsets [from Nokia] in store since January – some with one lot of software, and others with another. This batch had outdated software on it," she told The Register<</u>. "The phones weren't recalled. They got to the warehouse, where the software problems were noticed, and we sent them back". Orange also confirmed hitches with the Nokia WAP phones. "Orange did experience problems with early versions of the software on the Nokia 7110. But we ensured that the product sold to customers reached our own high standards," said one representative. Orange had returned a number of handsets to Nokia, but was not aware of any recent problems. It said the handsets had not been recalled from customers. BT Cellnet, the third operator offering this model, wasn't aware of any problems with its own deliveries. ® Related stories We're expecting some in today, sir Orange WAP phones in short supply
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Zurich sacks seven for ‘disturbing’ emails

Zurich Financial Services has sacked seven staff found with "disturbing material" on their office computers.
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Darwin on x86 – Apple's Intel interest

Analysis Apple software developer Wilfredo Sanchez's note on an Apple bulletin board that he's got Darwin - Apple's open source OS project and the basis for the upcoming MacOS X - running on Intel's x86 platform may not be a tacit 'MacOS X for Intel' announcement, but it sure comes at a very interesting time. In his posting, on Apple's Darwin Development bulletin board, Sanchez notes briefly: "Wednesday, the whole thing compiled for the first time for both PowerPC and Intel. That's been my target for the past couple of months, and now I'm just ironing out details." Should we be surprised about this? Not really, no. Darwin ultimately derives from NeXT's OpenStep OS, which was Intel-based, and the initial versions of Apple's OpenStep-meets-MacOS next-generation operating system, which were discussed by Apple in terms of both PowerPC and Intel releases, with the key 'Yellow Box' API (now called 'Cocoa', of course) appearing as add-ons for Windows and MacOS, and as components of the fully-fledged Rhapsody for PowerPC and Intel. Intel inside Darwin is simply the latest incarnation of Apple's much-tweaked post-MacOS operating system strategy. And while Intel compatibility has been dropped from the plan - in public, at any rate - since Darwin is an open source project, it's always been possible that an enterprising software engineer would port the code over to x86. And since Sanchez is head of Apple's open source development, he's the obvious guy to do it. When Darwin 1.0 - it's currently available as version 0.3 - ships, presumably in the not too distant future; like as not in time for the final beta of MacOS X, due this spring - it will almost certainly appear in Intel and PowerPC forms. Apple is, after all, giving Darwin away for free, so it makes sense to get it out on as many platforms as possible, partly to get more people using Apple product, but mostly as a subtle promo for MacOS X itself. So if there's nothing surprising about Sanchez's comment, what's the big deal? In itself, nothing, but taken with one or two other issues, it begins to take on new significance. A week or so back, the rumor mill churned out a nice little item suggesting that a couple of unnamed Wintel PC vendors had been talking to Apple about licensing MacOS X. And just before that, indications emerged of serious ructions between PowerPC developers Motorola and IBM, and of difficulties in the evolution of the PowerPC processor. PowerPC partnership Without trying to untie the Moto-IBM imbroglio right now - for that, see Motorola, IBM: cold warriors - suffice it to say that Apple is at risk (pun not intended) from a real bust up between IBM and Motorola, who despite being partners seem to get on less well than AMD and Intel. If the cold ware between IBM and Motorola limits the evolution of the PowerPC as a desktop CPU - a limited market for either company, so neither need be too loyal to their only significant customer there - that can cause real problems if you're working, as Apple is, in an industry where performance is all. Apple, in short, needs an exit strategy, and MacOS X provides it. That's not to say that it is going to abandon PowerPC at any time in the future, near or far, but that if it really needs to, it can. MacOS X's Darwin core is, as Sanchez has now proved, cross-platform, and its backward-compatibility system, once called Blue Box, but now known as Classic, can probably be easily converted into an emulator - a sort of VirtualPC in reverse. It's the operating system, stupid But what about the hardware? Look at it this way: what sells the iMac? Is it it's processor, or its ease of use (a feature of the OS) and styling (nothing more than plastic)? Let's be honest here, beyond running OS and software, and keeping Apple's costs down, the PowerPC processor has nothing to do with the success of the iMac. Ship an iMac with an Intel Celeron and MacOS X for Intel and you'd have just as viable as sales proposition: a stylish, easy-to-use OS and a great looking box. The same is true of the Power Mac. The only problem would be the iBook and PowerBook lines. Because of the PowerPC's low power requirements, swapping in Mobile Pentiums would be a problem. But the next generation of Intel's SpeedStep technology, which changes the chip's power requirements dynamically according to what tasks it is being asked to perform, will improve the Pentium's reputation as a volt-gobbler. And if that doesn't work, there's always Transmeta's Crusoe, with its very clever power management system hardwired in. Several Apple insiders have already claimed to have seen a prototype Crusoe-based PowerBook running an early Intel version of Rhapsody via the chip's x86 compatibility layer (though it has to be said that's primarily because there Transmeta doesn't yet have a PowerPC compatibility layer). Fire exit The point here is that Apple has developed a neat way of differentiating its hardware from other PCs, and one that arguably works irrespective of the processor on which its machines are based. Right now, it makes sense for Apple to stress its support for PowerPC, for a number reasons. First, it wants to show that it is different from the Wintel hordes. Second, for the time being at least, the PowerPC does have the potential to match Wintel. Third, it's politically expedient. If Apple's support for PowerPC is seen to waver, Motorola and IBM might well shift even more development onto their target markets, and that means even less chance that the PowerPC will meet or beat Intel's current performance. Apple's differentiation also means that it could reintroduce licensing in a limited form. If Apple has been talking to PC manufacturers, it means that it no longer considers licensing a problem. CEO Steve Jobs canned cloning - rightly so - because it was cannibalising Apple's own market share, but that's less of an issue now. Sure, Apple doesn't want mass cloning, but if a small number of Intel guys want the MacOS X, why not let them license it? Apple's hardware is well able to compete, and by widening the potential audience for MacOS X - by allowing people to try it without having to buy a completely new system - Apple may feel it can encourage x86 users fed up Microsoft's monopoly but discouraged by Linux's user unfriendliness to move over at a later date. I'll say it again: none of this makes an Apple move away from PowerPC a certainty, but it does mean the company's future is closer to x86 than you might think. ®
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MS trial: there ain't going to be a hanging – yet

Court officials have confirmed that Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson will not be producing his findings of law today after all. The judge, who is expected to come down heavily on Microsoft if and when he speaks, said last week that he'd push the button today (Tuesday) if progress hadn't been made in the mediation talks. So clearly progress of sorts must have been made, even though no Microsoft or government reps have yet been seen haring for the scene of the talks, chez mediator Judge Richard Posner in Chicago. Microsoft now has a stay of execution until April 7, and this being a Friday, it could well be the big one - delivery after the markets close, or postponement again, while the parties wrangle some more over the weekend? The nature of whatever progress may have been made can only be inferred from what's happened over the past few days. Microsoft's offer of last week doesn't seem to have been either sufficient or clear enough for it to be acceptable, but the government must now be viewing it as a basis for negotiation. At least some of the extra time will have to be used by the government camp to bring all of the States attorneys general up to speed, and to try once again to achieve a common position. In reality, this may turn out to be harder than squeezing more concessions out of Microsoft. ® Related stories: Judgement day: will the judge string MS up? MS offers to free OEMs, disintegrate Windows to escape noose
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DRAM makers squeeze supplies, prices rise, surprise, surprise

DRAM prices are on the up again, thanks to makers manipulating the roller-coaster memory market. Memory broker DMC Europe was today pricing chips at $6, making a 64MB PC 100 module $50, and a 128MB DIMM $100. This compares to $5.70 yesterday, putting a 64MB DIMM at $48. Prices are also up on Friday, when they were $5.40 and $46 respectively. Dane-Elec was also quoting $6 today. Alan Stanley, general manager, said the rise was due to a concerted effort from manufacturers such as Hyundai and Micron to hoist prices. DMC agreed that vendors were deliberately pushing up prices. "We understand Hyundai and some of the other Far Eastern manufacturers are starving the market to drive the price up," said Andrew MacKenzie, vice president of DMC Europe. Chip prices are expected to hit $7 by the end of the week, at which level it is expected to stabilise, he added. ® Related stories DRAM spot, contract price gap grows Bumper year ahead for DRAM DRAM prices on the up again Armed thieves hi-jack Dane-Elec van – again