12th April 2000 Archive
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Just add electricity. Hatch grow Sea-Monkeys alive!
Remember those magical small brine shrimp eggs that you put in water with grow powder and they turned into living sea-monkeys? I don't. But then I'm reliably informed that they were the bee's knees in the days when hoops and sticks passed for recreation. Anyway, the sea-monkeys - not creatures to be left languishing in the past - are in the process of reinventing themselves through an interactive computer game. Development has begun on the game by Creature Labs and, according to the Dad of the whole sea-monkey cult sub-culture, Harold von Braunhut, it is certain "to create a fantastic experience for young and old alike". The game will build in artificial-life technology and so should be one of those things that children marvel at - especially as it's on a computer screen - and so modern kids won't have to deal with the complexities of reality. It should be out at the end of the year and will cost between £25 and £30. The original sea-monkeys are brine shrimp. They curl up and put themselves in a state of suspended animation - ideal for transportation. Once you add water purifier to a bowl of tap water, Instant Life powder and then Growth powder, the shrimp wake up (don't ask me how) and you've got a full blown aquarium on your hands. If this is your thing, happy growing! I'm gonna wait for the Evil Knievel wind-up CD-Rom game. ®
Business 12 06:36
Comparisons fair, ASA rules
Execs at AOL UK are punching the air with delight after the advertising watchdog turned down a complaint from rival ISP Freeserve that one of its TV ads was misleading. Two adjudications from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) cleared AOL's ad featuring cyberchick Connie of using unfair comparisons to promote its service. Keith Hawkins, group head of marketing at AOL UK, said: "We are delighted with the ASA's ruling. "AOL's advertising campaign seeks to educate the consumer about the true cost of Internet access and the benefits of the AOL service," he said. The complaints centred on an ad that compared the cost of AOL's subscription and toll-free trial with peak access rates using Freeserve. "...you get ten hours of AOL access including Internet phone calls completely and utterly free," trilled the ad, compared with Freeserve "at BT peak rate (which) could cost as much as £24". The ASA received another protest but did not publish the details of that complainant. No one from Freeserve was available for comment yesterday. ®
Business 12 06:52
Don't get tire tracks on your back
Sun has set aside $300 million for a programme aimed at providing selected customers with everything needed to get their businesses dotcommed faster. "We're only at the start of the dot-com learning curve," said CEO Scott McNealy. "As the road gets steeper and you don't drive at Internet speed, you'd better keep an eye out for the tire marks on your back." Eligible startups qualify for free development licenses and reduced prices on deployment licensing for e-commerce infrastructure software including security, search engine, directory, Web and applications servers, content management, load balancing and profiling. Together with its integrator partners, Sun also plans to offer significant discounts on consultancy services, web design and business plan development. The three new 'Ready Centres' announced this week in Menlo Park California, Paris and Tokyo, will form a key part of the programme in offering customers the chance to try out their new systems in a lab environment. ®
Business 12 06:55
Europe obviously not wired enough for Branson's mob
Virgin Net has said that an initiative to hand out free hardware and Net access in the US is unlikely to be repeated in Britain. The ISP's comments follow Monday's announcement that Virgin Entertainment is to distribute 10,000 Internet Appliances to users in the US. In return for the free portable Net access-only products, consumers must agree to have their online habits monitored and be ready to face marketing and advertising plugs from Virgin. Virginconnect is a joint venture between Virgin Entertainment and New York-based Internet Appliance Network (IAN). US Net users interested in signing up to the Virgin/IAN joint venture should go to virginconnectme.com. David Murrow of IAN said the company was currently talking to financial services companies and consumer groups interested in the product, but none in Britain or Europe. Murrow did not rule out the possibility that a similar Net gadget offer could be tailored for the European market. ®
Business 12 09:00
What happened yesterday...
Memory technology firm Rambus has extended its legal case against Hitachi by filing an alleged patent infringement case against the firm in a German court. That action is related to a similar case Rambus is pursuing against Hitachi in the US courts, an action which is being vigorously defended by the Japanese manufacturer there, and which has prompted it to allege breaches of American antitrust laws. The latest case would prevent the use of Hitachi SDRAM and DDR memories in the European market, if judges find in Rambus' favour. Hitachi maintains in its counter filing in the US courts that if they find in Rambus' favour, it will affect other large semiconductor manufacturers who use similar technology to make synchronous and double data rate memories. Meanwhile, figures from large semiconductor firms which we have seen reveal that Rambus' efforts to drastically reduce the price of RIMMs may be foiled by the production cost of the memories. Rambus is currently attempting several strategies to bring down the cost of RIMMs, including using technology from Tessera to reduce the price of the packaging needed to dissipate heat from the chips. However, the production costs of memory are as follows. If PC-100 is taken as the benchmark as 100 per cent, PC-133 is also 100 per cent, DDR memory costs 105 per cent to produce, while Rambus memory costs 160 per cent. PC-133 memory uses the same die as PC-100, with most manufacturers shipping the former marked as the latter. DDR (double data rate memory), will ship in PC desktops during the third quarter of this year. While hearts stopped yesterday as Nasdaq shares nosedived, Rambus prices performed their usual acrobatics. The RMBS price dropped by $17 on the day, to close at $246. Later today, Rambus releases its quarterly figures. For more Rambus daily news, readers might also care to check out Rambus Site and also Dram Review. ® Related Story Hitachi's antitrust case against Rambus
Business 12 09:04
Can you trust your PC?
A trade consortium led by Intel, Microsoft, IBM and a bevy of other big PC names is quietly working behind the scenes to produce a "trusted computing platform alliance" which is set to re-ignite civil liberty concerns about computer privacy. The alliance, which includes 70 or so big names in the industry, and which has a Web site here, wants to develop a spec to deliver "enhanced hardware and OS based trusted computing platform that enhances customers' trusted domains". The Trusted Computing Platform Alliance (TCPA) was formed towards the end of last year to virtually no fanfare, and its members have to sign non-disclosure agreements to learn more about the plans. According to sources close to the organisation, the initial specifications are close to release. The organisation says in one of the documents on its site that, as conventional businesses become e-businesses, trustworthiness of PCs "must continue to improve". But that led one observer, who declined to be named, to say: "Doesn't this sound exactly what the music industry, Hollywood and software-licensing monopolists might like? "Furthermore, where does this leave Open Source software, small PC hardware manufacturers and enthusiasts? Modify your PC in the 'wrong' way, and suddenly the Web is closed to you. OK, so Red Hat could get a certificate for their build of a Linux kernel, but suddenly something as common as recompiling the kernel, or using kernel modules is impossible." Intel faced a barrage of complaints from end users and corporations when it released its Pentium III processor, which has a personal serial number (PSN) and which was initially switched on by default. The subsequent protests led it to change its stance, and while the chips still have the PSN, it is now switched off by default. Other members of the trade organisation include Compaq, HP, AMD, 3Com and Baltimore. ®
Business 12 10:14
Second acquisition in a month
RSL Communications has acquired British ISP and networking outfit Voyager for an undisclosed sum. The acquisition will bolster RSL COM's strategy to become a "major player in integrated communications services" across Europe, the company said. Voyager's customers include The Bank of England, The Economist, Eidos Interactive and Walkers Snack Foods. According to the company, RSL COM is now one of the UK's largest telco providers, with 250,000 million customers and revenues in excess of $300 million. The deal follows hard on the heals of RSL COM's acquisition of b2b ISP Rednet last month. ®
Business 12 10:26
Own solution not up to scaling high enough
A US firm that makes software to manage large business to business portal sites said yesterday that Compaq, and other big industry firms, including Ingram Micro, were forced to use third-party software in order to manage their own e-commerce systems effectively. Barry Bycoff, chairman and CEO of Netegrity, revealed that Compaq bought its business-to-business portal management software SiteMinder last year to cope with demands on its Internet site. Bycoff said that it previously used an internally devised system but needed to scale up to 13 million users, which the existing system could not manage. A similar situation existed at Ingram Micro, which wanted a scalable system to cope with its worldwide chain of 200,000 dealers, he said. Bycoff also claimed that his firm was on the verge of signing further large IT firms facing the same problem of being unable to cope with shared services, logins and personalisation for their intranets and extranets. The company, which trades on Nasdaq (NETE), said it had just signed a deal with a major credit card company to cope with 15 million users, and will scale up to 40 million users. Netegrity already has a clutch of blue chip firms under its wings including Virgin Airlines, AT&T, Merrill Lynch, Arthur Andersen, Qualcomm, Delta and BT, Bycoff said. It has opened European and Asian offices, and Bycoff said it was now talking to ASPs and dotcoms as it moves its business model into the consumer arena too. The firm's software comes in site licence form, with 1000 users costing $16 each. That price falls dramatically for one million users, to 50 cents each. For more that millions of users, the prices again fall dramatically to fractions of cents, Bycoff said. ®
Business 12 10:33
Chancellor eases back in chair, pats sleeping watchdog
Mobile phones heat up most people's heads, but for chancellor Gordon Brown, they heat up his hands as he rubs them with glee. The auction for third-generation mobile phone licences has gone haywire, shovelling billions of pounds of unexpected cash straight into the Treasury's coffers. It's no longer a question of who will win but rather will anyone have enough money left at the end to build a decent infrastructure and service. When the auction system was announced, The Register scoffed at the government's assertion that the setup would select the best companies. Now, with every licence costing more than was originally expected for the whole lot, you have to ask if the auction has done more harm than good to the future roll-out of mobile technology. Government e-minister Patricia Hewitt first announced the auction scheme in November last year, adding an extra licence for good measure, to bring it to five. The heads of Orange and Vodafone were not impressed. The auction was to start on 6 March 2000, and the Treasury reckoned it would get an average of £500 million for each licence - an overall total of £2.5 billion (secretly, though, it thought it would get £3 billion). The auction would end on 24 March, just three days after the Budget. A total of 13 bidders lined up against one another. On the day before the Budget, not one had dropped out and total bids stood at £2.43 billion. Brown made a hasty (and happy) reassessment of the situation and came up with an expected final revenue of £6.5 billion. That the Budget went on to throw huge sums of money at the government's two weak points, the NHS (£4.9 billion) and education (£1 billion) is perhaps a little bit too much of a coincidence. Confused, the newspapers explained the extra spending away through the new journalese of "stealth taxes". But such stealth figures didn't add up. As 24 March drew near, the mobile companies panicked that the DTI would bring the curtain down (thereby cutting them out of the future of UK telecommunications), and the licence bids shot up. At the end of play, all bidders were still in the game and the overall revenue doubled in just three days to £4.5 billion. The DTI decided to keep rolling. Now, almost three weeks on, there are still eight bidders and the cost of even the smallest licence is £3 billion. Vodafone and BT Cellnet are battling over the large licence - Vodafone's latest bid being £4.55bn. The total has surpassed £17bn. So, the questions are: What does the Treasury plan to do with all this money? (Will Vodafone be the saviour of the NHS?) The Treasury will receive half the bids immediately and the rest will be paid at a healthy rate of interest over ten years. A spokesman told The Register that the lump sum will be used solely to pay off debt. So that's no pre-election tax cutting and health spending then. Will the eventual winners be hampered by the fact that they have over-paid It is certainly going to be far harder than expected. Profit forecasts will have to be put back a few years and customer service charges will be higher than they would have been if the bids were lower. Is the eventual loser the consumer, and if so, what does the telecoms watchdog Oftel plan to do about it? Daft question really. An Oftel spokeswoman seemed confused with the concept of foresight. "Nothing specifically" is being done and don't hold your breath that it will (unless, of course, big-buddy BT loses the main licence and gets upset). Should this system be used in future? No. But when it yields ten times the revenue you expected, you know it will be. It remains to be seen whether UK firms retaliate like their US counterparts and refuse to hand over the huge sums once contracts are won. Check out the bidding for yourself at www.spectrumauctions.gov.uk
Business 12 10:48
Do your homework, get good grades, win some shares
Students who do well in their exams this year could be entitled to a rack of shares as part of a initiative to reward their academic efforts - as if working hard and getting good grades so they can get a job, mortgage, house, spouse, kids etc isn't reward enough. Totalise - the British ISP that gives away its shares to its users - reckons its examboost scheme could be just what some students need to help them pass their exams. The number of shares students get depends on how well they do. An 'A' Level student who picks up an A grade will be given 40 shares, while an E is only worth eight. Three straight As at 'A' Level would net some 120 shares - worth around £60 at today's share price. The shares are currently tradeable on OFEX. To register for the shares students need to visit the examboost Web site here. "A lot of work goes into exams and very little is given to students in return; now they will be able to see a direct benefit for the time and energy they have put into their studies," said Peter Gregory, CEO of Totalise. "Especially when you consider that the average student ends up with debts of around £9000 at the end of a standard degree, examboost will help reduce the burden of studying as well. "Now, a student with three As at A Level will have at least £60 to help towards this," he said. Gosh. £60 towards £9000 debt. Wow. That's about as useful as a £3 record token. Unfortunately, examboost is only open to students studying 'A' Levels, GCSEs, HNQs, and CSYS, among others. The scheme is not available to undergraduates. Nor is it available to anyone who has already passed their exams. Which is probably just as well because everyone knows that passing exams is easier today than it was when we were at school. Kids today, don't know they're born. ®
Business 12 10:49
Prices from $800
VA Linux Systems' launch of a desktop Linux box clearly suggests the open source OS is ripe for the SME desktop market, if not mainstream personal computing. The latter is clearly out for now - even pre-installed, as a multi-user operating Linux remains tricky business to manage if you lack a good grounding in the OS, and its GUIs are still not yet mature user interfaces. However, with Linux's share of the server market increasing, businesses may well be looking to buy cheap desktop Linux boxes that can provide their staff with basic Net access tools and hooks into the business' main applications. In such circumstances, you don't need quality personal productivity tools - with their document creation focus - or the kind of font handling systems that Linux lacks. You don't need to pay extra for Windows, either. The StartX - nice touch, that - should also appeal to hobbyists, Web site developers and coders - users who want a solid Linux system but would prefer to avoid setting the OS up and paying the Windows tax. The StartX SP2 comes in at under $800, and offers a choice of 466MHz Celeron or PIII (at 533MHz or 733MHz) CPU, 10GB or 12GB hard drive, 48x CD-ROM, and no screen, 17in or 19 in monitor. VA has bundled a sound card, and graphics acceleration is integrated into the machine's Intel 810E chipset. VA is also offering the Celeron-only StartX SP and the dual PIII StartX MP. ®
Business 12 11:25
And... er... Fujitsu Siemens
The real winners of the Linux revolution are not the 'cottage industry' operations most in tune with the open source operating system's ethos, but the faceless giants of IT. According to a new report from IDC, Compaq sold more Linux servers than anyone else during the last three months of 1999, and the top five was dominated by the usual hardware suspects: IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Fujitsu Siemens. IDC's figures show the Big Q dominating the Linux server market with a share of just under 25 per cent. It sold 18,000 servers in Q4 1999. IBM managed much less than half of that - 7000 units - leaving it with ten per cent of the market. HP sold 5400 machines (7.5 per cent), Dell 5200 servers (7.2 per cent) and Fujitsu Siemens 2300 (3.2 per cent). Still, that leaves the 'others', including such famous Linux names as Penguin Computing and VA Linux Systems, holding 47.1 per cent of the market. With Linux's share of the overall server market growing at a rate of 166 per cent, according to IDC estimates, that means there's still plenty of the cake left for the smaller operators. And money too. In revenue terms, Compaq made $84 million in Linux hardware sales, IBM $33 million, Dell $24 million and HP $23 million. Assuming their revenue shares broadly match their unit market shares, that leaves the total Q4 1999 Linux server market worth some $410 million. And Linux holds just six per cent of the sub-$100,000 server market, worth nearly $7 billion altogether. Phew. ®
Business 12 12:07
Expo 2000 set for 29-30 September, provisionally
Britain will get its own Mac show, the organiser of the event has confirmed. So yah boo sucks to Apple. The possibility of an independent UK Mac exhibition emerged last week on MacWorld UK's Web site. We've heard a couple of similar ideas from individuals irritated with Apple's decision to pull out of the official Apple Expo 2000, a move that ensured the abandonment of the UK show. However, since none of them proved anything more than pipedreams, we decided to take the MacWorld story very carefully. We're still cautious, but optimistically so, now that organiser International Exhibitions and Conferences (IEC) has come out and said the show will take place on 29 and 30 September at London's Islington Business and Design Centre. It's worth pointing out that that's a provisional booking, so don't put it in your Palm yet - a lot can happen between now and September. "The first show will be in September, but we are considering running two – one in the south in London, another in the north, near Manchester. We believe that there is a large Mac presence in the North of England, particularly in the Manchester area. We don't intend running two in the first year, though," Farhad Alaadin, executive director of IEC owner AppleOnline, told MacWorld. AppleOnline is a London-based Mac-oriented free ISP, so it's not exactly the kind of company you'd expect to be organising a major trade show, though Alaadin claimed the company was "taking expert advice on things". Pre-registration, for instance, currently involves leaving your name, address and email address in return for notification "three to four weeks prior to the show" to see whether you get a free ticket or not. "We are not keen to make money for its own sake," claimed Alaadin. "We'll be charging £10 for tickets, but giving away 5000 tickets to the first 5000 who pre-register online." Much will depend on whether Alaadin can call up the big-name Mac genies that will give the show much-needed kudos - the likes of Adobe and Microsoft, and resellers Computers Unlimited and MacWarehouse, among others. We'll see how he does. ®
Business 12 12:41
Is 55 years not long enough for some common sense?
A French anti-racist group is suing Yahoo! over what it calls illegal auctions of Nazi paraphernalia. French law is very strict against anything that incites racial hatred and as such Nazi memorabila cannot be sold. LICRA, the League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism, says that because a person situated in France can buy the gear through the US website, Yahoo! is breaking the law. The items are not available on Yahoo!'s French site. No matter which way you look at this, it is clearly barmy and yet another example of politically correct gibberish. First of all, The Register would like to solve the legal problem for both parties - simply state that no Nazi-related items will be shipped to France. Now, how can Yahoo! be to blame if it is based in the US? The person at fault is the would-be French buyer. Also, since this case is even being considered, it is a poor reflection on French people since the law implies that even looking at Nazi artifacts is enough to cause racial violence. We had a look at the items available for sale on the US site (1141 "Nazi" items were returned) and could find none that were anything more than simple war artifacts - pictures of soldiers, uniforms, medals etc. For all intents and purposes, it appears that the appearance of the swastika on any item from duffel bag to knife is deemed to be sufficiently emotive to cause racial hatred. Is it really possible that 55 years after the collapse of the Nazi Party, we are still incapable of separating history and historical events from emotional paranoia? A clear case was made yesterday at the High Court in London, when David Irving lost his libel case against another historian who had accused him of distorting facts to prove that the Holocaust was far smaller than is accepted and that no gas chambers existed in Auschwitz. The judge said that Irving was "an active Holocaust denier; that he is anti-Semitic and racist and that he associates with right-wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism". He faces a £2 million legal bill. Irving was rightly condemned and ruined due to his conscious distortion of an important historical event and that is what the legal system ought to be used for: given unlimited access to all the facts, the law can then concern itself with distortion, not prohibition. ®
Business 12 13:22
Preps development tools, too
Fujitsu has begun sampling its picoJava-based MB86799 processor and unveiled both a real-time OS and development environment for the chip. The MB86799 is based on Sun's open source (sort of) picoJava 2 CPU, designed to run Java code directly. Sun's 'public source' licence says anyone can use the core - they only pay a licensing royalty if the final product is sold commercially. Fujitsu's version runs at 40MHz and 66MHz, eating up 90mW at 1.7V and 260mW at 2.5V, respectively. The company is pushing the chip at the PDA and cellphone markets. The chip will ship in volume by the end of the year, said Fujitsu. In the meantime, it will be made available as part of the company's J-StarterKit package, due to ship on 1 June. The kit provides chip, ancillary chips, memory, 3 PCI slots, 10/100 Ethernet and other standard PC interface ports. It also contains Fujitsu's J-RealOS/PJ real-time OS (JTRON) and middleware (Java run-time environment, graphics library, device drivers) combo. The company said the kit will cost Y384,000 ($3603). ®
Business 12 13:45
Not sure it's WAP what'll win it, though
By the end of 2002, more of us will be accessing the Net through a wireless connection than using a land-line, according to IDC. The reason: WAP. By the middle of next year, every cellphone that ships will support the wireless application protocol. And, according to IDC, the sheer volume of Net traffic coming from these devices will slew Internet access in favour of wireless communications. To back up the claim, the company cites the following statistic: while 40 million US households regularly surf the Net, there are as many US pager subscribers again out there, and 75 million cellphone and wireless PDA users too. This may be the case, but having access to the Net doesn't mean you're will use it. Anecdotal evidence suggests that while most cellphone users' next (or next-but-one, if Nokia, Ericsson et al, still can't get the things shipping in volume, or indeed working) handset may indeed support WAP, the overwhelming majority of users will continue to use the devices to make voice calls - or send SMS messages, if they're sufficiently young and trendy. We also note the fact that few cellphone vendors support upgrades to the WAP browsers within their phones - that's not to say upgrades can't be made, simply that Nokia and Motorola, to name but two, won't put in place mechanisms to allow them to be upgraded. So there's a very real possibility that advances in WAP will not be followed by the phones. We agree with IDC that wireless is indeed likely to be a major medium for Net access, but until WAP finds its killer app, we reckon the real winners in the immediate future will be the likes of Palm and RMI, the Canadian developer of the Blackberry email-by-pager device and now a Palm VII-style device - producers of kit with screens that you can actually read. ® Related Stories Mobile monsters make m-commerce world domination bid Wap throws up latest bunch of gazillionaires Don't believe the m-commerce hype Text me, Cindy (my Bluetooth baby) The future is bright, the future is wireless
Business 12 14:25
And how cloaks and daggers expose merchant bankers
A 20-year-old Brit who hacked into the Web sites of two merchant banks last week can never be prosecuted. Chris McNab, who says he has "one foot in the underground and one foot in the corporate world", claims to have one of the best jobs in the IT industry. He is an ethical hacker for Kent-based MIS Corporate Defence Solutions. McNab, whose goes by the official title of network security analyst at MIS, gets to break into top banking and multinational Web sites for a living. "Last week I broke into two merchant banks. This job's fantastic," he grins. For £850 per day, MIS tests companies' sites to see how much damage a hacker could wreak - tests normally take three to four days. MIS then tries to sell them firewalls or Web security systems. "I'm there to emulate hackers on the Internet… I need to be aware of all the techniques hackers use and have to identify all the ways into sites," says McNab. He claims he can gain access to most sites in less than half an hour. The professional penetrator, who left school at 17 with ten GCSEs, worked in systems administration before landing the job at MIS in January. When not cracking commerce's high-security codes, McNab spends his time brushing up on the latest hacking techniques. He spends hours in online chat-rooms watching for hints, or logs onto Web sites such as hackers' bibles Hackers.com and Packetstorm.securify.com. "It's quite cloak and dagger stuff," he admits. ® Related stories New Web site security scanner will read your HDD Hackers can make your PC explode Watch out! There's a cyberterrorist about!
Business 12 14:48
Will only ship PCI versions
3dfx today reiterated its support for the Mac by finally announcing how it intends to bring its VSA-100 chip to the platform. The Wintel Voodoo 4 and 5 line-up was unwrapped last November at Comdex, and while the company committed itself to a Mac product line not long after that, it's taken 3dfx the intervening four months to figure out what it will offer exactly. And owners of the Power Mac G4 - at least the higher-end AGP-based models aren't going to be too pleased. This summer - at CeBIT the company said 'spring' - 3dfx will ship two Mac cards: the Voodoo 4 4500 and the Voodoo 5 5500, both in PCI versions. Both cards will support the Mac's own colour formats and APIs, including QuickDraw 3D RAVE, OpenGL and 3dfx's Glide. The cards will also accelerate 2D QuickDraw operations and provide enhanced QuickTime movie playback. Both boards are based on the VSA-100 chip, but the 5500 contains two to provide full support for 3dfx's T-buffer technology, which generates motion blur, depth of field, soft shadow and soft reflection effects by rendering each scene four times and combining the results. The single-chip 4500 can, theoretically support these features too, but not using 3dfx's drivers. Both cards will provide full-screen anti-aliasing which, frankly, will have the biggest effect on in-game picture quality. And anti-aliasing works with all titles - the other features require games to be written with them in mind. The 5500 ships with 64MB of video memory, the 4500 with 32MB. Both support resolutions of up to 2048x1536 in 32-bit colour. The 5500 has a fill-rate of 667 million texels (texture elements) per second, the 4500 runs at 333Mtps. US pricing is set at $329.99 (5500) and $200 (4500). But why no AGP support? Clearly 3dfx reckons the market isn't yet big enough to make it worthwhile. Even in the Wintel world, it's best-selling cards are PCI-based, not AGP. Of course, AGP-based Macs ship with ATI Rage 128 Pro AGP cards, but if you're willing to rip out your PCI Rage 128, why not the AGP version? That said, the company did imply it will support MacOS X, which is itself set to ship not long after the Voodoo 4 and 5 release. Whether that will be out-of-the-box support or the drivers will come later remains to be seen. ® Related Stories 3dfx pledges native Mac support in Voodoo 4, 5 3dfx launches Voodoo 4 and 5 3dfx licenses Intel's Real3D patents 3dfx to grab Gigapixel for $186m 3dfx fires 20 per cent of workforce
Business 12 15:03
You won't believe your own mind
This is the site to visit if you're a Londoner*. If you weren't sick enough of the Mayoral elections already, you will now have to rethink your choice if you answer the questions at fantasymayor.com. Set up by New Statesman - a venerable left-wing political magazine - fantasymayor.com asks you first which candidate you intend to vote for. You are then led through 15 policy issues such as healthcare, transport, finance etc. At each one, click the extent to which you agree or disagree with the policy. At the end of the quiz, the amount to which you agree with each candidate is presented as a percentage. Then, on the final screen, you are given a percentage bar chart of all respondents so far, showing initial and computer-selected candidates. Everyone here at The Register has tried it and we were amazed. Not one person ended up with their initial choice and overall top of the selected list came Darren Johnson (Green Party) followed by Ram Gidoomal (Christian People's Alliance!). Hmmm. Something smelt fishy - was this a cunning attempt to discredit Ken Livingstone (Initial: highest (56%); Final: lowest (7.7%))? Does Darren Johnson have previously unsuspected hacking skills? Have the wrong figures been put in for the wrong candidates? No, no and no, according to site creator Stefan Haselwimmer. He assures everyone that this is completely non-rigged, non-political and no more than an "intellectual exercise". He also explained that the candidates views were graded according to research into their stated views and were sent to each candidiate for checking (only Susan Kramer responded). Haselwimmer refused to release the inputted readings for each candidate, fearing that The Reg would tell everyone (we'd never do that ;-) )and thereby compromise the quiz. We're still not convinced it's accurate (it certainly won't reflect the actual voting on 4 May), but we welcome any attempt to make people question their beliefs and give their brain a workout. Check it out. * For those outside The Big Smoke, we have been bombarded with endless fighting and poll-rigging in the contest for a new London Mayor. There hasn't been an authority concerned solely with London since the demise of the GLC (Greater London Council) in 1986. The then head, Ken Livingstone, is also the independent front-runner in this election (having left the Labour Party when the party's internal elections were rigged to let the Santa-like lapdog Frank Dobson through). The Conservative party candidate was re-selected when its first choice, Jeffrey Archer, resigned after it came out he had asked others to lie for him in a court case several years before. Many other candidates have stood temporarily to get publicity or make political points, but the contest has been cut down to the main political parties. ®
Business 12 15:05
Do you think maybe they ought to mention it to the customers?
IBM's enthusiasm for Windows 2000 has cooled somewhat, according to an company internal memo obtained by US publication Smart Reseller. According to the memo, which is said to have been sent to all employees, "IBM employees are not permitted to directly or indirectly connect Windows 2000 to the IBM production network infrastructure". With recent announcements in mind, this ought to be more than a little embarrassing. IBM was announced as a "Microsoft Windows 2000 Global Launch Partner" back in January, at which point Microsoft VP marketing Deborah Willingham said: "THrough the development efforts at the IBM Center for Microsoft Technologies, its work with beta customers of Windows 2000, and its own early adoption of Windows 2000 IBM has developed hardware technologies, service and deployment experience that will be critical to the success of customer deployments." Ahem. Back in October IBM VP Dick Sullivan was telling us IBM was early-adopting Win2k as its standard desktop OS, and would be rolling it out to 300,000 seats. In December Microsoft and IBM announced a series of joint Win2k readiness initiatives, designed to "help the companies' mutual customers make a smooth transition to the new operating system." But now, says Smart Reseller, IBM is telling its staff that Win2k contains components that may "interfere with IP network services (DHCP function)" and that this could impact on the availability of IBM's worldwide network. It's not clear where this leaves the 300,000 seat rollout, but it's going to make things a little bit tricky for all those IBM employees who're helping customers migrate to Win2k. According to the memo IBM employees who need to develop or demo Win2k are allowed to do so "only in a development or demonstration environment." So presumably that means they can show customers what to do and then, er, not do it. ®
Business 12 15:19
"We don't know what we don't know"
Yahoo! co-founder Jerry Yang came out firmly, but affably, against government regulation of the Internet in a speech he delivered during a National Press Club luncheon in Washington this week. "We advocate a very strong, hands-off policy towards the Internet by the government," he said, and then gave a simple, rational argument in favour of his position. "We don't know what we don't know....so we don't want to go down any one-way roads that we can't back out of," he said. With this he received a warm response from the Washington press corps, a jaded tribe who toil, with little appreciation, deep in the galleys of a vast political machine which delights in nothing so much as regulating the behaviour, and the pleasures, of citizens. So it was with some refreshment that we listened to a calm voice in a town where carnival stunts, grotesque overstatements and hysterical warnings are generally understood as the minimal prerequisites to making one's views known to one's beloved political representatives. "The Internet is not getting any simpler; it's getting more complicated," he warned. "Policy questions are getting more complicated and more legal than ever. Now you have economic issues, technical issues, trade issues, all bundled up in any of the discussions." The subtext, of course, is that government regulators and political actors, known more for their bureaucratic acumen and rhetorical genius than their deep grasp of the issues upon which they pass judgment, are in over their depth. "Existing laws have done a tremendous job in making sure that the existing world works. Many of the things that we do on the Internet are extensions of what we do in the real world, and we really ought to look at existing laws....rather than invent new ones," Yang said. Certainly on-line privacy is an area where Washington is eager to intervene. The man in the street is uneasy with market-driven solutions, as the recent DoubleClick fiasco demonstrates; and such widespread public disillusionment won't be lost on any politician interested in re-election. Yet privacy can be a competitive tool in a market-driven world, making it possible for the better class of Web site to differentiate itself, Yang believes. Fundamental to maintaining long-term consumer loyalty is "our users' trust in our ability to protect their privacy," he says. And he makes a decent case. "One of the dangers of regulating [privacy] is that you would fix what privacy is at this moment in time, where I honestly believe that all the behavioural aspects of what we do on the Internet are far from being fixed, and any [premature] regulation would endanger the growth of the Internet," he said. And that's fine as far as the more enlightened Web operators are concerned, but it doesn't address the millions of users potentially abused by the plethora of rapacious on-line hucksters for whom a quick score is the chief business motive. While we're charmed by privacy-conscious dot-coms like Yahoo! and AOL, and admire their enlightened response to market forces which they believe guide them inevitably towards privacy protection, we see US government regulation, at least in the realm of consumer privacy, as inevitable, because those same market forces accommodate the bottom-feeders every bit as well as they do the more idealistic operators. ® Related Coverage Yahoo! named in FTC privacy investigation DoubleClick stands tall for on-line privacy rights Wall Street clobbers DoubleClick on news of FTC interest DoubleClick throws in the towel on profiling
Business 12 15:21
Forget SETI, why not the public genome project?
People's processors on their machines at work and at home are being wasted finding out whether there is intelligent life off-planet, while on this planet, the public genome project does not have as many clock cycles as a US corporation. (Well, we suppose that some people believe the Roswell story that all CPUs were discovered when some alien dead bodies turned up close to Albuquerque -- we know quite a lot of people seem to be.) SETI, which stands for the search for extraterrestrial life, has successfully persuaded a large number of people to participate by contributing spare CPU time in order to make an attempt to interpret a massive amount of radio noise emanating from the universe. Celera, which uses Alpha Wildfire technology, is on the verge of finally cracking the human genome, it announced at the end of last week. A joint project sponsored by the UK and US government is lagging behind Celera's efforts. But CPUs all over the planet could be used by the UK and US government to accelerate the public genome effort. It is a massive number crunching job and all it needs is for the boffins who designed the SETI project to contribute their programming skills and use spare microprocessor time. One reader commented: "A public distributed CPU system wouldn't really work as well as the SETI system because, although the SETI data packets can be processed independently, genomics relies on having access to larger datasets to search against, which means lots of downloading. "Only really appropriate for machines on a permanent Internet connection and spare bandwidth. Still a nice idea though." Another reader commented: "I don't think it's a question of whether or not the public would get involved, it has more to do with industry and government opening up to new ideas. BTW, what's more of a waste, SETI@Home or idle CPU cycles?" That one, even we cannot answer. But we also thought that maybe it's a great idea to start using idle CPU cycles to start churning through ancient databases, so people can find out about their family roots...® RegiStroid .18µ The National Security Agency (NSA) has 1500 acres of computing space and even its own .13µ semiconductor fabrication fab, according to extraordinarily reliable sources. Now we'd just love some of those idle CPU cycles... See also Alpha chip powers Celera genome burst Readers solve Pentium III laws of physics dilemma
Business 12 15:22
When will they ever learn
A former Lord Mayor of Portsmouth has held up his hands to looking at dirty pictures on the Internet. Not only did Mark Hancock admit to peeking at dirty pics, he also used a Portsmouth City Council PC to do it. According to a report in the The News, police said that none of the sites Hancock visited were illegal, but they did include hardcore and bondage images. Instead, the scandal has rocked Portsmouth City Council forcing the former Labour Lord Mayor to hang up his robes. Hancock has apologised for doing nothing wrong and resigned as chairman of the city's economic development committee in April last year. News of Hancock's stroke with online porn was revealed yesterday. ® Related Stories The News: PC PORN SHAME OF EX-LORD MAYOR
Business 12 15:36
We blame whoever's in charge of this shambles. Hi, Mich...
In the latest of Microsoft's epic series of antitrust own-goals, Ralph Reed, a lobbyist who is supposed to be helping both Microsoft and Republican presidential candidate Governor Bush, has apologised to Bush for lobbying on behalf of Microsoft. He also promised not to lobby Bush on behalf of anyone else. A Bush campaign official claimed that the candidate had not known that Reed was lobbying for Microsoft, despite his having been retained since 1998. A spokesman said that only one letter had been received by the campaign that might be a result of Reed's work. Reed's outfit, Century Strategies, said that he had never personally lobbied Bush, or asked him to take a position on the Microsoft case. Mark Murray for Microsoft tried to put a gloss on a decidedly unglossy situation by saying that Microsoft would continue to work with Century Strategies and other organisations to "respond to attacks by competitors and to ensure that our viewpoint is heard". However, it seems that at the moment Microsoft's competitors are lying low, leaving it to Microsoft's friends and retainers to make the wrong message heard. ®: Related stories: MS hires spin doctor to lobby Bush
Business 12 16:45
Influential Congressman shoots mouth off
A recent report renews claims that the US National Security Agency (NSA) secured the co-operation of IBM and Microsoft in gaining access to encrypted data, and documentation seen by The Register gives a fuller picture of how this may have taken place. In this congressman Curt Weldon makes the astonishing claim that the US military was able to see Saddam Hussein's orders before his commanders did. According to Cryptography & Liberty 2000, published last week by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC): "On September 28, 1999, Congressman Curt Weldon disclosed that high level deal-making on access to encrypted data had taken place between the NSA and IBM and Microsoft." The Register has seen an unofficial transcript of a luncheon meeting on Capitol Hill of the Internet Caucus Panel Discussion about the new encryption policy that provides some elaboration. Weldon is a senior member of the National Security Committee and chairman of the Military Research and Development Subcommittee. This has oversight of a $37 billion budget for all military R&D [much of it for the Pentagon's computer systems], and arranged a series of classified hearings and briefings from the NSA and CIA. At the meeting Weldon bragged that: "In Desert Storm... my understanding is that our commanders in the field had Saddam Hussein's commands before his own command officers had them, because of our ability to intercept and break the codes of Saddam's military. I want to make sure we have that capacity in the future. I responded in a very positive way to the argument that was being made by the CIA, the NSA and the DOD - and we took some every tough positions." Although Desert Storm took place long before NT was available, these remarks give further weight to arguments that the NSA is determined to have back doors. Weldon said that the deputy secretary of defense John Hamre had briefed him that "in discussions with people like Bill Gates and Gerstner from IBM that there would be... an unstated ability to get access to systems if we needed it. ... if there is some kind of tacit understanding, I would like to know what it is." Weldon's concern was that there was a need to document this policy for future administrations, and he said he wondered why access to systems couldn't be worked out formally with industry. "In fact, I called Gerstner and I said, .Can't you IBM people and... software people get together and find the middle ground, instead of us having to do legislation.'" Weldon continued: "I have advocated that we give significant new tax breaks to the encryption and software industry in this country to give them more incentive to stay in America and do their work here. ... I want to be absolutely certain that in terms of our ability to deal with intelligence overseas, to be able to have information dominance overseas, to be able to use the kinds of tools that the CIA and Defense Department needs in adversarial relationships that we are in fact providing..." Depending on their bravado to fact ratio, Weldon's remarks could give further legs to the allegation made last August by Andrew Fernandes of Cryptonym. These are detailed in the USA section of the EPIC report's country-by country review. Fernandes suggested that Microsoft might have included a key for the US National Security Agency in order to get approval for the export of NT. His clue is in service pack 5 for NT4, where it at least looks as though Microsoft forgot to remove information that identified the security components. The CryptoAPI in NT has a second backup key, and it has been suggested that this is in the possession of the NSA. Microsoft vigorously denies this, claims that it holds both keys, and says that the second key was a back-up for disaster-recovery purposes. This latter explanation would be consistent in view of Microsoft's record of opposing key escrow, but there are some additional nagging concerns. One enigma is the name of the back-up key - _NSAKEY. Microsoft says that "this is simply an unfortunate name" and that "the keys in question are the ones that allow us to ensure compliance with the NSA's technical review" and so became known at Microsoft as "the NSA keys". Fernandes makes several observations, including the suggestion that root keys should be symmetrically encrypted and cryptographically split to guard against loss - as happens in tamper-resistant hardware. Fernandes also noted that Microsoft has previously written poor software with the same weakness - in the Authenticode framework, for example. Fernandes also pointed out that there is a flaw in the way the crypto_verify function is implemented, because the NSA key can be eliminated or replaced easily. He produced a demonstration program to do this, which if used would remove the possibility of the NSA having export control. Replacing this NSA key would be commercially illegal, but if it is indeed a key owned by the NSA, the legality outside the USA of what is being done is an open question. There is a further possibility: it may be that the NSA did not in fact need a key as it had its own module between Windows and the encryption, which could of course specifically intercept just secure traffic. Microsoft cast further doubt on its explanation when it told the Washington Post that the _NSAKEY was "only a notation that conforms to technical standards set by the NSA". The snag with this explanation is that the NSA has no technical standards for publicly available cryptography, leaving Microsoft's claim looking very shaky. It is known that in 1996, IBM agreed with the NSA that in return for allowing Lotus Notes to be exported with 64-bit encryption, the NSA would get to have 24 of the bits, and so would only have to crack 40 bits, which was within the NSA's capability at that time. ® Related stories: Microsoft collaborating with US spymasters
Business 12 16:56
US 'lucky no major crises cropped up'
The US government's spy satellite network suffered a prolonged computer breakdown last year which rendered it useless, the New York Times reports. The computer stuff-up at the National Imagery and Mapping Agency began in early August and continued for about a month, and was far more serious than the brief Y2K-related problems reported earlier, the paper said. It came as the mapping agency was installing a new system. US intelligence agencies went blind for several days, as the Mapping Agency was unable to disseminate the spy-satellite data needed for numerous intelligence operations. "This was a catastrophic systems failure," the Times quoted one senior official as saying. "We were really lucky that there weren't any major crises going on at the time." After months of work, many of the bugs have been worked out, though some officials complain that the system is still not working quite as it should. American taxpayers will no doubt be interested to learn that repeated cost overruns at the Mapping Agency have already prompted Congress to cap its bloated, but classified, budget. This move seems not to have engendered much in the way of efficiency; perhaps a bit more 'tough love' is in order. During the blackout, US spy satellites continued taking photographs, but the Mapping Agency was unable to distribute the data over its classified network, and had to rely on stopgap measures such as describing photographs over the telephone or sending couriers to deliver them. Mapping Agency databases containing archived photographs also failed, making it impossible for analysts to compare new pictures with old, and thus making it difficult for them to judge the growth of military and other threats. "If we had had multiple hot spots flare up all at once, I don't think we could have handled it," one senior intelligence official told the Times. "We were not quite blind, but we were way short for at least a few days." National Imagery and Mapping Agency acting Chief of Public Affairs Laura Snow told the Times that the Agency could not comment on the malfunction. "We can't go into details of the system because of security issues," Snow said. Convenient, isn't it? Being a secret agency means never having to say you're incompetent. ®
Business 12 17:12
Prudes 2, Pervs 0
A New York State appellate court ruled unanimously yesterday that the state's Internet porn law passes constitutional muster because it addresses luring a child into sex or sexual performances. The appellate hearing sprang from one of the first Internet pedo stings, in which one Thomas Foley attempted to seduce someone he thought was a 15-year-old girl, but who was in reality a New York State Police officer. Foley's lawyers argued that the New York porn law is a restriction on the content of speech which violates the First Amendment to the US Constitution. The court was not sympathetic. "An invitation or enticement is distinguishable from pure speech," Judge Richard Wesley wrote. What a load of bollocks. All speech is distinguishable from 'pure speech'. All speech is rhetorical by nature. Or is the Trivium of communicative arts no longer composed of grammar, logic and rhetoric? Come to think of it, in America it might be composed solely of fluff.... And does this mean that the rhetoric of erotic speech clearly intended to entice a child to engage in sex with an adult should be seen as essentially different from the rhetoric of a rational argument clearly in favour of pederasty? We think not, though we imagine the judge would think so. He has to construct an arbitrary boundary between the two in order to avoid having to prosecute the publishers of Plato's Symposium on grounds that it might persuade children to embrace sexual relationships with adults. Which, if you read it closely, it just might do.... If we look rigorously at this portion of the court's finding, and reject any artificial distinctions between the rhetoric of eroticism and the rhetoric of argumentation, then we find the judges sliding down a very slippery slope towards censorship of all speech persuasive of deviation from Bourgeois Christian values. Which would be fine if the United States wishes to limit itself to being a bastion of Protestant right-thinking and Bourgeois high-mindedness (and Heaven knows there are enough Americans in favour of that). The problem, however, is the Bill of Rights, which declines to distinguish speech along any such lines. The Court also said the law specifically targets communicative acts rather than content by outlawing "the intentional dissemination of this type of material to a minor in conjunction with the sender's enticement or invitation to the child to engage in sexual activity." This is another arbitrary distinction, here between (presumably 'pure') communication, and communicative acts, which would mean that writing, publishing, reading or possessing the Symposium would not be illegal; but if an adult should give the book to a child in hopes that they might take from it a more liberal view of inter-generational sex, that would be a crime. This seems pretty shaky too. So the two key issues for the New York appellate court are, first, a difference between 'pure speech' on the one hand and what we can only call 'rhetorical speech', or speech intended to affect the inclinations of whoever reads or hears it, on the other - a distinction which we believe is purely imaginary since all speech has that property in varying degrees; and, second, a difference between communication and a 'communicative act', which apparently means that if you say something naughty for no reason it's all right, but if you say it for a naughty reason it's very bad. It's the sort of hair splitting that lawyers and judges live for, but in the realm of common sense it leaves a great deal to be desired. Nevertheless, the judge predicted that the New York law should be narrow enough not to share the fate of the federal Communications Decency Act, which was struck down in part by the US Supreme Court in 1997. We were unable to determine by press time whether or not the Foley team intends to bring the case before the US Supreme Court. But we can say that we're not as confident as Judge Wesley that the Rehnquist Court, which has repeatedly demonstrated a fundamentalist bias in matters touching on the First Amendment, will see things his way if the case should go forward. ®
Business 12 20:27
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