14th > December > 2000 Archive

AT&T porn channel challenged by religious investors

The US Supreme Court may have relaxed regulations restricting porn on cable TV this year, but that can't prevent dissatisfied shareholders from leveraging the Almighty Greenback against purveyors of filth in a free market. Eight US investment bodies with religious ties have this week filed a resolution ordering telecomms Behemoth AT&T to issue a report "reviewing policies for [its] involvement in the pornography industry and [assessing] the potential financial, legal, and public relations liabilities" by next May. At issue is Ma Cable's partnership with Hot Network, which distributes porn to cable TV franchises. The protestors, who control a whopping 1.6 million shares of AT&T, are led by Mennonite Mutual Aid, which controls MMA Praxis Mutual Funds. "AT&T has recently expanded the availability and level of graphic, sexually-explicit content on its digital cable system through an agreement with Hot Network. The Company's involvement in the mainstreaming of pornography is a source of serious concern for shareholders on both social and financial grounds," the resolution says. "The very nature of pornography demands a constant escalation of explicit content to maintain stimulation, as the addition of the Hot Network demonstrates; thus the current pornographic offerings can be presumed to be the first of even more graphic offerings to follow" (like pay-per-view executions?). The filing demands an assessment of "the potential financial liabilities posed by possible violations of local obscenity laws and lawsuits from individuals and communities" and "potential legal issues related to the Company's connection to the pornography industry, including obscenity law violations, distributing pornography to minors, and possible collusion with organized crime in the sex industry." The resolution has backing from Mennonite Mutual Aid Praxis Mutual Funds; the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits of the United Methodist Church; Christian Brothers Investment Services; the Sisters of Saint Joseph; the Benedictine Sisters; the Church of the Brethren Benefit Trust; Catholic Health East; and the Reformed Church in America Congregational Services -- all of whom, collectively, own a big enough chunk of Ma Cable to be taken quite seriously by the board. While we personally remain solidly fundamentalist regarding free speech, we can't help admiring the tactic. Nothing could be more fair. You want your cable porn? Fine; quit whingeing - organise your own pro-smut investment company and buy the damn stock. ® Related Story AT&T peddles porn
Thomas C Greene, 14 Dec 2000

EMI digital music licensee list grows

Musicbank has become the latest company to license EMI's digital music archive in return for cash and warrants to buy an equity stake in the online business. San Francisco-based Musicbank will join the likes of Liquid Audio, Supertracks, the Tornado Group, On Demand Distribution and Digital Distribution Domain (Dx3), all of whom EMI has granted the right to resell digital copies of its back-catalogue, all on similar terms. Some EMI partners sell directly to listeners, other to e-tailers who will themselves target consumers. EMI, one of the world's big five music labels, is replicating its old economy distribution model in the online arena. Musicbank's service is essentially an alternative to MP3.com's My.MP3.com, which provides users with a way to listen to their CD collection no matter where they happen to be. Musicbank has clearly learned from its rival's legal travails - it sought permission from all the major labels before launching its service. EMI is the latest to license its content - the online operational already has deals with Sony, BMG, Universal and Warner. Like My.MP3.com, Musicbank's service will operate two strands: a free version that limits the number of discs a user can hold in their online collection, and an unlimited, subscription-based alternative. The subscription fee is set to come in under $5, the company said - so expect it to be $4.95. Musicbank will pay EMI a fee every time a disc is registered and again when the CD is accessed, so it's going to have to keep a tight limit on the free service - or hope for plenty of advertising revenue. It probably has similar arrangements with the other labels. Registrations may come thick and fast. The company has struck a deal with Virgin Megastores to auto-register customers' CD purchases. It said it hopes similar deals with other music stores will follow. ® Related Stories EMI picks partners for Euro digital music trial My.MP3.com back up and running US music industry sues MP3.com over 'virtual CD player'
Tony Smith, 14 Dec 2000

Palm creator ‘calls’ Symbian boss in OS' defence

PalmSourcePalmSource The creator of the Palm and co-founder of Handspring, Jeff Hawkins, defended the platform's technical deficiencies a knockabout session at PalmSource yesterday. Hawkins said problems with multitasking, memory management, processing power and communications attributed to PalmOS were exaggerated. He demonstrated a three-way conference call driven by a Visor, and also played an MP3 file concurrently with a video clip encoded in ActiveSky's SKY format. "Every time one of our partners asks us one of these questions, we find out they've just come from a call from Symbian," said Hawkins, who then showed slides of critical remarks about PalmOS made by Microsoft CE manager Phil Holden, Symbian CEO Colly Myers and a Giga Analyst who'd said he'd told Palm: "We've seen the future - and you're not in it." "Hey. I've got Colly's number. Why don't we ring him now?" said Hawkins. There followed spoof phone call to the Symbian boss, via a Visor, to a number in nearby Redwood City, Ca. The voice that answered was more Mike Myers than Colly Myers, however, with a newly acquired American accent. And since the real Symbian boss was several thousand miles away at the time, everybody soon twigged that it was bogus. Almost everyone, that is... "That was live by the way," Hawkins said, "we did all that using the Visor." Just out of curiosity, when we later tried dialing the number that Hawkins had used to reach "Myers", we got a message from PacBell saying they couldn't complete the call... But on with the show. "It's true, we are 16-bit," he admitted. "But what's the problem?" The problem might be that since early 1980s, communications protocols have been 32-bit, which you'd be forgiven for thinking gives a 32-bit OS the tiniest, weeniest of advantages. As Register correspondents rightly point out, Motorola's 68000-based Dragonball is 32-bit, but PalmOS isn't. Java too is 32-bit. So Hawkins is half-right here: a 16-bit is a fine choice for a personal organiser, when you want it to talk to the rest of the world, it isn't exactly optimal. In fact Hawkins' turn - which he performed with great style - was designed to entertain and inspire the audience of faithful Palm developers, rather than provide a rational defence of the PalmOS against its technical critics. Rather the opposite. "These are not technology products. Our competitors don't understand that message; it's all about user experience," he said. It's a very valid point, and Microsoft and Symbian take heed. However, Hawkins didn't really give any answers to the questions that he'd so bravely posed, or give indications as to when Palm might fix them. There were excuses aplenty, however. Many of the limitations he said were due to the hardware specifications of the original Pilot. As Hawkins had established the PDA as a popular device in the US - after Apple's Newton had strayed so far from its original goal, and failed to live up to its launch hype - he's earned some slack. The multitasking answer was typical. "It's based on a multitasking kernel - there's multitasking in there - but we had to make some choice there. So the multitasking is minimal." So minimal, it would appear, that it has escaped the notice of experienced Palm developers. At the technical session that introduced alerts and notifications in PalmOS 4.0, the first question from the floor was, "Does that mean we get multitasking now?" He admitted that PalmOS' 64KB limit for application memory chunks was also a problem. "That's down to legacy synchronization code." And the fix? Err... As for communications, Hawkins said "we've got a nice TCP/IP stack in there - may be it's not terribly well documented". He insisted that the OS limitation of only allowing four open TCP/IP sockets at a time was not a limitation. So in time-honoured Register style, we'll leave the problem of how to juggle adjacent Bluetooth Piconets with an always-on packet data service as an exercise for the reader. However the more forward looking developers accepted that technological change is inevitable, and wanted the tools to deal with it. Hawkins had allowed ten minutes for questions from the floor. The second questioner asked "I've got a Prism, and it's twice as fast. There are lots of technical advantages for developers for having a more powerful [system], aren't there?" Hawkins said something about the user experience again, and left the room with eight minutes of the promised ten still on the clock. ®
Andrew Orlowski, 14 Dec 2000

MEP slams Net purchase tax

A European politician wants purchase tax to be scrapped on all goods delivered over the Net. Speaking last night, Liberal Democrat MEP Diana Wallis called for the European Parliament to back her bid to encourage e-commerce. The European Commission has published proposals to impose VAT (Value Added Tax) on goods delivered digitally - items such as software and music - from non-EU companies. The EC wants to try to close the competitive gap that has arisen between EU and non-EU businesses. But the European Liberal Democrats want the tax scrapped instead. "A tax on e-commerce does not encourage growth of trade over the Internet," said Wallis. "There is a competition gap between EU firms and US companies, but rather than levy a tax on businesses importing to Europe, why not scrap the EU tax altogether?" she said. In her speech to the European Parliament last night, Ms Wallis said the Commission's proposals were too complex and would be difficult to implement and enforce. "I was always told that one of the first rules or principles as a legislator is do not make law that you cannot enforce," he said. "This proposal might on the face of it be about the taxation of non-EU business, but what it is actually about is how we encourage and nurture Europe's e-economy. It is a very fragile flower," she said. Wallis is the Liberal Democrat's spokeswoman on the Internet. She recently won assurances that the EC was to investigate whether Britain's email snooping law - RIP - breached European law. ® Related Stories Europe to investigate legality of RIP Politicians line up against Euro email snooping laws
Tim Richardson, 14 Dec 2000

RM shuns £300m Northern Ireland contract

RM, the UK's biggest IT supplier for schools, has walked away from a ten-year £300 million contract to supply all the IT for Northern Ireland schools. RM, with JV partner ICL, was the only company negotiating for the deal, which would have been Britain's biggest ever education contract, but said it could not accept onerous penalty clauses demanded by Northern Ireland. RM finance director Mike Greig told the Daily Telegraph: "They wanted to say that if one or two computer applications were not available when required in one or two schools, then that would have led to penalties equivalent to a tenth of the whole contract value." He added: "Since September we've known that this risk of failure. It's a relief to be able to deploy our people onto other opportunities." ®
Drew Cullen, 14 Dec 2000

Hard cases for hardcases: Palm debuts Bluetooth kits

PalmSourcePalmSource With only five 16-bit fishes, and two not-quite-multitasking loaves of bread, Palm fed its multitude of developers some Bluetooth technology yesterday. At the PalmSource Developer Conference in Santa Clara, Palm became the first OS vendor to distribute Bluetooth developer kits to a wide community base. Making a grab for a leadership in the Bluetooth business is quite an achievement for Palm, and the company announced it with typical chutzpah. Developers left the key Bluetooth technical session enthused with a challenge from Palm's Bluetooth technical lead to "go create some apps by Friday". The session was actually pretty downbeat. Palm said it had missed its target of getting Bluetooth into Palm OS 4.0, and that support was still very rudimentary. "It's a big pity that it will not be released at the same time as OS4.0," said our host Peter Easton from Palm technical developer support. Sometime after the release of OS 4.0 - and we can only speculate, since Palm has enforced a three-line whip on any speculation when that might actually be - there will be a "Bluetooth aware" update to PalmOS. Bluetooth support would eventually be incorporated into the OS in the 2002/2003 timeframe. But Bluetooth modules are expensive now. The consortium declared a $10 goal for manufacturers when it launched, and with the most optimistic price predictions set for $30-50 for the coming months, critical volumes haven't yet been reached. So what Palm envisages is a separate "hard case" that attaches to existing Palm devices through the serial port, and superficially resembles the gatefold leather cases you can buy now. The case has its own discrete processor, an RF module and serial chipset, and draws its power from the Palm. A flat plate on the back of the hard case (we expect they'll want to modify the terminology for the UK market) acts as the antenna. So expect to see Bluetooth as a basic cable replacement for Palms shipping to OEMs possibly by the end of 2001, and appearing in products in early 2002. Judged purely a PDA-to-PC cable, this won't cause Palm to break much sweat, as Microsoft won't be supporting Bluetooth at the OS level until Whistler. That's officially slated for next autumn. But the news will doubtless cause much rejoicing over at Symbian, which shipped the same functionality to the cellphone giants in ER6 last October, and expects to sign off on ER6.1 next spring. That includes much more advanced support for concurrent sessions, and is integrated into the OS, and by implication integrated into the phones too. Given the lag between Symbian shipping a platform to manufacturers, and Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola and friends baking it into something you can actually buy, that ought to appear in one-box, Symbian-flavoured smartphones at the tail end of next year. ®
Andrew Orlowski, 14 Dec 2000

Metallica sues Napster perfume producer

Litigious thrash band Metallica has taken to law again, this time in pursuit of a perfumier. Purveyor of pretty pongs Guerlain apparently has a perfume called Metallica. That, claims the band, is a flagrant - indeed, fragrant - violation of its trademark. It's also - in the words of the band's lawyer, Jill Pietrini, according to today's Daily Telegraph - injurious to [the rockers'] business reputation. Think about it: Guerlain's Metallica is apparently a "spicy floral fragrance... a new interpretation of the vanilla, impulsive and delicous", hardly words you'd apply to a bunch of hard workin', hard rockin' musos. Grunge rockers Nirvana famously named a best-selling single after a perfume, Teen Spirit. Perhaps Metallica - the band - will follow suit with some smell-suggested songs of its own. And failing that, it can always take on Guerlain at own game. Eau de Uhrlich, anyone? ®
Tony Smith, 14 Dec 2000

Self censoring site rating system surfaces

A new rating system for Web sites, designed to protect kids surfing the Net and their nervous parents, was unveiled yesterday. It's been a long time coming: The Internet Content Rating Association (ICRA)has worked on a labelling system since 1994. It proposes a voluntary code of practice where sites register at the ICRA.org site and rate their own content. To get a label for the site, the content provider just has to complete a questionnaire at ICRA.org, and the ICRA labelling engine takes it from there. AOL, for example, has already got a label. Stephen Balkam, director of the ICRA, says that site will want to sign up for serveral reasons: "Firstly, within both IE and Navigator the parental controls have the option to block unrated sites, so if a site is entirely traffic-dependent, it makes sense for them to sign up." Doesn't sound too voluntary, does it? The US Recreational Software Advisory Council has a similar system, developed in 1996, with four categories: nudity, sex, language and violence. The system proposed by the ICRA also addresses issues like promotion of alcohol, drugs or tobacco. There is also a new category to deal with chat rooms. This is all well and good in theory, but if you are relying on sites to sign up out of concern for the moral fortitude of a generation, you will probably be disappointed. We can't see hardcore porn sites rushing to the ICRA page to get a rating label, for example. We're wrong, Balkan says. "Adult sites are actually very keen to protect themselves from looking like they are promoting stuff that is harmful to kids, plus kids take up loads of bandwidth and don't have money to spend, so the adult sites don't really want them there." And sites which refuse to play ball? Well...some search engine firms are mulling whether to search rated sites only, so those who don't get on board will lose traffic, Balkan says. But what could those search engines be? AltaVista and some other major search engine firms actively pimp for pornmongers. They ain't going to stop now, not while there's money in it. The rating system can be found here, along with the second part of the plan, a Web filter, which should be launching in mid-2001. ICRA, an independent body, is supported by the Internet great and good companies on both sides of the Atlantic - which should make its task easier to get its rating system accepted. ICRA members include AOL, Microsoft, Novell, EuroISPA, Thus, UUNet and T-Online. The organisation is targeting the top 1000 sites online, said to account for 80 per cent of Internet traffic. ® Related Story Super regulator won't censor Net
Lucy Sherriff, 14 Dec 2000

Intel stock price cheap? You must be joking

Intel share price equals its historic high, standing at a price/earnings ratio of 30, a tech analyst claims. In a letter to today's Financial Times, Marshall Auerback, of David W.Tice & Associates, a Dallas-based fund adviser and manager, criticises the newspaper's Lex column for asserting that Intel trades at just over 20 times next year's earnings. Strip out non-recurring investment gains (a whopping $3.3 billion for the first nine months of this year) and Intel's forward P/E rockets to 30, Auerback reckons. This looks expensive, considering that the last time Intel's average annual P/E was 30 was in "1983 and from 1988 to 1996 (when the personal computer industry was booming) the average annual P/E ratio ranged from 11 to 14", he points out. Now the PC industry is "stagnant and Intel faces a huge competitive threat from AMD". Auerback signs off by urging Lex to do its homework. "Just because this nonsense about Intel is repeated endlessly by Wall Street analysts does not make it true." ®
Drew Cullen, 14 Dec 2000

Nintendo sets 24m target for next-gen GameBoy

Nintendo has promised to produce 24 million GameBoy Advance handheld game consoles during the product's first year on sale - with one million of them flying through shop doors in the first ten days. That's three times as many PlayStation 2s as Sony said it would ship in that machine's first year - and well ahead of the ten million units some analysts expect Nintendo to ship. Nintendo's plan is clearly a very ambitious one. It's contingent on an end to the current shortage of key handheld components like Flash memory and small-format colour LCD screens. That the shortage is coming to an end is signalled not only by Nintendo's optimistic projection, but Sony's note that it expects to launch the colour version of its PalmOS-based Clié PDA in the US during Q1 2001, around the same time that Palm is expected to unveil more colour machines of its own. In any case, Nintendo appears to have done a deal with a major Japanese LCD producer to ensure the GameBoy Advance doesn't suffer from component shortages. "Nintendo has secured the ability to purchase liquid crystal displays (LCDs)," Takashi Oya, a senior analyst with Deutsche Securities, recently noted in a report on the company. Nintendo will commence GameBoy Advance production early next year - another sign the LCD drought may be ending - to ensure it has sufficient machines to back the handheld's launch on 21 March. The device, based on a 32-bit ARM processor, will also offer Net access and email. Production is expected to hit two million units a month by June, a month ahead of the US and European launch. ® Related Stories Palm pegs CeBit for next colour PDA launch LCD price crash pushes manufacturers into PDAs and phones PDA vendors anticipate product famine Sony Palm-based PDA makes US debut Nintendo Gameboy delay confirms Palm profit fears
Tony Smith, 14 Dec 2000

Dotcom Entrepreneur of the Year sacks quarter of workforce

British dotcom consultancy, Rubus - voted CBI Most Promising New Company 1999 - has axed 75 people from it staff. Those given the chop include people across all disciplines. With Christmas just around the corner staff are hacked off with the timing - and the way they've been treated by Rubus. The company is also closing its office in France. It's also decided not to open one planned for Amsterdam. The redundancies - a quarter of Rubus' workforce - is even more galling because in October, top man, Michael Walton, walked away with the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2000 award. Just think what he'd have got if he ran a business that made money and didn't have to sack people. Five companies have shown an interest in LineOne after the British ISP was put up for sale last week. Those old favourites, T-Online and Tiscali are thought to be among the bidders, according to the FT. Last week Le Freeserve was sold to French outfit, Wanadoo, for £1.65 billion. LineOne can be yours for a snip at around £180 million. The AOL/Time Warner deal is getting closer to a finish, sparking another set of objections by consumer groups and rival ISPs. The FTC will decide today (or so it says) whether to let the deal pass through. It seems likely that it will give them the green light, but there is an outside chance that it will demand more concessions. Lloyds TSB has ditched plans to start its own online bank, Evolvebank.com, and has opted instead to build an e-bank for Centrica’s credit card, Goldfish. The new bank is expected to break even by 2003 and have two million customers by 2005. Meanwhile Egg says that although it has grown its online customer base, its telephone customers are still leaving in droves. The trouble here is that the net bankers have lower average balances than those who manage their accounts by phone. Despite this, in a recent meeting with analysts, Egg said it would meet its published commitments. ® Cash Reg. Here. Now.
Team Register, 14 Dec 2000

US DSL market slows

The DSL modem market slowed a little in the last quarter as subscription rates were damaged by a strike at Verizon. However, despite this, the introduction of the DOCSIS certification bolstered the cable modem market enough that shipments increased. All in all, ADSL modem shipments for Q3 topped 1.85 million units according to the research by In-Stat. This indicates growth of 35 per cent from the last quarter, down from 46 per cent the year before. Mike Lowe, a senior analysts at In-Stat, commented: "The slowdown in subscriber growth can be attributed to one-time events like the Verizon strike, and, despite this, the market still grew, but at a slower rate." He said he was confident that the market would pick up. The acceptance of the DOCSIS certification as a standard in the industry has led to more aggressive marketing from manufacturers, Lowe said. ® Related Link More info on the report can be found here
Lucy Sherriff, 14 Dec 2000

Bill Gates shot in mock documentary

An independent film that follows a conspiracy surrounding the fictional death of Bill Gates is scheduled to appear on the festival circuit early next year. MacArthur Park, a new feature-length independent documentary, examines the questions about the Gates 'assassination' and chronicles a year of campaigning by Citizens for Truth, a fictional grassroots group who refuse to believe the official investigation. The premise of the documentary, said to be a cross between Kevin Costner vehicle JFK and The Blair Witch Project, is that Gates was shot dead in Los Angeles on 2 December 1999 while attending a charity event. In a parallel with the JFK assassination, he was shot from the roof of the Park Plaza hotel, across the street from MacArthur Park. According to the official version of events, the 'assassin' - Alek Hidell - fled and killed a police officer before himself was killed by an LAPD marksman. Hidell was a political radical who wanted to starts a class war by killing the world's richest man, the official report concludes. Distrust of the Los Angeles Police Department and its investigation of "the last great crime of the 20th Century" leads to doubt about the lone-gunman theory and the formation of Citizens for Truth. The team behind the The Blair Witch Project, Haxan Films, is advising Director Brian Flemming about how to develop the film and its Web site, macarthurpark.com The idea is to use the site to evolve the films storyline and to create a buzz around the story in much the same way as happened with the low-budget horror movie. The producers of the story, GMD Studios, also plan to use the site billgatesisdead.com (which incidentally runs on Linux) as a forum for people to kick around alternative theories about the investigation The usual suspect likely to feature in the fictional conspiracy plots there are likely to include Apple, Netscape, Java fans, Linux enthusiasts and, inevitably, the US Department of Justice. Oracle chief Larry Ellison, who not so long ago was himself rumoured to be dead, is sure to figure somewhere too. A call from The Register, revealed that Microsoft are less than happy about the project and are likely to have something to say about the use of the domain billgatesisdead.com. We await developments with interest... ®
John Leyden, 14 Dec 2000

Tech firms' top brass work round low pay

Senior staffers at technology companies earn much less than their old economy counterparts, but jack up their remuneration with very generous share option schemes. No big surprise there, but pay packet consultancy New Bridge Street Consultants has quantified the situation. But before we get to the details there are a couple of major problems with the current situation. Firstly, tech stocks have been going down the toilet so there's bound to be a lot of pressure to close the salary gap between technology companies and the traditional industry players. Come recruitment time, if eager potential employees don't perceive the fat wad of shares on offer will more than compensate them for not going into banking, they're not going to sign up. Secondly, institutional shareholders recommend limits as to what proportion of a company's equity should be issued as stock options. These are happily busted by technology businesses, but this is probably down to them wanting to keep fixed costs down and has been done with the institutions' approval. Nearly 60 per cent of technology businesses break the five per cent of total equity issued over a ten-year period limit. And the absolute business benchmark of ten per cent over ten years is broken by 27 per cent of technology companies. The average salary of technology company chief execs is £210,000, just 59 per cent of the £358,000 paid in non-tech firms. As for finance directors, they get an average £134,000 in technology businesses against the £213,000 their non-tech counterparts are awarded. The figures are for businesses in the FTSE 350 index. Interestingly BT's departing and heavily criticised finance director Robert Brace is going to keep drawing his £380,000 salary until October 2001, even though he's got a new job as chief finance officer of US utility group Duke Energy. ®
Robert Blincoe, 14 Dec 2000

Ofcom: It's about broadband, stupid

AnalysisAnalysis So the Government has become the proud single parent of a bouncing new super communications regulatory agency, Ofcom, writes Tom Steinberg. Of course, the focus in the mainstream media has been on what this Christmas birth means for the BBC and other TV companies. But this is akin to concentrating on the content of the child's nappy instead of the whole infant. By far the most important subsection of Ofcom will be whatever replaces Oftel, the telecoms regulator. This is because the nature and cost of the broadband infrastructure, run by operators like BT and NTL, will be the single biggest determinant of what type of communications industry we have. If Britain can develop an extensive and highly competitive broadband market, then this will force changes on the communications market, which Ofcom can then regulate. If it cannot, then OFCOM’s raison d’etre is pulled away from beneath its feet. Ofcom was set up to deal with the problems of 'convergence', i.e. what to do as the boundaries between communications technologies start to blur. But there's a snag; if there is no widespread introduction of broadband services, there is no meaningful convergence. If there is no convergence, there are no convergence problems to be solved. And if there are no convergence problems, there is no need for a converged regulator. Unfortunately, the White Paper has been pitched as if the introduction of broadband can be taken for granted, and so is hardly worth mentioning. It is evident from this assumption that the writers of the Paper must have been using the Government's own high speed intranet, isolated from the real world where getting broadband is patchy, endlessly delayed, unreliable and expensive. Unsurprisingly, big, politically painful structural changes, such as ending the cable franchise system, which reduces land line competition to a duopolistic farce, are nowhere in sight. The saddest thing about the White Paper is the lack of real understanding about convergence. While Ofcom has nominally been created to deal with convergence, there are many signs that those writing it really can’t get their heads round the idea. The presentation of the White Paper was littered with references to TV and the Internet, and 'tiers' for dealing with them separately. The implicit expectation is that channel-based broadcast TV will be the major communications form for a long time to come. This should not be for the government to decide. The real challenges presented by convergence seem to have been mostly passed over. There is no mention as to what the government will do, if, for example, a major media company moves abroad and starts broadcasting only over the Internet. Perhaps we should not be too surprised by such a lack of vision. The clumsy reference in the White Paper' foreword to "High-speed phone lines" will amuse those who found the naïve anti-criminal provisions in the RIP bill laughably easy to circumnavigate. The government will have to do more than this White Paper suggests to convince us that it understands technology well enough to intelligently deal with problems as tough as regulating the internet. Luckily it is not too late, as much detail remains to be filled in. Suggestions anybody? ® Tom Steinberg is a researcher and IT manager for a think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs. The above views are his and his alone and have nothing to do with the Institute. Related Link The Communications White Paper Related Stories Ofcom - all mouth, no trousers and very hard to swallow Super regulator won't censor Net Govt slags off Oftel - between the lines
Our correspondent, 14 Dec 2000

Compaq to OEM TurboLinux

Compaq is to bundle TurboLinux's version of the open source operating system with its Intel-based ProLiant, and perhaps AlphaServer and AlphaStation systems, the company said today - just weeks after touting Red Hat's Red Hat Linux 7 on its Alpha machines. TurboLinux - in which Compaq invested at the beginning of the year - specialises in Far Eastern markets, so it's no surprise the first ProLiant's to bundle the OS will ship in Japan. US customers get a look in early next year. The Big Q didn't, however, say when - or indeed if - it will ship TurboLinux on its Alpha systems. The company's statement says the agreement "permits" it to pre-install the distro on its Risc-based machines - in other words, it's allowed to do so, but won't do so just yet. For now, Red Hat will remain Compaq's distro of choice on Alpha, with TurboLinux coming in later primarily for Far Eastern markets - Compaq and TurboLinux's joint application porting and testing programme is based in Japan, for instance. Rather than appear partisan, Compaq will provide a number of alternative distros, allowing it to better cover different application areas and types of customer. ® Related Story Compaq extends Linux on Alpha
Tony Smith, 14 Dec 2000

IBM ships revamped mainframe

IBM is to begin shipment of its first G7 mainframe, today, as well as an enhanced storage system. Big Blue hopes the revamped products will reinvigorate mainframe sales and improve its position in the market against Sun and storage rival EMC. As previously reported, IBM announced a number of improved technical features to Freeway, or its z900, when it re-branded its server line in October. However, companies put off purchases of older S/390 mainframes in anticipation of the product. Phil Payne, of independent analysts Isham Research, said the main enhancement of the zSeries over S/390 is the move from 31-bit to 64-bit addressing space. He explained that a 31-bit system did not provide a wide-enough addressing space to run the largest database systems efficiently. Another key improvement, according to IBM, is the tripling of internal bandwidth from 8GBps on the G6 to 24GBps on the G7. Software licensing for the z900 will be based on so-called workload-level charging, where software costs are based on how many processors a program run on not, as now, the overall size on the machine. However this will be difficult to implement, said Payne, and involve negotiations with individual users, which alongside other issues, means the scheme is unlikely to be introduced until October. IBM will tout the merits of Linux on mainframes. Evidence of its push here is that, earlier this month Scandinavian telco Telia announced it will install a combination of IBM mainframe and Shark storage technology, both running on Linux, to host and run their business and consumer Internet services operations. The deal means Telia will kick out 70 existing Sun servers with a single IBM S/390 G6 enterprise server, which will host more than 1500 virtual internet Linux servers simultaneously. According to IDC figures released yesterday, IBM maintained its lead in the worldwide server market, but Sun Microsystems made significant gains, growing its revenues to move from fourth to second place in the market. On the storage front, the Shark Enterprise Storage Server will include features that allow the speedy copying of data and full support for Fibre Channel. ®
John Leyden, 14 Dec 2000

ISP Freecall kicks off 1000 ‘abusers’

Unmetered ISP 24/7 Freecall has axed 1000 users from its service because it claims they "abused" the service. An email telling them that were being dropped was sent out yesterday - hours before Freecall pulled the plug. Freecall also said it would not accept any new customers. This latest episode comes a little over a month after Freecall booted 400 users off its service for similar reasons. In the email to the 1000 Freecall said: "We have reached the maximum number of subscribers that we can currently safely cater for without it adversely affecting the service for all users. "We will therefore not be accepting any new subscribers until we can increase the capacity to cope with new users. "Sadly as a subscriber to 24-7Freecall your patterns of usage are inconsistent with the levels that we can support at this time. Your usage is causing congestion on the network that is leading to problems for thousands of other users. "Regretfully your 24-7Freecall account has been terminated on 13th December 2000. "No refunds will be given." Despite blaming capacity problems for its decision, Freecall was hastily forced to backtrack after Telia, its network provider, made it clear that this was not an issue. In a statement issued to The Register, the ISP said: "24-7Freecall would like to clarify that there are no issues with capacity or any other service from Telia UK, the backbone provider, and that this is purely an internal 24-7Freecall matter regarding the heavy users and the effect that has on the ability to provide a sustainable level of service to users." Sal Abdin, who runs Freecall, dismissed the matter saying that the email had been "worded wrongly". He also said Freecall was changing it terms and conditions. It seems the 24/7 unmetered ISP is no longer designed for permanent Net access. Register reader Gordon Scott said he received the email - just four days after Freecall debited £19.99 from his bank account. "There was no warning, no nothing. I'm pissed off and I want my money back," he said. Sal Abdin declined to discuss the matter insisting that anyone who had a complaint should get in contact with the company. ® Related Stories 400 Freecall users out on their ear 24-7 Freecall does a Freeswerve
Tim Richardson, 14 Dec 2000

Women like HP more than men do

Women and men have different brand loyalties when it comes to buying computers, and someone's done the research to prove it. What we can't work out is what it all means. A survey of 69,000 Net heads, conducted by Harris Interactive, found that when the woman of the house is involved in the purchase of a new PC HP's share goes up by four points compared to its overall figures, and Gateway's rises by about two points. What this means is that HP is ever so slightly more likely to be the "brand of choice" when a woman is choosing the PC that it would have been, had she had nothing to do with the decision at all. So, the manufacturers need not get too excited by this particular variation. To pour even more cold water on this apparently red-hot marketing data, the survey also found that more often than not men have the final word about which PC to buy - bad news for HP then. Nearly three-quarters of the time, men are involved in making the brand decision while women are involved in less than two thirds. Women have more clout for first time purchases though - closer to the three quarters mark, while men get more involved in the upgrading and replacing of old machines. [Is anyone surprised by this?-Ed] "It is becoming even more important for PC marketers to understand the roles that individuals within the family play in deciding which brands to consider and which to buy," said Dave Tremblay, director of Harris Interactive's technology research. He went on: "Understanding which family members are influencing purchases in which segments will help manufacturers fine-tune their marketing and capture their `unfair' share of purchases." We can see how such data would be useful, but are far from sure that this is that data. No definition of "involvement" was given for a start, so it could be anything from: Man: "Should we spend some money on a PC?" Woman: "Yeah, go on then." To an in-depth discussion of processor speeds, DDR vs. Rambus, and monitor sizes. However, Apple might want to take note. Once the teenagers get involved, Apple's share of sales drops off by four, possibly statistically insignificant, points. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 14 Dec 2000

VultureFone™ goes international

Site newsSite news The Register's completely pointless yet totally fun Christmas prezzy just got better! Thanks to jolly ole' WapMX, we can now extend our VutureFone™ service to many of our overseas readers! All you need is a Nokia cellular phone capable of receiving SMS messages and hooked up to one of 264 international mobile phone networks. Then you too can have The Register's very own Vulture logo as your phone's service provider graphic. Click here for full VutureFone™ details Non-UK readers should be aware that messages are sent from the UK, and local cellular networks may charge a fee to relay the message. By requesting our logo, you agree to accept any such fee your local cellular service provider may charge. The Register or Situation Publishing will not make good nor be held liable for that charge.
Tony Smith, 14 Dec 2000

AMD, Alliance patch up differences

AMD and Alliance Semiconductor have agreed settlement terms for AMD's patent infringement lawsuit filed in 1996. Alliance and AMD will drop their claims and counterclaims against each other and Alliance will pay AMD an undisclosed sum for past damages. AMD had originally claimed that Alliance's flash memory devices infringed two AMD patents. AMD and Alliance will now sign a license agreement for future sales of two existing flash memory products. The two companies are now said to be discussing future joint memory projects. "I am pleased that AMD and Alliance have been able to reverse the tide from a legal battle to a potential partnership where we can both benefit from each other's strengths," said Dr. Ritu Shrivastava, vice president of technology development and general manager of Flash Products for Alliance Semiconductor. "Alliance... is one of the few companies in the world with expertise in all three major CMOS memory segments: SRAMs, DRAMs and flash. Our resources and energies are much better spent creating new products and markets which leverage our expertise. "We do not believe that the settlement will have substantial impact on our flash product development strategy or the financial performance of our company." The two AMD patents involved in the case related to methods of erasing flash memory cells that enable flash memory devices to operate from a single power supply and an architecture that enables the individual sectors in a flash memory device to be addressed without affecting the other sectors. ®
Andrew Thomas, 14 Dec 2000

BT launches US hyperlinks legal action

BT - which owns the patent to hypertext links - has begun its legal fight to claim back millions of dollars in licensing revenue from US ISPs. Intellectual property attorneys, Kenyon & Kenyon yesterday filed a case on behalf of BT against Prodigy Communications Corp in New York State. The legal challenge asserts BT's patented claim to hypertext links or the "hidden page" as it was described in the original patent. If BT wins this test case it would open the doors to a massive claim from BT for revenues. A spokesman for BT said that the case against Prodigy did not exclude action against other ISPs. BT declined to say how much money it wanted Prodigy to cough up. Instead, a BT spokesman said the monster telco was looking for a "reasonable royalty". "BT has a responsibility to assert its intellectual property," said a BT spokesman. "Many companies both sides of the Atlantic make revenues from exploiting their intellectual property," he said. In June, BT said it owned the patent to hyperlinks and wanted ISPs in the US to cough up hard cash for the privilege of using them. Since then it has been negotiating with a number of ISPs in the US over recouping revenue. But it has always insisted that if this proved fruitless, it would resort to legal action. The monster telco said a patent filed in 1976 - and granted in 1989 - proves it owns the intellectual property rights to those natty little devices that link Web content together. Patent 4,873,662 was lodged following work on text-based online information systems Viewdata and Prestel by the General Post Office (GPO) before it was split into the Post Office and BT. No one at Prodigy returned calls this afternoon. When we explained the situation to one woman, she just laughed. Out loud. Uncontrollably. ® Related Links BT's Patent number 4,873,662 Related Stories BT still chasing cash for hyperlink patent Film evidence challenges BT's claim to hypertext patent BT could face legal action over hyperlink claim BT invented hyperlinks shock
Tim Richardson, 14 Dec 2000

Acer to ditch OEM PC business?

Acer Inc. is considering dumping its OEM PC business. The Taiwanese technology star is suffering along with the rest of the industry from the slump in consumer spending on computers, and is thinking of stopping making PCs for other people in a bid to streamline. An Acer senior VP, Philip Peng, said the move had been suggested to the company, but its execs were still in the throes of deciding what to do, InfoWorld reports. The revelation comes in the same week as Acer said it was scrapping assembly plants in the US and Germany - it will now have a total of twelve overseas factories, down from more than 30 last year. This has resulted in a third of its workforce in the US, Europe and Latin America losing their jobs. The company is also mulling over the sale of $590 million of non-core assets. Acer is expected to officially reveal plans of a restructure - which is also expected to include a reshuffle at exec level - by the end of this month. It has also warned that its US and European businesses will post losses of around $20 million each for 2000, while its Central and South American operation is bracing itself for losses of $15 million. Acer, one of the plethora of IT companies to have issued profit warnings this quarter, wants to cut its reliance on contract manufacturing. Its OEM business currently hauls in 55 per cent to 60 per cent of revenue - in 2001 Acer aims to slash this to 50 per cent. ® Related Stories Acer cuts annual sales estimate by $620m Acer to bring PlayStation games to DVD players Acer lost $420 million on cancelled IBM contract Compaq joins profit warning parade
Linda Harrison, 14 Dec 2000

Asus P4 mobo pees on Intel board

Motherboards, Intel and Asus. It can only be the P4T i850 motherboard, from Asus, for the P4. Sharky checks it out here. He reckons Asus has the Midas touch, so its bound to be scorcher. Gadget combining is proving to be a popular pastime in R&D labs these days. If you like a two-for-one gizmo then have a look at Tech-Review's thoughts on the mobile phone/MP3 player from Samsung. Is the mere fact that people can do this reason enough to do it? In this case the answer is a qualified yes. If I say to you: AMD, 1.2GHz with DDR memory, would you be interested? If you are have a look at here where Dan and his data have got the lowdown. Dr Tom and his gang get down and dirty with the OpenGL Turbobooster - Diamond's FireGL2 workstation graphics card. Can anyone challenge the might of Nvidia? Well, if this is anything to go by, the gaming giant may find itself with a bit of a fight on its hands. Go here to read the rest. ® Want more? Do you? Do you really? Oh alright then - go hardware crazy in the archives.
Lucy Sherriff, 14 Dec 2000

BAA.com domain battle settled out of court

The legal battle over the ownership of www.baa.com has been settled out of court after its owner, Tom Bourke, was no longer able to afford the heavy legal fees. Software consultant Tom decided to make a stand against corporate bullying by refusing to give into the British Airports Authority - better known as BAA - which is the world's biggest commercial operator of airports. Not that he didn't have discussions with it to reach some kind of agreement, but they broke down and a writ arrived soon after. BAA claimed Tom was "passing off" himself as BAA - which is franking ludicrous as the site features little more than sheep and details of the battle - and that it was losing revenue because it didn't have the domain. And so to court. But after months and months of legal shenanigans, Tom's legal costs had hit £50,000 and he was advised it would cost another £50,000 before it was over (lawyers' letter writing skills don't come cheap). Unsurprisingly, he decided enough was enough and settled. We called Tom up to get the details but he's been gagged by one of those bloomin' confidentiality agreements and so couldn't discuss the details. In all though, he is "relieved" the whole thing's over - and before Christmas. He can't discuss the size of the agreement but it's fair to assume that it covered his legal costs. The details aren't completely decided but Tom admitted that is was "more or less a done deal". BAA confirmed the deal but won't discuss matters any further. No surprise there then. Tom also confirmed that he will retain control of www.baa.net. Asked whether he was worried that BAA would turn around and demand control of that one once the .com site is sorted, he informed us he couldn't discuss it under the terms of the confidentiality agreement. So it looks like there was some kinda trade-off deal. BAA costs, incidentally, are expected to be around two to three times Tom's, so the company could be looking at a £200,000 bill for control of the domain. It is this that made Tom's stance worthwhile - maybe companies will be a little less heavy-handed and a touch more reasonable when it comes to disputes in the future. Also, we believe we're right in saying BAA got a court order which it issued to Network Solutions to block any signing over of the domain to anyone else. It will now have to go and get another court order to rescind that court order. Funny old world. ® Related Story BAA attempts to shaft sheep site
Kieren McCarthy, 14 Dec 2000
Cat 5 cable

3G's rubbish

We all knew that it was going to be a wait for 3G mobile phones, but according to projections shown to us today by Citrix, it may be a longer one than anyone thought. Displaying a lovely multi-coloured map of the world, the VP of product development Keith Turnbull, was drawing attention to the expansion of 3G over time. The colours corresponded to a percentage of 3G coverage. Purple was 80 to 100 per cent, light blue 60 to 80, green 40 to 60 then yellow, orange and dark blue for nuffing. However, by 2003 - when, we've been led to believe, we'll all be walking around watching the latest Hollywood blockbuster on our phone - Europe and Scandinavia are still only in the 40 to 60 per cent bracket. And this, apart from Japan alone, is the highest percentage in the world. The US and Australia get a measly 0 to 20 per cent and Africa, Asia, Central and South America nothing at all. That's no good, you say. Well, what about by 2007? Finally Europe, Scandinavia and Japan hit the top bracket, the States is still lagging with 20 to 40 per cent, Canada, South America , Asia and Australia are working on a shoddy 0 to 20 per cent and poor old Central America and Africa still have absolutely nothing. Makes all the hype - not to mention the billions spent on licences - look a bit silly, don't it? Not that this will worry Citrix (in fact, straight-talking Turnbull told us he never puts much stock in projections - quite right, Keith, quite right) because its looking to lead the market with its ASP protocol ICA. Most of the big boys have already signed Citrix or spoken vaguely about being in talks, so Citrix can afford to do a Cisco - sell all the hyped-up, caffeine-ridden optimists the gear and sit laughing with the bank manager while his underlings shut the newly formed companies down. ®
Kieren McCarthy, 14 Dec 2000

FTC blesses AOL/Time Warner nuptials

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Thursday finally approved the proposed $111 billion merger of America Online and Time Warner after reaching a settlement purportedly requiring the vast, resulting media combo to keep its broadband pipes open to competing ISPs. Numerous consumer groups and competitors believed the settlement was too weak and urged the Commission to reject it. Opponents include such tireless combatants for consumer interests as Microsoft and Disney. But not a single Commissioner was swayed by the objections, as the FTC voted 5/0 for approval. This leaves only one more regulatory hurdle in place: the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which has yet to give its final blessing, but is not expected to come up with any surprises. The FCC intends to complete its review in January. Both companies' shares were up slightly in mid-day trading on the news. ®.
Thomas C Greene, 14 Dec 2000

Yummy Claire: we try to clear up this mess

Well, good lord, the Great Claire Debate of 2000 (see: Is this the greatest ever email hoax?). We spent most of yesterday trying to get to the bottom of the whole affair while being continually bombarded with sightings, extra "info", outright lies and accusations of stupidity. You, the readers, provided us with just over 400 emails, 30 of whom claimed to be from Claire and five of which were useful. But thanks anyway. The story so far - an email conversation, supposedly between one Bradley Chait, employee of London law firm Norton Rose, and Claire Swire, discussing their sex life, is forwarded round the world. Claire apparently thought Bradley's cum was 'yum'. He told the Reg it was all a hoax and he'd been set up. This is what's happening now. Formal disciplinary action was started against Bradley Chait yesterday by Norton Rose and will take a few days. He has been banned from talking to the media, so we can't ask him about it either. We had a chat with the Norton Rose spokeswoman, Andrea Turrell, expressing sympathy for ole Bradley. She wasn't to be drawn, saying she had no personal feelings about the case, but did point out that the email has by now been all over the world with Norton Rose's name plastered over it. We can see how having a serious law firm connected with blow jobs is not ideal. As for Claire: we know she is not happy about what has happened. We tracked down her employer, who's not happy either. So, sadly, what was a frankly hilarious episode is now getting serious. Somewhat ironically as well, The Times has run a feature today entitled "Warning: an email could seriously harm your career". In it, the head of graduate recruitment for KPMG, spells out the stance that has been the undoing of two, now infamous, people. "It is against our culture for staff to email any kind of abusive or pornographic material - Anyone breaking our code of conduct would be dealt with very seriously and may even lose their job," said Keith Dugdale. So there you have it - be careful out there folks. Or simply refrain from discussing the full-bodied qualities of semen until you're down the pub. BTW this whole affair has created enough stories for a small book, but two of our favourites are: the army officer in Kosovo who has used all his contacts and satellite phone to try to reach Claire, and the fact that several offices have sent (presumably graphic) Christmas cards to one Claire's address. It certainly sparked some form of creativity as men all over the country tried to locate their own "Claire" before the office party on Friday. And finally Norton Rose have issued a press statement concerning email abuse. You can read it on its Web site. Could this be company be related to the Norton Rose that told the BBC that few companies spent any time telling employees what their obligations (on sending emails)are? We think we should be told. ® Related Stories Claire Swire: wanna know who she is? Yummy Claire gets in touch with The Reg Is this the greatest ever email hoax?
Kieren McCarthy, 14 Dec 2000

Compromise sought in Windows bug copyright saga

The moderator of a security mailing list BugTraq has won the backing of its readers in insisting that Microsoft, and another vendor, @Stake, allow him to post advisories on security problems in full. Microsoft and @Stake changed the format of their advisories so that they provided a brief summary of a particular flaw and directed readers back to the companies' Web sites. Following the change, Microsoft insisted on enforcing copyright restrictions which meant that security lists could no longer publish its bulletins. Microsoft said it did this to create a centralised repository for bulletins and links to patch changes.* However the move limits the ability of people to go to one site for the latest security information and discussion of the issues raised by alerts. Elias Levy, of SecurityFocus.com and moderator of the BugTraq list, said: "Copyright holders must defend their copyright or lose it. That does not mean they can't give a limited distribution license to forums such as BugTraq that are not reselling the information. "No other vendor has ever used their copyright on advisories to stop others from redistributing them. Microsoft is the first." Levy added that he is talking to Microsoft about a possible compromise and that the software giant had told him it would review the revised format of the bulletins tomorrow. After @Stake, a firm of former hackers who used to be known as L0pht Heavy Industries, followed Microsoft's lead in submitting cut-down versions of security notices, Levy asked the 38,000 subscribers of the list for backing in insisting full information on problems is provided. He has now received overwhelming backing for his stance. "Its not how much information you put in a security bulletin - its how much you leave out," he said. The issue of MS enforcing copyright on security bug info has provoked a lot of feedback from Register readers - some whimsical (viz. the suggestion that security consultants could copyright the bugs they discover and ask Microsoft to pay royalties on alerts placed on microsoft.com.) Concerns were raised about Microsoft's use of 'web bugs', or a small graphic item on web pages sites used to log user activity, on the pages where its security advisories are posted. As explained in our articles on the subject this week this practice raises privacy concerns and is, potentially, a security issue in itself. ® Bootquote "Customers will come to our 'home page' in unbelievable numbers and find out everything we want them to know." Bill Gates , Internet Tidal Wave Related Story MS claims copyright on Windows bugs
John Leyden, 14 Dec 2000

Xmas panic means PC fire sales

IT giants are virtually giving away products in the scramble to fill American Christmas stockings. Sony has decided to hand out wireless modems to boost interest in its Vaio notebooks. Punters buying one of the notebooks between now and July 1 are being promised a free GoAmerica modem worth $480. In order to grab the freebie, which was being plugged today by sales hungry assistants in New York stores including Circuit City and PC Richard & Son, buyers must sign up for 24 months with GoAmerica at $59.95 per month. Alternatively they can pay $99 up front and be saddled with a shorter 12-month contract. Meanwhile, Circuit City was also flogging Compaq Presarios for less than $300 in an attempt to move products during the pre-Christmas PC sales slump. US shoppers can pick up a Presario with AMD Duron 700MHz, 64MB DRAM, 20GB hard drive and all other bells and whistles, plus a printer worth $99, for just $249.99. This is after all rebates (it normally costs $1,099 according to the store) and punters must sell their soul to CompuServe for three years (at $21.95 per month). Alternatively, there is a similar deal, but with 900MHz AMD Athlon and 30GB hard drive, in PC Richard for $399.91, with a contract to MSN for two years. There is another tie-in ISP deal on Apple Mac G4s in US shops - with a 450MHz processor, 64MB DRAM, 20GB hard drive and 17-inch monitor, they are going for $1,599 after rebates (normally $2,299). Again, punters must sign up with CompuServe for three years. A quick whiz around the New York streets today showed how little people were shopping in the run-up to Christmas. The stores were quiet, even for mid-week, according to sales representatives. One PC Richard assistant confirmed sales were "far behind" this time last year. ® Related Stories Compaq joins profit warning parade Global PC sales to grow 20 per cent in Q4 Gateway in PC price war gloom Intel to miss Q4 targets
Linda Harrison, 14 Dec 2000
Photo of a stack of $100 bills

Mighty Microsoft to miss sales targets

Mighty Microsoft today cut earnings and revenue forecast for its fiscal second quarter by five to six per cent. It also lowered estimates for full fiscal 2001 by a similar amount.
Linda Harrison, 14 Dec 2000