17th > January > 2001 Archive

MS using the old Blue Screen to sell Win2k

A two-page Microsoft ad in the 6 February issue of PC Magazine proudly features the classic Win9x & NT blue screen of death bordered by a dotted line and scissors icon, next to a boxed suggestion that one should cut the familiar screen out and save it for old times' sake after upgrading to Win2k Pro. "If you find yourself missing the downtime, cut out and tape to monitor," the adjacent boxed text recommends. Towards the bottom of the page we find the cheerful slogan, "Goodbye blue screen; hello reliable Microsoft." ('At last,' we're tempted to add.) Windows 2000 Professional is "thirteen times more reliable than Windows 98", the advert proudly boasts, and directs readers to the NSTL Web site where independent test results supporting this claim may be evaluated. Sure enough, mean time to failure (MTTF) tests for 98, NT and 2k show, among other things, that the heavily-sold consumer OS is hopelessly buggy and in fact eager to crash. 2K wins the competition hands down with a respectable MTTF of 2893 hours (actually sounds like a professional product, doesn't it). NT showed considerable anaemia, struggling for an MTTF of 919 hours, while the crap OS most of you are using as you read this article, Win9x, exhibited a predictable, consumer-schlock MTTF of only 216 hours. Microsoft reckons you'd better get rid of those nasty NT and '9x desktops fast. A Win2k Pro upgrade is their solution for disgusted NT users, and can be had for less than $200 per machine. Unlucky '9x users will have to wait for the consumer edition of this nifty, and finally reliable, OS - called Whistler - which is due out towards the end of this year. Unfortunately for Harry Homeowner, but fortunately for MS, nothing can be done with '9x to make it reliable in the mean time, so he simply has to buy Whistler if he wishes to experience the joys of a (finally) "reliable Microsoft". The '9x code base was crap to begin with, and crap it remains. But no one can accuse us of MS-bashing here; the company's own ad campaign makes precisely that assertion. And offers the test results to prove it, too. ® Related Story MS: 'you need to buy Whistler because Win9x sucks'
Thomas C Greene, 17 Jan 2001

Martha ‘Most Overrated Businessperson’ in UK

Martha Lane Fox is Britain's "Most Overrated Businessperson", according to a nation-wide survey of 1000 office workers by Web site business365. The co-founder of bucket travel shop lastminute.com picked up a third of all the votes making her the clear winner. Virgin chief Richard Branson and easyjet founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou were worthy runners-up. Unfortunately, the research doesn't say why Ms Lane Fox is believed to be so "overrated". Guess we'll have to make up our minds. Earlier this week, spokesfolks for Ms Lane Fox denied newspaper allegations that she had offered to buy-back shares in Lastminute.com from family and friends at the issue price. Shares in Lastminute.com launched at 380p. They're currently trading at 76p. ® Related Story Martha Lane Fox denies bailing out Lastminute investor mates
Tim Richardson, 17 Jan 2001

RedHotAnt refuses to talk to Trading Standards

Directors at RedHotAnt refused to open the door to Trading Standards officials yesterday after the inspectors visited the company in response to complaints about the failed ISP. According to Clive Bainbridge of Kent County Council, only one director was on site. "[And] he wasn't very anxious to talk to us," he said. RHA has also closed down the premises that housed its hardware. The property is currently up for sale. And RHA has also moved out of its offices in Hythe, Kent, and is currently working from a two-storey temporary building. Yesterday, RHA gave less than 24 hours notice that it was ditching its unmetered service. According to sources, the toll-free Net access number ceased to operate at 6.00pm (GMT) last night. Last week, a spokesman for RHA denied the company was planning to wind down its business. However, one unconfirmed report suggests it could be a matter of days before the company ceases to offer any service at all. ® Related Stories RedHotAnt gets squished? RedHotAnt denies end is nigh
Tim Richardson, 17 Jan 2001

Next-gen iMacs to hit 700MHz

Mac Rumour RoundupMac Rumour Roundup No sooner did news of Apple's declaration that the current iMac line has reached the end of its sales life than hints of what the next machines will contain. CD-RW drives, obviously, though MacOS Rumors notes that the entry-level iMac won't contain one. Not a big surprise, that - the basic iMac is primarily aimed at the education market, where price is more important than functionality. What else? The site's sources note the inclusion of a new audio system (related to the new Power Mac G4's audio unit, we reckon), AGP 4x, more RAM and clock speeds of up to 700MHz using the relatively new G3-class PowerPC 750CXe. Interestingly, MacOS Rumors also describes and updated iBook sporting a larger 13.3in LCD (for a 1024x768 resolution), 100MHz system bus and a lighter, slimmer enclosure. The new iBook will weight in at 5.3lbs and be around 1.25in thick. Meanwhile, MacOS X's final feature list is slowly filling out thanks not only to Steve Jobs' MacWorld Expo demo, but the odd leaked beta. A Think Secret report notes the return of the Restart option to the Special menu, a command available in the Public Beta but hidden away from view. Apple continues to clean up the System Preferences panel, primarily adding a Dock module. Presumably, Desktop and Finder modules will appear too, placing all the OS' options in a single, centralised location. The Monitors module now supports multi-screen configurations, presumably a nod toward the extra PCI slots in the new Power Mac G4. Finally, the Classic environment - aka Blue Box - can be started up with extensions off (which should reduce load times) or with a number of start up options found on MacOS 9 systems, such as zap the PRAM, rebuild the desktop and open Extensions Manager before loading extensions. ® Related Link Thin Secret on MacOS X build 4F8
Tony Smith, 17 Jan 2001

MS and Amazon advertise on Islamic Resistance site

Microsoft and Amazon have been caught advertising on a Hizbollah-backed Web Lebanese Web site. Both companies protest that, er, they didn't know, and have had the advertising pulled. The goofs were reportedly spotted by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which noted the ads on the site of Al-Manar Television, which styles itself as: "A Lebanese TV station that aims to preserve the islamic values and to enhance the civilized role of the Arab and Islamic Community. Al-Manar is the first Arab establishment to stage an effective psychological warfare against the Zionist enemy." Pretty clear, you'd think? If not, the site's front door carries the tag "Islamic Resistance Support Association" up at the top, and solicits donations "in support of the oppressed Palestinian people [and] for the sustenance of the Intifadah." Not of course that either Microsoft or Amazon was in a position to notice this, as apparently the ad programme used doesn't involve any vetting of sites by, or even any knowledge from, the client. It's the affiliate programme that gets the blame. You encourage as many sites as possible to shove up ads in exchange for a take of any revenue driven by those ads. So in most cases the money involved in negligible, while the admin overhead of actually checking who's running the ads would be entirely impossible. Microsoft's control policy, apparently, is one of "notice and take down." And we see some fun to be had here, given that the company doesn't seem terribly capable of noticing under its own steam. We'd be interested to ear from alert/inventive Register readers who spot ads for major companies in deeply embarrasing places. Or even better, can arrange to put them there. You up to it? ®
John Lettice, 17 Jan 2001

Porn probe at Ford plant

Three workers have been suspended at Ford's largest UK factory on suspicion of downloading porn from the Internet. An investigation has been launched at the car maker's Dagenham plant into what a Ford spokesman would only describe as "the misuse of company systems". The inquiry is expected to last a "few weeks" during which time the workers will be suspended on full pay. Associated Press reports that the suspended workers are suspected of spending up to four hours a shift downloading porn. It is believed workers in the engine plant obtained a managers password and subsequently used this to obtain unauthorised access to the Internet. Only 3000 of Dagenham's 7000 workers have authorised computer access. Earlier this month insurance firm Royal & Sun Alliance dismissed ten workers for exchanging obscene emails based on doctored images of characters from the Simpsons. It seems that you're no-one in British industry these days unless you're investigating or suspending employees for downloading porn and we predict a bulging market for courses in how to fire your workers for downloading smut. ® Related Stories The solution to RIP, email sackings and Big Brother Royal & Sun Alliance sacks ten over obscene emails Porn cartoon sackings fight to keep jobs
John Leyden, 17 Jan 2001

First Tuesday going for a song

First Tuesday, the networking organisation which gets dotcoms together with VC cash, is up for sale and could be got for a knock down bargain price of £2 million. It was bought for around $50 million (£36 million) six months ago. Israeli incubator Yazam is pulling out of Europe because it's got itself in some financial difficulties and wants to sell its First Tuesday asset. It paid £2 million in cash for the business, the rest in shares, and wants to recoup at least the cash it laid out. First Tuesday has got an estimated 100,000 members. A cash strapped incubator. A dotcom funding business going for a song. First Tuesday is once again capturing the zeitgeist. ®
Robert Blincoe, 17 Jan 2001

Handspring sales up 630 per cent

PDA maker Handspring vaulted over Wall Street expectations when it posted its latest quarterly fiscals last night. The company's loss for the three months to 30 December 2000 narrowed to seven cents a share rather better than the 16 cents a share analysts had been anticipating, at least according to First Call's consensus figure. This time last year, before it IPO'd, Handspring lost 12 cents a share. During the quarter, Handspring recorded sales up more than 630 per cent year-on-year to $115.62 million (Q2 2000: $15.79 million), which also represents a quarter-on-quarter increase of 64 per cent. The reason for the success? Very brisk Christmas sales, the company said. Looking ahead, the PDA maker's CFO Bernard Whitney predicted Q3 sales of $117-123 million, which is impressive given the quarter after the Christmas period is usually weaker than the holiday quarter for consumer-oriented companies like Handspring. Whitney reckons Handspring's loss will shrink only a little further, to six cents a share. The company is looking at a full-year sales total of $560-590 million. ® Related Story/B> PalmOS sales to surpass expectations - Bear Stearns
Tony Smith, 17 Jan 2001

StepStone sets precedent with hyperlink ban

Online job site StepStone has obtained an injunction against German rival OFiR which prevents it from linking to StepStone pages. The injunction was granted thanks to new European database laws that essentially assume data to be copyrightable. StepStone was offended because OFiR was linking to pages within its site and bypassing banner ads. StepStone also claimed that OFiR was using the links to justify claims over the number of jobs it had access to - something which clearly isn't good business practice. The injunction certainly opens the door to other cases of abuse by companies. Fortunately, there appears to be little reason to panic and wait for the day where huge conglomerates prevent anyone from linking to them (and thereby killing the Internet's basic premise) - the laws will have no effect on your run-of-the-mill linking as they can only be invoked where extensive hyperlinking is built into a system and where it adversely effects the linked-to site. A similar case, but this time involving frames, is coming up between publisher Haymarket and oil company BP Amoco. Subsidiary Burmah Castrol was linking to Haymarket content within its frames setup, so the content was shown with BP branding rather than Haymarket ads. ® Related Story Castrol frames car sites - publisher sues
Kieren McCarthy, 17 Jan 2001

Infidels deface Iranian presidential site

A team of script kiddies have invited a possible fatwah by defacing the Web site of the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The site , which normally carries pieces on President Khatami latest weighty pronouncements, was replaced with a smiley face and taunts by the hackers, mOsad and R.S. (infernoZ), that "your security is SUXXX!!!. The defacement has been mirrored by Attrition and is available here, Chris McNab, network security analyst at MIS Corporate Defence, said the attack was the work of "opportunists" who likely exploited a simple flaw in the site's Internet Information Server 4 web server. "This attack was mounted by people who probably only know a handful of techniques. They probably scanned all the systems in gov.ir and then ran an exploit script, which is available on sites like Packetstorm," said McNab. ® Related Stories Windows is most-hacked Web server Celebrity hacktivist joins the Mid-East cyber-war Palestinian crackers give out tools to attack Israelis
John Leyden, 17 Jan 2001

RIP not a problem thanks to police stupidity

Well, the RIP Act may be Draconian but we shouldn't worry at the moment because the police haven't got a clue what they're doing. That at least is what representatives of the ISP Association said at a forum in the House of Lords yesterday. It would seem that ISPs are being dogged by stupid questions from police forces, pointing to their utter miscomprehension of how the Internet works. One example given was World Online being asked if, by any chance, a suspected criminal had an email address with them. We can't decide which is greater - the level of abuse or the degree of stupidity. It would seem the police don't realise it's not terribly hard to create a new email account fairly easily under a pseudonym. A criminal is likely to have sussed this. Another example was the police asking a UK ISP if they could get all the information from a particular Hotmail address. And how, pray tell, will they be able to do that? Worse than that, it would seem as though any old copper is calling up ISPs with such queries - wasting companies' time and effort. The Home Office has admitted that large numbers of police are technically illiterate and has said it is trying to get forces to use just one person to talk to ISPs. So it would seem that we're safe from unwarranted intrusion for the moment. Although when the police's dedicated Internet section kicks off, you can be sure that they'll work it out pretty fast and then use the law to its fullest extent. Hopefully by then the much-awaited code of practice for RIP will have been released and significant abuse can be curtailed. Should the police really be allowed to simply and openly make a phone call to an ISP and be given access to all the traffic from a particular email account? No, they shouldn't. But that's how the law stands at the moment. ® Related Stories RIP Bill - full coverage
Kieren McCarthy, 17 Jan 2001

Ginger in action!

We've been sent an undercover movie of Ginger in action by Reg reader Dermot O'Connor. Labelled TOP SECRET, Dermot has uncovered the truth behind the standable carpet sweeper. Click on "I want to believe!" and you too can see the incredible technological revolution, patented by Dean Kamen and blinkedly hyped by the press. Warning: you will laugh. ® Here it is: Ginger, you are our saviour Related Stories Okay! Okay! This is what everyone reckons Ginger is Ginger nuts told to back off We know what Ginger is
Kieren McCarthy, 17 Jan 2001

PC industry needs to ‘consolidate or die’

The PC industry will remain an unattractive investment segment, unless there's some serious consolidation, according to Bear Stearns analyst Andrew Neff. And boy, does he mean serious consolidation. Among the suggestions contained in his provocative 'manifesto', are that: IBM sells its PC business to Compaq or Dell and cut a services deal. Dell should buy IBM's PC business and Gateway to 'increase share, its presence abroad and strengthen its consumer operations'. Gateway should sell out - maybe to a big Japanese player - or retrench operations (or Dell, see above). Compaq should sell its PC business to Hewlett-Packard. Apple should port over to Wintel and concentrate on playing to its strengths. Makes sense? Other analysts don't think so. For a start, how can IBM sell its PC business to Compaq if Compaq is selling its PC business to HP? Hit the link to ZDII and see other examples. ®
Drew Cullen, 17 Jan 2001

Police to investigate RedHotAnt?

Trading Standards officials at Kent County Council are due to meet with police later today to discuss whether to take any action against RedHotAnt. Asked about RHA's rapid demise, a spokesman for Trading Standards said they were "taking the matter very seriously". "We're exploring [with police] whether there is anything we can do," he said. RHA was still accepting subscriptions to its unmetered Net access service - which costs £120 - up until the end of last month. It's understood trading standards officials have been trying to negotiate with RHA so that some of those worst hit can be refunded. No one from RHA was available to discuss the matter. ®
Tim Richardson, 17 Jan 2001

Users weep at RedHotAnt's demise

RedHotAnt has got it customers to write the ISP's obituary, according to farewell messages published on its Web site. Here's what some of RHA's "happy customers" have to say: "You have saved me a great deal of money since last March, and I would be happy to sign up again if any new arrangement you propose isn't too expensive. Thanks again for your efforts, I think they are more widely appreciated than some of the published comments suggest. Regards and good luck to you whatever the outcome." Ray Spanner, 16 January 2001. "Thanks a lot for the service. It was the best money I ever spent. Hope you haven't been damaged too much financially." J R McCune, 16 January 2001. "Goodbye RedHotAnt, it was great whilst it lasted, and you made a good go of it. All the best!" Craig Williams, 16 January 2001. "I am deeply sorry to hear the bad news, which came in a few minutes ago. The trouble with this sort of thing is the misery it can cause to the staff as well as to the company. I do hope you and your colleagues manage to get fixed up soon with something else, and maybe something better if that's not too much to hope for. I am grateful to you for the assistance you have given me in the past and if, in any future employment, you find yourself touting for customers, please feel free to bounce a presentation off me." John McInnes, 16 January 2001. What's not been published are those remarks from people who paid £120 for unmetered Net access only last month and have yet to receive the service. ®
Tim Richardson, 17 Jan 2001

Police swoop on more Net child pornographers

Police have arrested 13 people in relation to child porn and seized 27 computers in the largest raid seen so far in the UK. The suspected paedophiles were nabbed by the Met following a huge operation involving 13 forces. The material seized is said to be particularly distasteful and the officer in charge - Bob McLachlan of the Met's paedophile division - suggested that it was the police's expertise in Internet tracking that enabled the offenders to be caught. "Today's operation is the result of an intelligence led operation targeted at stemming the distribution of child pornography via the Internet," McLachlan said. "Images like these are evidence of the sexual assault and rape of children - and anyone who buys or downloads them perpetuates the cycle of abuse. We know that the Internet is increasingly used as a conduit for the exchange of pornographic pictures of children. Those responsible believe that the Internet affords anonymity, but police technology in this area is increasingly sophisticated." Well done the boys in blue, we say. At least some of the police are up to scratch with the Net. ® Related Stories Child porn ring smashed RIP not a problem thanks to police stupidity Tougher sentences planned for Net child porn offenders
Kieren McCarthy, 17 Jan 2001

MS Whistler copy protection climb down begins – in Germany?

With Whistler Microsoft plans to introduce a new form of copy protection involving compulsory registration and resulting in 'single use' software. But there are signs of revolt among the troops - at least in Microsoft Germany. In today's edition of the Financial Times Deutschland, Microsoft Germany spokesman Tomas Jensen is quoted as describing Microsoft Deutschland as a special, sensitive case, and suggesting that although the rest of the world may be forced to put its hands up to the new "product activation" system, Germany could be let off. But later in the day Jensen seemed to be saying he'd told the FTD nothing of the kind, just that no decision had been made, and that Germany was a critical market for Microsoft. Which from where we're sitting doesn't sound a heap of a lot different from what the FTD said he'd said in the first place. The new copy protection procedure has appeared in the Whistler beta, but there's been no public commitment by Microsoft to actually introduce it - so 'no decision has been made,' anywhere, is a perfectly rational line for managers to take. And we'll translate that stuff about the importance of Germany. Germany was, as the FTD notes, the nearest thing to a stronghold for OS/2 that IBM had, during that OS war. These days it's strong for Linux, and if Microsoft gets too insensitive and kicks German users around too hard, a revolution in one of the company's biggest and most prosperous markets is a perfectly plausible scenario. On top of that, you may recall German court skirmishes over the legality of Microsoft trying to prohibit the resale of OEM versions of Windows. So if Microsoft did try to use copy protection to enforce single use, single machine sales of Whistler (and indeed Office 10, which will likely use the same system), the German courts are perfectly capable of unpicking the whole deal. Nor is it a massive leap of the imagination to foresee other European countries following up on this, as various investigations crank on and various governments mull the benefits of open software. The sensitivity is not however limited to Europe - many people in the open source movement see the big opportunity as coming when Microsoft finally goes a step too far, and the users start just saying no. Microsoft undoubtedly wishes to enforce universal product registration that locks single users into single software packages on single machines, but although the company isn't known for its tact and diplomacy, it could quite likely be sufficiently concerned for its revenues to think twice on this one. As it stands, the system being tested with Whistler generates a code during installation. Via a phone or Web registration process this is then used to unlock the software. But here's the kicker - the code itself is generated by a combination of the product key (as per existing software) and a unique ID produced by the particular machine the software is being installed on. The intention is that the unlock key you get back from Redmond is only valid for one machine, even if we're talking a no-name you built yourself and installed a full retail copy of Whistler on. It's not absolutely clear what is used to generate the machine code, but it seems likely to be a combination of bios, graphics and various other bits of hardware kicking around in there. So if you swap out some of your hardware and try to reinstall the software, the unlock key quite probably won't work, and you'll have to phone up Microsoft and argue the toss. That is of course if the system works and is hard to get around. Given the experience of compulsory registration of Office 2000 victims, one could doubt that it will work, even without your knowing about the kerfuffle over Whistler build 2410, which was initially pulled because of, er, problems with installation keys. And even if Microsoft can get it to work technically, the inconvenience that'll be caused to some companies will probably get them looking for wrinkles to rip the protection out. If Microsoft does go with the system it apparently doesn't intend to use it on volume purchased software, which lets larger businesses off, but that's of no help to people who buy software in smaller quantities, who'll shout long and loud. We reckon Microsoft will back off this time - but they'll be back. ® Related Link Financial Times Deutschland story, auf Deutsch, natürlich
John Lettice, 17 Jan 2001
Cat 5 cable

Mobile phone suspected in plane crash inquiry

Investigators are exploring the possibility that mobile phone use may have been behind the crash of a light airplane, which killed ten people. An inquiry into the crash of Crossair flight LX 498, which crashed just after take-off from Zurich airport on 10 January last year, is focusing on a link with mobile phones after tests with the same model of airplane, a Saab 340, used on the flight. Specialist website airdisaster.com reports that Jean Overney, leading investigations into the crash of Crossair flight LX 498, said tests showed that Saab 340's navigation system could be disrupted by a mobile phone. Overney told airdisaster.com: "We have asked mobile phone operators to check whether a call was made or a message sent just before the crash. These are recorded precisely to the second. We need a court order to give us access, but should have this data by the end of May." Using mobile phone aboard planes is banned by almost all airlines and by the air traffic regulations of most countries. However problems can arise when passengers forget to switch off mobiles. However this is the first time a mobile phone has been linked so closely with an air accident investigation. A spokeswoman for the Civil Aviation Authority said that anecdotal evidence of interference with instruments from mobile phones had prompted it to carry out a full investigation of the effects of mobile phone transmissions on airplanes. A subsequent report highlighted particular areas of concern from mobile phone use of airplanes including false cockpit warnings, malfunction of systems, interference with flight crew headphones and "hidden failures of safety systems with loss of protection". Earlier this month, a Slovenian airliner made an emergency landing after a mobile phone caused the electronics system to malfunction and falsely indicate an onboard fire. ® Related Link CAA study: Interference levels in aircraft at radio frequencies used by portable telephones Related Stories Mobile phones: now it's eye cancer We've got brain cancer and we want your money
John Leyden, 17 Jan 2001

Mesh hit by dim computer thieves

Computer thieves hit Mesh Computers last night and swiped its office admin PCs. The break-in was discovered at around 8.00am this morning but the company had replaced and networked the missing kit by 11.00am. "It was bloody inconvenient, but we just had three hours disruption and it had no affect on our business," said communications manager Paul McEvoy. The not-so-technical thieves grabbed about 20 systems, mainly P90 towers, and decided to leave some nice monitors and a Zip drive. They also grabbed a Versace watchcase which held a stash of headache pills. If they'd hit the warehouse they'd have had a better haul. The thieves also unscrewed system cables rather than cutting them, as a slicker outfit might have done. Because of the late workers at the Mesh offices, and the early starters at the food company next to it, the thieves had a window of just four hours to commit the robbery. "If we'd been in any other kind of business it would have been a different story," said McEvoy, pleased that Mesh had the equipment and technical staff on hand to sort out the problem. "A hit of this kind could put someone, not in the computer market, out of business." ® Related Story Blaggers grab £150k worth of memory from Newbury distie
Robert Blincoe, 17 Jan 2001

Epox mobo rox

HWRoundupHWRoundup EPoX, clearly dejected after recent reviews from HardOCP, put together a board even Kyle could love. Quoth Mr. Bennett: "EPoX has done a bang-up job on the 8KTA3. This is the third KT133A board we have had the pleasure of testing, and I have to say it is certainly a board you will want to look at when and if you go to buy yourself an upgrade any time soon." So, have a look at the rest of the review to find out what EPoX pulled out of the hat to win such high praise. ABits KT7A reviewed over at OCWorkbench. It would be something of an understatement to say that the guys were impressed: it has space for most heatsinks (not Super Orb though) plenty for the overclockers...in their own words: "Almost perfect." The workbench boys are also excited about their Iwill KK266R photo gallery. If you fancy a quiet evening checking out the snaps click here. TweakTown has taken a broad look at the subject of integrated chipsets. It takes a stroll through basics of what integration is and how it works, why we want it and so on. Then it looks more closely at a few of the chipsets on the market today - in particular Via manages to impress the guys. It seems we have come a long way since the first attempts, so have a read here. And finally...case modding madness from 3DHardware. Part three in a series, this instalment looks at sensible things like how to keep all your cables neat, as well as more frivolous stuff like putting red lights in the box. Have a look, and get creative here. ® A bumper bag of Hardware Roundups can be found here.
Lucy Sherriff, 17 Jan 2001

More corporate domain name bullying

The clean sweep of fat, rich companies in domain name ownership (thanks mostly to WIPO) has given them unjustifiable confidence in their own omnipotence. How else could you explain the fact that American cable company QVC believes it has the right to the URL www.n7qvc.com. Well of course it does! After all, the letters Q, V and C are run concurrently in the URL aren't they? Anyone going to n7qvc.com would automatically expect to be directed to QVC's Web site, wouldn't they? Well that what the company's lawyer seems to think. That's why he sent Tony Peterson a nasty email stating that his "unauthorized use of n7qvc.com is an infringement of the QVC marks. That is, your use of n7qvc.com is likely to cause the public to believe that you are sponsored or approved in some way by our client. In addition, your use of n7qvc.com constitutes false advertising, because it misrepresents the nature, characteristics, qualities and origin of your commercial activities." Etc, etc, etc - you know the drill. To be fair, Tony's site had been hacked and redirected to a porn site when the lawyer most likely looked at it, but still, what right has QVC got to the domain? The situation also demonstrates what a lot of large companies are doing at the moment to deal with domain disputes - there are getting notification of any new domains registered with their name in the URL and then firing out threatening emails to any that aren't also run by large corporates. Anyone else find this a little worrying? The crunch though is that QVC picked on the wrong bloke. Tony had registered n7qvc.com because he's a keen radio ham and his call sign is - you guessed it - n7qvc. The site is a homepage, mostly concerning Tony's love of amateur radio. Even WIPO would have a hard time deciding in QVC's favour. And sure enough, when this fact was pointed out to QVC - with the not-unsubstantial support of other radio hams - the lawyer backed down as fast as you could say "bullying corporate scum". Not that he got an apology. "While we find nothing objectionable about the manner of use of the QVC mark in your domain name," the second email said, "nevertheless, as the owner of a highly distinctive radio call sign and domain name yourself, I am sure you can understand the care with which we monitor QVC's brand identity. In order to resolve this matter, relying upon your representation that your use of the letters QVC in your domain name are used only for your personal use, and not for commercial activities that would create the impression that you are affiliated or connected with QVC Inc in any way, we will take no further action." We're tempted to say: Tony can do whatever the hell he wants with the URL cause it's nothing to do with power-crazed QVC. But we won't. At what point did companies buy the rights to commonsense? Incidentally, the sordid history of domain names has become so extensive that someone has seen fit to write a book about it. Caught in a Web, Intellectual Property in Cyberspace covers the "growing trend" in companies pushing their weight around unjustifiably. We've asked for a review copy, so if it's any good, we'll knock up a story on it. ® Related Story The insane domain name game
Kieren McCarthy, 17 Jan 2001

France to tax recordable media

The French government is to slap a levy on recordable digital media to help compensate artists for the potential use of tapes, CD-Rs, Flash cards, recordable DVDs and the like to duplicate their works without permission. France has levied a tax on audio and video tapes for some time. The new tax, which the Government will begin collecting next month, extends that to media designed for the digital age. Hard drives and recording devices such as CD-R units have not been included in the list of taxable media, but they are likely to be included at some point in the future. Naturally, the French elecronics industry is none too pleased with all this and has already threatened legal action in an attempt to block the tax. However, with a precedent set by the tax on analog media, it's hard to see such a move proving successful. Quite the reverse, in fact. We can imagine the music and movie industries, buoyed by the French move, lobbying to have similar levies imposed elsewhere in Europe. Germany has already begun collecting a similar tax - the levy kicked in at the start of the year - and also taxes recording devices, such as CD-RW units. Last month, the German Government successfully forced Hewlett-Packard to pay a levy on all CD-R and CD-RW equipped PCs it had shipped since February 1998. Germany's latest tax covers hard drives, for which computer companies - and, ultimately, consumers - must pay a DM60 (£20) levy. Of course, how far such a tax will go to cover the revenue artists lose to piracy remains open to question. The UK, for one, reckons it won't, which is why mooted legislation to tax tapes and other media has never been passed. Indeed, only three-quarters of the money the French Government takes will be passed on to royalty management organisations for distribution among artists. The rest, said the French minister of culture in a Le Figaro interview, will be used to "encourage new talent", whatever the heck that means. ® Related Stories Germans hit HP with anti-piracy fine
Tony Smith, 17 Jan 2001

Maggs departure revives Palm-Symbian prospects

Could the Palm/Symbian dream ticket be on? Giga analyst and VP Rob Enderle stoked rumours today that Palm is again shopping for a new operating system, the very day after the company announced that its CTO Bill Maggs was leaving the company. Maggs had emerged as Palm's most prominent opponent of a technology alliance with Symbian. Fifteen months ago Palm and Symbian announced talks about talks, if not a formal partnership, which involved putting the Palm user interface onto Symbian's kernel and networking stacks. Attendees at 1999's PalmSource Conference in Santa Clara were told that joint APIs could be expected in mid-2000. It seemed like a marriage made in heaven, and as The Register observed at the time, looked like "the sort of news that will ruin Bill Gates' Christmas." Palm has enviable branding in the United States, and a makes life trivially simple for a loyal developer community. While Symbian - a joint venture largely owned by the mobile handset vendors - has an equally enviable technology lead, an intimate knowledge of the wireless business and doesn't manufacture rival devices (although of course, all its shareholders do...) And we waited... and waited. Although a Palm-on-Symbian device is in the works, and should appear in the form of a Nokia smartphone for the US market, the broader partnership appeared to have stalled. With the blessing, it appears, of the outgoing Palm CTO. Although Maggs had been in the post less than a year, but he appeared to set his stall out in spectacular fashion against Symbian, and revved Palm into go-it-alone mode. Analysts have been told to expect a fully rewritten, potentially incompatible 32bit PalmOS 5. Creating a real-time wireless platform from scratch is a multi-billion dollar exercise these days, and with the Symbian members having done most of the donkey work on GPRS and Bluetooth already, so a partnership would leave Palm to concentrate on what it's best at: marketing friendly gadgets. Although PalmOS can do rudimentary telephony - as Handspring's GSM clip-on demonstrates - it doesn't do it that well, and of course can't do much else at the same time. And as the trickle of all-in-one rivals from Panasonic, Nokia, Ericsson, Sanyo and Motorola turns into a flood later this year, such Heath Robinson kludges look increasingly threadbare. Despite Jeff Hawkins' bluster at the most recent PalmSource, Hawkins remains in touch with Symbian, we gather, although in public he's still PalmOS biggest supporter. Symbian officially gave us their "we'll talk to anyone and everybody" response today, and wouldn't comment on recent meetings between the Handspring chief and Symbian. However with Maggs' departure, an obstacle to renewed collaboration has been removed. Palm needs to convince its investors and staff that its recent not-invented-here mode isn't in their long-term interest. But heck, that's good enough for Apple these days, it must be good enough for Palm? Related Stories Palm creator 'calls' Symbian boss in OS' defence Palm CTO rubbishes '3000 man years' of Symbian OS work Symbian CEO suggests dream ticket alliance with Palm Inside Quartz: Symbian's new Palm-killer platform MS out in cold as Symbian and Palm team up
Andrew Orlowski, 17 Jan 2001

Oftel calls summit to discuss LLU apathy

The winged watchdog has called an emergency meeting for tomorrow to discuss ongoing problems with the roll-out of local loop unbundling (llu) in Britain. The Oftel meeting follows in the wake of a newspaper report earlier this week that Irish telco, Eircom, was the only outfit to begin operating unbundled services to its customers. The report claimed that BT had only received one order for space in these exchanges. The assumption was that despite BT making exchanges available for competitors to install their equipment, this process simply had not taken place. However, an Oftel spokeswoman confirmed today that telcos had ordered space in all four trial exchanges (Battersea, Belfast, Edinburgh and Leeds) although no lines had been ordered (except by Eircom in Belfast). Furthermore, telcos only gained access to the exchanges on January 4th giving them little time to install and commission their kit. It could be another fortnight before other telcos come on stream. Elsewhere, it's emerged that of the 25 exchanges made available as part of the first wave of installations, BT has only received orders for space in 14 exchanges. Once again, this is being portrayed by some as further evidence that rival telcos aren't as enthusiastic about LLU. However, before BT tries to spin this to its advantage, it should be remembered that the first exchanges to come on stream are the least popular exchanges; the exchanges that were under-subscribed during the complex allocation process. Since these are effectively the fag ends of BT's network of local exchanges, it's hardly surprising that the telcos aren't all that interested. ® Related Stories LLU - Register Full Coverage
Tim Richardson, 17 Jan 2001

Internet baby-buy saga goes on

The incredible story of the twin baby girls advertised over the Internet, nabbed and driven across America and then finally brought to the UK (with their third set of parents) is still going on. For those of you that haven't heard the tale: two baby girls were put up for adoption by their natural mother and advertised on the Caring Heart agency on the Internet. There they were picked up by an American couple - the Allens - for £4,000. The Allens can't have kids and have already adopted one child. However, when the natural mother came for what they believed was a final goodbye in San Diego a few months later, she absconded to Arkansas with the kids and two new British parents - the Kilshaws - who had coughed up £8,000 for the pair of them. The Allens were in hot pursuit across America and bizarrely, the Kilshaws believe the mother was being paid by the Allens to give details of their location. Arkansas laws make quick adoption easy and so the natural mother - Tranda Wrecker - lied about being a resident, the adoption was rushed through and the family flew over this side of the Atlantic where they sold their story to the Sun and got the paper to put them up in a hotel. Now firmly in the media spotlight, both sets of parents have started popping up on the TV getting increasingly irate and a whole number of other interesting facts have appeared. The Kilshaws, for example, already have four kids - two from Mrs Kilshaw's first marriage and another two from her second. Apparently there were no checks on the Kilshaws as parents but then the Allens aren't whiter-than-white either - Mrs Allen has a conviction for embezzlement. Both couples are middle-aged and you have to ask why they want the poor babies in the first place. Some would say that this is precisely the sort of people you will get if babies are sold to the highest bidder. The Kilshaws have admitted they have spent around £30,000 trying to get the girls. Obviously, there's a premium on twins. And, of course, now the politicians and law agencies are involved - the FBI, Home Office, the Welsh National Assembly, the various adoption agencies, Department of Health and god knows who else. Is it legal? Is it illegal? Is it a right royal cock-up? Prime Minister Tony Blair just gave a press conference and said he was "horrified and disgusted" by the whole saga and while it is illegal to buy and sell kids in the UK, he says he will make it illegal for UK couples to buy them abroad. Surprisingly, the Internet itself has escaped the usual accusation of corrupting the world. Perhaps people will eventually change their focus to the hideous creatures that we have managed to nurture thanks to over-enthusiastic capitalism. How much do morals cost again? ®
Kieren McCarthy, 17 Jan 2001

Warning issued over Windows Media Player 7 bug

Veteran bug hunter Georgi Guninski has identified a potentially serious security vulnerability affecting Microsoft Windows Media Player 7 "skins", which control the look and feel of the application. The bug is said by Guninski to allow hackers to read "local files and browsing directories which in turn allows executing arbitrary programs" on victim's machines. Properly exploited it could allow an attacker to obtain complete control of a user's computer, he warned. Users of other browsers are not affected by the vulnerability whose affects are believed to be limited to a particular machine. The vulnerability exploits the fact that "skins", downloadable files which change the appearance of a program's user interface, are stored at a particular location on a user's hard disk, C:/Program files/Windows Media Player/Skins/skin.wmz. A HTML document can be constructed which could lead a user into downloading an arbitrary file, which might contain executable Java code disguised as a Windows Media Player skin file, to this known location. An applet tag in the remote HTML document can then execute the 'skin.wmz' file as Java code. Deri Jones, security services director at NTA Monitor, said: "This is an example of a type of attack which gets you whilst you're browsing the web. The root cause is bugs with Internet Explorer which allow the downloading or uploading of files onto a machine." Microsoft said users can protect themselves from the vulnerability by setting Internet Explorers' Internet options for security zones so that any unsigned Java content will not run on a PC. A more complete fix may follow. In November a very similar problem was reported to affect Windows Media Player. Microsoft has issued a patch to correct the vulnerability, which meant a custom skin file could potentially include script, which would execute if Windows Media Player was run and that skin was selected. The same patch also corrected a buffer overflow vulnerability that affects the code which parses Active Stream Redirector (.ASX) streaming media files. ® Related links Guninski's demonstration of the vulnerability Related stories Mediaplayer 7 security flaw Woundup New skins for WMP7, IE6 beta due? Windows Media Player 7 goes gold, browser wars II to follow Guninski finds another IE 5.5 security hole Microsoft preps Napster clone
John Leyden, 17 Jan 2001

How the hell does the Govt meet all its cybertargets?

The Cabinet Office has been heartily slapping itself on the back for not only meeting targets for e-government but surpassing them. Now, 40 per cent of all government services are online - set to rise to 75 per cent by next year. And the Office for National Statistics says that one in five adults with Internet access use it to get access to government services and information. Of course, as we all remember, the government said it would have 25 per cent of services ready for the Net by 2002 - so you can see how well it's done. "Real progress is being made," said a minister. And of course the government is throwing even more money at the projects that will make us the envy of the world. You know when a general election is coming up when this sort of guff is distributed by the government and regurgitated by the press. We don't believe a word of it. Sure, they've found some way to justify the stats, but 40 per cent of government services? Nonsense. Interesting to see what the government calls "government services". One in five adults use the Internet for government info? Bollocks they do. This is all just worthless figures and, although inevitable, demonstrates that the Internet is becoming a political issue. We can assure you that Labour will use the Internet in its election campaign to "get the youth vote". And they will see right through it. Whether this nonsense today is greater or less than yesterday's nonsense about the NHS all being fully wired by 2005, is a matter for debate. Also, how come is it that the government keeps meeting targets and the press reports them as if it ever knew what the "targets" were in the first place? The only time you hear about targets is when they've magically been met or surpassed. We'd like to hear the next set of targets now, if you would. In about five years, we'll be told the entire UK is fully wired up and then scratch our heads when we're unable to get anything done online. More of the same, more of the same. ® Related Story UK Govt throws £500m at NHS Net dream
Kieren McCarthy, 17 Jan 2001

P4 volumes to ramp up Q3 2001 – Intel

Intel doesn't expect Pentium 4 take off until the second half of the year, the company said yesterday. The reason? Chipzilla will get its Brookdale chipset finished off in Q3. Brookdale supports SDRAM rather than Rambus' pricey RDRAM - it's roughly four times the price of SDRAM. So Brookdale systems won't cost as much as machines based on the current P4-oriented RDRAM-based 850 chipset, allowing OEMs to push the chip down into the lower reaches of the PC market. Intel's senior VP and the general manager of its Intel Architecture Group, Paul Otellini admitted all this yesterday in a conference with financial analysts. His comments confirm the confidential roadmap we saw last year (see Intel to push Rambus hard in 2001). That roadmap has the SDRAM-based Brookdale shipping Q3 2001, with a DDR SDRAM version following early 2002. Otellini said the DDR Brookdale would ship "as fast as we can get it out". Which nicely (for Rambus) leaves RDRAM as the only high-performance memory technology that Intel supports in a P4-oriented chipset for a whole year - a very long time in the chip biz. Intel has "no plans" to support DDR with the PIII platform at all. Otellini told analysts: "Brookdale will help build overall volumes as Pentium 4 ramps up." So P4 volumes will ramp up during the first half of the year, driven by P4 price cuts and Intel's plan to promote Rambus hard. The pricing strategy was hinted at by Otellini yesterday. "Obviously we have to sharpen our pencils on the Pentium 4 price range to get the volumes we want to drive," he said. Which nicely confirms what we'd heard about major P4 price cuts at the end of this month. That should encourage the chip's uptake - and make it easier for OEMs to bundle expensive RDRAM DIMMs. Indeed, "Intel will continue to proactively drive [RDRAM] to help vendors come down the learning and price curves more quickly. Be prepared to transition to lower price points if pricing continues to come down," according to the roadmap. The plan's clear. First, focus P4 on Rambus during the first half of the year to build the association between the two in OEMs' minds, especially if there are some solid CPU price cuts early on. Next, come Q3, throw SDRAM into the mix to give P4 a real kick. As volumes rise, P4 prices will come down further and, because Intel has spent the first half of the year explicitly linking P4 with RDRAM, hopefully encourage further adoption of Rambus' memory. Intel may even be hoping that the gap between RDRAM and single-rate SDRAM will close considerably between now and Q3. Then come Q1 2002, it can release DDR Brookdale for the die-hards who refuse to toe the RDRAM line. ® Related Stories Intel to push Rambus hard in 2001 Intel to slash P4 prices 28 January
Tony Smith, 17 Jan 2001

What Whistler looks like

A reader directed us to a large gallery of Whistler (Beta 2?) build 2410 screen shots at the Savage News Web site. While the basic Win9x interface remains, we detect an effort to manipulate graphical details so that the desktop more strongly resembles the Microsoft Web site. This subtle change may reflect hopes that visual familiarity and consistency will help users adapt to the company's grand plan to integrate computing with the Web so seamlessly that the distinctions will one day become meaningless. One interesting addition is an option dialogue to enable and synchronise on-line/off-line files. The sorts of files which, in an office environment, might be stored on a company network; but with a consumer OS like Whistler, well, we know where they'd likely be stored... ®
Thomas C Greene, 17 Jan 2001

‘Mad’ Maggs to quit Palm

The ever-entertaining Bill Maggs is to quit Palm Computing, leaving the company in search of a new Chief Technology Officer. Maggs had spent less than a year in the hot seat. CNet cites an internal email from Palm CEO Carl Yankowski informing staff that Maggs is resigning to "pursue outside opportunities related to the next phase of the Internet". The recent PalmSource conference found Maggs - unusual and all the more likeable for enjoying life outside work, a crime in Silicon Valley - almost demob happy, sources have told The Register. Palm finds itself squeezed between two competitors with deep pockets: Microsoft and the mobile phone companies' joint Symbian venture, which by our estimates is outspending R&D on Palm-based smartphones by about 3:1 or 4:1. Palm shunned the opportunity of pooling its resources with Symbian in favour of a complete rewrite of the PalmOS that's expected in a couple of years time. The new CTO will have this to manage, and as well as a migration to a new hardware platform. So the best of luck. ® Related story Palm CTO rubbishes '3000 man years' of Symbian OS work
Andrew Orlowski, 17 Jan 2001

Mobile phones: now it's eye cancer

Prolonged mobile phone use can make you go blind, a German report claims. Researchers at Essen University took a group of 118 patients already suffering from uveal melanoma, cancer in the iris or base of the retina of the eye, and investigated their mobile phone use history. They compared the results against a control group of 474 people. They found that regular mobile phone users were three times more likely to develop cancer of the eye. However, the doctor who headed the research, Dr Andreas Stang, warned against users rushing off to the optician. In an editorial accompanying the research he urged a cautious response to what was after all a small study, subject to all sorts of variables. The report appears in January's Epidemiology journal. ® Related Stories BT urges UK not to use mobiles We've got brain cancer and we want your money Death by mobile phone US says mobile phones won't kill you Finally the truth! Mobiles only kill children It's official: Mobile phones give you diarrhoea
Linda Harrison, 17 Jan 2001

Redhat worm touts instant noodles

An Internet worm cobbled together from pre-existing scripts is spreading rapidly through Redhat Linux systems, leaving in its wake a trail of defaced Web pages touting the virtues of instant Oriental noodles. The so-called 'Ramen' worm is a bulky, but effective, collection of hacking tools rolled up into a package. A modified scanning program searches broad swaths of the Internet for Redhat Linux versions 6.2 and 7.0 installations. The scanner then launches attacks against those machines with publicly available exploits of three known vulnerabilities and spreads into each crackable box. On Redhat 6.2 systems, the worm exploits vulnerabilities in wu-ftpd and rpc.statd. On version 7.0, it attacks LPRng. Detailed information on fixing all three holes can be found in the SecurityFocus vulnerability database. The worm's strategy is not dissimilar to that employed by the 1988 Morris worm, the most successful self-propelled contagion to date. But unlike the Morris worm, on every system Ramen penetrates, it promptly kills the service that allowed it to break in-thus preventing the kind of multiple infection that caused the Morris worm to grind infected computers into seizure. But while the Morris worm was an academic exercise gone horribly wrong, Raman serves a decidedly sophomoric end: On every Web server it infects, it replaces the main page with the message "Hackers looooooooooooove noodles," signed by the "RameN Crew." © 2001 SecurityFocus.com, all rights reserved. Related Links Wu-Ftpd Remote Format String Stack Overwrite Multiple Linux Vendor rpc.statd Remote Format String Vulnerability Multiple Vendor LPRng User-Supplied Format String Vulnerability Ramen analysis
Kevin Poulsen, 17 Jan 2001