22nd > January > 2001 Archive

Intel samples Brookdale

At least five Taiwanese mobo makers have received samples of Intel's upcoming Brookdale chipset. Brookdale is designed to hook up Chipzilla's Pentium 4 to regular SDRAM. The current P4-supporting chipset, the 850, only works with Rambus' pricey RDRAM. The new chipset is due in the third quarter. However, Asustek, Gigabyte, Microstar and others have begun testing an early version of Brookdale, a Chipzilla spokeswoman said, according to EBN, which reckons it's all a sign that Intel is "aiming to introduce" DDR SDRAM. The question is, will it do so sooner rather than later? The implication behind EBN's statement is that DDR SDRAM will be supported by a P4 chipset earlier than Q1 2002, the timeframe pegged by Intel's own roadmap. Intel wants to encourage as many people as possible the chance to buy into RDRAM before it supports DDR. We expect it to reduce the cost of implementing the P4 with RDRAM considerably before the anticipated Q3 release of Brookdale. SDRAM support will allow PC OEMs to push P4 down into the mid to low end, having spent the intervening six months establishing P4 plus RDRAM as the de facto standard for the high-end. That'll generate the volume sales required to bring the P4 down in price, which will also help cut to the cost of RDRAM-equipped systems. Come 2002, no one's going to want DDR because RDRAM is so well established, or so Intel appears to be hoping. ® Related Stories Samsung struggles with soaring Rambus demand P4 volumes to ramp up Q3 2001 - Intel
Tony Smith, 22 Jan 2001

Mass hack takes out govt sites

A hacking spree last weekend saw military and government Web sites defaced on three continents in what its perpetrators claimed was the largest mass defacement in the history of mankind. The graffiti artists, known as Pentaguard, took out government Web sites in the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States and defaced them with the same message. This consisted a profane rant full of hacker in-jokes, bragging and references to beers, sexual desire for female hackers and Ferraris (a copy of which can be seen here. Staff at Attrition.org, a Web site which tracks defacements, said it was highly unusual for hackers to deface a large number of sites in different nations in different time zones all at the same time. Attrition.org backed up the claims of hackers about the scale of the attack and said it was one of "the largest, most systematic defacements of worldwide government servers on the Web" it had ever seen. Paul Rogers, a security consultant at MIS Corporate Defence, said that the attack was well planned. He said it was likely a number of people were involved and that the attacks were automated and carried out against sites whose security was found to be lax. "All the UK sites were running NT and Microsoft IIS [web server] and were hosted by ISPs - which raises the question of who's responsible for the security of hosted sites," said Rogers, who said that all the other sites were running similar configurations using IIS4. "It's not difficult to retrieve list of government servers and look for weaknesses with them using automated scanners," he added. US sites targeted included the Republican Caucus for the California Legislature, whose Web site has recently been shutdown because of the Californian power crisis. The Alaskan Office for the Department of Interior Web site was also hit, which points towards an overt political motive for the defacements. This is because Bush nominee Gale Norton, who favours oil prospecting in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, is set to be confirmed as the US Secretary of the Interior. The British defacements consisted of a series of small municipalities as well as city and county governments - including a Web site set up by the UK Government to spread information on mad cow disease. Australian targets were mostly local authorities with the exception of one attack, which took down a legislative search application for the entire Commonwealth of Australia. Pentaguard is well known in security circles and even prior to this attack was the largest defacer of government and military Web sites, previous targets included Nasa and government Web sites in China, Kuwait, Georgia, and even Vietnam. A sampler of Pentaguard's work can be seen here. ®
John Leyden, 22 Jan 2001

Creative forecasts Q3 sales drop

A last minute Christmas rush helped Creative Technologies beat analysts expectations for Q2, but profit still fell 40 per cent to $26.5 million, down from $44.5 million a year ago. But for the quarter ending 31 March, Creative has forecast sales to slump down to between $260 million and $270 million, compared with $330 million a year earlier. The company has said there may be job cuts in the period. Creative blames weak orders from PC vendors, especially Dell, for the Q2 results and the pessimistic Q3 forecast. Revenues for Q2 fell 2.2 per cent to $427 million, from $436.8 million a year ago. Good sellers at Christmas were the SoundBlaster range and the Nomad Jukebox. Entertainment products accounted for 12.7 per cent of sales in Q2, from 4.7 per cent a year ago. Sound cards accounted for 35.7 per cent of sales for Q2, down from 38.5 per cent a year ago. ®
Robert Blincoe, 22 Jan 2001

IBM targets post-Napster music biz

IBM hopes to leverage Napster-induced paranoia to sell its EMMS digital music distribution system to the world's biggest recording companies. According to Big Blue, it has tailored its software to support Napster's file sharing model. The idea is that MP3s are packaged to allow the copyright holders to specify rules that govern how many times the file can be sent to another user. There's nothing new here - it's how other rights management system, such as Intertrust, have been working for some time. Of course, what IBM doesn't point out is that such an approach effectively negates the whole point of Napster. After all, why grab files that only let you listen to the first 30 seconds of the tracks they contain? In short, the scheme is designed to make Napster so useless, everyone goes back to the digital download model, and both the technology and music industries can work as if Napster had never happened. In other words, a return to a world where copyright is a packageable commodity. As Scott Burnett, IBM's Global Media and Entertainment division's business development executive, told CNET: "If you assume that Napster will disappear in its current state, what's going to replace it? That's what we're talking about here." The trouble is, like the atomic bomb, you can't un-invent technologies you don't like. Even if Napster does "disappear", the model it pioneered won't, and it's going to be very difficult to prevent music being copied and distributed without the controls IBM wants to let record companies add to their tracks. Better then to develop systems that allow content owners to profit from the 'free' distribution of their material, through subscriptions or ancillary services. If it can work for Red Hat, it can work for EMI and co. ®
Tony Smith, 22 Jan 2001

Totalise shareholders get the jitters

Totalise has moved quickly to dampen speculation that the dotcom is in financial difficulties. In an email circulated to shareholders, the company said that "a situation has arisen that requires the Company to hold an extraordinary general meeting under section 142 of the Companies Act 1985". In these days of dotcom paranoia it appears that some shareholders have interpreted this as a precursor to Totalise going titsup.com. Not so, says Totalise. "This is merely a technical accounting formality," said an informed spokeswoman for Totalise. "We're not in any trouble at all," she said. Is that clear now? ®
Tim Richardson, 22 Jan 2001

Athlon supercomp gets an airing

UpdatedUpdated The Bartol Institute at the University of Delaware is today showing off its clustered super computer based on AMD's Athlon processor. Nicknamed Samson, the machine is expected to rank in the top 200 supercomputers in the world. The machine, which was first unveiled at last year's SC2000 supercomputer show in Dallas, will start off with 132 1GHz Athlons mounted in a chassis manufactured by RackSaver. The processors will be mounted in a "two dimensional torus", designed by Dolphin Interconnect solutions. Eventually, the number of processors will drop to 128, as the interconnect scheme is upgraded from two to three dimensions, according to RackSaver executives. TechWeb reports that the processor chassis will, for now, be arranged in an 11x12 matrix. We had written tha Samson was the first Athlon supercomp but our readers have provided us with the evidence that it's not. Brandon Hanke writes: "I just wanted to notify you the University of Kentucky has had a cluster supercomputer based on the Athlon for a good long time now. KLAT2 you can see the info at www.aggregate.org. I believe this is the first clustered Athlon supercomputer and it does already rank in the top 200 136 or something like that. Also 3rd fastest in any unversity." The Bartol Institute news conference will be held at the university at noon, local time. ® Related Story Compaq Alpha-chip supercomp boasts 30x power increase
Lucy Sherriff, 22 Jan 2001

Warner Bros bullying children again

It's at it again. Actually, it never stopped. Warner Bros/Time Warner is pushing its weight around and sending threatening legal letters to young Harry Potter fans because they have had the audacity to register a domain name with the words 'harry' and 'potter' in it. A 15-year-old Singaporean girl, Christie Chan, has received a strongly worded lawyer's letter telling her to hand over www.harrypotternetwork.net to Warner because of copyright infringement. Again, it used the name of author JK Rowling, although no one has yet to garner Ms Rowling's opinion because she won't talk to anyone. We've been through all this before Christmas with the disgraceful pressure put on 15-year-old Claire Field to hand over www.harrypotterguide.co.uk. Warner Brothers suffered some bad publicity but came up with a cunning countering PR plan (more of that later) and is now behaving like nothing happened. What makes Christie's case even more emotive is the fact that she doesn't even use the domain because she thinks it "awful" as a URL. So on the one hand we have a teenager's fickleness deciding she doesn't really like a URL and on the other a huge conglomerate convinced that the self-same URL is some form of global plot to pull dollars out of its greasy palms. It really is depressing how global companies continue to justify outrageous, immoral behaviour through profit or control. Interestingly, the letter sent to Ms Chan referred to ICANN regarding Harry Potter: "We have previously filed compaints with ICANN to recover domain names which incorporate the Harry Potter properties," it said. This is a direct reference to the clever PR coup the company pulled off just before Christmas, which, thanks to most of the media's pomposity, will restrict further reporting on the Harry Potter cybersquatter issue. Put simply, Warner Bros was under growing pressure for the way it was dealing with the Harry Potter issue. Fortunately, it also had a case coming up before WIPO which involved a blatant cybersquatter. HarperStephens had registered 107 Harry Potter domain names and not put any of them to use. It was a cut-and-dried case. It won, recognised the opportunity, and preceded to put all its corporate weight behind getting the story into the press. Not only did it manage to get this relatively uninteresting story (there have been a lot more interesting WIPO cases) in just about every UK national newspaper (and many US papers too), it also managed to reinvent WIPO to give the story some credibility. WIPO was no longer WIPO but the United Nations' WIPO. Hence the "UN decides in favour of Time Warner" headlines. Now, WIPO has been transformed into "ICANN, the governing body for Internet domain names" for the sake of Warners' threatening letters. It all stinks to high heaven. But, you see, now the Harry Potter issue with regard to domain names has been covered, most papers won't see the trees for the wood. So a company that registers 107 domain names for profit becomes akin to a 15-year-old girl that is a fan of the Harry Potter books. And now Warner Brothers can continue stamping on the very fans that will make its bloody film a success without fear of bad publicity. However, Christie Chan has vowed to fight the company over her domain name, Claire Field still has control of hers (and has had offers of legal defence) and a bloke called Alastair Alexander has set up www.potterwar.org.uk to protest against Warner Brothers' behaviour. It may just start to swing the other way again. Meanwhile, Warner Bros will continue to placate difficult questions with half-truths and legal gibberish while its lawyers fire out letters to schoolkids. ® Related Links HarryPotterNetwork.net HarryPotterguide.co.uk PotterWar.org.uk Related Stories WIPO reinvents itself as part of UN The Harry Potter bullying debacle
Kieren McCarthy, 22 Jan 2001

Atlantic Telecom sacks 350

Atlantic Telecom Group is to axe 350 jobs in the UK as part of programme of rationalisation designed to save the telco £30 million. The job cuts come as Atlantic focuses on delivering services to the SME market at the expense of its residential business. In a statement, executive chairman Graham Duncan said: "The significant refocus of our investment towards the business market has led and will continue to lead to the reduction in our residential business in the UK. "The restructure will result in a reduction of approximately 350 jobs in the UK. The total number of full-time job losses will be mitigated in part by the transfer of some areas of the business to Scotland, and an increase in the number of staff working on the business focused areas of the company." Elsewhere, the telco said that the rollout of broadband services in Germany is "ahead of schedule", with 331 central offices equipped at 31 December. Holland is also proceeding well. In the UK, Atlantic claims local loop unbundling is still at an early stage but hopes to have some unbundled broadband services ready by July. Which is nice. ®
Tim Richardson, 22 Jan 2001

PlayStation 3 to be Sony's convergence box, not PS2

Sony's PlayStation 2 may not be the digital doorway between the home and a world of online entertainment the company originally planned it to be. No, that role will now be taken by the console's successor, imaginatively known as the PlayStation 3. When the PlayStation 2 was announced back in 1999, Sony predicted a world of console users connected to the Net across broadband links in order to watch movies and listen to music. That vision was expected to become reality mid-2001. Well, we're nearly there, and while Sony has realigned its Music, Pictures and Computer Entertainment subsidiaries under an umbrella organisation called Sony Broadband Entertainment, and forged links with broadband network providers, the world of high-speed links, everywhere still seems some way off. Sony has clearly taken this on board, and is now discussing all this post-games functionality in terms of the PlayStation 2's successor. Or so Sony Computer Entertainment boss Ken Kutaragi recently told Scientific American. Quoted in a recent feature on digital entertainment, Kutaragi re-iterates the old PlayStation 2 vision, but links it to PlayStation 3. When that console ships, we can expect it to hook up to email, online shopping and all the other broadband services Sony originally expected the PS2 would connect us to. Kutaragi doesn't say when PlayStation 3 will arrive, but back at the Autumn 1999 Microprocessor Forum, while discussing the PlayStation 2's Emotion Engine CPU, he did note that Emotion Engine 2 was scheduled to ship sometime in 2002 and would be hosted by the PlayStation 2's successor. ® Related Story PlayStation 3 to ship 2002
Tony Smith, 22 Jan 2001

PS2 glitches may pummel Sony profits

Sony looks set to blame poor results at the end of last year on production problems with the PlayStation 2. According to a survey of analysts by Bloomberg, Sony is expected to have been hit by a 22 per cent reduction in net income in the last quarter of 2000, compared to the same period the year before. This means profit of ¥72.8 billion ($623 million) down from ¥93.6 billion. Across all its product lines sales are expected to have risen 8.8 per cent to ¥2.1 trillion ($17.97 billion). The stock-quoting news service quizzed a number of analysts about what the future might hold for Sony. Kazuharu Mirura, an analyst at Daiwa institute of research said that Sony was likely to miss its annual production targets. "Sony's game operations were not in good shape in the third quarter," he said. The productions problems have been well documented, but Sony says it has the problem licked, and is confident it will meet its target of ten million PS2s shipped by the end of March. It plans to ramp up its output to two million consoles per month for the next three months. As well as having sold fewer units, Sony also spent more cash getting the PS2s to the shops - often shipping by plane, rather than by sea. The extra costs from this have been estimated at ¥1500 per console, according to Merrill Lynch analyst Hitoshi Kuriyama. ® Related Link Find Bloomberg's whole opinion round up here. Related Stories Thousands of PS2s land in Essex Sony to double PlayStation 2 output
Lucy Sherriff, 22 Jan 2001

Duke Nukem fans bite back

On Friday, 19 January we published the article Duke Nukem on screenshot search and destroy, written by freelance journalist Andrew Smith. We've had some complaints - three to be precise, two of which are from games sites - concerning the story. Our critics say that comments on the Planet Crap forum concerning the unauthorised use of screenshots made by George Broussard, owner/producer of 3D Realms, the Duke Nukem developer, were taken out of context. "Context" in this case - we guess - is what's considered appropriate discourse in the cosy, relaxed environs of PlanetCrap; this may seem very different when shoehorned into a story on The Register. We disagree with our correspondents - anything in the public domain is fair game to us. (But then we would think that, wouldn't we?) However, we did make a couple of alterations to the Duke Nukem article on Sunday morning - the piece originally said 3D Realms had "announced plans" to restrict screenshots. It was pointed out to us that Broussard's comments were not one and the same as 3D Realms making an official announcement. We accept that we got this wrong. So apologies all round on this score. If you want to get the full flavour of games industry insiders and fans beating up on The Register, look no further than this Planet Crap thread. ®
Drew Cullen, 22 Jan 2001
server room

Orange gets cheaper by the day

Orange still seems determined to go ahead with its 10-15 per cent float, even though it is likely to be valued at less than half of what was expected in May 2000. In fact, it is so determined that large investors are being offered a five per cent discount in the hope of shoring the float up. It is expected to be valued between E55 billion and E65 billion (£35 billion and £42 billion) when it floats next month. This compares with the E100-150 billion predicted by France Telecom when it bought the business from Vodafone. A braver Orange would delay the float - especially since telecoms stocks are in a bad state at the moment - but as many people are beginning to find, Orange is no longer the company it was. Seeing as the decision to go ahead is clearly taken at the top, it's not pushing things too much to tie the decision in with the Gallic arrogance of France Telecom. Confidence in Orange has been shaken since the departure of well-respected Hans Snook as CEO and the arrival of France Telecom yes-men after the company bought Orange. France Telecom is very much in the mould of the other two giant telecoms companies in Europe - BT and Deutsche Telekom. In fact, it would be an interesting three-way battle for which is the most blinkered and over-confident. How the shares will fare is anyone's guess, but without the key figure of Snook comforting and reassuring investors and journalists alike, France Telecom will have to pull its finger out. New head and frenchman Jean-Francois Pontal has not been out doing the canvassing which is virtually career suicide when a big float is near. Not bright. ® Related Story Snook is off Orange reshuffle brings in France Telecom exec Orange kills top-up cards in favour of mobile credit cards
Kieren McCarthy, 22 Jan 2001

Lexmark profits fall 45%

Lexmark has provided proof that printer firms got hammered as much as PC vendors in the fourth quarter of 2000. Profits for the quarter fell 45 per cent. After one-off charges the company earned $55 million, compared with $99.7 million for the same period a year earlier. Back in October the company warned it was going to restructure and shed as many as 900 workers. Sales for the quarter hit a record $1.096 billion, up from $1.003 billion a year earlier. ®
Robert Blincoe, 22 Jan 2001

Toshiba samples 30GB micro-drive

Toshiba is shipping samples of its new 30GB hard drive in a 2.5in form factor. The drive has two 15GB disks, each with an areal density of 26.7Gb per square inch. Toshiba said that it is also shipping the 15GB platters singly, in samples. Both models, the 15GB and the 30GB, run at 4200rpm, have an average seek time of 13ms, and are ATA-5 compliant to support data transfer rate of 100MB per second. They can also withstand operating shock of 175g and non-operating shock of up to 800g. The drives are 100mm by 70mm by 9.5mm, and weigh less than 100g. Toshiba says that this makes them ideal for use in notebooks, as well as non-PC applications such as PDAs, printers, copiers, GPS systems and MP3 players. Although they are expected to be available by March this year, prices have not been made public as yet. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 22 Jan 2001

Le Freeswerve, BTInternet go unmetered

Both BTInternet and Le Freeswerve are expected to launch their all-you-can-eat-for-just-one price Internet services later this week. If all goes well, Le Freeswerve will go live on Wednesday. BTInternet will launch its product by the end of the month, although it could be ready as early as Friday. Both products are based on BT's wholesale unmetered access product, FRIACO. Le Freeswerve will charge £12.99 for 24/7 unmetered Net access. BTInternet's offering costs £14.99. In theory, both deals mean that punters can access the Net for a fixed price without having to worry about high phone bills. For ISPs, FRIACO means they can offer an unmetered Net access product knowing their telecom costs are capped. In September, AOL UK launched its FRIACO-based unmetered service. ® Related Stories BTinternet offers 24/7 unmetered Net access Freeserve offers new 24/7 unmetered package AOL UK offers 24/7 flat fee Net access
Tim Richardson, 22 Jan 2001

Barrysworld goes titsup.com

Online gaming site Barrysworld.com has posted notice of voluntary liquidation. The site has run out of money and it's been unable to persuade its shareholders to shell out more cash in what is a horrible investment climate. The four-year-old site will stay up and running (with luck) until the end of this month and there is a creditors' meeting on 5 February. Until then, the company is being run effectively by Fisher Partners, an insolvency specialist. Barrysworld got its first and now it appears last slug of financing just nine months ago. At the time we wrote that the company had received a downpayment of £1 million from 3i and was set to get another £1 million at the end of the year. Barrysworld was also seeking investment of a further £1 million. We wonder whether it even got that second £1 million. Barrysworld employs 35 and - apparently - has some potential, unnamed bidders in the frame. Prior to its collapse, the company tried - and failed - to sell itself to Gameplay, our sources say. According to a email newsflash from CTW, a trade magazine for the UK games publishing and retail industry, By the end, Barrysworld had grown into the "largest online gaming hub in Europe," pulling in 300,000 plus players, and over 160 million page impressions per month, according to the official press release announcing the company's demise. And Barrysworld co-founder TedTheDog has his say here. Free online gaming is an unviable business model, he says - but he's convinced that there is a successful business to be found in Barrysworld. But unless a buyer is found, everything - servers, leagues, email accounts, guides, reviews, etc, etc, etc - will come to a halt on 31 January. It's a real shame that Barrysworld, an excellent site (and British to boot), has joined the titsup.com crowd. News of its collapse follows hot on the heels of difficulties experienced by a number of other gaming sites, following much lower banner ad deals imposed by online advertising networks in recent weeks. ® Bootnote Last week Barrysworld denied it had run out of cash. We spoke to company director and man in charge of the site Antonio Covelli on Wednesday. We asked if he could confirm rumours that the site had run out of money. "No, there is no problem with money," said Antonio. But we'd heard that you were looking for more backing. "There is no problem and I don't understand where you heard this from," he said. So the site is continuing as usual? "Yes, there is no problem and the site will be running as usual," he told us. Asked today why he'd said what he'd said, Antonio claimed that he hadn't - until we read out our notes. "When I spoke to you it was a legal requirement that I didn't say anything," he told us. "I couldn't disclose anything by law." ® Related Story Cold wind blows through Games Web sites
Kieren McCarthy, 22 Jan 2001

Dell issues Q4 profit warning

Dell today admitted its fourth quarter won't be up to par, blaming sluggish PC sales growth. The direct-selling PC giant said it now expects earnings of 18-19 cents per share, down from its forecasted 26 cents. Dell lowered sales targets for the period, which ends on Friday, to between $8.5 billion and $8.6 billion - up 25-27 per cent from a year ago, but down from its earlier forecast of $8.7 billion. This was the fifth time in a year the Round Rock, Texas-based company had lowered its forecasts. It joined just about every other PC vendor rivals in warning investors that the Christmas quarter was hardly worth the effort of getting out of bed for. In a statement, Dell blamed the "deterioration in global economic conditions and overall demand for computer systems and services". According to the company, quarterly shipments will still be up 40 per cent on the same period for the previous year, led by server, workstation, storage products and notebook sales. It added that analysts thought the company added two per cent to its overall market share during Q4. Last week, Gartner estimated that the US PC market grew a pitiful 10.3 per cent last year. Worldwide PC shipments rose less than 14.5 per cent - behind 1998 (15 per cent) and 1999 (21 per cent) growth figures. Dell will post its full Q4 results on 15 February. ® Related Stories World PC market grew less than 15 per cent in 2000 PC industry needs to 'consolidate or die' Creative forecasts Q3 sales drop HP slashes Q1 forecasts Xmas PC sales slump: the proof Analysts slash IBM, Intel and Dell sales estimates Gateway in PC price war gloom
Linda Harrison, 22 Jan 2001

ISP Sniffs Out cheap Net access

UK ISP Sniff Out today confirmed it would launch a 24/7 unmetered Net access on 14 February. The 24/7 unmetered service is called SmartTime and retails at £13.99 a month. However, don't be put off by the ISP's launch date. Apparently, the fact that the service goes live on Valentine's Day is neither here nor there. It was simply the first date available to the ISP, said MD Richard Skeels. So, with any luck, we won't be bombarded with a lovey-dovey marketing campaign designed to recruit 100,000 users. The ISP obtained its wholesale FRIACO-based product - BTnet SurfPort24 - from BTIgnite. ISPs could start ordering BTnet SurfPort24 from last week although the product is not available nationally until April 2001. BTInternet and Le Freeswerve are expected to launch their FRIACO-based products this week. ® Related Stories Le Freeswerve, BTInternet go unmetered BT offers wholesale unmetered Net access
Tim Richardson, 22 Jan 2001

Socket-A indulgence at Dr Tom's

HWRoundupHWRoundup At Tom's Hardware today, the doctor teams up with Patrick Schmid to look at the best option for those on a budget that still precludes DDR. The consensus seems to be that a SDRAM Socket-A mobo is the thing to have, and they've looked at six, based on the KT133A chipset. Anandtech welcomes the new KT133A board from ABit with open arms. It is "impressive" and should keep overclockers happy. So, as an early leader in the "transitional" stage that the KT133A chipset must be, the board does very nicely. Read the rest of the review here. And have a look at OCWorkbench's take on it here. While at OC's, have a look at this reveiw. Those at the Workbench also seem to have snuck in early on the Iwill DVD266R Apollo Pro 266, an SMP capable mainboard using DDR SDRAM designed around the Apollo Pro 266. The latest version of ZZZ Online is up now. From the sublime to the truly ridiculous, or possibly just the ridiculous. This issue features a keyboard that seems to think it is a sofa*. And finally... something a little more lighthearted: Sharky Extreme has news that the Gameshark is out for the PC. This nifty little program will help all the cheaters out there develop their rule bending to its full potential.Soon there wqill not be an honest bone in your body. We promise it won't hurt! ® *For the US readers, sofa=couch Still hungry for hardware? Check out our archives
Lucy Sherriff, 22 Jan 2001
cable

Interference clouds future of multi-billion police radio project

The future of a £2.5 billion project to provide British police with a radio network has been thrown into doubt amidst fears that the technology could interfere with hospital equipment and even breath test devices or speed detection kit. Early trials of the equipment have led police forces to advise officer to switch radios off when in hospital environments, instead of simply refraining from transmitting as is the case with current kit. The concern expressed by police is the latest twist in the controversy surrounding the provision of a next generation network for the emergency services, called Airwave, or the Public Safety Radio Communications Project, a contract for which was signed last year. The technology behind the system Tetra, (or Terrestrial Trunk Radio), uses handset that transmits signals to base stations at regular intervals and concern centres around the fear that these pulses could affect other equipment. All British forces should have the technology available by 2004, but as police in Lancashire become the first force to go live with the system, another early pioneer has broken ranks to air its concerns. Police from the channel island of Jersey, which is going through pre-implementation testing of the technology, is advising its officers to be much more careful about using the equipment than was the case with previous kit. Because of fears of interfering with hospital equipment, the States of Jersey police have imposed tough rules on using equipment and ordered the lowest powered handset available. The testing also threw up concerns that, according to a statement issued by the Jersey Police, "if a speed detection device external radio interference, it was rendered inoperative". There are also concerns about breath testing devices. According to reports police are being advised that they can only do breath tests 10m from handsets or 35m from more powerful car transmitters. This has raised concerns that the system, the price of which has already been a source of discontent with the old bill, will be turned off in many situations. The Police Federation has raised concerns that operational effectiveness and even police safety will be damaged, and not improved, by the introduction of the technology. A spokeswoman for the suppliers of the technology, BT Quadrant, said that the equipment used complied with international standards. She compared the equipment to GSM phones which also have to be turned off in hospitals. A spokesman for the Police Information Technology Organisation (PITO), which is managing the Airways project, said it was working with police to devise revised operational guidelines so that safety is not compromised. He admitted there was a potential for interference and that tests were ongoing, even as the first network was been rolled out in Lancashire, to determine how bad interference might be. In the long term a technological solution would have to be devised, he added. ®
John Leyden, 22 Jan 2001

Cemeteries get hooked up to the Net

Surfers too busy or far away to make that all-important funeral will soon be able to mourn en masse via cyberspace. From next month, the bereaved will get to watch their loved ones' burials in the Americas and Europe by simply logging onto www.vidaperpetua.com.br (Perpetual Life). The site's owners claim to have gained the approval of 50 of the 200 private cemeteries scattered through Brazil, as well as some in Spain, Mexico and Argentina, to hook up cameras and transmit the goings-on via the Net. They are currently waiting to get the thumbs up from the US and Italy. "The idea is to perpetuate the lives of people. After all, the only thing that truly lives on for eternity is the cemetery," observed site founder Pepe Alstut. "We'll have cameras installed in the cemeteries that can film any moment of the event the family requests," he told Reuters. The cost of the service was not revealed, though Alstut is also hoping to cash in on the online flowers and condolence cards businesses. In addition, the bereaved will be able to rent spaces on the site for 12 reais ($6) a month - which can be used to post pictures of the departed, or to keep videos of birthdays, births or funerals. This is not Argentina-born Alstut's first venture into the funeral industry. He also owns a 14-story cemetery in Santos, Brazil - featured in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's tallest vertical burial ground. ® Related Stories Cyberfunerals are no laughing matter The dead centre of the Web Buy now, die later with UK's first cyber undertaker Scythe through the Net to find the Grim Reaper
Linda Harrison, 22 Jan 2001

ISPs face prosecution over babies for sale sites

The government (UK) has unfortunately spelt out the degree of its Internet ignorance today with a knee-jerk political reaction to the Net baby adoption debacle. Department of Health minister John Hutton - responsible for child protection, apparently - has started spouting nonsense about how ISPs will be criminally responsible if they allow UK residents access to adoption Web sites whose actions are banned under UK law. In a worrying parallel to the French Yahoo!/Nazi argument, Mr Hutton - speaking for the government - has leapt onto what he thinks is an easy points winner as the controversy over Internet adoption grows. Unfortunately, he has failed to understand the Internet's make-up and made himself and the "Internet friendly" Labour government look foolish. And whereas Yahoo! is a company with a controlled service, ISPs are simply a conduit. ISPs immediately started decrying the concept of them essentially logging and blocking any site that the government, in its wisdom, deems offensive. To say the "solution" is unworkable is to be kind to unworkable solutions. In essence, the only way a system as proposed could work is if we had government-run and monitored ISPs. Now, ole Jack Straw would love this (in fact, he's gone some way towards it) but we like to think that some people in government are still living in a democracy. But this is more a case of a junior minister trying to hog the limelight and getting frazzled through idiocy. The ISP Association was as polite as it could be in a press release, just released, but it is clearly not impressed. Titled "ISPA seeks clarification on the removal of illegal Internet content", it points out that ISPs follow the law and do everything they can to remove illegal content. It then draws to the situation at hand: "For other types of illegal content a Court Order is necessary in many if not all cases, as ISPs and Government Departments cannot act as the judiciary in deciding the often very complex question of whether material is legal. The Department of Health has not stated in what form, or by what process or mechanism an official notice of illegal content with regards to advertising for adoption will take if it is not a court order." Basically: silly boy. But while this is just a daft example of political ignorance, it remains worrying that the comments have been taken so seriously. Clearly it is not only the politicians that fail to understand how the Internet works but the media too - or they would simply have laughed the minister's tales away. It would seem that the concept of people sharing information without going through either Parliament or dictatorial newspaper environments is too alien to comprehend. ® Related Stories Internet baby-buy saga goes on
Kieren McCarthy, 22 Jan 2001

Windows to go 3D… but not in Whistler

Does Microsoft have a UI spring surprise up its sleeve? Redmond has been telling closed beta test groups that new icons notwithstanding, the Whistler UI isn't finished yet, leading to some rampant speculation that the converged Windows desktop could see a major overhaul between now and its final release. Well, from our enquiries, it doesn't look like anything that dramatic is likely. But Microsoft Research has been doing some intriguing work that could ease Winders, a derivative of the 15 year old 2D Mac desktop, into a real 3D environment. And do so fairly painlessly. Changing rooms As its name suggests TaskGallery is a Microsoft Research project that drops the user into a 3D space, with Windows represented by reduced-size thumbnails. The MSR team took advantage of a specially engineered kernel and GDI libraries in Windows 2000 - having the work blessed at an early stage by Bill himself must have helped - and renders a 3D polygon. Windows are reduced to thumbnails that can be "hung" in a room, giving the user context associations. It sounds clunky, but amazingly, isn't. "One of the main stumbling blocks to 3D hasn't been a hardware or a market problem - but applications," says MSR UI designer Daniel Robbins. "A PC card costing $200 will blow away an SGI workstation from two years ago, which is great." And the TaskGallery demos show that this is possible using fairly low-end hardware. Despite the introduction of a new rendering stage, and a new layer for receiving mouse and keyboard input, the demo fizzes along on a 1998-vintage mid-range desktop PC. However applications still cleave to simple two-dimensional metaphors. With 3D many of the aspects that newbies find intimidating about computer interfaces could be made intuitively easier, he argues. Today's 2D UIs present users with dramatic but barely perceptible modal shifts, particularly between views; make different objects such as shortcuts, folders and file icons fairly homogenous; and fail to distinguish between context. TaskGallery can hang Windows in various rooms, and navigate between the rooms using the keyboard as well as the mouse. New buttons are added to each active window to aid navigation: Move, Bring Forward, Ordered Stack, Loose Stack, Add to Selection, as well as Maximize and Close. The team isn't involved in skinning Whistler, but wants to influence its successors, says Robbins. However, the MSR objective is to produce UIs that can be used across different types of devices, not just PCs. Which immediately set off a little alarm bell for us. With Windows CE versions 1 and 2, hadn't Microsoft discovered that the Win9x UI didn't really travel all that well? Well tactfully, Robbins said the goal was to find metaphors that could. In The Beginning, You Dragged The Floppy to the Trash "There's has been some metaphorical shear," agrees Robbins says, since Apple introduced the desktop UI to the masses, acknowledging Neal Stephenson's term in his In The Beginning Was The Command Line: "You realize you've been living and thinking inside of a metaphor that is essentially bogus," wrote Stephenson. Fair enough: "Those aren't really a metaphor, more if a symbolic language", says Robbins. "We want to find the overlying metaphor. Those big sweeping metaphors are ones we were interested in - metaphors that scale up, and that can encapsulate time. Like browsing collections of digital photos example." Personally, Robbins says the UIs he most admires are found in computer games: where designers have to communicate an analogy very quickly. Before the gamer gives up. He cites the 3D hand in Black and White, and FarGate as good examples. The team is likely to present its latest work at the CHI 2001 Conference in Seattle in March. As one Whistler beta tester told us, surely Microsoft would love to counter the launch of Apple's Mac OS X - with its own whizzy but very traditional Aqua user interface - if only for pride's sake. And we couldn't help noticing that CHI will tee-off with a keynote from a prominent local software entrepreneur, famous for his amnesia in video depositions. Don't say we didn't warn you. ® Related Link TaskGallery Related stories Where it's at with Whistler What Whistler looks like MS: 'you need to buy Whistler because Win-9x sucks' MS Whistler copy protection climb down begins - in Germany? Copy protection on Whistler easily cracked MS opens up on Whistler copy protection
Andrew Orlowski, 22 Jan 2001

Women lack confidence and men lie

Women have less faith in their computer skills than men, according to a survey of undergraduates in the US. Men are more likely to rate their computer expertise as "above average" than women, despite near identical experience and frequency of use. The researchers also noted that women were much less likely to spend time in chat rooms or playing video games. It is perhaps worth noting that young men are not known for their false modesty. These will be the same young men who will happily claim to have slept with 50 lovely ladies while Lara Croft is the closest thing to a scantily-clad-woman they would have seen. The study, of students at the University of California at Los Angeles, found that although 77.8 per cent of female freshmen and 79.5 per cent of male freshmen reported "regular use" of computers, men ranked their ability as "above average" twice as often as women did. This gap between the sexes is the largest reported since the researchers started asking questions about computer use, back in 1985. UCLA professor Linda Sax, who directed the survey, said that this lack of confidence would put women at a disadvantage in the workplace as we rely on computers more and more. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 22 Jan 2001

Register Tariff 2001

Welcome to the improved Register Tariff 2001. Our existing customers know that we will do anything for money. Now we've made it even easier for busy executives to avail themselves of this facility. You know it makes sense in today's hectic dog-eat-dog business environment. All you have to do is select one of our four service levels, set up a standing order and away you go. Every option offers the following customer support and benefits: 24/7 helpline Member's badge and newsletter A carriage clock which is yours to keep Lots and lots and lots of free email addresses, free internet access, loads of dotcom shares and a robot that does the washing up Regmiles, exchangeable for a range of Vulture Central merchandising A lovely card at Xmas Good for PR companies on a tight budget, the Gold Service delivers the sort of results your clients demand - and fast. For this sort of money we will: Write anything you like on the site Send a Reg staffer to any corporate lunch, beano or junket (as long as you foot the bill) Pretend we like you and are interested in what you're selling Need a bit more sway down at Vulture Central? Then our Platinum option's the one for you. For mission-critical scenarios in real time, we can give you all of the above plus: Removal of any story from the site on demand Attendance at any function and 500 kind words on the event pretending that we like you and are interested in what you're selling Free t-shirt For the big swinging dicks of the IT world there is only one choice - Diamond Service. Additional benefits of the Diamond card include: Fingering of any mole within your company Stories saying anything you like about your competitors, regardless of legality A Golden Vulture award for any of your products complete with statuette, signed certificate and accompanying story pretending that we really like you and are really really interested in what you're selling Has your dotcom gone titsup.com? Stressed out? Been overdoing it on the vodka and Bolivian marching powder? Feeling poorly? No problem. With our Diamond Plus account you can have any Reg staffer's vital organs dispatched to you overnight. Note that we cannot guarantee full functionality of any organ (especially livers) and they are delivered as seen. Application Form Name E-Mail Select required service Gold Service Platinum Service Diamond Service Diamond Plus Service Yes, I'd love to receive useful information from other corrupt IT news agencies Feel free to contact us at any time to discuss our service in complete confidence. We still accept alcohol, cigarettes and decent technology in return for occasional one-off deals. Integrity - we've heard of it. ®
Lester Haines, 22 Jan 2001

Scientologist Web site rips off urban75.com

A group of addiction treatment 'experts' called Narconon, which has ties to the controversial Church of Scientology, has performed a wholesale rip-off of the popular urban75 Web site, which is devoted to raves, general partying and mirth-making, photography, sport, satire, and common-sense advice for drug users along the lines of, 'it's probably bad for you, but if you must, here's what you can expect from substance x'). For example, Ketamine, we are told, "may turn you into a gibbering, spaced out bore, mumbling and slurring away while your dancing may begin to resemble Bill and Ben on acid." The Narconon people have a good deal less humour and a good deal more revenue generation in mind with their pitch, claiming a success rate of 76 per cent for a programme originally developed in a large US penal institution. "The key to the successes of the Narconon program is the Drug Rehabilitation Technology developed by author and humanitarian L. Ron Hubbard," the pitch explains. According to urban75, the "thieving bastards at Narconon (drug abuse 'charity' owned by the Scientologists) have ripped off a previous version of urban75 in its entirety: the navigation, the graphics, the code, the style sheets, the layout - everything - changing just the text and photos." A Web page with comparisons can be found here. The pages are indeed virtually indistinguishable, though one significant difference is Narconon's rat-your-friends form, enabling surfers to send their own, or someone else's, personal details as a drug abuser to the cult. The page comes up when the "contact us" link is activated. The site has no privacy notice, so it's anyone's guess where such information might end up. ®
Thomas C Greene, 22 Jan 2001

MS opens up on Whistler copy protection

The product activation copy protection system that will ship with Whistler and Office 10 will form the basis of a "cross product" protection system for Microsoft software, and the signs are that the company will move heaven and earth to make it stick. Speaking to The Register earlier today Microsoft product manager, licensing technology group, Allan Nieman went through the checklist of gotchas, and explained why product activation is a pussycat really. But first, although cracks and patches dealing with the protection in Whistler builds 2410 and 2416 (an "internal" Microsoft build currently maiming bandwidth in shady circles) have been produced, it would seem that the panic produced by product activation's appearance in the beta code was unnecessary - according to Nieman, neither of these builds is actually protected. "It's just a UI screen," he says, a "first glimpse" of what the system will look like. Just click next, as Microsoft's technical beta testers have now been informed. Duh. Obviously that won't be the case with the shipping product, so the work of the script kiddies won't have been entirely in vain. But Microsoft really, really wants people not to hate product activation and - strange but at least at the moment true - is trying to draw a sharp distiction between activation and registration. And, by the way, registration will not be compulsory, according to Nieman. As has now been widely reported, product activation takes a product key from the software packaging, combines it with a code generated from the specific hardware you're installing on, and then in exchange for the result you get an unlock key from Microsoft, either over the Web or by phone. But this is not registration. You only need to give Microsoft the code, not your name or anything else, so it's entirely anonymous unless Microsoft is doing any surreptitious sniffing, which Nieman assures us it is not. Nor, he guarantees, will the software check into base on a "phone home" basis after you've unlocked it. Once it's unlocked it'll be a fully stand-alone product that doesn't try to regularly validate itself with Microsoft. Presumably this will mean that the "rental" versions of products Microsoft will be testing will have some form of time bomb rather than a phone home, but it seems pretty clear that Microsoft is willing to go quite a distance to separate privacy issues from anti-piracy. One could reasonably doubt that it can keep it up, or even (given the nature of .NET) that it's technically feasible to keep it up in the longer term. When Microsoft tested the precursor to product activation in various countries with Office 2000, Nieman says the company processed six million activation requests in 24 months. That's chicken feed compared to the tens of millions of activations a year if the system just applied to Windows, and the marketing people surely can't be happy about passing up data on that number of people. Nevertheless, registration will be separate, and won't be compulsory. Not exactly, anyway - Microsoft has required registration for access to product updates in the past, and the position here tends to be a bit variable. The activation process was described as the "Office Registration Wizard" in the O2K test, but that was what you might call infelicitious. Nor did you actually have to register as such - according to Nieman the only data required was country. So in that case, why is Microsoft bothering? Nieman says the system is primarily directed at "casual copying," where people loan one another software, pass it around the office, install multiple copies with just the one licence and so on. The system will certainly tend to stop people doing this, but on the other hand that could give casual copiers sufficient impetus to dig out the cracks and use them, and recordable CD makes that awfully tempting. Think yourself into the position of paterfamilias, one PC for him, one each for the two kids to do their homework, so what's he going to say to three Office licences? Student licensing, yes we know, but he doesn't, and anyway it's a hassle. He might hear about student licensing, or then again he might hear about StarOffice being free. You can circumvent the Whistler product activation system as described here last week, and there are also two files circulating which deal with the CD key and the time bomb on the Whistler beta. Put together with a bit of cosmetics these provide the means to produce a completely unprotected Whistler CD, and it's unlikely there'll be any difference when it comes to the shipping product. That leaves it as eminently crackable, and whether it is cracked on a widespread basis or not will depend to some extent on cost, to some on hassle. Large numbers of consumers and small businesses swap software, and they're not about to stump up the readies to convert their current unlicensed software to full product. Even in businesses that do pay their licences, systems managers will frequently produce their own unprotected copies to avoid having to go through the activation process over and over again. But, says, Microsoft, they don't have to - and this is where you can maybe see an angle for the company. Product activation won't be present for the enterprise Select and the volume Open licensing deals. These will still require a single unlock for the media, but after that you can do multiple installs, just keeping a tally of the licences you're using. Microsoft licence management software will no doubt help you out here, and the Open licence scheme goes as low as five copies, for which you get discounts. Except on old operating systems Redmond wants you to stop using. Microsoft sees promotion of the Open licence to small businesses as going alongside product activation for consumers, as businesses will be encouraged to go for the volume deals. Of course by doing so, you report yourself to Microsoft, and are therefore more readily auditable. So consumers get roadblocks to stop them sharing with their friends, Microsoft's reach extends further down the business food chain, but there are no privacy implications. Microsoft likely won't squeeze much more money out of the consumer market, but by being better able to police "unprotected" business licences, it could do well there. Quite a paradox, no? ® Related Story Copy protection on Whistler easily cracked
John Lettice, 22 Jan 2001

Lights go out on UltraSPARC III supply

Production delays have left Sun Microsystems behind schedule in fulfilling orders for servers based on the new UltraSPARC III processor. Visitors to Sun's online ecommerce site are told that they have a wait on their hands if they want to buy either a Sun Blade 1000 workstation, featuring a 750Mhz UltraSPARC III processor, or the rack-mount Sun Fire server are told they have a wait on their hands. Supplies of both products are "constrained" - in other words there are not enough of them to go around. The notice on the Sun site reads: "Demand for this product is so strong that it exceeds availability. If you proceed with your order, Sun will send you an email with the scheduled shipment date as soon as possible. Please contact your local sales representative or call 800-SUN-0404 for more information." Simon Tindall, volume sales manager at Sun, said the roll-out of UltraSPARC III-powered kit throughout this year remained on course, despite shipment delays for the first two products based on the platform. "There will be no significant shipments of the Sun Fire until next month. We are shipping Blade products to selected accounts. There is some product slippage but we are ramping up production to clear the current backlog," he said. "Demand has been strong but we'll get through the backlog and begin shipping in volume next quarter." ® Related stories: Sun debuts UltraSPARC III and embraces copper Sun's 600MHz workstations to be available by auction only Sun low-end aim to displace Wintel from data centre Sun and HP launch cost-cutting programs Sun posts strong Q2 figures Sun is top dog in Unix market
John Leyden, 22 Jan 2001

Concentration camp victims sue Yahoo!

Yahoo! faces the wrath of the French again - this time the dotcom's chief is being sued for one franc over allegedly justifying war crimes. French representatives of former inmates of Nazi concentration camps filed the suit against Yahoo! chairman Tim Koogle today. The group wants to see the US portal humiliated. It is asking for one French franc (around 15 cents) only in damages, but it will demand that Yahoo! pay for the judgement to be splashed all over the French and US press, as well as on the Net. The move follows a ruling in a French court in November ordering Yahoo! to stop French surfers accessing Nazi memorabilia on its auction sites. The judge gave the Californian outfit three months, after which time he threatened to fine it 100,000 francs ($14,000) for every day it fails to block surfers. The company started pursuing its legal options in the US to fight the ban, and earlier this month said it would block all race-hate material from its sites. Lawyer Charles Korman told Reuters his suit accused Yahoo's Koogle of "justifying war crimes and crimes against humanity". "If you organize a system like an auction where people bid for the best price, you excuse these crimes, and they become commonplace," Korman said. ® Related Stories Yahoo! slashes forecasts Yahoo! auction revamp: racism out, charges in Yahoo! flies to US court over Nazi memorabilia row Yahoo! loses Nazi trinkets case Yahoo! Nazi tech expert backtracks Germans probe Yahoo! over suspected Mein Kampf sales
Linda Harrison, 22 Jan 2001

Flashcom trades DSL customers like chattels

US ISP Flashcom.com has been forced to flog most of its DSL customer accounts in an effort to stem losses. Debt-ridden Flashcom has already lost control of more than half of its accounts to wholesale service providers Northpoint Communications and Rhythms NetConnections - who have shifted users to different ISPs. The company is also looking to sell off the rest of its assets, including its other subscriber accounts - currently in the hands of Covad Communications and other regional providers. The move follows the dotcom ditching its IPO and filing for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 in California last month. It is trying to reorganise itself to make a profit, according to a statement on its Website. It has also laid off around 75 per cent of staff, more than 100 employees. But the remaining customers still under contract with Flashcom may have a rough ride. The ISP warns that if the accounts remain unsold, or if it cannot persuade the bankruptcy court that it can run them at a profit, "their service will be terminated, perhaps with little or no advanced notice". If these DSL users are locked into a contract they are pretty much stuck and have to continue paying the monthly fee for the service, eveb though fewer customer service staff available. Flashcom says they cannot be released from their contracts without approval from the bankruptcy court. Flashcom, which claimed to have 31,000 customers in May, is just one of many DSL providers scrambling to survive the US market. Earlier this month Seattle-based rival Bazillion shut its doors, giving users just days' notice their DSL service would stop. More information can be found at Flashcom. ® Related Stories Bazillion shafts DSL users Verizon sued for crap DSL service US DSL market slows Oftel chivvies up BT over DSL
Linda Harrison, 22 Jan 2001