29th > March > 2001 Archive

French industry minister rejects patents, backs Linux

The French government has lined up against software patents. The minister in charge of patent policy, industry secretary Christian Pierret, last week stated that he opposed them, and that they "would kill innovation and promote judicial terrorism" by multinational companies against startups. Which seems pretty categorical to us, and also to the EuroLinux Alliance, which has happily seized the minister's in support of its anti-patent campaign. The news of France's commitment against software patents comes just two weeks after the UK lined up against them, and said it would press the European Commission for a directive on the matter. Pierret, who made the comments in an interview with magazine 01 Informatique, seems to have made a convincing bid for Open Source pin-up status whle he was about it. "I support Linux and free software," he said, "because they allow faster and more robust development to put public administration systems online. Commercial software raises security issues, because one doesn't know what's inside it. This is why I am against software patents in Europe." The balance may be starting to tip away from the patent lobbyists, but EuroLinux notes that the UK Patent Office and the Commission's General Directorate for Internal Market are pushing for legalisation of "patents on software with technical effect." This is, EuroLinux argues, simply a back door way of doing the very thing European politicians are starting to come out against. Legalisation of this would legalise patents on file formats such as GIF or MP3, network protocols, and would also lead to patents on business methods. EuroLinux gives the examples of "printing cooking recipes on demand" and "managing a company through a single log file" from the European Patent Office, and says the General Directorate is trying to fool EU governments by putting forward the "software with technical effect" gag. ® Related stories: UK rejects US-style software patents EuroLinux Petition
John Lettice, 29 Mar 2001

Scaldera born in flames

The Unix business has never been known for the simplicity of its business alliances, and in that tradition one of the most complicated deals of all was concluded this week. Finally. The SEC has at last approved the Santa Cruz Operation's merger with Caldera, which was originally announced last August, with the combined outfit trading under the Caldera International banner. SEC approved the S-4 filing on Monday, and a meeting of SCO shareholders is expected to see the deal completed on May 4. The deal originally saw the Tarantella spin-off keep intellectual property rights to SCO's venerable OpenServer line, while Caldera had exclusive rights to sell it, guaranteeing Tarantella a revenue stream. After much wrangling, a much clearer arrangement with Caldera simply acquiring OpenServer outright, and rejigging its payments to Tarantella. So the new Scaldera, as we must stop calling it, presents something of a curate's egg. It combines the Unix on Intel leader, with its strong and loyal channel, together with one of the oldest Linux distros. But will the merged outfit be indulged with New Economy generosity from its investors? That's in pretty short supply these days. Caldera lost $9m on revenues of fairly static revenues of $1m last quarter - an impressive burn rate. And SCO's Unix flavours have been hit particularly hard by the business slowdown: OpenServer is effectively in maintenance mode, and UnixWare is still regarded as one for the future, despite some big enterprise wins. SCO shed 20 per cent of its staff to even the budget late last year. On the other hand, SCO's sever business brings in $24 million per quarter, and even after payments to Tarantella, that can only be positive for Scaldera's bottom line. And there isn't anyone better placed to ease the legion of SCO Users into the Linux future, and UnixWare's technology (particularly its Tandem-derived clustering) should turn rival distros green with envy. Caldera's stock rose 14 percent yesterday in a falling market, although at $1.75 it bumps along at the bottom end of its trading range. ®
Andrew Orlowski, 29 Mar 2001

Software poachers turn gamekeepers

A group of reformed software security breakers have developed technology to secure digital content and software applications. BitArts, a UK based digital rights management start-up, has developed technology which provides a secure software 'wrapper' around applications or, for example, MP3 files. There are numerous digital rights management firms in the marketplace, but BitArts feel its technology has the edge because they used to break the security of games or application software themselves, and this puts them one step ahead in understanding the issues. John Safa, chief technology officer at BitArts and a reformed software security 'cracker', said an emerging risk is that virus authors might modify software applications in order to trick users into running apparently trusted software, that contains malicious code. He couldn't point to any examples of this happening though, and we're left with the impression most of the firm's business will come from licensing technology to frustrate software piracy, which costs the industry an estimated $12 billion a year. BitArts technology prevents software piracy by stopping unauthorised copying of downloaded software. It also looks to see if applications have been contaminated with malicious code. The firm's business model relies on taking a percentage of software licensing fees and it is looking to partner with software vendors in order to grow its revenues, which it is not willing to disclose. ® External links BitArts' home page
John Leyden, 29 Mar 2001

Cabletron results a bright spot in the networking gloom

Bucking the trend of poor financial results from networking equipment suppliers, Cabletron Systems posted increased revenues for its last quarter when it reported its full year results. Cabletron, a holding company for telecommunications outfits targeting the enterprise, service provider and network management markets, reported combined revenues for its fourth quarter of $291 million, up from $265 million in its previous quarter. This compares to $203.4 million in the same period a year ago. The figures mean that Cabletron's subsidiaries recorded a net income of $10.7 million, up from $6.9 million for its last quarter. For the full year, Cabletron's net revenues were $1,015.8 million. In recent weeks, industry heavyweights Cisco, Nortel and Lucent have slashes sales estimates and shed jobs. However Cabletron's figures suggest that it is coping better with the slowdown in the US economy and weak demand from service providers that is affecting others in the industry. Cabletron's subsidiaries include Aprisma Management Technologies, which sells Spectrum network management software; Enterprise networking firm Enterasys Networks and Riverstone Networks, which markets Metropolitan Area Networking kit to service providers. ® Related Stories Nortel slashes 700 UK jobs Nortel slashes more jobs Lucent to restate sales and cut 10,000 jobs Battered, bothered, bewildered - Nortel and Lucent shareholders Cisco boss apologises for slashing jobs External links Cabletron reports fiscal year end 2001 financial results
John Leyden, 29 Mar 2001

Xbox gets ADSL Net channel

Microsoft has teamed up with Net services business NTT Communications to create a broadband Internet channel for the Xbox. Trials of online gaming services using broadband high-speed connections will begin this year and online services are set to be launched in 2002, Robert Bach, MS' Xbox officer, told Reuters. Microsoft will initially be able to offer services using NTT Communications' ADSL service. But the two firms are also investigating using faster fibre-optic connections. ® Related Stories Microsoft to delay Japanese Xbox launch?
Robert Blincoe, 29 Mar 2001

Chimpzilla evolves into 800lb super primate

Jerry Sanders, AMD CEO famously once referred to arch-rival Intel as 'the 800lb gorilla'. Using this simian rule of (non-extensible) thumb, The Register calculated that this would make AMD a chimpanzee. Hence the moniker Chimpzilla. But AMD seems to have ideas above its station, judging from the picture of an 800lb gorilla, and relatives which adorns the cover of its new annual report. Fay Wray beware. ®
Lester Haines, 29 Mar 2001

Palm stock nosedives

Palm's financial problems, outlined at week's quarterly results announcement, sent panic among investors yesterday. The company's shares lost nearly half their previous value, after trading at ten times the stock's average volume. Shares closed at 8.0625, but the stock fell to 7.4375 during the day's trading - an all time low. All this vigorous trading followed Palm's Q3 results, which not only saw the company return to the red, but included a warning that Q4 isn't going to be much better. Growth will be negligible - 'negative' might be a better word, once you've looked at the figures; revenue won't match Q4 2000's $350 million, but reach $315 million - but marketing will go into overdrive to promote the new m50x family of PDAs, launched this month but not shipping until May at the earliest. Palm's inventory rocketed from $34 million in the second quarter to $102 million, which may explain why the company is holding off shipping the new PDAs - it wants to clear out all those unsold older models. They're not selling as well because of the sudden success of Compaq's iPaq. Ironically, that's holding back the release of the very designed to compete directly with the iPaq, the m505. Palm's warning had a knock-on effect on other PDA makers. PalmOS licensee Handspring fell 32 per cent to 10.875. Psion, trading in London, closed ten per cent off at 117.5 pence. ® Related Story Palm to axe 650 jobs as it dips into the red
Tony Smith, 29 Mar 2001

Toshiba chief sells ‘Cell’ CPU

The head of Toshiba's semiconductor operation, Yasuo Morimoto, has revealed a few further details of Cell - the multiprocessing-oriented CPU architecture for the broadband era currently being developed by Toshiba, Sony and IBM. The three partners announced the chip earlier this month. They committed themselves to spending $400 million over the next five years developing the chip, described by Sony's Ken Kutaragi, the creator of the PlayStation, this way: "With built-in broadband connectivity, microprocessors that currently exist as individual islands will be more closely linked, making a network of systems act more as one, unified 'supersystem'. Just as biological cells in the body unite to form complete physical systems, Cell-based electronic products of all types will form the building blocks of larger systems." Hard technical specs. remain few and far between, but Morimoto, speaking in an interview with the Nikkei newswire, does give a more detailed - albeit in a rather vague fashion - picture of the processor than the one presented at its launch. As Morimoto describes it, Cell is a customisable architecture capable of being modified according to the needs of specific applications. Essentially, the CPU has a modular design - Morimoto calls it a "building block structure" - allowing chip makers to strip out features not necessary to the application they're working on. If they switch in all of all the chip's capacity, they'll be able to wring more than one teraflop of performance out of it, he says. Morimoto also talks of the chip's "signal processing portion". Since this portion is said to be scalable, we reckon that's probably some kind of programmable vector processing engine. The one consistent component of Cell's modular design is the I/O section, which will be standard across all Cell derivatives, Morimoto says, whether they're targeted as cellphones or large-scale servers, which itself gives an idea of the range of applications the three partners see the broadband-oriented CPU being implemented for. Physically, Cell CPUs will have "packages with many pins and large chip sizes", according to Morimoto, but presumably that refers to the full-feature set version, since that's clearly not the description of a mobile-oriented processor. "As the Cell chip size will be fairly large, the Cell chips are most suitable for being manufactured at the 300mm wafer facilities," he added. Morimoto is tight-lipped on the subject of operating systems, saying only that it "will be an operating system that enables the Cells being connected to each other to operate in parallel". It also has to be capable of being scaled from very small mobile devices to high-end servers, if we take his comment about the applicability of the chip's I/O infrastructure at face value. IBM, Sony and Toshiba are also developing peripheral chips, and there's even the tantalising hint that the three are developing a new memory system for the CPU, though it may simply be the interviewer reading too much into Morimoto's comments. From the sounds of it, we'd expect the CPU to use a NUMA-style memory infrastructure, providing each chip with access not only to its own memory space but to the RAM banks of others, possibly even down to the L2 cache level. Interestingly, unlike Sony, Toshiba hasn't licensed IBM's copper, low-K dielectric and silicon-on-insulator manufacturing processes. It's going to use those technologies to build Cell, but it's developing them itself, says Morimoto. "It is not necessary to have the same process, but it's an essential condition for us to standardise the basic electric characteristics," he said. The three companies have already said Cell will be fabbed at 0.1 micron. ® Related Link Nikkei's interview with Yasuo Morimoto Related Story Sony, IBM, Toshiba team on broadband supercomputing CPU
Tony Smith, 29 Mar 2001

Welsh hacker pleads guilty to deception and theft

A teenage computer cracker, who's efforts sparked a worldwide manhunt and brought FBI investigators to a sleepy Welsh village, faces a possible jail sentence after pleading guilty to deception and theft. Raphael Gray, who's handle was Curador (or Custodian in Welsh), claimed he hacked into sites and gained access to customer databases in order to expose lax security. The 19 year-old published a roll of shame of ecommerce firms he had broken into on the Internet and also posted what purported to be credit card details for Bill Gates (although the latter claim was subsequently debunked). His Web sites also offered free credit card details. Gray's activities brought him to the attention of the FBI and, amid fears details of 26,000 credit cards had been compromised, his house in Clynderwen in west Wales was raided in March last year and computer equipment (believed to include a Sony Vaio) seized. In a hearing at Swansea Crown Court, prosecutor Leighton Davis said Gray had used his PC to hack into the Web sites of ecommerce firms in the US, Canada, Thailand and Britain. These included dotcoms such as Nettrading and Salesgate, as well as the American Society of Clinical pathologists. Gray has admitted two charges of obtaining services by deception and offences under the Theft Act in setting up two Internet sites (ecrackers.com and freecreditcards.com) on which credit card information was published. He also pleaded guilty to six charges of intentionally accessing sites containing credit card details, but without using this information for financial gain. Sentencing was postponed and Gray was released on bail. ® External links Curador's web site (minus real credit card details) - as mirrored by Attrition Related Stories FBI tracks Bill Gates credit card hackers to Welsh village Hacking credit cards is preposterously easy Identity Thefts from the Rich and Famous Amazon division hacked, thousands of CCs exposed
John Leyden, 29 Mar 2001

Ex-hacker to help Nintendo with viral marketing

A well-known former computer hacker has been hired to do viral marketing for games firm Nintendo and TV channel E4. Mathew Bevan, whose hacker handle is Kuji, was accused of breaking into US military computer systems but escaped without punishment when a 1997 case at Woolwich Crown Court was dropped after a long-running legal battle. After the case Bevan became an ethical hacker and security consultant with Tiger Computer Security, and later on a freelance basis with his firm the Kuji Media Corporation. Bevan was reluctant to go into details of his marketing work just yet, but said he was offered work for Nintendo and the E4 site, e4chained, through a third party and the Kuji Media Corporation. As a security expert it was felt he had the talent to help run a successful viral marketing campaign. Bevan, and Richard Pryce (Datastream Cowboy) were accused of hacking into a research centre at Griffiss Air Force base in New York state and faced charges related to the Computer Misuse Act. The case revolved an incident when the Korean Atomic Research Institute's database was found to have had been deposited on USAF's systems. In court, USAF investigators admitted that they initially feared the data had come from North Korea - something that could spark a major international incident. This provoked fears that World War III might be started by a teenage computer hacker sitting in his bedroom. An inquiry into the hack led investigators to Bevan and Pryce, who were subsequently charged. Pryce, who was 16 at the time, was fined £1,200 in a hearing before the Woolwich Crown Court case. The prosecution against Bevan was dropped because after the leniency shown to Pryce, prosecutors concluded it was too expensive to continue with the case. ® Related Stories Nintendo ignores entire Internet
John Leyden, 29 Mar 2001

Net via radio for schools group has govt ear after all

UBC Media's chief executive Simon Cole tells us that contrary to what Department of Education flaks tell us, meetings have taken place with mandarins on providing schools with Internet access via Digital Radio. The Sunday Times reported that negotiations between the MXR consortium and the Department of Education were taking place, although a couple of days ago, our own enquiries drew a blank. It all comes down to what is meant by the term 'negotiation' - a phrase apparently as loaded as 'have sexual relations with that woman' (for our American readers). Cole says meetings have taken place with making DAB delivered web content but wouldn't characterise them as 'negotiations'. However the Department of Education has asked the consortium for an explanatory paper on how Net-over-DAB would work. UXB provides content for the proposal, and is a consortium member along with Psion (whose WaveFinder DAB device grabs the content), the Grauniad Media Group, Capital Radio, Jazz FM and Ford. Ford's presence is a reminder of another great use of DAB's remarkable data potential. The motor company distributes one-to-many information to thousands of dealerships, for whom full bi-directional web access might be overkill. The auto industry was quick to jump on satellite Net access as a way of speeding up the delivery of what is essentially broadcast data. We'll stay... er ... tuned. ® Related Stories Net via radio for schools group overstates its case Broadband for free: radio kills the digital stars Psion mounts £299 digital radio land grab
Andrew Orlowski, 29 Mar 2001
Broken CD with wrench

BT ordered to offer wholesale leased lines to other operators

Winged watchdog Oftel is strutting its stuff again with an "order" against BT to offer wholesale leased lines to other operators. Where does this fit in with the existing situation, local loop unbundling and FRIACO? Well, Oftel tell us, this is all about fixed always-on fast lines i.e. between a company's HQ and its other main building. What's the difference? Well, BT currently only offers retail-cost lines. Oftel's diktat is that is offers them on a wholesale basis. BT has two months, Oftel declares, to agree Ts&Cs and then a month and a half to bring it out. All a bit peculiar and frankly rather uninteresting. But Oftel was adamant it was ordering BT to comply. So BT has just been informed then - this comes as a big shock? Er, no. It's known about it for months. It's all about Competition & Choice™, see. How will this make any difference to the market? If operators buy a section of the line off BT and manage to undercut BT on the rest of the route they may be able to offer the service cheaper - and this is good. BT seemed as underwhelmed as us. "We don't think this is really necessary, the market is already competitive. But we were aware this was coming up and we have been working with other operators on getting it to work," a spokesman told us. "We will adhere to the deadlines and keep to the timetable Oftel has outlined." But BT doesn't offer a wholesales product, does it? "No." So how can it be a competitive market. "But there are a range of other operators that can offer the service." But enough of this, it's storm-in-a-teacup time. The main question is: why is Oftel putting on its hardman act again? We don't know of any select committee coming up. And head boy David Edmonds has already been passed over as leader of new super-regulator Ofcom. Peculiar. We also note our own bias. Now that BT is looking more like an underdog, we are more inclined to listen to it. The British disease, huh? Oh, and Sir Pete is still holding strong in his ivory tower. ®
Kieren McCarthy, 29 Mar 2001

Be getting ready to open source BeOS?

Is Be planning to release its BeOS operating system to the open source community? It's something it has discussed in the past but never come down on the issue one way or the other. Until recently, perhaps. Be has registered the domain name openbeos.com (and .org and .net) - and thanks to Register reader Jim for alerting us to the fact. Now to be fair, Be registered the domains way back last September, so it looks like the registrations are more a preparatory move than a statement of intent, but it certainly suggests that the company is coming round to that way of thinking. Be now gives away BeOS to anyone willing to download it, and has done since early 2000, not long after the company announced it would be focusing its efforts on the information appliance biz - such as it is - with its BeIA client OS and back-end server platform. At the time, Be's CEO, the flamboyant Jean-Louis Gassée, said: "[Whether to go open source or not] is a question that many have asked. We plan to answer it in due course." So far, that question hasn't been answered, until now, perhaps? Thought don't forget all those rumours a few years back about Red Hat being about to buy Be... Still, it will be interesting to see if Be does release its OS to the open source world. Certainly the OS itself is no longer a commercial product, and as such may as well be released in source code form. You might think that would render BeIA a non-commercial platform, but Be might decide that giving away the client - a la Linux - might improve its chances of selling the back-end stuff. BeIA's commercial success is founded on the viability of the Net appliance market, and right now that just isn't happening. The collapse in the PC market doesn't appear to be being balanced by a greater interest in cheaper Net access devices, though Sony, for one, hopes it will when it launches the BeIA-based eVilla appliance sometime this year. Let's stick with Sony and speculate a little. How about this for a scenario? Sony buys Be, to use BeIA in future broadband appliance technology (PlayStation 3? Cell-based systems?) and gives away the BeOS to encourage broader industry support, following the Linux model, or simply because it's only interested in the back-end technology. Or maybe Be simply makes it a condition of the acquisition that all its hard work is handed over to fellow coders. As we say, just a little speculation. But stranger things have happened at sea... ® Related Stories Be to offer BeOS 5.0 for free Red Hat to buy Be?
Tony Smith, 29 Mar 2001

‘Forgotten’ distros stealing Linux developers' mindshare

Money may pour in and out of commercial Linux vendors, but that does little to diminish the enthusiasm for the less well-known distros. Results from a survey of Linux developers seem to prove the diversity of the distro market. Santa Cruz based Evans Data polled 300 web developers using software libre platforms, and perhaps unsurprisingly, Red Hat takes a huge chunk of mindshare, with 77.2 per cent of the polled using the distro. SuSE and Mandrake come joint second, a nose ahead of Caldera and FreeBSD. But the fact that the average developer users 2.3 machines explains the plurality of the scene. Debian, the non-profit GPL organization, is used in 17.7 per cent of cases, and Slackware in 12.6 per cent and others in 10 per cent. Which should prove immensely gratifying to the latter. Money can't buy you love in this business. Evans Data recorded much data about developer's preferences, but only made a couple of questions public. You've got to pay for the rest. Those distro results can be found here. ® Related Story IBM plays favourites with Linux distros
Andrew Orlowski, 29 Mar 2001

How do you reckon mobile companies will pay for 3G?

You know how huge multi-billion pound companies have managed to ruin themselves by paying ridiculous sums of money for 3G licences? Well, unless you live in a Disney movie, you will also know that you (that's you and me - the consumers) will end up paying for it. (Talking of which, this email just came in from PA: "Walt Disney has teamed up with NTT DoCoMo to develop animated content for mobile phones".) But how? How? By being sneaky. We've already seen One2One and Vodafone (Orange in the pipeline) up the prices of their pre-pay mobiles in the hope of getting people onto contracts where they can milk them a bit more. All of them say that getting hold of new customers is no longer their main focus. No, it's "customer development"; making us love them. This is guff of course. Getting hold of new customers in a competitive market is a costly business. And when debt is piling up, and mobiles are ubiquitous, it's best to spend less and make the most of what you've got. While we were planning to do a story on exactly what differences you will notice in upcoming months as mobiles companies squeeze every last cent out of you, the Guardian has done a piece on it today. And so, seeing as we like to credit our sources, we will grab the bits we agree with out of it. Tick off the following changes as they occur and email us with the word "bingo!" when you complete the line: Handsets creep up in price. Not the old ones, the new ones. They always start off expensive and get cheaper when new ones arrive (like chips). Except this cheaper price will not be quite so cheap in future Call charges will go up. Slightly. But more subtly The hours defined as "peak" will get longer Fewer new swanky mobile units. Stick with the old phone. Please New tariffs that offer amazing new bundled services. Most likely frivolous and with a "celebrity's" head stuck on it. But these will cost you far more than it costs the company to run them Pre-pay cards that comes in minutes rather than pounds i.e. 60-minute cards rather than £10 cards. That way companies can change the cost of them but consumers can't argue that the card is a con - it lasts 60 minutes after all [this one came from The Guardian - we're still undecided on the psychological logic]. You find that what once was free is suddenly not when you move to a new fantastic tariff There must be a hundred other ways - simply make a note of your average monthly bill now and see what happens in the next six months ®
Kieren McCarthy, 29 Mar 2001

War driving – the latest hacker fad

The introduction of wireless networking has spawned a fresh sub-culture in the digital underground. It has brought script kiddies out of their bedrooms and onto the roads. War dialling, the hacking practice of phoning up every extension of a corporate phone network until the number associated with a firm's modem bank is hit upon, has been replaced by war driving with the introduction of wireless LANS. Our source tell us that war driving, which is apparently particular popular in Silicon Valley, involves motoring between likely target firms with a PC fitted with a LAN card and trying to break into their networks. Giving the flakey state of wireless security models this is normally childishly simple with even basic cracking tools. We haven't tried this ourselves but we understand that if you put in wireless card into your PC in hotel or airport environments fitted with wireless access, you can often get a network connection without any kind of authentication. That aside we don't have much information on the formative war driving community and it'd be sure interesting to know its preferred vehicle. We reckon it'd either be some ostentatious kit car or else (more likely) their Dad old banger. That's assuming they're old enough to drive of course... ®
John Leyden, 29 Mar 2001

Sony gets into mobile in a big way

Sony has announced plans to fire itself up as a mobile phone and mobile computing company. The Japanese games giant said it would transform itself into a "personal broadband network solutions company" as part of its plan for the 2001/2002 fiscal year starting next month. This includes turning its mobile phone handset business into a full separate division and upping its focus on networking. It wants to increase its number of products with network functions, and plans to start distributing films and music digitally via broadband. The moves at the company are part of an effort to compensate for the slowing US economy and problems with Sony's games unit. The reorganisation will also see Sony increase its internal divisions from five to seven, and create a "global hub" HQ to centralise its management. This will be led by CEO and chairman Nobuyuki Idei, president and COO Kunitake Ando, and CFO Teruhisa Tokunaka. ® Related Link Sony release Related Stories Sony's Memory Stick to miss sales targets Sony buys PlayStation emulator Sony turns Clie PDA into digital audio, movie player
Linda Harrison, 29 Mar 2001

Cisco calls halt on Borg-like acquisition spree

Cisco Systems has placed a hold on further acquisitions until its financial outlook improves. A report in today's Financial Times quotes Cisco chief executive John Chambers as saying it would be buying firms would be inappropriate "at a time when we're reducing our own workforce". The decision is slightly surprising, if understandable in the current depressed state of the networking market, because the market value of smaller networking firms is declining faster than that of Cisco itself. Cisco, which last year made 23 acquisitions last year, has not bought a company since last December. ®
John Leyden, 29 Mar 2001

NASA's new supercomp sits on a desktop

Supercomputers are bigger than the average person's holiday cottage, draw enough juice to run a small factory, and require industrial refrigeration units to prevent them cooking themselves, right? Not necessarily. The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has taken delivery of a desktop-sized supercomputer which draws no more power than a hair dryer, based on Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) technology instead of a CPU. FPGA chips can reconfigure themselves hundreds or thousands of times a second, making it possible for numerous applications to run simultaneously. Assuming it actually works as advertised, this setup leapfrogs over Moore's Law, yielding a desktop box with 1000 times the power of one running on a CPU. The power boost comes from the ability of an FPGA array to maximize the use of transistors. A CPU is designed to handle many different sorts of tasks, so only a fraction of its transistors is in use at any given time. An FPGA array, by contrast, can dedicate as many of its transistors as needed for a task on the fly. NASA's Langley Research Center in suburban Virginia is currently in possession of a HAL (what else would they call it?) "hypercomputer" from Utah-based outfit Star Bridge Systems. Reg reader Jeffrey George reckons "hypercomputer" should be spelt "HypeOurComputer," after touring the notably fact-light Star Bridge Web site. Additionally, reader Clark Smith seriously doubts that FPGA chips can reconfigure themselves "thousands of times a second," as a NASA press release claims. "The fastest FPGA currently operates in the 300MHz range," he writes. No doubt we'll hear more about this faster-than-light marvel in the near future. Other HAL customers include the US Department of Defense (DoD), several telecommunications corporations and some Hollywood special-effects shops. No word yet on how well the gizmo works, if at all; but if it's a total bust we have every confidence that Intel will promptly let us know. ®
Thomas C Greene, 29 Mar 2001

NorthPoint moves to shut off DSL service ‘immediately’

NorthPoint has moved to shut down its DSL network, disconnecting up to 100,000 customers. In a statement issued late yesterday, the company warned customers to expect "network outages and termination of DSL services immediately". The bankrupt company had been in last minute talks with a group of ISPs that were trying and keep the DSL service running for at least one more month. The ISPs offered $2.4 million to keep the network going following AT&T's buyout of NorthPoint - AT&T took the carrier's network and equipment, but not its customer base. But on Tuesday evening talks broke down after NorthPoint asked for more cash. This left the 100,000 former NorthPoint DSL users in limbo, with their ISPs scrambling to try and switch them to different carriers - not knowing how long they had before the network would go down. NorthPoint yesterday claimed it had been "forced to shut down its DSL network after efforts to secure funding for continued, interim operations failed." Telocity, the ISP that led the talks with NorthPoint, said it received an email this morning informing it that the network was coming down. The company reckons it will take around three weeks to switch customers to other carriers. ® Related Stories Give us all your money - or we shook 100k DSL customers US DSL indie market 'near total collapse'
Linda Harrison, 29 Mar 2001

Pink slips coming at WSJ.com

Online newshound WSJ.com is to lay off staff as part of parent company Dow Jones' cost cutting campaign. The site, which has 250 full-time staff - including 80 in editorial, will be hit by "a limited number" of layoffs, a Dow Jones representative said today. The job cuts are part of a move announced earlier this month to save Dow Jones $55 million and $60 million during the year. The action, blamed on the slowing economy and a general softness in advertising spend, includes reducing the company's total headcount of 85,000. The representative declined to say which areas of WSJ.com would be affected - or how many people would lose their jobs, only commenting: "We're not talking huge numbers". "Most of the layoffs will happen in other areas [of the company]," she added. More details have been promised for April 12, when the company is due to report its Q1 earnings. WSJ.com has 535,000 subscribers, who pay $59 per year for the online service (or $29 if they already have the print subscription for The Wall Street Journal). ® Related Stories VNUNet online experiment fails TechWeb = TechLoser TheStreet.co.uk goes titsup.com Contenders pile into Brit online finance news wars
Linda Harrison, 29 Mar 2001