6th > April > 2001 Archive

Europe commences Intel investigation

The European Commission's antitrust watchers are drawing a bead on Intel over the way it has licensed its Pentium 4 interface to chipset manufacturers and markets its own products. The Commission enquiry will also take in the chip giant's broader business practices - including subsidising third-party advertising that displays the 'Intel Inside' logo and, where appropriate, irritating jingle - in an effort to determine whether it acts to hamper competition. News of the enquiry was leaked to the Wall Street Journal. As yet, the EC has made no comment on the case. But an Intel spokesman did confirm that the EC has requested the chip maker explain its actions. "We have been co-operating with the commission on its request," he said. "We believe our business practices are fair and lawful." If the EC decides otherwise, it has powers to fine Intel up to ten per cent of its annual sales. Such hard-hitting fines are rare, however. The action will certainly be watched closely by VIA, which is currently negotiating to get Intel's permission to launch a chipset for the P4. VIA reckons it has the right to do so through intellectual property assets acquired through its purchase of S3's graphics chip operation, but wants Intel's say-so anyway. At this stage, VIA has no comment to make on the case, a spokesman told us. However, a report on Reuters suggests the company has supplied the EC with information. Intel has already licensed P4 interface designs to Acer Labs, SiS and graphics chip maker ATI. That, and the fact that Intel has already survived a similar probe by the US Federal Trade Commission, suggests Intel may not have too much to worry about. On the other hand, Europe's Competition Commissioner, Mario Monti, is a bit of a stickler for these things. Last week, he said the Commission's investigation of Microsoft's alleged trust-like behaviour may be expanded. The FTC investigation was closed last September after three years without so much as a reason why, which suggests the pair settled the matter out of the public gaze. ®
Tony Smith, 06 Apr 2001

AOL suffers major ‘meltdown’

AOL's service was hit by a major "meltdown" last night leaving millions of Net users unable to access email or the Web. The monster Internet company blamed the incident on a major power failure which hit Northern Virginia (where its operation is based) at around 7.30pm (GMT). According to first-hand reports, some AOL users were unable to sign on to the service. When they did, they were unable to send or receive emails, enter chat rooms or use the AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) service. According to one AOL user who contacted El Reg when the service came back online last night: "It hit AOL world-wide. USA, German and Canadian members all had the same problems. "AOL Tech help had queues of over an hour and phone lines were jammed, AIM is still down but most of AOL 2-3hrs later is now getting back to normal." Another user described the outage as a "biggie...the meltdown of AOL world-wide". The full scale of the incident is still unknown. Nor is it known how many users were hit. In a statement, the company said: "Due to a major regional power failure across the Northern Virginia area, some members or users may have been unable to use some certain applications for a brief period of time. "We recovered quickly and restored the use of the applications." AOL is still investigating the matter. ®
Tim Richardson, 06 Apr 2001

Autonomy's sales are well down

Autonomy has estimated its first quarter sales are going to be way below earlier forecasts. The company was expected to turnover $24 million, but is now saying revenues will be $14 million to $15 million. The situation has been put down to large European customers delaying orders in the last two weeks of the quarter, cautious about the state of the economy. Shares plummeted as much as 335 pence on the news. ® Related Stories Autonomy ships call centre brain saver
Robert Blincoe, 06 Apr 2001

IA-64 Linux project adds Intel McKinley support

The latest version of the IA-64 Linux kernel has been released, bringing with it support for Intel's McKinley processor, the successor to Itanium. That's pretty good going since McKinley isn't due to start filtering its way to server vendors until Q4, which it will replace Itanium. At that point it will be released in what Intel calls a 'pilot' programme, according to the most recent roadmap we've seen. Apart from McKinley support, the update includes a host of other changes, including synchronisation with version 2.4.3 of the regular IA-32 Linux kernel. The changes are listed here, and brave souls with access to the relevant kit/simulators can download the kernel patch here. ®
Tony Smith, 06 Apr 2001

Carrera SSC gets slapped by Advertising Standards

PC assembler Carrera SSC has had a slap on the wrists from the Advertising Standards Authority following a complaint from the PC Association. The company which actually got the slap is Digital Network which bought the PC brands Carrera and SSC in November 2000, after both those companies had gone bust. Subsequently Digital has been trading as Carrera SSC and making out the company has been in business a long time. The PCA highlighted a Carrera SSC magazine ad to the ASA which, paraphrased, said: "Carrera SSC - a partnership built on integrity. Carrera SSC join forces working 24x7 to offer better systems at fair prices ... Maybe that explains why we have been around so long ... December 2000 brings 3 major awards ... "Best PC Manufacturer" PC Plus awards 1999, "Best Sales Team" PC Direct awards 2000, Winner of over 100 Review awards since January 1999." The PCA's objections were that the advert wrongly implied the advertised company had been in business a long time, and that the company Carrera SSC had won the awards. The ASA agreed both points. Because Digital Network had not taken on the debts and guarantees of SSC and Carrera the ASA concluded that it couldn't say Carrera SSC had been around a long time. And even though Carrera had won awards, Carrera SSC hadn't so it couldn't say it had. ® Related Link The ASA ruling against Digital Network Related Stories PC Association slams firm for logo misuse Carrera assets bought by Digital
Robert Blincoe, 06 Apr 2001

Crucial PC2100 DDR flies through door

UpdatedUpdated PC-2100 DDR SDRAM is clearly very hot stuff indeed. Micron Technology's memory-selling subsidiary Crucial, which began offering the DIMMs on its Web site on Monday, is selling like the proverbial hot cakes. That may explain why we've been getting messages that the company doesn't actually have any for delivery, despite offering the technology at near PC-133 prices all week. A Crucial spokeswoman tacitly denied the charge, citing the hot cakes-like rate at which the parts are being ordered. Of course, selling a product and shipping it aren't the same thing. However, with Crucial's PC2100 product arriving in volume in the UK now - and UK readers have already started receiving modules, as have North American readers - we'd be surprised it really isn't shipping in the US. We understood that sales were being made every five seconds, but we understood wrong - sales were peaking at one every five seconds. So we stand corrected. A Crucial rep also tells us: "If there are any cases of memory not being shipped, they are few and far between. PC2100 DDR is moving out the door very quickly, both in the U.S. and in Europe." So there you go. Last point for all you AMD fans, hefty PC2100 DDR demand also translates into hefty demand for Athlons. ® Related Story PC2100 DDR SDRAM out and about
Tony Smith, 06 Apr 2001

Free software would have prevented foot and mouth, BSE, Hatfield rail crash – RMS

Foot and Mouth, BSE and the Hatfield rail crash could all have been avoided if the British government had the right approach to information sharing, at least according to Richard Stallman. He reckons that all three disasters were largely to do with bad attitudes to data, and that if ministers understood how free software works then they would not be in such a mess now, writes Bill Thompson in Cambridge. Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation and the man who created Emacs, was speaking on the first day of the CODE conference at Queens' College, Cambridge. Not, as you might reasonably expect, a programming-fest, but instead the acronym for 'Collaboration and Ownership in the Digital Environment', CODE has brought together an unusual mix of participants to reflect on the impact free software and open source has had on creativity in the arts, industry and the sciences. The tension between intellectual property rights, the urge to creativity and the capitalist system certainly needs to be explored, although there was a definite sense in the morning sessions - somewhere amidst the sociological, anthropological and linguistic bullshit that passes for analysis in the more rarefied corridors of the academy - that the hardcore programmers had gone out and built a brave new world of free software and now the academics and lawyers wanted to move in and check out the view. Stallman was there to put them right. This is a man who treats copyright as damage and routes around it - as Nick Mailer from the Campaign for Unmetered Telecoms found out over lunch when Stallman roasted him for daring to use the non-open Zend PHP compiler, and told him that the only honourable thing to do was to sit down and write his own. For the man who started the GNU project, this probably seems reasonable, but the rest of us could only sit back in awe. Wearing socks but no shoes, brown canvas trousers and a red polo shirt, Stallman is not as other people. Although his pitch was not new - and he admitted as much - it was probably the first time the academics, artists and lawyers who made up most of the audience had heard it expressed so directly. Pausing only for the obligatory swipe at the UK Government, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and the Private Security Industry Bill (and tipping his hat to FIPR's Caspar Bowden, also in the audience) Stallman went on a gentle meander through the history of copyright, ending at the present day when the media companies own most copyrights and also (he alleges) own the politicians who make the laws that maintain the system. He reserved most venom for the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act - the Act that makes DeCSS illegal - pointing out that the effect of the DMCA is to give the force of criminal law to the license conditions that publishers decide to put on their products, because breaking encryption schemes to get at the data is an offence. 'There is no limit to how much brutality the owners of information will use to keep control', he said, comparing the DMCA with the state police in the old USSR in their approach to copyright infringement. Even the highly-paid patent lawyers were applauding at the end, after he said that Napster had finally convinced him that public non-commercial distribution of copyright material should be legal. After all, he argued, copyright law is a bargain between the state and the creator or rights holder, and so far the rights holder has all the advantages. If there was a problem it was that Stallman takes a totally American view of copyright, seeing it as a set of rules to encourage people to share the products of creativity. He does not discuss - or seem particularly aware of - the European approach in which authors have moral rights which transcend economic factors. Stallman's call for freedom was listened to carefully, but much of the rest of the first day of the conference was taken up with a discussion of ideas of ownership, the relationship between science and software and explorations of the ways that intellectual property rights can promote creativity as well as inhibit it, and the sort of academic/legal discussion that can cause blindness if you pay too much attention. While bringing together such a wide mix of attendees was a good idea in theory, some of the speakers seemed unable to break out of their specialisms, and the jargon count was high at times. But the real excitement was reserved for the afternoon, when copyright lawyer Justin Watts made a reasoned and well-argued presentation on the patent protection, pointing out that while the US system was 'broken' the European approach had its merits. This provoked Stallman into an extended rant against the whole idea of patenting software, and ended in him leaving the room to shout in the corridor while Professor Bill Cornish, who was chairing, tried to resume the discussion. While Justin Watts was cool about the interruption, describing it later as 'fun', Stallman did not seem to generate a great deal of sympathy. Tony Nixon from the Open University said that his claims did not seem convincing, and although he spoke from the heart he was not making a coherent case. Other speakers include Bruce Perens, author of the Open Source Definition, Glyn Moody, whose book 'The Rebel Code' has just been published, and Marilyn Strathern, Professor of Social Anthropology and an expert in non-proprietary forms of ownership. The conference finishes today, Friday 6 April. ® Related Link Cambridge University CODE site Related Stories Everything you ever wanted to know about CPRM, but ZDNet wouldn't tell you... CPRM on hard drives - IBM takes a spin Copy protection hard drive plan nixes free software - RMS
Our correspondent, 06 Apr 2001

Rambus received leaked JEDEC SDRAM data

Rambus was tipped off on the outcome of JEDEC's SDRAM standard-setting meetings by two insiders the memory company codenamed Secret Squirrel and Deep Throat, allowing it to know what was going on inside the organisation even after it had bailed out, Infineon lawyers have said. Rambus is suing Infineon for allegedly mis-appropriating its intellectual property. The case centres on how much of the SDRAM specification Rambus claims its patents protect were already part of the JEDEC standard-setting process. That Rambus received information from covert JEDEC insiders was revealed in internal documents presented by Infineon lawyers during a 15 March pre-trial hearing presided over by Federal judge Robert E Payne. Transcripts of that day's hearing have finally been made public. Infineon claims both moles sent Rambus details of a memory technology called DLL, which was later incorporated into the SDRAM spec., in 1997. Rambus then added DLL technology to a patent amendment it made that same year, ahead of JEDEC's final SDRAM format. Rambus hasn't denied receiving information from Secret Squirrel or Deep Throat, but its lawyers have said that the company doesn't know where they came from. Rambus 1997 patent amendment was made to a 1990 patent application that was initially rejected on the grounds that it was too broad and covered too many inventions. The revelation of the existence of Rambus 'spies', is just the latest twist in a case that has exposed a plan Siemens considered that would involve the company, then Infineon's parent, buying Rambus. That was offered as one of the company's possible moves, which also included licensing Rambus' technology or joining the "Sync DRAM" programme or - in Siemens staffers' words - "support the Japs". Siemens' plan appears in exhibits presented before the court by Infineon lawyers sent to Germany to locate such relevant information by Judge Payne. You can find copies of the exhibits at Rambusite, here. The site also provides court transcripts and other documents. ® Related Link Rambusite's Rambus vs. Infineon documents
Tony Smith, 06 Apr 2001

E-mail wiretapping used to spy on corporate communications

Corporate spies are using covert JavaScript code within email to track the contents of sensitive financial communications. That's the warning from managed service provider Activis which said that it is seeing increasing use of malicious JavaScript coding to create Web bug that spy on Internet traffic. These Web bugs can be embedded into HTML based emails before they are sent. The code then acts to covertly copy the original sender each time this email is forwarded on within the recipient's system. The issue has been well known within the security community since February, when online watchdog the Privacy Foundation highlighted the problem. Activis says it is a live threat that is been actively exploited. It picked up the trend in the course of providing content management services for its clients. Despite the bleak picture painted by Activis the situation is far from hopeless. It is possible to eradicate 'e-wiretapping' via Web bugs by installing email encryption software, or turning off JavaScript in HTML messages. The advice is timely because there is evidence that businesses do not take email security seriously enough, despite conducting more and more sensitive business negotiations over the Net, chiefly because it greatly speeds up discussions. A recent report on email security within mergers and acquisitions, published by IT services company Northgate Information Solutions, found 100 firm out of 500 sent 70 per cent or more of confidential information via email. Despite this, only 11 per cent of the total sample said that they had secure, encrypted email. Lawyers, who really ought to know about the need for confidentiality, were the worst offenders with only eight per cent insisting on using encrypted emails when sending confidential information to external parties. ® Related stories JavaScript makes e-mail bugging easy External links Warning on e-mail wiretapping by the Privacy Foundation
John Leyden, 06 Apr 2001

Hynix nixes non-core operations

Hyundai - sorry, we just can't used to calling it Hynix - is to spin off its cellphone handset and ADSL operations and sell-off its LCD and networking equipment businesses in order to focus solely on semiconductor products. The cellphone and ADSL divisions will be converted into independent operations next month through a transfer of assets and debts. Contracts will be signed on 9 April. Hyundai will seed each with 50 million won ($37,000) and maintain a 100 per cent shareholding. Ultimately, Hyundai officials said, the two companies will become entirely independent of the parent through flotations, the Korean Herald reports. Last year, both divisions added sales of 712.8 billion won ($534.13 million) and 158.5 billion won ($117.29 million), respectively, to Hyundai's total revenues. Hyundai is looking for buyers for the other two divisions, but should neither find a potential owner by July, the company may choose to spin them off along the same lines as the ADSL and cellphone operations. ®
Tony Smith, 06 Apr 2001

FOTW I used to respect you folks…

Big love this week to all of you who enjoyed our April 1st makeover. Big clip round the ear to 'modor' - proof, were it needed, that evolution moves slower in some places than others: It remains to be seen how soon you all start kissing Bill's ASS, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon forever and ever. I used to respect you folks because you dared speak a valid opinion against the corporate crap. Now you are just going to shit Microsoft Pom-Poms. No more recomendations for The Register, erm, I mean Bill's Sucked Dick. Fuck you all. Confused? Those of you who were - rightly - in bed all day last Sunday, can see what all the fuss is about here.
Lester Haines, 06 Apr 2001

Software to replace software engineers

UpdatedUpdated A UK company reckons it's on the way to making programmers a thing of the past by reducing complex coding to a mix is a simple list of instructions and some powerful AI. Synapse Solutions this week took the wraps off MI-Tech, software that essentially lets you enter in English a series of steps you want your computer to do - from which it will build a fully functioning application. According to Synapse's Bob Brennan, MI-Tech uses a series of rules to figure out what the user is telling the computer to do. From that it creates program code it can then assemble into executable machine code. Quoted in this week's New Scientist magazine, Brennan claims MI-Tech can create an application from "three pages of monologue" in less time than it would take to code the app using a compiler and conventional programming language. How well it actually works remains to be seen. Try and describe in English something as simple as a calculator app, and it seems simple enough. Try and describe it with a graphical user interface where you've got to handle visual input and output, and a once simple app becomes suddenly more complex. That said, MI-Tech doesn't sound radically different from Visual Basic, so you never know. Whatever, Synapse believes MI-Tech can be used to give any non-programmer the ability to create their own applications, something that harks back to the glory days of 8-bit home computing in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Fortunately, MI-Tech saves you the trouble of learning BASIC. Synapse isn't giving away any hints about how MI-Tech works until it has not only patented the technology but licensed it to software companies. It reckons the latter is just a year and a half away. Of course, at that point, you can use MI-Tech to create a new MI-Tech to create a new... and so on. Soon it will be running things and recoding itself and evolving... and then... maybe... taking over... Kevin Warwick is going to have a field day. ® Reg Bootnote Interested readers might care to visit this site, which contains a transcript of a Personal Computer World penned all the way back in 1981 when the mag was still worth reading. 'Uncle' David Tebbutt (where are they now?) takes a look at a remarkably MI-Tech sort of program called The Last One, also of British origin. Are they by any chance related? Thanks to readers Gavin Andrews and Adrian Brooks for the pointer to The Last One, and the link, respectively Related Link New Scientist: Your wish is my machine code
Tony Smith, 06 Apr 2001

Dixons doesn't dominate UK PC market

UpdatedUpdated This may come as a surprise to its competitors but the Dixons Group doesn't dominate the UK market in home PCs. This is according to an Office of Fair Trading investigation, which also concludes Dixons hasn't infringed competition law by securing exclusive deals to sell certain Compaq PCs and all Packard Bell's products. In case you didn't know, Dixons Stores Group runs Dixons, Currys, PC World, and the Link chain of stores. There are 323 Dixons shops, 309 Currys outlets, 95 branches of PC World, and 263 Link shops, There are also 15 stores at airports. Not to mention the online stores connected to its high steet brands. And according to reports in the Financial Mail on Sunday, Dixons is preparing to bid for Action Computer Supplies, the big but ailing direct marketing computer reseller. "Dixons' share of this market is considerably below the 40 per cent threshold we would normally regard as an indicator of dominance," said Penny Boys, deputy director general of the Office of Fair Trading, in a statement. The OFT statement also said the barriers to entry into the home PC supply market "are not high". And that "a wide range of well known brands of PCs are available from manufacturers through a variety of outlets. In general, consumers do not appear to have a strong preference for any one brand in particular, nor for purchasing through any one type of outlet". A spokesman for Dixons said: "We maintain the PC market is highly competitive and dynamic." The OFT investigation was prompted by UK retailers Comet and John Lewis, which were angry about the Compaq and Packard Bell deals. Comet and John Lewis said these deals restricted consumers' choice and could lead to higher prices and poorer service. Boys went on to say: "In assessing its position we have also considered whether the company is able to act to an appreciable extent independently of competitors and consumers. "Taking all these factors into account, this leads to the conclusion that Dixons is not dominant and has not infringed competition law by entering into these agreements." Back in October 1999 the OFT cleared UK PC retailers - and more specifically Dixons Stores Group - of making excessive profits. That OFT enquiry was sparked off by an intervention by Peter Mandelson, the trade and industry secretary at the time. His interest was piqued by a ludicrous attack by Intel's Craig Barrett on Dixons. British PC sales were lower than in some other European territories because Dixons margins were too high, he claimed. A few weeks later Barrett was forced to eat humble pie - his grovelling letter of apology to Dixons somehow made its way to the press. ® Office of Fair Trading statement DIXONS NOT DOMINANT IN THE SUPPLY OF HOME PCs The OFT has found that Dixons is not dominant in the supply of home PCs. It has also found that Dixons has not infringed competition law by concluding agreements appointing it as sole distributor for certain Compaq PCs and exclusive distributor for certain Packard Bell products including home PCs. The decision follows a comprehensive analysis of the market for the supply of home PCs to UK consumers. This includes supply through high street retailers, specialist retailers, retail parks, mail order, the Internet and other direct methods of sale. The market is not highly concentrated and barriers to entry are not high, the OFT said today. A wide range of well known brands of PCs are available from manufacturers through a variety of outlets. In general, consumers do not appear to have a strong preference for any one brand in particular, nor for purchasing through any one type of outlet. Dixons is thus not dominant in this market. Vertical agreements - those between businesses at different levels of the supply chain such as the agreements between Dixons and Compaq and Packard Bell - are excluded from the Competition Act's prohibition on agreements that affect competition. In the case of Dixons' agreements with Compaq and Packard Bell, there were insufficient grounds to exercise the power to withdraw the exclusion. Penny Boys, Deputy Director General of Fair Trading, said: 'Dixons' share of this market is considerably below the 40% threshold we would normally regard as an indicator of dominance. In assessing its position we have also considered whether the company is able to act to an appreciable extent independently of competitors and consumers. Taking all these factors into account, this leads to the conclusion that Dixons is not dominant and has not infringed competition law by entering into these agreements.' Related Stories Action stations for Dixons bid? How does PC World make its money? PC World in-store virus check a bit of a scan? UK PC retailers don't rip off customers
Robert Blincoe, 06 Apr 2001

IE6 beta bug can blank out email

Early testers of Internet Explorer 6 have come across a bug in the browser that can result in them receiving emails with no subject line or message body. Frustrated users brave enough to try out IE6's public beta have run into trouble receiving emails via either Outlook 2000 and 98, and to a lesser extent Outlook Express. In the worst case, messages collected by Outlook 2000 and 98 which are encoded with US-ASCII arrive without a subject line and (in the case of a plain text, non-HTML message) the message itself is also blanked out. With Outlook Express, it seems only the subject line is blank. The problem apparently only rears its ugly head when serfers with IE6 beta installed on their machines receive email sent from clients other than Outlook or Outlook Express, such as Netscape 4. So far discussion threads on mailing lists devoted to the subject have concentrated on workarounds involving sending messages to yourself and copying over the file Mlang.dll from IE5.5 installations. Whether these work or not for sure we can't say because no-one in our office has been brave enough to try using the browser. That's just as well because we hear that uninstalling the IE6 beta doesn't solve the problem when a user reverts back to using IE5. We are talking about beta code here but this strikes us as an enormous problem to have with such an important piece of software this far into its development. The idea that the bug doesn't manifest itself in email received from others using Outlook Express, only messages from other email clients, is something likely to excite the conspiracy theorists out there. To a jaundiced eye this looks like a move to tie people more people into its email client, 'cos after all if everybody used Outlook there wouldn't be a problem would there? All that said we've always been keener on the cockup rather than conspiracy theory and rather than a plan to turn surfers into serfers, we'd be more inclined to think of this as a shining example of shoddy quality control at Redmond. Whichever way you look at it though, IE6 (at least until this problem is fixed) should come with a very prominent health warning of browser beware... ® Related stories MS preparing for IE6 public preview? Here's what's in IE6 build 2403 External links Discussion thread on microsoft.public.windows.inetexplorer.ie6beta.browser newsgroup More head scratching on comp.infosystems.www.browsers.misc
John Leyden, 06 Apr 2001

Reg cancer busters are go!

Following yesterday's appeal for Reg readers to lend their computing power to the search for possible cancer cures, we are pleased to announce that membership of the Vulture Central II team in the Intel/Oxford P2P project has jumped from 64 to an impressive 655 in just 36 hours. So impressed are we at Vulture Central that we're dispatching one of our hacks to Oxford to report back on the boffins at the heart of the project. Look out for that after Easter. The Vulture Central II current stats are available here. At least, they should be. If you can't log on straight away, be patient. If you would like to participate in this excellent initiative, you can get your software here. Then sign up with Vulture Central II at http://members.ud.com/services/teams/. ®
Lester Haines, 06 Apr 2001

Merrill Lynch, Lehmans cut AMD forecasts

Merrill Lynch analyst Joe Osha is described by financial news wire AFX as "influential". So what effect will his revised intermediate outlook for AMD and Micron Technology have on their share price? Osha has cut both stock to 'neutral' from a respective 'accumulate' and 'buy'. The decision is, he says, "based on belief that demand fromthe low end of the PC business may not be meeting previous expectations," AFX reports. Recent strong performance may have more to do with inventory replenishment than with underlying strong demand, he reckons. "That's especially true for DRAM," he told AFX. Rival analyst Dan Niles of Lehman Brothers, takes a different tack on AMD, but the result his still downwards. Niles believes in there's continuing upside for AMD on processors and for higher average selling prices. But good news on this front will not be enough to overcome weakness now afflicting the flash memory market, for so long a bedrock of AMD profits. So Nile is cutting earnings estimates for 2001 and 2002, AFX again reports. Niles now forecasts net income in 2001 of $1.25 per share, down from his previous estimate of $1.90. And for 2002, he's pencilled estimates of net income of $1.45 per share, down from $2.15. ®
Drew Cullen, 06 Apr 2001

Confused pensioners triumph in PC World P4 PC giveaway

A pair of octogenarians were the lucky winners of a P4 PC in a lucky draw competition held at a Yorkshire branch of PC World. The couple were on route to the Morrisons supermarket but got a bit lost and popped into the PC World branch thinking it sold washing machines. The PC giveaway is part of Intel's big plans to push the P4. It has been running an SMS competition with PC World, in which entrants SMS their postcode to the competition number, and are then text messaged with the date, time, and location of the next P4 PC draw at a PC World branch. We wrote last week that these draws seemed to be held at PC Worlds quite a distance from where the hopeful P4 punters lived, but we've been told that this is because they may have missed the draw at their local store As for the silver surfers and their P4 beast - our informant says, "they were well confused about winning". We bet it made a great PR photo shot for the local paper though. ® Related Stories PC World goes the distance with P4 SMS compo
Robert Blincoe, 06 Apr 2001

Infineon sees sun through DRAM clouds

Infineon reckons the outlook is good for the world DRAM market, but warned the industry that it shouldn't expect prices to pick up significantly. "In general, we see the medium term and long-term growth potential for the semiconductor market as very positive," said Infineon's CEO, Ulrich Schumacher, at the chip company's annual shareholders meeting today. The Dramurai has already predicted that the memory chip market would begin to improve again in the second half of the year. But given the continuing gloom in the industry, it's interesting that the company feels it important to signal that, despite the current situation, matters will improve. "The development of the memory market is showing preliminary indications of growing demand and an increase in DRAM prices as well," said Schumacher. Still, everything's not yet rosy in the garden, and he followed that statement up by warning: "However, it is not clear yet how sustainable this price development will be." Recovery or no, Infineon is still cutting its investments in plant by 500 million euros ($448.86 million) to 2.8 billion euros ($2.50 billion). It is also instigating a cost-cutting programme intended to wipe 700 million euros ($628.4 million) off its operating expenses. ® Related Stories DRAM price rise shock horror! Micron cuts kit spend on 'slight' profit
Tony Smith, 06 Apr 2001

Smart tagging in Office XP – what Melissa did next?

Microsoft is shuttering its software against viruses, but the latest edition of its flagship productivity suite, Office XP, just might be introducing a whole new class of back door. Office XP includes the facility to build a kind of multi-dimensional version of a hyperlink into data files, and that's where the problem could lie. Microsoft's Smart Tags, as they're known, allow items in Word docs, spreadsheet cells and so on to have properties attached to them. So an entry for a person's name, for example, could 'know' that it's a name, and have knowledge of its entry in your contact book, or as the author of a book, as a company employee with a personnel file, or all of the above and more. When you're working with that name, or any other item with Smart Tags attached to it, you'd be presented with a number of options for actions to be taken in association with it. Or conceivably, the actions could be automatically carried out. Unlike hyperlinks, they can lead in many different directions, so the possibilities are infinite. From Microsoft's point of view the system has great potential, both from the point of view of leveraging its own assets from Office, and from that of corporate customers, who can be offered Smart Tags as a further mechanism for automating their businesses. Smart Tags themselves, incidentally, are dependent on the use of XML in the latest rev of Office, so it's worth bearing in mind that there could be security issues associated with the implementation of XML by any company - it's not necessarily just a question of Microsoft. But in this case, Microsoft is building the tools. As explained by Microsoft VP Steve Sinofsky in Seattle yesterday, you could Smart Tag a company name to associate it with a stock ticker, and regular, live updates of the stock price from, say, Moneycentral. You can think of hosts of examples like this where Microsoft would be able to leverage its position as vendor of the industry standard productivity suite into sales for this and other of its MSN content assets. You can also figure out how tagging can be used to automate business processes - somebody sends you an email, you can be prompted to arrange a meeting, review joint projects, upgrade their software, whatever might seem relevant, or be available. For security reasons, although Smart Tags themselves are intended to be shared, they don't contain executable code. But they do need that code to run, so if you don't already have it in trusted form on your local machine, the tag can include a "downloadURL" you can click on in order to collect that code. This in itself seems little different from allowing code to be attached to emails - if people can be induced to click on an executable with Anna as a payload, they're surely just as likely to click on a URL. Dumb is dumb. Today, Microsoft is busily patching the security holes that came along with its earlier integration, automation and sharing model, but Smart Tags make it clear the company is still pursuing the same approach. And potentially, because they'll be easier and more interesting from the user's perspective than VBS scripts, the problem could be a lot bigger next time around. Smart Tags could also have serious privacy implications, depending on how they are used by e-commerce operations, and by the less scrupulous operations on the Web. Users aren't in a position to know exactly what the code they've accepted is doing, so it could be used to gather data on them, their contacts, to spread virally via their contact books... There are clearly lots of possibilities, some of them not particularly nice. Even on the nice (ish) side, imagine how e-commerce sites could operate some kind of 'loyalty points for tag acceptance' system, and using the tagging to glean ever-richer data about their customers' habits. The defence against this is the one we prepared earlier, and that we're rolling out over the next few years. The old attachment problem is being dealt with as promised, by blocking file attachments. In Office XP Outlook has 39 file types blocked by default, and this can be adjusted according to preferences. Future defences ("post Outlook 2002") will rely far more on differentiation between trusted and untrusted, signed and unsigned apps. This however - as Microsoft itself accepts - is likely to raise hackles with other software vendors. But there are further issues, even if all applications being run and data files being used are signed and trusted. What, for example, if a signed document includes a link to an external file that changes? But when it comes down to it, despite all the new security measures being introduced with OXP, responsibility falls on users and administrators, as always. "Signed applications are no different from any other code that could get on your machine," says lead program manager Jeff Reynar. "There's no new opportunity to do these malicious things with Smart Tags." Basically, they just do the same kinds of things that earlier technologies did, but maybe more so - and as always, your security and privacy is based on how awake you, your admins, your business partners and suppliers are. ®
John Lettice, 06 Apr 2001
SGI logo hardware close-up

Text Message Injury – or is it SMS Wrist?

The growing use of text messaging on mobile phones could result in an epidemic of repetitive strain injuries. That's the warning from Andrew Chadwick, director of the British RSI Association, who described sending SMS messages as a perfect way to fall victim to the condition. "We're talking about people making hundreds of tiny repeated movements as they use the mobile keypad," Chadwick told the Mirror. "Because the movements are small they do not cause the blood to circulate, and that means the fingers are acting like an engine without oil." The paper warned that TMI, or Text Message Injury, is liable to affect thousands of people, especially children and cause painful swelling and inflammation of the fingers and thumb. ®
John Leyden, 06 Apr 2001

MacOS X is ‘crap’ – Torvalds

Linus Torvalds has spoken. Apple's MacOS X, he says, is "a piece of crap". To be fair, it's actually MacOS X's kernel, Mach, which the Linux creator so dislikes. The quote comes from Torvalds forthcoming autobiography, entitled Just for Fun, and continues: "[Mach] contains all the design mistakes you can make, and manages to even make up a few of its own." That won't please Steve Jobs, who tried to get Torvalds working on the next-generation Mac operating system back in 1997, not long after taking over at Apple. And it's particularly ironic given that one of MacOS X's selling points is that it's based on Unix. The OS' core, dubbed Darwin, is derived from BSD. However, Torvalds' comments may not sting anyone who's using MacOS X. For all its touted "unprecedented stability and performance" (to quote the software's packaging) borne on its "industrial strength" Unix roots, many users have found it far from stable or fast. That's not expected until the summer when Apple rolls out MacOS X 10.1, codenamed Puma. Arguments that it's only 1.0 software and 1.0 software's never perfect, while true, don't hold much water given how often Apple and its users (including this one) have slammed Microsoft for taking same line. Apple deserves some brickbats for its MacOS X 10.0 release, which arguably hasn't delivered what the company promised, but Torvalds does sound like he's getting his own back after the numerous articles published in the press and around the Web suggesting that MacOS X will be the OS that brings Unix into the mainstream. To date, Linux has failed to do that. Certainly that seems the basis for Jobs' approach to Torvalds back in 1997: to help make Unix mainstream. Torvalds criticises Jobs for assuming he'd rather do that with Apple than with Linux, though there's no reason why he couldn't do both. Did Jobs try and persuade Linus to leave Linux alone, we wonder? It's not hard to imagine Jobs, back in 1997, saying come on, Linus, it's time to leave your hobby behind and join a real, shipping OS. If so, with hindsight, they have proved foolish words: Linux arguably has more users than Apple does. That said, it's questionable, pace Eazel, whether it will ever move out beyond its techie and server strongholds. Apple has no cause to feel clever, though - how likely is it to move out of its niches? ®
Tony Smith, 06 Apr 2001

MS Counterfeit gang gets ten years in jail

Three people have been jailed for a total of 10 years for their involvement in a multi-million pound software counterfeiting ring. The trio, who were convicted on March 16 for conspiracy to defraud Microsoft, sat impassively in the dock as Her Honour Judge Pearlman, passed stiff sentences which reflected their involvement in a fraud that netted them an estimated £1.5 million. "This was a conspiracy aggravated by the clever devices you used to deceive and the fact you continued the operation after being arrested," Judge Pearlman said. "You were all playing for high stakes." The Judge sentenced the gang to sentences which she said reflected the serious nature of the offence, as well as acting as a deterrent to others. She also suggested that companies who suffered loses due to the counterfeit operation were likely to lose staff as a result. Among the gang's victims were St Albans City District Council in Hertfordshire which unwittingly bought thousands of pounds of software from the counterfeiters. The gang's mastermind, married father-of-three Sikander Qureshi, 55, of Stanmore, north London was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison for conspiracy to defraud. Zafar Ahmed, 40, from East Ham in east London was sentenced to two-and-a-half years for the same offence, with half his sentence suspended. Shaheen Parveen, 42, from Kingsbury, north west London received a four year jail term for fraud with 3 months to be served concurrently for attempting to pervert the course of justice. Her brother Babar Manzoor, 25, jumped bail before fleeing to his native Pakistan. Investigators stumbled onto the gang's activities after Customs officers at Heathrow got a lucky break and intercepted a package full of fake MS software, sent from a business address in Thailand to Qureshi's accountancy firm in Shoreditch High Street, London. The parcel was sent to Qureshi but when it arrived Hackney trading standards team swooped and grabbed counterfeit software CDs, and a shrink-wrapping machine. The National Crime Squad joined in the investigation and caught the team on CCTV camera visiting their lock-up. Raids on the Ahmed's and Parveen's homes and the storage units revealed an Aladdin's cave of counterfeiting material. Thousands of counterfeit CDs, various packaging material and Microsoft authenticity certificates - which had been stolen by armed raiders from a printing factory in Scotland, were recovered. Various companies had been set up by the gang to market and sell the fake software, but these not be linked to the operation's ringleader Qureshi, who claimed in court to be a good friend of the husband of Pakistan's deposed leader Benazir Bhutto (Asif Ali Zardari). His wife appears on the Asian TV station ZTV. Even after the gang was first arrested at the end of 1998 they still tried to carry on their illegal operation but this only resulted in them been arrested again and the confiscation of more evidence by police. Qureshi and Parveen had been held in custody after breaking bail restrictions. Police caught them hiding in a wardrobe at Parveen's house. Bank records suggest the gang made more than £1.5 million in profits but only £96,000 in cash was ever recovered. ® Related stories: Major UK software pirates found guilty
John Leyden, 06 Apr 2001
DVD it in many colours

Text messaging used to trap unfaithful partners

We've brought you stories of text messaging as a potential life saver and a killer but we reckon a suggested use of SMS, from of all places Romania, is just about the silliest yet. Inventor Vasile Prisca has invented a device that catches unfaithful spouses by sending a mobile text message whenever it detects more than one person in the marital bed. The device works by sensing when someone heavier than a man's wife jumps into the sack. It sounds daft but Prisca used it to unearth evidence of infidelity in the run up to his own divorce. ® Related stories: SMS in action: road killer and life saver SMS: sack me surreptitiously SMS Me (email is Pants!) Text Message Injury - or is it SMS Wrist?
John Leyden, 06 Apr 2001