27th > September > 2001 Archive

Corel makes money shock!

By abandoning its imperial pretensions, and concentrating on the desktop graphics stuff (and WordPerfect too) it does best, Corel has rediscovered the knack of making money. In Q3, ended Aug 31, 2001, the Canadian software publisher declared a profit, not a big one - US$500K - but a profit nevertheless. And a profit for a third quarter in a row. For the quarter, Corel produced sales of $34.2m (Q3: 2001 $36.4m), compared with revenues of $36m and net income of $2.3m for Q2, 2001. In Q3 last year, the company made a net loss of $10.7m. And for the year to date, Corel turned net income of $3.4m on sales of $102.7m. Compare and contrast with the same period last year, when the company recorded a net loss of $46.8m on sales of $117.1m. All in all, a decent performance, especially considering the slowdown in consumer IT spend this year. The company had cash and cash equivalents at the end of the quarter of $123m, so it looks grounded enough to withstand any further downturn in the market. During Q3, Corel announced its intention to buy Micrografx, the veteran developer of consumer graphics software, for $32m in stock and Softquad, developer of HTML editor HotMetal pro, for $36m in stock. The company also fulfilled its ambition of hiving off its Linux distro business. This is constructed as a licensing/small amount of equity/no cash (as far as we can see) deal. but the upshot is that, if things don't work out, Corel retains rights to the software. ® Related Stories Corel licenses off Linux distro Corel buys SoftQuad, acquires XML brains trust Corel buys Micrografx
Drew Cullen, 27 Sep 2001

Maxtor thinks enterprise

Maxtor, the hard drive vendor, is moving upmarket with its first proper system for the enterprise storage market. The company first announced the MaxAttach NAS 6000 at Network Interop in Atlanta on September 11, the day of the New York atrocity. Understandably we missed this at the time, but we're here second time around, in time for the launch of the beast into the European market. So network applied storage junkies, here goes. The system scales in capacity from 1.9TB to 5.7TB. And it's got all the features you would expect from a big network attached storage (NAS) box - redundant hardware components, hot-swappable hard drives, fans, power supplies, RAID 5, and a host of back-up and network management features. The MaxAttach NAS 6000 is powered by a Dual Intel Pentium III 866MHz with 1GB ECC SDRAM. It utilises Windows 2000, but is also interoperable with Unix/Linux, Mac and NetWare clients. Prices start at $29,000. And the beast should start reaching corporates in limited quantities in Q4. General availability is expected for Q1, 2002. If you want more spec, check out the press release. ®
Drew Cullen, 27 Sep 2001

Affinity revenues up as losses widen

Affinity Internet has reported widening losses today amidst a sharp increase in turnover. For the six months to June 30 the UK-based Internet and telecoms company posted pre-tax losses up three-fold from £3.4 million in H1 2000 to £14.9 million in H12001. Turnover shot up 250 per cent to £15.8 million in H1 2001 from £4.5 million during the corresponding period last year. In a statement, chairman Terry Plummer said: "Despite a challenging economic environment, the board are delighted to report demand for Affinity's services is continuing to grow at a higher than predicted rate." Affinity had expected strong demand for unmetered packages following the launch of an unmetered (FRIACO) narrowband service. And the company invested heavily in rolling out the product. But so far, it has failed to see any sizeable take-up, and consequently, revenues for its Internet division were flat in the first half. Affinity, a white-label ISP for customers including WHSmith Online and the Prudential, admitted that it failed to meet its Q1 forecast that 25 per cent of its customers would migrate to a FRIACO-based service but remains hopeful this will improve later this year. When it does, Affinity claims margins will improve for its Internet business. The company has cash reserves of £8 million following a £5 million injection from Powergen earlier this month. This was a second tranche payment from the utility company in respect of Hurricaneseye, a co-owned unified billing service, which is performing above expectations. ®
Tim Richardson, 27 Sep 2001

MS moves to head off Linux desktop ‘threat’

Is Linux ready for the desktop? Microsoft seems to think so, if a company channel partner email leaked to The Register is anything to go by. The email, which we believe to be genuine, is labelled for the attention of Microsoft Certified Partners, and takes the form of a call to action aimed at intercepting major customers "seriously evaluating, piloting or deploying production Linux desktops." The email apparently came from the recipient's usual Microsoft Channel Partner Manager, and was addressed to the company's usual contact, so it seems unlikely to be a fake. Nor, although some of the language is robust, does it go wildly over the top in the way fakes so frequently do. The Microsoft manager is asking for information on customers planning to deploy Linux desktops, and requesting that the partner "complete the attached template [which we do not have, unfortunately] and send it to me." The manager is particularly interested in identifying vipers in the bosom of the Beast: "If you are the one promoting Linux to your customer, we should talk. I really want to understand why this is being pushed as opposed to Microsoft. If a customer is asking you, I understand the need to get the customer what they request [that's nice, if somewhat unconvincing], however if you are leading with it, I really want your honest feedback." If any qualified Microsoft channel partner has received a similar email, and has already submitted their honest feedback, The Register would be pretty interested in seeing it too. To some extent classic Redmond paranoia may be driving this particular campaign; the email author certainly seems far more convinced that Linux is a threat to Microsoft on the desktop than most of the rest of the world is. We know Microsoft's trial team claims it's a major threat, but we don't believe they really believe that; this person, however, sounds convinced. "As you know, Linux is not only a threat to Microsoft's server business - it is increasingly becoming a threat to the desktop in a number of key areas. In roundtables you told us that Linux was coming, customers were asking for it, we believe you! We need to better understand where and why we are combating Linux on the desktop, and how we can improve our products and services to make sure we retain satisfied Microsoft customers. The only way we can understand it, is to hear from you or directly from your customers." Now, here come those key areas we just touched on: "Large Organizations, Medium Organizations, Small Organizations, OEM, Home/Consumer, Education, and Government." Redmond paranoia again - isn't that everybody? Microsoft wants information on why these customers are considering Linux, and in the shorter term "will assist in pulling together resources to battle Linux in a given customer situation... we will engage with you... to keep them Microsoft or help them move to Microsoft technology." That implies that would-be defectors are going to find themselves on the receiving end of combination Microsoft-partner SWAT teams. If one of them arrives at your company, tell us all about it, please. The process will likely commence with your receiving the template with a request that you complete it "to frame the threat." As we say, we're pretty sure this email is genuine. We can't however be sure how widespread its distribution has been, and the level within the Microsoft hierarchy it comes from. It may simply be a single manager taking the note from on high and making up their own strategy, but even if that's the case it still gives us a fair idea of how Microsoft regards Linux on the desktop internally. It's probably also useful to think of the email alongside a development it doesn't mention at all - the new Microsoft licensing model. If anything is going to drive major Microsoft customers towards Linux, then this is it. Companies have been doing their bean-counting, noting that the new model will cost them a bundle and railroad them into early adoption of all of Redmond's latest and greatest software, and some of them must at least be considering an escape route. When they're contemplating the sheer pain of a rip and replace that'll land them and their staff with systems they don't actually know a great deal about, we still don't think many of them will jump. But the world looks different from inside Microsoft, where everything's viewed as a threat. That Redmond paranoia again? But the IT world would be a duller place if it didn't exist. ®
John Lettice, 27 Sep 2001

BTAnytime turns into Notime for 200 ‘abusers’

Some 200 BTopenworld customers have been expelled from the service after failing to heed warnings from the ISP to curb their usage of the 24/7 unmetered dial-up service. It's understood that those who have been fingered by BT will have their services disconnected today. Emails notifying those involved were sent out earlier this week. In August, BT warned around 400 users that it was against the terms and conditions of the service to leave the dial-up connection always on even when it wasn't being used. Around half of those contacted reacted sufficiently to escape the termination. However, today BTopenworld went ahead with its threat and disconnected 200 users from its service. But in a separate development, a number of users have complained to the advertising watchdog about BTopenworld's decision to impose restrictions on the Anytime service. One reader who contacted us, but asked to remain anonymous, said: "The basis of our claim is that the service is advertised for use 'as much as you like as often as you like', which is clearly not the case. "I know of five users who have filed this claim against BTopenworld this week," he said. An ad on BTopenworld's Web site reads: "Anytime just £14.99 per month. surf whenever you like, as often as you like with no internet call charges." A spokeswoman for the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) confirmed that it had received one complaint this week on the issue. Yesterday, the ASA slapped BTopenworld for describing its Anytime service as "reliable" after punters protested that they couldn't use the service. The ASA upheld the complaint and told BTopenworld it couldn't use the term "reliable" in its advertising until it had sorted out the problems. ® Related Stories BT Anytime not 'reliable' BT gets ready to terminate Net access abusers
Tim Richardson, 27 Sep 2001

New UK domain rules save Internet's soul

New UK rules over domain name disputes, which came into effect on Monday, show that Internet regulators can, if they put their mind to it, be capable of making good decisions. The changes to Nominet's domain resolution service (DRS) - which affect all domains ending .co.uk - are the first major overhaul since 1997 of the resolution process at the UK root registrar, and have taken into account past cases as well as respondents' views to a public consultation. The most important changes are the introduction of independent judges, improved transparency and a rewording of the rules to step away from issues of confusion over domains and towards abusive registrations. While many of the changes - including the addition of personal and geographical names into the system - appear to be a case of catch-up, the most important difference between Nominet's approach to domain resolution and that of ICANN-approved arbitrators such as the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and National Arbitration Forum (NAF) is one of philosophy. While they tend to view the Internet as little more than a corporate marketplace, Nominet has always made it plain that it supports free speech on the Internet. Case By Case Two other important differences between Nominet and other arbitrators are: that Nominet does not view previous decisions as forming a domain resolution case law. "No decisions carry a precedent," Nominet's main lawyer Emily Taylor told us. The case law approach has led to an unfortunate increase in the number of poor or flawed judgments based on previous flawed judgments at other arbitrators. The system also adds an air of legitimacy of these new judgments. On top of that, Nominet views its role as an arbitrator and not as a court of law. For this reason, it will act as intermediary for both parties and only step in when both sides have failed to reach an agreement. Only then does it charge an arbitration fee. The opposite is true for arbitrators following ICANN rules - pulled together under the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP). Let me be the Judge of that In the introduction of independent judges and the decision to post all judgments on its Web site, Nominet is simply matching the transparency of other arbitrators. However, while the NAF in particular has been heavily criticised for continually using trademark lawyers, Nominet is to choose an initial selection of 30 judges from a range of professions, including IT directors and magistrates (over 700 applied for the job, which comes with a £750 per-case fee). More importantly than that, it has gone with a "cab rank" system, meaning that the judge chosen for a particular case will simply be the next one in line. This is a vast improvement over other approaches, which often have a secretive and biased system for judge selection. A recent study showed that the judges working for the NAF are at least ten times more likely to be picked for a case if they regularly choose for the complainant. In line with a general movement away from solely trademarks to incorporate personal names and geographical areas as legitimate claims to ownership of a domain, Nominet has included them under the new rules. However, while this has been widely seen as opening the floodgates to hundreds more corporate cases at other arbitrators, Nominet has a balancing clause. "We have a specific provision that says if a domain is providing criticism or a tribute then that may come under fair use," Ms Taylor told us. "That is our free-speech carve-out." Basically, company X will never win companyXsucks.co.uk, and Pop Star will never get her mits on popstarfan.co.uk. "The idea is to support the free speech element of the Internet by not branding activities as being in 'bad faith'," Nominet's main lawyer Emily Taylor told us. "Bad faith" is one of the three damning tests for UDRP resolution. The new rules - we have been written in plain English, we are assured, and posted on Nominet's site - will also provide individuals ignorant of domain dispute resolution enough information to help them decide how to tackle the problem if a company approaches them demanding a particular domain. But what about fsa.co.uk? Which brings us to a very recent case in which we believe Nominet made the wrong decision. Last Friday - just before the new rules came into effect - Nominet ruled in favour of the FSA over Findlay Steele Associates for the domain fsa.co.uk. The decision was made over the issue of confusion and was clearly nonsensical. Ms Taylor refused to discuss any cases in particular but did remark that under the old rules "the demand for confusion [between the domain in question and a company's trademark] may hit people that are co-existing and using other domains on the Net". Under the new rules, it seems unlikely that the decision over fsa.co.uk would go the same way. The case is still under review following an appeal by Findlay Steele but that appeal will be run under the old rules Elaine Findlay told us. The company looks certain to request its case is heard under the new rules. That case aside, we find it refreshing that an Internet organisation has managed to retain some of the initial revolutionary fervour that made the Internet possible. Perhaps ICANN should look towards the UK when it finally allows UDRP to be debated. ® Related Link Nominet's domain resolution service Related Stories Nominet rules against Findlay Steele for FSA.co.uk Software firm takes on mighty financial watchdog Why ICANN's domain dispute rules are flawed: Part I Why ICANN's domain dispute rules are flawed: Part II
Kieren McCarthy, 27 Sep 2001

Marconi shares ‘worthless’

Shares in Marconi have hit an all-time low of just 18 pence following a City briefing in which analysts said they were "virtually worthless". The drop is a very, very long way from its high of £12.50 a share just over a year ago. Only a huge injection of cash looks like saving the company which was once a flagship company of UK plc. The huge share drops stem from a badly handled profit warning in July. That warning demonstrated that the Marconi board's policy of turning the company into a specialised telecoms company has gone disastrously wrong and that it hadn't seen the global downturn coming. Very soon after the announcement, deputy CEO John Mayo was sacrificed to investors baying for blood. But as the full details of the cock-up came to light, shares continued to fall and investors started turning their back. Two months later the chairman Sir Roger Hurn and chief exec Lord Simpson also left. ® Related Stories Marconi saga ends as Hurn and Simpson quit Marconi boardroom genocide on cards Moody's Blues knacker Marconi shares Marconi agm kicks off; Simpson holds firm Oracle aided Marconi collapse Oracle didn't help Cisco see the precipice Marconi drops even further; everyone suffers Massive fall-out from Marconi share collapse
Kieren McCarthy, 27 Sep 2001

blueyonder jumps onto broadband content bandwagon

Telewest has unveiled its new broadband Web site today - it's latest bid to ramp up demand for hi-speed Net access in the UK. The site is the first time the cableco has attempted to provide broadband content for its users. Initially, the site will focus on games, entertainment, music, and local content and services. But there are also plans to expand the content on offer and include to include other areas too including shopping. A spokesman for blueyonder, Telewest's branded broadband service, said: "We're extremely committed to providing broadband content. There is a growing consensus that more and more people are beginning to become willing to pay for content." Telewest's approach to providing broadband content is in marked contrast to that of BTopenworld, which recently abandoned plans to operate its broadband portal. Unlike Telewest, which believes broadband access and content are important in recruiting new users, BTopenworld has said it will now concentrate on providing access. BTopenworld CEO, Andy Green, told The Register: "Our job is not to keep people in the walled garden...we need to concentrate our energy and focus on our access business." While BTopenworld will provide some content, it's interesting to note the different strategies of the two broadband providers. Which one will prove the greater success remains to be seen. ® Related Story BTopenwoe ditches portal plans
Tim Richardson, 27 Sep 2001

RM stuffed by school cut backs

RM plc, who'll you probably know as Research Machines, has issued a profit warning for its second half. The company, the UK's biggest supplier of software, services and systems, to schools, says it's been hit by education establishments cutting their spending on IT and communications kit. The company also blames changes in the way that schools receive their funding for ICT (information and communications technology) - customers haven't received their cash as quickly as expected, so RM's sales cycles have been stretched. RM's second half, which ends 30 September, usually generates the majority of its full-year profit. In a statement the company said: "This year, following a 46 per cent growth in turnover in the first six months, order intake during the second half - and in particular during the last quarter - has been lower than expected." "As a result, it is likely that the company's full-year profit before tax and goodwill amortisation, whilst showing growth on last year's figure (before exceptional provision) of #15.5 million, will fall below current market expectations." ®
Robert Blincoe, 27 Sep 2001

BSA sues five UK businesses for software piracy

The BSA is sueing five UK companies for allegedly using unlicensed software, and it has announced legal settlements with five more organisations. The companies it is suing are: Baines & Ernst Financial Management - a debt management company; Climax Development - a video game technology and content developer; Claranet Limited – an Internet Service Provider; Hussmann Europe Limited - a provider of merchandising and refrigeration products for the commercial food industry; Learoyd Packaging - a division of API Group plc The companies and organisations it has reached settlement with for using unlicensed software are are: Price’s Candles, a candle manufacturing company based in London, settled for £9,500 The Trafford Centre, a retail and leisure complex in Manchester, settled for an undisclosed sum Bousfield Heatons Limited, a printing chemicals manufacturing firm based in Bristol, settled for £65,000 Online Travel Corporation plc, a London based Internet travel technology and distribution business, settled for £40,000 Gloucester City Council settled for £12,000 The BSA says it is currently investigating more than 300 UK organisations for suspected piracy. Most names come through tip-offs (there's a reward of up to £10,000) from disgruntled present and former employees. So we guess the message is: if you can't be honest, make sure you're nice to your staff. ®
Drew Cullen, 27 Sep 2001

Mandrake revamps Linux distro

The latest version of the most popular desktop Linux distro, Mandrake, is available for download today for Pentium-class PCs. It's based on the 2.4.8 kernel with some of the more recent mods in newer kernels backported. Several of Mandrake's own configuration tools have been revamped in this version, and it includes the latest KDE and GNOME environments: 2.2.1 and 1.4.1, respectively. Things we liked about version 8.0 of Mandrake were its choice of ReiserFS as the default file system - yum - and the Software Manager, which makes the business of installing new software look pretty straightforward. (If you're being cynical, you could say it takes dependency hell out of a console, and puts in a nice GUI dialog, but we still reckon it's a plus). Things we didn't like included its refusal to compile power management stuff for our notebook, the absence of telnet in the default installation, and the weird glitch in the installer that puts the bootloader in the wrong place. (We're referring to the x86 version here - LinuxPPC version doesn't get along with the Nvidia card on our newish G4 just yet). On balance, LinuxMandrake is big heap fun, and fine value when you count those included commercial applications. They'll be in the boxed version at the end of October. Comments on 8.1 are already appearing at the Mandrake Forum , if you want to read some first impressions before taking the plunge. ® Related Story MS moves to head off Linux desktop 'threat'
Andrew Orlowski, 27 Sep 2001

MS hires Iran-Contra attorney

Microsoft has hired Chicago attorney Dan Webb to help out with its defence in the antitrust case. Webb defended General Motors in an earlier antitrust case, and his former clients include Iran-Contra defendant John Poindexter, and big tobacco, in the shape of Philip Morris, reports the Chicago Tribune. Amnesia played a large part in several of the Iran Contra defendents defence strategies, but also in Bill Gates' video deposition, too. With so many Iran-Contra-era and even Nixon-era veterans in the White House, Webb will feel right at home. ®
Andrew Orlowski, 27 Sep 2001

Tiscali accounts slip leaves punters disconnected

Tiscali UK business customers were left stranded on Friday when their leased lines were cut off without any notice - and all because the ISP had forgotten to pay a bill. As many as a dozen companies were hit by the outage after BT cut off the leased lines for non-payment. Tiscali UK resells BT leased lines. Those hit were former Nacamar customers - an IP company Tiscali acquired as part of its purchase of World Online in December 2000. One insider said the lines were down for at least six hours and that Tiscali was unaware of the problem until angry customers began phoning up to complain. In a grovelling statement the ISP said: "Tiscali UK would like to sincerely apologise to the leased line customers for any disruption they may have experienced recently to their services. "The integration of World Online, Liberty Surf and LineOne inevitably necessitates a transitional period for Tiscali UK. Whilst the company goes through intensive change, systems, processes and procedures have to be identified and rationalised across all acquisitions. "Despite our best attempts to make this transitional period as seamless for our customers as possible, some of our leased line customers experienced a disruption to their services. "During the integration of the companies, movement of staff and restructuring, a small number of leased lines from one of our suppliers was inadvertently terminated, which resulted in some of our customers losing service for a short period of time," it said. Bless. ®
Tim Richardson, 27 Sep 2001

Kournikova virus kiddie gets 150 hours community service

The author of the Anna Kournikova virus has been sentenced to 150 hours community service - or 75 days in jail if he fancies that option. The sentence is a good deal lighter than the prosecutors called for. They wanted Jan de Wit, aged 20 of Sneek, Netherlands, to get 240-hours community service. De Wit was tried in Leeuwarden, Netherlands. He was charged with spreading data into a computer network, with the intention of causing damage. The charges carried a maximum sentence of four years in prison and a fine of 100,000 guilders ($41,300). He denied any intent to cause damage but the court didn't agree. IDG reports that the verdict stated de Wit "was not a layman in the field of computer viruses. He works in a computer store and collected viruses - about 7,200, according to himself. The defendant must have been very aware of the consequences of his acts. The virus he spread was a hindrance, causing worry and annoyance among Internet users worldwide." The court confiscated de Wit's CD-ROM virus collection. To press for a lengthier sentence the FBI submitted evidence to the Dutch court, suggesting that $166,000 in damages was caused by the worm, based on reports of damage from 55 firms. However the court felt the FBI report didn't give enough details, and also felt that de Wit's position as a first-time offender who gave himself up was in his favour. ® Related Story Anna Kournikova virus author stands trial
Robert Blincoe, 27 Sep 2001

DSL roll-out delayed in Ireland

Net users in Ireland will have to wait even longer for broadband, following the regulator's insistence that it wants to ensure that eircom's wholesale pricing is competitive. Yesterday, Telecoms Regulator Etain Doyle asked incumbent telco eircom to submit revised wholesale pricing proposals and to provide evidence that their pricing proposals did not breach competition laws. Despite earlier negotiations between the Office of the Director of the Telecommunications Regulator (ODTR) and eircom, the regulator wants to see proof that the proposed wholesale prices are offered on a "cost oriented and non-discriminatory basis". The result is that eircom's i-stream ADSL service - which was due to be launched in the next couple of days - is likely to be delayed for at least three weeks since. The Regulator has directed eircom not to launch the service until 21 days after she has approved the revised prices. However, the delay has riled those lobbying for broadband access in Ireland. Said Elana Kehoe of Ireland Offline: "This is getting beyond frustrating. I guess we can't really complain because the ODTR is looking out for the best interests of consumers. "Except it is consumers who are caught in the middle of this slanging match. It is the consumer that is going to be losing out," she said. ® Related Story Ireland gets ADSL
Tim Richardson, 27 Sep 2001

Software sales growth slows – Gartner

Software sales growth is slowing - to less than half that of last year. Spending has climbed by just six per cent in the first half of 2001 according to analysts Gartner Dataquest. Last year worldwide software spending increased by 18 per cent. For all of 2001, new licence revenues are expected to rake in $77 billion, a growth of just less than seven per cent. In the US, businesses had been cautious about stumping up cash for IT projects, even before the 11 September attack on the US. Joanne Correia, Gartner VP for software research, now expects the incident to "intensify the economic slowdown impacting the global software industry for the next 18 months." Markets that will be slow to buy software include the airlines, travel, motor, insurance and new consumer PC segments, she forecasts. Security, network storage and systems management will be more fertile areas. ®
Robert Blincoe, 27 Sep 2001

Brits hailed for component software breakthrough

After a dozen years of false dawns, it takes a lot for us to suspend our cynicism about object-oriented software development. But a British start-up has not only got the analysts excited all over again, but attracted some big names to its commercial department. MetaDyne has only eleven staff right now, but the sales team includes IBM's Giffin Lorimer, John Smith of Autonomy and Sun's seventh employee outside the US, Chris Brown, alongside NeXT and Apple veterans. MetaDyne's ComponentDNA is a small piece of plumbing that enables the dynamic discovery and integration of components. And what's defined by component - MetaDyne says it's platform agnostic and can be extended to COM components or web services - can be as small as a Java class file. The software is pretty light too, with the discovery model weighing in at 12k and the core at less than 250k. "A program sees a change, and adds the most interesting component while it stays running," is how Lorimer explains it. The idea has been filed as a patent in the UK and won praise from Robin Bloor and Ovum's Neil Ward-Dutton. Lorimer reckons it could be valuable for updating applications on 3G devices such as wireless PDAs and smartphones, where only small incremental additions are needed, and can be demanded from the client (rather than pushed down from the server). Components as originally envisaged have failed to set the world on fire for a couple of reasons, we suspect. One is programmers' love of reinventing the wheel - how many string classes or libraries does the world need? The other is economic: it's easier to sell monolithic software than it is to distribute components, and it's easier to sell a hundred components than just a couple. So while software has become more object-orientated, there isn't much more reuse than a decade ago. Lorimer says that the ComponentDNA framework allows only a few of an authors' classes to be used, and that adding billing and auditing to ComponentDNA would be a natural next step. ComponentDNA began life as a college project at Middlesex University by Joseph Poole and Andrew Evans, and the MetaDyne website can be found here.®
Andrew Orlowski, 27 Sep 2001

Face recognition useless for crowd surveillance

Anyone offended by the Orwellian implications of using face-recognition technology to scan airport crowds for terrorists can take heart in the fact that the technology is, quite simply, worthless in that situation. As an authentication tool, used in controlled settings, face recognition has real value. But even here we can expect a false acceptance rate (FAR) of one in 250, according to biometrics outfit FaceKey. "This means that under controlled circumstances....you could expect one false positive out of 250 people when face recognition is used alone," FaceKey COO Annette Starkweather told The Register. "FaceKey has combined face recognition with fingerprint recognition to [achieve] a FAR of one in 2.5 million," she added. "Limiting access to secure areas in airports would be a perfect application for biometrics," Starkweather says. But in uncontrolled settings, such as we'd encounter in a surveillance context, the performance of face recognition falls to absurd depths. This has actually been examined by the US Department of Defense (DoD) Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which sponsored the Facial Recognition Vendor Test (FRVT) 2000, the biggest and most well-known test to date, Image Metrics COO Gareth Edwards told us. "With indoor light, and a prior image taken at 1.5m camera-subject separations and another taken at 2m camera-subject separations, the best false detection rate (FDR) was 33 per cent, with a false acceptance rate (FAR) of ten per cent." This means that "to detect 90 per cent of terrorists we'd need to raise an alarm for one in every three people passing through the airport. It's absolutely inconceivable that any security system could be built around this kind of performance," Edwards says. And yet, a biometrics company called Visionics is trying to sell precisely that, rushing to capitalize on the recent suicide hijackings in New York and Washington, as we reported earlier. Apparently, Visionics employs some sort of slick marketing magic by which they run potential patsies through the grease and persuade them to invest in their FaceIt surveillance kit. "Most worrying is the number of reports from people who've seen working demos and 'field-trials' of these types of systems. Many truly think that they offer an answer. [But] when subject to raw, rigorous analysis, we've yet to see any evidence that these systems offer any value. There's yet to appear any plausible explanation of the results of the FRVT test when compared with so-called 'field trials,'" Edwards says. The discrepancy, we have to suspect, reflects the natural difference between rigorous testing by disinterested third parties, and some self-serving marketing demo. Visionics has been sponsoring a public surveillance trial in Tampa, Florida, with the stated goal of busting sex offenders and pedophiles, two target groups which no one would rush to defend. Now they're exploiting the terrorist threat, which in recent weeks has become America's paramount fear. There is talk that the Department of Transportation will bite the hook and authorize a FaceIt trial at National Airport in Washington, DC when it reopens. A similar company, Viisage, which made headlines by scanning crowds at last year's Super Bowl, is also eagerly pursuing the airport surveillance angle, and has "offered the FBI free use of their face-recognition technology to aid in the apprehension or identification of the persons responsible for the terrorism in New York City and Washington," for an added marketing gimmick. The companies are clearly anticipating bundles of cash selling this technology before word gets out that it's of no use in a public surveillance setting. Afterwards, they can still haul in a nice profit selling incremental 'upgrades' to victims who've invested millions and can't justify backing out; and for an added bonus, they will have become the 'DoubleClicks' of public biometric data, which is sure to be a gold mine in itself. ® Related Link Facial Recognition Vendor Test (FRVT) 2000 Results Related Stories Face-scan outfit rushes to exploit WTC atrocity Cops using high-tech surveillance in Florida Feds use biometrics against Super Bowl fans Biometric spy CEO claims privacy enhanced
Thomas C Greene, 27 Sep 2001

Apple OS X upgrade: reaction and rumours

UpdatedUpdated Mac OS X fans planning to besiege the stores this weekend to take advantage of Apple's free upgrade offer to version 10.1 are recommended to set off at a brisk pace, and save buying the papers and Woodbines for the return journey. We're not sure how extensive the offer is, after enquiries on both sides of the pond. We heard that Circuit City and CompUSA weren't participating in the offer, but local Apple field staff say this emphatically ain't so. Dozens of CDs are at both Circuit City and CompUSA stores, but given the demand we still recommend getting there early. And we're still trying to pin down if older iMac owners who've held off so far are entitled to a free upgrade, but we suspect not. The UK matrix refers users to the Apple US site. Reports from Canadian and the UK say you should turn up with your 10.0 proof of purchase, just in case. A few of you point out that the Developer CD, which shipped in the original box, isn't part of the free upgrade offer. But a flood of important announcements look like they'll give Apple some justification to make OS X 10.x the default installation by January. That's what they seem to be gunning for. As of this week, you can download Microsoft Word for OS X, and Palm has promised to bring a native OS X desktop to market by the end of the year. Reaction And first impressions have been appearing, too. The Chron's Henry Norr gives it a mixed review: "Most of the sluggishness that was so obvious in 10.0 has also been eliminated. … but I still saw a lot more than I wanted to of the spinning CD that Mac OS X puts up when it's delayed -- even on a top-of-the-line, 867-MHz Power Mac," he writes. He recommends holding back until the key apps are available. (Henry, you're not alone in finding the semi-opaque windows a mess, and us Dock-haters are legion). We'll have our own first impressions at the weekend. The rumour sites are already mulling over 10.2. Think Secret has a Seybold review here and the Naked Mole Rat reckons there'll be three interim updates to 10.1 before MacWorldExpo in January. The Accelerate Your Mac website has posted some performance comparisons here. Since these were carried out on a dual processor machine, some of these improvements may be specific to the SMP subsystem, and may not be accurately reflected on a uniprocessor box. Finally, we've heard that the application launch time improvements are only really noticeable if you reformat your partition before installing 10.1 We'll be able to corroborate this ourselves, now we've got a copy of Ten-Ten-Point-One.® ® Related Story Mac loyalists get free OS X 10.1 Upgrade
Andrew Orlowski, 27 Sep 2001

SuSE grabs Best-Business-Linux gong

SuSE has been crowned as the most functional Linux distro by DH Brown Associates, whose exhaustive surveys have over the years become the bible of enterprise Unix capabilities. It's the first time DHBA has given Linux the full treatment, using the time-honoured categories that are surely tattooed on every big-iron Unix marketing manager's forearm: RAS (Reliability, Availability and Serviceability), Scalability, System Management and Internet/Web services and Directory Services. In the end, SuSE narrowly beats Red Hat for the prize, with both beating Caldera's Unix into third place. But all three are rated ''above average', and not one has stand-out features, says author Tony Iams. SuSE wins in the scalability, the system management and the directory/security services categories. Red Hat scoops the scalability and Internet/web services prizes. Red Hat gets a black mark for not including a journaled file system by default - but that's a conclusion we suspect will be rapidly outdated, with ext3 in the wings. TurboLinux and Debian are also included, and are found wanting, the report concludes, largely because they're still based on the 2.2 kernel. That's perhaps a bit harsh on Debian, as the survey looked at the stable release, while the experimental Debian distro can be pretty much relied on to be bleeding-edge. For control purposes the five are rated alongside the leading proprietary Unix-on-Intel, UnixWare 7.1.1 (now renamed OpenUnix), and Red Hat is judged to be a shade ahead. This could surprise a few, but then UnixWare has lost its vast scalability and systems management lead as a result of its new owner severing the relationship with Compaq that gave it access to the NonStopClusters and SSI (single system image) capabilities. Its new owner is of course Caldera, which decided that maintaining two UnixWare kernels - one with NSC and one without - was too expensive. Then again, as Compaq has bravely decided to open source the code behind NSC UnixWare, it's a net gain to Linux. If that gambit pays off, next year's scalability rankings could look very different indeed - providing the move survives the SirCam merger between Compaq and HP. If you're not a DHBA subscriber, Tony Iams' full 74-page report won't leave you much change from $1,500. But DHBA makes a seven page executive summary available if you are prepared to give them an email address. If not, LWN pretty much has the entire executive summary paraphrased here.® Related Link DH Brown's 2001 Linux Function Review
Andrew Orlowski, 27 Sep 2001