24th > November > 2001 Archive

World's biggest luddite retains IT ministership

The World's Biggest Luddite™ Senator Alston has retained his position as Communications and IT minister for the Australian goverment following a cabinet reshuffle today - despite opposition from within his party and widespread rumours that he wanted to step down. Senator Alston who has famously attempted to outlaw email, gambling and any adult content over the Internet was reported to be "reluctant" to continue as IT minister after the Liberal Party won a third election. Despite a reported challenge to the position by former arts minister and now science minister Peter McGauran, Senator Alston retained the post - but without the arts portfolio that now goes to Rod Kemp (together with sport). Alston has had a turbulent time as IT minister, most notably selling a majority share in government-owned telco Telstra, the introduction of digital TV and a change in media ownership laws. However he has become famous throughout the world for his strong-armed measures to attempt to control the Internet. He was thought to want to move job but said before the reshuffle: "I'd do whatever the Prime Minister thinks makes sense. It's not my call." At one time, three other politicians were considered front-runners for the post. ® Related Link Australia IT thought they'd got rid of him (an excellent news source incidentally) But no such luck Related Stories World's biggest luddite strikes again! This man must be the biggest luddite in history Australia to make online gambling illegal Heads Oz wins; tail you lose
Kieren McCarthy, 24 Nov 2001

Microsoft dispatches phone OEMs to knife Bluetooth

If you live outside the UK you probably haven't heard of Sendo, the upstart British cellphone manfacturer which, after the fashion of Atari, has adopted an Oriental name, even though its roots are firmly Arthur-Whitebread Occidental. It's based in Birmingham, Warwickshire, and there's nothing wrong with that. But the 260-strong company is worth keeping tabs on for several reasons, primarily because it's the first to appreciate the Dell-ification of the mobile phone business. Sendo, which was founded by grand fromages defecting from Motorola and Philips only two years ago, has anticipated the shifts in the handset market as it turns into a commodity business, and has cut its cloth accordingly. It's also had the nous to invest in its own software, so its pile-em-high, cheap and cheerful voice handsets don't look like the kind of mass produced PC clones that stay determinedly unsold in PC superstores. But where you really should be interested is in Sendo's role as the vanguard of Microsoft's Stinger smartphone initiative. The Beast has a 15 per cent stake in Sendo, which in London today dropped the latest details of its Stinger-based Z100 phone. The spec sheet is awesome, bar one omission which we'll come to in a moment. The Sendo Z100 will be a triband GSM/GPRS (4 down, 1up) phone, with USB, a speakerphone, and a 176x220 64k colour screen. A MIDP-compliant JVM, which Microsoft itself can't supply, and an adaptor for MMC and SD cards. It's fabulous, and will beat Symbian devices to market by several months. What more could you want? Um, well what about Bluetooth? Bluetooth is only available as an accessory, and the phone won't come with a Bluetooth chipset. Why not, we wondered? Because it's crap, said Sendo co-founder Hugh Brogan (in so many words). What he actually said was: "It spoils the experience," he said. "Everybody inteprets the specification differently. We're going for interoperability and it wasn't that we couldn't make Bluetooth work, but the user experience with Bluetooth is poor." It also adds cost and weight to the phone, he added. We asked if Microsoft had actually offered a mature Bluetooth stack as an option to Sendo. Hugh didn't answer, but he reckoned there was no such thing as a mature Bluetooth stack anyway. Hmmm. Puppets "We're not Microsoft puppets," Brogan told El Reg. Half of the software in the Z100 was Sendo's, and half was Microsoft's, and The Beast's long-standing antipathy towards Bluetooth had in no way, absolutely not, influenced Sendo in its decision ot refrain from including Bluetooth in the device itself. Microsoft has a long-history of trying to derail Bluetooth, either in the SIG's standards committee, or in public. For very good, selfish reasons; as a network of interoperable Bluetooth devices shifts the centre of gravity for electronic transactions away from the cumbersome desktop PC, and into your hand, forever. And if you had a desktop PC monopoly, you'd be doing your best to kill Bluetooth, too. But this encapsulates quite neatly the problems and opportunities that a Microsoft phone OEM faces. It doesn't really matter how keenly an OEM signs up to the proposition, Microsoft essentially doesn't need to win the smartphone war. It only needs to draw - and to prevent the Nokias of the world from winning. For a draw is as good as a win if it can continue to funnel consumers through the desktop PC franchise, rather than through phones or other handheld devices. But as a phone OEM it can't exactly fill you with confidence when your primary system software supplier has so little interest in seeing the platform succeed, can it? We asked Brogan if he was tempted by the Nokia platform offering that the Finns announced at Comdex, which gives licensees the source code to produce a knock-off Nokia clone. Why, he retorted, would consumers buy either of the two if they were offered side-by-side? Because um, we ventured, because Nokia makes great phones? And because it's a trusted phone brand? Pah. Hugh sincerely believes that Microsoft can produce a better phone than Nokia. Maybe, maybe he's right. Users can place their own bets, and in six months we'll be able to compare the two, and see who has the better judgement. ® Related story Nokia takes charge at Symbian
Andrew Orlowski, 24 Nov 2001

Next Linux kernel, v2.5, is born

Two days ago the next version of the Linux kernel, v2.5, was quietly born over at kernel.org. At the moment (or possibly, given the way Linux develops, at that moment) the move is/was a purely administrative one, but it means that the 2.5 kernel will now be developed as a separate entity from 2.4. Kernel 2.4, which forms the basis of the latest commercial (can we say that? - Ed) Linux distributions, has parted company from 2.5 at version 2.4.15. So although 2.4.15 and 2.5 are currently the same thing, they are now housed in different directories at kernel.org, and will develop separately as 2.4.x and 2.5.x. Got that? So 2.4.x are the stable kernels for general release, while 2.5.x are beta, for development work. If we understand it correctly, this is therefore your last opportunity for some considerable time to get a stable 2.5 kernel.* So you can be the first on your block by getting it here now, while it's still identical to 2.4.15, or you can wait a little until it's possible to get something that's more likely to make an awful mess of your system. But from little acorns... ® * It turns out it's the other way around. A list lurker tells us: "Marcelo Tosatti, the new maintainer of the 'stable' 2.4.x branch of the Linux kernel, has a chance to prove himself just a day after assuming his new duties. It turns out that Linux 2.4.15, appropriately named the 'greased turkey' release, contains an embarassing bug that causes file-system corruption during shut down." So depending on how it gets handled, the stable/developer strands could diverge immediately. We'll have quick update to 2.4.16 to fix the bug, then if they didn't do the same with 2.5, it'd magically be unstable, because it was still 2.4.15, right? We're going to go lie down now...
John Lettice, 24 Nov 2001

UK Gov agency threatens to dump 500,000 Windows desktops

The UK government's confusing relationship with Microsoft seems to be taking a turn of the worse. In recent weeks we've seen the Ministry of Defence and the National Health Service strike deals which will allegedly save them tens of millions of pounds. Now, however, according to a story in today's Times, the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) is threatening to dump Microsoft, citing increased licence fees that would cost the UK £60 million a year, representing an increase of 50-200 per cent. Oh what a tangled web we weave when we modify our Ts & Cs. Microsoft's various licensing plans and discount structures probably are sufficiently intricate for some arms of government to be saving money while others are being squeezed. But is the OGC's threat to kick its teddies out of the pram something MS UK need take seriously? Perhaps. The OGC, which was set up to save money on government purchasing, will to some extent be playing to the gallery, but according to the Times, it's already started looking at alternative suppliers. The words of chief executive Peter Gershon also seem less than diplomatic. The OGC "will not stand by and tolerate suppliers who seek to raise prices of products which are in widespread use across the public sector where the increases take advantage of our dependence on these products and simply cannot be justified on value for money grounds." Who on earth could he mean by that? Ominously, that "take advantage of our dependence" clearly indicates he's onto the old 'lock-in' gag. He and UK MS boss Neil Holloway are currently wrangling over a single government contract to supply Office and Windows for 497,600 civil servants. So discounts all round, or does somebody else get lucky? Lets hope Gershon hasn't noticed his site, which Netcraft tells us is running Lotus Domino on Solaris, is down right now... ®
John Lettice, 24 Nov 2001