8th > January > 2002 Archive

Gates pitches Mira and ‘Freestyle’ XP extensions in home

Bill Gates yesterday unveiled two new technologies, Freestyle and Mira, designed to beef up the capabilities of the PC - and hence, Windows XP - in the home. Both are intended to let users wander around the room or house while controlling their PC; Freestyle is categorised as a set of extensions to XP, while Mira is to all intents and purposes a CE-based thin client. Both Freestyle and Mira are scheduled to ship later this year, as is another product intended to let you wander around controlling stuff, the Tablet PC. Freestyle seems essentially to be a mechanism for extending the consumer PC into a combo media centre, jukebox and TV, so is being supported by consumer PC manufacturers such as HP, NEC and Samsung. It doesn't sound like rocket science, but will include a new user interface (where have we heard that one before?) and something that could be as technically unchallenging as a remote control unit. From a product positioning point of view it sounds fairly shrewd, given that Tablets are going to be relatively pricey items, and it therefore makes sense for Microsoft to try to fill the gap at the bargain basement end. There do however seem to be some ominous-sounding limitations to Freestyle. Microsoft says it's for "digital media enthusiasts and consumers such as teens, college students and small-apartment dwellers who already enjoy their PC in their main living area," so we would appear not to be talking 802.11 here. We may indeed be talking more about what wireless keyboards did next. Mira is somewhat more ambitious, and appears to slot in between Freestyle and the Tablet PC. It's described as a "new set of Windows CE.NET-based technologies," and the bottom line is that it enables smart flat panel displays which you can carry around and use for browsing and control purposes. These could include PC display units that you can pull out and plug in, depending on whether you want to sit at the PC or crash on the sofa. Companies working with Microsoft here include Intel, Natsemi, ViewSonic and Wyse, and again products are due for the end of this year. Confusingly, Microsoft says Mira devices could also be "a large digital television that presents a complete Windows XP experience." Presumably this must be a CE-based TV running as a thin client for a WinXP PC elsewhere, and controlled by Freestyle. Or a wireless keyboard. Or something. Neither technology (shall we start calling them concepts instead now?) is particularly clever, and what they have in common is that they are intended to support Microsoft's plans to perpuetuate the PC in the home, pitching it as the centre of entertainment, home productivity and home control and monitoring activities. It is not however particularly clear why people should actually need this. A portable webpad type device can connect to the internet perfectly happily via a wireless broadband gateway without a PC having to get in the way, so Freestyle and Mira (particularly Mira) are only important for as long as the PC is in itself a desirable piece of kit for the home. Microsoft has so far been fairly successful in perpetuating its role as such, and quite probably will be able to stretch its life some more with these latest repackagings. It should also be taken into account that non-PC web appliances have so far largely bombed, so the opposition isn't really there. But can this go on forever? ®
John Lettice, 08 Jan 2002

PS2 gives Electronics Boutique happy Xmas

Electronics Boutique claims it is entering a "golden era" following record sales of video games and software in the run up to Christmas. Sales in the UK and Ireland increased by 51 per cent in the five weeks to the end of December helped in part by the popularity and strong performance of PlayStation 2. With more than 1.7 million PS2 users in the UK - more than double the user base of the original PlayStation at the same stage in its lifecycle five years ago, coupled with the soon-to-be launch of Microsoft's XBox, EB is confident that the future is looking bright. Sales in EB's stores in Spain, France and Sweden also soared 49 per cent in the five weeks to the end December prompting EB to report that "the potential in all our markets is immense". In a statement, Peter Lewis, non-executive chairman, said: "Our strong year-on-year performance became even better in December. "The remarkable sales of PlayStation 2 consoles and the coming launch of Microsoft XBox in March will further stimulate our market in the coming year. "Since Christmas, demand for video games to meet the needs of the newly installed console base has continued at record levels. A golden era has begun," he said. Despite this upbeat assessment shares in EB fell 5.75p (4.27 per cent) to 129p by mid morning. The retailer has also signalled that it will change its name to GAME over the coming year as part of £6 million rebranding exercise across all its UK and European stores. ® Related Story Xmas sales kick in for Electronics Boutique
Tim Richardson, 08 Jan 2002
server room

Competition Commission to rule on cellphone charges

It could take up to a year before the Competition Commission (CC) decides whether the cost of mobile phone calls in the UK is too high. Yesterday, telecoms regulator Oftel, formally asked the CC to investigate whether the charges mobile operators make for connecting calls to their networks are too high. While the CC hopes to rule on the issue within the next six months it could take up to a year before the matter is resolved. Last month Oftel announced its intention to involve the CC after the mobile phone operators rejected inflation-busting price controls of Retail Price Index (RPI) minus 12 per cent for the next four years. Oftel believes that mobile termination rates are "substantially in excess of cost". However, the operators (Vodafone, mmO2, Orange and One 2 One) are prepared for a fight claiming that the UK market is the "most competitive in Europe". Orange called Oftel's price control proposals "anti-competitive and against the consumer interest". ® Related Stories Oftel refers mobile companies to Competition Commission Mobile operators slam Oftel's price cut plans
Tim Richardson, 08 Jan 2002

Lucent ends long CEO hunt

Lucent has appointed the chief operating officer of Eastman Kodak, Patricia Russo, as its chief executive, ending an long searc hfor someone to oversee the continued reorganisation of the struggling telecoms equipment supplier. Russo, who worked for Lucent and AT&T for 20 years prior to joining Kodak in April last year, returns to a firm whose size has shrunk from 107,000 to 77,000 in the last 15 months. It plans to scale back further so that it employs 57,000. Outgoing Lucent chief executive Henry Schacht will stay on as the firm's chairman while Russo, 47, takes on the role of president and chief executive. The downturn in telecom spending has hit Lucent, which made a series of expensive data communication acquisitions in the late 1990s, particularly hard. In May last year, Lucent abandoned plans to merge with Alcatel and the fallout from the failure to conclude that deal has hardly helped matters. Lucent has an outstanding track record for innovation but a series of poor business decisions and a long string of damaging incidents have brought what was a thriving business to the brink of bankruptcy. Securities and Exchange Commission accounting probes and allegations that workers had sold hi-tech secrets to the Chinese have turned Lucent, a former darling of Wall Street, into a tragi-comic figure. ® Related Stories $8.8bn loss but Lucent predicts return to profit in 2002 Lights-out cost cutting drive at Lucent Lucent to cut another 15,000 to 20,000 jobs Lucent to lay off 30% of senior managers Lucent to restate sales and cut 10,000 (full-time) jobs Lucent turns off 'flagship' switch Lucent workers busted for inside tech swindle SEC probes Lucent accounting practice MemoWatch: Schacht plan for Lucent, Mark II MemoWatch Lucent in fiscal clampdown Battered, bothered, bewildered - Nortel and Lucent shareholders
John Leyden, 08 Jan 2002

HP discounts in benchmark spotlight

The fur continues to fly whenever big iron benchmarks are published, but Giga's acid advisory about Hewlett Packard's latest Superdome TPC results promises to raise the stakes even higher. Giga analyst Lou Agosta points out that the price/performance result of Superdome's TPC-H benchmark includes a steep discount over the list price, and strongly advises potential customers to take advantage of the offer. And if HP doesn't honour the offer, he notes, it should do the decent thing and withdraw the benchmark. (You can view the results here, in the 3000GB section.) HP submitted the results shortly before Christmas. "Potential purchasers should note there is a discount of more than $7,881,000 off a list price of $16,120,611. In contrast, there is no published discount in the comparable Sun and Teradata benchmarks, though buyers may negotiate for concessions based on HP's behavior," advises Giga. "Having now published a discount, HP has made a commitment, and if it does not honor it, it must withdraw the benchmark by TPC rules," he adds. He's exposed one of the sore points of competing vendors. Sun for one has privately complained - to anyone who'll listen. Last year it picked up its ball and decided that it wouldn't submit any results from its E10000 replacement StarCat to the Transaction Processing Performance Council. Giga advises potential customers to watch out for vendors' promises of "large configuration discount and support prepayments", and suggests they use this to their advantage. HP has been particularly bold in offering pay as you go utility pricing for its big iron - that's where you buy a huge amount of kit but only pay for the parts that you use. It's also been trying to repair the damage caused by the first batch of poor benchmarks for Superdome, which it alleges were caused by employee sabotage. In November, HP's revised TPC figures were 98 per cent better than the first, spoiled batch. ® Related Stories Worker 'rigged' HP Superdome HP offers 'pay as you go' pricing for servers HP looks beyond Superdome 'sabotage'
Andrew Orlowski, 08 Jan 2002

Gates gets even bigger XP sales number to boast about

Windows XP has now achieved a record number of Microsoft record sales announcements. The most recent announcement, made yesterday by Bill Gates himself at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, was that Microsoft has now sold over 17 million XP licences since its launch, and that it is "our best-selling release of Windows ever." As we've said in the past, and as we propose to stop saying shortly because we're bored with it, it's vitally important for Bill to have record sales numbers to talk about, no matter what the true bottom line is. The 17 million combines OEM WinXP licences sold with new PCs (or more properly, sold to the manufacturers of new PCs, who then hope to sell them to us, but maybe haven't yet) and retail sales. The retail sales figures for the period will have been somewhere in the region of one million, if the numbers NPD Intelect came up with last month are anything to go on. Note that although NPD's retail numbers showed XP underforming the initial sales of Windows 98, Bill's delirious numbers from yesterday allowed him to say that XP sales were 300 per cent higher than Win98 and 200 per cent over WinME in the same period. He then went on to claim responsibility for a sales boom based on XP: "We've seen a significant upturn in sales of digital cameras, printers, and other peripherals and software that enable people to experience their PC in a new way." Well of course you have - shedloads of this stuff was bundled with the holiday season XP PCs with the specific intention of getting them to shift. What's really happening is of course is that Microsoft's ability to push the early adoption of a new OS by PC manufacturers has increased immeasurably since Windows 98, as indeed have PC sales levels. Windows XP therefore is indeed the most successful version of Windows ever, but that is entirely a function of the ever-increasing strength of the Windows franchise. And barring further major atrocities, The Register now proposes to lay off XP sales hype stories for the foreseeable future. ® Related stories: Beast of Redmond rants at rebel states Open source IE, license MSOffice, says rebel States' pitch
John Lettice, 08 Jan 2002

Anthrax sweep spoils electronics goods

The US Postal Service may be damaging electronic goods by irradiating parcels to guard against anthrax. Compact flash memory cards can become unusable after been subjected to intense beams of electrons, the CompactFlash Association warned at the Consumer Electronics Show yesterday, Reuters reports. "Testing has confirmed that these systems, damage not only semiconductors, but other goods as well, including pharmaceuticals, contact lenses, biological samples, and photographic film," the group warned. The US Postal Service has used e-beam irradiation systems to sterilise postal packets since October. The Association says it intends to work with the Post Office in finding safe ways to deliver semiconductor goods by mail. While e-beam irradiation systems carry a risk of damaging CompactFlash cards, X-ray scanners at airports have been determined to be safe. ® Related Stories CompactFlash hits 1GB Virgin Mobile adds to anthrax scares Business should 'embrace anthrax' and Internet MS anthrax letter un-confirmed
John Leyden, 08 Jan 2002

WD drives up server food chain

Western Digital is flogging a so-called special edition of its 120GB 7,200 RPM EIDE hard drive - special because it has an 8MB buffer, compared with the 2MB supplied on standard versions. Bigger buffer means fewer calls to access the disk and faster performance. WD has not supplied us with any data sheets on how much faster the drive, the clumsily named WD Caviar 120 GB Special Edition 8 MB buffer, is than its less well-endowed 2MB buffer brother. Here is a review of the beast from Tom's Hardware. The drive carries a recommended retail price of $389 - £270 approx. and can be purchased direct or through the channel. WD abandoned the enterprise storage market last year, but this latest WD Caviar hard drive does represent an attempt to move up the server food chain into entry-level enterprise space. ®
Drew Cullen, 08 Jan 2002

Xanadu project lifts open source kimono

Ted Nelson's legendary Xanadu project - the fabled hypertext precursor to the World Wide Web - went open source a couple of years ago, and yesterday the project's curators made the web site public. Even though you might find it hard to justify the time to the pointy-haired boss, it's well worth the excursion. Nelson embarked on the project in 1960, drawing on the ideas of Vannevar Bush, with the vision of tying disparate people and spaces into a huge distributed database. Or, er... not. It didn't quite start out like that, and by the 1980s (Xanadu could be described as a 30-year vaporware exercise which was constantly evolving) it had been honed down to a set of business rules. But the epigrammatic and ever quotable founder - surely the geek world's Captain Beefheart - managed to maintain his place in the visionary pantheon with a succession of sponsors. At one stage Xanadu was owned by Autodesk. And oh, irony of ironies, Microsoft Press published the Xanadu book. Nelson supplied an unceasing supply of bon mots of which a couple of our favourites are: "In 1974, computers were oppressive devices in far-off air-conditioned places. Now you can be oppressed in your own living room." And later, when faced with the WWW itself, Nelson replied "Trying to fix HTML is like trying to graft arms and legs onto hamburger..." To avoid confusion, the open source Xanadu work is "Udanax Green" and "Udanax Gold". You can find it here. Sounds of unicorns optional. ® Related Story Web precursor Xanadu goes open source Gratuitous Links Xanalogical Media: Needed Now More Than Ever Information Management: A Proposal - Tim Berners Lee (March 1989)
Andrew Orlowski, 08 Jan 2002

Congressman assails CD copy protection

Copy protection tracks implanted in CDs are a violation of the right to fair use of purchased music, US Representative Richard Boucher (Democrat, Virginia) wrote in a letter to recording industry lobbyists Monday. "...Record labels have begun releasing compact discs into the market which apparently have been designed to limit the ability of consumers to play the discs or record on personal computers and perhaps on other popular consumer products," Boucher says. "I am particularly concerned that some of these technologies may prevent or inhibit consumer home recording using recorders and media covered by the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992 (AHRA)." The letter went out to Recording Industry Ass. of America (RIAA) President Hilary Rosen, and International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) Chairman Jay Berman, two mighty champions of industry interests. Interestingly, a letter from Harvard University Law School Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies Jon Zittrain, which appeared on the Politech mailing list, points out that while the CD copy-protection scheme may be damnable, it appears to be quite legal under the letter of the AHRA. "The Audio Home Recording Act was drafted by the publishers," Zittrain notes. "I don't see how anyone reading it could readily find it to say that it prohibits private, technical copy protection schemes that, to be sure, trample copyright's balance." The act "just says that the record companies can't sue over people making certain kinds of copies, not that they have to allow those copies to be made." And he provides chapter and verse: No action may be brought under this title alleging infringement of copyright based on the manufacture, importation, or distribution of a digital audio recording device, a digital audio recording medium, an analog recording device, or an analog recording medium, or based on the noncommercial use by a consumer of such a device or medium for making digital musical recordings or analog musical recordings. And if that's the whole of it, then it would appear that the industry can't sue you for making copies for personal use, but they can make it as difficult for you to do so as they please. Also notable is the way it appears that a utility like DeCSS would be legal for personal use under the AHRA, but illegal under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). An amusing question now might be whether the DMCA's injunction against inhibiting fair use is sufficient to render a CD or DVD copy-protection cracking utility legal for home recording use. ®
Thomas C Greene, 08 Jan 2002

Injunction against SuSE halts distribution

UpdatedUpdated A brief article from Heise Online appears to say that German Linux distributor SuSE has been hit with a preliminary injunction barring it from distributing its product because an application, or application name, in the distro infringes a copyright. As Babelfish mercilessly butchers German, we're not quite sure how to interpret the article. Here's a link to the original story for you Germans and polyglots out there. ® Update Reg reader Josef Möllers kindly supplied us with the following translation: After Samba and kIllustrator, yet another open-source-program occupies the time of lawyers. The German lawyer Günther Freiherr von Gravenreuth has won a preliminary injunction at the Munich District Court against the German Linux-distributor SuSE. The reason seems to be an open-source-software referenced on one of the SuSE-CDs. Apparently Gravenreuth has prohibited the Nurenberg based company from delivering its Linux-distribution, as long as the disputed program name is contained on the disks. SuSE could face serious financial losses if the copies already produced cannot be sold. Being asked, Freiherr von Gravenreuth confirms the preliminary injunction against the name of the open-source-software, but refuses to give any more details, since his client wishes to get a settlement with "the opponent" and doesn't want to be named. SuSE spokesman Christian Egle says his company will publish a statement in a few days.
Thomas C Greene, 08 Jan 2002

Census site shuts for a week

The Public Records Office (PRO) has shut its popular 1901 Census site because it is unable to cope with demand. A notice on the PRO Web site claims it is unable to meet continuing levels of demand and has agreed with Qinetiq's technical team (the site developers) to bar access to the site for a week while "enhancements" to take place. Meanwhile, those interested in tracing their family trees are being advised to adopt tried and tested techniques such as visiting their local libraries and record offices. The site has been almost permanently crippled since its launch a week ago - despite being upgraded. The PRO denies that the site's failure and subsequent closure reflects poorly on its ability to tackle major IT projects. A spokesman told The Register: "We didn't expect this level of demand. We're not embarrassed. But it is a shame. Our concern is to get it working." The site is designed to cope with around a million users a day but the PRO claims that last week 1.2 million people tried to access the site simultaneously. Under this kind of pressure it was simply unable to cope with demand from people eager to find out more about their ancestors. BT - which hosts the site - refutes reports that it forced the PRO to pull the site (warning that failure to do so would put the UK's phone network at risk). Instead, a spokesman for the telco said that BT had advised the PRO to manage demand by restricting access to the site. He also dismissed reports that the phone network was at risk because of the surge in demand although admitted that some Web services may have been hit. No one at site developers Qinetiq - the new "science and technology powerhouse formed from the...British Government's elite defence research and development organisation" - was immediately available for comment. ® Related Stories 1901 Census site closed for urgent repairs Brits flock to1901 census site
Tim Richardson, 08 Jan 2002

Smartphone roadmaps for 2002

ExclusiveExclusive Next year should see a battle royale between the smartphone manufacturers, with a clutch of new converged devices hitting the market. Thanks to a variety of industry sources, we can give several of these projects a public airing for the first time. Almost all of these devices are based on Texas Instruments' OMAP platform, which of course is based on ARM processor cores. And several use the 'Hurricane' release of Symbian's eponymous phone OS, although that hasn't even been announced, let alone released yet. And the networks are expecting quantities of 3G phones by the middle of next year: several of the following phones are 3G devices, too. And the whole point of 3G is to do something more than make a phone call... Ericssony Sony joined forces with Ericsson to produce mobile phones last year, but the first two smartphones are the product of projects already under way. Codenamed Stork, Sony's version will be a Symbian-based 3G phone for DoCoMo. That's not likely to ship outside Japan, however. Ericsson's Linnea project is a flip phone successor to the R380, and will be the first jointly branded Sony/Ericsson smartphone. The R380 finally appeared fifteen months ago, and despite a modest speed increase in September, looks long in the tooth. Especially set aside Ericsson's new little number the dazzling T68, which you can read about here. Linnea uses the Hurricane cut of the Symbian OS, but unlike its predecessor, the screen stays in portrait mode when the lid's flipped open. Motorola Having axed its Project Odin joint venture with Psion amid much acrimony, Motorola has two smartphones in the wings. One, codenamed Paragon, is to be based on Hurricane, the other more modest device uses an in-house Motorola OS. The latter is more phone than PDA, apparently, but both share the same radio interface. Motorola is supplying Hutchison with 3G devices phones. Stinger We've received one sighting of a Samsung phone that our informant told us looked like a Microsoft Stinger device. In order to combat the major players creating Symbian, Bill Gates directive was to work "hardcore" with the CDMA manufacterers, so this isn't much of a surprise. Samsung is Korean, CDMA is one place outside the US where CDMA is popular, so it figures that Samsung will be the standard-bearer for Stinker in the US. British-based Sendo says that its Microsoft-based device will ship by the end of Q1. Which we suggest could be a tad optimistic, if the prototype we played with in November was anything to go by. Even with the help of Sendo's CEO, we couldn't transmit an SMS message: the text input was displayed in strange new character set we'd never seen before. Stinker smartphones were originally supposed to ship this autumn. Nokia The most eagerly awaited new devices will be from Nokia. It's planning a cut down version of the 7650, without the camera, but using the same Series 60 user interface. That's called Project Cameron, which must be an example of the profoundly ironic Finnish humour at work: Camera-off would be more a more accurate moniker. And being announced, although possibly not shipping until 2003 will be Hilden, the successor to the Nokia 9210, a single-chip communicator There's more too. At its Developer Conference in Barcelona last month, Nokia showed a product grid with most of the spaces left blank. One entire category has yet to be populated: "media phones". Nokia already has a phone with a full keyboard that's an MP3 player and radio, the 5510. (Our US readers, who may not have seen this before, ought to check it out, if only for its radical industrial design). There'll be another significant difference in next year's models. The industry buzz is about a new way of manufacturing LCDs so the screen reaches the edge of the device. That leaves one loose end to tie up... What's Hurricane? It's the next version of the Symbian OS. In contrast to earlier versions of the OS, which arrived with full fanfare and press releases, the phone companies have been working with milestone releases of Hurricane, apparently at their request. Hurricane is due to be officially announced around February. This represents a major and as yet unannounced strategy shift for Symbian, but then its Symbian's job to keep handset companies happy. Last week Symbian's marketing chief Mark Edwards told us "our focus on has been to keep our heads down and working away on products, which we'll seen in 2002". He said Symbian would be more active in the US in 2002, despite recent cuts, and that it marketing would be led by licensees. He added that the new strategy would be unveiled (with fanfare and press release) at one of the major wireless events early next year. But that's enough codenames, for now. ®
Andrew Orlowski, 08 Jan 2002

ROMs weren't burned in a day

LettersLetters Nothing escapes the hive mind of the Register readership, and no wayward, single-cell microbe of an error escapes our readers' mulch. So welcome to the postbag, where you get to develop our stories into some useful compost. We're particularly grateful to our erudite readers for an extremely detailed account of why burning CD-ROMs using third-party applications has been so painful for Windows users recently. You can find that here. Thomas C Greene gets pulled up for his series extolling the joys of Mandrake Linux in a like, Harry-Homeowner situation. Apparently Linux doesn't make the grade because it doesn't do NetMeeting. If you smell a troll, read on, because this plea isn't as daft as it sounds. And isn't NetMeeting simply IRC with weird EOLs added for those goofy Microsoft-generated 'avatars' that no one ever used even back in 1995? [No - that's Comic Chat. NetMeeting is H.323 with weird EOL characters added - ed.] And here's a rarity - we get pulled up for being too optimistic about the prospects of CDMA. Yes, us. This lucky Canadian reader can receive five (count 'em) GSM signals, and anthropologists are racing to the spot as we speak. But the rise of GSM shouldn't be discounted, he writes here. We gathered some stern missives on our storage coverage. And finally a plea on behalf of fontographers everywhere, from this reader. That's nearly it. Thanks to the 67 emails asking that we rant about the shortcomings of the OS X user interface. As soon as the gold CD-ROM cursor has stopped spinning, we will. And to the winners of the Google underpants competition, er ... they're on their way. For those of you following the Gregorian Calendar - Happy New Year (and that even extends to PT Cruiser drivers). ®
Andrew Orlowski, 08 Jan 2002

Flaws in Via chipsets hit ATA/133, SCSI performance

A serious design defect in Via chipsets results in boards based on them substantially underforming motherboards with chipsets from Intel, SiS and ALi, a series of tests conducted by tecChannel.de has shown. The problem affects boards using both Intel and AMD chips, and the hit to hard disk performance is sufficient for tecChannel to say: "we can currently not recommend VIA chipsets for professional users who demand high performance from their hard drives and think about setting up RAID configurations." The problem is that Via chipsets are currently unable to take full advantage of the performance of PCI. Controller cards with Ultra-ATA/ 133 chips have a maximum theoretical throughput of 133Mbytes/s (or 127.2 in real megs), and tests of non-Via motherboards with Promise and Highpoint controllers (using either Maxtor D540X or D740X) showed burst mode transfer speeds of 95-117Mbytes/s. The same tests performed on a variety of Via boards came up with speeds of 63-78Mbytes/s, clearly indicating that there's something unpleasant going on here. Forther investigation provided an explanation. According to tecChannel: "Normally, a burst should be performed continuously and without any interruption... The length of a burst, however, can differ depending on the data transferred. "With VIA boards, this high speed transfer from the cache of a hard drive is constantly interrupted within a couple of µs. It has then to be re-initiated... Therefore, the effective burst rate drops to 64 to 90 MBytes/s at best... In contrast to chipsets from Intel, SiS and ALi VIA's products seem to have difficulties with maintaining high transfer rates close to the maximum speed of PCI for a longer time. As with ATA/133 PCI has a theoretical maximum bandwidth of 127,2. It seems fair to conclude that VIAs implementation of a PCI bus must be the reason for the problems found." Via also underperforms when it comes to SCSI. Systems set up with Intel 845 and Via P4X266A, plus an Adaptec RAID-2100S, showed performance around 30 per cent better for the Intel system. Longer bursts used by the Intel system result in much better performance. So if you buy a high performance controller then put it in a board via a Via chipset, right now you're probably wasting your money. According to tecChannel Via has confirmed the problem, and says it is working on a solution. However it is not clear whether new drivers will be enough, or whether it will need a redesign of the chipsets. There is an unofficial patch produced by George Breese of Networking Resources available here, but as tecChannel says, you use this at your own risk. The full, highly detailed report can be read here. ®
John Lettice, 08 Jan 2002
bofh_sidey

BOFH: 'Twas the night before Christmas

Episode 32Episode 32 BOFH 2001: Episode 32 'Twas the night before Christmas, on Management floor Not a creature was stirring, except by the door; The Board Member's stockings were hung up with care, In hopes that their bonus cheques soon would be there; The workers had missed out - the bonuses few, Just enough for the bosses, (and shareholders too) The Bastard was slighted, this wasn't that good Action was needed - a la Robin Hood. The bosses were nestled all snug in their beds, While visions of pound signs danced in their heads; The Boss in his diapers, asleep in a trice Was dreaming a storm about him and Posh Spice When out from the freight lift arose such a clatter, The CCTV panned to see to the matter. To the front desk ripped a guard in a flash A stain down his front from a half-complete slash. His view a white visage of fresh spray-on snow Obscuring the larceny happening below And what to his prying eyes else would it show? The Bastard and PFY, hacksaw in tow. With a tea trolley laden with construction brick He'd know in a moment it wasn't St. Nick. More rapid than diarrhoea, their work tools they came, They chuckled, the sniggered, and called them by name; "Now, HAMMER! now, HACKSAW! now, PHILLIPS HEAD and FLAT! On, CUTTERS!, On GRINDER!, ERASER and NO-STATIC MAT!" Away to the boardroom! Half way down the wall! The safe and its contents, soon open to all! And then, in a twinkling, I heard near the tree The sound of a chainsaw being started with glee! A camera swung wildly, alert from the sound In time to see Pine needles, all swirling around. Disguised well in fur, from his head to his foot, The Bastard was watching, face blackened with soot; Acetylene torch lit and fired up as well, Cutting through plate steel - leaving quite a smell. Alarm bells were ringing, followed by a shout And silenced five seconds on - System problem no doubt The smoke from the cutter had cranked up the pace As sprinklers discharged themselves all over the place. His eyes -- how they twinkled! his dimples how merry! As the PFY "topped up" the Management Sherry His droll little mouth was drawn up in a grin As sherry was emptied, and now for the Gin.. The videotape removed from a pocket unbidden With scenes from the past year (from cameras hidden) Some shocking, some sneaky, some fresh and some smelly Timed later to screen from all lunchroom Tellys. Security stumbled up four flights flat out The lifts, they were broken - now figure that out. He raced to the boardroom, be there in a tick!, But look out! He's tripped over a sockful of brick. They spoke not a word, re-instating the lifts, Leaving stockings with brick, liberating the gifts Collecting their spoils for the exit to night, They stopped at the guard saying "You ain’t seen me, right?" They sprang to the freight door, and out to the street, Moving quite quickly - a night bus to meet! And I heard them exclaim, as they mounted the Bus "Merry Christmas to all and the drinks are on us!!" Tune in to http://www.salmondays.tv for a live-action comedy vid-strip, inspired by our beloved BOFH BOFH 2K+1: The whole shebang The Compleat BOFH Archives 95-99 BOFH is copyright © 1995-2001, Simon Travaglia. Don't mess with his rights.
Simon Travaglia, 08 Jan 2002

Register stocking fillers – get your skates on

Those of you outside the UK and Europe who want to avail yourselves of the Xmas goodies in our Cash'n'Carrion Reg shop had better get your skates on - the deadline for orders is midnight GMT tomorrow (5 December). Deadlines for all orders for pre-Xmas delivery are as follows: UK - 19 December Europe - 10 December Rest of World - 5 December And here's a quick reminder of some of the quality kit which has put Cash'n'Carrion at the top of the UK IT rag trade. Enjoy.
Lester Haines, 08 Jan 2002

Salmon Days is spawned

Salmon Days is Go. This is the URL: www.salmondays.tv. Remember, it's a trailer - and there is swearing, nudity, violence and English accents. Bookmark and enjoy. Now comes the corporate bit. THE REGISTER LAUNCHES WORLD'S FIRST PAY-PER-VIEW VIDEO STRIP The world's first pay-per-view weekly video strip makes its debut on The Register Website on Thursday, October 25. Called Salmon Days, the live-action video strip is a comedy inspired by The Bastard Operator from Hell (BOFH), a fictitious character with his own weekly column in The Register, the UK's most popular IT news site. The first episode of Salmon Days is free and subsequent 30-second trailers will also be free. Each episode will then cost 20p each. To cater for a series of small charges to a potentially large audience, viewers in the UK will have a number of options for paying for content. They will be able to pay via their BT Cellnet or Vodafone account or via a premium telephone line. A credit card subscription option for The Register's overseas readership - 75 per cent of the total - is also in the pipeline. BOFH is a character with whom the readers of The Register identify - the author and owner of BOFH, Simon Travaglia, is a networking manager in New Zealand. As a result, the weekly BOFH column has a large cult following. Each episode of Salmon Days is likely to be between three and five minutes long. As such there will be no soap-style continuation from week to week but a mix of sketch comedy and a short story with a beginning, middle and end focusing around specific subjects such as: IT equipment and services; stupid users; stupid vendors' drinking, eating and generally indulging to excess; lampooning characters, products and advertising campaigns; current affairs; being overworked; etc. etc. The brief for Salmon Days is to be amusing, ironic, edgy and to take an educated swipe at the IT industry, its products and the clones it has spawned. Salmon Days is not a bitter anti-capitalist rant but, aims to pronounce the utter stupidity of the current office automation scenario (personal computers were meant to free us from the tyranny of central computing etc) and the appalling "why bother?" state of innovation which all IT users have been driven to accept as the norm (In reality nothing has been innovated in our industry for 20 years). Salmon Days is produced in partnership between three London companies: The Register, Remote and culturejam. Drew Cullen, co-editor of The Register, said: "We have been approached before to collaborate on broadband, but Salmon Days is the first proposal that made sense to us. Business news on broadband doesn't work - if it did there would be hundreds of business TV channels. We think that broadband is an entertainment medium. And we're going to make sure that Salmon Days is very entertaining." James Wickes, MD of culturejam, said: "Revenue streams are the big problem for Web-based businesses which are still grappling with the problem of making users of their sites pay for the information that they use. The Salmon Days video strip is to be paid for by users as well as the sponsor / advertiser. And the combination of revenue streams proposed for Salmon Days could become a highly effective, more general solution." Russell Stopford, Salmon Days' director from Remote, said: "We can take more creative risks with broadband content than is normal with television, which makes it fun to make. It should also make it more enjoyable to watch - I'm still laughing at Salmon Days and I've seen it about 300 times." Salmon Days is hosted and streamed physically by Akamai, the world's premier streaming media distribution company. Encoding is supplied by culturejam. Encoding is the process which receives the least focus in the web video production process and yet has the most impact on playback quality. Salmon Days is a joint collaboration between three London-based companies: Remote Film, culturejam and The Register. Remote is the creative force behind Salmon Days, supplying video production expertise, scripting, filming, editing and acting talent. culturejam supplies the web video streaming knowhow and project management skills that keeps it all running. The Register supplies the audience, the promotion, and the merchandise. ®
Drew Cullen, 08 Jan 2002

The BOFH Self-Helpless Guide

Episode 28Episode 28 BOFH 2001: Episode 28 "So," The PFY blurts as I rattle away on the keyboard on my latest epic document. "What about a quick game of Unreal Tournament? Just you, me, and some users who think they're playing opponents who can be killed?" "Would LIKE to," I comment, "but I'm working on my last epic..." "Really. Do you need some quotes?" he asks, cranking up his creative juices in a flash. "What about 'A user needs the admin password like nitroglycerine needs a good shake'? No? How about 'If you can keep your head while all around you are losing theirs, you probably have a CD writer on your desktop'?" "Yeah, well it doesn't REALLY fit in with the Content of my new book," I mumble, trying to focus on the right word to finish the page. "Which one is that?" The PFY asks, looking over my shoulder. "'Feel the fear and call us anyway'?" "No." "'Men are from Mars, Users are from Uranus?'" "No, but it feels that way sometimes." "'I'm OK, You're.. in hospital'?" "No..." "'Zen and the Art of Computer Maintenance'?" "No..." "So it's a new book you're working on then?" "Indeed. It's not my normal type of Self-Helpless guide, but something real." "No more deep and meaningless stuff?" "Well, I didn't say that, I just said this one is going to be different." "You're not writing a '..for Dummies' book are you?" "No, but you're very warm," I respond, flipping to the cover page. "WINDOWS XP for RETARDS!" The PFY reads over my shoulder. "I like it!! Although isn't the word 'IS' missing from the title??? So anyway, what's inside?" "Oh, it's just Windows XP notes I've scabbed from various websites, slapped into a nice font with bolding and underlining here and there - with a bright coloured cover on. And - my favourite - to make up content, I'm loading XP screenshots from all over the place." "Screenshots?" The PFY asks disdainfully. "Yes, if it wasn't for the screenshots and the large font size, the whole thing would be about 40 pages long. But WITH the screenshots and liberal font size, I'm probably looking at a 200-250 page beauty!" "They'll never buy it. No-one's that stupid!" "Don't you believe it. I'm just printing the cover now, basing the book around the idea that there must be someone out there who has problems reading even the simplest of technical docs. Someone to whom '...for Dummies' books are overly technical. Someone who's easily impressed by bright colours, pictures and the Comic Sans Serif font set. And speak of the devil..." We both pause as The Boss trundles in with an expression that can only mean one of two things - He's confused, or the laxative that The PFY slipped into his chocolate eclair is working. "MMMMMmmm," The Boss mumbles - extending the suspense a little longer. "Does anyone know where this came from?" He holds up the aforementioned full-colour cover, fresh from the "Management-Only" colour picture which is normally reserved - because of cost - to important documents like Company Reports, Pie Chart Graphing and late-night pornography. "Ah, the XP for Retards book!" I cry. "It's printed, Excellent! I've been waiting for that!" "For 'RETARDS'?" The Boss asks, not too impressed with the lack of PC. "I don't know," I respond. "I think it's some marketing thing by the company that sells them - you know, appeal to the people who want that stuff that other books skim over." "Yes.." The Boss responds, getting interested now. "So why are you printing it?" "Oh, well, it's available on the website for a discounted price because they don't have to do the shipping, packaging, printing, etc. You just download it and print it yourself - straight from their website, which means you get the latest revision!" "Now that IS a good idea" The Boss says. "What's the book like?" "See for yourself!" I cry, pointing to the large stack of plagiarised data and pictures that I call my own. "..Yes.." The Boss murmurs, leafing through the document and liking the Picture to Text ratio (as expected). "And how much did it cost?" "A hundred and eighty quid." "A HUNDRED AND EIGHTY QUID!" he gasps. "RETAIL," I comment, revising The Boss's gullibility factor (sadly). "But off the Web... 100." "It still sounds a little steep!" "True, but they do ship you an 'Advanced Retard' CD, as well as a complimentary T-shirt." "A free t-shirt?!" The Boss gasps, sold. "And how do you order?" "Well, you order it from the 'Society of Hardware and Information Technology Helpers, Executive Administration Division' website - you're a member aren't you?" "Uh, no.." "Really? Everyone says you are." "Oh. Well maybe I am then, I don't know. I'm a member of so many things..." "Yes, well, just go there, enter your User code and Password, and they'll let you order it through their arrangement with one of the major Online Selling sites. But you'd have to do it today as it's the last day of the free t-shirt offer." "Oh! Right! And if I've mislaid my User code details?" The Boss asks, jiggling about in the manner of someone hearing nature on call-waiting. "Well, I suppose I could order it for you. But then, no, I've maxxed my card out on the other books with the same shirt offers." "Other books?" The Boss blurts, needing to get away, but not wanting to miss out on the opportunity of the company paying for his clothing. "Yes, there's a series of ten?" "All 100 quid each?" "Yep." "OK!" he gasps through clenched teeth. "Here's my card, order them - make sure you get a receipt!" The Boss minces away at full speed after slapping his card down on the table while I fire up Amazon and start browsing the DVD section. . . . "Ah, he'll be back soon!" The PFY says, eyeing the corridor to Mission Control nervously while I put the finishing touches to my 1000 quid order. "No he won't." "He will! He went to the Gents at the end of the corridor!" "The Gents with the internal door handle removed?" I ask. "Ah!" The PFY cries, enlightened. "You bastard!" "No, no," I cry defensively. "A BASTARD would have expoxy resined the cubicle doors shut last night so the poor bloke had nowhere to go..." "You're a bastard aren't you?" The PFY asks, recognising professionalism when he sees it. "In the flesh, In your face, and on my way to the T-shirt printing website." "So you're actually going to print shirts." "Who would miss the opportunity of getting their Boss a T-shirt with a RETARD motto on the back?" "What motto?" "Well that's where you come in. I need ten, ASAP." "Ok. What about 'RETARD' with an arrow pointing up?; 'RETARD' just by itself; 'RETARD AND PROUD OF IT'?...." and so it goes.... ® BOFH 2K+1: The whole shebang The Compleat BOFH Archives 95-99 BOFH is copyright © 1995-2001, Simon Travaglia. Don't mess with his rights.
Simon Travaglia, 08 Jan 2002

Final deadline for Reg stocking fillers

Midnight GMT tonight is the final deadline for UK orders from our Cash'n'Carrion Reg shop. Thanks to all our customers during 2001, and here's a sneak preview of our new 2002 range. Merry Xmas.
Lester Haines, 08 Jan 2002

MSN pulls child porn pix from communities site

This afternoon I called Microsoft's MSN in the UK and told them an MSN communities site at latam.msn.com (Latin America) was hosting large quantities of child pornography. There were 15 pages with about nine pictures apiece, and several clearly involved children. Within a couple of hours, the site was gone - rapid response or what? Well, what, actually. I was first contacted about the site at 3.30pm GMT yesterday, as a cc of an email to abuse@msn.com. Given that the MSN system might be set to Seattle time (although they ought seriously to be global, 24x7) it was only fair for me to leave it 24 hours for abuse to check it out. Once they started checking it ought not to have taken more than four or five seconds to confirm that the content was most certainly not the sort of stuff MSN would wish to host. Presumably MSN doesn't want to host porn at all, so the enforcement people wouldn't have to take the time to guess the age of the participants. The people at abuse.msn.com however hadn't got their act together by midday GMT today, which is why I called MSN, and presumably also why the site disappeared. I can't say with any certainty that nothing would have happened if I'd just left it, and a spokeswoman for MSN tells me "it was already being investigated by the MSN team and should, by the time you receive this email have been disabled in accordance with MSN's 'Notice and Take Down' policy." But one still wonders about why it takes much more than an instant to investigate and pull the plugs, in a case like this. Another point to reflect on is that the pictures were largely dated 9.10.2001. If this was the actual posting date, then (depending on whether we're using European or US date format) they'd been there since either September or October. Clearly, it is not possible for an operation like MSN to ensure that it never hosts pornographic, illegal or inappropriate material, but if it's possible for such material to be hosted for three to four months, and the only reason it gets pulled is because of a report to abuse (possibly) or because of a call from the press (more likely, I fear), then the hosting company can't in any sense be said to be policing its content. Outfits like MSN get traffic and business by getting their content for free, and if that content turns out to be illegal they throw up their hands and say they're not responsible for publishing it, and when it's drawn to their attention they'll pull it. But why should that be good enough? Granted, it's impossible for them to extert total control over their content, so they shouldn't be held responsible for everything that appears, but they should be responsible for doing at least some proactive monitoring. They are, after all, using this free content to at least attempt to make money. According to a policy statement MSN UK has given us, "MSN staff will close down any sites that have names, topics and in the case of communities, content which violates our Code of Conduct / Terms of Use, should they encounter them in the normal course of their housekeeping duties" and "All complaints (either from a member of the MSN team or from a member of the public) are investigated quickly, usually within 24 hours, and if material is felt to be inappropriate, offensive or illegal the site will be disabled." Neither of these appears to have happened in this case. Nor, indeed, is the site entirely off the radar screen. The porn content is gone, and the site has a "temporarily unavailable" message (in Spanish). But there's still a banner up there saying "Sexo al amenecer." Register resident linguist Lester Haines assures me that this translates as "sex at dawn." The banner itself clicks you through to what appears to be a legitimate sex information site in Spanish. It's registered to an address in Mexico, and the admin and tech contacts are at Microsoft. And I really don't want to get any deeper into this one, OK? ®
John Lettice, 08 Jan 2002

Intel takes server PIII to 1.4Ghz

Intel today introduced a 1.4Ghz flavour of the Pentium III, complete with 512kb of L2 cache - twice that of all but the immediate Tualatin predecessors - for workhorse servers. Built on the 0.13micron production line, the new chip is faster (20 per cent), smaller and cheaper to produce than previous PIIIs. And, temptingly, for Web hosting companies especially, the new chip consumes 40 per cent less power - less likely to overheat = more reliability and cheaper electricity bills. Intel reckons it'll go down a bomb in the emerging ultra-dense server market and names Compaq, Dell, Fujitsu-Siemens, Hewlett Packard, IBM and NEC as customers likely to launch servers based on the new chip this quarter. In large trays, the new PIII costs $315. Intel is supporting the PIII 1.4Ghz chip with two new server boards, one of which is dual -processor, and a new server chassis. You can find out more about Intel server components - or 'building blocks' in company parlance here. ®
Drew Cullen, 08 Jan 2002

AOL Europe joins Time Warner fold

International expansion - particularly in Europe - is key to AOL Time Warner's "sustained strong performance". Confirming the $6.75bn acquisition of Bertelsmann's 49 per cent share in AOL Europe, AOL Time Warner signalled that Europe could become a key growth area for the Internet and media company. Although it has yet to flesh out plans , AOL CEO, Jerry Levin said: "Looking ahead, we see our expansion in international markets as one of the major contributors to sustained strong performance. "By leveraging AOL Europe's infrastructure, cross-company promotional abilities and other assets, AOL Europe can become the driver for company-wide growth in international consumer markets that AOL has become in the US." Regarding the nitty-gritty of the deal, Bertelsmann will transfer 80 per cent of its stake in AOL Europe to AOL Time Warner on January 31, 2002 in return for $5.3 billion in cash. AOL Time Warner will acquire the remaining 20 per cent for $1.45 billion in cash in July 2002. Elsewhere, AOL Time Warner said it expects to post EBITDA (earnings before interest etc) growth of around 18 per cent for 2001. However, seeing little improvement in the economy over the coming year AOL Time Warner believes revenue growth will slow to between 5 per cent and 8 per cent for 2002. Looking further ahead, the company claims it can restore double digit growth in 2003. ® Related Story AOL to blow $6.7bn on AOL Europe
Tim Richardson, 08 Jan 2002

What does this compression technology break through?

Claims of a breakthrough in compression technology by a Florida research start-up have been met with scepticism. ZeoSync says it has developed a technique to compress "practically random" data by a factor of hundreds to one - once the technology is fully developed (which it estimates will be possible sometime next year). Such a lossless data compression technology would have widespread applications in telecommunications and data storage, for instance, enabling video and other high bandwidth applications to work over narrowband networks. ZeoSync has worked with leading mathematicians at Harvard University, Stanford University and Moscow State University, among others, and it is careful to qualify its remarks. It says that so far it has only applied its " multi-dimensional encoding technology" on very small bit strings - but this has failed to pacify critics. In particular the firm's detractors question ZeoSync's assertion that it has overcome fundamental constraints in information theory, defined by Claude Shannon more than 50 years ago. Noted cryptographer Bruce Schneier said, from the information available so far, ZeoSync's supposed breakthrough looks like "snake oil.. the odds on a compression claim turning out to be true are always identical to the compression ratio claimed". How the technology is supposed to work ZeoSync's approach to the encoding of practically random sequences is expected to evolve into the reduction of already reduced information across many reduction iterations, producing a previously unattainable reduction capability. ZeoSync intentionally randomises naturally occurring patterns to form entropy-like random sequences through its patent-pending technology known as Zero Space Tuner. Once randomised, ZeoSync's BinaryAccelerator encodes these singular-bit-variance strings within complex combinatorial series to result in massively reduced BitPerfect equivalents. The combined TunerAccelerator is expected to be commercially available during 2003. ZeoSync has developed the TunerAccelerator in conjunction with some traditional state-of-the-art compression methodologies. This work includes the advancement of Fractals, Wavelets, DCT, FFT, Subband Coding, and Acoustic Compression which utilises synthetic instruments. ® External links ZeoSync's statement versus Usenet FAQ on compression of random data
John Leyden, 08 Jan 2002

Flash gets its very own virus

UpdatedUpdated A proof of concept virus which has the potential to infect Flash files commonly used on Web sites has been discovered. The SWF/LFM-926 virus, which could infect surfers if they download and then open a Flash file on their PC, is the first of its kind, according to antivirus vendor Sophos. Simply viewing a Web site or Flash movie fails to cause infection, early tests suggest. "The virus is not yet in the wild, but it is clear proof that virus writers continue to search for new ways to infect computer users," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos Anti-Virus. SWF/LFM-926 only infects other Macromedia Flash files but the technique could be applied to create viruses with more damaging payloads, he warned. Sophos recommends webmasters put in place procedures and policies to ensure the integrity of the code they place on sites, whether it is obviously executable (in the case of, for instance, exe and com files) or Flash movies. Existence of the SWF/LFM-926 virus came to light after the virus author emailed a copy of the virus to Sophos, which has exchanged samples of the bug with other security vendors. Apart from making sure AV products check SWF files, the emergence of the technique doesn't mandate changes in security software. ® Update Macromedia has issued a statement clarifying that the issue affects only Macromedia Flash and not Shockwave content, which is produced using Director Shockwave studio, a different product. A patch for Macromedia Flash will be available latter this week, the firm promises. More information can be found here. Antivirus vendors, and our initial report, referred to Shockwave Flash but this is inaccurate: .SWF used to stand for Shockwave Flash file format, but now it's just Flash. External links Analysis of the virus by Sophos
John Leyden, 08 Jan 2002