Ford has offered British staff a two-week amnesty to remove pornographic e-mails or other questionable material from their PCs. After this, Ford will carry out random spot-checks on employee email. Ford has made its policy absolutely clear to workers, a necessary step in avoiding any legal implications. Stuart Morrice, marketing director at Peapod Groups's, a UK security consultancy, said: "Firms can't just go at people's email without telling them. They need to first put a policy in place, which needs to be managed by human resources departments - not techies alone." Firms can't be sure of their legal exposure, unless they audit their email, he added. Companies commonly implement content management technology (such as MIMEsweeper) to reduce the risk of disseminating pornographic content, racist material or email which might fall foul of the law. Peapod reckons this technology is often set up poorly and left in default configurations, so failing to match company policies on email use (assuming firms are clued up enough to have a policy). Balancing the rights of individuals under the Human Rights Act and Data Protection Act (DPA) with the needs of business is like "walking through a minefield". Peapod warns that without a proper policy firms risk falling foul of the DPA and tripping up over other laws in the area, such as the Privacy Act and the Right of Telecoms Act. ® Related Stories Employers put the squeeze on porn surfers Jaguar workers face sack over 'inappropriate' emails Five sacked by Rolls Royce for porno emails Orange sacks 45 in Net porn scandal MessageLabs launches email porn filtering service Four in five corporate emails are junk Home Office extends online snooping laws External links Information Commissioner - info on data protection issues and the law
The process for deciding ownership of Internet domains is flawed, biased and in drastic need of reform, an expert in Internet and e-commerce law has concluded in a study released today. Professor Michael Geist of the University of Ottawa has extended a previous study last year into how ownership of domain names is decided and concluded that, if anything, the situation has got worse. The study is particularly timely given that Internet overseeing organisation ICANN is hosting an international meeting in Ghana next week in which the process (called the Uniform Dispute Resolution Process or UDRP) is to be reviewed. Last August, Professor Geist accused two of the four domain arbitrators - the National Arbitration Forum (NAF) and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) - of actively choosing judges who favoured complainants (trademark holders). This ensured them more business as the complainant in domain disputes is allowed to decide where the case is heard. This accusation was rebuked by arbitration judge Scott Donahey, the arbitrators themselves and ICANN, who all claimed Geist's conclusions were flawed as he had not included undefended (default) cases when comparing NAF and WIPO to the other main domain arbitrator, eResolution. In the new study, all default cases have been included as well as the most recent cases up to 18 February 2002, and Geist's conclusions are even more striking. With undefended cases included, eResolution chooses in favour of a complainant in 64 per cent of cases when one judge is presiding (63 per cent last time). Since the arbitrator itself decides who will decide who sits on a one-panel case, the significantly higher percentages for NAF and WIPO (86 and 83 per cent respectively) raise questions over just how uniform the dispute resolution process really is. It is no coincidence, Geist argues, that NAF and WIPO have the lion's share of the market - 34.5 and 59.2 per cent respectively. A system which rewards those who chose in favour of one party in an arbitration dispute is unlikely to be perceived of as fair. And, as if to confirm the damaging effects of this policy, eResolution announced its bankruptcy at the end of 2001. Adding further fuel to the fire is the fact that the "random" selection process for judges has seen just six panellists at NAF decide 56.4 per cent of all one-judge cases. Of these cases, 95.1 per cent were in the complainant's favour. WIPO is better in this respect in that 121 judges have now decided at least five cases apiece, although there remains a mathematical discrepancy between a random selection of judges and those actually chosen to preside over single-panel cases. The single-judge bias is further demonstrated, Geist argues, by the fall in decisions made in the complainant's favour when a three-judge panel is used. In this situation, the complainant chooses one judge, the respondent another and a third is agreed to between the two parties. When a three-judge panel is used, decisions in favour of the complainant fall 37 per cent in the case of NAF and 21 per cent for WIPO (a 25 per cent drop in total). However Geist's study has not met with universal agreement. A spokeswoman for ICANN told us that "other well-respected scholars don't agree with Geist's analysis" and points to a review of UDRP by the Max Planck Institute. This 78-page review is also cited by Geist's critic Scott Donahey, who claims the study is "nothing more than a recasting of data". Both people point to the Planck Institute's first conclusion that: "As a matter of principle, the UDRP is functioning satisfactorily. No major flaws have been identified in the course of the evaluation." In reality, however, the Planck review actually supports Geist's observation that there are significant differences between the domain arbitrators, although it stops short of providing an explanation for these differences, claiming it is beyond the scope of its review. The Planck second conclusion states: "It was however confirmed that considerable differences exist with respect to the outcome of decisions handed down by eResolution Panels on one hand and NAF and WIPO Panels on the other." Within the review itself, the Planck Institute points out first that the judges themselves are independent and unswayed by the arbitrator itself but then continues: "There remains however a certain risk that panellists [judges], by handing down decisions which are markedly in favour of right holders might seek to increase their popularity in the trademark community at large, and to profit from this effect for their regular work, in particular as a lawyer or trademark attorney." This situation, it says, "remains remarkable or even troubling, and it calls for further consideration". However, NAF has provided a stronger case as to why Geist may be mistaken in his views, telling us that by focusing purely on the outcomes of cases he is looking at the wrong end of the process. The assumption that NAF and WIPO are knowingly deciding in favour of complainants since eResolution makes far fewer decisions in their favour is flawed, NAF Assistant Director Timothy S. Cole told us. Since eResolution asked for all submissions to be delivered online, additional material (case exhibits, trademark registrations, case exhibits) - which may often tilt the balance in a case - are not delivered by paper-loving lawyers, Cole suggests. The steep fall in complainant-winning cases when a three-judge panel is used, he argues, is simply due to the added effort and supposed legitimacy of a domain by a respondent that is willing to pay for the cost of the extra judges. WIPO failed to reply to our requests for comment. Despite claim and counter-claim, however, one thing that every independent observer can agree upon is that UDRP urgently needs to be reviewed in light of the last three years. ICANN assures us that "Professor Geist's views are welcome and will be considered in the [upcoming] evaluation". Others have also submitted their reviews of UDRP. We can only hope that a fairer and more equitable system will result at the end of it. For more information on the study and an extensive breakdown of arbitrators' and judges' decisions, visit Professor Geist's Web site at UDRPinfo.com. Related Stories Professor tears ICANN domain dispute policy to pieces What the hell is UDRP?
ExclusiveExclusive According to our most reliable sources, who have proved very reliable indeed recently, Samsung has signed a deal with Nokia to license the latter's Series 60 user interface for smartphones. Samsung has been the only significant brand to sign-up for rival Microsoft's SmartPhone platform, and it represents a major breakthrough for Nokia in establishing its credentials as a software licensing company. The Series 60 deal could mark a turning point in the battered fortunes of Symbian, as the UI, formerly known as "Pearl", runs on top of the Symbian OS. The Korean giant's expertise in building CDMA phones gives the anti-Microsoft camp a major boost in the US market. Symbian endured a calamitous GSM Congress a fortnight ago, coming days after the resignation of its CEO Colly Myers. Interviews were cancelled at the last minute, and no stand-ins were made available. But the announcement of Ericsson/Sony's P800 imaging smartphone earlier today helps deflate the Redmond spin that Symbian is all but a distant outpost of the Nokia empire these days. While it's true that the Finns do call many of the shots, it doesn't follow that the rest of the industry has shunned the platform. Far from it. Sony has its own "Stork" Symbian based smartphone in the pipeline, and is already introducing Sony technology into the P800 successor, "Linnea 2"; and Motorola has based its Paragon smartphone on Symbian too. Panasonic has yet to announce its Symbian 7-based mediaphone. Smartphones have always been interesting in their own right: they're very personal converged data devices; but politically, they pitch Microsoft's most two powerful antagonists - Nokia and Sony - in opposition, and neither opponent needs to give Redmond any quarter. A twenty-strong team of Samsung engineers has been working on the smartphone since late last year, we understand. A spokesman for Symbian in London declined to comment. ® Related Scoops Smartphone roadmaps for 2002 Motorola to axe Palm smartphone Palm confirms Motorola, Nokia smartphones axed Nokia takes charge at Symbian Can Club Nokia thwart .NET?
BT Group Plc's mobile spin-off mmO2 Plc last week confirmed that it is reconsidering its relationships with 3G equipment suppliers, and that it may decide to source equipment for all four of its European networks from a single supplier. mmO2 has so far built pilot networks in the UK with Nortel Networks Corp, in Germany with Nokia Oyj, in the Netherlands with LM Ericsson Telefon AB, and on the Isle of Man with Siemens AG and NEC Corp. It is now reviewing the contracts it holds with 3G suppliers in the UK, Germany and Holland, and may award a single contract to one supplier covering all of its networks. Major telcos have traditionally been loathe to award all their network infrastructure business to a single equipment supplier, preferring to foster an element of competition for upgrade, renewal and maintenace business between two or three suppliers. However, for 3G operators like mmO2 that have already had to heavily indebt themselves just to pay for spectrum licenses, no strategy that could reduce the immediate cost of network roll-out is likely to be ignored, and dangling a four-country network contract in front of a supplier must certainly count as a powerful bargaining chip. The power of bulk buying is thought to have already been a key consideration for Vodafone Group Plc, which earlier this year handed Ericsson a contract to supply the multimedia messaging system (MMS) infrastructure across nine European networks boasting some 65 million subscribers. Although neither company would comment on the value of that deal, analysts have speculated that it represented a significant discount on "book value", and was probably further sweetened by a guarantee from Ericsson that the systems would be supported by sufficient compatible handsets. Handset supply is also likely to be a key consideration in mmO2's decision process. Without exception, early 3G offerings, including NTT DoCoMo's pace setting FOMA network, have been held back by the scarcity of dual-mode handsets. In mmO2's case, this consideration may tend to favor the prospects of Nokia or Ericsson, the world's first and third largest handset makers, although it might also play into the hands of NEC, which supplied handsets to Manx Telecom Isle of Man network, and which is also a major 3G terminal supplier to DoCoMo in Japan. At the most recent count, mmO2 boasted 17.2 million subscribers across its European operations, making it the fifth largest wireless operator on the continent. © ComputerWire.com. All rights reserved.
RealNetworks claims it has optimized the buffering feature of its streaming media system, so that streams can launch up to 800% faster than in previous versions of its software. While the feature is first to market, it suffers some limitations compared to what rivals are currently beta testing. The feature, named TurboPlay, is new with the final "gold" version of the subscription-based RealOne player/service, released this week. By nearly eliminating buffering, streams launch faster and the fast-forward and rewind features on prerecorded material may actually become usable. General manager of RealNetworks consumer division Leslie Grandy said buffering will be 800% faster on a LAN. On the Internet, buffering will be up to 600% faster over DSL connections, she said. The system will have no noticeable effect on narrowband dialup connections, where the majority of consumer use is, a spokesperson later added. While RealNetworks claims the feature is "groundbreaking", its main competitor, Microsoft Corp, announced a similar upgrade to Windows Media System in early December last year. Microsoft's FastStream, part of the unreleased "Corona" media platform, cuts buffering to one or two seconds by eliminating a lot of handshake information when a stream is set up. Grandy said TurboPlay is "conceptually similar" to FastStream. She said that in previous versions of RealPlayer, the client would not use the full bandwidth available for requesting data packets from the server, but with TurboPlay it does. As the upgrade is for the client software only, no upgrades or code modifications are required at the server. But the system does have its limitations. It is only available on paid-for premium versions of the software, and is, curiously, turned off by default. And because no server side upgrade complements the client, some features Microsoft will make available for its own system "later this year" are not available from RealNetworks. Most importantly, TurboPlay does not work with streams that have been encoded using RealNetworks' SureStream multiple bit-rate encoding system. SureStream, which has been around since 1998 and is used extensively, allows one streaming server to handle requests from viewers on different bandwidth connections. Michael Aldridge, product manager at Microsoft, said Windows Media's FastStream buffer upgrade will support multiple bit-rate encoding. "MBR adds to the complexity at the server," he said, meaning upgrades at both sides are necessary When compared to Microsoft's forthcoming Corona, the new RealOne feature does not provide the same kind of server-side bandwidth-harvesting features. According to Microsoft, Corona will "take advantage of the full network bandwidth you have available". Instead of insisting a 100Kbps stream is delivered at 100Kbps over, say, a 1.5Mbps connection, which could cause blocking and jumping due to network congestion, the system will deliver and locally cache as much data as will fit down the pipe, making for a smoother picture. Microsoft's Aldridge accused RealNetworks of desperately trying to catch up with Microsoft's "faster pace of innovation" but making an "incomplete attempt" with TurboPlay. Though, to be fair to RealNetworks, they have a product, however restricted, on the market and available to consumers, and Microsoft doesn't. © ComputerWire.com. All rights reserved.
IBM is said to be working hard to get the next release of its Unix operating system, AIX 5L V5.2, ready to roll by October of this year, and is expected to deliver the kicker to this release sometime in the second half of 2003, Timothy Prickett Morgan writes. Historically, IBM puts out a major update to AIX once every two years or so. The annual releases for AIX 5L V5.2 in 2002 and V5.3 in 2003 do not represent IBM ramping up its rate of release on AIX - IBM is cutting in half what it would have delivered by 2003 and doing it in two steps rather than one. These releases seem to be timed with future Power4-II servers due in late 2002 and Power5 servers, due sometime in the second half of 2003. Much of the inner plumbing of AIX was replaced with AIX 5L 5.1, which was known under the code-name of Project Monterey until IBM branded it AIX 5L in January 2001. The L in AIX 5L stands for Linux affinity, which means that many of the Linux APIs are supported within AIX so applications written for Linux can be recompiled to run natively on PowerPC and Power4 processors. IBM had originally intended to offer the ability to run Linux binaries compiled for Intel processors on AIX 5L, but this part of the operating system never got off the ground because of the performance penalties involved with running emulated X86 instructions on the IBM Power chip architecture. AIX 5l V5.1 includes support for Power4 processors, 32-way symmetric multiprocessing, rudimentary static logical partitions, 256Gb of main memory, and 64-bit AIX kernel and drivers. The prior AIX 4.3 releases supported 24-way SMP and 96Gb of main memory and had support for some 64-bit APIs. According to sources familiar with IBM's plans, AIX 5L V5.2 will have support for dynamic logical partitions - presumably only on Power4-based pSeries 690 servers, but perhaps also on S-Star PowerPC-based pSeries 680 servers. These S-Star servers have the electronics that allow dynamic OS/400 and Linux logical partitions on IBM's iSeries (formerly AS/400) line, so it seems possible that IBM could offer dynamic partitions on these machines as well. For all anyone knows, the entire pSeries line running S-Star processors has been given electronics to support dynamic logical partitions. IBM has been mum on this. AIX 5L V5.2 will also include performance enhancements and tuning specifically for the Power4 processors and will support multipath I/O, something that the iSeries line also has already. AIX 5L V5.2 will also include a new workload manager and various eLiza self-healing enhancements. The October 2002 release of AIX will be limited to 32-way SMP support, which suggests that IBM will not deliver the 64-way Power5 servers until AIX 5L V5.3 begins shipping sometime in the second half of 2003. AIX 5L V5.3 is expected to coincide with the initial Power5-based servers, which will support 64-way SMP and up to 512Gb of main memory. It is unclear whether AIX 5L V5.2 or V5.3 will provide NUMA clustering that expands beyond the 32-way or 64-way SMP clustering of the base operating system to provide a single system image for very large databases and application sets. But one of these two releases is expected to offer such capabilities. The limits of this NUMA clustering are also unknown, but it seems likely that IBM will allow 8, 16, or 32 giant pSeries servers to be clustered in a NUMA configuration for customers who need such capabilities, particularly to support datawarehousing needs. © ComputerWire.com. All rights reserved.
The US Department of Justice, now firm buddies with Microsoft in arguing for the acceptance of the antitrust action settlement, claimed yesterday that the deal it struck with the company is better than it could have achieved if it had gone on fighting. Furthermore, claimed DoJ attorney Philip Beck, if agreement hadn't been achieved the DoJ would have been on a loser: "an uphill battle that likely would have been resolved against us." Lest we forget, the DoJ actually won in the district court the first time around, with Judge Jackson agreeing that most of its case was proven, and ordering remedies of a similar order of toughness to those now demanded by the rebel States. We should also remember that, although the appeals court gave Jackson a thorough caning for his conduct, it agreed he wasn't biased against Microsoft, and confirmed that much of the case had indeed been established. There were some key aspects it tossed out, giving the DoJ the option of coming round again to establish them, and it tossed out major parts of the remedies because they were dependent on these. One of the most important things the appeals court agreed on was that Microsoft was guilty of 'commingling' - the company had specifically bolted pieces of code together in order to weld IE into Windows for antit-competitive reasons. This is one of the aspects of the case that the States still pushing for a tougher settlement have been zeroing in on while taking depositions, it's one of the (many) matters that are barely addressed at all in the negotiated settlement, and it's one of the things the DoJ established most clearly the first time around. But apparently, if the DoJ had pressed on with the States in search of tougher measures, it would probably have lost. Life, friends, is a puzzle, is it not? Judge Colleen Kollar-Kottely as yet has not indicated whether she's going to buy the MS-DoJ deal or not, but yesterday she did ask Microsoft if it agreed with the DoJ's interpretation of the settlement terms. This is actually quite important, because it is perfectly possible and legal for the parties to agree the Revised Proposed Final Judgment, but to differ on its interpretation. Thus, Microsoft may not, probably doesn't, and legally doesn't have to, agree with the supplementary explanatory documentation the DoJ has issued; that was how the 1995 consent decree turned out not to mean what the DoJ thought it meant, and how it turned out Microsoft hadn't promised not to integrate IE with Windows after all. Humorously, Microsoft's lawyers went into a huddle before coming up with: "We have a meeting of minds... [and] we certainly agree with [the RPFJ's] scope and operation." Was that yes? Not exactly, surely. The case is now moving into its twin track phase. Yesterday the Judge was dealing with the dealmakers and with a gaggle of objectors claiming the deal was a farce. Next week, if the Judge doesn't grant Microsoft's request for a two week delay, the group which Redmond should really think of as the Unsettling States will weigh-in with Antitrust II - The Attorneys General Strike Back. ®
Rural Britain is in danger of fostering a new underclass of people unable to exploit the benefits of the knowledge economy. A report published by thinktank Local Futures last night asks whether we are seeing the development of a "mobile underclass" – people without access to transport, work opportunities and ICT. The report On the Move: A look at the social uses of mobile and wireless communications warns that people are in danger of becoming excluded from our "increasingly mobile society". "The 'knowledge economy' in the UK currently threatens to bypass large areas of rural Britain," the report warns, noting that rural areas are also under-served by the build-out of a broadband infrastructure. "Teleworking and teleshopping, not to mention remote access to public services like health and education, should find a ready market in the countryside …[but it is urban areas which] are currently providing richer picking grounds for both remote shopping and working." It continues: "This is partly due to the paucity of infrastructure in rural areas and while most rural dwellers can access the Internet via dial-up narrowband services, broadband…has yet to make much impact." The report suggests that wireless solutions such as fixed wireless could be the answer and cals for an "imaginative and bold" response especially from the public sector. Yeah right. ®
As we reported earlier, the US government says it never had a chance to beat MS in court, so the settlement is the best that can be hoped for. It was the appeals court decision, DoJ reckons, that ruined the government's case. "The causation issues would have been an uphill battle that would likely have been resolved against us," government lawyer Philip Beck explained. By 'causation' we gather he means the question of whether specific decisions of MS honchos resulted in its becoming a monopoly, or whether it was destined to become one for more 'natural' reasons. For example, was Netscape such a weak product that it would have been obliterated by a better one in any case, or did bundling IE with Windows ruin an otherwise strong contender? Opinions on this sort of issue will vary, but proving it either way, MS and DoJ agree, is a vain exercise. MS lawyer John Warden rushed to confirm the new explanation of why we're stuck with the government lube job. "Without causation, there's nothing to remedy," he said. And of course this implies that anything MS concedes in the settlement is some great humanitarian gift to its competitors and consumers. And its this puling teenage-jock-style smugness, so often enacted by MS brass and shyster alike, that drives critics of the deal to distraction. We hear it again, when Warden lectures the judge on Microsoft's understanding of middleware. Including Outlook Express and Media Player in this category is a monumental gift to all, Warden said. The settlement "greatly expands the court of appeals definition of middleware." And the cleverly-unenforcable promise to disclose APIs goes "far outside the case as tried," he trilled. And we hear it yet again, as Judge Kollar-Kotelly probed MS on its disclosure of government and political lobbying relevant to the antitrust case. MS has been assuming that the start of the current court phase back in September is the appropriate start date for this sort of disclosure. But the judge said the period reaches back to mid-summer, during the appeals court phase. And Microsoft's response? Try not to lose your lunch. The company will "investigate" to determine if it needs to disclose more information to the court. I'd like to see any other defendant try that one. I'd like to see someone standing in the dock and telling the judge that he or she will "investigate" whether or not it's necessary to mind the court's understanding of the law. You'd have to have the prosecution in your pocket to pull that one off, now wouldn't you? ®
Japan's number three mobile phone company, J-Phone, has claimed another 370,600 users for its 'picture phone' service in the last month, bringing the total up to just under 4 million, or a third of its total users. Rivals KDDI and DoCoMo are also offering high bandwidth, high ticket picture services, and the success of such systems in Japan offers western operators some entrancing clues as to how they can make money out of broadband services, and high-spec handsets. Speaking to The Register at the recent GSM World Congress Sun representatives predicted a boom this year for Java handsets. All three of the major Japanese networks have deployed them successfully; they account for 25 per cent of DoCoMo's shipments, and J-Phone has shipped its 4 million phones with built-in camera since last July. Worldwide Sun expects Java handsets to top 100 million this year. A return of the boom-days fuelled by picture phones, broadband and chargeable services however depends on the operators and whatever partners they sign actually having these services ready to roll. And while pictures play in Japan, how sure are we that the rest of the world will want to play? The mobile phone companies now wisely say that they've learned from texting, which took them by surprise, so they're not going to get caught out by the Next Big Thing. But is it pictures? Games? Soft porn? Knowing you fluffed it once, and knowing there are several possible areas where the consumer's imagination may be set on fire, is not the same thing as being able to avoid fluffing it a second time. The networks later this year will have large numbers of expensive phones which they'll want to get into the hands of consumers. If they've got great, compelling services to roll at the same time, then the phones may walk out of the doors. But otherwise, they'll find themselves spending heavily on subsidies and waiting for the service to take off, so that they can get their money back. It's a challenge, to say the least, because while Japan is frequently a phenomenon, it is not always a signpost. ®
Wearable-computing hypemeisters Xybernaut are at it again, this time persuading former Virginia Governor James Gilmore to serve as pitch man for the company's ambition to equip US officials and law enforcement officers with wearable devices to root out terrorists. Gilmore made an appearance at the seventh annual International Conference on Wearable Computing (ICWC), which is part of the COMDEX Chicago trade show. Xybernaut apparently is paying for the ICWC bit as a prime marketing vehicle. Quoting the Xybernaut press release: "Wearable computing may play a major role in homeland security and the fight against terrorism, and could help boost the global economy, James S. Gilmore III, chairman of the Congressional Advisory Panel to Assess Weapons of Mass Destruction and Domestic Response, stated here today." [my emphasis] "According to Gilmore, wearable computers are currently providing real world examples of how technology can be leveraged as part of the U.S. anti-terrorism campaign to ensure homeland security." [my emphasis] The company likes to work in a few weasel words whenever it communicates to current and potential investors in this manner, but hopes you'll read over them and imagine that some commercial breakthrough is just around the corner. Thus we hear breathless announcements about missions to Mars relying heavily on Xybernaut gear, when in fact all that's happening is that a few lunatics are going to freeze their asses off in the Canadian tundra and see how the kit holds up. This is the same Xybernaut that sued an online critic, Dan Whatley, in absentia and won a judgment of $450,000. Whatley made a few disparaging remarks on a BBS, and was blindsided by the company's legal beagles. We also find the company backing away from a PCWorld story, which it had originally linked on its Web site, where someone told a reporter quite untruthfully that Xybernaut kit was scheduled to be used in airport security within three months' time. As it turns out, "there were no contracts and that  discussion with PCWorld.com had focused only on 'ideal applications' for the device, not planned deployments." Too bad the reporter wasn't let in on the secret. And now we've got homeland defence enhanced with robocops scurrying about (on Ginger?) and communing intimately with the Great Database via sensors in their shorts and displays on their Ray Bans. Of course we see this sort of thing all the time in the movies, which helps make it appear more plausible when a former governor stands up in front of an auditorium full of Star Trek weenies and pitches pie-in-the-sky gizmos as legitimate anti-terror tools. Perhaps Xybernaut investors should persuade the company to shift over to doing Hollywood special effects, where their toys will be a hit, and where the market is a good deal more reliable than missions to Mars. ®
Btopenworld is coughing up "less than £1 million" to buy dotmusic.com from United Business Media (UBM). BT's mass-market broadband ISP claims dotmusic will become a "launch pad" for its music services as it builds on its commitment to create focused destination sites for users. While dotmusic has plenty of content including news, charts, Webcasts and a shop, BTopenworld will be looking to provide a subscription-based music download service similar to the classical service it launched in January. Indeed, it's already conducting a trial of a mass-market music subscription service with Peter Gabriel's OD2 outfit. Today's content announcement comes hard on the heels of news that BTopenworld is to cut the cost of its broadband service to less than £30 a month following a shake-up (or should that be shake-down) of wholesale DSL pricing. Not only is it making it cheaper to gain high-speed Internet access, it’s also providing punters somewhere to go and spend their disposable income. Dotmusic was founded in 1995 and claims to be the UK's and Europe's most popular music web site with 1.7 million users and 165 million page impressions a month. Last year Tiscali announced it had teamed up with OD2 to flog music online. ® Related Stories< BTopenworld - download beats, beat up on gamers Peter Gabriel powers Tiscali music downloads
Relying on 3G is a recipe for trouble for wireless developers. The way to mobile start-up heaven is through exploiting today's technologies. This is the main message we took away last night from a seminar on the wireless market, organised by VC house 3i. Based on a survey of mobile telecoms entrepreneurs and other market intelligence, the VC house has published Wireless Untangled, a report which highlights the expected delays in 3G rollouts. On the bright side, the hold-ups will not cause irreparable damage to the industry. Four in five of the entrepreneurs quizzed by the Economist Intelligence Unit on behalf of 3i said that the rollout of 3G services (expected in 18 months) was not a prerequisite to success within the next three to five years. Conflicting standards (CDMA and UMTS) for mobiles were seen as a problem by many of the companies quizzed during the survey, with 64 per cent of entrepreneurs reporting that this had negatively affected their business. The key to reaching profitability is finding and reaching a customer base with immediate revenue potential, leaders of startup firms believe. Many mobile startups are targeting the enterprise sector rather than consumers. Revenues from advertising and mobile commerce were not seen to be significant over the medium term, but 87 per cent of entrepreneurs quizzed were far more positive about the prospect of consumers paying for entertainment services (such as music or video). Games, gambling and girls 3i invited along senior representatives from a number of wireless startups (tools vendors, payment firms and the like) to the launch of the white paper. It was noticeable how conservative their approach was after a difficult year for the mobile industry. Carriers, particularly in the UK, have paid colossal amounts for 3G licences but there is a marked lack of enthusiasm for the 'games, gambling and girls (or guys)' types of content which 3G promises. Voice is seen as a major revenue earner for carriers even after the introduction of 3G, and there is uncertainty about how to ramp up data traffic. "The industry is scratching its head about how to introduce content," said Chris Wade of CPS, a firm which develops mobile location technology. "This isn't a problem that will be solved easily or quickly," he added. There was talk of providing less obvious content, such as horoscopes, and location-aware content that helped people plan their leisure time, but no firm conclusions on how to drive more revenues from consumers were reached. For businesses high-speed access to corporate Intranets was seen as a huge potential market, particularly in the US where the business market is seen as stronger. In Europe, carriers tend to be more focused on the consumer market. The fragmentation of devices, with different user interfaces specific to different countries is seen as an emerging trend - based on different usage patterns in, for example, the US (where pens and keyboards are popular) and Japan (where devices that can be used with a thumb are all the rage). This has important implication for the development of smartphones. One wag at the meeting observed that however smartphones develop they need to be reliable and the last thing we needed was ctrl, Alt, Delete buttons on every phone. reg;
Half a billion people access the Internet from home according to the latest figures from NetRatings. Actually, the number is 498 million – but it's still an impressive milestone all the same. Well done everyone. Elsewhere, NetRatings found that Germany is the leading Internet nation in Europe. In Latin America that honour goes to Brazil. And in Asia Pacific South Korea is top dog. In Europe and the Asia Pacific ,Internet access is most common in homes which are headed by men with university degrees. What we're expected to read into this little gem is anyone’s guess but there you go. Elsewhere, it's reported that some 19 million people have DSL access (five million more than cable apparently) according to global figures published at the DSL Forum in Rome. This prompted those at the industry conference to chirp that DSL is the "world’s leading broadband technology" and well on track to a "global mass market". Oh, and the Forum - a consortium of more than 300 DSL industry players – also wants to see 200 million DSL subscribers by 2005. Which is nice. ®
Microsoft's Xbox can scratch DVD disks - but not when they're playing. And only in Japan. The scratches are etched on the edge of the DVD-playing side, and are made when the DVDs are placed on the drive tray, Microsoft says. News of this apparently minor fault surfaced this week in Japan, where 125,000 X-boxes have been sold since the launch of the games console on February 22. So far 243 owners have complained about scratchy disks. There have also been some complaints from the US, where the Xbox launched last November. But these don't seem important enough to merit a recall. Microsoft says the fault does not affect game playing and initially said there is no need to issue a product recall, the New Scientist reported earlier this week. It appears to have changed its mind - today, Bloomberg reports that Microsoft is fixing the problem, after all. ®
We've already touched on the million billion trillion versions of Windows Steve Ballmer says Microsoft would have to do if the Unsettling States had their way, but how, precisely, would this work? Further delving into the transcript of Steve's deposition reveals a chilling, dastardly, Dr Evil plan masterminded by Sun Microsystems. Or alternatively, Dr Evil/Ballmer is passing on the plan he himself has masterminded to the assiduous Sun attorneys who even as you read are beavering their way through the deposition transcripts. It goes like this. Having confidently asserted that there is no substantial demand from OEMs for versions of Windows "from which pieces of middleware have been removed," Steve is asked how come there would have to be an infinite number of versions of Windows, if nobody was actually going to ask for them. Hmm... "Well," says Steve, "the way this thing is written, this is not just a request from OEMs, it's also a request from third party licensees, you know. Sun Microsystems go buy 10,000 copies and they can just have people sit there and generate work requests to us every minute of every day. Just as an example." Fiendishly cunning isn't it? And we bet Sun hadn't even thought of it until they read it here. But Steve's only just getting warmed up - there's more: "Any - any rogue who wants to can do it, or anybody who wants to pay an OEM. Somebody could say, 'Look, I want to make Microsoft's life miserable so I'll tell you what, I'll pay you $10 million a year to torture Microsoft,' and under this provision that works out pretty well." He doesn't say, but he's just got to be thinking about Crazy Larry here, hasn't he? Yes, he is: "And, you know, we have competition who I think has been very involved in this whole process, who I could see easily saying, 'I'll write - I'll write that check.'" Those of you who think the Good Doctor has now lost it entirely, brace yourself - there's a deal more ungluing to come. He imagines all of the enemies who've been bankrolling the litigation and pulling the strings of the legions of attorneys, thinks about how much money they've got, how much they hate Microsoft, and starts multiplying. And multiplying. And multiplying. "Even if we created the two to the nth versions, which would be - I don't know - by rough count 4,000 or 6,000 versions of Windows that we'd need to design just for those, there would need to be 4,000, 6,000, something like - 4,000, 8,000 unique versions of Windows that we would need to test, design for and manage. Let's assume that each of those was requested by - by somebody. I'd make that assumption, anyway. It's still something like a need for us to be prepared to put in the marketplace and support over 4,000 different versions of Microsoft Windows, which - which, again, now you could say is that nonengineerable? "Well, pretty much is the honest and truthful answer. If you did the engineering you would stop doing all new development at the end of the day, and then you'd get a passel of problems." Indeed. But just 4,000? No, as you were: "the engineers would be busy designing and testing the 4,000 - at least 4,000 versions explicitly called out for, let alone the potentially millions of additional versions contemplated by -- by this decree or this - this - what shall I say? I don't know what I'm supposed to call it. This proposal." The Proposal of Doom, clearly... ®
At this point I can only conclude there are two Jack Valentis. One of them is the president of the MPAA and rightly proud of the commercial accomplishments of the industry he represents, and the other is an evil doppelganger who lies to Congress on a monthly schedule, serving up great lashings of fear and seeking to enact laws that will make a criminal of anyone who threatens to impede the monopoly that his industry, unique among all, must be permitted to maintain. Today we hear from Good Valenti, the guy who happily leads the cheers for his constituents, which is basically his job. According to a story by MSNBC, Good Valenti is delighted to report that Hollywood raked in record revenues on the domestic market in 2001. Theater admissions were the highest since 1959, we're told; and revenues are higher than ever in human history. An incredible eighty-two per cent of moviegoers attended at least twelve films, one a month, last year. Production costs per flick have fallen from $54.8 million in 2000 to $47.7 in 2001. And there are fewer screens in operation, meaning better margins for theater operators. 2001's US box office receipts added up to a staggering $8.41 billion American. And there's more: licensing fees on cable and broadcast TV, video and DVD sales and rentals, and of course the foreign markets for all that as well, will have added a gargantuan pile of cash on top. But all this is in direct contradiction to assertions Evil Valenti has made under oath before Congress on scores of occasions, most recently during a Congressional love-in last week. "Only two in ten films ever retrieve their production and marketing investment from domestic theatrical exhibition," Evil Valenti whined in a recent op-ed piece for the Washington Post. Surely this is inconsistent with the rosy financial picture Good Valenti has been disseminating. So clearly we must have two different people here, or a schizophrenic, or a case of demonic possession. Or all three. ®
Hewlett-Packard has refreshed its entry level Unix servers with latest PA-8700 processor popped into the one and two-way UNIX boxes. The entry-level HP Servers rp2430 and rp2470 are designed for Internet applications and are pitched towards the branch offices of large enterprises, telcos and medium companies. The 2U servers cost from $1,000 and upwards, which HP reckons compares favourably with entry-level servers from Sun, while delivering supposedly superior performance. HP's rp2470 recorded a SPECint_base2000 of 570, compared with the 470 mark reached by Sun 280R boxes, HP says Last September, HP revamped its midrange rp8400 with the PA8700, and in November the one-to-four way rp5400 servers got the treatment. Yesterday marked the turn of its entry level boxes to get an upgrade. The HP Server rp2430 replaces the A400 and the HP Server rp2470 replaces the A500. Both systems can be ordered now. ® Related Stories HP touts advances in self-healing to trump IBM HP adds 8700 to low-end Unix kit HP parades the PA-RISC 8700 HP fills out in the mid-range
Mobile Internet services will debut in Germany by the end of April after a licensing deal between NTT DoCoMo and German mobile operator E-Plus Mobifunk. Under a ten-year licensing pact, NTT DoCoMo will provide E-Plus with the patents, service know-how, and technologies needed to launch the service, initially on the Global Packet Radio Service (GPRS) network and later on third-generation (3G) mobile networks. Subscribers to the service will be offered a variety of mobile internet applications and content, such as travel information, games, weather, restaurant guides, maps, polyphonic ringing tones, pictures and more. Cellular phones will be equipped with dual browsers so as to be able to view i-mode-compatible HTML and WML (Wireless Markup Language) 1.X. E-Plus, a subsidiary of the KPN Mobile, has 7.5 million subscribers (according to figures from the end of last year). i-mode products were due to arrive as the fruits of a joint venture between NTT DoCoMo and KPN Mobile last year, however their introduction was delayed. Reasons for the hold up were variously given as the protracted roll-out of GPRS services in Europe or, according to Japanese reports, KPN's financial problems. Now that i-mode has come over the horizon, as well as Germany KPN subsidiaries in Holland and Belgium are due to launch services, its progress in Europe will be keenly watched. Although massively popular in its native Japan, financial analysts have questioned the profitability of i-mode services there. ® Related Stories SlowCoMo delays i-Mode - Europe yawns Euro i-Mode delayed i-Mode to roam into US, Europe Q3 2001 World's first 3G network live today DoCoMo's i-mode enjoys 20-fold sales leap Why Java on DoCoMo could be very SlowCoMo
The Handspring Treo, a combined phone, Palm OS organiser, wireless web browser, SMS & email device, has arrived in the UK. The Treo is available in the UK from BT Cellnet at £299 including VAT, or without connection at £499 (including VAT). If you live in other European countries, you can buy one for euro 699 (excluding tax). Here's what we wrote about the Treo when it announced, back in October: The Treo actually emerged in September when the US Federal Communications Commission posted details of the device on its Web site. That was part of Handspring's attempt to gain FCC approval for the device. The Treo is substantially the same as the prototype posted by the FCC but pulled soon after at Handspring's request. Two versions will be offered, one (the Treo 180) with a tiny RIM Blackberry-style keyboard, the other (the Treo 180g) with a standard Graffiti text entry pad. Handspring staffers reckon the keyboard version will outsell the more traditional PDA data-entry system. Both will cost $399 with a cellular network access package or $549 on its own. The device integrates a 16MB Palm OS-based PDA with a dual-band (900MHz and 1900MHz; or 900/1800MHz for the European market) GSM phone. Expect the Treo to be upgraded to support GPRS at some point in the future, for always-on Net access. In the UK, Cellnet already has GPRS, so it's feasible the GPRS version could appear over here sooner. The PDA side of the rig will run Palm OS 3.5.2 on a 33MHz Dragonball VZ processor. The screen is 16-greyscale monochrome, but Handspring says there's a colour version in the works. Bundled apps include email; Handspring's Web browser, Blazer; and an SMS utility. The hardware includes what Handspring calls a "Jog Rocker", but is essentially Sony's Jog Dial controller. Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery, but we wonder how long it will take Sony to become sufficiently annoyed at the cloners and takes action. Just as soon as the patent applications come through, we guess. ® External links Handspring Treo tech spec Press release on handspring mm02 deal Related stories mmO2 enlists Microsoft and Handspring to wireless data cause Handspring Treo smartphones give Graffiti the thumbs down Palm, Handspring wireless PDAs debut on WebPalm revs wireless plans with TI deal Pogo bounces onto Carphone Warehouse shelves Steve Wozniak's smartphone adventure>