24th > June > 2002 Archive

MS to micro-manage your computer

A recent MSNBC article by techno-pundit Steven Levy discusses Microsoft's plans for a new computer operating environment (code-named "Palladium") that links hardware, software, and data into a neat package, allegedly more secure and convenient for users. Or, putting it in simpler terms, it's Microsoft's answer to fixing everything that's wrong with computing today. According to Levy, Palladium is a hardware and software combination that will supposedly seal information from attackers, block viruses and worms, eliminate spam, and allow users to control their personal information even after it leaves their computer. It will also implement Digital Rights Management (DRM) for movies and music to allow users to exercise 'fair use' rights of such products. Palladium will essentially create a proprietary computing environment where Microsoft is the trusted gatekeeper, guard, watchstander, and ruler of all it surveys, thus turning the majority of computing users into unwilling corporate serfs and subjects of the Redmond Regime. Isn't it ironic that the company responsible for nearly every major computer security problem, virus, and backdoor -- thanks to its poor software development and testing among other factors -- is now heralding its ability to make everything right in a stroke? One might sense this is a manufactured problem resulting from Microsoft's inability to develop effective software in the first place. As is commonly known, the single most significant factor contributing to the dismal state of today's internet security is Microsoft's complacency, rather than hackers, crackers, and pirates. As I mentioned in an earlier article, we're vulnerable because Microsoft makes it so damn easy for the bad guys to cause mischief. (It's also a result of lazy or incompetent system administrators, poor network design, and clueless executives and Congressfolk, but that's another essay.) Contrary to Levy's fear-mongering remarks and naively positive spin on the need for Palladium to protect us, the Internet is not all evil. In fact, the Internet is safer than many parts of our physical world. It does, however, represent an evolution in social control, something that evokes fear in the hearts of established entities of such control: corporations, media, and governments. Hence the desire to trump up any number of reasons -- real or perceived -- to beguile the public and garner support for ways to maintain social control and profit margins at once. This technical tool of social control follows on the heels of the CBDTPA, TCPA, and DMCA, and other controversial legislative efforts. As such, Levy's article is full of sensational soundbytes, including one particularly fear-mongering paragraph: "An endless roster of security holes allows cyber-thieves to fill up their buffers with credit-card numbers and corporate secrets. It's easier to vandalize a Web site than to program a remote control. Entertainment moguls boil in their hot tubs as movies and music are swapped, gratis, on the Internet. Consumers fret about the loss of privacy. And computer viruses proliferate and mutate faster than they can be named." Vandalizing a website happens most often not because of the skills of the vandal, but rather a combination of poor system administration coupled with notoriously buggy, easily-exploitable Web site software such as Microsoft's Internet Information Server. From what I've seen over the years, you probably don't even need opposable thumbs to break into IIS. Palladium won't help here, but more competent system administrators and much more secure server software (such as Apache or WebStar) most certainly would. Regarding the potential of stealing credit cards numbers, you've got a greater chance of losing your wallet or purse walking around town than a cyber-thief stealing your credit card from a webserver. What people forget in the hype is that despite the immense pain in the ass associated with canceling credit cards and re-authorizing charges on a new one, people are not responsible for losses over $50 provided they promptly report the loss to their credit card issuer. I've had my card stolen on-line, but I haven't run away in terror about the chances it could happen again. Again, Palladium won't be of benefit to me -- my credit card company already protects me and limits my liability. Perhaps the most sinister part of Microsoft's concept (something that Levy glosses over) is that it "stops viruses and worms. Palladium won't run unauthorized programs, so viruses can't trash protected parts of your system." True, Windows-based viruses do proliferate and mutate quickly, but it's because Microsoft products are so interlinked and poorly-configured. If Microsoft would only allow users to display e-mail in plain text, ninety per cent of 'viruses and worms' would be eliminated. Yet to hear Redmond tell it, what we really need is some expensive and Draconian ghost in the machine to break applications of which the company, or its partners, or the government, or Hollywood, disapproves. In short, under the feel-good guise of 'enhanced security' and 'new features for customers' (and despite being found guilty of monopoly), Microsoft still wants to rule all it surveys. In essence, Palladium can be interpreted as Microsoft's attempt to play God. Again. With this announcement, Microsoft competitors and independent programmers should be gearing up for another court case, as this concept reeks of Redmond's historic anti-competitive tactics in the marketplace. Savvy consumers should be very concerned that Palladium will mean that their computers and information are no longer under their positive control but rather under the omnipresent surveillance and enforcement of a third party more interested in turning a profit than empowering their customers to think and act for themselves. The computer will essentially become a tool of surveillance, judgment and control over users, rather than a tool of innovation, communication, and enlightenment. Given the pervasiveness of computers in modern society, the worldwide social ramifications of Palladium are enormous. Consider the ability of one entity -- in this case, Microsoft -- to dictate acceptable behavior and content (remember Smart Tags?) in service of its own commercial aspirations. If your behavior or actions are deemed 'unacceptable' by such a third party, you could find yourself impotent on the global stage. So you'd better toe the party line and be a good little Windows user. Palladium represents a modern 'innovation' which could lead to a Digital Dark Age: a period of innovative stagnation where the majority of the world's computing population will become unwitting subjects and indentured servants to the profiteering desires of the new corporate ruling class, and Microsoft the enforcer. One wonders if Palladium error messages will include a computer-generated audio clip of Bill Gates announcing, "I'm sorry [USERNAME], I'm afraid I can't do that....?" The first step in any revolution is the seizure of the lines of communication to hinder the target population's ability to communicate and exchange information amongst themselves. Palladium has the ability to do just that, and convert the open fabric of the modern computing environment into a closed, proprietary domain under the rule of Redmond. Under the Palladium concept -- despite the marketing spin and hype -- the danger is that you will be asked (though not directly) to pledge allegiance to Microsoft and its dismal record of security and reliability while unwittingly relinquishing your ability to remain an independent person in cyberspace. In essence, you'll go back to the future instead of forward to innovation and enlightenment. Personally, I prefer being the one in charge of my computer and not subordinate to it or its vendors. I also prefer Camelot over Redmond...which goes a long way explaining why I don't run Windows. Thomas C. Greene contributed to this article (and he doesn't run Windows either). © 2002 InfoWarrior.org, all rights reserved.
Richard Forno, 24 Jun 2002

007 Sean Connery in spam a friend for Scotland blooper

Revered Scottish icon Sir Sean Connery* has been fingered by PA for engaging in 'spam a friend' tactics. And we've absolutely no idea why we found this one in Australia, but there you go. Sean, a long-standing and prominent supporter of the Scottish National Party, has been using his not for profit web site, seanconnery.com, to solicit donations for the cause, and regrettably committs the cardinal faux pas of asking donors to pass him email addresses of potentially like-minded friends. Says the donor form: "Above all, right now we need to get the SNP's message to as many people as possible who might also want to give their support. And you almost certainly know some of them! So most importantly, please think of at least one and as many friends as you can who might also like to hear from me. I'll send each a personal email message, saying how grateful I am to you for your help, and inviting them to help in turn in any way they can." Tut. Not, of course, that spam-a-friend techniques are at all unusual when it comes to political parties. We're sure Sean will reform as soon as the error of his ways is pointed out to him. And we hope, also, that the SNP press office submits itself to a short period of re-education as well. The PA report quotes a spokesman as saying: "Sean Connery is a famous supporter of the SNP and it is no surprise that he's looking to encourage people to back independence." Oh dear oh dear. ® * In the pantheon he ranks alongside heroic figures such as Winnie Ewing and Mel Gibson.
John Lettice, 24 Jun 2002

MS UK offers free Windows .NET Server beta eval CDs

Microsoft UK is offering free evaluation CDs of Windows .NET Server beta 3, in Web, Standard, Enterprise and Datacenter flavours. The offer doesn't appear to be valid elsewhere in the world, but according to a discussion thread at Neowin (thanks to Neowin for the tip) the system is at least taking orders from hopeful punters elsewhere in the world. We suspect, however, that the CDs are unlikely to actually arrive at destinations outside the UK. Historically Microsoft has tended to offer beta software for the great mass of users when the product is getting near done and dusted, the theory - we surmise with some certainty - that getting time-expiring betas into the hands of large numbers of people is both a cheap marketing tool and a way to build mailing lists for future marketing exercises. So if Microsoft UK is going for it, maybe other Microsoft territories are poised to go with the offer as well. On the other hand, while it might make some sense to try to get large numbers of people interested in WinXP or Office XP, so they'll maybe buy it when the beta times out, .Net Server doesn't seem quite the same thing. Large companies interested in the software will already be evaluating it anyway, and a wider trawl will surely .NET large numbers of people who couldn't afford to buy it and don't have a rational need for it anyway. But who are we to look a gift horse in the mouth? The sign-up page is here (Passport required, but just sign up for a new one then forget all the details and never use it again - that's what we always do). You'll note, also, that MS UK has quite a nice range of eval software available. What nice people. ®
John Lettice, 24 Jun 2002

RIRs seek distance from ICANN

The Internet Corp for Assigned Names and Numbers will meet in Bucharest, Romania this week for discussions that could ultimately decide whether the domain name system manager lives or dies. But even as a committee set up to address reform of the troubled organization published its first concrete recommendations, a key interest group looked to be distancing itself from ICANN, Kevin Murphy writes. The Committee on Evolution and Reform published a "blueprint" for a reformed ICANN, which ICANN participants and the board will discuss in Bucharest. It is based largely on recommendations the same committee published May 31, calling for increased participation from international domain managers, and a new method of selecting board members, among other measures. While almost everybody agrees ICANN needs to change, the recommendations were not universally well received. Even some bodies with historically friendly relations came out against some measures. The three Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) that are responsible for allocating IP addresses to internet service providers have for the most part had congenial relationships with ICANN, which is in turn responsible for allocating number blocks to the RIRs. The RIRs are the ARIN (North America), APNIC (Asia Pacific) and RIPE NCC (Europe). The friendly terms between the three RIRs and ICANN have been stretched somewhat since ICANN CEO Stuart Lynn proposed reforms to the organization in February. In April, the RIRs announced that they had come to agreement on the terms of a draft contract with ICANN that would set in writing what has so far been an informal relationship. But the RIRs warned that the Lynn proposals "could have a material effect" on the signing of a final contract, and in a document published last week, the RIRs tried to distance themselves still further from ICANN. "The RIRs would propose that the relationship between the RIRs and ICANN be rephrased..." the three bodies said in a joint statement. "Given the discussion about ICANN reform the future of ICANN is by no means assured, and it is essential that we can ensure that the internet and its associated infrastructure service roles should continue to function even if ICANN fails." The reform recommendations suggest the creation of a technical advisory committee (TAC) to coordinate issues such as address allocation, and to mandate board approval of policies concerning IP address issues. The RIRs believe that the recommendations would create extra levels of unnecessary bureaucracy and would take more decision-making power away from them. In fact, the main thrust of the RIRs' recommendations is the delegation of more power to the RIRs, away from ICANN. They want to "assume greater levels of responsibility for operational roles that are currently shared between the RIRs and ICANN," according to their statement. That the RIRs may want to distance themselves from ICANN is not entirely surprising. Everybody up to and including CEO Lynn and several US Congressmen has questioned ICANN's long-term survival in recent months. In a recent Senate hearing, the Department of Commerce executive responsible for ICANN's relations with the US government, from which it derives its power, declined to guarantee ICANN's contract will be renewed when it expires in September. Renewing this so-called contract seems highly contingent on a successful outcome of the reform process that should finally see some movement in Bucharest this week. © ComputerWire
ComputerWire, 24 Jun 2002

France Telecom nears MobilCom victory

France Telecom SA was poised for victory in the battle for control of German wireless operator MobilCom AG on Friday when CEO Gerhard Schmid cleared his office at the company's Buedelsdorf headquarters. His departure was a condition for a syndicate of 17 banks offering the company a 4.7bn euros ($4.6bn) lifeline. But though France Telecom representative Eric Bouvier left an executive board meeting Friday, saying: "Everything is solved", the difficulties are just beginning for the debt-laden French incumbent. At some stage it will have to negotiate with Schmid to buy his holding of close on 50% in the company. MobilCom stock has been trading strongly at 9.15 euros ($8.8) in anticipation of a deal and while France Telecom is believed to be ready to bid around the 10 euros ($9.71) level, sources close to Schmid suggests it would have to be around the 17 euros ($16.51) level. To add to the anguish at the company's Paris headquarters, Schmid has hinted strongly that he would be interested in running another mobile phone venture and Viag, the loss-making German arm of UK operator mmo2 plc, could well be a target. Thus any payment made to Schmid could add to competition that MobilCom will face in the French market. With its huge debt problems, France Telecom would hope to pay for MobilCom shares with those from its Orange SA subsidiary, though these are currently languishing at 5.13 ($4.98) euros, after an IPO at 10 euros ($9.71) last year. Under its deal with the banks, France Telecom is offering to swap the 4.7bn euros ($4.6bn) in MobilCom debt for a 4.2bn euro ($4.1bn) bond, convertible into its own shares. While anxious for Orange to have a presence in Europe's biggest market, MobilCom has caused nothing but problems for France Telecom since it acquired a 28.5% stake. It began its feud with Schmid when it objected to providing the finance for the roll-out of 3G services, a bill that could have topped at least $2.5bn. © ComputerWire
ComputerWire, 24 Jun 2002

CMGI-Engage marriage annulled

CMGI Inc has pulled out of its bid to take full control of Engage Inc, its majority-owned online advertising subsidiary, after disagreements about which direction to take the firm. As a result, CMGI's chairman and CEO have both resigned from Engage's board. May 21, CMGI announced its intention to acquire the 24.5% of Engage it does not already own, via an offer of 0.2286 CMGI shares for every outstanding Engage share, representing a premium of about 20% on the previous day's closing price. "During the last month since we made the proposal, senior management of Engage and CMGI could not reach consensus as to the execution of the business strategy for Engage," said CMGI CFO Thomas Oberdorf. "As a result, CMGI has decided to withdraw its proposal." George McMillan, CMGI's CEO, and David Wetherell, CMGI's chairman and former CEO, have both resigned from Engage's board of directors as a result of the falling out. Both companies recently reported disappointing third fiscal quarter numbers, posting big net losses on sales that continue to slide. © ComputerWireTM
ComputerWire, 24 Jun 2002

HP boosts Superdome performance

Hewlett Packard Co will today announce that it has cranked up the clock speed on the PA-RISC 8700 processors used in its top end Superdome Unix servers. The new PA-8700+ processors run at 875MHz, a 17% increase in clock speed over the 750MHz PA-8700s currently used throughout the former HP 9000 Unix server line. Vish Mulchand, product line marketing manager for high-end servers at HP's Business Critical Systems unit, says that the new PA-8700+ chips use a 0.18 micron copper/SOI process that allows the HP-8700 core and on-chip L1 cache memory (which is a hefty 2.25MB) to be shrunk enough to crank up the clock. He says that the PA-8700+ is coming to market about four weeks ahead of schedule. The PA-8700 and PA-8700+ chips are designed by HP, like all prior generations of Precision Architecture chips, but these two generations of chips were actually manufactured by IBM Corp's Microelectronics Division. The 875MHz PA-8700+ processors are available immediately for Superdome servers in 16-way, 32-way, or 64-way configurations. Customers with Superdome servers can mix and match 650MHz PA-8600, 750MHz PA-8700, and 875MHz PA-8700+ processors all within a single system; however they must isolate different processor speeds within physical partitions on the Superdome. The faster Superdome PA-8700+ processors are available at the same price as the prior PA-8700 processors, at $23,000 a piece. HP is expected to cut the price on the 750MHz PA-8700 processors by 7.5% in conjunction with this announcement. Mulchand says that within the next two months or so, HP expects that about 90% of its new Superdome sales will use these faster processors, and that many existing Superdome customers will chose to mix and match these new processors with their old ones. He says that about half of the Superdome installed base engages in this practice because of the investment protection it affords. Within the next couple of months, HP will work the PA-8700+ into its rp Series midrange servers, its entry servers, and its workstations, very likely working from the top of the product line down. The impending PA-8700+ announcement was obviously, as we conjectured at the time, what HP was talking about when it said a few weeks ago that it would soon be able to beat IBM's benchmark results on the TPC-C online transaction processing benchmark with its 32-way pSeries 690 "Regatta" server. That machine was able to process over 400,000 transactions per minute on the test, and sources at HP said that within 60 days it would be able to beat IBM's performance on the test by around 20%, hitting around 480,000 TPM. © ComputerWire
ComputerWire, 24 Jun 2002

EMC's careful words do Brocade no favours

Exactly what EMC Corp thinks of the first high-end SAN switching from Brocade Communications Systems Inc is not clear, possibly because the company itself has yet to decide, Tim Stammers writes. But by releasing the product under a staged qualification program, it may have inadvertently undermined what limited confidence there is in the flagship product launched by Brocade last month. EMC has begun selling a re-badged version of the Brocade device. Called the Silkworm 12000, the device is critical to Brocade's long-term survival. But echoing previous negative judgements of the 12000, EMC is requiring customers to sign a letter confirming that they understand that the device has not yet been fully qualified, and is "strongly" advising that it be used only in dual, redundant networks. A confidential EMC document issued earlier this month and seen by ComputerWire appears to require EMC's sales staff to free the company from any product liability and to make absolutely certain customers know what they are buying. "Before an order can be processed, your customer must sign a letter that describes the product's initial release," the EMC document says. The 12000 is the first high-end, notionally high-availability, product from Brocade Communications Systems Inc. IBM, which is also selling a re-badged version of the device, last month warned its channel not to describe the device as a high-end high-availablity product, for fear of creating a "customer satisfaction situation." IBM told its channel that the device is certainly not such a product and should therefore only be used in networks protected with dual redundant fabrics. The use of dual SAN fabrics, or redundant networks is becoming widespread, and is already recommended by the incumbent high-end director-class SAN switching hardware suppliers McData Corp, and Inrange Technologies Inc. But given the hot-swappable, redundant components built into high-end SAN switches in order to provide high availability, this can be considered as belt and braces advice for critical and high-end systems, and not necessarily all applications. EMC said that it too recommends dual fabrics to customers, regardless of what SAN switching hardware they are using, but said that for the Brocade device it had stepped up the level of the advice to "highly" and "strongly" advised. "In this case we're taking it a step further, because we haven't qualified the switch for every possible environment," a spokesman for EMC said. EMC is completing a "staged roll out" of its Connetrix ED-12000B - the rebadged Silkworm 12000 - in order 'to satisfy customer demand and to provide customers with the opportunity to test this product in their own networks." This involves stage-by-stage qualification of the product, a process which EMC has rarely used before for other OEM or third-party products. "We're still testing a variety of things. Switches involve the most complex and intense qualification tests," the spokesman said. EMC hopes to complete qualification of the 12000 by the third quarter. The EMC document shows that as yet EMC has not qualified the use of ISL links between the 12000 and other Brocade devices, or the use of its own ESN Manager version 2.0 to control zoning and discovery on the switch. Brocade declined to comment. © ComputerWire
ComputerWire, 24 Jun 2002

Red Hat: one of our Operating Systems is missing

Red Hat has axed its "other" operating system eCos, which formerly belonged to Cygnus, and there's an analysis of why at Rick Lehrbaum's LinuxDevices site. Scooter actually scooped this here for CNET, but as is the way with CNET scoops, it was buried in Paragraph 13, and so no one noticed. CNET reported that Red Hat had laid off its eCos development team in England and cancelled the project . And I didn't notice, because on doctor's orders, I'm instructed not to read CNET in case I catch sight of headlines like this, [or this] which bring me out in a rash and which in extreme cases can cause temporary loss of vision, nausea and vomiting. Red Hat's Michael Tiemann explains:- "If Linux is truly going to revolutionize the embedded systems market, it's going to do so on its own terms, and the embedded systems market needs to adapt to those terms, not the other way around." A remark overloaded with importance, as anyone who's followed the RTLinux patent dispute will know. But it also suggests that eCos won't be returning anytime soon. However, eCos lives on in the marketing afterlife: there's no announcement in the Bereavement Column yet, it's still hanging around like a ghost in Red Hat's 'Embedded Glossary', too. Bootnote: "Should I lie with death my bride?" The eCos announcement was made by Red Hat's COO, one Tim Buckley. Here's a spine chilling video of Tim Buckley singing Song To The Siren on The Monkees' TV Show. Pleeeease don't all hit this link at once, dear readers] ® Related Story Red Hat pitches open source mobile phone OS
Andrew Orlowski, 24 Jun 2002

MS DRM OS, retagged ‘secure OS’ to ship with Longhorn?

The Microsoft Secure PC project is rolling out, and could be with us as early as the next major version of Windows, Longhorn. The whole idea of a computer that just plain won't let you steal other people's stuff is of course a tricky one (why would you buy it?), as we've previously indicated here, and here, so the ever-resourceful Beast is proposing to spin it as the ultimate tool for protecting your stuff. Starting with a Newsweek exclusive which wonderfully quotes His Billness as saying: "It’s a funny thing, we came at this thinking about music, but then we realized that e-mail and documents were far more interesting domains." Which is cute, because it suggests that Microsoft's original plans to produce a secure PC that will protect the music companies' stuff from us have been spiked in favour of something much more positive and progressive. The Newsweek piece claims that although the researchers came at the project from a DRM angle they "quickly understood that the problems of intellectual property were linked to problems of security and privacy," and that therefore it had far wider applicability. Their early understanding of this in an alleged "skunkworks" project commenced in 1997 however is somewhat questionable, considering Microsoft Research published a piece in 2001 saying that researcher Paul "England has a bold plan to improve the PC and make it a secure delivery system for audio and video... making minor modifications to the PC's hardware to allow Microsoft to make a secure version of the Windows Media Player." The Microsoft patent claim application granted last December is also for a digital rights management operating system, although here we do see clear indications of what it can do other than keep music moguls in coke: "a computerized method for a digital rights management operating system comprising: assuming a trusted identity; executing a trusted application; loading rights-managed data into memory for access by the trusted application; and protecting the rights-managed data from access by an untrusted program while the trusted application is executing." The Newsweek exclusive has, as we said earlier, been deliberately planted in order to prepare the way for the DRM OS, but it nevertheless contains many useful nuggets which we'd do well to consider before Microsoft attempts to build up unstoppable momentum behind the secure Windows you can't afford not to buy. First, the project, called Palladium, has at least a hardware component. Intel and AMD have both been recruited to build the security into their chips, and while we can probably expect some more spinning on this, the mods will probably be relatively minor. As England said in his paper last year, it involves "minor modifications to the PC's hardware." As we understood it the original plan was to nobble the sound card rather than the whole machine, so we can see development here. It's also worth noting that: "Intel originally turned down the idea before eventually embracing it. AMD had already been thinking along similar lines, and eagerly signed on." Which looks a little like Microsoft playing the old chippledum and chippledee game to its advantage again. Newsweek provides us with helpful bullet points on the uses and applications of Palladium; we can infer a fair bit from these, and we very sportingly won't move the order around so DRM is at the top. First, it knows who you are (we don't know how, but as it's a 2004 timeframe product, we can surmise), and it knows who you're dealing with, so it verifies the origin of incomings, and decides what is allowed to run on your computer (No, we know this is DRM, but we haven't moved it up, honest). There will almost certainly be an ID in the chip, and the 'what can run' question is rather broader than you might expect. "Only certain applications will access the part of Windows (nicknamed 'the nub') that performs Palladium’s functions with the help of the security chip - everything else will work exactly the same." Which implies a new generation of trusted Palladium applications, and "Microsoft expects a flood of Palladium-savvy applications and services to spring up" rather confirms that. The trusted application idea also applies to viruses and worms, of course, but it's not clear how Palladium will differentiate between the new generation of "trusted Palladium applications" and plain old 'not-a-worm really' applications. Maybe it won't, maybe in the long run the latter just won't run. Encryption capabilities add to the picture, encrypting data moving from keyboard to computer and computer to screen, and of course computer to sound card output, but we don't mention that, for some reason. Encryption also appears to be standard on locally stored stuff Palladium also: "Cans spam. Eventually, commercial pitches for recycled printer cartridges and barnyard porn can be stopped before they hit your inbox - while unsolicited mail that you might want to see can arrive if it has credentials that meet your standards." This is a tricky one, as it implies a widescale certification process for email. It could work if it were possible to know absolutely that everybody in front of a computer was who they said they were, and to know where they lived, but we'll get back to that. "Safeguards privacy." We have what looks like another crack at the services model here, with MS proposing a collection of services currently tagged "My Man." These are intended to operate as agents sending out information about you to the people you want to receive it, and encrypting it along the way. So "If you apply for a loan, you’d say to the lender, 'Get my details from My Man,' which, upon your authorization, would then provide your bank information, etc." Bad example, we reckon. If you have to send all of the information you'd ordinarily put on a loan form the vipers will know practically everything about you anyway, and given that you have no choice, automation will probably lead to them squeezing even more data out of you. Plus you can't lie, because all of that data's been verified - crumbs, there go the credit cards... "Controls your information after you send it." Yes folks, here it comes, DRM - we've softened the bullet point head, but accidentally got onto the record companies in the next sentence. But they've evolved: Palladium "could allow users to exercise 'fair use' (like making personal copies of a CD) and publishers could at least start releasing works that cut a compromise between free and locked-down." We're not entirely sure we know these record companies, but they're clearly not related to the ones who're trying to stop you playing your music CDs on your PC, copying your CDs at all, and salivating at the prospect of time-limited/per play rental arrangements. More softening of the impact. The first generation of Palladium installations will allegedly be at the business end of the scale, "financial services, health care and government," where security is important, and Jim Allchin says he'd "have a hard time imagining that businesses wouldn’t want this." Certainly, it fits in nicely with Microsoft's current determination to reshape itself as a prime vendor of Trustworthy Computing, and it can be worked up into a sales pitch to counteract all that Windows security bad news in government and business. But there's just a tad of dissonance here. If the system's ability to identify other trusted systems is dependent on those other systems being Palladium systems, then it doesn't altogether work if practically everybody doesn't have it. So MS VP Will Poole's contrary claim that: "We have to ship 100 million of these before it really makes a difference" is significant. Given the way Microsoft ordinarily ships 100 million of whatever it wants to ship, we'd expect the company to continue thumping the security and privacy tubs for all they're worth, to start rolling it out around Longhorn time, and to evolve towards making it, and the chips, virtually compulsory through the good offices of Intel, AMD and the major PC companies. This will only work if the publicity campaign to reposition DRM as A Good Thing convinces the users, and that's by no means a given. We haven't even got on to the trustworthiness of the people who'll be keeping custody of your secure digital identity, for starters. Not yet... ® Related stories: MS to micro-manage your computer Unrelated Palladiums: The Beatles at the London Palladium
John Lettice, 24 Jun 2002

BT slips out BTOpenzone hotspots

BT has unveiled the first wireless "hotspots" ahead of the commercial launch of its Public Access Wireless LAN network later in the summer. The hotspots - dubbed "BTOpenzones" - give people broadband access on the move. The first BTOpenzones are at the Heathrow Hilton, BT Centre in London and the company's development centre at Adastral Park, Suffolk. It's also lined up deals with the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent and Earl's Court Olympia in London. Discussions are also underway to trial the service at the Travel Inn in Euston, London. BT plans to have up to 20 hotspots working by August 1, the date of the service's commercial launch. Around 70 should be in place by the end of the year with 400 hotspots dotted around the country by this time next year. By June 2005 BT hopes to have created some 4,000 hotspots. Pricing for the service has yet to be finalised, but it looks like full on, unmetered access is going to set back punters around £95 (+VAT) a month. A pay-as-you-go pricing plan is likely to cost around 10p (+VAT) a minute. There is also an option of paying a one-off fee in return for unlimited usage over a fixed number of hours. BT and Motorola are currently trialling the service although the telco says it already has some corporate customers interested in the service. ® Related Story BT to intro public 802.11 WLANs in UK
Tim Richardson, 24 Jun 2002

One.Tel goes mobile

One.Tel - the fixed line discount telco - has teamed up with Vodafone to enter the mobile phone market. Promising low prices, line rental for the service costs £4.99 a month - around 60 per cent cheaper than average line rental charges from other operators. Unlike other services, there are no inclusive calls provided with this tariff. Calls cost from between 3p to 25p a minute. One.Tel - part of Centrica - reckons punters can save up to £100 a year compared to other service providers. One.Tel's new mobile phone service also allows for up to five phones on one account, at an extra cost of just £2.99 per additional line. ®
Tim Richardson, 24 Jun 2002

Intel launches 2GHz P4-M

Intel today launched a 2GHz version of the Pentium 4-M, its fastest mobile CPU to date. But it ain't cheap, priced at $637 for 1,000 units. The new 1.9GHz P4-M is a bit pricey too, tipping up at $401 in OEM quantities. So it'll be a little while before either chip hits the mainstream - but maybe not too long the way Intel is managing production ramps right now. Also a 2.2GHz P4-M is scheduled for Q4, which will mean price cuts down the line to pave way for the new model. Intel's mobile P4s for the mainstream are the 1.5GHz now costs $170, the 1.4GHz and 1.33GHz flavours cost $149 and $134. Intel is competing against AMD for the mass market space - and also itself. The desktop replacement brick-type budget notebooks which have taken the consumer market by storm, especially in the US, often deploy cheaper, but heavier power-consuming desktop P4s. Intel reckons the market will swing to ultra-thin, ultra light notebooks, but calculations have been knocked skew-whiff by a: the unexpected surge in fat and cheap sales and b: the unexpected weakness in the corporate market, which will pay top dollar for top notebooks. One day, forecasts and actuality will re-align; the ultra-thins, containing high-performance mobile P4s or Athlons will rule the notebook world. But not yet. ®
Drew Cullen, 24 Jun 2002

Mysteries of the CDRW back ups revealed

There's a war going on between digital rights owners and software 'pirates', and the biggest flashpoint is the humble CDRW drive. There are perfectly innocent uses for copying software - and that's for back-up. Unfortunately, plug and go it ain't. Currently there are at least 25 different data CD protection schemes, and maybe five production schemese for audio CDs. But these formats are going right to the edge and beyond of Orange Book and Red Book CD industry standards. This can mean compatibility problems and degradation of playing quality, as Tom's Hardware's David Stellnack points out. "In some cases, if your CD-ROM/ DVD-ROM drive is having difficulty reading a certain copy-protected title, you may have to go to the extreme of "flashing" the firmware in your reader to get that title to function correctly. (Provided, of course, that your drive manufacturer is aware of the compatibility problem and has addressed it through an available firmware upgrade, which isn't always the case.) Don't look for the software publishers to lend a sympathetic ear, either, as most of them believe that they have done as much as they can to make their title compatible with the widest variety of CD-ROM/ DVD-ROM drives." Stellnack put four CDRW drives through their paces, attempting to produce back-ups of four CDs incorporating copy protection. THG's tests show that that the right combination of hardware and software is needed to complete this mundane task. It's a good overview of the pitfalls created by copy protection: check it out. ®
Drew Cullen, 24 Jun 2002

Thus close to broadband legal action

Thus has declined to comment on reports that it is on the verge of launching legal action in a bid to see tighter regulation of BT. According to the Sunday Telegraph, the telco wants Oftel to investigate BT's pricing for broadband because it believes it has been acting anti-competitively. If the action - which could be kicked off this week - proved successful it would open the door for Thus to sue BT for lost revenues. Almost two weeks ago The Register reported that Thus - and other leading Internet operators - was considering seeking a judicial review to examine what it describes as BT's alleged abuse of its dominant market position for broadband. At the time there was some debate as to the exact nature of the challenge but it's understood that it would focus on allegations of unfair competition concerning BT's provision of broadband services. Thus - along with other operators including Freeserve and Tiscali - have been talking for some time about ways to combat what they regard as BT's dominant position. They believe that telecoms regulator Oftel has gone soft on BT, allowing it to exploit its dominant position. ® Related Story ISPs mull BT broadband court battle
Tim Richardson, 24 Jun 2002

Armed robbers hijack Evesham lorry

Armed robbers hijacked an Amtrak lorry containing approx. 300 Evesham PCs, late Friday afternoon. The driver was held-up at gunpoint at Tewkesbury, Gloucester, near the M5 turnover. He was kidnapped and bundled into the back of a car, then driven down the M5. He was released badly shaken, but not hurt. All the PCs were destined for customers (as opposed to showrooms), except one: a review machine for PC Format. The robbers will have varying degrees of difficulty disposing the Evesham kit. The monitors are unbadged, the notebooks have removable badges, but the desktops have the Evesham logo printed on the box. ®
Drew Cullen, 24 Jun 2002

Orange sees red over price regulation

Orange is threatening to claw back investment in 3G technology if regulatory proposals to cut the cost of making calls to other mobile networks go ahead. Last year, Oftel proposed that call termination charges should be reduced by 12 per cent less than the rate of inflation for the next four years. Mobile operators objected to the scheme and in January the Competition Commission was asked to adjudicate. The Commission is due to report its findings next month. Ahead of the ruling, Orange has criticised Oftel intervention in one of the few profitable areas of its business. It warned it might be forced to scale back investment in 3G, which promises high-speed Internet access from mobile phones, if its profits are cut. 'You will not see any immediate move, but you could see a slowdown in our {3G] roll out plans. Our licence commits us to covering 80 per cent of the population in five years' time, but to reach that you don't need to cover much of the country. You could see the opening up of a digital divide,' Peter Dunn, the director of regulatory strategy at Orange, told The Observer. A spokeswoman for Oftel said calls between mobiles incur charges "significantly above costs" hence the need for charge controls. She denied allegations that the mobile market was over regulated and said Oftel would withdraw from imposing charge controls if the market was competitive. ® Related stories: MMO2 slips open 3G price kimono Orange tops mobey ops list Operators squeeze 3G suppliers
John Leyden, 24 Jun 2002

NEC crowned supercomputer king (again)

NEC is top of the supercomputer tree, with its Earth Simulator offically overtaking IBM's ASCI White nuclear bomb simulator in the TOP500. This is not exactly a surprise: the emphasis is "officially. For the NEC Earth Simulator was first named fastest, biggest, tinnest on the planet, in April. However, the TOP500 supercomputer league table is updated only every six months, so it's had to wait until now for the enthronement. Anything else newsworthy? Ah, yes, AMD has sent us a press release with the curious headline: AMD ATHLON(tm) MP PROCESSORS DRIVE MOST POWERFUL X86 CLUSTER SUPERCOMPUTERS IN EUROPE AND ASIA Is it just us, or does this contain more spin than a spinning thing in spinning lane in spinning land? The real news point is that AMD-cluster machines occupy two places, at 35 and 47, in the TOP50 for the first time. This is a significant advance for the company which made its first entry into the TOP500 - at 437 with a bullet - only in July 2001. But there's a way to go, yet. Five of the TOP10 systems are from IBM, 3 from HP, and one from NEC, and Intel (ASCI Red). IBM occupies most slots in the latest Top500, with 33.3 per cent of "installed Linpack performance", Hewlett-Packard Co is second with 22.2 per cent and NEC is third with 19 per cent. HP is, post-Compaq, the leader in terms of numbers of installations with 168 systems, against IBM's 160. ® Related stories NEC captures supercomputing crown World's fastest supercomputer goes down a bomb AMD cluster sneaks in Supercomputer top 500 list
Drew Cullen, 24 Jun 2002

Lotus Domino goes spam busting

The latest IBM Lotus Domino 6 software is to include anti-spam features in a bid to give administrators more control in weeding out junk email. Since the anti-spam technology is located on the server, the developers claim it will enable administrators to delete spam before it gets to the recipient. Those behind the product also claim it could lead to lower administration and maintenance costs. Features of the new software include increased support for administrators to control emails from certain mailing lists, plus "system mail rules" which enable administrators to filter mail based on content. It's estimated that as much as 10 per cent of email received by employees at work is spam. This figure is expected to double in the next five years. Said Lotus' Ken Bisconti: "The average e-mail user receives approximately 1,500 pieces of spam yearly and our commitment is to block the majority of unwanted e-mails from harrowed users' inboxes." ®
Tim Richardson, 24 Jun 2002

Power 4 the People

Server briefingServer briefing IBM's attempt to re-capture the Unix server market continues apace. Having fallen well behind Sun and HP during the late 1990s, largely thanks to a complicated customer-confusing product line, parts of the business competing with other parts of the business and Sun's aggressive pursuit of the Internet server market, Big Blue modified its approach in October 2000. It rebranded, consolidated and streamlined its product line, and more closely allied itself to the Linux movement. Today, a little more than 18 months on, it's hard to judge the move a success. IBM has come to dominate the Linux market, at least in terms of the money it makes. But its Q1 2002 31.5 per cent share - Gartner Dataquest's figure - arises from shipping the free OS with high ticket items like mainframes. When it comes to who's shipped the most boxes, HP holds the crown, thanks to the Compaq takeover. And in the Unix market, IBM remains in third place, behind Sun and HP, by units and by revenue. But the economic downturn may have muddied the picture - would IBM's strategy have paid off had the server market not as far as it has? Certainly, IBM can't be accused of not trying hard. Last October, a year on from the new strategy's launch, the company launched its latest 64-bit server processor, the 1.3GHz Power4 and quickly won plaudits for the performance of its p690 server, based on the new chip. IBM has called the Power4 a "game changer" and it's clear the chip's main role is as an UltraSparc killer. Power4, based on the PowerPC instruction set architecture and equipped with two processor cores per die (four of which are mounted in each CPU module) has already moved into IBM's mid-range Unix servers and should be installed in low-end boxes by the end of the year, just as Sun has spread the UltraSparc III across its own product line. There are even hints that IBM is ultimately looking to migrate the technology into server blades, but clearly it has a lot of work to do on power consumption first. IBM's aggressive roadmap doesn't stop there. Power4's successor, cunningly called Power5, is scheduled to ship in 2005 and take the chip family to 2GHz and beyond. It will incorporate Fast Path, a technology that will allow the chip to manipulate network traffic directly. Details are sparse, but Fast Path sounds like it could be some kind of SIMD technology geared toward processing IP stack data, a role typically performed in software. However the technology works, it should tie in nicely with InfiniBand high-bandwidth data links. Power5 will also boast simultaneous multi-threading technology along the lines of Intel's Hyper-Threading. This will spilt each physical core into two or more virtual processors to handle multiple instruction threads in parallel. The jury is still out on how much of a difference this kind of approach actually makes (see Hyper-Threading score are hyper-perplexing) but there's potential for some significant performance gains here. Finally, Power5 will bring on board elements of IBM's eLiza self-management and fault-correction technology, allowing the chip to recover from and deal with errors on the fly. Beyond that, Power6 is expected to emerge in 2006, but it remains shrouded in mystery. Will IBM have surpassed Sun by then? Hard to say, but the technology it's bringing to Power, not to mention customer concern over just how (and when) HP is going to transition from PA-Risc/Alpha to Itanium, could yet help Big Blue move up into second place.
Tony Smith, 24 Jun 2002
server room

Cisco to switch prices on July 1

Cisco customers should act now to renegotiate maintenance contracts before the network giant changes its prices on July 1. That's the advice from Gartner which reckons Cisco will increase prices by between five to 10 per cent for older router product families (4500/4700 and 7500) from next month. Maintenance prices for the newer Content Engine family will also go up 20 percent, according to the analyst firm. It's not just a simple price increase, however, with Cisco actually lowering some prices. There will be price reductions of 15 per cent to 35 per cent for Cisco's Software Application Support (SAS) and Software Application Support plus Upgrades (SASU) programs, as well as price adjustments for other products. Gartner advises companies to review their maintenance strategies immediately to ensure costs are as low as possible. "We recommend that Cisco customers extend their maintenance contracts to lock in the old rates, assuming that they can still space out payments over the life of the maintenance contract," said Mark Fabbi, vice president and research director for Gartner. "Remember to negotiate maintenance rates before making any new purchases because this is the only time the enterprise has leverage." Gartner also recommends that companies investigate third-party maintenance offerings for possible savings, even though these contracts mean companies have less control over problem escalation since they are one-step removed from manufacturer support. Gartner believes some companies are probably paying for too much maintenance. "Not all of the enterprise's network may need the highest level of maintenance. Companies should consider reducing coverage for some locations or products to next-business-day levels," Fabbi said. "Older commodity products, in a stable environment that have a simpler software makeup, such as workgroup switches, may not need maintenance coverage at all. Keeping a couple spares may be a more cost-effective approach." ®
John Leyden, 24 Jun 2002

HP trots to 802.11 hot spots

HP today announced a worldwide initiative to supply all the kit for public Wireless LAN hot spots in airports, hotels, restaurants and the like. The firm is to offer a complete set of hardware, software and services to organisations looking to roll out WLAN hot spots. According to Analysys Consulting, the number of 802.11 wireless hot spots in public venues is predicted to grow to 41,000 and reach 21 million users over the next five years. HP's infrastructure solutions combine design, implementation and management capabilities from HP Services, wireless applications and service-enablement and subscription software from key partners and a full range of HP server and access devices. And not so coincidentally, HP has unveiled three new wireless-ready notebooks and a new line of iPAQ Pocket PCs. HP's new wireless-ready notebooks include Compaq Evo, Compaq Presario and HP Pavilion models. The new Compaq Evo and Compaq Presario notebooks incorporate Compaq MultiPort, a wireless module integrated into the notebook. The iPAQ Pocket PC H3900 series features a colour screen for easier viewing of pictures and text, a universal remote control for devices such as televisions and projectors and a secure digital input/output expansion slot for data storage and transfer. ®
John Leyden, 24 Jun 2002

Microsoft's decency Police make random arrests

LettersLetters After we published this story - My name's too rude for MS Passport - you've given us a fascinating insight into the role of the service as an arbiter of public decency. Specifically, into the criteria Hotmail admins employ for accepting user names. Who gets in, and who doesn't? Well, in addition to scanning for offensive strings, some names contain reserved words, or keywords goes the theory. So 'Maillard' is banned because it contains the string 'mail'. Jesse Towner thinks this is why our "vautour" pseudonym was rejected - because it contains 'auto', and why she couldn't register as her surname contains the string 'own'. Then again we heard from a Vautour in Canada who had successfully used her surname - suggesting that there are geographic inconsistencies too. But now things get really confusing. Aaron Stafford discovered that his surname contains a reserved word. ' And reader Sam Haddow couldn't register using his full surname, which is baffling indeed. Danish reader Mads Bahrt was told 'Mads' contained a reserved word. Keith Downer thinks he was declined because of a drugs connotation. Then again, it's remarkable what Passport does accept. From: Tracie L'Slut I read your article about Microsoft Passport, and while I could understand why they might raise a red flag at the name 'Woodcock', can you BELIEVE that they never said a -word- about my uhhh, 'handle'? Amazing isn't it? Funny article, btw - I enjoyed it! Bye for now! Tracie :) Remarkably, we also heard from "Clit Commander" , from "Osama Bin Laden" and "Major Wanker", and even a "Viagra", who are all using Passport accounts with these dubious names. And you have to have some sympathy for Claire Cumming, and all the other legitimate Cummings out there, who can't get Passport accounts. Perhaps I should spell it the old way, Comyn, but I don't see why I should. I'm glad my name means 'Dishonest Sheep Dealer' she writes. Like Claire, Dr Mark O. Stitson, has also been turned down, and we suspect has little chance of gaining admission. Like James Woodcock, reader Katherine Bearcock was quite angry about being declined:- I contacted my sister to find that she had had the same problem. There must be hundreds of people in a similar position with names such as (quick look in the local phone directory) Alcock, Peacock, Cockburn, Cockerill etc etc. The funny thing is that about a year ago I did have a Hotmail account with my surname used as part of my address. Other providers don't seem to have this problem - my parents and I have other accounts with our names included. I realise that MS might not want people to be creating rude email addresses but this checking system seems to be over zealous in some areas and totally lacking in others Which sums it up nicely. On a related note, Phil Payne pointed us to this posting to an IBM mainframe discussion list, which which was flagged as offensive by Bell Helicopter. "It seems to be the word 'bitch', as in 'bitch and moan'," writes Phil. "Which means that this software is merely keyword scanning. You would think that a product with its pretensions would at least employ some kind of AI language model on sentences picked by a keyword scan. It seems very primitive for the money it costs. "Check also the old days - when AOL first started it was impossible to create an account in Scunthorpe. God knows what 'Cockermouth' would have done. To our eternal shame, Bowdler was an Englishman." And completely off-topic: Peter Kopcinski writes to tell us that his wife - Mariola Maria Beresniewicz-Kopcinski - was refused a New Jersey driving license because it was simply too long for them to manage. Maybe they're using an eight+three naming convention? Thanks to all who've written in. There's a serious side, to this. As we report today (here and here) Microsoft's Palladium project promises to :- "Cans spam. Eventually, commercial pitches for recycled printer cartridges and barnyard porn can be stopped before they hit your inbox - while unsolicited mail that you might want to see can arrive if it has credentials that meet your standards." …in the words of the indulgent puff-piece in the current edition of Newsweek. Great idea. But if Passport's random selection criteria are anything to go by, we're not holding our breath. ® More Mail
Andrew Orlowski, 24 Jun 2002