4th > July > 2002 Archive

Ireland joins the flat rate society

Esat could introduce flat-rate Internet access by the end of the summer, ElectricNews.Net has learned. Esat had previously said that it would launch flat-rate, which allows people to be on-line for as long as they like for a single monthly fee, sometime this year but no timeframe was given. Sales representatives in Esat Fusion, however, are now telling callers that the service will be available to customers within the next couple of months. BT, which owns Esat Fusion, is already offering its Openworld flat-rate package to UK customers for STG15.99 (EUR25) per month in the UK. The small size of the Irish market might, however, mean higher charges than that. Peter Evans, Esat's director of products, told ElectricNews.Net that he is hopeful that flat-rate will be available shortly. "We want to be able to offer flat-rate as quickly as possible because consumers and businesses have been calling for it," said Evans. He said that the government and the telecoms regulator are putting increased pressure on the industry to deliver flat-rate products. "Esat has been in discussions with Eircom and the ODTR for the last year and a half regarding the flat-rate interconnection charges that might have to be paid to Eircom. We are hoping that the issue will be resolved shortly and I would like to think Esat will be able to offer flat-rate access to its customers within the next three to four months, if not sooner," commented Evans. A meeting between the ODTR and parties interested in offering flat-rate access is due to take place on 9 July, and it is hoped that pricing structures might be hammered out at this gathering. Irish Internet users groups and business bodies have been calling for the introduction of flat-rate Internet access for years. They believe that it will increase the numbers of Irish people who use the Internet and help establish Ireland as a leading e-commerce hub. Only around a third of people in Ireland use the Internet regularly, which pales in comparison to other countries such as the US where flat-rate access is readily available. However, previous attempts by both Esat and Eircom to introduce flat-rate floundered. The nearest any Irish Internet service provider has come has been Esat, which offered flat-rate access during off-peak times via its Surf No-Limits package. But, the service was cancelled last year due to what Esat said was its "over-use" by certain customers. At the time, the then head of Esat Fusion, Derek Kickham, said that the package was costing Esat too much money, but that the company would be keen to do it again. Over two years ago it appeared that Eircom would introduce flat-rate, but it never materialised. The company has recently said that it will only introduce the service when it is financially viable for it to do so. © ENN. ®
ElectricNews.net, 04 Jul 2002

Grassroots Apple sites cower, close

Here's a funny thing. As in funny peculiar. Apple has never received a more positive coverage in Big Media. The Time cover was extremely generous: but weekly you can read hymns of praise in the Wall Street Journal (we imagine that Apple sends the drooling Mossberg a bib with every piece of review kit) and extensive coverage in the New York Times. Apple-fanciers hold prominent positions on tech sections of Business Week and other regional dailies. But Apple's market share has rarely been lower, at 2.4 per cent of the worldwide PC market. Surely there's a disconnect here? And thanks to the enthusiastic smaller publishers, Apple has a die-hard grassroots support that other companies would love to emulate. Microsoft is just one example of a company that has paid for "astroturf", and more would if they could afford. Apple's grassroots support comes at no cost, This week Apple declared war on its grassroots enthusiasts, by preventing "rumor sites" from attending MacWorld Expo in New York. And one has already responded by shutting-up shop. "My reasons for starting GraphicPower no longer exist," editor-in-chief Scott McCarty tells us. McCarty was refused a Media pass for the Expo. He will be offering the domain for sale, he adds. "If Apple would only learn the intricate dance of dealing with the media -- large and small then they would end up gaining so much more than they lose," writes Nick de Plume at ThinkSecret, who didn't apply for media accreditation. Cultivating the grassroots requires only a little indulgence, and for Apple to hold its breath when faced with what it regards as an odious publication. It's called a free press. Apple should resist the temptation to play a vengeful God - dolling out punishment and rewards - and as Matt Rothenberg advises at eWeek, "Suck it up—and count your blessings." ®
Andrew Orlowski, 04 Jul 2002

EU delves further into .NET Passport

European Union (EU) regulators are not satisfied that Microsoft Corp's .NET Passport complies with data protection law. Regulators have said that while Microsoft has put in place measures to address data protection, elements of .NET Passport require further consideration. Data protection agencies from 15 countries have stopped short of launching a formal investigation. Instead, further research will be undertaken by a sub-group for presentation to EU members later this year. EU politicians have voiced concern in recent weeks that .NET Passport violates data protection rights, by gathering and passing on consumers' information. Microsoft has denied it passes on consumers' information. Furthermore, Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft is one of the few US companies to sign the Safe Harbor framework, to ensure US companies provide "adequate" privacy protection defined by the 1998 Directive on Data Protection. Regulators need more information before any official hearings can begin, but one official said they are "opening a dialogue". Jonathan Bamford, assistant commissioner at the UK's Information Commission, said online authentication is a complex area requiring greater attention. "This is worthy of further investigation because it's a complex area," Bamford said yesterday. Officials will consider a list of "core" data protection issues, Bamford said. These include what information is given to users when personal data is collected, and how affiliated web sites process data in Passport. Bamford insisted regulators are not "picking" on Microsoft, but said Passport was the most developed system. He added Microsoft's adherence to the Safe Harbor framework was evidence of the company's commitment to data protection principles. "That is a good thing," he said. Microsoft Europe Middle East and Africa senior attorney for commercial and regulatory affairs Peter Fleischer said in a statement Microsoft is committed to on-going discussions with regulators. © 2001 ComputerWire.
ComputerWire, 04 Jul 2002

Intel invests in Linux clustering

Intel Corp has joined a group of Norwegian investment and technology companies in providing second-round funding to Linux-based clustering software company Scali AS. Oslo, Norway-based Scali is the developer of clustering software for the open source Linux operating system. The company has its roots in a defense research project from the mid-1990s, and in 1997 was spun off from Kronsberg Gruppen, a Norwegian technology vendor that focused on the maritime, defense and aerospace markets. Scali's products include the Scali Universe cluster management system, the ClusterEdge clustering kit for OEMs and VARs and the ClusterLib native libraries for increased cluster performance. The company also ships TeraRack, which bundles its software with commodity compute nodes based on Intel, AMD, Alpha and Sparc processors. The company supports Red Hat Linux for x86, IA-64 or Alpha, SuSE Linux for x86, Sun's Solaris for Sparc and Intel and also Microsoft Windows NT/98/2000 as a front end. Financial details of the investment have not been disclosed, although Scali has said it will use the funds for corporate development and to boost sales and marketing. The company already has a good list of customer reference sites that includes Daimler Chrysler, BMW, Lockheed Martin, US Naval Air and Rolls Royce. Santa Clara, California-based Intel's funding was made through its Intel Investment strategic investment arm. Other investors include Scali's former parent, Kronsberg Gruppen, as well as Norwegian investment firms Four Seasons Venture and SND Invest. © ComputerWire
ComputerWire, 04 Jul 2002

Symantec buys Mountain Wave

Cupertino, California-based Symantec Corp has paid $20m cash for Mountain Wave Inc and its CyberWolf real-time security incident detection and analysis software, in a move that will add automated response features to its security management software stack. The CyberWolf product started life as a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency research project in 1996 to develop a package that picks up where intrusion detection software leaves off. It has since quietly established itself a niche in US federal and government agencies. The software is designed to pinpoint key incident data by cross-correlating in real-time the huge volumes of data generated by any number of security point products installed across the enterprise. The inbuilt product knowledgebase is said to be particularly good at tracking and matching patterns of events and alerts that, by themselves, may appear to be innocuous, but when put together represent a pattern of an attack. The Falls Church, Virginia-based company claims to have several successful implementations in the government market. Symantec will want to translate those successes into the broader enterprise market. The CyberWolf product is licensed at $30,000 a year with a $150,000 installation fee. © ComputerWire
ComputerWire, 04 Jul 2002

Palladium tech up for discussion, says MS security chief

Unaccountably, Microsoft seems to have forgotten to invite The Register to Tech Ed in Barcelona this week, but we're pleased to see some useful information making it into the public prints. Yesterday, IDG News correspondent Gillian Law obtained some useful information about Palladium from Microsoft UK chief security officer Stuart Okin. First of all, we do not get the impression that Okin is entirely pleased by the release of information about Palladium last week. Details, he claims somewhat bizarrely, were "leaked or squirrelled out by a journalist." Well, indeedy-doody, Stuart. The knowledge that Newsweek writer Steven Levy infiltrated Microsoft with photographer Brian Smale, secretly took posed photos of the development team then surreptitiously obtained on-the-record quotes from numerous Microsoft execs from Bill Gates down puts an entirely different complexion on the article. And its presence on Microsoft's 'links to things written about us that we like' page must surely be some kind of clerical error. We jest, of course. What we think Okin is really alluding to here is the age-old Microsoft internal battle between the marketing droids, who see their role as being to get nice, excited write-ups of Microsoft products, and the techies, who wish the droids would stop making overhyped promises they won't be able to keep. So maybe it's significant that one of the new breed of Microsoft security czars is showing signs of lining up with the techies. Palladium being presented as a complete, 'solve all your security problems magic bullet' is most certainly premature. Okin tells Law that it's still in "consultation mode," that white papers will be out by the end of this month, and that Microsoft will proceed after getting feedback from this. Palladium, which will combine security chip (which is expected to migrate onto the CPU in a future rev) with a public and private key system, could be important for DRM, but "its prime function is to ensure security and privacy." Look at it from the security czar's point of view, and you can see how important it is to ram home that message, even to genuinely believe it. These people have been specifically hired by Microsoft to clean up the company's security act, and if they're not to operate merely as fig-leaves, they may actually have to resist Palladium and similar being used for DRM. So more interesting internal tensions here. The technology will be switched off by default, he guarantees this, and it will be "an opt-in technology" that "will live or die by user acceptance." It will also be licensed to any software company that wants it, but their software would need to be certified. Price, terms and conditions, and the certification process are all potential gotchas here and in our view Microsoft will have to be a lot more open and responsive than it has been in the past as regards licensing, if it genuinely wishes to achieve broad support. Palladium hardware will not, Okin tells IDG, ship until 2004-2005, and applications for it won't be around until two years later. That certainly puts it in the Longhorn window, but it's not clear why, if it's initially going to use a separate chip, hardware can't be shipped fairly swiftly. Hardware of this sort already exists, in the shape of the AMD-Wave reference design; this may, we're informed even have been demoed at WinHEC. The public line at the moment, however, is that AMD and Intel are working with Microsoft on Palladium, and although Wave may still be in there under the covers, it's not apparent in the publicity. The schedule (and the participants list) may of course have been disrupted by Intel coming late to the party again, but marketing considerations will also have an influence. Microsoft could, now, add support for DRM to its existing OS software, make its buddies in the music business very happy, trash it own reputation (no really, it's still possible to do this) and destroy any chance of Palladium succeeding. So it really does have to take its time and (this is the tricky but) be thoughtful, subtle and flexible. Hmm... ®
John Lettice, 04 Jul 2002

Microsoft books LinuxWorld stand in bid for ‘dialogue’

Microsoft is to exhibit at LinuxWorld Expo this August, and it appears that the company wants to be nice. Yesterday, Linux Today spotted the Beast's presence on the Expo exhibitor list, and after publicising this was contacted by an apparently kinder, gentler Microsoft. In the shape of Peter Houston, senior director of the Windows Server Product Management Group, who got in touch and explained that it's all about dialogue. The audience is important to Microsoft, and showing up is a first step "towards forming an ongoing dialog with members of the Linux and Open Source community." Microsoft's contributions to the Open Source movement have generally consisted of comparing it to cancer and/or communism, so Houston's claim that the company now wants to talk is a significant turnaround. Not, of course, that he has a great deal of choice in the matter. Say you were the Great Satan's elected representative for LinuxWorld, and you were going to have to man a stand in the midst of thousands of potentially ravening geeks come August. Would you be handing out inflamatory literature, or smiling a lot and saying you want to talk? (Best stash some cool toys for the natives round the back, just in case, Peter.) ® Related stories: Full Linux Today story, in which Houston says 'dialog' a lot
John Lettice, 04 Jul 2002

2600 withdraws Supreme Court appeal in DeCSS case

Hacker magazine 2600 is to drop its appeal to the Supreme Court after concluding it had little chance of establishing its right to post links to the DeCSS utility. In a statement on the case, 2600 said that after consulting with its lawyers it decided it had taken the case as far as it could. The decision ends the publication's two-and-a-half year legal battle over DeCSS, which permits DVD owners to use players which the entertainment industry had not approved. In December 1999, eight major motion picture studios sued 2600 Magazine for publishing an article containing the DeCSS computer software and linking to DeCSS. Norwegian teenager Jon Johansen created DeCSS in an effort to develop an open source software player that would allow people to play their lawfully purchased DVDs on computers running the Linux operating system. But since people may also use the DeCSS program as one step in infringing the copyrights of DVD movies, both the New York District Court and the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals interpreted the DMCA as banning 2600 Magazine from publishing or linking to DeCSS. Yesterday's decision means that 2600 will not take its appeal on this ruling to the Supreme Court. Campaigners are putting a brave face on the defeat, saying that the case has done much to educate the community and pledging to continue opposing the stance taken by the entertainment industry in the case. "We took several steps forward with this case, forcing the courts to recognise that freedom of speech was at stake," explained EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "Later cases will provide a better foundation for the Supreme Court to act on the problems created by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)." ®
John Leyden, 04 Jul 2002

Liberty Media talks with Telewest

Telewest is to hold talks with Liberty Media about the future of the debt laden UK cableco. In a letter to shareholders Telewest - burdened by £5 billion in debt - said that it is in the "best interest" of the company to enter into discussions with Liberty (the US media investment outfit owned by gazillionaire John Malone) and its bondholders concerning restructuring. "These discussions will not begin until we have obtained the necessary waivers and consents from our banks," the cableco said. Liberty - which already owns 25 per cent of Telewest - is looking to take control of the cableco. In a separate development Microsoft said it has offered to sell its 23.6 per cent stake in Telewest to Liberty. The offer values Microsoft's stake at about $332 million, according to the FT. In May, Microsoft pulled three non-executive directors from the cableco's board. At the time it explained that the move had been taken to consider, among other things, "purchasing or selling Telewest securities or engaging in possible strategic transactions involving Telewest". At lunch shares in Telewest were up 0.38p (13.5 per cent) at 3.2p. ® Related Story Microsoft execs jump ship from Telewest
Tim Richardson, 04 Jul 2002

Greek ban on gaming threatens Internet cafes

A Register reader in Greece emails us claiming that the Greek government has effectively outlawed Internet cafes by "all LAN and Internet games and any kind of game that is supported by electrical, electronic or software means." If anybody so much as has something looking like a game on the screen, he tells us, the cafe manager is liable for arrest. All of this makes some kind of perverted sense. Computers in Internet cafes are gaming machines, sort of. Or at least they have that potential, and Greece has already shown signs of considering them as such. More recently, Greece banned all amusement and gambling machines, including the likes of Pac Man. You pay for computers in Internet cafes, you can play games on them, so yes, there you go. And a little further research leads us to believe that Greece's position is maybe not so wildly eccentric as one might initially think. Here in the UK one does have to pay duty on gaming and amusement machines in public places. You can get a little more information about the position by tearing through this section of the 1995 Finance Act, but frankly we do not recommend it. It would however seem logical to us for Internet cafe machines playing games to be classed somewhere within the amusement machines category, and therefore liable for duty. If they're not, then pubs installing computers instead of amusement machines could be on to a good wrinkle. So, some form of cafe tax? OK, but what, then, are we going to do about all of those people in pubs who'll sometime soon be whipping out their 3G phones in order to play online games? In Greece, obviously, they'll just arrest the nearest bar manager, while in London's West End we foresee a variation on traffic wardens slapping Internetting Tickets on careless mobile gamers... ®
John Lettice, 04 Jul 2002
A hash

Why Microsoft makes a complete hash out of C#

The # key on US keyboards is a minor irritation for the British - it's where '£', our pound sign, should be. Furthermore, Americans mispronounce the # sign as pound, when everyone else knows it should be 'hash' (Alright everyone except BT, whose operators insist on calling it the 'square' key on the phone). According to this jargon buster on Tuxedo.org (where Eric Raymond hangs out): The U.S. usage derives from an old-fashioned commercial practice of using a # suffix to tag pound weights on bills of lading. The character is usually pronounced `hash' outside the U.S. There are more culture wars over the correct pronunciation of this character than any other, which has led to the ha ha only serious suggestion that it be pronounced `shibboleth' (see Judges 12:6 in an Old Testament or Tanakh). And now Microsoft has appropriated the hash sign for its new software dev tool C#, supposedly pronounced C Sharp (as in the black key after C on the piano # denotes 'sharp'in musical notation) but which looks to many of us as C Hash. And to reader John Timaeus, a "reluctant MCSE" from Arkansas (we infer from his email addy), it looks even worse. I have been a (reasonably) faithful reader of the Register for quite a while and frequently refer my students to you as a primary source for information in the field. However I have recently been highly offended by several articles produced or republished by your organization which improperly name the octothorpe a 'sharp'. A sharp is Unicode 0x1d129 while the octothorpe is 0x0023. Common names for an octothorpe include number sign (preferred), hash (most common in the UK), or pound (US standard usage). Just because Microsloth decided to produce a language and be cute (just like that damned little clip thing!) by mispronouncing one of the top 100 symbols on the planet doesn't mean you have to comply like some sponge minion of the Great Satan. I have never heard "for more options press the sharp key now" out of an IVR. Pound, hash, number, yes; sharp, no. Microsloth has a persistent habit of trying to delude the public by misnaming or mispronouncing their products. Examples include Office Assistant (formerly Office Annoyance), the Internet Acceleration Server Suite (actually the I Am Slow Stupid), and of course, the most commonly bought into lie: SQL should be pronounced Squeal. They even had the guts to call Windows ME an operating system. Gentlefolk, now is the time to quit buying into their self-created mythos. I propose that from this point forward that The Register designate the MS product formerly known as C# as either C Pound or C Hash, dependent on the primary target audience. I think either would be much more descriptive. Yes, but what the hell is an octothorpe? In this entertaining catalogue of neologisms, we find the following: Octothorpe Definition: Octothorpe is one of a number of names used for the # symbol on telephones and keyboards. Also called "number sign", "hash mark" "sharp sign", "scratch" or "gate". In the USA only, it is referred to as the "pound sign" referring to weight, as in "a 6# bag of sprouts", but also sometimes referring to pounds sterling (because the "£" symbol did not often appear on USA typewriter keyboards). British Telecom customer messages call it the "square". Commonly in UK telecoms engineering usage, it is called the "gate" symbol. The official ANSI/CCITT name is "number sign". PostScript language calls it the "numbersign". Derivation: Mark Israel in the ALT.USAGE.ENGLISH FAQ file writes:- ...in a failed attempt to avoid the naming problem by creating a new name, the term "octothorp(e)" (which MWCD10 dates 1971) was invented for "#", allegedly by Bell Labs engineers when touch-tone telephones were introduced in the mid-1960s. "Octo-" means eight, and "thorp" was an Old English word for _village_: apparently the sign was playfully construed as eight fields surrounding a village. Another story has it that a Bell Labs supervisor named Don MacPherson coined the word from the number of endpoints and from the surname of U.S. athlete James Francis Thorpe. Merriam-Webster Editorial Department told me: "All of the stories you record are known to us, but the evidence does not line up nicely behind any one of them." large number of variant names for the # sign have been attested: Official usage: number sign; pound; pound sign; hash; sharp; gate; square. Unofficial, slang, nickname usage: grid; crunch; crosshatch; mesh; flash; square, pig-pen; tictactoe; scratchmark; thud; thump; splat; hex, grate, reticule. Variant spellings: octothorp, oktothorpe. Now back to the Ascii definition for #, as appearing in the Tuxedo.org jargon buster. Common: number sign; pound; pound sign; hash; sharp; crunch; hex; [mesh]. Rare: grid; crosshatch; octothorpe; flash; , pig-pen; tictactoe; scratchmark; thud; thump; splat. This declares that '#' and 'sharp' are more common than '#' and 'octothorpe'. We agree. Mr Timaeus, your motion for us to rename Microsoft C Sharp as C Hash is denied. As a consolation, we may air C Hash from time to time on these pages. Our preference though is to dub Microsoft's C# as D Flat. It is, after all, the same musical note as C Sharp, as reader James Dennis points out. However, this applies only to pianos and keyed wind instruments, which deal in "fixed intervals between notes, so they resolve both c sharp and d flat to the same frequency, but anyone who has a little more control over their instrument - principally string players - will play d flat a little higher than c sharp," says David Roy. Never mind. C Splat, it is then. ®
Drew Cullen, 04 Jul 2002

Dan Technology – how big was it anyway?

An unnamed buyer is waiting in the wings to buy Dan Technology, the bust computer builder, receivers BDO Stoy Hayward told Computer Buyer today. And as a going concern. But as just about everyone was made redundant when the company fell into receivership last month, it's difficult to see what's going. At the time of collapse, BDO issued a press statement saying that it would endeavour to fulfil outstanding orders and that warranty calls would be dealt with case-by-case. Since then there has been a deafening silence from punters - we've received three emails asking after Dan's health, including one from a creditor. When Tiny went bust, by contrast, we received hundreds of emails from first worried and then pissed off customers. But then Tiny was damn big company with hundreds of thousands of customers. So how big was DAN Technology? The paucity of emails suggest that it was not writing much new business lately. The paucity of emails from existing DAN owners suggest that either a: they're bloody well built b: the warranties are covered and everyone's getting their PCs fixed c: DAN is a pretty small business. Lack of worried customers is hardly a surprise, considering the withdrawal of credit cover by Euler Trade Indemnity, the major trade insurer, in February. This meant that suppliers dropped or scrapped credit limits, forcing Dan to pay cash upfront. In the short term this limits the ability of the company to underwrite new business. And in the medium term it is effectively a death sentence. ®
Drew Cullen, 04 Jul 2002
SGI logo hardware close-up

IBM blades cut it for Giga

IBM's launch of high-end enterprise blade servers in Q3 has earned the thumbs up from analyst firm Giga. Giga reckons that IBM's e-server BladeCenter by a "slim margin" to better recent high-end blade server announcements from Dell and what it believes Compaq (HP) will deliver. BladeCenter, like competitive offerings, is designed for mid-range applications or database servers, rather than lower-power edge services. IBM's server blades "are the highest performance dual-CPU blades announced to date by a major vendor", it reckons. Giga gives IBM's blades the edge because of the presence of redundant Fibre Channel data paths and an embedded FC switch option for the chassis. Each of IBM's blades will have a pair of 2.2GHz Intel Xeon-DP (Prestoria) processors with support for up to 8GB of memory. They use the same ServerWorks Grand Champion LE chip set found in many standard two-way rack mounted servers. They can be expected to have similar performance. IBM will pack up to 14 blades in a 7U enclosure, as opposed to six blades in a 3U enclosure, the form factor favoured by Dell. Both set-ups offer 84 blades per 42U rack. Compaq is expected to ship high-end blade servers that give 56 blades per rack. While this is less dense than Pentium III-based low-power blade servers from the likes of RLX Technologies or Fujitsu Siemens, it is 3.5 times the density offered by Egenera, the only other vendor currently shipping high-end Xeon DP blades. However, although IBM has said it will ship four-way SMP blades next year, it cannot yet match Egenera capability in that department. Although IBM is not providing too much information of its blade server plans, Giga reckons its roadmap will fork to provide 64-bit Itanium blades and denser IA32 blades, probably based on Intel's Gallatin processor, which is due to become available early next year. Gellatin processors will offer Xeon performance at substantially lower power consumption. IBM may also introduce blade servers based on its Power processors, if it senses enough demand from its installed AIX customer base. ®
John Leyden, 04 Jul 2002

Orange network glitch resolved

Orange claims the network problems that hit some phone users yesterday have now been resolved. Trouble is, we're still getting reports from readers who say their phones don't work. Said one hacked off reader whose phone's been dead for two days: "Orange are being evasive - I can't get a straight answer off anybody. "They won't tell me what the problem is. I thought BT was bad but their [Orange's] customer relations are awful." The advice from Orange if you're still experiencing problems? Turn your phone "on and off", said a spokeswoman. ® Related Stories Orange gets its punters talking again Orange network gone titsup
Tim Richardson, 04 Jul 2002

Microsoft's Mac chief explains Hebrew position

Microsoft's Macintosh chief Kevin Browne has responded to our questions. He urges users to contact the Mac team, providing an email, and suggests that Microsoft can't make much more headway with right-to-left support before Apple provides the necessary support in the operating system. Browne says that previous experiments with third parties providing localization have "not been successful". Over the last couple of days we've heard from various sources that MacOS X 10.2 will include right to left support. One of these is reliable. But Browne reaffirms that Hebrew support isn't on the To-Do List. Here's Kevin's reply in full. We also heard from Dov Cohen, the Israeli Mac user who sparked the AntiTrust complaint. Dov hadn't seen Kevin's comments, so don't regard it as a direct response, but both emails on the same subject arrived on the same day. Apologies for the delayed reply, and thanks for posting some of the letters. I think they helped to illuminate some of the issues involved. While I can't discuss specific financial details of Microsoft's Mac business, I'm happy to respond to your questions in general. We run the Mac group as a mature business in an established market, because it is not strategic to Microsoft's overall mission. This means we run MacBU like its own company that needs to serve customers and hit business goals - just like any independent software developer. We make a large investment with a staff of 150 people building great software for the Mac -- outside of Apple, I believe we're the largest 100% Mac-focused developer -- and I'm proud of the record we've established over the past 5 years. Like any business, we carefully consider every project we take on. We spend a lot of time talking with customers, and prioritize what to work on by looking at which projects will benefit the most Mac users and fit with areas where Apple is focused. This approach typically results in good business decisions, regardless of market. We currently localize Office in English, Japanese, German, French, Swedish, and Spanish. (MacBU does all of its own localization; past experiments with licensing out to 3rd party localizers have not been successful.) Each year, we examine available data on market opportunity and try to assess where Apple is investing. We compare that information to existing languages to determine whether we should change our list of supported languages. While we see some demand for Hebrew, we note that a much more widely-spoken language like Spanish barely recoups its localization costs. We also note that Apple invests mostly in the US, Western Europe, and Japan. We therefore conclude that Hebrew, with far fewer users than Spanish, would not make sense for us. As much as we'd like to support Hebrew, we have to prioritize. Some of your readers have asked for better support for languages other than English, French, etc., in Office. Generally speaking, we intend to make improvements to allow you type Greek or Welsh in English Office, for instance. The Mac is finally UNICODE-based with Mac OS X, but the existing means through which apps access that functionality weren't done in a way that Office could support. We're working with Apple to get what we need in the system, and will comment in the future on our plans. We do not plan to add right-to-left editing specifically, since we would have to delay releases or forego adding features which would apply to a broader range of customers. I hope this helps clarify our approach. The question you may still have is: what should customers who want to work in Hebrew do? First, they should speak to Apple directly. Hebrew has not been a priority for Apple in their Mac OS X support or their marketing. The more Apple focuses on being successful with Hebrew, the more viable it becomes for all ISVs to localize in this language. Second, customers should keep sending requests to us at mactopia@microsoft.com. We can't address every need, but customer feedback is an important part of how we insure we're doing the right things. Kevin Browne Microsoft Macintosh BU Office 2001:mac actually has partial Hebrew support, but MS have done a great job hiding it (he sent you a JPEG with the Insert>Automatic Text menu that shows that MS have included Auto Inserted definitions in Hebrew, such as "ATTN:", and "To:", "From:"). We found that out a couple of months ago by mistake. The ONLY thing missing in Office:mac 2001 is Right to Left support. As I've stated before, and after personally speaking with experts on the matter such as Eyal Redler from Winsoft, the guys that localize all Adobe products to Hebrew altering the code in order that'll work correctly with R-T-L is a matter of 2-3 months tops. Arabic is even LESS supported on MacOS 9 than Hebrew is (not to mention X). And believe me, they're desperate for a localized and enabled version of Office:mac more than us. Dov Cohen ® Full Coverage Microsoft's Mac Hebrew snub prompts Israeli AntiTrust complaint Microsoft's Hebrew, Arabic snub: your pain Apple Israel chief calls for 'Save Hebrew' write-in Microsoft Mac boss responds to Hebrew snub Mac users to MS: your Right to Left defence is Upside Down Opera makes hay with MS Mac Arabic/Hebrew snub
Andrew Orlowski, 04 Jul 2002

cDc prepares user-friendly stego app

In an effort to help Netizens in the more paranoid corners of the world evade national censorship, the cDc's Hacktivismo group is developing a browser product called Camera/Shy capable of creating and displaying images with messages which would likely get a Web site shut down or filtered in places like Saudi Arabia and China. The browser, created by Hacktivismo member 'The Pull', uses steganography, a method for inserting text into graphics files for viewing with companion software. The text is encrypted and can be pass-protected for an additional layer of secrecy. The group hopes that people hobbled by official Internet censorship will be able to exchange information and opinions which might otherwise be politically risky. Since countries can use filtering and firewalling to keep their citizens from Web sites with 'objectionable' content, the idea here is to hide it in plain sight in approved venues. A discussion of human rights could be carried out under the noses of administrators and moderators on an approved Chinese BBS, for example. The local Feds would have a very difficult time stopping it. "If there were no state-sponsored censorship of the Internet, if Cisco et al weren't crack hoes for hire, if there were no democracy activists screaming for help -- hell, we could be off having fun instead of working long hours after our day jobs," Hacktivismo member and occasional Reg contributor Oxblood Ruffin told us. The original idea was conceived by The Pull. "I noted that one thing quite often missing from free security applications was ease of use -- automation for the end user. The lack of that ease and automation irked me as a gaping need because people don't use security products if they have to jump through hoops. People like shortcuts; people like automation," he told us. We've been playing with a beta version which seems to work well and intuitively in a few simple demo situations. There are four windows, one which renders the page normally and one with a list of image files which can be selected for decryption. When one is selected, the text appears in the main window without further intervention. Other windows allow content to be inserted into image files which the user may post, and there is a format conversion tool as well. Entire Web pages can easily be concealed within an image file. And of course the files can easily be e-mailed around and viewed with the browser. Camera/Shy will also (optionally) shut off all active scripting and clear the cache and history, and reject images not originating on the site being viewed. There are as yet a couple of bugs which the group intends to have sorted out in time for the application's release at the H2K2 conference on 13 July in New York. No doubt the release will raise hackles among bureaucrats and Feds in many parts of the world, even in the Enlightened West where many in government believe our personal lives should be laid bare for their occasional inspection and approval. Since the 9/11 atrocity, there has been repeated speculation in the press that international terrorist organizations have been using stegged files to communicate across the Internet, though no evidence of this activity has ever been produced. One financially-weak spyware outfit called iomart attempted a post-9/11 publicity stunt with unsubstantiated claims of this nature, which a number of superstitious reporters in the mainstream press did unfortunately parrot. There are steganalysis tools such as the one iomart claims to have used, and the Thought Police in several countries may well use them to find stegged files posted on Web sites. But filtering and interrupting the exchange of this data is another matter. "Because the data is hidden in the most common image format on the Web, they would have to perform steganalysis on every gif coming through their wire. This is entirely impractical," The Pull reckons. So far Camera/Shy works well and promises to be a very useful contribution to the fight against government censorship. It's to be released under the GPL. We look forward to seeing the finished product in a week or so. ®
Thomas C Greene, 04 Jul 2002

Freeserve junks Inktomi, goes FAST

Freeserve, the UK's biggest ISP, has picked FAST to run its search engine, directory and ecommerce search ops. The software, from Norwegian firm Fast Search & Transfer, is replacing Inktomi technology, adopted by Le Freeswerve two years ago. Freeserve told us it chose FAST for its "advanced search...", before running out of steam. Hey, so it's not exactly earth shattering. But a nice win then for FAST, more bad news for Inktomi and disappointment - we guess - for the likes of Google and Overture. And who knows, the Freeserve win may help FAST get an in with the rest of Wanadoo, the UK ISP's French parent and owner of Voila, a leading European search engine. This week FAST also announced that it won the search engine gig at Dell.com. Considering that Dell is an investor in FAST and that it is a reseller for FAST, the wonder is what took it so long. ® FAST Freeserve win release AltaVista upgrades search engine
Drew Cullen, 04 Jul 2002

DRAM VAT fraudsters jailed for 18 ½ years

Four British computer dealers were sentenced today a total of 18 and a half years for a £39 million series of VAT and duty frauds involving components imported from the US and Hong Kong. Omar Bassam, 44, of Girton, Cambridge; Paul Burke, 38, of Shelfield, Walsall; Nicholas Skidmore, 35, Southport, Merseyside; and David Withers, 46, of Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham controlled a network of companies and bank accounts and property in both the UK and the Cayman Islands. The companies involved were Cambridge Computer Supplies, of Cambridge; Computerwise Products, Computerwise Distribution and Microtech Europe, all of Birmingham. In the first stage of the frauds, computer memory modules were imported into the UK under false - massively undervalued invoices. The value of one consignment was declared as $2,000 when the true value was nearly $1 million. The second stage involved the manufacture of false invoices to support massive VAT reclaims to which they were not entitled. To add credibility to the false invoices they 'hi-jacked' the details and VAT number of Compaq Computers, which had no knowledge of the scam. Customs' investigations led officers from Birmingham to the US, Germany and the Republic of Ireland and proceedings are currently pending in the America against the gang's US supplier. Financial investigations showed more than £85 million passing through just one bank account in the nine months between May 1998 and January 1999 and the assets of all four men have now been seized by Customs. Omar Bassam was sentenced to 18 months plus an additional three years if he fails to pay nearly £800,000 compensation. Paul Burke was sentenced to three years on each of two charges (which will run concurrently), with an additional two years if he fails to pay £440,000 compensation. Nicholas Skidmore was sentenced to seven years on each of four charges to run concurrently, with an additional two years if he fails to pay compensation of £643,000. David Withers was sentenced to six years on each of two fraud charges to run concurrently, plus an additional two years if he fails to pay compensation of £205,000. He was also sentenced to an additional term of one year for a money laundering charge, which will run consecutive to his other sentence. Burke and Skidmore pleaded guilty to the fraud charges. Withers and Bassam were found guilty of fraud by a jury after pleading not guilty. His Honour Judge Derek Stanley, sitting in Birmingham Crown Court, described the fraudsters’ crimes as a “massive assault on the public revenue". He praised customs investigators for the thoroughness of their investigation and their presentation of what had been a complex case. "This was a concerted and sustained attack on the system, involving fraud on a massive scale,” said Frank Ferguson, Customs' Assistant Chief Investigation Officer. "The greed of these men led them into a culture of crime, their businesses supported by a web of fraud and lies. The sentences handed down today should serve notice to anyone operating fraudulently in the computer trade - you will be found and you will be punished." ®
John Leyden, 04 Jul 2002

Tesco to become a telco?

Tesco could be about to flog telecoms service to rival the likes of BT. The FT reports that the supermarket giant is holding talks with operators to offer the services. No one from Tesco was available for comment on the story. However, a spokesman for BT said the monster telco had no plans to start selling groceries. News that Tesco is sniffing around telecoms services follows the introduction of reforms by telecoms regulator, Oftel, that should enable companies to offer a complete residential telephony service to consumers. The key to this is that punters who sign up to rival providers will no longer have to receive two bills - one from their telco for call charges and one from BT for line rental. Instead, they will just receive one bill from their telco, a move welcomed by Centrica, which has more than a million phone customers under the One.Tel and British Gas Communications brands. In May Argos, the UK high street catalogue retailer and biggest seller of land-line phones, started offering discount phone calls through a new service called CallSave. ® Related Story BT thumped by new competition proposals Argos in cheap telco deal
Tim Richardson, 04 Jul 2002

Web Server vulnerability reaches all time high

The Web may be more vulnerable to attack now than at any time previously. That's the stark conclusion of Netcraft's latest monthly survey of Web servers, which expresses concerns over the emergence of serious vulnerabilities in both Microsoft IIS and Apache Web servers over the last month. These vulnerabilities create a situation where a majority of Internet sites are likely to be accessible to remote exploit, Netcraft, which is not normally associated with alarmist predictions, believes. On June 11, Microsoft released a trio of advisories, the most serious of which referred to an HTR buffer overflow that could be used to remotely compromise machines running Microsoft-IIS. Although Netcraft can not explicitly test for the vulnerability without prior permission from the sites, around half of the Microsoft IIS sites on the internet have HTR enabled, making it likely that many will be vulnerable to attack. Days later it was reported that many versions of the Apache Web server were vulnerable to a buffer overflow because of a flaw in the Web server's chunked encoding mechanism. If exploited, the flaw could lead to a remote system compromise and exploits are already known to have been been developed for Windows, FreeBSD and OpenBSD. There is an active debate on whether exploits are possible for Linux and Solaris. Netcraft reports that Apache administrators have reacted quite quickly to the problem, and within a week of first publication, well over 6 million sites have been upgraded to Apache/1.3.26, which addresses the problem. That still leaves around 14 million potentially vulnerable Apache sites, however. Netcraft's report says: "With over half of the Internet's web servers potentially vulnerable, conditions are ripe for an epidemic of attacks against both Microsoft-IIS and Apache based sites, and the first worm, targeting sites running Apache on FreeBSD, has been spotted this weekend." Security watchers monitoring this worm believe its spread has been modest. Aside from this welcome result, Netcraft notes (quite surprisingly) that worms can have positive effects. It says they can draw administrators' attention to vulnerable servers and - once patched - the server is usually no longer available as a platform for more insidious activity. Last year, immediately prior to the Code Red worm, Netcraft found that one in six e-commerce sites tested with Microsoft-IIS running had already been successfully compromised, and had a backdoor installed giving an external attacker control over the machine. "The clear up from Code Red had the positive effect of flushing the majority of these backdoors out of the Internet," it notes. ®
John Leyden, 04 Jul 2002