26th > July > 2002 Archive

Congress blasts Feds on cyber-terror FOIA games

There was a fabulous explosion Wednesday during an otherwise typical cyberterror dog-and-pony show on the Hill when House Government Reform Subcommittee Ranking Member Jan Schakowsky (Democrat, Illinois) lost her composure during a discussion of new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) modifications proposed by the GB Junior Administration as part of its Homeland Defense initiative. After a couple of hours filled with warnings about widespread infrastructure vulnerabilities and exploitable bugs in numerous control systems, it came time for Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office (CIAO) Director John Tritak and National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) Director Ronald Dick to make the pitch for a controversial exemption from the FOIA applying to all government records submitted by the industry. The government has been disappointed in the amount of critical information flowing to it from the Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs) which the Clinton Administration set up for private-sector vulnerability shoptalk. Industry fears that government records of their incompetence could end up in the hands of outraged citizens and journalists, leading to an unfortunate tarnishing of the sterling reputations enjoyed by the nation's mega-corporations. Uncle Sam would like to be told more about vulnerabilities and risks and terrorist targets in the real world out there, and is perfectly willing to gut the FOIA if that's what it takes to get brought up to speed. Schakowsky just about had a fit on hearing this. Why, she wondered, if the terrorist threat is as real as the government claims, are we kissing big business' ass and essentially pleading with them to cooperate? Why not just force them? "This is a time of a war on terrorism; we're calling on individuals and businesses to be patriotic," she said. "Because this is so critical to our national security, we could simply require this rather than pander to the desires of businesses to keep information secret, an item that has been on their agenda for many years." "It astounds me that at a moment in history when transparency in business is in the headlines every day -- the need for us to know what is going on in our private sector, which has deprived many of our citizens of their ability to retire, and employees of their retirement plans, set the stock market diving because of this lack of transparency, cooking the books -- that now we want to offer...not a narrowly-constructed exemption, but a loophole big enough drive any corporation and its secrets through," she sputtered. "If a company wants to protect information from public view, they can dump it into the Department of Homeland Security and say, 'we don't want anyone to have access to it because it's critical information,' yet it could be something that communities need to know." She wanted to know if the government had given businesses any assistance in dealing with sensitive data under the FOIA as it exists. NIPC Director Ronald Dick rushed to defend the proposed amendments. "If there is a request for [trade secrets information] the industry would have to come forward and discuss in court what it had done to protect that information," he explained. "So therefore they would have to go into court and prove, I assume beyond some standard, that they had adequately protected it in the first place." That was a bit of a slip, that bit about how the new FOIA will essentially protect information the companies haven't bothered to protect for themselves. But the government often rewards incompetence, so it's hardly surprising. "We're talking about information that the private sector believes is sensitive and are concerned about it being disclosed," Dick continued. "And they have questions as to whether the government can adequately protect it. What we're recommending is not some broad loophole, but a measured response in the language that will provide some of the assurances that will provide better information sharing." Schakowsky read from the Junior Administration's proposed language, making it clear that Uncle Sam is prepared to exempt from public knowledge absolutely anything that relates to infrastructure vulnerabilities in any way. Asked why such broad language should be needed, Dick made the mistake of answering, "the private sector is concerned that if they share [vulnerability information] then it will become public, and therefore the bad guys will know it and attack them." Schakowsky tore into the logical flaw. "So they believe that if they provide information that's critical to terrorists, this government under its current laws is just going to let that information out," she said sarcastically. "It is precisely for that reason that the existing exemptions were crafted." Dick never quite replied to that one. It's obvious to any fool that the government would never willingly release any such information. The private sector is of course solely concerned with embarrassing revelations of how badly they're managing their security defenses, and the liabilities their publication would invite. Schakowsky knows that Uncle Sam needs and desperately wants this data and will bend over backwards to coax it from business while steamrolling the rights of citizens to sue for it, regardless of public interests buried along the way. She had a couple of good rants; and I have to say it was refreshing to see a Member of Congress actually understand something for a change. But the government rationale is fairly well accepted on the Hill, and these days the word 'terror' works absolute magic in all political negotiations. It looks like the FOIA is set become another casualty of the war on terror. Which is no surprise, really. As occasional Reg contributor George Smith points out, Cyberwar is Hell. ®
Thomas C Greene, 26 Jul 2002

VeriSign posts loss after $4.6bn charge

VeriSign Inc yesterday reported a loss for the second quarter to June 30 of $4.8bn, compared to a loss of $11.2bn a year ago, on revenue that was up 37% at $317.4m. The company said the loss was mostly due to a $4.6bn acquisition write-down charge. The company's enterprise and service provider division, which includes its recently acquired telecom concerns along with registry lookup and security services, delivered 67% of total revenue, the remainder coming from its mass markets division, which includes retail domain name and security services. The VeriSign domain name registry had 27.3 million names in it at the end of the quarter, the company reported, up 2.7 million during the period. The registrar unit grossed 550,000 of these new domains, and renewed or transferred an additional 660,000, ending the period with 10.3 million domains, 9.6 million in .com/.net/.org, under management. The digital certificate business issued 105,000 new and renewed certs, closing the quarter at a total of about 400,000, 275,000 of which came from its mass markets division. The payments gateway business added 5,000 customers to close the quarter with 75,000 paying users, processing about $3.4bn in the quarter. © ComputerWire
ComputerWire, 26 Jul 2002

France Telecom begs for tax-payer bail-out

France Telecom SA managed 10% revenue growth in the first half and is on course to sustain the expansion rate for the full year. But weighed down with $56bn in debt, the company has confirmed that it is in talks with its largest shareholder, the French government, and the French taxpayer is likely to be forced to bail the company out. Reports from Paris suggest that the treasury is mulling alternatives that include backing a new bond issue, subscribing to a new issue of preference shares or giving the company a loan. Any deal would have to be approved by the European Union, which is expected to take a skeptical approach, as the French government is underwriting an expansion policy that no commercial company could afford. France Telecom was able to boost first-half revenue by 10% to 22.5bn euros ($22.5bn) as a 5.8% decline in its fixed-line voice and data services was offset by growth on its Orange mobile operation, Wanadoo ISP and portal business, and international voice and data services. With its debt expected to rise to $70bn by the end of the year, the company has agreed to sell its broadcast unit TDF for $1.6bn and its Dutch cable operator Casema. Satellite operators Eutelsat and Stellat have also been earmarked for disposal. © ComputerWire
ComputerWire, 26 Jul 2002

UDDI v.3 coming soon (to a Web service near you)

An IBM and Microsoft Corp-backed project for web services directories takes two potentially massive steps forward next week, Gavin Clarke writes. Computerwire has learned the third version of Universal Description, Discovery Integration (UDDI) will be announced Tuesday, offering richer XML web services descriptions. Version 3.0 will better link UDDI directories. Computerwire can also reveal UDDI has been adopted by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) for ratification as an independent standard. That announcement will also be made Tuesday. Backing from OASIS should ensure broader industry input into future versions of UDDI and potentially encourage broader up-take. UDDI has been the mandate of UDDI.org, whose members include American Express, BEA Systems Inc, Boeing, Cisco Systems Inc, Ford Motor Company and Fujitsu. UDDI was launched by Microsoft, IBM and Ariba Inc to describe and register businesses using XML, in an online database. Since its launch in September 2000 - the apex of the b2b, b2c and online market places boom - UDDI has seen mixed fortunes. Rather than large, public online directories - as originally envisioned - customers are mostly building directories behind their firewalls. Early adopters evaluating the concept include oil giant Shell, the UK Government and the American Red Cross. As a result, UDDI 2.0 was launched to help those building small directories. It provided a way for multiple entities in a UDDI directory to link themselves in a hierarchy or in a horizontal, point-to-point chain. UDDI 2.0 also added a mechanism for those querying a UDDI directory to verify that the statements an organization makes about itself are true. This week public UDDI Business Registries from IBM, Microsoft and SAP AG adopted UDDI 2.0. NTT Communications is expected to launch its own registry this fall. Doubts remain, though. Hewlett-Packard Co signed an agreement to operate a registry, but that registry's future is in doubt after HP pulled out of Java middleware and web services. HP failed to return Computerwire calls for comment. Meanwhile, some early adopters are bypassing UDDI entirely. Deloitte Consulting principal and e-business chief technology officer Michael DeBellis reports early adopters are hard-coding together web services, by-passing UDDI and defeating the vision. UDDI faces an additional threat from Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP). Anecdotal evidence says some early adopters are putting web services data into directories based on LDAP, a well-established directory technology, instead of UDDI. Observers feel UDDI is in danger of being sidelined by events. "We are seeing very few public UDDI registries. Where it is being used is behind the firewall," DeBellis said. UDDI.org's answer is UDDI 3.0. The specification improves interoperability and replication between registries behind those firewalls. Siva Darivemula, strategic initiatives marketing manager for IBM's WebSphere marketing, said 3.0 is richer and contains more detailed descriptions than previous specifications. This richness makes building and linking separate registries easier. It means, for example, changes to one company's UDDI registry can be easily recorded and replicated in a partner company's registry via UDDI's XML syntax. This avoids the need for re-programming. Darivemula said version 3.0 will grow UDDI adoption. "People have been getting their hands dirty and deciding what to do next," he said. © ComputerWire
ComputerWire, 26 Jul 2002

IBM and Linux our biggest threats – Microsoft

IBM and Linux combined represent a threat and inspiration as Microsoft Corp drives into enterprise computing, top company executives said yesterday. Computing giant IBM wages war against Microsoft in lucrative corporate accounts while Linux, the low-cost threat to Windows, wins supporters in fertile developer communities. Speaking at Microsoft's 2002 Financial Analysts Day yesterday, executives heading-up Microsoft's developer and enterprise server divisions spoke with frankness. They also revealed product and strategic initiatives to combat the double-headed threat. Eric Rudder, senior vice president developer and platform evangelism, set the tone. "IBM is our greatest competitor. In the way they sell products and compete in corporate accounts," he said. Paul Flessner, senior vice president .NET enterprise servers, called IBM and Linux a "formidable" challenge. "It's not just IBM alone, it's not just Linux alone," he said. He said it had been a tough year for server companies. "The number that scares me the most, is that the number of servers shipped [this year] was down," he said. However, Flessner articulated Microsoft's response to Linux. "Linux is free like a puppy. It looks free but when you get all the pieces around it, it doesn't work out so free. There's a lot more than I/O and memory management to make up an operating system." Flessner said IBM has a "slight lead" in e-business infrastructure, with WebSphere running on Linux. A second threat to Microsoft is Tivoli, and Flessner hinted Microsoft is gearing-up a systems management product. "It's solid competition. We are working to get in there," he said. He believes the planned Windows. NET Server will issue a further challenge. New features for the operating system, scheduled for the end of 2002, include wizards to improve configuration, management and deployment of Windows .NET Server and Active Directory, and better process isolation so processes cannot knock out applications. Rudder said in 2003 Microsoft must ensure .NET becomes the preferred architecture for application development. To achieve this, Microsoft must convert millions of developers using existing versions of C/C++ and Visual Basic onto .NET versions of the company's languages. These .NET languages underpin Microsoft's servers. One way is to build greater support in the community for Microsoft's programming languages, tools and servers. Microsoft believes Linux has cracked this nut, and explains Microsoft's ASP.NET Web Matrix Project - a community development tool for building ASP.NET Web applications available for free download. "We need to build a vibrant and healthy developer community. That's the lesson Linux has taught us. Having people to help. Knowing where to get questions answered," Rudder said. Rudder also revealed more details of future versions of Visual Studio.NET, highlighted on Wednesday's .NET Briefing Day. Visual Studio.NET Everett will for the first time include the .NET Compact Framework for developers of mobile applications. Delivery is scheduled for the time-frame of Windows .NET Server. Visual Studio.NET Yukon, will feature an improved integrated development environment (IDE), "community support" and integration with SQL Server enabling developers to build database features like stored procedures in languages like C++, Visual J# and TSQL, used in SQL Server. Visual Studio.NET Longhorn is scheduled to ship with the Longhorn operating system, supporting a new storage system and user interface. Microsoft plans budget and staff expansion to woo corporates. Research and development will grow more than 20% in 2003 to $5.2bn, with $2bn going on server technology. The company will increase its employee base by 5,000 during the coming year. This includes a 15% increase in account management, to reduce the number of accounts staff manage, and a 47% increase in sales people. Also planned is a $200m worldwide TV advertising campaign. © ComputerWire
ComputerWire, 26 Jul 2002

Telefonica abandons Germany as 3G hopes collapse

Telefonica SA has frozen the operations of its mobile subsidiaries in Europe in a move that confirms the collapse of hopes that 3G services will be a huge money-spinner. It is writing off 4.8bn euros ($4.8bn) from the value of assets and associated restructuring operations in what is likely to be a prelude to a fire sale of its subsidiaries in Austria, Germany, Italy and Switzerland. Finnish Incumbent Sonera Corp, which is Telefonica's partner in Group 3G UMTS GmbH in Germany and Ipse 2000 in Italy, has also written off its entire investment worth 4.2bn euros ($4.2bn). It said the board of Group 3G has decided to halt the company's current business operations. This is a consequence of its recent experiences in the German mobile market, the increased cost of capital, and the technology delay in the roll-out of 3G. The decision will increase uncertainty in the whole sector. While it could remove competitors, the big danger feared by operators like T-Mobile in Germany is that the company's assets will be snapped up at bargain rates by companies who can compete on a far lower cost base than those who paid the full cost of 3G licenses. Telefonica's shares leapt 14% to 9.50 euros ($9.50) on the news because it is regarded as the end to an adventure that would lead to huge financial pain. Though Telefonica would only confirm the suspension of its mobile operations in Germany, the company is expected to part company before long with its European cellular operations to concentrate on its home market and Latin America. © ComputerWire
ComputerWire, 26 Jul 2002

TSMC figures suggest slower silicon recovery

Fears that the chip sector's recovery is still anemic at best were confirmed yesterday when Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Ltd forecast softening demand in the third quarter. The prediction came as the Taiwanese foundry giant released second quarter results which showed sales up 68% to NTD44bn ($1.3bn). Operating income was up 4,110.7% to NTD12bn ($347m), while net income grew 2,886.7% to NTD9.3bn ($270m). CFO Harvey Wang said in a statement that the firm was pleased with the results which represented the fourth quarter of growth since "we hit bottom in the second quarter of last year." However, looking ahead, the company said it expected that July revenue will be seasonally lower. It also said wafer shipments would be off sequentially by a low single digit percentage in the third quarter, and capacity utilization would be in the low 70% range "due to the softening demand on the back of an 11.5% higher capacity level than in Q202." To add to the chip manufacturing equipment sector's woes, it added that capex this year would be under $2bn. While TSMC's figures do not necessarily mean the chip industry is in reverse, together with AMD and Intel's recent results, it is hard not to conclude that the recovery is not as vigorous as vendors were expecting earlier this year. For the year to date, sales were up 21.5% to NTD80bn ($2.3bn), with net income up 82% to NTD15.9 ($457m). © ComputerWire
ComputerWire, 26 Jul 2002

Today is SysAdmin Day

Site of the DaySite of the Day Today's SOTD is nothing if not topical. For it's the last Friday in July and that means Sysadminday.com,host of the second annual Systems Administrator Appreciation Day. Yes, it's a Happy SAAD day, the one day in the year when it's OK to be nice to your techies. Bribe them with gifts, pretend you understand the jokes in the Bastard Operator From Hell. A few pleasantries today will carry you a long, long way. All the way into August. So Simon, Aaron, Perlmeisters, database gurus, server config kings and Reg techies, we love you guys, OK. ®
Drew Cullen, 26 Jul 2002

iPAQ is ‘tainted brand’ – Kewney

Compaq's "arrogance" has been attacked, in public, by a body of users. Can HP really carry on with its plan to kill the Jornada name and stick with the tainted iPaq brand? I recently had to go to bat for a user of the iPAQ. He tells me he's spent the last two years trying to get Dixons and Compaq to admit that his model has a duff circuit; it only works when absolutely fully charged. In the course of his two year battle, he's been persuaded by tech support that the machine isn't working because he has an out of date PC, and has been talked into buying a new one. He's been talked into buying new software, downloading "fixes" which don't fix, and generally, being miserable about lost data, lost business caused by failures, and wasted time. I got onto a senior Dixons executive working in quality control, and gave him a hard time. He seemed surprised I was bothering. "The iPAQ, you know what the problem with it is, surely? It doesn't work." The iPAQ user petition provides "a comprehensive list" of the issues that these devices suffer from. A quick read of this list should be evidence enough that it is time HP/Compaq admits that these devices are defective and takes bold steps to fix them," it says. It's a list which the trade has known about for ages, and has kept quiet about. The problems are hard to understand, because the iPAQ has been so popular - so popular that when HP and Compaq merged, executives agreed that the iPAQ brand was, obviously, the one to keep going. Our analysis suggests that there is a perfectly simple explanation for the iPAQ's success. It has been a wonderful prototyping tool for the Pocket PC development community, because it is possible to plug a full-size PCMCIA standard PC Card device into it. Developers and pioneers don't mind that. But real users of a Pocket PC who want a wireless LAN, don't go for an iPAQ because to use an iPAQ with its huge, heavy PCMCIA jacket, you have to be dedicated. Real users aren't; and they have gone for the Jornada, with a CompactFlash wireless card - neat, small, and much less power-greedy. The iPaq has been kept alive by one thing: its ability to connect to Bluetooth devices, with a built-in Bluetooth wireless. Again, this arrived in time to help people do some prototyping work at a time when most Pocket PC size devices - PDAs and the like - don't have Bluetooth, nor any way of getting it attached. The truth appears to be filtering through to Hewlett-Packard at last. Yesterday's announcement of the new Jornada 928 punctures the complacency of the pro-iPaq lobby. It wasn't going to happen, officially; when the merger was finalised, HP/Compaq executives were very clear about one fact - that the Jornada line would be ending. Officially, the story about why the 928 has appeared is something like this: "We needed to have a Pocket PC Phone Edition, and the Jornada design was ready, and the iPAQ design wasn't ready." That's part of a disaster-story, verging on the farcical. As near as we can tell, what really happened is that Compaq was working with HTC on a "Wallaby" project which would have been the first iPAQ Phone Edition of the Pocket PC. When HTC finished the design, Compaq didn't like it. There were some good reasons why Compaq didn't like it. It didn't have Bluetooth for example. There are reasons why Bluetooth can't be integrated into the current generation of Phone Edition devices - and they are all perfectly understandable - but more of that in a minute. The thing that matters is that HTC found itself with an expensive design, and nobody to pay for the costs of developing it. So they approached NEC (sources say) with the Phone Edition box they'd designed, and NEC said yes, they'd buy half the machines. And NEC showed it to someone in mmo2. Who this was, I can't find out. But whoever it was, understood that mmo2 needs to make money from mobile data. It was almost certainly the same person who set up mmo2's deal with Handspring for the Treo, and who ordered lots and lots of them (over 100,000 say some sources) and with BlackBerry - there, the order was for 165,000. And they did a deal with HTC, ordering another 100,000 machines, which have been branded XDA. There is simply no way the UK market can absorb that many phone edition PDAs. Even if they were simply nice phones, what mmo2 needed was 100,000 users all spending fifty pounds a month on GPRS data. There simply aren't that many rich idiots around. It isn't even clear that this amount of traffic would make mmo2 the money it needed - the spectrum it would swallow up would be enormous, and certainly, would require more base stations and mini-masts than mmo2 can afford to install in the next year. But it doesn't matter; the figures have been re-assessed, and, sources say, reality has penetrated. The 100,000 XDA (remember, this is the ex-Wallaby) order has been cut to 20,000, and BT has bought the rest. And the Blackberry order has been similarly cut back - this probably explains why RIM's share price has collapsed, since it isn't in a position to sue mmo2. While all this was going on, the battle inside HP was raging about the design of the 928. Some wanted to have Bluetooth in it. But at the time HP was designing the 928 - about 12 months ago, say sources - the Bluetooth stack was not stable. "We can't create an embedded system with an unstable stack," said one of HP's Grenoble designers. "We really wanted to have Bluetooth, but the only way we could do that, was to have it in a CompactFlash plug-in card. And we couldn't do that." The reason they couldn't do that, was explained by HP's pre-sales boss, Christian Chaffard. "The problem is that the phone needs a hardware link for voice to the CF card. This pin isn't provided in a standard CF interface. So we were trying to make the connection over software, using the Pocket PC OS - and when we did the figures, we found that we couldn't guarantee the latency timings." To qualify for approval as a GSM phone, the device has to guarantee not to introduce more than about half a second of delay to the voice. As anybody will know if they've made a cellular call to a friend in the same room, the network, compression, decompression, and error correction, all add up to about a third of a second in good conditions; adding any software-induced delay to that, means that the device simply isn't a GSM phone. At Compaq, putting Bluetooth into the latest iPAQ was less of a concern, because - as you can see from the petition - Compaq simply didn't seem to care. HP staff say they are appalled at what they are now finding about Compaq's attitude to customer concerns. One executive, asking not to be quoted by name, said: "We don't do things like that in HP. If a product has faults, we withdraw it, we replace it, we fix it, we produce a new rollout. It's terribly expensive! - so we don't launch a product till it's ready. But Compaq was just producing faulty designs, and replacing them with untested updates." Faults in the iPAQ range are so many, it's not always possible to be sure which of them is actually causing any particular malfunction. One of the worst problems has been the power supply, say resellers, with most returns due to simple failure. But there have been so many revisions and so many updates, that it's never really feasible to diagnose what is going wrong with any customer at any time, they say. And, they add, Compaq simply wouldn't replace faulty ones. They would promise, say resellers, but when it came to acting, they just didn't. Today, we have the new Jornada 928 announced. It is a Jornada - not just in name, but designed by HP. And the next edition will come out in Spring 2003, says Chaffard - and that will be branded Jornada too, and not iPAQ. HP is starting to understand that its original excitement over the iPAQ brand was a hasty judgement, and wrong. Whether it's ready to acknowledge that it has to kill the iPaq yet, and go with Jornada and the Jornada tradition, remains to be seen. © Newswireless.net. Related story We hate our iPAQs
Guy Kewney, 26 Jul 2002

Princeton ‘hacks’ Yale admissions site

Yale is threatening to sue Princeton after officials at the rival Ivy League college allegedly hacked into Yale's Web site to gain unauthorised access to its admission decisions. According to Yale Daily News, Princeton staff gained unauthorised access to decisions on at least 11 prospective Yale undergraduates in early April through its deeply insecure online admission notification system. Using birth dates and social security numbers obtained from Princeton applications, officials were able to find out whether applicants had been successful in gained access to Yale, its alleged. In some case Princeton allegedly found out whether applicants were successful before they received official notification themselves. Yale has pledged to inform affected applicants of the breach. Yale Daily News reports that Stephen LeMenager, a dean of admissions at Princeton, explained its actions by saying it was only "innocently" checking if Yale's site was secure. Yale learned of the security breach in June after Princeton officials mentioned how easy it was to see their rival's administrations records at Ivy League deans' conference. Yale then carried out a security audit which traced back access to admission data to four PCs in Princeton's admissions office. Following the security breach, it is considering introducing PIN numbers to make the site more secure. Princeton could have parts of its funding withheld for breaching student confidentiality under provisions within the Family Educational Rights Privacy Act. It may also face criminal charges. Yale is consulting law enforcement officials. ®
John Leyden, 26 Jul 2002

Ethical hacker faces war driving charges

A Houston computer security analyst has been charged with hacking after demonstrating the insecurity of a county courts wireless LAN. Stefan Puffer, 33, was indicted by a Grand Jury on Wednesday with two counts of fraud for allegedly breaking into Harris County district clerk's wireless computer system. It's believed to be the first case of its kind in the US. Puffer, who was employed briefly by the county's technology department in 1999, could get five years in jail and faces a $250,000 fine on each count if convicted, the Houston Chronicle reports. He's accused of accessing the system March 8 in an alleged intrusion that cost the county a reported $5,000 to clean up. District Clerk Charles Bacarisse told the paper that no confidential information was disclosed but the alleged intrusion eventually resulted in the county closing its wireless LAN only a month after it was activated. But is the prosecution a case of shooting the messenger? On March 18, Puffer demonstrated to a county official and a Chronicle reporter how easy it was to gain access to the court's system using only a laptop computer and a wireless LAN card. Puffer first noticed the problem while scanning for insecure 802.11 networks throughout Houston earlier that month, around the time that the alleged offence took place. ®
John Leyden, 26 Jul 2002

NEC splits chips, screens

NEC will spin off its semiconductor division in November, the company confirmed yesterday. The chip business, worth some 680 billion Yen ($5.8 billion), will be called "NEC Electronics Corporation". NEC will also spin off its displays division, under the slightly more exciting moniker NEC Electron Devices. In the dim and distant past, NEC was the Nippon Electric Company. Both the semiconductor and display divisions will remain owned by the parent. The company vowed to continue investments in SOI and copper technology. If you must know more, there's a presentation here, which explains exactly what a "pull-type operation" is. NEC's chief architect made headlines recently with an assessment of Intel's Itanium processor, which using standard diplomatic euphemisms, could be described as "brutally frank". ® Related Story Itanic OEM slams Itanic
Andrew Orlowski, 26 Jul 2002

Valenti backs away from P2P hack bill

House Hollywood sock puppet Howard Berman (Democrat, California) may have gone too far in licking the boots of his benevolent patrons. Indeed, he's gone and licked the shine clear off Motion Picture Ass. of America President Jack Valenti's boots, as this article from Reuters indicates. "We're pleased that a bipartisan group of lawmakers ... want to curb the explosion of Internet piracy," the wire service quotes the previously-supportive Valenti as saying. "However, there are aspects of the bill we believe need changing as it moves through the legislative process. We look forward to working with Congress in this regard." The bee in Valenti's bonnet is most likely the loose language in Berman's bill. "A copyright owner shall not be liable in any criminal or civil action for disabling, interfering with, blocking, diverting, or otherwise impairing the unauthorized distribution, display, performance, or reproduction of his or her copyrighted work on a publicly accessible peer-to-peer file trading network, if such impairment does not, without authorization, alter, delete, or otherwise impair the integrity of any computer file or data residing on the computer of a file trader." That can't be good. It means that anyone with a copyright will be allowed to hack the daylights out of anyone, including MPAA Headquarters, so long as they have a 'reasonable suspicion' of infringement and notify the DoJ of their intent at least seven days before commencing the attack. Somehow, Valenti failed to impress on the over-eager Berman's mind that this legislation is for media giants only. The second part of the problem is in Berman's extending protections to the victims of such attacks for damages exceeding $50. Again, he's gone over the top in his eagerness to delight his masters. Or, said another way, if anyone attacked can claim $50 or more in harm, the attacker loses his legal protection. Good grief; has Berman gone mad? Everyone and his brother will be able to claim that. So, while Recording Industry Ass. of America (RIAA) President Hillary Rosen still welcomes the Berman Gift; Hollywood Honcho Valenti is stepping back until his team of Ass. lawyers and lobbyists can draft a proper bill for Berman, and send him to the House floor armed with the right stuff. ® Related Story Congress to turn hacks into hackers
Thomas C Greene, 26 Jul 2002

Economy sneezes, PDA biz catches cold

US demand for PDAs fell by 10 per cent in the last quarter, according to IDC. 2.6 million devices shipped stateside in this period. Not surprisingly, following the completion of the SirCam Merger, HP nabbed second spot shipping 485,000 iPaq and Journadas. In Europe the New HP slightly leads the market ahead of Palm. Europe has shown similar weak demand for PDAs as the US. In real terms Sony was the biggest gainer, slipping into third place with 10 per cent of the market pushing Handspring into fourth spot with 6.5 per cent share, or 250,000 devices. Demand for Handspring PDAs collapsed in this period: down 47 per cent from the previous quarter. Palm fell from 40.6 per cent to 32.4 per cent share. The market remains tiny: the number of PDAs shipped in the three month period is the same as six week's production of the Nokia 7650 alone (if you can believe Nokia's press releases). Sony Ericsson, whose P800 smartphone represents the first tablet form-factor challenge to Palm from the phone companies (or at least the first one that doesn't feel like you're holding a plate to your ear), confirmed to us yesterday that the P800 will arrive in the US in the fourth quarter of this year, owing to the longer approval period required of carriers. That's when things get really interesting [about time too -ed.]. ® Related Stories European handheld shipments plummet http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/54/26395.html">iPAQ is 'tainted brand' - Kewney IBM talks Big Biz with Palm Palm 'mulled Linux' for next-gen OS Hands on with the PDA-killer Sony P800
Andrew Orlowski, 26 Jul 2002

Apple lawyers nix box pix

Apple's legal department has sent threatening letters to two websites publishing incredibly boring information, purportedly of the company's new professional PowerMac case. Such cease and desist letters from Cupertino have in the past been interpreted as giving rumors the mark of authenticity. This could be an elaborate deception by Apple. eWeek is made of sterner stuff, recognizing the letters for what they are, and has reproduced photos and diagrams. Either way, we're not spoiling anyone's party by telling you that the uncorroborated pictures and case diagram contain few surprises. In fact, consuming enormous quantities of hallucinogens won't make the experience any more exciting, although if you stare at this one long enough, the sinister ventilation holes could, and we say could turn into a regiment of sinister, dancing cough sweets. (You could See God and/or Tangerine Dream…) But we're not promising a Zen voyage self-discovery here. The only feature that raised an eyebrow here at Vulture Central is that the case has two air vents, and a 7lb heat sink: suggesting that the new 7470 is now on the Itanic scale of heat dissipation. It's just a box, dammit. It's what's inside that counts. ® The Register Mac Channel
Andrew Orlowski, 26 Jul 2002

What's wrong with this JPEG picture?

LettersLetters JPEGs are not free: Patent holder pursues IP grab JPEG guardians vow to defend free images No more JPEGs - ISO to withdraw image standard We've been here before, but it doesn't get any more fun, does it? It seems there's money-hungry morons out there besides RIAA and MPAA, they'rethe so-called "IP Companies" - law firms that will buy, at bargain basement prices, technology/software patents then vigorously 'defend their IP' (eg, legally extort as many companies as possible) ... These same morons are to be put on a pedestal and hailed for all eternity. That is, hailed using large caliber weapons, rotten vegetables and all other kinds of unpleasantness (such as Windows buglists). If these "software patents" (read "Legal Extortion Tool") are not swiftly outlawed, then I predict that pretty soon, content providers provide, err ... nothing, because they simply cannot hack up the kind of cash these legal bloodhounds demand of them. A good example is what happened to NetRadio - now imagine this happening to the most trivial of cantrips, processes and underlying technology. I can't think of a better way to grind process to a dead standstill. To the so-called "IP Companies": Shrivel, die, curl up, and go away. You are a plague to the world at large, one that deserves faster, swifter and more painful treatment than the Evil Empire of His Billness (who, BTW is also guilty of IP leverage - OpenGL anyone ?) [not proven - Letters Ed.] Jeroen Braamhaar It is amazing that they could pull such a scam, and more so that they could take in a company with as large a legal staff as Sony must have. This might be a good time apply for a patent on "the graphical encoding of audible communication". Do you think we could sneak a patent on the written word past the USPTO? Bob Watkins You very well could, Bob. I guess the bad American economy is forcing some companies to act like crack dealers, charging for the product after you've become hooked on using it. Forgent's actions had to be based on suggestions from their legal dept., I can't see people in marketing and customer relations being too happy about this dog of an idea. It only points out a company's lack of innovation an detachment from its customer base. Jim Anderson, Nyack, NY USA Considering the patent in question was issued in 1986 and was never excercised it seems that the intention was to comply with the spirit of the JPEG movement and provide the underlying technologies for free. Now Forgery ... sorry, that's Forgent ... realising what they own, are trying to cash in on the grounds that they never agreed to this arrangement, former management at Compression Labs did. I wonder if they learnt that one from Carlton and Granada's tactics over the ITV Digital debacle, or maybe they want to be like Compuserve? Mark Grady A reader at one of the biggest retailers judges Forgent's claim so:- Looking at the link to the patent, it appears that the 'related application' (which was abandoned) actually relates more closely to JPEG compression, mentioning discrete cosine transforms as it does. So far as I know, straight JPEGs use DCT rather than runlength type encoding - see references on http://www.w3.org/Graphics/JPEG/ for details. So if Forgent ask my company to pay a license fee, I'll be recommending that we tell them where to get off. Too much FUD, man! [name supplied] Several readers pointed out that the patent was more applicable to MPEG than JPEG. Bruce Jones is one:- The patent is not a JPEG patent, it is a MPEG patent. Notice the use of intraframe comparison being the basis of the patent (basically how MPEG works). JPEG encoding is a single frame DCT encoding standard. In general, this patent looks like it was originally written as an IP grab. Note the reference to scaling using binlinear interpolation. This has been how image scaling has been done for many years before '87, and the mention of the method is irrelevant to the real basis of the patent. (It also looks like the patent was written to look more complicated than the method really is). Inter-frame compression is a technique that applies only to MPEG. Any comments? Alan Baker "Blimey!" is my not entirely helpful comment. So can we throw this upon you, dear readers? Several recommended PNG - but the PNG format too is clouded by potential submarine claims. JPEG's call for prior art could be hampered:- As it happens, US patent law explicitly does not care about any prior art that was not inside the USA. If it was documented overseas, that will usually pass muster, but prior art overseas that was not suitably documented (relevant scientific journals etc.) is toast. Thanks to an Indian nuclear physicist for pointing this out: the US can grant a patent on something that's well known in India, and can then use the WIPO to argue that the US patent-holder's rights should rule supreme in India too. James Minney Several of you wrote in to correct a point made by Richard Clark in a follow-up this week:- The patent in question will expire 17 years from grant, not from filing. The new rule in the US (which I believe came in in the mid nineties), is that a patent term expires 20 years from filing, which is the same as in most of the worldThe patent in question will expire 17 years from grant, not from filing. The new rule in the US (which I believe came in in the mid nineties), is that a patent term expires 20 years from filing, which is the same as in most of the world Alan Clarke Thanks too to Chris Kennedy. What's wrong with this picture? (pun)__The US patent system has been manipulated for many years by pharmaceuticals, computer companies and media companies.__I am sick to death of what should have been a straightforward 13 year patent life extended and manipulated with the consent of the so called governed. No one consented me.__Thomas Jefferson said governments derive their power from the consent of the governed. That's being lost sight of time and again in this country.__Howard Hanek Thanks for your comments, and keep them coming. Er, now. Latches, anyone? ®
Andrew Orlowski, 26 Jul 2002