21st > August > 2002 Archive

ISOC set to triumph in race for .org domain

The Internet Society has been recommended by the Internet Corp for Assigned Names and Numbers to replace VeriSign Inc as the manager of the .org top-level internet domain, writes Kevin Murphy. ISOC, an international association that focuses on standards, public policy, education and training, and membership, beat off 10 rival bids for the recommendation, which comes at the end of an evaluation process lasting several months. If ISOC gets final approval for its application, it will bring a much-needed revenue source to the organization, which was recently told by its auditors that it may not be able to continue as a going concern. The .org registry has 2.4 million domains in it, and VeriSign currently charges $6 per year per name at wholesale. "ISOC is a nonprofit corporation that is operated exclusively for educational, charitable, and scientific purposes," a statement on ISOC's web site reads. "Should the bid be successful, revenues will be used to support ISOC programs, which serve the internet and internet users throughout the world." ICANN recruited three teams to evaluate the proposals - one comprising analysts from Gartner Inc, one comprising internet academics, and one comprising participants in ICANN's non-commercial domain name holders constituency (NCDNHC). "ISOC was the only proposal ranked in the top tier by all three evaluation teams," ICANN CEO Stuart Lynn told ComputerWire. Each team split the 11 applicants into average, below average and above average, he said. "We are pleased that the ICANN staff and all of the evaluation teams have placed significant confidence in the Internet Society," said ISOC CEO Lynn St. Amour said. "We are privileged to have been recommended from among so many other commendable bids." ISOC's chosen service provider is Afilias Ltd, which currently runs the new .info domain and has about one million names under management. Afilias is owned by a consortium of 18 domain name registrars, each of which has a capped shareholding. "We are pleased that the ICANN staff and all of the evaluation teams have placed significant confidence in the Internet Society and its proposal, and look forward to the remainder of the re-delegation process," and Afilias spokesperson said. The recommendation is subject to 10 days of applicant comment, 30 days of public comment, and then approval by the ICANN board of directors, Lynn said. The transition from VeriSign to the winning applicant is to happen before the end of the year. However, there is no guarantee that the board will rubberstamp the ICANN staff recommendation. Indeed, while ISOC was the only application in the "above average" category in all three evaluation reports, it was not the leading application in any. Gartner's report shows a bid from Neustar Inc (.biz, .us) on top, and the NCDNHC ranked two other bids above ISOC. The academic team had Neustar and ISOC equally ranked in first place. Rival bidders speaking on the condition of anonymity pointed to criticisms of favoritism. Over half of the ICANN board are ISOC members, though none of them hold any positions of authority. ICANN chair Vint Cerf, who had no part in any .org evaluation team, sat on the ISOC board until last summer when his term came to an end. ICANN's Lynn dismissed such conspiracy theories as "pure fantasy". He said: "The [ICANN] board set the ground rules for the evaluation, but they had no input at all. They were not even informed of the outcome until maybe 15 minutes before the report was published." ISOC is currently facing a cash crunch that will be alleviated by the revenue the .org registry business will bring in. In ISOC's application the organization discloses that its independent auditors raised "substantial doubts over [ISOC's] ability to continue as a going concern". At the end of last year, the organization restructured its membership structure in an effort to raise funds. VeriSign is obliged to spin off .org under a deal reached with ICANN and the US Department of Commerce last year, under which it gets to keep its domain registrar business and gets right of renewal on its lucrative contract to run .com. As part of the deal, the successful .org applicant will get $5m startup money from VeriSign's coffers. © Computerwire.com. All rights reserved.
ComputerWire, 21 Aug 2002

KPN loses faith in 3G, to dump Hutchison stake

Dutch incumbent KPN NV plans to sell for a knock-down price its 15% stake in Hutchison 3G, which is due to pioneer 3G services in the UK in October, after a major reappraisal of the business plans of its mobile operations in Europe led it to write off 9bn euros ($8.7bn) from the value of its holdings. While it paid approximately 1.5bn euros ($1.4bn) for its stake in Hutchison 3G, it has now written off 1.2bn euros ($1.16bn) from this investment, valuing the holding at 300m euros ($291m) and suggesting that the UK's fifth mobile operator is worth just 2bn euros ($1.9bn). "This is a non-core asset and all non-core assets are up for sale but there aren't that many interested buyers," said chief executive Ad Scheeobouwer. Hong Kong conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa Ltd, which owns a 65% holding in the company, along with Japanese giant NTT DoCoMo with 20%, said it was "deeply disappointed" with the decision. But KPN, which has already slowed down its own migration to 3G, has also slashed 6.6bn euros ($6.4bn) off the value of its E-Plus German subsidiary. It has written off 3.9bn euros ($3.8bn) from the 8.4bn euros ($8.1bn) it paid for a German 3G license, and 2.7bn euros ($2.6bn) from goodwill in the operation. While KPN expects to spend 1.4bn euros ($1.35bn) on 3G phone networks in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany by 2005, the write-downs reflect a belief that 3G will not be the money spinner that carriers expected when they parted with billions for licenses. KPN brought in an independent appraiser to look at the business plans of its mobile operations and looked to see whether their value in the company's books could be justified by the amount of revenue they will bring in over the years. KPN is following the example of UK incumbent BT Group Plc in cutting debt levels accumulated during an ill-judged expansion program carried out by previous management. In the second quarter to June 30, the net loss was 9.3bn euros ($8.9bn), up from a loss of 499m euros ($484m) on revenue of 3.1bn euros ($3bn), down from 3.2bn euros ($3bn). The current figure includes 7.4bn euros ($7.2bn) of amortization and impairments. KPN has brought its net debt down over the past 12 months from 22.8bn euros ($22.1bn) to 15bn euros ($14.5bn). © Computerwire.com. All rights reserved.
ComputerWire, 21 Aug 2002

MS JV aims for 50% growth in China

Microsoft Corp's Chinese joint venture is aiming for 50% annual sales growth with products launched against IBM, the company said yesterday. Censoft Co Ltd is a joint venture with the Beijing government's Zhongguancun conglomerate, which owns the majority stake. Chief executive Zhu Xiduo told reporters Microsoft would help make Censoft an international company and would introduce its research engineers to assist local engineers in international standards and quality control work. Censoft was built with $12m in registered capital and plans to make $14m in its first year targeting firms in the chemicals, steel an electric power industries. © Computerwire.com. All rights reserved.
ComputerWire, 21 Aug 2002

First Direct banks on broadband

First Direct - the telephone and Internet bank - has teamed up with BTOpenworld to offer its one million punters discounted broadband access. Punters can get the co-branded service for £27.49 a month - a discount of £2.50 on BTO's normal monthly fee. As part of first direct's bid to attract users it will target some 100,000 of its punters it reckons are likely to be attracted to the technology. Crucially, it also claims it will only target those who live in an ADSL-enabled area. The bank reckons it will attract some 25,000 users within the next 12 months. So is it possible BTO could enter into further co-branded deals of this nature? Possibly, but no such deals are planned at the moment, said a spokeswoman for BTO. ®
Tim Richardson, 21 Aug 2002

AMD Athlon breaks through 2GHz mark

AMD launched its fastest ever processors today, the Athlon XP processor 2400+ and 2600+, claiming their application performance outshone anything arch-rival Intel had to offer. The newly minted Athlon XP 2400+ and Athlon XP 2600+ run at 2.0GHz and 2.133GHz respectively, though AMD says judging processor performance on speed alone, what it describes as the 'Megahurtz myth', can be misleading. In common with other Athlon XP processors, the XP 2600+ and 2400+ are both made using 0.13 micron copper process technology and support a 266MHz front-side bus. Athlon XP 2600+ and 2400+ processors feature QuantiSpeed architecture, 384KB of on-chip, full-speed cache, and support for AMD's 3DNow! Professional instructions for enhanced multimedia capabilities. AMD claims it technology offers performance advantages over Intel on a broad array of real-world applications, including digital media, office productivity and 3D gaming. AMD Athlon XP processors 2600+ and 2400+ are priced at $297 and $193, respectively, in 1,000-unit quantities. The chip manufacturer has begun shipping chip samples to PC vendors worldwide, with systems expected to be available in September. Intel, never one to take such challenges lightly, is reportedly poised to strike back with the launch a 2.8GHz Pentium 4 processor next Monday. We're not sure of the pricing on these chips yet, but we expect the introduction of faster chips from both AMD and Intel to result in cheaper prices for earlier processors. ® External Links Review of the XP 2600 by Tom's Hardware Links to other reviews
John Leyden, 21 Aug 2002

UK Gov inches ahead with broadband aggregation

The UK Government has finally begun its search for broadband providers prepared to supply services to the public sector. The Office of Government Commerce (OGC), responsible for procurement, has placed an advert in the Official Journal of the European Communities looking for potential partners. The OGC claims this "signals the first step in the letting of framework agreements, which will enable buyers to obtain the best value for money when purchasing Broadband Internet services". Indeed, the idea of aggregating public sector demand for broadband is something the Government has been keen to promote for some time. The theory behind it is simple enough; the public sector could provide a massive market for broadband providers prepared to supply schools, hospitals, local government offices and agencies etc. Of course, not all its schools, GP surgeries, etc are within cable and ADSL-enabled areas. So, if enough demand is whipped up for broadband - especially in these areas currently not served by cable or ADSL - then this aggregated demand might just be enough to entice providers to invest in the roll-out of this technology. At the same time the public sector - with its massive buying power - hopefully gets broadband services at more competitive rates. And on the back of this increased availability, more consumers and businesses would then be able to sign up to broadband. So when will we start to see some results? A spokesman for the OCG said he'd get back to us on that one. ®
Tim Richardson, 21 Aug 2002

Dell taps dealer channel with unbadged ‘white box’ PC

Dell intends to tap the channel by selling unbadged computers which resellers can configure as their own. Dell is, of course, the Great Satan of direct sales, but it uses resellers and distributors from time to time when circumstances make this the best solution. Its new 'white box' strategy specifically embraces dealers however, rather than considering them a sales route of the last resort. Starting this Friday (August 23), Dell will sell the unbranded White Box D510) to dealers. Prices start at $499 for a basic unit with a Celeron processor, CD-ROM drive and Windows XP but without a monitor. ®
John Leyden, 21 Aug 2002

MP wants law to force ISPs to get tough on porn spam

The UK's Internet industry has reacted to comments made in a newspaper by respected Net-savvy MP, Derek Wyatt. In today's Guardian Mr Wyatt, chair of the parliamentary Internet Committee, called for the Government to force ISPs to get tough on spam. In particular, he called on ISPs to be responsible for pornographic spam received by their subscribers. Mr Wyatt's comments appear to stem from him and his family receiving more and more pornographic spam. Mr Wyatt told The Guardian:"The amount of porn I get on a daily basis and the amount my children get is outrageous. It's so explicit and has put my children off using the Internet". The MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppy also said he wanted to seek an amendment to the Communications Bill making ISPs responsible for their content - in much the same way that TV stations are responsible for what they broadcast. But a spokesman for the Internet Service Providers' Association (ISPA) said he was disappointed in Mr Wyatt's remarks and pointed out that ISPs already do a lot to combat spam. He went on: "ISPs are mere conduits for information - a point recognised in law. [If these proposals were introduced] it would be like holding the postal service responsible for junk mail." Earlier this month messaging firm Nexor warned that pornographic emails are on the rise and growing in number by 20 per cent a year. In May the European Parliament voted to ban spam. The new European directive should be in place some time next year and would mean that people will have to "opt in" or ask to receive commercial email. However, many people are sceptical about the effectiveness of this legislation since much of the spam originates from outside the EU. ® Related Stories Porn spam on the rise Europe bans spam
Tim Richardson, 21 Aug 2002

Nokia 7650 – the camera phone future?

ReviewReview Only a couple of Bluetooth issues mar Nokia's much-hyped camera phone, which is a landmark consumer electronics device. For one - lack of support for Bluetooth headsets, Nokia is firmly to blame. Who's to blame for the other, problems syncing with Windows PCs? Several culprits. We'll address these at the end. I was on hand at the launch of this device in Barcelona last year, and you could probably gauge my scepticsm about picture messaging - especially as it appeared to be so costly - from my report. But this is a compulsive device, which ought establish picture messaging with the masses. After a couple of weeks, frustration grew that hardly anyone I know doesn't have a picture phone - which is the biggest surprise I found with the device. The price with contract in the UK is a tempting £149. [$230]. The two networks so far to launch MMS in the UK - Orange and T-Mobile - offer tariffs of 40p per picture message, or as many as you want for £20 per month, respectively. The former looks more attractive for the beginner. The 7650 does exactly what it says on the tin, and very well. Its excellence comes from ease of use - it's hard to imagine a better one-handed UI - rather than it being a great camera. In fact it's an OK, but no more than OK camera. Nokia has integrated quite a broad range of quite sophisticated functions into a simple consumer appliance, which proves it can mass market a Ferrari at Ford prices. Using the 7650 The UI is the most successful aspect of the phone. It's a hybrid between familiar 2G phones UIs - the green and red call buttons are still there, on a traditional phone keypad that slides down to reveal the lens on the back of the phone, but I can't actually remember using them - and a UI that can cope with more sophisticated functions on offer. (For a photo-rich review with lots of screenshots, see My Communicator). A single "Home" key in combination with a rocker button performs most of the work. Two option buttons, one of which typically displays the pop-up menu, the other a "return from current context" choice, augment these. Confusingly, Nokia calls the Home key the menu key, even though users will use the left option button to invoke the pop-up. This is because there are really two "Homes": one is the default display with the clock, and the other could more accurately be called "Applications and Settings". That's what Nokia calls Menu. It's a dumb choice of names, a case where reading the manual makes the process less intuitive than it really is. We found that pressing the rocker was a great workhorse: it typically took us to the task we most wanted to perform. For example, taking a picture involves this sequence: slide down the keypad, focus and hit the rocker once. The pop-up menu offers four choices to Send via MMS, email, Bluetooth or Infrared. Returning to the rocker, one press on email takes you to a message form with the focus in the 'To' field. One more press of the rocker takes you to the contact book, with additional check buttons. This tedious description doesn't convey how few keystrokes have been performed. The "Main" key also doubles as a task-switcher: this is a powerful multitasking computer. Holding the key down for a second displays a task strip on the left of the screen. A nice touch would have been an indicator showing that more than three tasks are active: there's only room for three items on the strip. Nokia's choice of screen is excellent: there are some beautiful touches (anti-aliasing around the clock, and a fine caption font based on MacOS Techno font; and some not so nice touches: a utilitarian menu font that appears to be monospaced, even though it isn't, and a choice of only three themes. (The T68 has more). I'm dwelling on the Series 60 user interface here, because with Nokia's success in licensing this to other manufacturers including Siemens, we're going to see an awful lot of it. So shout now if you really hate it. One aspect of the user experience that the visual screengrabs don't convey is the speed: it's really a very snappy device indeed. The camera produces some interesting images. Here's an example [40k], taken at arm's length. The three modes are landscape (VGA), a truncated portrait (80x96) and a night mode. Things get interesting at night, as you know, and the camera can produce some interesting abstract effects. For example, this [24k] is not a Trance rave, but the sedate and rustic Flask pub in Highgate Village at night. There's 4 MB of RAM for images, which are captured in JPEG format, even though the imaging application can display several other formats including PNG and TIFF. The main downside is the lack of image editing on the phone as a default. You can't even save a picture that you've rotated 90 degrees, and there's no cropping. However that leaves the field open for third party applications - in some markets, Nokia has included a Kai-like morphing package. The best and rest of the worst We found a couple of limitations, the most annoying being that the mail program barfs at unrecognised attachments: and an application installer file (.SIS) is an unrecognized attachment. This limits its potential for spreading applications virally (Or for that matter, spreading viruses), and obliges the user to download a third party file manager to fish the attachment out of the file system. Another annoyance is that the address book can only be displayed Last Name - First Name. Bluetooth between phones worked extremely well. But Nokia has failed to implement the Bluetooth Audio Profile, causing much iration with one Register reader in particular. He might have a good case with his local Trading Standards department, as the box packaging notes: "The Nokia range of accessories, where available, includes .... Headsets". It doesn't say that Bluetooth headsets won't work with the device - at least in this revision of firmware. Nor is Windows XP supported, officially. Although Dave Curl of TDK says the system passed the compliance tests for TDK's Bluetooth card under XP, Nokia can't guarantee that the Windows-only Nokia Data Suite will perform. Register readers reported a range of problems getting synchronisation to work with a PC equipped with 3Com's Bluetooth card, and even Nokia's PC Card - its recommended adaptor - is known to be problematic. "From TDK's testing, Nokia has a specific way of working between the software and the phone. Nokia connects as a master and looks for the software, so if it can't find the Nokia Data Suite, it won't work." While on the second count, some of the blame can be attached to Microsoft or 3Com, Nokia is firmly to blame for omitting the Audio Profile. And this was an omission - it gets its Bluetooth stack from Symbian. (Nokia doesn't turn Bluetooth off after a specified period - which has some logic, I guess, as you wouldn't want to keep turning your unsupported headset back on). The phone handles GPRS, has a speaker phone and a rather confusing proximity sensor that causes the speaker phone to cut out when it's next to your ear. Thankfully Nokia turned this off by default. The sound produced by the Beatnik audio engine was terrific. Is it worth it? After the niche appeal of the 9210 Communicator, the 7650 is the first "open" phone to hit the mass market in phone-volumes, offering telephony APIs to third party developers, and as such it's the most powerful and hackable handheld computer available today. (Until the next one). But PDA users will be frustrated that the 7650 doesn't have pen input, even though it's rich enough to make good use of it. Nokia intends this to remain a one-hand device, with one function in mind, that runs third party apps, but that doesn't take expansion cards. I'd happily use a 7650 without the camera, simply because the UI is such a pleasure, it's an open phone that supports third party (SymbianOS and Java) applications, making it a fine gaming and document viewing platform. I probably won't because I prefer all-in-one devices, because there's one fewer address book to synchronize. Then again, I have Palm-doting friends who'll use this as a fast, Bluetooth GPRS modem. Nokia's 7650 doesn't work on US GSM frequencies, and the company hasn't announced when a version will be made available for the US market.®
Andrew Orlowski, 21 Aug 2002