2nd > September > 2002 Archive

Hynix claims early high-end graphics memory lead

Amid continued speculation about its future, South Korea's Hynix Semiconductor Inc last week managed to push some good news out of the door, and announced what it claims to be a three-month lead on its competitors in the development of fast, high-capacity memory parts for graphic applications. According to the Korea Times, Hynix is close to shipping the world's smallest 256MB DDR SDRAM with a 8Mbx32 configuration and a 350MHz clock speed, or 700 Mbps, the fastest speed available for 256Mb DDR SDRAM. Today's conventional DDR SDRAM part is a 128MB 4Mx32 device which clocks at 333MHz. The only fly in Hynix's ointment is the market's state of readiness for such a leap in graphics performance. Although the Hynix part will dramatically increase the physical bandwidth available to graphics application developers, it will take time for them to tweak their products to take advantage of it. In the meantime, competitors are bound to be hot on Hynix's heels with high-end graphics memory parts of their own. Samsung, for instance, said in July that it planned to shift its focus from 128MB to 256MB parts in the third quarter. However, Hynix itself isn't standing still either, and said it plans to release a 400MHz part soon. © ComputerWire
ComputerWire, 02 Sep 2002
Cat 5 cable

Legend builds China's first supercomputer

A collection of Chinese political and computing luminaries assembled in Beijing last week to applaud the launch of the country's first "self-developed" supercomputer. The Legend Deepcomp 1800 large scale computer system has been built by Hong Kong-based Legend Holdings, and is the first computer in the country to hit 1,000 GFLOPS. Legend said the machine ranked 25th in the world rankings of high-performance computers. In a statement, Legend president and CEO Yang Yuanqing claimed the successful development of the system "will end the monopoly of foreign computer products in China's high-performance computing market". The 14-meter-long machine features 526 Intel Xeon CPUs, 272GB of RAM and 6TB of storage. It will be installed at the Academy of Mathematics and System Sciences of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. © ComputerWire
ComputerWire, 02 Sep 2002
SGI logo hardware close-up

Sun lines up OEMs for reborn Solaris on Intel

Sun Microsystems Inc is looking to expand its Intel Corp-compatible processor-based server line and is also drawing up a list of OEM partners for its Solaris x86 Unix operating system for Intel-compatible servers, indicating a new level of commitment to the reborn operating system, Matthew Aslett writes. The Santa Clara, California-based company originally canned the development of Solaris 9 x86 in January 2002, citing economic conditions and development costs, but two weeks ago announced its resurrection with plans to support Solaris x86 on its new LX50 entry-level Intel-powered server. The LX50 is Sun's first attempt to enter the high-volume Intel-compatible server market, but the company is doing more than just dipping its toe in the water, according to Sun's global head of product development, volume sales, Peder Ulander. He said the company will be expanding the Intel-based server family with more models over the next six to eight months, and pinpointed Sun's SunNetwork event in San Francisco in September as a date in the diary for more strategy details and product announcements. He also indicated that Sun is looking for partners to broaden the impact of Solaris x86. While the delivery of the LX50 signaled the rebirth of Solaris x86, version 9 will initially only be licensed for use with Sun's own x86 servers. This was a change of tack for Sun, which had previously made the software available for users to install on their own servers. Ulander told ComputerWire that this had been done to ensure that the company could provide a consistent quality of service to its users. He also added that the company is in the process of choosing a number of OEM partners to take Solaris x86 and provide a similar level of support and service. Ulander said that the partnerships would be in place by the time Solaris 9 x86 ships in early 2003, but would not be drawn into naming names at this stage. It is pretty safe to say that IBM Corp and Hewlett-Packard Co will not be considered however, and Sun's list of potential OEM partners is not a long one. The company has signed up OEM partners for Solaris x86 in the past - notably during 1998 when the rush to select a Unix partner for Intel's forthcoming Itanium processor platform led Fujitsu Ltd, NCR Corp, Toshiba Corp and Siemens AG to sign up not only for the planned 64-bit version of Solaris x86, but also for the existing 32-bit version. With Sun having fallen out with Intel over 64-bit development in 2000 and the almost interminable delays in the delivery of the Itanium processor, those OEM partnerships soon ran out of steam. Fujitsu and Siemens took the opportunity of their 1999 Fujitsu Siemens Computers BV hardware partnership to transfer their 32-bit Solaris x86 development resources into 64-bit Solaris. Meanwhile, Toshiba's small Intel-based server line is no longer certified for use with Sun Solaris, and while NCR still certifies and supports Solaris x86 for use on its entry-level S29 and S11 Intel-based servers, the company cannot be considered a leading server contender. Fujitsu Siemens looks like a safe bet as a potential Solaris x86 OEM - it already uses Sun's Solaris on its SPARC-based PrimePower servers and might be prepared to put Solaris back on its Intel-based Primergy server line, particularly if Sun can convince it that Solaris x86 has a 64-bit future to meet the expected demand for Itanium 2 servers. Other potential OEMs are harder to predict. Dell Corp servers are a popular choice for existing Solaris x86 users, but Red Hat Inc's Linux is Dell's Unix flavor of choice and the company would risk upsetting Microsoft Corp with a further commitment to Unix. ComputerWire recently reported a need for Unisys Corp to improve its commitment to Unix or Linux in order to expand the opportunities for its ES7000 line. Again though, the company would risk upsetting long-term partner Microsoft, and is therefore an unlikely Sun bedfellow. Servers from Acer Inc, Gateway Computer Inc, Groupe Bull SA, NEC Corp and Hitachi Ltd are also compatible with Solaris x86 according to Sun's Solaris Developer Connection Hardware Compatibility List, but they all have to be considered outside bets. When it comes to global providers, Sun's choices are limited, and it will have some sweet-talking to do in order to bag what few big names there are from under Microsoft's nose. © ComputerWire
ComputerWire, 02 Sep 2002

Sun seeks many Davids for MS Office fight

Sun Microsystems Inc is hatching a set of XML data standards for use in desktop productivity applications, in attempt to unseat Microsoft Corp's domination of office applications, Gavin Clarke writes. Palo Alto, California-based Sun said Friday it is working on a set of potential standards with a series of un-named partners, and the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS). No date has yet been set of submission of the standards to OASIS, as the company said it is first seeking a critical mass of support. Sun software group's recently appointed chief technology officer John Fowler said the goal is to open up data held on desktops running Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft's Office. He believes a set of standards-based XML specifications would enable greater interoperability of third-parties' products, such as Sun's StarOffice 6.0, with Office. Microsoft's roadmap is to embedded XML in Office. But Fowler said Microsoft's support XML does not necessarily enable greater interoperability between Office and other suites because Microsoft retains the power to alter its own data formats. "Compatibility with Microsoft Office formats is extraordinarily challenging, because they can change what the blobs are," he told a press and analysts' gathering in San Francisco, California, on Friday. Fowler believes a set of industry-backed XML-based data specifications would enable challengers, especially in the Linux and open source community, to realistically take on Microsoft. Fowler envisioned a scenario in which "lots of Davids" take on the Goliath. Past challenges have failed to materialize. Sun first took on Office with StarOffice 5.2, based on OpenOffice. Compatibility with Office formats, though, was poor. "Products prior to OpenOffice 1.0 [the foundation of StarOffice 6.0] have been deficient," Fowler said. Once standards for data formats are established, Sun believes two factors will drive development of Office rivals. One is increased maturity of open source browsers such as Mozilla and the Linux operating system - Fowler cited Red Hat 7.3 and SuSE 8.0 as good examples, which he said have "reasonable" install and management. The second factor is Microsoft's new licensing program, especially Software Assurance which Fowler called a "wake-up call". "Customers have realized they have a platform... where their mission critical activities are completely bound into... a system, where a company can execute what ever licensing they want," he said. © ComputerWire.
ComputerWire, 02 Sep 2002

Web Services era ‘drawing to close’

Today's era of XML web services is coming to an end. That's according to top thinkers at Microsoft Corp and IBM Corp, companies synonymous with a brace of specifications working their way through standards bodies and organizations. Don Box, Microsoft architect and Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) co-author, last week called XML web services protocols such as SOAP "plumbing". He said the frenzy of work by vendors on this plumbing is starting to wind down. Speaking at the XML Web Services One conference in Boston, Massachusetts, Box is reported to have told delegates that IT infrastructure is now starting to catch up work on protocols. That is vendors, like IBM and Microsoft, are implementing protocols into products, which will soon find their way into organizations. "We have a couple more years of plumbing work, but after that we move on to applications," Box said. Box last year told ComputerWire the industry was still searching for the "killer" web services application. Box added some of today's web services standards are mature and need to be finalized. Picking on a subject close to his heart, Box called SOAP version 1.3 a "bad idea" because the specification currently provides functionality needed for a SOAP implementation. "SOAP 1.2 should be the end of the line," Box is reported to have said. IBM's director of e-business standards Bob Sutor, also speaking at the show, backed Box but said work on protocols would be wrapped-up in a matter of months rather than years. Sutor predicted standardization would continue for the "next couple of years" though organizations like the Organization for Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) and Web Services Interoperability (WS-I) organization. He said, though: "For the big picture we've only got six to nine months on this." Sutor said business processing, workflow, transactions and systems management are going to be important areas of future activity. © ComputerWire
ComputerWire, 02 Sep 2002

Spurned bidders slam ICANN .org redelegation

Ten organizations that were overlooked in an evaluation to decide the next manager of the $15m-a-year .org internet domain on Friday criticized the selection process, calling it inconsistent, opaque and unfair, Kevin Murphy writes. One bidder even hinted at a legal challenge the process, which was orchestrated by the Internet Corp for Assigned Names and Numbers. Over a week ago, ICANN general counsel Louis Touton published a preliminary report on the bid evaluations, recommending an application by the Internet Society. The recommendation was based on separate technical evaluations from Gartner Inc and an informal committee of academic CIOs, and a policy-oriented evaluation from ICANN's non-commercial domain name holders' constituency (NCDNHC). All three ISOC, which is backed by Ireland-incorporated registry infrastructure provider Afilias Ltd, was selected as Touton's recommendation because it was the only proposal selected as above average in all three evaluations. Two other bids, from NeuStar Inc and Global Name Registry Ltd, were picked as runners-up, and both came out strongly against the ISOC recommendation. "The Preliminary Staff Report brings into question the transparency and accountability of this process as implemented," NeuStar said in a document seen by ComputerWire. "At a minimum, it is based on flawed evaluation reports, applies inconsistent weighting to the evaluation reports [and] inappropriately and prematurely selects ISOC." "We have found issues with each of the evaluations," GNR's Karen Elizaga said. She said the NCDNHC report in particular, in which ISOC but not GNR was deemed above average, was flawed. It contains mathematical errors, creates criteria not in ICANN's request for proposals, and ignores parts of some proposal but not others, she said. "I think it is predictable that 10 of the 11 that applied to run .org that were not selected for the preliminary run would be critical of the one selected," ICANN spokesperson Mary Hewitt said. "We will look at their comments and take them into consideration." The final decision will be made by the ICANN board of directors before the end of the month, following a second analysis document from Touton. NeuStar's comments even go so far as to contain what appears to be a thinly veiled threat to ICANN, which is currently undergoing a crucial reform that, should it fail, would call its ongoing existence into question. NeuStar did not return requests for comment on the contents of its document. "ICANN is at a critical point in its existence. The organization is under attack at all levels from both national and international sources," NeuStar said. "A challenge of the final decision of ICANN in the .org selection process will bring undue scrutiny on ICANN. The preliminary recommendations of the Staff Report will not withstand such scrutiny and will bring into question the organization's reform efforts as a whole." Quite apart from taking swipes at ISOC and ICANN's processes, the spurned applicants have also started arguing amongst themselves. GNR's Elizaga pointed out that Gartner compiled an analysis report on NeuStar (ranked higher than GNR in the Gartner report) around the same time as the evaluation was taking place. "I've no doubt Gartner intended to be objective," she told ComputerWire, "but their extra knowledge of NeuStar's systems could have swayed their analysis." Other applicants pointed out that Register.com Inc and VeriSign Inc, behind two other bids, also have had business dealings with Gartner. The financial stability of the various bidders has also been called into question. NeuStar and GNR both question the wisdom of awarding .org to ISOC, which has faced severe cash flow problems recently. But ISOC said it intends to create a new entity, PIR, which will be financially independent of ISOC. Rumors and reports also question GNR and NeuStar's financial condition. NeuStar has reportedly been laying off many staff over the last year and is making a loss, while GNR has been rumored to be for sale itself, possibly to VeriSign, for some time. ©
ComputerWire, 02 Sep 2002

Walmart.com flogs $199 Linux OS PCs

Wal-Mart is famous/notorious for its relentless focus on price. By squeezing suppliers and collapsing margins, it killed mainstreet USA. In recent years, it's taking on and - in its home country at least - beating the giant grocery chains. Now it's decided to have a little fun with the PC business. The world's biggest retailer is flogging a new desktop 'puter for $199. That's right -$199. Granted, we're talking system unit here, and granted, the PC is available only through its US online store walmart.com. Supplied by US system builder Microtel, the Wal-Mart cheapo box appeals to minority IT interests too. For it features a VIA C3 processor and LindowsOS, the new Linux distro. Microtel is supplying a the retailer with a range of machines, all incorporating the VIA C3. These are the Microtel SYSMAR710, SYSMAR715, SYSMAR150 and SYSMAR151. The 710 is bundled with Lindows, while the 151 comes with Windows Home XP. The latter costs $100 more, which may be significant. The VIA C3 processor is never going to win prizes for performance - but for price/performance at the budget end of the market, it's very hard to beat. The processor comes with 128MB SDRAM on a VIA Apollo PLE133 chipset-based mobo, supplying integrated graphics. And unlike Wal-Mart's previous foray into cheap PCs, with OS-less units, this machine is the entry-level of a range "set to redefine the desktop PC market, initially targeting the back-to-school, small office and home computer segments", according to VIA. That sounds like fighting talk. ® The cheapo PC
Drew Cullen, 02 Sep 2002

SEC sends letter to Nvidia

Nvidia has received a letter from the Securities and Exchanges Commission (SEC) seeking more details about its accounting practices. The SEC wants answers to questions about Nvidia's 10-K filing for FY 2002 and 10-Q filing for the quarter ended April 28, 2002. News of the letter, sent August 15, is contained in a press release announcing that Nvidia's CEO and CFO had certified filings made with the SEC in 2002. Considering the SEC's interest in this company's filing during this time, Nvidia is showing a certain panache. In February this year, the graphics chip firm announced a review of accountancy practices following an SEC investigation into the timing of certain expenses and the recording of certain reserves - $3.6m recorded in Q2 and Q3 of fiscal 2000, should have been recorded in Q1. The amount is too small, for a company of Nvidia's size, to indicate serious cookie-jar accounting - i.e. profit smoothing between quarters, enabling companies to raid reserves when Qs are poor, to show profit growth. But what else is the SEC looking for? Could the practices have artificially inflated Nvidia's share price, to the detriment of stockholders who bought during the time in question? That's what the inevitable class action suit, organised by Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll, alleges. The SEC's interest in Nvidia's accounting practices was prompted by an insider-trading investigation into a insider ring of Nvidia employees which used its knowledge of the Xbox win to profit from share sales. On the Nvidia side, all is not well with the Xbox gig: outside North America, Xbox sales have failed to take light. In April this year, Nvidia confirmed through an SEC filing that it was being sued by Microsoft for damages over violation to the contract. Very briefly, Nvidia says that Microsoft has used up all the money - $200m - agreed in the contract. Microsoft says it hasn't. ® Related stories Nvidia opens books for SEC Nvidia hit with securities fraud suit Nvidia Xbox win lands staff with insider trading suits Microsoft, Nvidia at war over Xbox
Drew Cullen, 02 Sep 2002

Apple's x86 OS named, sized

It's long been assumed that Apple has maintained an x86-compatible version of its old NeXT OS, which these days is marketed as Mac OS X. But now a report at eWeek confirms its existence, status and staffing levels. Nick de Plume and Matt Rothenberg report that an x86 version of "Project Marklar" is maintained in step with the PPC versions, has around a dozen engineers, and is even feature "complete" with the 10.2 Jagwyre version. (Which presumably means it's got the new calculator that features a paper tape and currency conversions, not the old Apple calculator.) In the early 1990s, after NeXT abandoned making hardware, it ported its operating system to a number of platforms, including Intel x86. The x86 version remained public following the Apple takeover and made it as far as this, Rhapsody Developer Release 2. The Rhapsody strategy was sidelined when Apple's biggest developers balked at re-writing their MacOS applications in Objective C, and Apple decided to upgrade the Display Postscript imaging model to the a much more sophisticated (and processor-intensive) kitchen sink successor based on PDF: Quartz. Carbon, the Yellow Box, was always there - but it became a much higher priority after the revised strategy was announced in Spring 1998. So will Apple embrace x86? We've been down this road so many times before, it now resembles a muddy, rutted battlefield pocked with the rusting remains of abandoned arguments. (I know you're thinking Route 101 south of San Francisco is bad - this is worse). So we won't spend too much time returning to those arguments, because you know them well enough. Apple is a high-margin hardware company, and the switch to becoming a software house licensing an OS to all comers might not prove fatal, but it would certainly result in a much smaller, much less significant Apple. It would face the same problems that IBM (with OS/2) and Be Inc. (with BeOS) both encountered in trying to support a wide range of rogue hardware, and in trying to get OEMs to preload the OS. (When Be snagged Hitachi as an OEM for a dual-boot system, Hitachi wasn't allowed to install the bootloader, or advertise the fact there was another OS on the system at the Windows desktop.) We merely add one observation which tends not to be heard too often. One lesson that CPRM taught us is that protection systems needn't be dumb, and easy to break. CPRM is a very clever approach involving a matrix of keys. Crack one, and you still have several dozen more to crack, and these can be refreshed from a central server. So Apple could tie an x86 version to an XP-like registration scheme and not worry overly about the scheme getting hacked. As a consequence, it could keep marketing x86 boxes at high margins and not worry about hackers ripping the system to run on much cheaper Dell boxes. Marklar most likely doesn't signal a strategy shift, it simply remains prudent business sense: it helps to have a Plan B, if only to use as a bargaining counter. Think of it as Mutually Assured Destruction. ® Related Stories The Jagwyre Review Apple pulls OS X guidelines after developer protest Jobs and Tevanian vow to fight OS X speed drain
Andrew Orlowski, 02 Sep 2002

Vodafone preps £8bn bid for SFR

Vodafone is getting ready to make a bid for Vivendi-controlled French mobile phone company, SFR. According to the Financial Times the offer could top £8bn, as Vodafone attempts to gain a controlling interest in a mobile phone operation in France. Vodafone already owns 32 per cent of SFR, a major mobile phone operation in France with around a third of the market. By mid morning shares in Vodafone were down 3.5p (3.4per cent) at 100p. This latest news follows hard on the heels of last week's confirmation that Vodafone is to purchase Vivendi's 50 per cent stake in mobile portal Vizzavi for E142.7m. Vizzavi was set up two years ago as an all singing, all dancing multi-platform portal designed to pump out Vivendi's content to punters. No one from Vodafone was available for comment at the time of writing. ® Related Story Vodafone buys out Vivendi stake in Vizzavi
Tim Richardson, 02 Sep 2002

Spammers help Klez top the virus charts

Variants of the Klez worm were by far the most common viruses circulating on the Internet last month. That's according to monthly statistics from managed services firm MessageLabs, which stopped more than 535,000 copies of the virus in August, up from 475,000 Klez-infected emails blocked in July. Klez has toppe the virus charts for five months in a row. MessageLabs reports that virus infection rates are currently running at around one per 106 emails, which compares to one in 30 infected emails at the heights of the Goner and Love Bug epidemics. In August MessageLabs blocked more than 520,720 emails infected with Klez-H alone, which became the worse virus ever in May, according to the company. By comparison, the next most common virus, Yaha-E, was blocked only 161,353 times by MessageLabs during last month, with the infamous SirCam virus trailing in a distant third with 23,976 sightings. Last month we received evidence from security experts that spammer's computer systems were infected with the Klez-H virus and spreading it along with their unsolicited emails. Alex Shipp, Chief Anti-virus Technologist at MessageLabs, said its data couldn't confirm this theory, but spammers getting infected with the virus could be an important factor in explaining the prevalence of the virus. The way the virus appears with random subject lines and spoofed email addresses of senders are also aiding to its spread, he says. Klez is a mass-mailing worm, which searches the Windows address book for email addresses and sends messages to all recipients that it finds. The worm uses its own SMTP engine to send the messages. It can also spoof the 'from' field in messages, a factor which has resulted in widespread confusion about the bug. The subject and attachment name of incoming emails is randomly chosen, making it harder for users to spot. The attachment will have one of the following extensions: .bat, .exe, .pif or .scr. Klez is capable of infecting files. The worm exploits a vulnerability in Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express in an attempt to execute itself when you open or even preview the message. Information and a patch for the vulnerability can be found here. ® Top ten viruses blocked by MessageLabs in August Klez-H Yaha-E SirCam Klez-E Yaha-C Magistr-B Hybris-B Magistr-A Nimda-E Tettona-A External Links Analysis of the spread of the Klez-H worm by MessageLabs Related Stories Klez tops the virus charts Klez-H is the worst virus ever - official Reg gets Yaha treatment from top exec Multiple virus scanning needed, says multiple scanning firm
John Leyden, 02 Sep 2002

Bertelsmann to ‘pull Napster plug’

German media giant Bertelsmann could be ending its love affair with the Internet following reports that it is looking to sell its online book business and cease the funding of Napster. They say Bertelsmann is in talks with Amazon concerning the sale of etailer BOL.com, set up originally to rival Amazon. However, Bertelsmann is also understood to be holding discussions with other potential buyers for the online book/CD/games etailer. It's also understood to be looking to flog its Barnesandnoble.com operation, although AFX newswire quotes an unnamed source who reckons this isn't high on Bertelsmann's list of priorities. Elsewhere, according to the FT, Bertelsmann is also getting ready to pull the plug on P2P music distribution site, Napster which it bailed out back in May. If the flurry of reports over the weekend prove correct then this will be a stunning strategic turnaround for Bertelsmann. At the end of July it was confirmed that Thomas Middelhoff, Chairman and CEO of Bertelsmann, and widely regarded as being the driving force behind the firm's relationship with the Net, would leave the company. The company blamed his departure on "differences of opinion" concerning the future strategy of Bertelsmann. Last month The Registerreported that BOL.com's UK operation would cease to be an etailer and, instead, become an online book club. It's not known if this move will be hit by Bertelsmann's change of strategy. ® Related Stories BOL UK to become online book club Bertelsmann saves Napster
Tim Richardson, 02 Sep 2002

Cap Cyborg to chip 11 year old in wake of UK child killings

Captain Cyborg, aka Professor Kevin Warwick of Reading University, is generally a harmless if somewhat tedious self-publicist whose risible 'experiments' pay his rent and provide the less critical elements of the press with a never-ending stream of stupid stories. But an exclusive in today's Daily Mirror serves to illustrate that such maniacs are not always harmless. Following the recent abduction of ten year olds Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, the Mirror reports that Wendy and Paul Duval have decided to implant their daughter, Danielle, with "a microchip to track her every move. "If she was kidnapped her exact location would be discovered via a computer." And guess who developed the chip? That's right, "cybernetics expert Professor Kevin Warwick, 48." The Mirror does not directly attribute its explanation of the device to Captain Cyborg, but it is quite clear that some of the people involved - possibly the reporter, possibly the reporter and the Duval family - have somehow managed to get themselves seriously misled about the capabilities of the technology. The chip "emits radio waves through a mobile phone network and beams its exact location to a computer. If Danielle went missing, her location would be marked by an X on a computer map.... It will be inserted in her arm by a GP using local anaesthetic. It costs about £20 and will be invisible." Well then, how does that work? Warwick's experiments in chipping himself haven't gone as far as GPS, at least publicly, and any communications aspect to them has been decidedly short range. An "invisible" device that handles both GPS and mobile phone communications, and doesn't need its batteries changing every five seconds would however clearly make him a large fortune, if it existed. Which manifestly it doesn't. As regards GPS, you can get an idea of the current state of the art as far as footprint goes by looking at this PDF, which describes the Trimble Lassen SQ GPS module, announced in March. Two penlight batteries can power it for more than 40 hours, it is postage stamp-sized, and is "compatible with active 3.3 VDC antennas." So the small ones aren't invisible, they need two penlight batteries that you have to change every 40 hours, and they need an antenna. So the "invisible" chip is not a GPS device, and must perforce communicate with a real GPS device secreted somewhere about your person. In that sense it would therefore seem to be well within the technical capabilities already demonstrated by Captain Cyborg, who habitually shoves things under his skin so he can open doors automatically and such, when lesser mortals would merely use a smartcard ID tag. If indeed this is the way the tag will operate, then Warwick is wandering into the dubious territory of VeriChip/Digital Angel, which has been punting cattle tags at the hard of thinking. That one's the size of the ball of a ballpoint, but it needs a scanner run over it to identify you, and can't tell where you are. OK, but presuming the child protector chip can communicate with an external GPS device, where does that get you if you've been kidnapped? You can tell where you are, but how does the X get onto the computer screen? Mobile phone, obviously, but that needn't be another box, as it could be one with GPS built in, so there's still only one thing to keep hidden. We covered a system of this sort for hunting dogs a while back, and if you look here, you'll see the pawprint of that rig. The dogs of course don't have pockets to put it in, and no immediate need for concealment, but even so... However even if you've got a concealed mobile phone with GPS, then what use is the tag? The phone rig does all this already, so for as long as you can hang onto the phone, you're trackable, and if you can't, you're not. After that the chip could help them identify you if they find you, and if for some reason you're not in a position to tell them yourself. Again, we're in VeriChip territory here, albeit a somewhat grimmer variant thereof. So it's complete hokum, and under the circumstances pernicious. The Holly and Jessica case has generated much concern, and some hysteria in the UK, and stories such as the Mirror's serve only to fuel that hysteria by deluding parents into thinking that technology can somehow protect their children. And by pushing positive aspects of tagging, even years before it's actually feasible, they're softening public opinion up for the days when it can be widespread, and when its application can be more sinister. And Warwick's role? As we said earlier, the technological 'explanation' is not attributed to him, but he's clearly encouraging it. He said: "The implant won't prevent abductions, nothing will. But if the worst happens, parents will at least be in with a chance of finding their children alive." No more chance, it seems to us, than if the implant had not been fitted. Warwick, as is his habit, slides seamlessly into some future where it is feasible: "Children may resent that their every movement is traceable. It's also possible some parents might abuse the system. But I'm confident this has to be the correct course of action in the light of recent, tragic events." So in the light of recent tragic events the correct course of action for parents has to be the fitting of a manifestly useless tagging device to their child. "The technology exists," says Warwick, "it's affordable and accessible." No it doesn't, no it's not. This is a publicity stunt well up to the usual mark, with the added extra of being in the worst possible taste. It marks the point where Captain Cyborg ceased to be comical, and started to look like something far worse. ®
John Lettice, 02 Sep 2002

Gateway 2002 sales at low-end of forecasts

Gateway's sales for 2002 will probably be at the low end of previously published company forecasts of $4.5bn-$5bn, CFO Joe Burke told Bloomberg last week. The pan-US PC maker pulled in $2bn in sales for the first half the year, which means that it is forecasting $2.5bn for the second half. On first half performance, that should not present too many problems - the PC industry always does better in the second half of the year, especially PC makers such as Gateway which target the consumer sector. But is Gateway still being too optimistic? According to the Thomson/First Call round-up, analyst CY2002 revenue consensus figures are $4.45bn, a trifling $50m less than Gateway's new low-end projection. But if there are any industry road accidents this year, you can be sure that Gateway will be involved. At its peak, Gateway was a $10bn-plus t/o almost-global company. The PC maker last year retired from lossmaking overseas territories to concentrate on its lossmaking home territory. It has been busily re-organising, and has two big safety cushions which should see it through to profitability. First, founder and CEO Ted Waitt owns 30 per cent of the firm, and he ain't going anywhere. And second, Gateway has a billion dollars or so in cash and marketable securities. High Profile Last week, Gateway unveiled a hip new PC, the all-in-one Profile 4. The line-up feature five models, all with LCD monitors and prices ranging from $999 to $1,999. The Profile 4 is pitched squarely against the design conscious kind of punters who would normally buy an iMac, and Gateway is dipping deep into its Intel and Microsoft co-op marketing funds to hammer the message home with US consumers. The company has commissioned eTesting Labs, the benchmarking wing of Ziff Davis, to run slide rules over the performance of the two beasts. Armed with the highly favourable results - to the Wintel box - Gateway is girding its marketing loins. The PC maker is running TV ads in September with the tagline: "Did we mention the Gateway Profile 4 costs less than the iMac?" It says the ads will reach 83 per cent of US consumers an average of 14 times during September, in that comically precise way beloved of media buyers. In print magazine ads, Gateway will exhort consumers and businesses to directly compare the Gateway Profile 4 and iMac computers, Here the headline is: "It's a close contest. Until you turn them on." Gateway is also running head-to-head ads on the Web but isn't saying what the tag-line. Considering the relative size of the spend between online and TV, it's likely that the company or its PR agency simply forgot to publish this detail. ® Related stories Gateway claws back market share Pension fund seeks Gateway board changes
Drew Cullen, 02 Sep 2002

WinXP SP1 out next Monday – but can you avoid it?

Windows XP Service Pack 1 is complete, and will be available for download and via CD (cost as yet unspecified) from next Monday (9th September). According to the release, it "provides enhanced user experience" and "brings enhanced security, reliability and compatibility to business and home users." It also fixes some bugs, and includes the " required changes of the proposed consent decree signed with the U.S. Department of Justice and nine state attorneys general." The official announcement does not mention the new shotgun EULA, nor the measures against piracy it includes, but these are pretty well known already. Essentially, Microsoft reserves the right for it and its designated chums to steal your stuff, but they're not going to abuse that right, of course, and Microsoft now explicitly states that unlicensed copies will not qualify for upgrades and fixes. SP1 will refuse to install on systems with well-known leaked keys, SP1 will repair and deactivate cracked installations, and Windows Update will shortly begin checking your key on entry. These new measures will achieve widespread uptake because they'll be fitted as standard on new PCs shipped from around October, and because they come attached to a handy rollup of fixes, security patches and drivers. It is just about possible for a determined refusenik to avoid the new EULA and to work around having to install SP1, but the effort involved in this is seriously burdensome, and will increase as time goes by. As an experiment, The Register followed up on a suggestion from Carl Thomas (thanks Carl), who pointed us at Microsoft's Baseline Security Analyzer. With this one, you do the scanning of your machine locally rather than having Windows Update do it for you, and it identifies security issues with your machine, and links to the relevant Microsoft hotfixes. So at least in theory you can audit yourself and download the patches individually for review and installation. Carl notes that as it uses an XML plug-in it doesn't need BITS (Background Intelligent Transfer Service) enabled for it to function. On a fresh install of Windows XP, it identified nine hotfixes, whereas Windows Update came up with more like a dozen for the same machine. That however shouldn't be particularly surprising, as Microsoft appears to run several different databases for its several and ever-changing update services, and Microsoft security issues do seem to come thick and fast. All of the hotfix links however 404ed on the day we tried, meaning that we had to search for each of them at their new location. But this is probably a database syncing thing rather than a deliberate speedbump. By applying the individual fixes you seem to be able to avoid the new EULA, with the possible exception of the Windows Media 'Steve Ballmer reserves the right to sleep with your sister' amendment. We decided not to install that one anyway. The fixes do however generally come with a supplementary EULA stressing that unlicensed copies do not qualify for updates, so they're by no means immune to EULA-creep. Nor do they help you in the slightest in getting hold of driver updates, so BSA is only a partial solution. Carl also points out that you can get a free security scan here, from Pedestal Software. It might not seem entirely logical to avoid getting scanned by Microsoft by getting scanned by somebody else instead, but the Pedestal scan is a demo for its commercial SecurityExpressions product, and provides a lot more detailed information about vulnerabilities than BSA. For what it's worth, this scan found around 15 issues on a fresh XP install. It is however, er, IE-only, so gets you next to nowhere if you've used SP1 to hide access to IE. Of course, if you've refused to install SP1 and you haven't filed off IE by hand yourself, then you can use a Microsoft product in order to avoid installing Microsoft products. Or something - confusing thing, life... ®
John Lettice, 02 Sep 2002

CAA mulls ban on laptops which don't exist

Laptop PCs may be banned from planes amid concern that the latest wireless technologies interfere with aircraft safety systems. NASA and United Airline-conducted tests on Boeing 737 and 747 aircraft discovered that ultra-wideband (UWB) devices "knocked out" collision-avoidance systems and impaired instrument landing systems, The Times reports today. UWB devices could also cause interference with satellite-base air traffic control systems, the tests suggest. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Britain's air safety regulator, told the paper that more research was needed, as the results could be affected by the power of UWB signals. Were those used in the test realistic? But if new tests establish a risk to aircraft systems from UWD devices then use of all laptops and PDAs could be prohibited during flight. A blanket ban is necessary because aircrews could not be expected to know the difference between existing laptops and those equipped with ultra-wideband radio equipment, a spokesman told The Times. "If we obtained evidence that these devices posed a risk then we could ban them from being carried on board an aircraft." Justifying why older laptops might also be banned, he added "the average cabin crew member does not have a degree in IT and won't be able to judge whether a device has ultra-wideband". UWB technology was developed by the military and has applications in short range, high-speed data communications. Devices work using very narrow or short duration pulses which result in very large or wideband transmission bandwidths. With appropriate technical standards, UWB devices can operate using spectrum occupied by existing radio services without causing interference - at least in theory - so squeezing more use out of scarce radio spectrum resources. A cautious - and limited - approval to use ultra-wideband technology was given by US regulators in February. Intel, among other companies, is interested in developing UWB technology to allow high-speed links between devices without the need for cabling. UWB devices are unlikely to appear in consumer electronics much before 2004 and with standards still to be set there's room to satisfy air regulators concerns. If UWB devices are found to be unsafe in the air then surely it's possible to prohibit their use in flight without a blanket ban on laptops, along the lines of existing policies airlines have for mobile phones. ®
John Leyden, 02 Sep 2002

Softline resells Rapid Group to original owner

Softline AG has sold Rapid Group, the UK reseller group, to original owner John McCartney. Terms were undisclosed in November 2000 when it bought the business, and terms are undisclosed now that it's sold the business. German-based Softline is divesting Rapid Group following a strategic review announced in June to restore the group to profitability in a weak market. Upshot - it's retreating around core distribution activities - it's keeping its mostly Mac distie, Softline UK. McCartney who stayed on the helm of Rapid after its purchase by Softline, expressed delight at owning the company again. "The past 24 months have seen some of the worst trading times for resellers across Europe and the growth of our company slow to a stop. This MBO gives us the opportunity to reinvest in our business to ensure a bright and profitable long-term future." Rapid Group operates three branches in the South East, and sells both PCs and Macs. The company went on an acquisition splurge in the 90s, buying up Applecentres around the UK. At time of its sale to Softline, the company claimed a turnover of €27m. Current revenues are undisclosed. Rapid employs approx. 60 employees, down from a peak of 100. ®
Drew Cullen, 02 Sep 2002

China blocks Google. Allegedly

Chinese authorities are feared to have blocked access to popular search engine, Google, ahead of the Communist Party congress in November. Access to Google began being blocked from Saturday, according to Reuters, with experts claiming that the block is coming directly out of Beijing. China has blocked many foreign news services in the past buut this is believed to be the first time that a search engine has been censored in this way. No other search engines - including those serviced by Google - are thought to have been hit by the action. Chinese authorities - not known for their liberal attitudes - are believed to have taken the action because Google seemingly provides a window to porn and could also compromise national security. Already deeply suspicious of just about everything, China is no stranger to using such strong-arm tactics to regulate the Internet. Last November the Chinese Government shut down 17,500 Internet cafes for failing to block sites considered subversive or pornographic. In July 2001 Beijing shut 2,000 cybercafes and suspended a further 6,000 amid fears that the nation's youth were becoming Net addicts. And last year a report by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that China has introduced more than 60 sets of regulations to govern Internet content since the government began permitting commercial Internet accounts in 1995. No one from Google was available for comment at the time of writing. ® Related Stories China closes 17,488 Net cafes IT companies urged to help human rights in China
Tim Richardson, 02 Sep 2002

Telewest offers broadband in Devon, Cornwall

Telewest has started offering cable broadband services to punters in Devon and Cornwall. Theoretically, some 180,000 people in areas including Plymouth, Exeter and Torbay can now get digital services following the upgrade to Telewest's Eurobell area. Telewest bought Eurobell two years ago. Since then Telewest has been integrating the cableco into its own operation and spending money to upgrade the analogue network to digital. Now that's been done, it can now offer broadband. Which it couldn't before. But can now. Which it is. As of today. Nuff said. ®
Tim Richardson, 02 Sep 2002

VIA sales down in August (or is that up?)

Compared with, say, UK firms, VIA Technologies is unusually open about sales figures, publishing results each month. So it's a little churlish to criticise the Taiwanese 'core logic designer' for attempting to tell us that sales were up 6.47 per cent in August. And so they were, compared with July 2002. But the more meaningful comparison is with August 2001, and that looks rather worse, with sales down 31.1 per cent year-on-year from US$81.92m to US$ 56.44m. VIA sales in 2002 so far have fallen around 30 per cent on 2001. Chipset sales are down and still there is no sign of a rapprochement with Intel over P4 licenses. Revenues from new product lines are not coming in fast enough for replacement. However the company says it is beginning to see 'concrete results' from its roster of integrated low-cost, low-power PCs and other connectivity devices. Today, for instance, it trumpeted a design win to supply the C3 processor for Microtel's ultra-cheap PCs for walmart.com. ®
Drew Cullen, 02 Sep 2002

Job axe swings over 96 heads at Insight UK

The job axe hangs over 96 UK workers in US-owned mail order giant Insight following second quarter losses in Britain of £2.5 million. Staff throughout various departments (customer support, sales support, IT and human resources) in Insight's main London office have been given 28 days notice to find alternative work in the company, or else lose their jobs. The redundancies could see Insight's staff reduced from 500 to 400 in London, bringing its UK headcount down from 800 to 700 in the UK. Insight's UK revenue went from $113 million in Q1 to $89 million in Q2 2002 as profits turned to losses over the period. Peter Richardson, Insight's human resources director, told us revenues in the UK for the quarter had not met expectations of America, where sales grew. So the firm is restructuring to increase the ratio of sales to support staff in its UK operations. The jobs of only four account executives are threatened in the current round of layoffs, Richardson told us. The expected job losses are the fallout of poor UK figures, announced in June, which coincided with the departure of Insight UK president David Palk and chief operating officer Steve Menzies. Palk, the head of Action Computer Supplies, prior to its acquisition by Insight in November last year, was replaced as interim managing director by Paul Kent, the former UK head of Insight prior to the takeover of Action. Kent, an American, is set to be replaced by a Brit within the next two to three weeks, Insight's Richardson told us. ® Related Stories Insight shuts German ops Insight completes Action takeover
John Leyden, 02 Sep 2002