6th > September > 2002 Archive

Microsoft courts Hollywood with Windows Media 9

Microsoft Corp late Wednesday used a high-profile gathering in Los Angeles to announce the launch of Windows Media 9 Series, which the company promises is faster and more functional than previous versions of its digital media software. The Hollywood hills setting of the launch reflects the fact that Microsoft is hoping to court big media companies, a traditional strength of archrival RealNetworks Inc, as well as the enterprises where Microsoft usually fairs better than its competitors. The company said Pressplay, the subscription music service offered by Sony, Universal and EMI, will now be accessible directly from within Windows Media Player. This presents a direct challenge to RealNetworks' MusicNet service, which features music from the other two big record companies, Warner Music and BMG. Despite targeting the music business, Microsoft's publicity surrounding the event focused more on the performance and usability improvements in WM9, rather than the digital rights management technologies that are considered key to winning over large copyright holders. Windows Media Player 9 Series, the WM9 playback client, was released as a free beta download to coincide with the launch. The interface and media management features, often regarded as WMP's weak point have been upgraded, and a few useful bells and whistles have been added, such as the ability to access more song metadata. Arguably the primary feature of the new version is Fast Streaming, which, as the name suggests, increases the speed at which streaming media launches and makes better use of bandwidth on broadband connections. Rather than buffering the first few seconds of a stream, using 100Kbps of bandwidth for a 100Kbps stream, the stream starts to play in about a second, and could use 400Kbps to buffer the stream as it is playing. WM Audio and Video codecs have also been improved. Microsoft said the maximum improvement on previous versions of WMV is 50%, depending on bit rate. The firm claims the same quality video can deliver the same quality picture at one-third the bit rate of MPEG-2 and half the bit rate of MPEG-4. WMA9 shows a 20% improvement in quality on previous versions, Microsoft said. The company also claimed the "Professional" version of WMA9 is the first internet media software to allow 5.1-channel surround sound at rates over 128Kbps. A "Lossless" version of the codec allows bit-for-bit copying of music from CDs. Microsoft's digital rights management technology also got a feature upgrade. The player application now allows users to back up their rights on media they have purchased, so they do not lose access to their files if their PC succumbs to a virus or bug. The entire suite of products also includes an SDK for developers to build WM9-based applications, an encoder tool, and Windows Media Services 9 Series in Windows .NET Server. The latter product is a component of Microsoft's forthcoming server that allows companies to stream media to their users. Microsoft announced about 60 partners in the fields of digital entertainment, digital encoding and production, and content delivery services as part of the launch. RealNetworks issued a statement separately saying its line of Helix "unversial" software will also allow WM9 media to be streamed and played back. © ComputerWire
ComputerWire, 06 Sep 2002

Intel shaves Q3 forecasts

Intel Corp trimmed back its expectations for the third quarter yesterday but insisted chip sales will return to seasonal demand patterns this year after 24 months of chaos. The Santa Clara, California-based vendor said revenues for the third quarter would be "slightly below the midpoint of the previous range of $6.3bn to $6.9bn" and instead within a narrower range of $6.3bn to $6.7bn. Gross margin is still expected to be 51%, plus or minus a couple of percentage points. Microprocessor sales are "trending toward the lower end of the normal seasonal patter" said Intel, and while its flash business is in line with expectations, demand for other comms products remains soft. Intel has long predicted that the second half of this year would show a return to traditional demand patterns for the vendor, after the convulsions of 2000 and 2001 as the PC industry retreated in the wake of the Y2K buying splurge, the collapse of the dot com boom and a global economic slowdown. Chief operating officer Paul Otellini said despite yesterday's update, "the quarter and the year are progressing consistent with our previous outlook." He said the company was planning for seasonal second half, "and that's still our plan." Yesterday's narrowing of predictions was largely prompted by the company's performance in the Far East. The US and Europe were about where the company expected, said Otellini. However, Asia and Japan were "slightly softer than expected." Hopes of a strong back to school season in the US PC market appear to have been dashed. However, Otellini offered come comfort, saying it was important to include direct and channel sales in the equation. "It is going to be less than expected, but not quite as poor as looking just at retail would suggest." © ComputerWire
ComputerWire, 06 Sep 2002

AOL inks 5-Year DSL pact with Covad

America Online Inc is to buy wholesale DSL services from Covad Communications Group Inc for five years, the companies announced yesterday. The deal is the latest in a series of tie-ins between ISPs and broadband network operators in the US, and highlights AOL's desire to get internet users signing up for higher speed, higher cost services. Covad's network passes 40 million US homes and businesses in 94 of the nation's biggest metropolitan areas. Previously, AOL has bought DSL services from regional providers such as the Baby Bells, and Covad is the first nationwide operator it has partnered with. As part of the deal, Covad has issued warrants to AOL to buy 3.5 million Covad shares, about 1.5% of its outstanding common stock. The purchase price will be between $1.06 and $5, and Covad estimates the total it will get from AOL will be in the region of $3.5m, which will be recorded on Covad's financials as a deferred customer incentive. AOL has been focusing for the last 18 months on rolling out its internet services to consumers in markets where Time Warner Cable, its soon-to-be-spun-out sister company, has a cable network presence. Rival EarthLink Inc has matched the rollout city-for-city in a US government-mandated partnership. The company, an AOL Time Warner Inc unit, will also get access to AT&T Corp's cable network (and AT&T Comcast Corp's, depending on when the merger closes) under a three-year deal announced last month. Ultimately, AOL wants to be able to offer broadband, be it cable or DSL, to consumers all across the US. Covad offers DSL directly to consumers and businesses and also sells its services wholesale to ISPs including Sprint Corp and EarthLink. Its share price jumped 16% yesterday when news of the AOL relationship emerged. © ComputerWire
ComputerWire, 06 Sep 2002

NTT DoCoMo slashes 3G targets – probably

NTT DoCoMo Inc said yesterday that it might not hit the 1.38 million-user target it set for its FOMA 3G network by the end of its fiscal year next March, and will probably formally revise the figure when it announces first-half figures in November. At a Tokyo press conference reported by Bloomberg, DoCoMo's president Keiji Tachikawa said: "Given the sluggish progress so far, we have no choice but to cut our FOMA sales target." Only six weeks ago, Tachikawa said he saw no reason to fear for the long-term future of 3G, but his confidence clearly doesn't extend to its shorter-term prospects, which are now comparing very poorly with those of alternative 2.5G and 3G networks operated by DoCoMo's competitors. KDDI, for instance, said it sold 280,000 handsets supporting its new CDMA 1XRTT-based 3G service in its first month of operation, and said it expects the service to garner 7 million subscribers by April 2003. FOMA, which launched in October last year, had attracted just 114,500 subscribers at the end of June. To some extent, FOMA, which is based on the W-CDMA 3G standard, has suffered from DoCoMo's long-held ambition to be the first company to begin commercial 3G services. It achieved this goal last year, but at the price of launching a service with poor national coverage, based on unproven technology, and which was not supported by handsets that could compete with existing 2G and 2.5G models in terms of either performance or price. However, DoCoMo, whose highly successful i-mode wireless data service allows the company to retain wireless service market and thought leadership in Japan, is now said to be concentrating more intensely on raising FOMA's profile. It is on schedule to stretch 3G coverage to 90% of Japan's population by March, and by December it is expected to be offering 16 new 3G handset models, with keener pricing, and battery lives more comparable with 2G and 2.5G devices. © ComputerWire
ComputerWire, 06 Sep 2002

Single chip phones in 2004 – TI

Texas Instruments Inc said it expects to produce a single-chip wireless handset by 2004, and will offer handset makers a two-chip solution as early as net year. The single-chip phone has become a holy grail of the communications industry, which currently requires four processors and a host of auxiliary components to build a modern phone, but TI believes it now has a clear lead, and is only likely to be challenged by Intel Corp, which it claims is up to three years behind it in the development race. Single-chip phones will be cheaper to build, smaller, and far more power-efficient than today's handsets, and are considered a prerequisite for phone manufacturers to begin to truly exploit the broadband wireless communications systems that are now beginning to be installed. However, phones, with the amalgam of analog and digital function, are difficult devices to design on to a single piece of silicon, and it has taken a major and risky development effort by TI to begin to crack the many problems that single-chip phones present. To date, this effort has focused on the development of TI's OMAP DSP range, which currently handles the division of tasks in mobile phones between digital and analog domains. However, next year, TI will condense these two domains into two chips, one for running the baseband radio functions, and another for handling the digital processing of radio frequency conversion. Ultimately, the analog and digital domains will be integrated on a single part. Announcing TI's plans, company CEO Thomas Engibous, said that TI is now outstripping potential competitors such as Qualcomm Inc and Motorola Inc, and has a clear lead over Intel, which is working on an "internet-on-a-chip" design with Analog Devices Inc that is not likely to see the light of day before 2007. © ComputerWire
ComputerWire, 06 Sep 2002

Vodafone makes €12.6bn bid for Cegetel

Vodafone Group Plc has confirmed that it has started talking with Vivendi Universal SA and BT Group Plc about acquiring their stakes in Cegetel SA, the French mobile operator. Earlier this week, market watchers were alerted to moves that suggested Vodafone was planning a hostile $8bn bid for Vivendi's 44% stake in Cegetel, but yesterday it emerged that amicable talks are already underway with the French holding company, and the UK incumbent, which owns another 26% of Cegetel. France's number-two wireless operator is the only major overseas company in which Vodafone is a shareholder, but does not have a controlling interest. The UK-based wireless giant currently owns 15% of Cegetel, but is known to covet control of the company, and has $10.65bn in an unused bank facility with which to launch a bid. According to Dow Jones yesterday, persons close to the ongoing negotiations indicated that Vodafone has so far put 12.6bn euros ($12.5bn) on the table, split proportionately between Vivendi, BT, and the US carrier SBC Communications, which owns 15% of Cegetel. It is thought that BT and SBC will be open to Vodafone's offer. Vivendi, on the other hand, has long said it would not give up its stake in Cegetel, although this position is thought to have softened now that the media conglomerate is mired in debt problems of its own. At the price Vodafone is said to be prepared to meet, Vivendi would reap 6.5bn euros ($6.45bn) from selling its stake. According to Dow Jones, Vivendi was made aware of Vodafone's interest last week, but has yet to respond, and is unlikely to for another two weeks. In the meantime, Vivendi is expected to try to find buyers for some of its other assets, and if it can find enough, it is likely that it will stubbornly hold on to Cegetel. © ComputerWire
ComputerWire, 06 Sep 2002

Court sentences £50m MS piracy ring to 10 years

The UK end of a huge Microsoft software counterfeiting ring has been brought to book, with four convicted of conspiracy to defraud. Akbal Alibahai, 34 of Palmers Green, London and Nabil Bakir, 29, of Ascot,Berkshire, directors of a company called PC Software, were each sentenced to four and a half years in prison. Two accomplices, Adam Collier, 32 of Sandhurst, Berkshire and Chiam Dias, 35 of Marylebone, London were each given custodial sentences of four months. The ringleaders, who have already been through an eight and a half month trial, now face further court action to confiscate some of the millions that they are believed to have made, Microsoft says. The gang is estimated to have sold £50m worth of MS software, acquired from counterfeit network operating in the Far East and America. So how did the operation work? Microsoft explains: "Dias operated a small computer supplies company, Wayfarer in Shoreditch, east London, used to fulfil fake invoices and launder money from Alibhai's and Bakir's software operation. Dias then sold these products to a company run by Collier, a former painter & decorator prior to becoming managing director of two software companies, Oracle Worldwide Trading & Lothbury Corporation... The focal point of the activity in the UK centred on companies in the Thames Valley who were storing and distributing counterfeit software." ®
Drew Cullen, 06 Sep 2002

Xbox Linux project releases SuSE 8.0 howto

The Xbox Linux Project has now produced a tutorial on installing SuSE 8.0 on an Xbox, and from the look of it, although getting SuSE running is something of a triumph, the Project still has a way to go before it can be said to have turned the Xbox into a cheap, low-hassle Linux client. First you need a mod chip, the XBE bootloader and patched SuSE kernel downloaded from the Project, a SuSE nforce driver from the nVidia site, the correct USB adapter for the Xbox and (easy-peasy this bit) a USB keyboard. Oh, and a SuSE 8.0 compatible PC. Then it's musical cables. The procedure used is described here, and is a "cross-install" involving hot-swapping IDE cables on the Xbox and the PC, fooling the right device at the right moment until you have SuSE squatting on the Xbox HD. The instructions seem pretty clear, and the issues described at the end fairly minor (YaST crashing it is a bit of a pain, although probably to be expected). If you're willing to put up with some considerable assembly required, then you could say the Xbox Linux Project is nearly there. The current procedure however does not appear to have gone very far towards addressing Project A task 1, which calls for the development of a replacement bios and a replacement ROM, so if this is still going ahead future revs may be a tad easier. In perhaps slightly related news, Cnet reports sightings of one of Microsoft's all-new draconian EULAs in the Xbox Live beta kit. In it Microsoft huffs that (to paraphrase) using modded Xbox kit for Xbox Live is streng verboten, and (more significantly) "Any attempt to disassemble, decompile, create derivative works of, reverse engineer, modify, further sublicense, distribute or use for other purposes either the hardware or software of this system is strictly prohibited." You'll note that, presuming it didn't say that in any original Xbox EULA (we haven't got one, we don't know), this is a supplementary EULA which says modification and/or creation of derivative works from the hardware is forbidded. The probability right now is that Microsoft is just giving itself wide-ranging rights with a view to doing a fairly simple thing, i.e. stopping people using hacks and mods to steal stuff. It's also unlikely to be of concern to anybody who either doesn't want to use Xbox Live (or the Xbox as a console full stop), or who is using a mod chip you can switch off. But it's still another one of those 'gimme all your rights, I won't beat you up unless you're bad' things, and they're starting to get pretty tedious. ® Related: Xbox Linux Project status Xboxhacker.net (handy for mod chip info etc) Xbox Linux Project gets SuSE 8.0 running
John Lettice, 06 Sep 2002

NTL to emerge from Chapter 11 in October

NTL is expected to emerge from Chapter 11 protection next month after receiving the thumbs up from a US bankruptcy Court. Almost four months after filing for Chapter 11 after being faced with a $10.bn debt mountain, NTL is within weeks of beginning a new life as two separate groups, NTL Europe and NTL UK and Ireland. While there are still some outstanding issues that need to be addressed the cableco remains confident of moving ahead. In a statement NTL President and CEO Barclay Knapp said: "We are extremely pleased to be emerging from these cases so quickly. "The support we have received from our various stakeholders has allowed us to move through this process without significant interruption to our business. We believe we have taken the steps needed to solidify NTL's financial position for the future." It was also confirmed that Mr Knapp will become president and CEO of NTL UK and Ireland once the company emerges from Chapter 11. ® Related Stories NTL makes 'steady progress' NTL's Knapp keeps his job NTL pushes ahead with debt swap
Tim Richardson, 06 Sep 2002

Nokia preps colour 3510i for consumers

Nokia today announced the 3510i, its first colour screen handset for the consumer market - i.e. it has to be cheap enough for teenagers to successfully pester their parents to buy the phone for Christmas. This is an inference - the 3510i is launching in Europe and Africa in Q4 and no prices have been announced yet. Nokia has now launched seven colour screen handsets this year, and is planning three more. Colour screens are the next big upgrade driver for handsets, prompting Da Yoof to send picture messages to their mates. The 3510i of course supports MMS and as it's touted at consumers, it is a 'skinnable' phone. This means punters can express their whacky personalities with personalised cases. And get this: the 3510i accessories range feature "active covers that completely light up, flashing to the rhythm of your ring tone or as a game effect". Fun for all the family. There's more spec here. ®
Drew Cullen, 06 Sep 2002

PGP app yields remote root on Windows

A curious flaw in a PGP application's handling of file names could allow an attacker to own a remote Windows machine with a malicious, encrypted archive. File names over 200 characters in length will cause a buffer overflow, which, if exploited properly, could allow running arbitrary code on the target machine. A typical attack would involve sending an encrypted archive to a victim via email. The archive itself would have a reasonably short name to avoid suspicion. But within it would be an encrypted file with a name exceeding 200 characters which would cause the desired overflow. The flaw affects PGP Corporate Desktop 7.1.x. for Windows. A patch has been developed by former PGP owner Networks Associates, and is available here. ®
Thomas C Greene, 06 Sep 2002

Big discounts on PC upgrade, repair books

This week's featured titles from IT-Minds.com kick off with some of the biggest names in computer hardware publishing. The mighty Mueller has just released the 14th Edition of his best-selling title 'Upgrading & Repairing PCs' which can be yours for just £27.51 - a saving of 30 per cent. Preston Gralla is also back with his latest book 'How to Expand & Upgrade PCs' which can be yours for a very modest £15.99 - a saving of 30 per cent. Other key titles to take a look at include: Network Intrusion Detection, by Stephen Northcutt Extreme Programming Perspectives STY Games Programming with Direct X ASP.NET for web designers Java Web Services for Experienced Programmers Java Message Service for J2EE Software Development in C C++: An Introduction to Computing And don't forget you can get all other titles from IT-minds.com at a 20% discount.
Team Register, 06 Sep 2002

Bosses should stop snooping on staff email – MP

Tory MP Michael Fabricant is looking to introduce a Bill that would stop employers from snooping on employees' email. The Lichfield MP wants to give the same level of privacy in law for emails, as currently exists for conventional mail and telephone calls. Mr Fabricant says he is looking to introduce the legislation at a time when a growing number of employers are monitoring their employees' email. A report out earlier this week found that one in five of firms monitor employee Net usage on a daily basis, compared with one in ten 18 months ago. The same survey also found that email and Net abuse at work have become the number one reason why UK employees face the sack. "While I appreciate that employers need to be satisfied that their employees are working during the hours for which they are paid, it does not give them the right to snoop into the private emails of their employees. "With the huge increase in electronic communication, it is imperative that Parliament moves to protect the individual's right to privacy in this new medium," said Mr Fabricant. The MP insists that while he wants people to be protected at work, he believes emails should still be monitored by the police and security services to counter crime and terrorism, just as long as they've obtained a court warrant to do so. ® Related Story Net abuse top reason for the sack
Tim Richardson, 06 Sep 2002

Nokia launches 3650 Symbian phone

Good news today for Symbian from Nokia which today announced the Nokia 3650, a feature-rich handset built with a integrated digital camera, and powered by the operating system. In essence, The 3650 develops Nokia's imaging phone story beyond the 7650, launched earlier this year in Europe and Asia Pac. The handset is pitched at business and consumer markets. It's tri-band, so works across most of the world for the road warrior, who can access a "wide range of business applications, such as corporate e-mail access, calendar, to-do lists and contact applications". And there's Bluetooth support. And for the early adopting consumers? The Nokia 3650 is an "imaging handset in Nokia's high-volume "Expression" category, designed to appeal to a mass-market audience of those who are free-spirited, expressive and young-at-heart". Mass market is why it's good news for Symbian (and by extension Psion, which this week said it needs to see 15-20m Symbian handset sales a year, before it makes a profit from its share in the business). Nokia's free spirits can use the phone to send mobile games, multimedia messaging (MMS) and video clips (the phone has software for playback and recording). According to the firm,the handset "clearly marks the beginning of a new era for the Series 60", the firm's software reference design platform which sits on top of the Symbian OS and which competes against Stinger, Microsoft's smartphone platform. Samsung, Siemens and Matsushita are Series 60 licensees. The 3650 launches in early 2003. Nokia today also launched the 3510i, a colour phone for the youth market. You can see what the 3650 looks like here. And you can get the rest of the spec here. And you can read why some early adopters of the 7650 are feeling a little short-changed here. (Basic gripe, the 3650 is a better, almost certainly cheaper phone. They want an upgrade path.) Related stories Nokia confirms Samsung phone GUI win Nokia 7650 - the camera phone future? Smartphone roadmaps for 2002
Drew Cullen, 06 Sep 2002

Pipexwoe bitch site renamed Pipexwow

Pipexwoe - the site set up for people to hurl insults or praise at the ISP - has changed its name to Pipexwow in an amazing turnaround of fortune. Launched last month Pipexwoe was set up in response to the "growing number of problems facing Pipex as a Service Provider". Now, though, it's changed its name and URL to Pipexwow because those behind the site have received so much feedback from people claiming the broadband ISP is "pretty much piping hot". However, the site does point out that the Pipex still needs to address a couple of recurring issues such as a "naff Web site" and customer service and support. Anyhow, David Rickards, MD of Pipex, is delighted with the name change. "It really is unprecedented to see a public 'woe' web site transform to a 'wow' web site and we thank our customers for taking time out to share their positive experiences with others and for putting the wow factor back into PIPEX Xtreme," he told us. ® Related Story Pipex punters in powwoe
Tim Richardson, 06 Sep 2002

Kid-chipper Cap Cyborg reported to police, social services

An electronics expert is attempting to unleash various authorities, including the General Medical Council, local social services and the police on Professor Kevin Warwick for his proposed kiddie-chipping activities. According to the Reading Evening Post Bernard Albrecht started with the General Medical Council to confirm there was a possible case for assualt in the event of an operation "without medical basis" being carried out on a child. He then checked the police, who appear not to have bitten, and then onwards to social services for Wokingham District Council (after an abortive attempt at Reading Borough Council). Wokingham somewhat feebly responded, "the project referred to appears to be a research initiative and should therefore be conducted within the university’s guidelines for carrying out ethical research." It is not clear whether by this Wokingham meant 'had better be conducted' or merely 'will no doubt be conducted.' Given what social service departments are supposed to do, we hope it's the former. Further information that has emerged as Warwick conducted his PR tour this week hasn't entirely made the nature of the device clear, but has almost certainly provided enough evidence for an investigation on health grounds. Warwick still hasn't specified precisely how the device is intended to work, but has revealed that it's a transmitting implant, which is intended to work on the mobile phone network. If you're concerned about possible health implications of children using mobile phones, then it would seem logical to be concerned about surgically implanting mobile phone components in your child. So there are probably half a dozen official bodies in the UK alone who should be taking a look at this one before it goes ahead. In our previous piece we speculated that the kiddie-chip might be a GPS device, but although there are tracking systems that incorporate GPS, using this technology in anything even approaching the size of an implant isn't feasible, and as the interviews rolled on it became apparent GPS wasn't part of the equation. Here, for example, is ABC of Australia: "KEVIN WARWICK: Basically it operates off the mobile phone network within the UK and ordinarily it's not sending out any signal at all. It's just in a sleep mode and the idea is that if the parents are worried their child has been missing for several hours that they'll contact the police and as long as the police and the parents are quite happy, then a simple wake up code is transmitted by the network out to the implant, and then it starts sending out a signal which essentially the police can use very quickly to track down where the child with the implant is." So it's a device that communicates with the mobile phone network and operates in low-power mode until it gets a wake-up call. Then it transmits. There are several problems with this. First, although mobile phone companies have the capability to use triangulation between base stations to produce GPS-like location data, they're rightly sensitive about this. If they did it as a matter of course then they'd get beaten up for privacy invasion, and as and when they do do it they'd like to make (yum) money out of location-based services. Whatever, they won't enable this one lightly for Captain Cyborg, so if the device is really near ready, and it's using triangulation, he must already have an unwary network in tow. It is of course possible that something could be rigged without the network and without triangulation. Mobile phones can report which cell they're currently communicating with, so the unit could fire this off to a third party, and it could then be used to provide an approximate location on a map. This would be reasonably helpful in a built up area with numerous cells, less so out in the boonies. All of that presupposes you can get the necessary components of a mobile phone in a small enough package to insert under the skin. Our researches with the industry in the UK lead us to conclude that you can't right now; one of the service providers contacted was absolutely insistent that if you were going to connect to the network you needed to have a SIM, no arguments, and that takes care of most of the real estate on its own. Those of you who said 'what about the mobile phone in the tooth' shoudl be aware that this particular little lark used the jawbone as an antenna, the mouth as a speaker (or something) and required a modified real mobile phone somewhere in the near vicinity, because it was communicating with that, not the network. If it was working, which it wasn't. Aside from the SIM and the incredibly minituarised phone itself, you need an antenna and a power source. Cyborg is silent on antenna, and therefore may be contemplating something wacky involving bones, but told The Guardian one of the problems still needing to be ironed out was how to recharge the chip's battery. Which we'd have thought was pretty fundamental, while shoving a battery into your body really ought to alert some more government agencies. What kind of battery, Kev? ABC confirms unreadiness: "Now we're looking for a silicone substance for covering this particular implant. It's not actually making any contact with muscles or the nervous system. It's really just lying dormant most of time in the body, except when called into action." Silicone substance? Did we hear another agency twitch? Most of the pieces published during Warwick's media frenzy followed his agenda closely, and the Guardian's was no expection. But towards the end you can see another agenda starting to poke out: "He has called for an urgent government debate on the issue, and believes ministers should consider implants for all children." Could that possibly be what he really said? He went on: "This is why we need the debate to take place. In future it may be that only the police have the authority to allow the system to be activated. But, as things stand, parents can have that right themselves." Conjure up your own spectres from that little lot, people. Thanks, incidentally, to all of those readers who wrote in with suggestions, pointers and comments. One common thought we think worth considering is the effect widespread chipping is likely to have on ruthless kidnappers; the less evident such devices are, the more exploratory surgery they're likely to do. Even the Whereify system (an example of a GPS-wireless combo with the same objective as Warwick's device) could be vulnerable to this. Yes, it's a bracelet, but oh dear, parents can lock it on. Such parents should make sure their kids carry bolt-cutters, or only get kidnapped by kidnappers who own some. We note from the BBS at www.kevinwarwick.com that LRAM of Columbia says "In Colombia we have 3500 Kidnapping each year We are interesting in your implantable tracking device for security aplications, please send an e-mail to me in other to be more closer to your develope. We have the 65% of the kidnapping in the world. Please help us !" We shudder to think what the FARC's idea of exploratory surgery might be. Here though, are a couple of the suggestions. Mike Allbright comes up with a corker that pulls in an entirely different infrastructure: "I agree with your assessment that Warwick's claims can't be realized given today's state of miniaturization, but there is a solution that might make the RFID (SmartID) system work. As I'm sure you know these devices are essentially transponder chips coupled to coils that are energized when the unit passes through a (coded) magnetic field--hence no batteries required. The solution to the child-napper problem might be found in the traffic lights. Most traffic lights (in my neck of the woods) have coils built into the pavement which can detect the presence of a car and cause the lights to change accordingly. Potentially these coils could serve double duty by also transmitting the ident code and reading the ID responses. In a kidnapping situation, these systems could report (in real-time) whenever a particular ID tag passes a such-equipped intersection--enabling authorities to close in on it's location." There, now you can be worried about traffic lights invading your privacy. Jon Tarry postulates a power charging system that Warwick clearly isn't using, but that might make some sense: "A mobile phone can be located to approx. the nearest meter by triangulation using 2 or more adjacent cells. If the embedded device only transmits a pulse once every 20 minutes or so, it would seem quite conceivable to construct a small device which could be recharged by induction using e.g. an arm-band at night, especially considering the small size of the watch/necklace mobile-phones available in Japan." A 20 minute pulse might possibly be more power efficient than permanent standby, waiting for a wake-up. We know not. By the close of this piece we had hoped to be able to bring you the item alluded to at the bottom of the Reading Evening Post article, "In tomorrow’s Evening Post 'I’m right – but let’s have an ethical debate' says Professor Kevin Warwick. Unhappily, this doesn't seem to have made it to the site yet, but no doubt the many IT-savvy locals will let us know the minute it does. ®
John Lettice, 06 Sep 2002

O2 customer service reps are not working very hard today

O2 has been hit by a computer problem that has resulted in customer service staff being unable to access account details for as many as 400,000 customers. The glitch outage occurred at around 4.00am this morning, affecting part of the customer service platform. Engineers are working to resolve the problem, but at this stage O2 has no idea when it will be fixed. A spokesman for the mobile operator - which has 11.2m users in the UK - said the glitch does not impact customers' ability to make or receive calls. ®
Tim Richardson, 06 Sep 2002

Psion produces netBook refresh, OS upgrade

Psion's highly-regarded but barely heard of netBook has been updated - not a lot, but it shows it's not dead. The netBook, for new readers, is a handy little EPOC 5 box with VGA colour screen, PC Card slot and very good battery life. It is not cheap, but it's useful for people who need something with instant on and a decent keyboard that they can tote around. And its development cycle makes watching paint dry look like a plausible spectator sport. As a case in point, the current refresh is not entirely unrelated to the last update, which we mentioned back in May. The new version comes with that very OS, which was found to be unacceptably buggy, and was pulled from the site, replaced by a message saying it'd be back by the middle of August. Harvey Roberts, product marketing manager for the netBook, tells us today that build 158 is now finished, but they've got a server issue they hope to fix over the weekend, and with a bit of luck it'll go up at the partners site on Monday. Update: And as if by magic, the servers got fixed and I'm downloading it now. For access, you need to register as a Psion-Teklogix partner, which is free, and which you can do here. Aside from build 158, the salient feature of the new version of the netBook is that it's been rejigged to allow higher powered PC Cards to run. Specifically, Roberts cites the Globetrotter GPRS and Psion ISDN cards. 158 also supports Orinoco and Cisco Aironet wireless cards, but these don't need the extra power of the new rev. So actually the old box works perfectly well if you're prepared to use a WLAN to connect to ISDN, and IRDA for GPRS via a handset. The Register therefore immediately desisted from trying to scrounge one of the new review units, but then afterwards wondered why on earth there werenew review units. Keep your eyes skinned for less scrupulous pubs running reviews that spend 1,500 words saying "you can stick a GPRS card in it now." And future revs? There is of course no categorical statement that there will be a major new rev of the netBook, but Roberts says Psion is looking at various projects that might follow on, or use some aspects of the beast. Which beats 'no comment.' Psion certainly has a small but ongoing customer base for the netBook, and there a couple of things that could be usefully seen to. It is, for example, utterly unable to run a Bluetooth card, as all such cards in existence require some level of support from the OS, and EPOC 5 hasn't got it. And as the rest of the world is now on Symbian 7.x. Then there's the screen size and resolution - but let's not get over-excited. ®
John Lettice, 06 Sep 2002

Forgot to renew your domain? Never mind, it did it itself

This morning (and indeed yesterday morning) The Register received a nice email from our doppelgangers at Register.com, telling us our registration of theregister.ws is about to expire (on October 16th, something of a loose definition of 'about') and that it'd be renewed via the automatic renewal program on September 27th. The what? A little background here. We registered that domain a while back, probably while the balance of our minds was disturbed. We don't know why we did it, and we still can't think of what we could possibly want it for. But we're pretty sure it was more than a year ago, so we presume the pesky automated system has nailed us at least once already. The system will apparently charge the most recent credit card they have on file for the particular registration without there being any need for confirmation - you've already been opted in, and it's up to you to opt out. But, erm, did it say that in the agreement you didn't read when you signed up in the first place? Well, depends. If you look here, down under Services Enrolled in Automatic Renewal it says "If the billing address provided by you is located in the United States and Canada, the following Services will be enrolled in Register.com's automatic renewal service (SafeRenew): .com, .net, .org, biz, .info, .name, .us and .tv domain name registrations; FirstStepPortal (URL forwarding); and electronic mail. Well, the billing address is not in the US or Canada (we'll pass over the odd notion that it only applies to addresses located in the US and Canada), and .ws isn't in the list either. So we're enrolled when we oughtn't to be enrolled. Clerical error? How could we think otherwise? Nor could we even begin to dream that some people might think the email is just a renewal reminder, and assume the registration will lapse if they do nothing. Never mind, so long as you're paying attention and read further down the reminder you can go to the relevant URL, log in and disable Saferenew. Can't remember your login and password? No, neither could we, but the reminder system seems to work fine. Saferenew itself seems to have been introduced in financial 2000, as the Register.com annual report for that year says: "To strengthen our renewal efforts we are developing retention-based programs and have launched QuickRenew... and SafeRenew, our automatic renewal service." We trust it's doing splendidly for them, but we really think a retention-based program ought to be something that makes the customer want to stay because they're getting something extra, rather than an inertia-based system that makes them stay if they don't do anything about it. But hey, if you didn't know about Saferenew, you know now. ®
John Lettice, 06 Sep 2002