13th > September > 2002 Archive

Top scientist and Itanic critic ‘leaves’ NEC

Who will now dare criticize Intel's Itanium processor? Even some of the most distinguished engineers in the industry might now have second thoughts before speaking freely on the subject. NEC's chief technologist poked fun at the IA-64 instruction set at an industry conference in July, and has now paid the price with his job. Leonard Tsai confirmed that he had left NEC two weeks after making the remarks at the Platform Conference in San Jose, and that his departure was related to his comments. He had been Chief Technologist at NEC Systems Inc. since July 1998, and represented the company on several industry initiatives. Earlier this year a UC Berkeley academic underwent an extraordinary conversion from being an Itanium critic to a born-again supporter. (See: Miracle cures Berkeley man of Itanic wickedness). NEC is a major Intel customer and Itanium OEM. Tsai had claimed Chipzilla was bullying OEMs into supporting Itanic. An email from Intel's server executive "Iron" Mike Fister drew this response from NEC management, reports InfoWorld: "Kobayashi wrote back to me and said, 'Oh my gosh, let me make the situation better,'" Fister said. Tsai left on August 1. So beware, then, The Fist. ® Related Stories Miracle cures Berkeley man of Itanic wickedness Itanic: It's all academic now - Official Itanic OEM slams Itanic
Andrew Orlowski, 13 Sep 2002

PDA sales carry on slumping in Q2

The worldwide market for personal digital assistants (PDAs) continues on its precipitous slide, falling 9.3% in the second quarter of 2002, according to market research house International Data Corp (IDC). IDC's figures are far worse than those published in early August by rival market research house Gartner Inc's Dataquest unit, which estimated that the market fell 3.5% to 2.7 million units. The market continues to fall in all regional areas studied, and will not improve for at least another two quarters, predicts IDC, and the fall is not just exaggerated by buoyant numbers last years, sequentially (compared to the first quarter of 2002) the market is down 16%. IDC claims that the number of PDAs shipped fell from 2.89 million units in the second quarter of 2001, to 2.62 million in the second quarter of 2002, a 9.3% decline. Palm Inc remains the leading vendor in terms of unit volume with 30.8% of the market and 845,640 units shipped in the quarter, down 5.0%. Hewlett-Packard Co was second placed with 16.5% of the market with 431,650 units, down 32.8%. Sony Corp, which released a cut price line of Palm OS-based handhelds this year, was the only top-five company to grow its shipments, up 248.5% to 261,380 units, a 10.0% market share. Handspring, another Palm OS licensee, saw the largest fall in units shipped, down 42.8% to 170,590 units, a market share of just 6.5%. The other top 10 vendors that saw growth were Chinese manufacturer Legend, and Japanese electronics giant Toshiba Corp. Hewlett-Packard is the biggest surprise, it is clearly a leader in revenue terms as its Pocket PC-based devices are far more expensive than the Palm OS-based alternatives, but what is not clear is how it managed to show a net 5.7% decline in its market share after the merger of the Compaq Computer Corp and Hewlett-Packard handheld product lines. © ComputerWire
ComputerWire, 13 Sep 2002

Intel plans two path development for mobile chips

Intel Corp will continue to incorporate its desktop processor technology, including the successor to Pentium 4, into its mobile product line well after the launch of the mobile only Banias architecture next year. The vendor had previously said that the Pentium 4M line, introduced earlier this year, would overlap with Banias, which is the first chip architecture the vendor has designed exclusively for the mobile space. However, Intel had not given any firm indication whether future Pentium cores would be adopted for the notebook market. This week at the Intel Developer Forum in San Jose the vendor said that it would continue to produce Pentium-based devices for full featured notebooks for customers who may not want all the benefits Banias is likely to bring. And it added that future desktop architectures would continue to be fed through to mobile designs. Banias, which is expected in the first quarter of next year, is being designed with wireless networking in mind. The chip will use a range of techniques to cut down on power usage, which will offset the heavy power drain wireless networking imposes. Intel is pitching this as true mobility, with users only needing to use a cable to charge up a battery. At the same time, the mobile industry has been taken surprise this year by the success of portable PCs that feature full scale desktop processors, particularly in the Far East. While such machines offer comparatively scanty battery life, they are cheaper than notebooks using mobile specific processors. Their success suggests a larger than expected demand for "marginally mobile" products, which may not be thin and light, but which do offer all the benefits of a desktop PC. Don MacDonald, Intel's director of mobile platforms marketing, said continuing to produce Pentium-based products meant the company could appeal to customers who "do not want to pay for the battery life" that Banias is slated to deliver. He added that "when we have two products we can be more flexible." This means a mobile version of Prescott, the next version of Pentium 4 which is due next year, will eventually be developed, and that follow-on desktop architectures would be fed back into the mobile group's roadmap. This week at IDF Intel detailed the Banias architecture for the first time since revealing the chip's existence in August 2001. The chip will have 77 million transistors when it debuts in the first half of next year. It will feature optimized speculation and advanced branch prediction. The aim is to reduce the number of wasted instructions, which in turn reduces the amount of wasted energy. The chip will also use micro operations fusion, in effect joining instructions so that they can be processed together. A large cache will be used in the chip to increase its data bandwidth. The chip's system bus will only switch on those elements needed to process data. One Intel engineer said the chip differed from traditional designs, in that components would only be switched on when needed. © ComputerWire
ComputerWire, 13 Sep 2002

BEA and Borland partnership: separate and equal?

A deal between Borland Software Corp and BEA Systems Inc is a relationship of equals that lock steps certain platform and developer products against a common enemy - IBM. It's not a precursor to acquisition, Gavin Clarke writes. That's according to BEA and Santa Clara, California-based Borland who this month will launch, market and sell a version of its popular JBuilder suite optimized to BEA's WebLogic Platform. The product - JBuilder, BEA WebLogic Enterprise Edition - will support Java application development and deployment features that are unique to BEA's platform. Integration will improve ease of use and means that future versions of the Borland's product can be quickly rolled out once BEA releases a new version of WebLogic Platform. The companies are targeting a common enterprise enemy: IBM. Borland contributes tools for Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE), while BEA provides a combined web services development, application server, portal and integration software stack against IBM's WebSphere platform. Borland senior vice president of business development and chief strategy officer Ted Shelton told ComputerWire the aim of this deal are to win customers from IBM. That will take three to four years to fully fall Borland and BEA's way, he said. Shelton spoke after analysts and observers questioned the deal's long-term goals. BEA has been identified by some as the short-term winner in this renewed partnership, because this latest deal effectively grants BEA access to Borland's thriving community of Java developers. BEA's own, separate efforts to attract one million developers to its dev2dev community by December are going slower than hoped. BEA told ComputerWire it experienced a 20% jump in dev2dev membership between July and June, but numbers are around 480,000 individuals. BEA blames current economic conditions that it feels discourage developers from switching platforms. Scott Fallon, BEA vice president of developer relations, said: "One million was a stretch goal we set for ourselves last year... a lot of people expected the economy to turn around sooner than it has." Such is the potential allure of Borland's developer community, rumors are now circulating that a possible acquisition by San Jose, California-based BEA of Borland is somewhere down the road. Such an acquisition would likely be hostile. Borland was unavailable to comment on the rumors, while executives from San Jose, California-based BEA have either dismissed or refused to comment on rumors in separate interviews with ComputerWire. Byron Sebastian, BEA vice president and general manager, said partnerships with Borland and other tools vendors would help up-take of BEA products, especially web services development environment WebLogic Workshop. Workshop is a unique environment that uses BEA's unique Java Web Service (JWS) files to automate development. "The more third-party developers support JWS files, the more we will see that product get traction," Sebastian said. "You will see us continue to work with lots of tools vendors," he said but did not go into details of potential future partnerships. Some, though, see a distinct advantage to acquisition. Ovum software analyst Bola Rotibi said BEA needs a strong portfolio to compete against IBM, Redwood Shores, California-based Oracle Corp and Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft Corp in this aggressive market. These companies boast strong tools and/or platforms while BEA is attempting to re-invent itself in this space, turning from application server vendor to infrastructure player. Partnerships are good, Rotibi said, but can be fraught in the long-term. "In the short-term [BEA] gets the IDE. But what is the long-term view and strategy?" she asked "You have to have a portfolio that is strong and matches the competitors. If you do that through partnership you get the expertise but you are beholden to them to a certain extent," she said. IDC application development and deployment research director Rikki Kirzner ruled out acquisition as too expensive. She also portrayed Borland as a winner, because it can now aggressively harvest the old WebGain user base through BEA's sales and marketing staff. San Jose, California-based WebGain Inc was also a BEA partner before it exited the market. Kirzner warned, though, Borland's relationship with BEA must "work well" for this to happen. Borland clearly thinks it's on a winner. Shelton outlined two ways in which Borland will gain. First the company can now access WebLogic APIs and files not disclosed to other ISVs by BEA, for use in JBuilder, BEA WebLogic Enterprise Edition. That ties the two companies' launch cycles closer together, reducing the lag between the launch of a new version of a WebLogic platform product and Borland's product. Integration in the first version of JBuilder, BEA WebLogic Enterprise Edition will include hot deployment, offered in WebLogic Server 7.0, reducing time between development and deployment. Second, Shelton said BEA has a sales force 10 times bigger than Borland's, so it can get into more accounts against IBM and also appeal to IT staff who are higher-up the IT buying chain. Borland and IBM have roughly equal market share in Java application development on around 40%, according to analysts. "We want to challenge the IBM customer base," Shelton said. © ComputerWire
ComputerWire, 13 Sep 2002

Microsoft wins Legend Tablet PC deal

Microsoft Corp hopes its up-coming Tablet PC will make a splash in China, having signed a deal with dominant manufacturer the Legend Group Ltd. Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft is reported to have signed a deal with Beijing, China-based Legend Group, which Microsoft called China's number-one PC manufacturer. Legend Group is to be the only mainland Chinese company to offer the Tablet PC on its formal November 7 launch, reports said. San Jose, California-based Acer Inc, Palo Alto, California-based Hewlett-Packard Co and Tokyo, Japan-based Fujitsu Ltd are among others manufacturers signed up to the Tablet PC. Microsoft believes the Tablet PC will help drive uptake of Windows in Asia, where it said character-based languages such as Chinese and Japanese are awkward to type on traditional keyboards. The Tablet PC uses touch-sensitive flat screens for input. The company will this Friday release to manufacturers Japanese and Korean editions of the tablet version of Windows XP. © ComputerWire
ComputerWire, 13 Sep 2002

Patent fees weigh down 3G uptake

The cracks keep on appearing in the third-generation mobile market, but the news is not another European operator abandoning its 3G license, instead it is the market realization that technology licensing costs could torpedo the market for 3G before it even takes off. The 3G standard controlled by US technology company Qualcomm Inc, CDMA2000, seems relatively sensible, with the company fixing the royalty rates at around 5% to 6% of the cost of end-user equipment. However, with the more widespread W-CDMA technology these costs could spiral to around 20% believes consulting group PA Consulting. The company also criticized the patent holders, of which there are estimated to be around 100, for not setting up a single body for companies to license W-CDMA technology. Strong criticism on this subject has also been made by Brian Kearsey, director general of the major third-generation standards group, the 3GPPP (3G Patent Platform Partnership). Although Nokia attempted to push for the introduction of a cap on 3G intellectual property royalties at around 5% earlier in the year, so far this has borne no fruit. However, the 3GPPP has also backed Nokia's idea of a 5% flat fee and is pushing to settle the license payments as well as intellectual property claims. The problem is also that many of the major patent holders, such as LM Ericsson Telefon AB are in serious financial trouble, high license payments will favor them in the short term, but could cripple the early development of the market, due to few vendors actually competing and therefore prices, especially of mobile handsets, remaining too high. © ComputerWire
ComputerWire, 13 Sep 2002

Register.com v. Domain Registry of Canada

Register.com Inc is suing a competitor for allegedly using deceptive tactics to lure away its domain name registration customers. But defendant Domain Registry of Canada Inc seems to think Register.com is using very similar tactics itself, Kevin Murphy writes. Register.com sued DROC in its native New York this week, alleging unfair competition, false advertising, breach of contract and misappropriation of trade secrets. The larger firm alleges DROC engages in a "deceptive and misleading scheme" - a marketing practice known as "domain slamming" - that is costing it thousands of customers. Slamming is the name given to the practice when a registrar sends a solicitation to a customer of a competitor, asking them to transfer their business, but makes the solicitation look like a renewal notice or an expiration notice, to confuse them into making the switch. "These solicitations do not mention that it was Register.com, and not any of the defendants, that originally registered the customers' domain names," the complaint reads. "Nor do they explain that customers who accept defendants' solicitation will actually be transferring their domain name registrations to a direct competitor of Register.com." The company said that in a sample week this August, about 15% of all the customers that transferred from Register.com to another registrar transferred to DROC, which is a reseller for Washington-based eNom Inc and also trades as Domain Registry of America Inc. This is a large percentage, considering there are 122 accredited registrars and thousands of resellers on the market currently. Register.com says it has already lost thousands of customers, each of whom pay around $30 a year for a domain, and is in danger of losing thousands more if DROC continues its mailshots. A copy of a DROC letter sent to a rival's customer, seen by ComputerWire, is entitled "Important Notice" and encourages the registrant to "renew" their domain with the company. It does not use the word "transfer", but explicitly says that it is not an invoice, and alludes to the fact that other registrars are available. But DROC says that it is doing nothing wrong. The company is suing Tucows Inc, another rival, for defamation over claims Tucows told customers its mailers were misleading and could not be trusted (Tucows is countersuing, alleging slamming). DROC also says Register.com engages in similar practices. "They were the first company that ever did it," a DROC spokesperson said. "This is nothing new." A copy of a Register.com mailer seen by ComputerWire is entitled "Domain Expiration Notice", and invites the registrant to "renew and transfer" their name to Register.com. Like the DROC mailer, it does not mention the original registrar by name, but it does use the word "transfer". "All the mailers sent out make it very clear it's a transfer," a Register.com spokesperson said. "We make sure there are a certain amount of references to 'transfer'." While this may be true, the Register.com notice looks very similar to direct mail that VeriSign Inc was enjoined from sending out two months ago, after it was sued by two rivals. The notice from VeriSign, the market leader, made less references to "transferring" domains to another registrar than the Register.com letter. © ComputerWire
ComputerWire, 13 Sep 2002

First ever smiley found, preserved for posterity

The original smiley, or emoticon, invented in 1982 by Scott Fahlman but subsequently lost, has been retrieved through the efforts of Microsoft researcher Mike Jones and facilities staff at Carnegie Mellon University. And isn't it a blessing to find Microsoft Research staff keeping themselves profitably occupied like this, when they could be posing a threat to world freedom instead? Jones describes the process of unearthing the smiley here. Fahlman hadn't kept a copy of his original post, and had assumed it had been lost. But he was able to help narrow down the likely dates, and extensive CMU trawls through old backup tapes finally nailed the posting down to 19th September 1982, so we're just in time for the 20th anniversary next Thursday.. It has now been restored in all its glory here, and the full thread from whence it came can be viewed here. Note that Fahlman's post didn't come out of the blue - the CMU people had been working hard on a mechanism for signifying jokes for some time, and among the rejected proposals were & and #. Nor did :-) win immediate and universal acceptance. On the 20th a poster identified only as Not Sharon Burks mounted a fight-back on behalf of the "gandalf vax" and its favoured emoticon, \__/. But ultimately, Fahlman triumphed, and the research team could go back to discussing Star Trek. ®
John Lettice, 13 Sep 2002

AMD delays Clawhammer, Barton

AMD yesterday published revised its processor roadmaps, showing later than expected launches for 64-bit Clawhammers and 32-bit Bartons. Clawhammer chips are now, in AMD's phrase expected to "ship for revenue" Q1, 2003 - previously they were slated for shipping in Q4 this year. This means that Hammer-enabled systems should be available to the general public at the turn of Q1/Q2, 2003, AMD tells us(The server version - Opteron - is still supposed to launch in H1 next year. So no movement there.) Similarly, Barton, the upcoming iteration of the AMD Athlon XP, is showing production slippage, with launch rescheduled from the second half of this year to Q1, 2003. AMD is implementing the delays to install a faster 333MHz bus with Clawhammer, Barton, John Crank, a senior branding associate at the company, told CNET. Which is all very well. But AMD has not shown great speed in shipping its latest desktop CPUs, the 2400+ and 2600+ AMD Athlons, 'launched' on 21 August, and hardware review sites are beginning to complain. PCs incorporating these parts will not hit the streets in volume until October, Tech-Report forecasts. So, the system builders don't need a new CPU for their pre-Christmas desktop lines coming out just a few weeks laster. Launching the new Barton towards the end of the year would undermine AMD's ability to sell existing stock. As for Hammer, there may be greater design issues: AMDZone is pointing readers to this posting on its BBS, complete with caveats, of course. ®
Drew Cullen, 13 Sep 2002

Porno firm wants Napster

Nasdaq-listed pornography firm Private Media Group has made a bid for Napster, extending the drawn-out demise of the music file-swapping service. Private Media said that it had offered to acquire the Napster trademark and the Napster.com Internet address for one million shares of Private Media stock, currently valued at USD2.4 million. If accepted by Napster, the offer would be subject to approval by the court that has jurisdiction over Napster's bankruptcy proceedings. In a statement, Private Media Group said that it planned to create a peer-to-peer (P2P) network that would promote the sharing of pornography. It would also sell pornographic material on the site. "Along with Hollywood and the recording industry, we have become increasingly concerned about the level of copyright infringement inherent in free peer-to-peer file swapping services," said Charles Prast, president and chief executive officer of Private. "We intend to use the strength of the Napster trademark to build a community for adults to share content provided by Private and our industry partners." Spain-based Private Media Group trades on the Nasdaq exchange and claims to have the largest library of "quality adult content" in the world, according to Prast. The announcement comes less than two weeks after a bankruptcy-court judge blocked the company's sale to German media giant Bertelsmann AG. Judge Peter J. Walsh of US Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Delaware, said he could not approve the sale of Napster's assets to Bertelsmann for USD8 million, because Napster did not show that the transaction was made in good faith and at arm's length. Bertelsmann had hoped to resurrect the Napster service with music licensed from the major record labels, including its own BMG label. Napster hoped to become profitable by offering a secure membership-based service that would have provided royalties to record companies and artists. Bertelsmann had previously offered over USD15 million for Napster, in addition to the USD85 million in loans it provided to Napster to keep the file-swapping service in operation, while it was being pursued through the courts by music industry firms for copyright infringement. The loans provided Bertelsmann with an option to buy 52 percent of Napster. © ENN.
ElectricNews.net, 13 Sep 2002

Orange moves out of the red (kinda)

Orange has hit profitability for the first time since its flotation in 1991. Kinda. The headline figure it wants you to remember is the EBS (Earnings Before Bad Stuff). After Bad Stuff, in this case a hefty investment writedown, and the mobile telco is still swimming in the Red Ink Sea. For the first six months of this year, the mobile operator made a net profit (before exceptional items) of €218 million (£137 million), compared to a net loss of €500 million (£315 million) in the first half of last year. Total revenues for Orange in the first half of this year were up up 13.8 per cent to €8.1 billion (£5.1 billion), as the margin on its GSM network revenues rose 5 percentage points to 31 per cent. However, taking into account a €1.1 billion (£692 million) writedown in Orange's investment in Italian mobile operator Wind, the group made a loss of €862 million (£542 million). Nonetheless the results provide some encouragement for Orange's debt-burdened parent company France Telecom, which made a loss of €12.2 billion (£7.67 billion) in the first half of this year. The company is sitting on a whopping debt burden of €70 billion (£44 billion), arising in no small part from France Telecom's acquisition of Orange. Yesterday also marked the widely anticipated resignation of France Telecom chief executive Michel Bon. At the same time, France Telecom announced that it was pulling the plug on further investment in Mobilcom, the German mobile network in which it holds a large, but not controlling stake. The move is expected to force Mobilcom into insolvency. France Telecom is still expected to buy the business. Graham Howe, deputy chief executive officer and chief operating officer, pledged that France Telecom's financial woes would not affect its 3G rollout plans. "We are fully on track for our planned 3G launches," said Howe. "It is also increasingly clear that we are able to leverage our 2G networks to provide our customers with a '3G experience'." Like mmO2, Orange plans to launch 3G services early next year with Vodafone and 3 (the Hutchinson Telecom) operation due to launch earlier, sometime at the back end of this year. ®
John Leyden, 13 Sep 2002

Ouch! Fujitsu to replace 300,000 faulty HDDs

Fujitsu may have to replace up to 300,000 faulty hard disk drives, made between September 2000 and 2001. They can be found in NEC and IBM PCs, as well as Fujitsu Siemens home-grown PCs, according to Japanese newspaper Nihon Keizai, which estimates that replacement programme will cost Fujitsu 10 billion yen (approx $US 83m). The fault lies in semiconductors used in the HDDs and is found in 2-3 per cent of the 10 million units made by Fujitsu between the Septembers, the company told Bloomberg. We're guessing that most of the dud models are found in PCs made for the Japanese market, still the world's second or third biggest market for PCs(some analysts estimate that China will overtake it this year) despite the years of doldrums. According to Bloomberg, the dud HDDs can be found in Fujitsu FMV desktops, PRIMERGY servers, NEC VALUESTAR and Mate desktops and IBM's NetVista, Aptiva, IBMPC and IntelliStation brands. ®
Drew Cullen, 13 Sep 2002

Crash! Dud Fujitsu HDDs all over UK

Our story today on Fujitsu's HDD-recall has prompted an immediate response from punters and system builders. In the UK, the bad Fujis have been spotted in Compaq, RM, Viglen and Hugh Symons PCs. We are publishing some of the letters sent to us within the first hour of publication of the original article. It looks like Fujitsu has a big mess to clear up. An employee at a UK education agency: "we use Compaqs here, and have lost (I think) six Fujitsus in the last two months. Here's Compaq's advisory about the problem. A techie based at the UK branch of a big investment bank: "A purchase of 600 Compaq Deskpro EN's included various HD's including Fujitsu, Seagate, Maxtor and WD. After about 2 months we had a number of failures all with Fujitsu disks. We have had to replace about 200 disks so far, with about 30% of the having failed and the rest as a precaution. It is very unlikely that we'll ever accept another PC onsite that contains a Fujitsu disk." A Fujitsu spotter at an English university is more forgiving: We had scads of these drives in RM Pcs delivered during 2000/1; nearly all have now been replaced by Fujitsu. The problem came to light last year after HDDs started crashing in droves. It took a little while to get this fully investigated by Fujitsu via RM, but the response and final outcome have been honourable and satisfactory. A friend of The Register who looks after Viglens: It's not just Japanese ones, I'm seeing failure rates like you wouldn't believe on Fujitsu MPG3204AT 20GB disks (in one case 7 out of 8 disks have died, aged ~2 years, all desktop machines). They basically lose the ability to power up. A UK reseller who sells Hugh-Symons PCs: We have had to replace around 20 Fujitsu Hard Drives that have failed, as mentioned in your article!!! "Limited to the Japanese Market"??? I don't think so! The bad Fujis are in Canada too, reader Allan Stokes, from British Columbia, tells us: I bought four of these for different machines because they had the best combination of low temperature, low noise, and reasonable performance. They were 20% slower than the IBM drives at the time so they weren't purchased for performance systems. Two of my four drives have already failed and been replaced, rather slowly I might add. Both of them came back in five to six weeks. I was suspicious when they didn't even bother to ask about the mode of failure on the second RMA request. ®
Drew Cullen, 13 Sep 2002

Rambus euro patent ruling is Curate's Egg

Rambus yesterday announced a mixed bag of results from the European Patent Office (EPO), related to Rambus' patent 0 525 068. Crucially, the EPO "affirmed the novelty and inventiveness of the patent, rejecting numerous 'prior art' arguments raised by three major semiconductor manufacturers", Rambus writes. This is a victory for the litigious fast memory designer. However, the EPO has muddied the waters a little for Rambus, in Europe anyhow. It has applied a "unique aspect of European patent law, confirming the validity of Rambus' patent only as further amended to conform more closely to the language as originally filed in 1990". This reverses the EPO's previous position, and Rambus is to appeal. The new ruling will complicate and delay litigation in Europe, according to the company. But the decision will not affect litigation in the US where "different law applies and more extensive claim amendments are permitted", it says. At IDF this week, Intel confirmed that it was preparing to drop support for Rambus RDRAM memory in upcoming workstation chipsets in favour of a DDR pureplay. Intel continues to support RDRAM on the desktop, alongside its preferred DDR option - RDRAM does, after all, still deliver better performance than DDR rivals, although usually, it's more expensive (the price positioning depends very much on whether or not DDR is in production shortage). ®
Drew Cullen, 13 Sep 2002

Jeeves Systems buys UK IBM Var

Jeeves Systems, a Belgian-owned IBM VAR, has added the UK to its coverage, through the acquisition of Cotec Computing Systems. Terms are undisclosed. Cotec brings £15m worth of annual turnover to the table, taking Jeeves' group sales to £50m. Jeeves operates throughout Benelux and in France. ®
Drew Cullen, 13 Sep 2002

Word 97 feature spawns no-brainer pilfering exploit

Microsoft is investigating a security vulnerability with Word 97 which allows attackers to filch documents from victim's PCs using a craft social engineering attack. If an attacker can persuade a target to open, modify and then return a document to him he can snaffle sensitive files on a user's PC. The files will be silently wrapped into the returned file using the INCLUDETEXT field, one of the numerous hidden fields embedded in Word documents. An attacker would need to know the location of the file he wants to nick (hardly the greatest problem) but apart from that there's little to protect users from this attack. No viruses, no macros - just a Word document ready to place your most sensitive data in the INCLUDETEXT field, possibly using a white font or some such to conceal the pilfered text. This is not a flaw, it's a feature - which can't be disabled by users. True, you can manually check the fields, but will the average user do that do that? What should happen is that user confirmation (via a dialog box) for all includes should be mandated, and until Microsoft comes up with a fix along these lines then paranoia has to be the order of the day. Information about the cracker-friendly feature was first published by Alex Gantman on BugTraq on August 26. He describes the attack as one involving Document Collaboration Spyware, which sounds about right to us. Woody Leonhard, editor of Woody's Office Watch, brought the issue to wider attention in his email newsletter, and carried out tests which showed the problem may also affect Word 2000 and 2002. This is a horribly nasty and childishly easy exploit and Microsoft can't patch it a moment too soon. The fact that the feature exists at all is ample illustration that Microsoft places usability (users don't want to click on dialogue boxes) over security. ®
John Leyden, 13 Sep 2002

Unusual phone from mysterious Chinese company

ReviewReview The Amoisonic A8 is an unusual phone from a mysterious Chinese company. No price has been set for the European launch, but going on far eastern prices (they claim it is the best selling phone in China) around £300 without a contract is a good guess. Amoisonic quotes a standby time of 60 to 120 hours and a talktime of three to six hours. At 86x44x19.9mm and 76g it's small and thin for a folding phone, notably thinner than the Samsung A300. Like the Samsung it has two screens. The keypad lights up a shaded blue, and the buttons are thin and stylish. It snaps shut in a great positive way. Two rubber buffers either side of the earpeice stop the force of the snap from breaking the screen. Opening the A8 does not answer a call but shutting it does hang up. Not answering the incoming call when you open the phone is a pain but at least it gives you the option to reject the call. There are four lines of text on the external screen and eight lines on the internal, plus a line of icons along the top and a line for the function keys along the bottom. That's ten lines in real money. The big eight line screen is used to good effect. When you type in a number the font is huge. The screen has seven different colours of LED which it demonstrates in a son et luminere every time you switch it on. Along with the electronic fireworks you get a cartoon. There is a choice of a little boy or little girl animation. The phone is filled with cartoons and animations that occupy both screens, including the twelve Chinese creatures which denote years. All very cute and oriental. There is a vibrate function, WAP browser and a voice recorder. Text messaging uses the Ezi system which isn't as good as T9. The menu system is simple enough to use with the four way cursor. In standby mode this gives you the option of call records, text messaging, a short cut to a menu or a short cartoon. Saving a number to the phone book is simple enough, you can do this from the recent called or received call menu. There are 100 numbers in the phone in addition to SIM memory and saving gives you the option to use either. There are no fields for second numbers or addresses. There is a separate space to store up to 50 email addresses but no email client. Caller ID can be linked to ring tones by using a group function. A Yamaha sound chip provides 21 chords. The fidelity of the ring tones is loud and sonerous, but the melodies aren't great. There's no option to download more tones so you are stuck with the 15 supplied ones. Virtually everything the phone does is accompanied by a neat little sound. An office feature has a scheduler, calculator, unit converter, stopwatch and voice memo feature. There is a biorythm chart and like the Samsung Queen phone, a 'monthly care' calendar. Living with the A8 is fine, in many ways it does what big manufacturers have failed to do. It’s very easy to use, stylish and small. Perhaps the coolest thing about the Amoisonic A8 is that you can have a phone no-one else will have heard of. Even mobile phone industry experts had never heard of it. You'd have to pay quite a premium though. No UK plans have been made as yet, so this would mean buying it mail order from overseas, probably Hong Kong. There is some appeal in this, but if it goes wrong don't expect to be able to get it fixed. © What Mobile.
Simon Rockman, 13 Sep 2002
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BOFH: PFY's Sulk

Episode 19Episode 19 BOFH 2002: Episode 19 IT WOULD APPEAR that the Boss has said something to upset The PFY. And me, the heartless android bastard that I am, didn't notice this and intervene on his behalf as a good supervisor would... Sigh. So now The PFY's in one of those moods that REEEEAAALLLLY puts a strain on the old office sanity situation. "What are you sulking about then?" I ask, exuding the kind of compassion you only read about in South American prison systems. "Nothing," The PFY responds - going for the 'I'm-the-only-person-who-EVER-does-ANYTHING-around-this-place-honestly-I don't-know-why-I-bother' approach. Which, as far as I'm concerned, is about as welcome as a Microsoft licensing amendment. "Ah, so it's just the usual hard-done-by-overworked-plaything-of-the-ruling-classes thing then?" "No, I've had enough! And I'm thinking about a career change!" he responds, throwing several of his toys out of the proverbial cot... "Really? Well, you know what I say - Harder than a lane change, but easier than..." "...a sex change, yes, you've told me." "And you get to keep your clothes and friends!!!" I add, bringing a little humour to the situation. "Ha. Ha," The PFY mutters. Trouble in Paradise alert!!! Now don't get me wrong, working with The PFY is every bit as awful as working with any other run-of-the-mill support person with homicidal tenencies and a persecution complex (like me for instance). But the thought of taking on some complete greenhorn, removing the brainwashing they received about user service, then retraining them in the gentle art of user discipline, just upsets me. And to top it off he knows this, and also knows that I have a couple of weeks of beach leave (i.e. User support conference in the bumhole of Leeds [insert any Leeds location here] which I have NO intention of going to, but can claim gobs of 'travel time' for...) and is trying to stuff it up. To make matters worse, he also knows I'm not a capella on this trip thanks to a heavy drinking session with the Company women's soccer team, and is using this as a way of twisting the knife. If I hadn't taught him so well I'd be really annoyed. Still, we can't both be away, AND that I can't phone bomb scares for two weeks continuously. Not again, it would look too suspicious. So I'll have to humour The PFY out of his doldrums. "What did the Nasty Boss do to you then?" I ask, unable to help myself. "RIGHT!" The PFY cries, and bowls out of the office at speed. Woopsy. Half an hour later The PFY's back with a wadge of contracting papers, looking through the list of available jobs. Half an hour later he's sighing audibly, so I figure it's time to help out. "Anything up?" "What does 'Seasoned veteran of computing' mean?" he asks, looking up. "VMS programmer. Bound to be. The 'seasoned' bit means you need thick glasses, a beard and no clothes sense, the 'veteran' bit tells you it's VMS. If it were a Seasoned Vet of Programming, that would be different - you'd be a beardy speccy geek who knows COBOL!" "What about a Microsoft All-rounder?" The PFY continues, ignoring me. "You can use 98 and NT without dribbling..." "What about 'Proven experience in Leading Edge Systems'?" "Well, the 'Leading Edge' bit means you'd using something with a dubious future, so my guess is Macintosh Support or something involving using a 'Tablet' device" "Bastards!" "Oh yes, Situations Vacant are a real minefield. Run through some more words, and I'll do a quick translation for you." "Committed." "You should be if you take this job. Next!" "Team Player?" "Open Plan office." "Project Champion?" "Someone to fire when it comes in waaaaay over budget." "Key Position?" "Security Guard." "Willing to go the extra mile?" "Either it's MILES out of town or they want you to sleep with their clients to keep them happy." "Ah. What about 'Hands on' role." "Sleeping with the clients again..." "Well there's just bloody NOTHING here!" he snaps, dropping the papers on the desk. "What about that one there?" I ask, pointing out a large and colourful ad. "Test Analyst?" "What does a test analyst do?" "Mainly try and break things - which is not too dissimilar to parts our job in some ways - except that you don't have to let yourself into The Boss's office first." "Do you think I could do it?" "Course you could!" "So should I apply?" "Why not? It's only... ..about half your current pay. Oh, and look, you get to work one on one with their Publicity people!!!" The PFY's expression tells me that he's had enough. "Tell you what," I say kindly. "Why don't I get us some nice cold lagers from the boardroom fridge and you can tell me all about it. Then later, we can go and Test Analyse the boss's new car?" It's a tough job being sensitive... ® BOFH: The whole shebang The Compleat BOFH Archives 95-99 BOFH is copyright © 1995-2002, Simon Travaglia. Don't mess with his rights.
Simon Travaglia, 13 Sep 2002

Apple audio backchat, outsourcing, dead certs

LettersLetters Unravelling the outsourcing hairball How to get out of Outsourcing One of the problems IBM Warwick (UK) is always complaining about, is that customers either do not let go of the management of their contracts, or do not prevent their own IT staff from continuing to interfeer after the management of the contract _should_ have been passed wholly to IBM. The line between what the customer's IT dept should do, and what is left to IBM staff alone, is never nailed down properly at the time when the deals are being finalised (which I think is what your article implies). IBM contract acquirement staff are often too keen to nail a deal, and make unrealistic quotes on what can be done, while clients are too keen to get shot of the costs of running their systems, without accepting that they lose control of them, to some extant. Client insistence upon the decommissioning of servers without, doing proper audits on what the machines are doing (and whether all their work has been reallocated to new machines) is a typical case in point: there's always some obscure cron job running every vernal equinox that someone's overlooked. IBM leads the field in DR systems, but these are too often called into action because of front line system failures that could have been avoided. Insufficient knowledge of the hardware system itself, is an endemic problem, too, since IBM often just takes on all or part of the existing hardware infrastructure of the system being outsourced. On the whole, IBM does best out of (and _for_) it's longterm deals, such as those it maintains with several European holiday firms: much of the infrastructure is in place, well-documented, and of long standing. Problems arise with clients who expect the same level of support "straight out of the box" - but in the IT industry this is by no means a story confined to service provision. In the longer term, the use of webservices may do something to reduce the attractiveness of outsourcing. The impossibility of maintaining communication between disparate systems is what has traditionally driven companies to outsource, in the first place, and part of the web service Nirvana is the final resolution of this longstanding problem. In this respect, IBM is better placed to maintain its hold on the outsourcing market than others, however. Despite their hype, web services can allow the adoption of a modular approach to outsourcing (a customer's MS SQL Server clusters can be entirely replaced by a set of more powerful and stable DB2/Unix arrays, for instance, without the rest of the client's network needing to be aware that _any_ change has occurred). Because IBM have massive resources, it can then make savings which simply aren't available to regular companies. For instance, IBM can save money on transactional database work by to passing the jobs around the planet, between machine centres, on an ongoing 24-hour basis (so that hardware is only running at peak rate during off-peak hours in any on time zone): combine this with the inherent five to ten-fold cost savings of running larger hardware, and IBM have a potential cash cow. IBM's success has also partly been down to its hardware/software agnosticism: on the whole, IBM sell technical expertise. While some of their marketing people may wish the customer to buy IBM, they will invariably install whatever the customer asks them to buy (for all his whingeing about IBM servers competing in his company's homeground, for instance, one of the things Scott McNealy never owns up to is that IBM is - via third-party deals, like this - one of the world's largest purchasers of Sun hardware). Not only does this help maintain customer loyalty and belief in the IBM promise (sometimes referred to as "Trust through Antitrust"), it also allows IBM to hide its level of dominance and control in many areas of the IT industry: Gartner analysts tend to examine raw statistics for how many of X company's servers, or operating systems, have been sold, for instance, without regard to how much extra cash is being drawn in by third party vendors (or who those vendors are). It is true that all is not well at IBM - its strength is also its weakness; it's a generalist. In times of climate change, however, generalists always tend to fair better, and IBM is one of the biggest generalists in the world. If a coral reef could be a generalist, IBM would be that reef. Daniel Walker Rude Words Prudes sue for right to edit rented flicks I don't understand your slanted version of the story about a service that alters customer's movies from R or PG-13 versions to PG or even G versions. Usually The Register is very pro-individual and anti-big business - what is it about this subject that causes the problem for you? I believe Hollywood intentionally adds items to movies in order to get the rating they think will best benefit their movie. In other words, swearing, sexual innuendo, etc. are artificially added when they don't seem add anything to the movie experience, except a desired rating. Is it prudish of me to encourage my children not to swear? Is it prudish of me to encourage my children not to have sex before marriage? The reason the Denver company is suing is that the movie industry leaked a story that they had already filed a lawsuit. The Denver company is also suing to find out if what they are doing is legal. Please present all of the facts in your story, even if you end up slanting them to the far left. See this the Desert News article Lance Mortensen Audio slips into Apple's maw. Or not Are Apple's Emagic switch rebates enough? Your article misses one key point. For musicians everywhere, every other software title just suck as compared to Logic Audio, with the possible exceptions of ProTools (which is very expensive and sucks on a PC) and Digital Performer (which is not available for PC or MAC OSX.) Any other choice is just so unsatisfactory that at best it only delays an inevitable return to Logic Audio at some future point. Sonar feels like a shareware app. Cool Edit Pro and CakeWalk are just plain confidence-sapping Cubase hemorrhages it's use base constantly to Logic Audio and shows no sign of being able to stem that flow. Some people do have a natural affinity with one or another audio app. I myself are one of the few UK users of Digital Performer (though I was far happier with the discontinued Opcode StudioVision) Yesterday I tried Logic Audio on OSX.2 for the first time. It has 1ms round trip latency for MIDI and audio. I'm not going back to Digital Performer and any Logic Audio PC user will feel exactly the same way once they try Logic under OSX. Resistance really is futile. Simon Tyrrell Other beg to differ. Emagic has announced that it will only support the brand new Audio Unit plugin format on Mac OS-X. It will not support Steinberg's VST format for softsynths and samplers (VSTi's) and Plugins (eg compressors, reverbs, echo processors etc). The Audio Unit 2.0 SDK was only relased last week so there are no AU plugins at this stage. Most Logic users like myself (a PC guy) have a considerable investment in VST instruments and plugins. If you are a PC user you will probably have Direct X plugins as well. It seems likely that the "built into the OS" Audio Unit format will be adopted by many plugin/instrument builders. VST format plugins for OS-X are almost non-existent at present -- OS9 VST plugins won't run on OS-X. The upside of all this is that the raft of incompatible plugin formats may be superseded by the AU format on OS-X -- one version of a soft-synth for all the different audio programs. Steinberg's documentation of VST leaves much to be desired apparently -- this has meant that Emagic has always lagged behind in its VST support. But you need all new plugins if you are switching to Mac -- your vendors will have to rewrite/ re-compile their code to fit the AU format which has been described as a "superset of VST" by one of the VST developers. The big vendors like Native Instruments will probably supply versions in the AU format -- these might be paid upgrades or free downloads. Only some of all the freeware and shareware plugins and instruments we have come to know and love will be ported to this new standard. The situation now that Logic 5.3 on OSX has been released is that you can't run ANYTHING but Logic's own synths and plugins at this stage. Given the lack of information and the bad faith and the extra cost for way worse performance on Mac hardware what PC user is going to abandon all their VST is and plugins an plonk down a fortune for a relatively slow new Mac that will run nothing except Logic's own plugs on OSX. (OS9 development will continue for a while yet) The deadline for the insulting crossgrade offer is the end of this month -- amazing. The quoted 1300 bucks is a con of course -- it rolls in discounts on Apple's Cinema displays that are current offers for any purchaser -- Who wants to spend 3000 dollars US for a display so you can qualify for a rebate on it? Basically they are offering a free crossgrade to the Mac platform that costs them nothing and a free softsynth and some small discounts on Apple hardware that you could probably negotiate yourself with a dealer. [name and address supplied] If Apple was serious they'd mail every Emagic customer who is registered with the Windows version an "Apple Check" for $1000 which is only redeemable through the Apple Store as payment for a G4 with a monitor. Forget the rebate, make the discount apply up front. Tim Scoff Is this so crazy? OK, there are 60,000 key switchers. Let's say Apple wants to get ensure at least half of these convert to Macintosh. The retail value of a deal is $2,000. We know Apple's margins are 27 per cent, and are almost certainly higher for purchases through the Apple store, where there's no intermediary. So let's suppose the lost margin is $400 per switcher. That amounts to $13.5 million in inducements: a lot of money, and almost as much as Apple paid for Emagic itself. But then those switchers become core users for many years, and each upgrade or replacement unit means money for Apple. (Switchers who buy extra memory or a SCSI card from Apple at the time of cashing in their voucher will reduce Apple's loss here significantly.) It could be a price worth paying. And there's always a third option. ® La Grande and Dead Certs Re: Where art thou Stuckists? Intel reveals share denial PC scheme DRM sucks overall, but this really scares me. Consider: 1) No some external entity can reach in and effectively destroy my computer. By accident or deliberately- does it matter? "That Andrew wrote something I don't like. I think I'll call up and have his certs revoked. Haha- that'll teach him!" Of course, writing something negative about Verisign will greatly increase the odds of an "accidental" revocation of certs, naturally. 2) How can I sell my computer without also selling my electronic identity? I'd have to register every transfer of ownership with the cert company. Does the word "Orwellian" mean anything? Brian Hurt Just one thought on Intel's and VeriSign's comments that you report on today. They say that "you could magically revoke the certificate and render the machine as dead metal". This is unmitigated bullshit. IIRC, VerSign issued certificates, as well as Microserf issued certs, come with a blank Revocation Authority field. You may also know that RA's are responsible for maintaing the revocation lists. The rest is obvious: if your verifier doesn't know where to check for revocations, you can revoke your certs all day long but it won't mean diddly to the person who stole your laptop. Jim D Kirby Who or what controls revocation of these "embedded" certificates? We'll endeavor to find out. ®
Andrew Orlowski, 13 Sep 2002

Imagining a mobile phone P2P network

Can mobile phones acts as nodes in vast peer-to-peer networks? A French start-up called Apeera reckons the answer is yes and aims to supply mobiles subscribers with a network-based personal repository for content such as ring-tones, music, logos, clipart, photos, games and other applications. Apeera's technology lets users share this content and applications, boosting traffic on service provider networks and spurring adoption of the latest Java-based mobile phones. Technologies such as GPRS and MMS (picture messaging) can also be expected to get a boost, alongside attempts by operators to use the network to boost viral marketing initiatives. We say "expected" because technical details and Apeera's business remain vague. Are we talking a centralised data clipboard - which allows users to share data - or a true P2P network where data goes between phones? Likely the former - a better example is probably paid-for subscription, which the music industry is championing as the successors to Napster and its ilk. After all, service providers will want to retain revenues from (for example) ringtones and logos. They will be less than whelmed with users downloading such paraphernalia and then sharing these freely with their mates. A P2P phone network dredges up a host of issues ranging from the content (Digital Rights Management) system to be used, to whether mobile phone batteries and mobile network bandwidth available - remember P2P networks are notorious bandwidth hogs - can support such services. Then there's the security issues of running such services, especially since mobile phone increasingly hold sensitive data. Intriguing idea though. ®
John Leyden, 13 Sep 2002