25th > September > 2002 Archive
Telewest, NTL and BTOpenworld are to provide the broadband connections in the UK for Xbox Live - the online gaming service from Microsoft. BTo is currently Microsoft's only partner in the UK that is providing an ADSL connection for the service. Microsoft is looking to sign up other service providers before Xbox Live is made available commercially next year. Cablecos Telewest and NTL are also teaming up with Microsoft to enable gamers to play each other online, talk to other players during the action and download new levels, characters and statistics. Some 3,000 people from the UK, France and Germany will take part in a closed beta test during November to iron out any glitches in the service. From November 30 the service will be available to any Xbox owners hooked up to a signed-up broadband service provider. The full commercial launch is set for March 14 2003 when gamers in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Sweden will be able to buy a starter pack before plugging in and paying. The starter pack includes the Xbox Communicator headset (used for chatting to your mates online), a 12-month subscription to the Xbox Live service and special versions of two Xbox games, MotoGP and Whacked!. The pack is expected to cost around £40 (E60). ®
A Canadian battery manufacturer reckons it can produce an XP Tablet PC with up to 16 hours' untethered life. The company, formerly known as ElectroFuel Inc. is best known for its lithium ion batteries, and claims its 'Scribbler' tablet can last between 10-16 hours on a 100W charge, running on an 866Mhz mobile PIII processor. According to this report, the company has chosen a 275x223 mm form factor smaller than the typical notebook. But that could be a canny choice - Tablets are surely as likely to be used for reading content as much as "content creation", and so a full-sized keyboard or an absurdly large 15" screen are overkill. Electrovaya made the announcement a fortnight ago, and the news only percolated around the specialist sites. However, it's the one we'd most like to see, when the Tablets are launched in earnest at this year's Comdex. ® Related Link Electrovaya [no product shots] Related Stories The MS Tablet - nice app, but why's it a PC? MS Tablet PC: 70 per cent hype, 30 per cent snake oil MS XP-Tablet combo cuts Intel out of PC standards biz Gates pitches Mira and 'Freestyle' XP extensions in home Microsoft's Mira - take smart display, maim, serve I have seen the future, and it's yesterday [That Psion that could have been...]
Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute has taken out a license for ARM Holdings Plc's ARM922T core. The institute said it would use the core in a number of mobile device projects. The institute already has a license for the ARM7TDMI core, and expects to have prototype information appliances based on that chip available next year. The institute employs 6,000 across 12 research divisions. © Computerwire.com. All rights reserved.
Orange SA is struggling to meet its target of 15% of revenue growth this year and has blamed the low level of new customer growth in maturing markets and handset sales. The mobile arm of France Telecom SA said that while revenue from its network is on target, handset sales are below expectations. Though handsets with color screens and cameras are on the market, chief executive Jean-Francois Pontal said that sales are not expected to surge until there is a wider choice of models. While multimedia messaging services (MMS) are expected to herald a new period of growth, the industry has yet to conclude roaming agreements for the new services. This means that an obvious application of the new technology, sending holiday pictures to friends at home, is not possible from another country. Orange said it is still on target to increase earnings at the EBITDA level by 43% to 4.7bn euros ($4.6bn) and expects its peak funding requirement to be no more than 8bn euros ($7.8bn), 2bn euros ($1.9bn) below its original target. © Computerwire.com. All rights reserved.
With the announcement yesterday of its "Xcalibur" BladeCenter blade servers, IBM Corp has introduced what could evolve into a new family of products under its eServer umbrella, writes Timothy Prickett-Morgan. The eServer line includes xSeries Intel-based servers, its pSeries Unix and iSeries OS/400 RISC-based servers, and its zSeries mainframes. All of these machines have unique architectures, and so can the BladeCenter machines. This is why the BladeCenters are being branded distinctly from the other eServer brands and not just thrown into the xSeries category, even though the initial models use Intel iron. The BladeCenter is a 7U form-factor chassis that can house up to 14 two-way server blades, yielding a total of 84 processors in a standard 42U rack. This is the same level of density as rack or two-way 1U form factor servers that have been shipped for over two years. The difference between rack servers and blade servers, however, is that a blade chassis like the one that IBM has created with the BladeCenter has an internal Gigabit Ethernet backplane built into the chassis and does not have to be externalized with cables. Moreover, the BladeCenter design includes Ethernet switches integrated into the base chassis, with future BladeCenter chassis getting Fibre Channel and InfiniBand switches as options. In the BladeCenter, the chassis is a self-contained server network, just as is the case with Hewlett Packard Co's "Powerbar" bh7800 and "QuickBlade" ProLiant BL blade servers. This represents a further level of integration in the data center, and one that customers dealing with server sprawl will likely welcome. The BladeCenter H20 blade is based on the ServerWorks Grand Champion-LE chipset, and they plug into the BladeCenter chassis in a vertical alignment, side-by-side. The BladeCenter HS20 can have one or two "Prestonia" Pentium 4 Xeon processors, which are equipped with 512KB of integrated L2 cache memory. IBM is offering the 2GHz and 2.2GHz versions of the Prestonia chips in the HS20 blades, which have four memory slots that today support 256MB, 512MB, and 1GB of PC2100 DDR-SDRAM; when 2GB PC2100 memory modules are available, IBM will support them and boost the total main memory per HS20 blade to 8GB. Each blade has space for two integrated ATA-100 IDE disk drives, each with a 40GB capacity with a relatively slow 5400 RPM (which means that they are cooler than 10K RPM or 15K RPM disks). An optional SCSI disk expansion card, which eats up the space of one blade, can be attached to a blade to give it another 146.8GB of capacity using 73.4GB Ultra320 disks. The BladeCenter chassis can also support externally attached disk arrays through Gigabit Ethernet links, and will support Fibre Channel connections to external disk arrays early in the first quarter of 2003, according to Tom Bradicich, chief technology officer and director of IBM's xSeries unit. Bradicich says that IBM will eventually offer support for the "Gallatin" Pentium 4 Xeon MP processors that are due next year from Intel as a follow-on to the "Foster" Xeon MP processors that began shipping this year. The Fosters have a relatively low clock speed compared to the Prestonias, and do not support hyperthreading either, which helps boost performance, so the Fosters are not exactly popular with server makers at this point. IBM will also eventually deliver BladeCenter blades that are based on Intel's Itanium 2 processors--perhaps the current 1GHz "McKinley" chips, or the future 1.2GHz or 1.3GHz "Madison" follow-ons to the McKinleys, which are due next year as well. IBM, says Bradicich, will use whatever Itanium 2 chips are current at the time, and this is possible because they are pin compatible. While IBM earlier this year hinted that it would deliver BladeCenter blades based on its own Power line of 64-bit RISC processors, Bradicich hedged a little bit yesterday on whether or not any Power processors will end up on BladeCenter blades, saying that IBM has not made any final decisions, that it is assessing the possibilities, and that Power-based blades remain on the roadmap. Offering customers the option of running AIX, Linux, or maybe even OS/400 instances in a blade cluster makes good sense, since most of IBM's AIX and OS/400 customers use a mix of environments. But fighting the political battles inside of IBM to make that happen is not an easy thing. However, only by supporting AIX, OS/400, and maybe even z/OS mainframe environments can the BladeCenter machines be said to represent a different kind of server from IBM--and indeed, the kind of server that its two-year-old eServer rebranding was all about. If these environments are not going to be supported natively in a BladeCenter chassis, then call it an xSeries box and move on. The BladeCenter chassis has room for 14 blades in the front and four Ethernet switches in the back. It also includes a single CD-ROM drive and floppy disk drive, two redundant 1,200-watt power supplies (expandable to four) and two fans. The BladeCenter chassis costs $2,789. A BladeCenter HS20 blade with a single 2GHz Prestonia chip and two 256MB memory DIMMs costs $1,879; a blade with the faster 2.4GHz Prestonia chip and the same 512MB of main memory costs $2,279. The 40GB IDE drive costs $299. And additional 2GHz processor costs $799 from IBM, while the 2.2GHz processor costs $1,199. A four-port Gigabit Ethernet switch costs $2,199, while a two-port Fibre Channel switch will cost $24,999 when it starts shipping. When you do the math, a reasonably configured BladeCenter with 28 of the 2GHz processors, 2GB of main memory and 80GB of disk per blade, four Ethernet switches, and four power supplies costs $75,771. A full rack of BladeCenters, which would pack a lot of power in one place, would cost $454,626. The BladeCenter chassis and BladeCenter HS20 blades are shipping in limited availability now and will be generally available in November. The Fibre Channel card and switch options will ship sometime in January. The BladeCenter has been certified to run Microsoft Corp's Windows 2000 Server and Advanced Server at the SP3 level and has been certified for Red Hat Inc's Linux 7.3 and SuSE AG's Linux 8.0 as well. IBM says that it will also have the machine certified to run Novell Inc's NetWare. email@example.com Copyright © 2002 Midrange Server, Inc. All Rights Reserved. © Computerwire.com. All rights reserved.
A casual observer at Intel's Developer Forum earlier this month might have thought the company that grew fat on the back of ever faster desktop PC chips was now more focused on mobile and server chips, writes Joe Fay. In the company's client day presentation at the conference, discussion of desktops was largely restricted to home use, while Intel said its own executives' use of wireless laptops pointed the way for how businesses will use clients in the future. However, in an interview with ComputerWire, Bill Siu, vice president and general manager of the company's desktop platforms group, painted a more complex relationship between the vendor's desktop and mobile strategies, while confirming that clock speed was not a driver in itself. Siu said that there had been a shift in focus at the company. "In the 1990s, it was a go go period, with the internet booming," he said. Now, he said, the company faces another challenge. "It's not just bigger, faster, but how to address how it's going to be used. It's really around usage models." The onset of Prescott, the next evolution of the P4 due next year, seems to illustrate this gentler approach to speed. Prescott will be built on a 90 nanometer manufacturing process and will feature an enhanced version of the Netburst core which is already at the heart of the Pentium 4. The Pentium 4 has leapfrogged up the speed ramp, from 1.4GHz at launch in the Fall of 2000, and will hit 3GHz by the end of this year. At the P4's launch, Intel put the lifespan of Netburst at up to seven years and said that if Moore's law held true, the company had the headroom to break the 10GHz mark by 2006. The vendor has consistently said the Netburst architecture can scale up to 10GHz. However, Siu last week appeared to suggest that the drive to higher speeds will moderate in the coming years. Prescott will underpin the vendor's desktop line through 2004, he said. "I don't think Prescott will hit 10GHz in this iteration," he said. More significantly, perhaps, he described Netburst as having a ten year cycle, implying that Intel's race to the 10GHz mark will not be as break-neck as some may have expected. Siu also said that despite the company's focus on mobile processors, it would be a mistake to assume that the company only saw desktop processors being significant in the home market, or that raw power was no longer a consideration. There was still a demand in the enterprise for powerful desktops, especially in the development sector. "At the top end there's a performance piece [of the market]," he said, where speed, storage and graphics were key factors. In addition, he said, the shift to mobile PCs was not such a driver in developing markets. This is partly a factor of cost, he said. The lack of mobile infrastructure was also another break on wireless notebook use. "Our expectation is [the] mobile and transportable [sectors] will grow faster," Siu said. "Desktop will grow in numbers, maybe not in percentage." And while the profile of the vendor's mobile processor operation may be rising, Siu said the two groups will still see considerable cross-fertilization. The power management features being developed for wireless mobiles would also be useful in the high performance desktop space he said. Meanwhile, Prescott would eventually feed back into the mobile range. "You will see a mobile Prescott somewhere along the way," he said. "We believe there is a market and a desire for this kind of performance." © Computerwire.com. All rights reserved.
Microsoft Corp chief executive Steve Ballmer has said that the company has no plans to ramp up its IT services business. The company is the largest IT company not to have supplemented its products business with a high-margin, reliable stream of revenue from a systems integration and consulting arm, and has been tipped as a possible buyer of one of the big five consulting companies. IBM Corp now makes more than 40% of its total revenue from its Global Services division, and recently acquired PwC Consulting. Microsoft had been strongly expected to build up its existing services arm in coming years as its product strategy takes it deeper into its clients' systems, and a growing proportion of its software is delivered as a rented, hosted service - a trend that Ballmer himself has highlighted as a key part of the company's sales strategy over the next five years. In April 2001, Microsoft announced the formation of a worldwide services organization that will consist of nearly a third of the company's staff, merging the 13,000 employees in its Consulting Services and Product Support Services operations. In January 2002, Microsoft appointed IBM Global Services veteran Mike Sinneck as vice president for worldwide services. However, Ballmer yesterday told the company's UK reseller partners at a conference that the company has no plans to acquire a services business and will continue to focus on software development. He said: "Every year, people ask me 'Are you going to go into services like IBM?' But we were confident when we made our strategy and feel as good about that today." © Computerwire.com. All rights reserved.
A satirical Web site that attempted to parody concerns over child safety has been shut down following the intervention of police. Thinkofthechildren.co.uk was pulled on Monday after officers from the Metropolitan Police Service's Obscene Publications and Internet Unit contacted the site's hosts alleging that that it could incite others to violence. Police said they approached Host Europe after they received a number of complaints about the site from concerned members of the public. Host Europe shut down the site after they failed to contact the site's owner. However, the incident has sparked a strongly worded response from those running the site. A message reads: "Sorry, Thinkofthechildren.co.uk has been torched by an angry mob." "There was no warrant issued. No form of official order at all. Just a polite request - which was immediately complied with," it says. For those of who didn't see the site before it was pulled, the first paragraph read: "We are concerned parents, many of whom have children of our own and who want the law changed to protect them. Every day in Britain happy, popular children who do well at school are being murdered by evil paedophile scum. Well enough's enough! Its time the law got tough on child murderers." However, the site's owners claim this was all part of the satire and explain that it should be interpreted as follows: "This is a work of satire. It might not be very funny satire, but it is satire. It is in no way an incitement to commit mob violence. It is quite obvious to anyone who reads any of the words on the site that it is a piece of comment on Britain's tabloid-fuelled, pig-ignorant mob culture." Those behind the site say they are seeking legal advice before deciding what to do next. They conclude: "I'll leave you to ponder the irony of a site parodying mob culture being removed on the basis of complaints from a tiny group of very stupid - but very loud - members of the public." No one from Thinkofthechildren.co.uk was available for comment at the time of writing. ®
A couple of weeks back, while getting all excited about the Psion netBook finally getting Ethernet, I intimated that I might well buckle and spring for a Nokia 7650, thus adding the joys of GPRS connectivity and massively enhancing my new untethered lifestyle. I resisted the temptation for a whole two days, then reported to the Vodafone store. Willpower? Budgetary responsibility? We've heard of it. The following two weeks have been spent banging my head against GPRS, consulting discussion boards, Googling for 'vodafone gprs 7650' (this gets you quite a lot of techie-looking stuff in German, Italian and Hungarian, along with what appears to be the entirety of the setup information on the Vodafone UK site - i.e., nothing). But finally this morning after pulling rank with the PR people yesterday, Steve from support has sorted me out. It's not entirely clear to either of us why it works, but it works on his Revo and my netBook, and I'm going to lie down for a couple of weeks before I even contemplate checking to see what I need to change in order to break it again. In the UK mass market GPRS is finally just about poised to take off, the phones will shortly be cheap enough for them to be shifting in high volumes, and therefore there are going to be quite a lot of people going through the loop I've just gone through. I've no direct experience of the level of knowledge of other service providers, but it seems reasonable to presume that large numbers of the sales and support people will not yet have been brought up to speed on GPRS data, so passing on what I've gleaned is a worthwhile exercise. (voodoo settings incantations for Psions plus at the bottom of this piece, if you can't wait). I ran GPRS connectivity as a race between my PC and the Psion, working on the assumption that it might work straight off with the PC anyway, and that if it didn't there was less chance of my being told to sod off, of course it won't work on unsupported kit. I was wrong on that, incidentally; since Psion's exit from the consumer market the stores may have been bundling PocketPCs instead of Revos, but support still seems willing to treat you as a rational human being. I doubt this will last, as least as far as the first line people are concerned, once the call-centre scripts have all been rewritten, so enjoy it while you can. The first bit of head-banging was conducted with the Psion. A quick search pointed me at Mike McConnell's helpful site which has a list of settings for numerous phones which seems to have been put together by Craig Chambers of Psion-Teklogix. There's nothing there for the 7650, but Craig passed me on some tips that seemed to suggest there was no complex voodoo as regards this phone. Well, not for him, maybe. The settings listed, incidentally, ought to be equally useful for Revo and 5MX, although you'll need the Psion mobile connectivity patch, available from Mike here. And from Psion, of course, but aren't you sick of having to fill in false registration names so you can get to the download bit? As it happened, none of this worked for me, so I proceeded to Vodafone support. Which brings us to point to watch out for number one - the front line support staff have not yet been adequately briefed on the difference between WAP over GPRS and data GPRS, using the handset as a modem. They may be more up to speed with GPRS PC Cards, which are quite clearly different, but when they said they'd send me some settings what arrived was a message with settings for the "Vodafone GPRS" Access Point (AP), which is actually an access point for WAP - the Vodafone data/Internet AP is actually called INTERNET. OK, give up on that. Vodafone's site, whilst totally silent on settings, offers a connectivity product called Connect Me, which is actually Alice Connect from Sweden's Alice Systems. It's available for PC, PocketPC and Palm but, erm, as of the other day the config file it uses seemed to have been last updated in November 2001, so there ain't no 7650 settings. I've tutted at the PR people about this, so something might happen RSN. But actually, it's a bit of a blind alley anyway, because if you've got the right info to send the modem, you can just use dial-up networking. Nokia's PC suite for the 7650, which comes with the phone, allows you to get the 7650 set up as a modem on your PC, so Connect Me can be largely redundant, apart from providing you with a large list of settings to pore over as you research. My investigations of Connect Me are currently stalled at an "unsupported AT command" error message. It doesn't directly specify the command, and while it should be feasible to hunt it down and kill it, this doesn't seem a cost-effective use of my time, given that it'll likely be fixed when they update the config to includethe 7650. They will however have to get thoroughly on top of it within the next few months, because as the user base expands there'll be large numbers of people who'll want to use Connect Me rather than than faff around with strings in dial up networking. This is possibly the right time to introduce important point number two. Some of the discussion boards suggest that GPRS data is not available on Vodafone's lowest GPRS tariff. This was the case, and it was difficult to get hold of anybody at Vodafone to actually confirm it, but the tariffs have changed and now it's not; GPRS data is available on all GPRS tariffs. And erm, it's now still difficult to confirm this, but Steve says so, and as my system is now working, Steve's right. If you've got a fairly old SIM then it might (as Craig suggested) be the case that it's not enabled for GPRS, but mine is around two years old, and is OK. Subsidiary important point: a disloyal but helpful operative told me that the yummy new SIMs Vodafone has been encouraging you to upgrade seem to enable annoying reminders of how wonderful Vodafone services are and why you should use them. Adverse customer reaction will quite possibly sandbag this one, but remember to ask yourself if you really need that new SIM right now. At this point in the process, however, I'd put the PC back on hold and, hoorah, found a claimed working settings combination for 7650 and Psion 7 over at PDAstreet. This didn't work for me, of course, but I was getting as far as grabbing the modem, connecting, and then apparently getting kicked off the system. The error message, 'Etelserver, code user, reason 23', seemed to imply a validation problem, which seemed to suggest the tariff problem, which at that juncture I still didn't know no longer existed. Now I've no idea what it means - anyone? OK, so here we go for the final conflict. Back to the store, where the lads very honestly put their hands up and put me straight on the phone to tech support, tech support tells me it's a call-back, yes they do Sundays, and so I wait. And wait. Tuesday, I pull rank, and Steve calls today. Now, what is most interesting is that the two of us sat there doing the old weird modem incantation stuff, complete with eye of newt. Steve's phone was working with the AP name in lower case, so OK, mine went into lower case. Steve was just using ATZ to initialise the modem and no data initialisation string, so mine got that as well. Scarily, Steve had the modem type set to fixed line, rather than mobile. Hell's teeth, why should that work? But it does, although it looks like in some cases the system's being told the same thing twice. Belt and braces. That's not to say the settings at Mike McConnell's site or PDAstreet aren't right, just that mysteriously, they don't work for me. Anyway, here they are. Try these, and the other two, and maybe you'll get airborne. For my next trick, I'm going to watch the bills over the next few months with a view to reporting back on how many arms and legs the untethered lifestyle is going to cost you.® On 7650: settings / connection settings / gprs: GPRS connection - when needed Access point - internet settings / connection settings / access points / internet: Connection name - internet Data bearer - GPRS access point name - internet user name - web prompt password - no password - web authentication - normal Gateway IP address - 0.0.0.0 (no change in advanced settings) On Psion modem settings: Current modem : call it what you like speed : 115200 connect via : infrared fax class : auto [options] loudspeaker in use : never volume : medium pause time for "," 4 secs [initialisation] init. (reset) string : ATZ data init. string : fax init. string : [advanced] flow control : Hardware (RTS/CTS) Terminal detect (DSR/DTR) : ticked carrier detect (DCD) : not ticked modem type : fixed line Psion internet settings: Service : call it what you like connection type : dial up use smart dialing : not ticked standard dial-up number : *99# [account] manual login : not ticked username : web password : web confirm password : web [addresses] get ip from server : ticked Get DNS address from server : ticked [Login] use login script : not ticked [Advanced] Enable PPP extensions : not ticked Allow plain text authentication : ticked Use call back : not ticked
Heavily criticised Oftel boss David Edmonds has secured a place on the board of the new Office of Communications (Ofcom). His appointment (it's possibly because he knew the PM when he used to rock and roll - Ed) will be scoffed at by those in the industry who believe the telecoms regulator has failed to keep BT in check - especially over matters concerning the development of the Internet in the UK. Most recently, Freeserve has been critical of Oftel, claiming it is ignoring BT's alleged abuse of its dominant market position in return for the telco being more proactive in rolling out broadband in the UK. Far from aiding competition, Edmonds' critics believe that the watchdog's lack of regulatory bite has allowed BT to drag its heels over the introduction of unmetered dial-up access, local loop unbundling and broadband. Last year Mr Edmonds was warned that he faced the blame for the UK becoming the broadband 'sick man of Europe' unless he resolved a long-running dispute over the local leased market. Failure to do, he was told, would result in Broadband Britain going the way of Railtrack - "a project full of great rhetoric but ultimately an embarrassing disaster with very significant economic and social consequences". In 2001 he was runner up in the industry award for "Internet Villain" - only pipped to the post by BT. Even the mild-mannered Internet Service Providers' Association (ISPA) has accused Oftel of ignorance when it comes to understanding the needs of Britain's Internet industry. And then there are countless number of times people have called for his resignation over lack of progress. Anyhow, back to his appointment. Mr Edmonds will get £30,000 a year for working two days a week in his new job. He will join a handful of others (Urmila Banerjee, Richard Hooper and Sara Nathan in case you're interested) to oversee the creation of the new independent regulatory body, which will cover broadcasting, telecoms and the management of the radio spectrum. Lord Currie of Marylebone was appointed chairman of Ofcom at the beginning of August. ® Related Stories Lord Currie crowned Ofcom king Freeserve slams BT broadband ad blitz
AnalysisAnalysis A story that old DEC hands like to tell is about the time Digital was designing the MicroVAX. Ken Olsen went to the board and told them they could expect the share price to stagnate for a couple of years. Digital Equipment Corporation, Olsen said, would focus all its efforts on putting the VAX onto a chip (from a board) and things in the meantime would be grim. The MicroVAX turned out to be a roaring success, DEC's share price subsequently tripled, and Olsen was vindicated. Can you imagine a tech CEO telling investors to stew in these post-bubble times? Remember, this is an era when technology is lauded as the saviour of the Economy. No, Wall Street's vultures would have their head on a spike within a week. DEC could dare do such things, and we forget so easily, because it was the very vanguard technology company: one that made a religion of doing the Right Thing (even if it was late, or over budget), because it knew it could bring great technology to market. At the time, the behemoth IBM had already invented much of this great technology but its management made a point of not bringing it to market... because IBM could make more money from leasing old kit. Only DEC's inheritance now lies, by the by, with Hewlett Packard. And as HP kicks off its annual OpenWorld summit in Los Angeles today, it's uncanny how closely it is repeating the steps that Digital took, moves that saw it fall from a superpower to a federation of failing businesses awaiting an asset stripper. When Compaq's bid was accepted by the DEC board in October 1997, an unforgettable (and unsigned) Computergram analysis lamented how it fallen from its status as a tech titan to an overweight "Microsoft VAR". But in HP's post-merger strategy becoming a Microsoft VAR isn't an accident: it's part of the design. HP ditched its investment in Precision Architecture RISC, dumped - or more accurately, forgot about - middleware, and now sees its future as a slightly-differentiated Wintel OEM, one with better systems know-how, and greater economies of scale, than Dell. On the last two counts it's almost certainly correct, but it ducks the question of how can sustain its margins as a systems company, the vital margins that are needed to differentiate itself, as it moves closer and closer to becoming a commodity company. Well, the answer is in the figures. HP's business has taken a bath in the last quarter, in all departments except printing and imaging, and finance. (Printing and imaging accounts for half of HP's operating revenue). PCs and enterprise systems tanked, although it's too early to tell whether this is a brief, post-merger hiccup, or whether it represents the kind of Ratner-effect prompted by Olsen's famous Unix-as-snake-oil gaffe. Trouble is, HP has given every indication that systems R&D is sacrificial. So how can we put this simply? Well, no matter how we try, we'll never put it as succinctly as Scott McNealy's barb: that Dell is a grocery store that sells bananas as fast as it can, and that the only value you can put on a banana is a bruise. This simile deserves to be celebrated as widely as Olsen's "snake oil" aside, and if Scott were to retire today, and spend the rest of his life on a golf course, scratching his balls, he'd know that in perpetuity he'd be celebrated for this fantastic bon mot, which summarizes not only contemporary tech investment, but finance capital's rapacious disregard for technology's golden egg. Put simply, Wall Street celebrates efficient distribution: it doesn't reward innovation. The reasons for this are fairly simple, even thought they sound a mite portentous. Capital went digital, fast and first, in the mid-1980s, and logically, it seeks rapid rewards. That's all that money wants to do. Financiers are now under greater pressure than ever to get return on investments, faster than ever, because now they get their asses kicked in real time. That, in a nutshell, is why the world seems poorer and more reductive than ever. Dumb money makes for a dumb culture, and tech is no exception. Add to the mix the devious financial instruments, such as hedge funds, that were created in the 1980s, and you really have a new generation of finance capitalists that can't, or won't understand the fact that technology innovation requires a long pregnancy. Hey, they got the Internet for free remember, and that was paid for by the US government, so why can't all innovation come for free? Don't the Universities provide a tap, so rich that we can't turn it off? So in turn the young genii celebrate what they know brings rapid returns: commoditized distribution models, such as Dell. (This is a polite way of saying that finance capital has raped every tech idea it's encountered recently, then hyped it into oblivion - only we're just too damn nice to say so). So Sun, HP and every other systems company - which has traditionally put its high margins into high R&D spend - is under pressure to Dellify itself. HP has capitulated. On Tuesday it announced that "5,000 sales professionals" would be retrained as .NET experts. It has no chip, and it has no middleware: it discarded its bold Bluestone acquisition shortly after the merger, and as of this week, bundles BEA with the OS. Capellas declared -shortly after consigning Alpha to a watery grave - that there was no way HP could build a better chip than Intel. (You should have seen Gordon Bell's reaction to this aside, but journalistic etiquette prevents us from printing it). Fortunately a few companies defy the logic: Sun, EMC and Apple amongst them. Now here are three, wildly different companies but each maintains a high-margin business and pumps the resulting revenue into R&D. Making huge shared-memory computers (Sun) is difficult; making weird highly efficient storage systems (EMC) is difficult. Neither Microsoft nor Dell will be able to match either in the next three years. Microsoft has the brilliant idea of putting a database in each client. It can't imagine how this will work in large, heterogeneous businesses. Dell will build whatever it's told to, but has no systems knowledge to knit millions of individual client databases. The corporate memory - which is only acquired through years of systems R&D, is in each case almost entirely absent. You don't need to be a card-carrying Communist to appreciate that capitalism has gone seriously wrong, here. It's all but killed the goose that laid the golden egg. The free flow of digital capital had some nice side effects - and we're one. It's also had a downside: far too much capital has flowed to production capacity and this means an over-abundance of stuff that won't ever be used, like broadband, or like empty chip fabs, or like... well, you can see the results of oversupply all around you. And it's meant that rapid return models, distributors such as Dell, get rewarded at the expense of innovators; the guys who lay the golden egg. It's when finance capital gets so cavalier and so careless that it cuts off the air supply to the innovators that we all need to worry. And that's about now. Clues and cures to the usual address please. ®
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Now that GNU/Linux is becoming a household commodity, the Free Software Foundation is facing changes in its priorities. Used to be that rounding up Free Software developers to complete a non-proprietary operating system was job one. Now other things are more urgent, like fighting digital rights management (or digital "restrictions" management, as Richard M. Stallman puts it), and enforcing the GPL. So when it comes to the public face of the FSF, it means you may be seeing less of RMS and more of other people. Like Bradley Kuhn, the executive director of the Free Software Foundation, who is filling the role of spokesman and advocate with enthusiasm. "I am charged with the task of bringing the message of FSF to a broader audience," he says. Kuhn is fervent in his belief that software freedom is for everyone, not just an elite few. "Of course, I love the Free Software community and am an active member of it. However, there was always one aspect of our community that didn't sit right with me: the idea that you had to 'prove your hacker credentials' to be taken seriously. "Too often, we have a tendency to develop Free Software that 'scratches our own itches.' While lots of useful and important Free Software does get written that way, navel-gazing work can't be the only focus. "This means that the FSF's charge to bring and defend software freedom must reach beyond the insular world of computer science. Trying to convince people to choose Free Software because of technological superiority or admiration for the hacker ethic is a tactical error. While I am confident in our ability to keep pace with proprietary software, it will likely be decades before Free Software is more convenient than proprietary software in every way. "It's up to us to teach everyone else that our country wasn't founded on a notion of 'Give me convenience or give me death,' but rather 'Give me liberty or give me death.' "I have felt that the Free Software movement has teetered for too long on the cusp of directly impacting the general public," says Kuhn. "The time has come to stop shouting our technological advantage from the rooftops, and shout instead about the freedom we bring. "The public saw us once in the late 1990s as technological innovators. The time has come for us to get active and get organized, so that the public can see us as revolutionaries, too." But not too extreme. Of late, Stallman, the FSF's founder, has kept out of the spotlight. In August, for example, the Free Software Foundation held a snazzy $250 per plate fundraising dinner, from which Stallman was conspicuously absent. FSF's director of communication, Ravi Khanna, told Wired.com: "We're trying to portray the FSF as more than just Richard," and that it "made sense for (Stallman) not to be there." And this month, there was another fundraising dinner that didn't include Stallman. Eben Moglen, general counsel for the Free Software Foundation, was the featured speaker. Stallman lays it out this way: "The FSF's focus is Free Software, not me. I work for computer users' freedom, and the FSF works for computer users' freedom ... Once upon a time, I was the FSF's only speaker, but one was not enough, so we decided years ago to develop more. Now we have seven speakers, but we still need more. "With both Congress and industry cartels proposing schemes to exclude Free Software from large areas of computing, we have to talk to everyone who uses computers and even digital TVs and audio recorders about the freedoms that they stand to lose. The Digital Speech Project addresses this threat." Kuhn and Khanna are putting a lot of energy into the burgeoning Digital Speech Project. They initiated an advisory committee whose primary goal is to gain endorsements for the project from organizations represented on the committee. The group is also working to put together a statement of principles: a pithy paragraph or three that communicates the ideals and goals of the project. "In this statement of principles, we have the DSP committee representatives -- from consumer rights organizations, civil liberties organizations, musicians' and artists' advocates, libarians, educators, and software freedom advocates -- coming together to say: 'Technology control measures have gone too far and must go no further. Furthermore, damage already done by existing legislation like DMCA must be undone.'" Kuhn admits that the DSP isn't saying anything new. "It is what many different groups have been saying for a while. The profundity comes from the realization that all these different groups are in agreement that we can't let large copyright holders dictate public technology policy anymore," he says. The organizers of the Digital Speech Project hope to awaken voting constituencies to the dangers of legislation like DMCA and CBDTPA [the US Consumer Broadcast and Digital Television Promotion Act]. To do that, they're driving a grassroots campaign that begins with reaching young people. Kuhn has spent a lot of time recently visiting college campuses and doing the work of an evangelist. "We dove into the project with vigor earlier this calendar year. We focused on forming campus Digital Freedom groups. I've heard this year the Digital Freedom group at the University of Kentucky is getting very active." "What I find on these campuses is a growing underground awareness mostly, but not exclusively, based in the computer science departments, that current notions of copyright law are too extreme and downright harmful. From what I've seen, college students, despite the popular opinion from the mainstream press, don't dismiss the artists' needs when they share music non-commercially online. "In fact, when I lead class discussion on the topic, all the students who speak up say they've considered it carefully, and that they find the current system of music production to be a scam controlled by the publishing companies. "They know as well as Courtney Love does that the current regime isn't about the artist; by contrast, it's about corporate control." The biggest snag, he says, is bringing these students from a place of mere receptivity to software and digital freedoms, to a place of political action. "The climate on college campuses right now is tough. The U.S. military campaigns have polarized the political spectrum, and speaking out against the status quo has become more dangerous, both socially and politically. This shadows issues like digital freedom, because they are often seen as side issues from the foreign policy arguments that are raging." Kuhn says getting the word ingrained in people who've never thought about digital freedoms before is slow-going. "We formed the committee as a first step, because we believe that the best way to approach this project was to first and foremost build a broad coalition. With that coalition we hope to get the interest of funders to provide us the resources to design a strong grassroots campaign." Another problem is making technical issues make sense to the average non-geek. "What we've found is that there are a lot of enthusiastic activists for digital freedom in communities and campuses around the U.S.," Kuhn says. "However, they suffer from the same problems that the Free Software movement has often suffered from: difficulty translating the message so that a non-technical audience can understand. Industry and governmental initiatives like the so-called 'broadcast protection flag' are buried in confusing technical details. "We plan to design a campaign that gives the average Free Software activist the right tools to educate her campus, her community and her circle of friends, that issues of digital freedom are central to other freedoms we currently enjoy." Like the legal right to time-shift or space-shift DVDs, TV shows, or music CDs. Kuhn points out that these issues are more central to students' lives than foreign policy. "These activities have become the staple of campus life, and we must provide a roadmap to show students that industry and legislative control measures may destroy this budding ecosystem of technology advancement." Kuhn is scheduled to speak at Purdue University on October 25. "I'll be talking about software freedom in the GNU generation, as well as about issues surrounding digital freedom. One of the things I'll stress is how much is happening in back rooms between the industry groups like RIAA to make certain restrictions mandatory. They literally talk about 'selling' these restrictions to the public, and this is going to happen if we don't do something."
EasyInternetCafe - the high street Internet café chain - is to protest outside the High Court in London tomorrow against the threat of a gagging order from the music industry. The British Phonographic Industry (BPI) is to apply for an injunction against both easyInternetCafe and the easyGroup from publicly discussing the ongoing battle between the two parties. The row centres on a demand from the music industry for £100,000 in lost revenues after it claimed easyInternetCafe allowed people to burn music onto CDs. When the BPI first launched its complaint it had demanded an eye-watering £1m. Originally the BPI warned easyInternetCafe that it would get "bad PR" (shurely 'far more customers?' - Ed) if it became public knowledge that easyInternetCafe customers had been downloading music files protected by copyright onto CDs in its stores. But easyInternetCafe claims it's got nothing to hide, and even opened its doors for the BPI to check its computer records. It also maintains it stopped allowing people to burn CDs a year ago. Said the company in a statement: "Now the BPI have done an about-turn and are attempting to gag easyInternetCafe from discussing anything further, presumably because they are embarrassed that it has become public knowledge they have tried to extort as much as £1 million from easyInternetCafe" So, tomorrow easyGroup boss, Stelios, and a bunch of loyal workers will dress up in orange boiler suits and take part in a public protest outside the High Court. They will carry banners that will defend their right to free speech by declaring: "We will not be gagged". They will also run with placards calling for the "music industry cartel" to stop "milking the consumer with their over-priced products". Oh, and they'll also call for the legalisation of music downloads. Sounds like it could be a real hoot. ® Related Story EasyEverything fights music biz over download demands
Earlier this week The Register had an interesting talk over lunch with Red Hat VP marketing Mark de Visser, covering a fair range of topics, including how Redmond finally gets it, what takes its place (no, not Red Hat, we agreed on that) and the two Next Big Things for Red Hat - the Red Hat Desktop, and the Advanced Server deal with IBM. There's a certain amount of controversy associated with both of these, but as (with the aid of the Red Hat 8 CD he pressed into our hands) we'll do a user's eye view of the desktop later, we'll concentrate on the Advanced Server strategy here. Red Hat has been involved with IBM for some considerable time, IBM has been talking the Linux talk for some considerable time, but it is the perception of The Register (which in its turn, has been hanging around IBM for a not inconsiderable time) that much smoke and little light has emanated from the Blue Behemoth. IBM can be a great place to hunt around for Linux information and support, and it clearly has numerous happy techies messing around with the stuff, but how easily can you actually buy Linux machines from IBM? Sure, you can get them if you specifically ask for them, but the sales operation tends not to evangelise them. This applies in one way at the client level, and in another at servers. Wintel inertia is epidemic at client, and does apply to some extent to the Intel end of servers, but upscale of this at IBM the server portfolio is sufficiently broad for this not to be the reason Linux doesn't get pushed. The reason, to precis de Visser brutally, is because it's free. Or it was, anyway. IBM is a huge organisation with many most excellent salespeople selling large and expensive systems into areas where the word Windows is seldom uttered. The competition is Sun, maybe HP (but see our Mr Orlowski today on the latter's exercise in self-immolation) and to a very great extent, IBM itself. IBM's salespeople, as de Visser points out, sell the stuff that makes them money personally. They are, after all, salespeople. So simply sticking Linux onto the checklist is not of itself going to help much. It will get Linux installed if that's what the customer specifically wants and asks for, but otherwise if the salesperson can make more money recommending something else, then that's precisely what they'll do. Evangelism failure. You want evangelism from sales? Bribe them. The Advanced Server announcement foregrounds service and support and bringing the various IBM server offerings into step as far as Linux is concerned. These are certainly important, but the sales side is key. There's some sense in the argument that major companies are suspicious of software that's free, but making sure the sales team gets equal or better remuneration out of selling Linux is probably a bigger factor in getting it out there. De Visser is confident that with the IBM deal that is now the case, and that Red Hat now has working for it tens of thousands of feet on the street, all pounding in unison (Register rolls eyes incredulously at this point, but we'll see). Pricing on Advanced Server is related to support level, and is an annual fee rather than an outright buy. That is however the kind of model this class of customer is used to. It is also still GPL and free, but Red Hat is supplying this in rigorous 'some assembly required' form - you want it for nothing, you build it out of the source yourself. The Register remarked that this was a sort of escalation of SuSE's approach, and de Visser brought up the question of whether we reckoned Red Hat could ship proprietory software. No, we said. Well what about SuSE?, he said. Yast is proprietory. Oh, we said dozily, we didn't know that. Nevertheless, SuSE is different from Red Hat. Red Hat is the one the purists worry about, because it looks like the one with the clearest shot at hitting the corporate and government sweet spot, and in the act of doing so it could well turn into the kind of company that already occupies these sectors. So people are going to be ever more ready to be suspicious the more successful Red Hat is, and Red Hat has to be really good, only to be rewarded with deepening suspicion anyway, the more successful it is. Upside: at least Red Hat's rock and hard place aren't anything like as closely aligned here as Sun's. Yet. Aside from getting more conventional and understandable to the non-evangelised in terms of sales and pricing, with Advanced Server Red Hat is also making a conscious effort to make it a single, coherent platform. As de Visser puts it, currently with Linux you'll get some distributions that one piece of software is certified for and runs on, but there will be other packages that won't, so if you've got two or three enterprise applications you want to run you might at least have to juggle different releases of the same distribution. This is not, by the way, forking as such. It is simply a case of Oracle might have implemented 9i at so and so level while A N Other company will maybe slightly ahead or slightly behind. It'l sort itself out in the end, but by that time we'll have had a couple more point releases, so it won't quite be sorted after all. Therefore, argues de Visser, it is A Good Thing to go for a slower release cycle in order to get all of the key apps available at the same time on successive iterations. Which again makes sense from the perspective of the corporate market, but again will surely have the tendency to make Advanced Server a more distinct and, sort of, not quite Linux really product, as the rest of the market (Red Hat's other stuff included) goes charging off at full speed, not necessarily in rigorously close alignment. The Register is nevertheless inclined to applaud Red Hat, on the basis that the route it's taking seems a logical way to gain commercial success for Linux in the world as it is now, whereas the alternative of overthrowing the world as it is now does not seem to us immediately viable. If something distinctly different is what it takes to crack the commercial market, then so be it, that beats not cracking it at all. As we said, neither we nor he think Red Hat will itself become The Beast (he might of course be lying), but even if it does we trust it will be a nicer class of Beast. Should however the revolution turn into the directorate, the consulate and then the empire, you may come round and lynch us. You have our permission. ®
Greece's ban on playing computer games appears to have been lifted. According to an article in the English language Greek newspaper Kathimerini, the Government has sought to clarify a poorly worded law designed to crack down on electronic gambling. The newspaper quotes a statement from the Economy and Finance Ministry, which said: "There is no problem for any individual or for the tourists visiting Greece to use their private electronic or other games such as Playstation, Gameboy, X-Box et cetera. "It is permissible to set up and use gaming devices in areas used exclusively for habitation or residence, provided the use of the devices does not result in any form of financial gain for players or third parties," it said. Earlier this month a Greek judge threw out a case against two cybercafe owners from Thessaloniki, ruling that a law banning computer games was unconstitutional. Had they been found guilty, the two proprietors and an employee could have faced a three month jail sentence and fines of about E5,000 each, along with the loss of their business licences. At the time it seemed as if common sense had returned following the Greek Government's introduction of a law banning the use of computer games. However, last week confusion ruled once again an appeals court overturned the decision and ordered a retrial. So has this latest missive from the Government cleared things up? Dunno - might be worth an e-flutter though. ® Related Stories Greek gaming tragedy turns to farce Greek court throws out gaming ban case Greek govt bans all computer games Greek ban on gaming threatens Internet cafes