5th > February > 2003 Archive

A Homage to Catatonia

LettersLetters "Your piece making fun of the New York Times put my Mom into a fit of giggles with extracts of like ''hallowed be its name, more incense please vicar...'," writes one reader. Damn, I was simply trying to strike the appropriate, reverential tone for this great institution. However, I have one question that m'learned readers may be help to with. Has anyone died of boredom while reading the Times? You know, it's not so far-fetched. I'm sure there are cases where the body's metabolism can slow down to such a low rate of inactivity - similar to a coma or a persistent vegetative state - that death is a distinct possibility. I suspect that the Times' Letters Page is most likely to induce this - so please, in this cold season, be careful out there. Now, many of you wrote to point out that Microsoft's latest advertising slogan "Secure By Design" does indeed echo an earlier U**X claim. We asked which one. It's OpenBSD, the phrase is "Secure By Default" and the claim is made here. And thanks to Barry K Nathan for telling us that one of the special OpenBSD songs contains the phrase [MP3, Ogg Vorbis]. I haven't vetted this for RMS-style tuneness so caveat downloader. Out of several hundred emails Jamie Bowden deserves a special mention, because he has the most entertaining sig:- It was half way to Rivendell when the drugs began to take hold" - Hunter S Tolkien "Fear and Loathing in Barad Dur" [Iain Bowen] Several of you have observations on the metrics of Microsoft's internal code review. The Beast claimed: "engineers spent several weeks reviewing many millions of lines of code in Windows." "Let's assume that the oft quoted 35 million lines of code in Windows is still current, and that the "several" mentioned above is, say, seven. That's an average of five million lines of code a week. Let's say the review team was 100 strong (which may be on the small side, but if you're doing a review like that then you need a small enough team to keep communication overhead down) then that means that each engineer reviewed 50,000 lines of code a week, or 10,000 lines of code a day - something in excess of 1,000 lines an hour per person," writes Duncan Ellis. "And that's ignoring the time required to cross check with the other team members." On the other hand Erick Van Selst suggests that teams of 3-4 engineers reviewing about 500 LOC/hr have proven to be cost-effective.) "It’s nice to see that they have started triage at least. In my experience, once the process in initiated, the cost-benefit ratio tends to justify implementing a full code review program." Rudy de Haas - who never, ever disappoints - clocks this at 6.9 lines of code per second and offers the last word. He encloses a splendid research paper entitled "Detection Of Large Woody Debris Accumulations In Old-Growth Forests Using Sonicwave Collection" by Indiana R. Jones And Ethan Allen ('ET AL'for short), published by the Department Of Philosophical Biology at the University of North Dakota, Hoople. (The corner bar to be precise). (I'm on a wet-string dial-up connection in rural France now, but please allow Google to be your guide, it's well worth the trouble). Ken Kashmarek adds:- When I was a registered Apple developer, I wrote up a problem about a QuickDraw interface call. One value in a parameter list was incorrect, and the call would take down the computer (re-boot to recover). When I documented the call, I was told exactly the same thing by Apple Computer, even though the documentation did not specify that such a value might be wrong, or that the underlying code does not check the parameters for valid input before using them. Even more striking was that one of the documented return codes was a number that indicated a parameter has a bad value. Moral of the story: when you point out the mistakes of others, you immediately become subject to attack for committing the same or similar mistakes (avoidance of penalty by deflection). Valued correspondent "A Lizard" has this advice for plugging security holes:- Proper use of MS OS and IIS is quite easy. All one has to do is open a command window and execute the following command: format c: - followed by y at the next prompt. Then install OpenBSD or whatever one's favorite *nix flavor is, being careful to make sure whatever unnecessary services the distro wants to install don't get in. What could be simpler? OK, an MCSE might have trouble with the "open a command window" part, but so what else is new? Glen Turner was reminded of Computer Associaties' slogan: Software superior by design — which always had us MVS sysadmins rolling on the floor, as CA bought in the almost all of its software. So CA wouldn't know a software architecture if it fell over one (always a possibility in those days of walls of paper system documentation surrounding each system programmer's desk). Karl Kropf adds this fascinating aside:- It may not be that relevant and the tense of the verb is different but 'Secured by Design' is the label for an initiative run by Police in the UK to promote the reduction of crime in new residential development. Perhaps it is appropriate to your story that in some people's view (backed by research) some of the ideas promoted through 'Secured by Design' are rather outdated and ineffective. I won't bore you with the details but you may be able to find out more here. See this for a counterpoint. Finally, thanks to the author of "Super POLAND" Henry WM for getting in touch. Henry generously credits MuroBBS for assistance. "It even quite amused my Polish wife,' writes John Presland. "Though friend Rutkowski's rant did have to be shown to her too to get her humour circuits working properly." However this (anonymous reader) reminds us why we should declare this matter closed:- "Being an ex-Nokian, and a once and future ex-resident of Finland and someone who has witnessed the maturity level of 'jpzr' in some of the Nokia newsgroups, all I can say is good riddance. I'm a bit shocked, and dismayed though that he has gotten so much notoriety for being, well, a jerk." Fair enough. Move along now, folks. ®
Andrew Orlowski, 05 Feb 2003

Safari, so good: browser and Bluetooth boost OS X

AnalysisAnalysis Something funny happened on the way back from the Forum. About a week before MacWorld a fellow Apple user asked me if Jagwyre had been enough to lure me to OS X full time. "Pah!" I groused - "when it matches the speed of MacOS and that kind of tactile comfort I get with MacOS, then sure, I'll be right over." Because I've never used a computer UI - and I've used many on what have been much better computers - that match that tactile sense that makes the computer UI feel as natural as a pair of chopsticks should: an extension of your fingers. About a week after MacWorld I noticed I hadn't rebooted back into MacOS 9 for quite a few days. This was almost entirely down to Safari, the new OS X-only browser Apple launched at the show. Now Safari isn't a metaphor-shattering breakthrough like the advent of the spreadsheet or the first consumer DTP applications. It isn't even a dramatically more of a "wow! have a look at this!" browser than any of its peers. And I personally haven't the great "innovations" Jobs enthused about in his keynote - "Snapback" for example, goes unused. But that's not the point. Safari cures the biggest drawback to OS X which we noted in our Jagwyre review: the utterly miserable browsing experience. So bad was this that I hesitated to recommend the Mac to first-time computer buying friends although in other respects, Apple's careful attention to design in both hardware and software, made it well worth considering. Safari isn't quite the finished article yet - it struggles with some websites (I'm in rural France now and it couldn't handle the timetable enquiry for my return journey to Paris on the TGV, for example) - but the quality of the engineering is evident in many small details. Now Safari is also important because it shares a quality with my other reason for spending so much time hanging out in OS X, which I'll come to in a moment. But Safari has had a dramatic impact wider than the Mac, which deserves a brief detour. Whither Mozilla? Apple is caught between a rock and a hard place with its pricing policy for the bundled applications. The Mac market is so small - and alas, shrinking - that third party developers have to be a little insane to enter the market to begin with, in the knowledge that a free bundled competitor from Apple could wipe out any hope of making money. Opera has already indicated it might not continue development for Mac OS X. And Chimera developer Mike Pinkerton who had done more than anyone to make OS X browsing tolerable - with the Cocoa browser based on Mozilla code - 'fessed to wondering whether it was worth carrying on. Jamie Zawinski put the knife in with some style. Citing David Baron, who wrote:- "Why is Mozilla's layout engine so big and complex? Perhaps the simple answer is that there were too many people available to write it, and they wrote as much code as they could. After all, they didn't have any incentives to keep the code small." JWZ translated Apple's Don Melton diplomatic reasoning for choosing Konqueror over Mozilla ("The size of your code and ease of development within that code made it a better choice for us than other open source projects ? clean design") thus:- " 'Even though some of us used to work on Mozilla, we have to admit that the Mozilla code is a gigantic, bloated mess, not to mention slow, and with an internal API so flamboyantly baroque that frankly we can't even comprehend where to begin. Also did we mention big and slow and incomprehensible?'". Well, perhaps Phoenix, which is a great browser on Linux and Windows, suggesting that all is not lost. But increasingly Mozilla looks like a salvage operation and its legacy might be a great bug-reporting tool and cross-platform UI toolkit rather than a browser that could have shook the world. (And how many cross-platform UI toolkits does the world need, do you Zinc? Someone AWT to count them.) But we digress. Bluetooth The other reason for spending time in OS X is the excellent early Bluetooth code which is as promising as the Safari work. I've been very impressed with the contacts sync, file transfer between my T68i and Jagwyre, using the bog-standard D-Link USB dongle. I've happily been using it as a wireless modem on AT&T's GPRS network here (which in the Bay Area, is quite outstanding). The similarity with Safari is that both are very first baby steps, but both appear to be very clean and well-designed and very focused engineering efforts. And that nurtures confidence. I've little doubt that by summer I'll be able to surf exclusively in Safari, and more importantly, I reckon Apple will have a Bluetooth engine second to none. With revolutionary devices like Nokia's 3650 and Sony Ericsson's P800 just around the corner, that matters a great deal. (The former got a must-read early rave in InfoWorld this week: "The more we read, the more we thought "this isn?t a phone. Quite right; voice calls are almost tangential to its design? [it is] clearly a networked pocket computer, a portable mesh node," wrote Tom Yager.) After Jagwyre debuted I still wasn't convinced the platform was moving forward. In some respects it seemed to moving sideways or even backwards. It's still full of absurd UI hang-ups: yes, you have to smack the clock after reviving the Mac from sleep to get the right time, and cycling through an application's windows will not retrieve minimized windows, for example. Drive icons move around at random on the desktop, and you'll all know the sideways jig that moves all your desktop icons to the right if you place one too far to the left. That one's fun: it's like an amateur choir shuffling discreetly off stage after a particularly lousy recital. But I think that with Safari and the Bluetooth work OS X has regained some real forward momentum. With some wrinkly ports regaining some of their former luster (I'm very impressed with the improvements in Connectix's Virtual PC 6.0) and intriguing new applications (Tinderbox, Spring, NetNewsWire) arriving and/or maturing fast, I see little reason to look back right now. ®
Andrew Orlowski, 05 Feb 2003

Anti-Pirates slam EUCD proposals

A group that calls itself "Europe's creative sector" has slammed the EU's crackdown on piracy, calling the measures "inadequate". The detractors include the Business Software Alliance (BSA), the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), the Motion Picture Association (MPA), the Interactive Software Federation of Europe (ISFE) and six other concerned software, music and film organisations. The group said that last week's new piracy-fighting proposal from the European Commission is "inadequate in view of the magnitude of the piracy problem and fails to introduce urgently needed measures to hold back the epidemic of counterfeiting." The group claims that in Europe, film, video, music, business and leisure software industries alone suffer losses in excess of EUR4.5 billion annually due to piracy. The biggest complaint from the so-called creative sector is the lack of harmonisation across the 15 EU nations the proposed draft would put in place. "In fact, implementation of the directive in its current form would cause confusion and perpetuate a patchwork of different legal measures and procedures across the EU," the association said in a statement. What's more, the statement said the proposal may not even match existing international standards that fight piracy, insisting that it could create a two-tier system of enforcement where some types of piracy are acceptable and others are not. However, in other quarters, the new directive has been deemed a much tougher version than the standards already in place to fight the illegal copying of software and other digital materials. For example, the Commission's proposal could see to it that counterfeiters are jailed and their bank accounts frozen, if they are found to be in breach of the law. For its part, the European Commission claims that the proposed laws will actually fill gaps in national law that pirates currently exploit. "The proposed directive would ensure a level playing field for right holders in the EU, reinforce measures against offenders and thus act as a deterrent to those engaged in counterfeiting and piracy," the Commission said. The proposal will now go forward to the European Parliament and the EU's Council of Ministers for adoption under the so-called "co-decision" procedure. "Pirates and counterfeiters are in effect stealing from right holders the fair payment they deserve for their work. If we don't stamp that out, the incentives for industrial innovation and cultural creativity will be weakened," commented Internal Market Commissioner Frits Bolkestein. "The sooner we implement this proposal the better will be our defences against piracy." According to EU figures, piracy reduced Europe's gross domestic product by EUR8 billion a year between 1998 and 2001. The BSA estimates that 37 percent of all software in Europe is pirated, going as high as 64 percent in countries like Greece. Other industry figures say that about a third of all CDs in the EU are illegal copies. If the new measure is passed, these figures could all fall dramatically, although Europe is still some way off from the US, where software piracy is thought to be at just 24 percent. This, observers say, can mainly be chalked up to legal penalties that go as high as USD150,000 for each copied software program under US civil code. © ENN
ElectricNews.net, 05 Feb 2003

Dud queries swamp US Internet Root servers

Broken queries are swamping US Internet servers with unnecessary traffic. A detailed analysis of 152 million messages received on Oct. 4, 2002 by one of the root servers in California showed that only 2 per cent of the queries were legitimate. The Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis (CAIDA) at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) which conducted the research is trying to understand why the roots get so many broken queries from Internet service providers. DNS root servers provide a critical service to Internet users by mapping text host names to numeric Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. The 13 roots are operated by a mix of volunteers and U.S. government agencies. The U.S. Department of Commerce is the agency responsible for managing the root system which serves most Internet users. "If the system were functioning properly, it seems that a single source should need to send no more than 1,000 or so queries to a root name server in a 24-hour period," said CAIDA researcher Duane Wessels. "Yet we see millions of broken queries from certain sources." CAIDA researchers speculate that 70 per cent of the bad requests are due to misconfigured packet filters, firewalls, or other security mechanisms intended to restrict network traffic. Twelve per cent of the illegitimate traffic however could not be explained and was for nonexistent top-level domains, such as ".elvis", ".corp" and "localhost". .elvis is alive and well and living in an Alternative Root Universe CAIDA’s results are no surprise to Bradley Thornton, a root server operator at PacificRoot and director of the Top Level Domain Association, an organization of domain operators. He operates the “.corp” alternative TLD for the business community. The "localhost" queries are to be expected, he says. A computer can have many names - but all computers use "localhost" on the Internet as the host name of the local loopback interface. "The localhost naming convention is an Internet standard and the localhost errors represent misconfigured DNS settings at the user or ISP level,” he says. The rest of the "nonexistent" illegitimate traffic is a vote of confidence in the "inclusive namespace" (i.e. alternative TLDs) which Thornton helped pioneer. "There may only be one Internet," explains Thornton, "but we now have many namespaces and that’s confusing the legacy root system." Top-level domains in the U.S. roots include country codes such as ".uk" for England, ".ca" for Canada, or ".us" for the United States, as well as generic domains such as ".com", ".net", and ".edu". There are some 300 top level domains in the US root but inclusive namespace has over 10,000 listed. Thornton thinks that inclusive namespace user activity is the cause of much of the rogue traffic. "Anytime one of our users publishes a URL from our namespace or any namespace in email or via the web that link becomes available to potentially millions of U.S. root users. When those users clicks one of our URLs a query is generated." This explains the dud traffic discovered by CAIDA, he says. In the inclusive namespace universe ".corp" is a busy top level domain and Thornton speculates that ".elvis" is alive and well and living in some unknown root system heaven. According to KC Claffy, a resident research scientist at CAIDA, traffic originating from the inclusive namespace system is “likely part” of the results. But Wessels, the project leader, emphasized “there was not much evidence of alternative (inclusive namespace) TLDs” in the data collected. Thornton disagrees: "the data clearly shows we’re having an effect." A TLD only needs an average of 10,000 hits in the root to show significant activity based on the CAIDA data of 3 million legitimate queries for 300 listed TLDs, he argues. "CAIDA reports that “.corp” got 51,000 queries and that's very significant evidence,” he says. ® Joe Baptista is involved in the running of dot-god.com, the "official domain registry for web addresses ending in .god and .satan". Related Link CAIDA Press Release
Joe Baptista, 05 Feb 2003

Freeloader ships in UK

The much-delayed Freeloader product for the GameCube- originally scheduled for release long before Christmas - has finally been shipped by UK-based cheat products specialist Datel, and should be in shops at the end of the week. The disc, which is not officially sanctioned by Nintendo, allows Cube users to play games from any region - effectively blowing the region coding system on the console wide open, and making importing games possible for even casual players who don't want to have to modify the hardware of their console. Games such as Metroid Prime and Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker are expected to be widely imported from the USA following the release of Freeloader. Currency and price differences between the USA and Europe mean that imported games are not significantly more expensive than new releases in the UK, and can sometimes even be cheaper. Nintendo has been widely criticised for its failure to bring key titles to Europe until months after their release in the USA, and much of the dismal performance of the GameCube over Christmas in Europe was attributed to the lack of hit titles such as Metroid Prime and Resident Evil Zero, which drove sales of the console in the USA. The ability to easily import such titles may hurt retail sales of GameCube software in the UK even further. Freeloader will not encourage piracy, however; it merely removes the region protection of the console. At present, it remains impossible to produce pirate versions of GameCube titles due to the unusual format of the discs used by Nintendo. © gamesindustry.biz
gamesindustry.biz, 05 Feb 2003

Cisco sales down, profit up

Cisco Systems squeezed 50 per cent more profits from Q2 profits, compared with the same period last year, despite declining revenues. The networking equipment vendor expresses caution about an early return to recovery for the struggling network equipment sector. For the three months ending January 25, Cisco clocked net income of $991 million, compared with $660 million the same period last year and $618 million for its previous quarter. Cisco's Q2 2003 net sales came in at $4.7 billion, down 2.1 per cent on revenues of $4.8 billion for Q2 2002. Pro forma net income for Q2 2002 was $1.1 billion, slightly ahead of analyst expectations. Cisco attributed increased profits to improving gross margins, increased from 69.3 per cent in Q1 to 70.4 per cent in Q2. Internal cost cutting and lower equipment costs helped Cisco keep its head above water. John Chambers, Cisco CEO, described current market conditions as "probably the most challenging environment the information technology industry has ever faced." Cisco predicts Q3 sales will be flat to down by between two and three per cent. During a conference call, senior executives expressed concern about the effect of uncertainty about a possible war in Iraq may have on tech spending. Cisco highlighted a managed services agreement with SBC Communications, an agreement for Lucent to resell Cisco's wireless networking kit to telcos, an IP telephony product and customer wins in China's service provider market as amongst its highlights for the quarter. ®
John Leyden, 05 Feb 2003
Cat 5 cable

What the Hell is IBM Information Integrator?

Briefing NoteBriefing Note Yesterday IBM announced its new Information Integrator family of products, writes Phil Howard. Ultimately this will consist of three offerings (although in the longer term the three products will probably converge), based on SQL, an object oriented API and an XML API respectively. However, the last of these, which will use XQuery, has not been announced yet, as it is awaiting the final definition of the XQuery standard. The two products that are announced (in beta) are Information Integrator, previously known by the code name of Xperanto; and Information Integrator for Content, where the former is the relational product and the latter is designed to provide integration in content management environments. In practice, the latter represents a re-positioning of IBM's Enterprise Information Portal (a subset of WebSphere Portal, which is really the company's enterprise information portal) for accessing mainly IBM content repositories together with other content and data sources. The Content product is not really new, so I want to focus on Information Integrator, which is now available for beta testing and which is scheduled for general availability in mid-summer. In today's article I will discuss the details of Information Integrator and tomorrow I will consider the circumstances under which it will be most appropriate to look at Information Integrator as opposed to alternative technologies such as ETL (extract, transform and load) tools. I will also consider some of the environments in which use of Information Integrator may be most beneficial. Information Integrator (which is in version 8.1 to align it with the latest release of DB2) is based primarily upon the facilities of DB2, SQL and DataJoiner. The basic concept is predicated upon a federated database approach in which multiple heterogeneous databases appear to the user as if they were a single database. Both Microsoft and IBM have espoused this approach for some time, while Oracle has preferred to concentrate upon centralisation. However, the downside of centralisation is that you have to rip out and replace existing databases, with all the pain that that entails. Microsoft, meanwhile, has relatively limited support for federated databases in SQL Server 2000 and, even then, it tends to be limited to SQL Server support, whereas IBM has taken a more agnostic approach, supporting all sorts of relational databases within a federation. It is not hard to say, therefore, that IBM is the market leader in this space. However, it is also important to realise that Information Integrator is not limited to accessing relational data sources - it can also access XML, flat files, Microsoft Excel, ODBC, Web and other content stores and so on, although updates and replication are limited to relational sources in the first release. Thus (for those of you who know the product) the full capabilities of DataJoiner have not been implemented in this release. There are some key features of Information Integrator that should be mentioned. In particular, you can query data wherever it resides, as if it was at a single location, with a single view across all the relevant data sources. The product supports queries by caching query tables across federated sources, while the optimiser will validate the SQL used against the source database and will automatically compensate if the relevant syntax is not supported on the remote database. Other features of the federation capabilities of the product include the ability to publish the results of a query to a message queue and to compose, transform and validate XML documents. In terms of updates, I have already mentioned replication and Information Integrator effectively acts as a replication server, initially supporting Oracle, Informix, Microsoft, Sybase and Teradata databases, as well as DB2. Functions are flexible with support for both one to many and many to one topologies; table-based or transaction-based data movement, which may be dependent on whether you have batch or online requirements; and latency which may be scheduled, interval-based or continuous. While a brief article such as this can give no more than a flavour of a product like Information Integrator (and Bloor Research will be publishing a full report on the product in due course), it should be clear that in the right environment Information Integrator has much to offer. What those environments might be, I will discuss tomorrow. © IT-Analysis.com
IT-Analysis, 05 Feb 2003

MS cracks down on staff reselling software

A brief storyette on AP's Nando Times (registration required*) suggests that Microsoft may have found something nasty when it started checking employee purchases of software. At the end of last year the company claimed one employee had sneakily laundered a cool $9 million worth of software via the internal purchasing programme; one could speculate that in the course of its investigations, Microsoft might have found that perhaps the internal checks and balances weren't all they might be. We shouldn't expect any more alleged Seattle laundry millionaires, and indeed if Microsoft thought it had found any it would have done something rather more drastic than, as AP tells us, simply disciplining them. But actually, what that says is not that Microsoft has been dealing with major internal fraud, but that it's been cracking down on minor stuff. As is so frequently the case, The Reg is guessing here, but we figure if Microsoft found employees selling much more than just a little bit of software into the channel it would sack them. So what do you get disciplined for? We're curious, because the more rigorous the crackdown, the greater the change in corporate culture. Companies who stop employees doing free photocopying and 'borrowing' staplers, pens and paperclips (we are aware there are specific reasons why you might not want a Microsoft paperclip) tend to be companies people stop wanting to work for. So is Microsoft becoming one of these? ® * We'd been resisting registering for the Nando Times since they put the barrier up, but we've given in, because there's frequently pretty good stuff in there. And it was worth it just for the headlines currently flagged as Weird News, which are of the class where one hesitates to actually read the story, in case it disappoints. "Couple sues McDonald's over tough bagel"; "Lard eagle watches over college cafeteria"; "Satellite used to pace lead foots" - you just don't want to go any further, do you? But the intro to the lard eagle one is even better: "DAWSON CREEK, British Columbia (February 4, 2003 11:25 a.m. EST) - With wings stretched wide, an eagle made of lard watched over the food line in the Northern Lights College cafeteria." This is the sort of stuff the internet should really be about.
John Lettice, 05 Feb 2003

Opera fixes browser flaws

In BriefIn Brief Opera today released an update to its latest browser software designed to fix potentially serious security vulnerabilities that became public yesterday. Opera 7.01, available for download from Opera's Web site, addresses the five security vulnerabilities reported to Opera by Israeli security firm GreyMagic last Friday. A commendably quick fix then for a problem that comes just days after Opera 7 was first released. GreyMagic's detailed advisories can be found here. Our story yesterday adds some context to the issue. ®
John Leyden, 05 Feb 2003

UK Net growth stalls

There's further evidence that Internet penetration in the UK has flattened out. Four in ten homes (42 per cent to be exact) in the UK has Net access - broadly the same as the previous 12 months. PC ownership in the home also seems to have reached a plateau. Official stats from Oftel reveal that half of UK homes (53 per cent) have a computer - once again, broadly the same as for the previous 12 months. While some might be concerned at this levelling off, industry group ISPA points out that the figures published yesterday were compiled in November ahead of the busy Christmas period for PC sales. That aside, it's not just the number of Internet connections that is important but the increasing amount of time people use the Net. A spokesman for ISPA added that people increasingly access the Net in schools, libraries, at work - and at a host of other places come to think of it - so the notion of Net access at home isn't necessarily the be-all and end-all. Elsewhere, the research points out that nine out of ten people are satisfied overall with their Internet service. However, this drops to 84 per cent on the issue of "quality and reliability". Indeed, it's a shame that Oftel's research into domestic Net use didn't follow the same format as its sister study for business use of the Net. There, satisfaction for overall quality of service has fallen to 86 per cent. And on the issue of ISP customer care, satisfaction levels have also slipped to 82 per cent. Bearing in mind the number of emails from readers complaining about the poor level of customer care dished out by some ISPs, it's a wonder the satisfaction rating isn't lower. ®
Tim Richardson, 05 Feb 2003

BT to upgrade 180 exchanges to SDSL – report

BT is preparing to convert around 180 exchanges to SDSL following trials of the broadband technology. ADSLGuide reports that the roll-out will be done in two phases with 28 exchanges being converted in March and a further 150 added in April. The exchanges listed on ADSLGuide cover areas across the UK including Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London and Sheffield. BT begin trials of SDSL (Symmetric Digital Subscriber Line) services in October at around 20 exchanges in London ahead of a planned full roll-out from the middle of 2003. The SDSL services being tested give speeds of up to 2Mbit/s both upstream and downstream over a copper line. A spokesman for BT Wholesale admitted that the company did intend to extend the service but couldn't say which areas would be getting the business-class service. "The decision has yet to be made," said a BT spokesman. ® Related Story BT to trial 2Mbit/s SDSL, rollout next year
Tim Richardson, 05 Feb 2003

MS beanies worry about Linux, suits, nasty governments

We shouldn't get too excited over the worries about open source that Microsoft expresses in its latest Form 10-Q filing to the SEC. It's certainly progress for open source software to have made it into the Microsoft beanies' contingency worry/butt-covering list, but the subject is only dealt with briefly, in fairly guarded terms, and there are numerous much bigger worries to attend to anyway. In a section headed "Challenges to the Company's Business Model" (surely this can't be the only one?), the company notes that in recent years there has been "a growing challenge" to the traditional software development model from "the Open Source movement." Software under this model "is produced by global 'communities' of programmers, and the resulting software and the intellectual property contained therein is licensed to end users at little or no cost. Nonetheless, [yes, using this word right here baffles us too - why are they surprised that free stuff is popular?] the popularization of the Open Source movement continues to pose a significant challenge to the Company's business model, including recent efforts by proponents of the Open Source model to convince governments worldwide to mandate the use of Open Source software in their purchase and deployment of software products." Although Microsoft doesn't specifically say so, that's probably what it sees as the most immediate threat. It can hold off challenges in the corporate market for quite a while yet, and although open source desktop market products are in the pipeline, they and their distribution strategies are really still being built, they're not a serious threat right now. But governments throwing tantrums over prices and licensing, and favouring/encouraging a switch to open source? This is all too conceivable - mandating it might look tidier, and give Microsoft a clearer 'trade war' target to shoot at, but the big threat is that increasing numbers of governments will just get pissed off and walk. If they hate you, it's effectively pretty much the same as being outlawed. So what could this mean? Just a little light, guarded worrying here: "To the extent the Open Source model gains increasing market acceptance, sales of the Company's products may decline, the Company may have to reduce the prices it charges for its products, and revenues and operating margins may consequently decline." But as we said, there's plenty more in there. You can currently pick up the filing in Word form from Microsoft here, and if it isn't around the SEC site already, it should be soon. Broader Microsoft filings can be found here. The lawsuit worries are particularly extensive, and will surprise you if you thought it was all over. The estimated liability for the California case has been increased from $660 million to $870 million, and there's a long, long list of class actions, state actions, private actions, government investigations, patent suits... The European Commission one is likely to hit soon, and Microsoft says it is claimed "that Microsoft has failed to disclose information that Microsoft competitors claim they need to interoperate fully with Windows 2000 clients and servers and has engaged in discriminatory licensing of such technology, as well as improper bundling of multimedia playback technology in the Windows operating system. The remedies sought, though not fully defined, include mandatory disclosure of Microsoft Windows operating system technology and imposition of fines." Microsoft says it's fighting this, but given that it's been making such a big noise about sharing its secrets with governments (the UK, a compulsive visitor to the shearing shed, signed last week), one wonder what the big deal with Samba and Sun might be. As regards general finance, the filing tells us quite a lot we know already. That Microsoft is compensating for flagging PC sales by pushing licensing programmes harder, that Windows is intensely profitable despite the slump everywhere else in the industry, and that XP is more expensive. Didn't know that? Oh, what about this then: "Additionally, certain OEM multinationals\x{2019} inventory accumulation in the first quarter of fiscal 2003 led to fewer licenses purchased in the second quarter of fiscal 2003. Offsetting these declines, were a continued mix shift to the higher priced Windows XP Professional operating system and recognition of unearned revenue from strong multi-year licensing in prior periods." Some of that higher price comes from the eradication of Win9x from OEM sales, but it doesn't take much effort to read this as the company profiting from XP Home being virtually identical to Pro, but mysteriously broken in several key areas. One of our other favourites is this little squib: "In addition, the Company completed its transition to new OEM licensing terms under which OEMs are billed upon their acquisition of Certificates of Authenticity (COAs) rather than upon the shipment of PCs to their customers. This transition resulted in revenue related to COA inventory accumulation at OEMs." Sneaky. So the OEMs now have to bear the inventory cost of the little bits of paper (or stickers, or whatever they are these days), in addition to their other woes. ®
John Lettice, 05 Feb 2003

Cut price iMac wheezes to 1GHz

A minor speed bumpette for Apple's iMac range took the machines to 1Ghz today. The 17-inch model reaches 1Ghz and in line with the Pro range and Xserve rack, supports DDR memory. More interestingly the 15" model - upped only slightly to 800Mhz and still based on SDRAM memory - gets a price cut. Industry-wide lack of demand has created fierce competition - Walmart sells a PC of similar clock frequency for $199 - and in the UK the modest specification for the low-end iMac keeps the model under the £1,000 mark. There are no discernable modifications to the case design. Rumors suggested that something would be done to alleviate the hernia-inducing position of the ports (on the back) turned out to be wishful thinking. Even Michael "whooo!" Dell puts ports on the front of his consumer PCs, and for a "digital hub", this represents an almost Victorian puritanical streak. We could be mean and liken the iMac breaking the Gigahertz barrier - two and a half years after Intel - to one of the charity pantomime horses that trots over the finishing line eight hours after the marathon was won. But we won't. As AMD will tell you: Megahertz are not the whole story. Speeds and feeds here®
Andrew Orlowski, 05 Feb 2003

Plaid up in arms as Commons spam filter bans Welsh

The recently introduced House of Commons email filtering package is blocking messages sent in Welsh, while letting spam pass through virtually unimpeded. Parliamentarians from the Welsh nationalist party, Plaid Cymru, are complaining that bilingual English-and-Welsh emails are being blocked as containing "inappropriate content", the BBC reports. Yesterday we reported how the system, meant to block spam, has gone censorware-crazy in preventing copies of a Sexual Offences Bill along with a Liberal Democrat consultation paper on Censorship reaching MPs. Lib Dem spokesman Paul Tyler MP complained that the system, introduced less than a month ago, was "stifling political debate". The blocked messages aren't deleted and can be released by a phone call, the BBC reports. But really this arrangement defeats the whole point of using spam-filtering software, especially when all the while MPs in-boxes are still being deluged by junk email. Lim Dem MP Richard Allan told us today that the concerns over misdirected emails masked an even more serious problem. "We do have a real problem with spam and it is still coming through in bucketfuls," he told us. "Most of it is the Nigerian scam/Viagra ad/Stock market tip/Porno advert type of junk and it is a real pain to wade through it to get to the real email. Much of this does not have 'rude word' text that triggers a filter so it seems to arrive in exactly the same quantities as before the filtering started." And who's filtering technology is responsible for the mess anyway? Evidence points to Clearswift's (formerly Content Technologies) MAILsweeper as the package to blame for the debacle. First on all email headers sent to MPs show that they pass through a Content Technologies filter. Then we have Clearswift's non-denial denial which, reading between the lines, advises how House of Commons BOFHs might need to tweak its filters to sort out the problem. In response to our questions on the subject, Clearswift issued a statement yesterday that said because of customer confidentiality it "cannot confirm or deny the House of Commons as a Clearswift customer." "However, our advice to all users of email and web filtering solutions is to define, implement and communicate to all employees a policy relevant to their own organisation," the statement continues. "We also advocate that these policies are regularly reviewed to ensure that the rule sets are working in the most effective and relevant way. More often than not, rules need to be adjusted and either strengthened or relaxed after the initial implementation. "Clearswift's MAILsweeper product uses an effective lexical analysis procedure to scan incoming and outgoing email at the gateway, allowing its customers full control over the level and specifics of filtering their electronic communications - how tight or loose is entirely dependant on the organisation." ® Three fine stories from the BBC on the subject Software blocks MPs' Welsh e-mail E-mail vetting blocks MPs' sex debate Porn plagues MPs' emails
John Leyden, 05 Feb 2003

Oops… BBC wrongly credits Ozzy, Madonna pix to porn site

There are red faces at the BBC today after it wrongly credited pictures on its Web site to a porn site instead of a picture agency. The blunder happened on a page aimed at teenagers which quoted some sloppy celebs getting in the mood for Valentine's Day. The pictures of Mr and Mrs Ozzy Osbourne, Madonna and Guy Ritchie et al were accompanied with the words: "All of the above pictures are from www.bigpictures.com." Snag is, bigpictures.com is a porn site which contains, ahem, galleries of "gorgeous women of all shapes and sizes...medium to plump, and large to extra large". Bigpicturesphoto.com, on the other hand, is a picture agency dealing in piccies of the rich and famous. Within minutes of being notified the Beeb changed the credit. ®
Tim Richardson, 05 Feb 2003

UK to get 1.3m broadband punters this year

More than a million homes in the UK will hook up broadband this year, amid signs that the UK is finally becoming a broadband nation. At the end of 2002, 1.6m UK households had signed up to broadband. This year, a further 1.3m people are expected to get broadband, bringing the total number to just under 3m by the end of 2003. Looking ahead, researchers Strategy Analytics reckon take-up will accelerate over the coming years with 10.5m - or a third of households - with broadband connections in place by 2008. By this time, researchers reckon that DSL services will make up around 65 per cent of broadband lines, with cable making up around 31 per cent. In the UK at the moment the split between DSL and cable services is neck and neck. Strategy Analytics also pointed out that the UK has the second largest European broadband nation (in terms of numbers) behind Germany but ahead of France. ®
Tim Richardson, 05 Feb 2003