12th > February > 2003 Archive

Despair. Alienation. Error Message

For those of us who nurse dreams of Billie Whitelaw reading out computer error messages, here's more material for a performance. The actress who made her name reading Samuel Beckett's existentialist monologues of alienation and despair is a natural choice. Here's another candidate, entry 325331 in this Microsoft Knowledge Base Article: A Connection Manager Connection Does Not Connect After Being Disconnected Indeed, it doesn't. Connect. It Does. Not. But the most Beckettian error message of all time comes courtesy of that corner of Redmond that is forever a place of alienation and despair, the Windows CE. Using one of the first versions of a Microsoft smartphone, after several unsuccessful attempts to use it to make a phone call, we got a dialog box that said, simply, "Nothing beyond". ®
Andrew Orlowski, 12 Feb 2003

Billg on Xbox 2

Bill Gates has let slip some more details about Xbox 2 and the assault of the Microsoft next-gen games console into the living room, in an interview with Les Echos, the French financial newspaper. The next-generation Xbox (which many people speculate will be called "Xbox Next", based on recent domain name registrations by Microsoft) is a much more broadly-focused multimedia device than the current console, he says. Some of this functionality could make it into the Xbox before a new console launch - several sources tell us that Microsoft is considering major upgrades to the Xbox Dashboard in the near future, including a possible integration of Internet Explorer and Windows Media into the console. Next-gen features include "digital media capabilities such as video and photo editing" and "Internet capabilities without the need for direct connections through Wi-Fi," Billg says. This makes the Xbox 2 sound very like, well, a PC - indeed, if the system combines Internet, video and photo-editing functionality with a games console, it may become an attractive alternative to PC ownership for a lot of families. However, there's also a danger that the new multimedia focus will dilute Microsoft's games offering; much of the success of Xbox to date can be attributed to a relentless focus on gaming, which has won the hearts of the key hardcore market. Second Helping According to Gates, Microsoft is "satisfied with the number two position behind Sony and ahead of Nintendo in the global console market". Nintendo might question this - if Microsoft is ahead, it's to little to be worth mentioning. Let's say "joint second" then. But what to make of the Gates spiel about third party support - "software developers have historically only supported the top two platforms"? Even if Nintendo sinks into third place, so what? Historically, the company has been the biggest developer for its own platform, anyway. Gates promises continued support for the Japanese market, which is still in the doldrums despite the good performance of Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball in the territory. "We knew it was going to be difficult, and we will continue to invest in the Xbox there," he said. Will this yield the kind of software support that's needed to sell the Xbox to Japanese consumers and the legions of Japanese software fans in the USA and Europe? The jury is still out. gamesindustry.biz
gamesindustry.biz, 12 Feb 2003

Demoralised workers hurt bottom line

Employees at some of America's biggest tech companies are increasingly negative about work, which is damaging the businesses they work for. A study of workers at several large US high-tech firms found that more than half of their emotions about work are negative and a third are intensively negative. Most of this negativity is due to excessive workloads, boredom with the work they do, insufficient recognition and renumeration, concerns about the management's ability to manage the business and anxiety about long-term job security. According to the research, these kinds of negative feelings lead not only to higher turnover rates, but contribute to the kind of workplace malaise that can materially diminish productivity and performance. Conversely, strong positive emotion correlates with better financial results for a business, as measured by five-year total shareholder return, said the researchers. The problems caused by such widespread negativity are exacerbated by companies failing to understand the reasons behind such emotions. The study revealed that while employers are aware of the widespread discontent in their workplaces, they misjudge some of the root causes and risk taking inappropriate actions as a result. "Right now, there is an enormous gap between employees' current and ideal work experience. People know what they want and need to feel intensely positive about their work, but unfortunately many are not getting it," said Mark Mactas, chairman and chief executive of global HR consultants Towers Perrin, one of the sponsors of the research. The report found that workers regard the ideal workplace as somewhere they can feel in control of their work and work experience, that properly rewards and recognises results and allows employees to fully contribute to the success of the business. The study, conducted by human resources company Towers Perrin and research firm Gang & Gang, surveyed 1,100 workers and 300 executives at medium and large companies across North America in September 2002. Tech workers made up the second-largest group, after retail employees, and their input statistically mirrored the study's findings as a whole. © ENN
ElectricNews.net, 12 Feb 2003

Spammers break law with covert tracking

Many spammers are ignoring laws forbidding them to insert covert tracking codes in their messages, according to a survey by out-law.com, the IT and ecommerce legal service arm of law firm Masons, and network security outfit iomart. The survey highlights how spam messages often contain covert tracking codes which enable senders to record and log recipients' email addresses as soon as they open a message. Such spamming techniques, often used by spammers to identify active accounts, are well known. Although iomart's investigation yields a little more insight into this (more anon), we'll draw your attention first to Masons' assessment of the effectiveness of laws on unsolicited commercial email. The Law and Spam There's certainly no shortage of UK legislation applicable to spam. Depending on how the email addresses were obtained and the manner in which spam is sent, there may be a breach of the Data Protection Act. Also relevant is the E-mail Preference Service, a list to which people can add their email addresses to say that they do not want to receive email marketing - although it lacks any legal weight, Masons' reckons. Then there are the UK's recent ecommerce regulations, which mandate that all unsolicited commercial email must be clearly and unambiguously identifiable as such. A European Directive on the protection of privacy in the electronic communications goes further than this. It requires that the UK to ban all forms of unsolicited commercial communications (emails, text messages, faxes or telephone calls) aside from those sent through opt-in lists. The UK is obliged to introduce laws to this effect by November. 419 fraudster taken to court for spamming? Don't make us laugh Plenty of legal bullets to fire against spammers then, we may think? But these laws are nearly unenforceable, Masons believes. "The problem with the type of spam that clogs up our inboxes is that the people sending it could not care less about the law," says Shelagh Gaskill, a partner at Masons. "Much of what they're promoting is illegal anyway, so they're not going to take much notice of laws from the UK, EU or anywhere else. Occasionally, a spammer will be caught and successfully sued. But this is not a viable option for most people." "It's important that there are laws against pure spam - it must be deterred; but it's also vital to protect the right of companies to market their products legitimately. The best way to deal with spam is not in court; it has to be found in technology," she adds. Technology is the answer! Not Ah technology, yes. But as even iomart (which like world+dog is developing filtering technology itself) admits spam filters are unreliable. Filters sometimes lead to the "loss of legitimate business communications, unless someone examines all filtered email," (which kind of defeats the object), iomart warns. To investigate spamming techniques, iomart set up dummy accounts to find how people's actions on receiving spam affected how much crap they subsequently received. It found that 83 per cent of unsolicited commercial HTML emails sent to these accounts contained hidden tracking codes that notified the spammers as soon the messages were opened. Opening such messages (even in the Outloook/Outlook Express preview pane) results in yet more junk, natch, thanks to information gleaned through the hidden tracking codes. After a two-week period of opening all the spam it received, iomart's team found the volume of spam received by the dummy accounts virtually doubled. Next, the team 'sterilized' the spam flowing into the decoy accounts, using iomart's technology to remove hidden tracking codes. During the next few weeks there was a slight but steady decline in the mountain of spam being received. iomart (unsurprisingly) concludes spammers use hidden tracking codes to target further assaults. For a third trial period, spam email was bounced. Predictably, based on iomart's earlier findings, there was a marked drop in the number of spam emails being received. The decrease in spam emails started almost immediately, and after about two weeks the volume being received had decreased by about 40 per cent. iomart did, however, notice an increase in the number of domain spam was originating from. It reckons this was a sign of spammers trying to fox blocking mechanisms based on domain name alone. After all this iomart's basic advice is simple: do not open spam if you want to minimise it. Iain Richardson, a software developer with iomart, comments: "A lot of spam is evident from the subject header and sender's name. If you suspect it's spam, the easiest thing to do is to delete it - otherwise you're letting the senders know that you exist and you will receive more." Indeed. But to all spam messages are easily recognised as such, which leaves the option of applying filters. But spam filters are far from perfect... Hang on a minute, isn't that where we came in? ® Related Links The spammers are watching you, Masons/iomart survey Show 419 spammers what you think of them with our exclusive T-shirts, from Cash 'n Carrion Related Stories We hate Spam (email your friends) Climbing Spam Mountain Porn spam on the rise Where the heck is aall this spam coming from? Plaid up in arms as Commons spam filter bans Welsh Anti-spam filters kill legitimate email BTo anti-spam move kills its users' mail servers Messenger Pop-up Spam makes us sick Europe bans spam Text spammer fined £15,000
John Leyden, 12 Feb 2003

Open and closed security are roughly equivalent

Open and closed approaches to security are basically equivalent, with opening a system up to inspection helping attackers and defenders alike. That's the surprising conclusion drawn by Cambridge don Ross Anderson during a well-received talk to a Linux User Group at London's City University last night. Anderson has stepped into the debate - which can be near religious at times - between those who believe either the closed (Microsoft) or the open source model are best for security. Under standard assumptions used by the reliability modelling community neither approach is inherently better, Anderson argues. "This means that a practical decision on whether to keep the design of a system secret, or to open it to public inspection, will depend on the extent to which it departs from standard assumptions about the statistics of bugs," the head of the security group at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory said. So what's important is practical issues such as the rate at which bug fixes are produced and applied. Anderson was quite open in admitting that the standard assumptions he talks about can break down for any number of reasons. For one thing the model assumes random testing. The skill and motivation of developers, economics of patches and the emergence of new forms of attack are important factor too. Audience members remarked that software vulnerabilities often turned up in the "boring bits" of operating systems. Perhaps because developing these functions was left to the least competent programmers and developers, some suggested. Perverse insecurity Then we should consider perverse reasons why a "defender" might choose to keep an attack secret. By way of an example, Anderson floated the possibility of the NSA discovering a devastating attack on Windows NT. Reveal the attack and the help protect American businesses. But keep it secret and they might be able to break into the networks of foreign powers, and supply the President with valuable intelligence. The latter is more likely to secure the NSA greater funding, Anderson observed. Other factors, such the bureaucratic self-interest of development managers acting in opposition to wider organisation goals or whether developers are prepared to overlook security factors, also come into play. Crackers have the edge Whichever model of security is used the fight favours attackers over defenders. That's because it's so much easier to find new exploits than to identify bugs that might lead to the development of exploits. According to Anderson, attackers have a constant factor advantage over defenders even if source code is not available to those on the "dark side". Audience members quizzed Anderson on his theory that the rate of which bugs are found helps attackers and defenders by the same amount. His response to this, which draws on some detailed statistical analysis work, is best explained by reference to his paper (PDF) on the subject. In response to our questions, Anderson said his paper fleshes out what those in the security industry know through common sense. The real value of Anderson's work seems to be in laying down a theoretical framework for a discussion of the economics of security. Even Anderson, arguably Britain's top academic focused on IT security, acknowledges that working out how to provide incentives for security to IT suppliers is a "hard problem", given the complex inter-relationship of different components in real systems. Extensive resources on the economics of security, a field of research in its own right, can be found on Anderson's Web site. ® External Links Ross Anderson's home page: comprehensive security resource on many topics Related Stories Of TCPA, Palladium and Werner von Braun Cyber attacks down, but vulns soar Slammer: Why security benefits from proof of concept code Cost of securing Windows Server 2003? Nearly $200m Want to know the ten most critical web app vulnerabilities? All bugs are created equal
John Leyden, 12 Feb 2003

Unisys claims £300m R&SA win

Royal & Sun Alliance is to outsource its UK life operations to Unisys in a 10-year deal estimated at £300m. There's nothing particularly techie, or, except for its size, interesting about the deal for an IT audience - unless you have your pension with R&SA, or Unisys shares. Unisys will manage the processing and administration of the 2.4 million life and pensions sold by R&SA through its specialist sub Unisys Insurance Services Limited (UISL). Numbers of staff affected and redundos if any are not announced. But all in all, this should be a welcome option for many. In common with many UK insurance companies, R&SA is in the financial mire. R&SA is restructuring, and has already announced its decision to shut the UK life operation to new clients. ®
Drew Cullen, 12 Feb 2003

Freeserve for sale? – report

Freeserve could be put up for sale in a bid to raise cash for its heavily indebted grandparent France Telecom. That's according to a report by French newspaper, Le Figaro by way of Bloomberg, quoting union sources. News that Wanadoo is considering flogging its Internet operations in the UK and Spain follows confirmation last week that Tiscali has shelled out €9.5m in new shares for Wanadoo Belgium and its 85,000 customers. A spokesperson for Freeserve declined to comment on today's report, describing it as "rumour and speculation". Last month Freeserve revealed that it had abandoned plans to change its name to Wanadoo to bring it in line with its parent even the move had originally been backed by Wanadoo chief exec Nicolas Dufourcq. Freeserve had been keen to change its name and ditch the "free" handle that made it into a household name overnight. The ISP said it decided not to proceed with the makeover because of a "huge strength of feeling for the Freeserve brand in the UK". In light of today's story, the Freeserve brand would be something of huge importance if it wanted to find a buyer. Today's report also talks of sweeping job cuts at France Telecom and Wanadoo. France Telecom has debts of €70bn and is being investigated by the European Commission over a €9bn Government loan. France Telecom's Internet division, Wanadoo, bought Freeserve for £1.65bn in 2000. ® Related Stories Freeserve abandons plan to change name to Wanadoo Tiscali buys Wanadoo Belgium
Tim Richardson, 12 Feb 2003

The J2EE v .NET ‘split’ is nothing to do with Web services

The biggest single problem with Web services has been confusion and misunderstanding. So I was unhappy to read your recent article Industry split over web services platform. While containing lots of good information, it seemed to be based on a fundamentally mistaken view of what Web services is all about. The headline neatly sums up that mistaken view, with its simplistic assumption that the industry is "split" because some organizations are basing their Web services on J2EE, while others prefer .Net. But the whole raison d'etre of Web services is to allow people to go on using whichever platforms are most suitable for particular purposes, without forgoing the possibility of interoperation between them. Far from the industry being "split" over the question of whether to base Web services on J2EE or .Net, Web services constitutes one of the very few areas of unanimous agreement. Market consolidation can go only so far without seriously damaging the interests of computer users. There is a lot to be said for diversity, too. Transport analogies are hackneyed, but can sometimes help to show how simple an issue really is. Imagine for a moment that you set out to drive somewhere, and find that all the vehicles on the road are BMWs! Little two-seater "Smart BMWs" parking where there doesn't seem to be enough space, regular BMWs rushing to meetings, sleek sports BMWs that get four miles to the gallon... and huge, 20-ton BMWs trucking goods or carrying loads of people around the country. But all the BMWs basically the same shape and layout as a conventional saloon car. That would be pretty dumb, wouldn't it? An articulated lorry, a tanker or a long-distance coach is designed in a very different way from a saloon car, for the simple reason that they all have very different tasks to perform. Yet they all share the same road. Similarly - and please note that this is only a very rough analogy - the world needs big, expensive, highly-optimised mainframes, supercomputers, low-cost Linux boxes, Macintoshes and, last but not least, uncounted millions of small, hidden embedded computers, as well as run-of-the-mill Windows PCs. Trying to do the job of a mainframe with PCs has been likened to harnessing scores of chickens to pull a carriage - a project that might have inspired a Peter Cook sketch, but otherwise quite unpromising. So why not look at things the other way round, and start by assuming that there will always be diversity in the world of computers? People are just not going to agree on hardware, operating systems, programming languages, databases, middleware and lots of other things. Given that fact, doesn't it make sense to devise a lowest-common-denominator technique for virtually any computer to communicate with any other? This is the authentic Web services vision, and the only reason it stands a chance of succeeding is that the whole IT industry has agreed on it. Sure, there are splits here and there, but they are mostly over implementation details. Should Web services work like traditional remote procedure calls (RPC style) or should they follow the pattern of exchanging messages (document style)? Which workflow language is most appropriate? How should security be tackled? But the amazing thing is that, for the first time in living memory, all the leading players are choosing to cooperate both within and outside standards bodies. IBM and Microsoft, for Pete's sake, have spent the last two years issuing joint statements about how they (both of them) think various technical issues should be dealt with. SOAP, WSDL, UDDI, WS-Inspection, WS-Security, WS-Coordination, WS-Transactions, BPEL4WS... the list goes on and on. The big two, and their many partners and hangers-on, even got so worried that the various specifications might not fit together perfectly that they actually set up a new forum specifically to iron out the practical difficulties. That is how the Web Services Interoperability Organization, WS-I, got started. Its president and chairman, Tom Glover, works for IBM; and its secretary, Christopher Kurt, works for Microsoft. Membership has surged way past the 100 mark, including not only most of the leading software vendors but also companies like AT&T, Daimler Chrysler, Eastman Kodak, Fidelity Investments, Nokia and Procter & Gamble. This is how WS-I sums up its purpose in life: 'WS-I was formed specifically for the creation, promotion, or support of Generic Protocols for Interoperable exchange of messages between services. Generic Protocols are protocols that are independent of any specific action indicated by the message beyond actions necessary for the secure, reliable, or efficient delivery of messages; "Interoperable" means suitable for and capable of being implemented in a neutral manner on multiple operating systems and in multiple programming languages.' "Interoperable" also means suitable for and capable of being implemented in a neutral manner on J2EE and .Net. If everyone was ever going to settle for using nothing but Windows, they could all interoperate using COM+ or .Net Remoting. Or if we all agreed to standardise on J2EE, all we would need would be RMI and JMS. Actually, CORBA would have done the trick across all platforms, but it was "politically" unacceptable - meaning that Microsoft (among others) was so committed to talking it down that a U-turn would have involved too much loss of face. The Web services initiative could turn out to be IT's Project Apollo, in that it aims to open up a whole new application space that has hitherto been largely inaccessible. That space comprises fast, smooth, reliable automated interoperation between disparate computer systems, even those that belong to different corporate networks. Like Apollo, it will be a long job, because a set of wholly new technical problems needs to be solved - and before they can be solved, they have to be identified. But success is likely in the long term, simply because everyone has joined forces in the common cause. Just as hostile nations understand the need for shared diplomatic conventions, the IT industry's gorillas realise that they stand to gain from cooperation in certain limited areas. The only practical reason for IBM's and Microsoft's unprecedented collaboration on Web services is that they both see more business and greater profit from expanding the total size of the market than from fighting each other, dog-in-the-manger style, for every last crumb of today's smaller cake. Tom Welsh is Editor of Cutter Consortium's Web Services Strategies
Tom Welsh, 12 Feb 2003

Movie outfit slammed for ‘menacing’ voicemail

The advertising watchdog has slammed movie giant Twentieth Century Fox for a "menacing" voicemail ad that contained heavy breathing and screaming. The ad was publicising the Tom Cruise film Minority Report but only seemed to scare some people absolutely witless. The message started with a man drawing breath before saying slowly: "Where's my Minority Report?" This was followed by heavy breathing before he screamed: "Do I even have one?" Then there was a girl's voice…some more heavy breathing…before a voiceover tripped in urging people to buy the movie on DVD or video. Those who complained said the ad was "offensive" adding that it caused them "undue fear or distress". The Advertising Watchdog Authority (ASA) agreed describing the ad as "menacing". ®
Tim Richardson, 12 Feb 2003

Police recover disk at centre of ID theft flap

A hard drive that contained confidential details about hundreds of thousands of insurance company clients has been recovered by Canadian police. The paperback-sized 30-gigabyte (Western Digital Caviar 307AA) drive, which went missing from the supposedly secure facility of ISM Canada, an IBM subsidiary on January 16, was found with the data it contained overwritten early last week. Police believe an employee of Regina, Saskatchewan ISM Canada stole the drive for personal use, according to reports by local paper The Regina Leader-Post. A 41-year old (unnamed) man is due to appear in court charged with possession of stolen property in connection with the alleged offence. Other charges may follow. The drive originally contained files of thousands of files citizens held by Saskatchewan government departments and utilities SaskTel and SaskPower. Also taken were files from 650,000 Investors Group clients and 180,000 Co-operators Life customers, The Regina Leader-Post reports. Following the drive's disappearance there were widespread fears that the data which included names, addresses, social insurance numbers, mothers' maiden names and bank account details of the insurance clients affected might end up in the hands of identity thieves. Although the circumstances of the recovery of the drive are damping down these fears there's still widespread anger over the incident. A class action law-suit against the Saskatchewan government remains underway, The Globe and Mail reports. ® External Links ISM Canada's original statement: its really sorry Related Stories Canada's biggest Identity theft?
John Leyden, 12 Feb 2003

Gulf War 2 – The Flash movie

Those readers who are concerned about the possible repercussions of a war against Iraq need look no further than LA-based Irishman Dermot O'Connor for enlightenment. O'Connor has created Gulf War 2, which is a projection of the most likely outcome of a new war in the Gulf. O'Connor used sophisticated temporal algorithms and historical semiotic analysis to achieve an accuracy rating of 99.999% in creating the mother of all Flash games. Gulf war 2 is not actually a game, more a "a clickable slide show" which, it must be said, drags a bit towards the end as the Middle East descends into bloody anarchy. Still, it's got some nice touches. "Unit info" describes the Brits thus: Experts in killing people. Pro: Good with bayonet. Con: Needs huge amounts of tea. Good show. The average Saudi, on the other hand: Cares only about his own survival. Pro: he isn't the Taliban. Con: beats Phillipino caddies to death with his golf club. You get the idea. Surprisingly, given that Gulf War 2 shows the US ultimately triumphant - albeit at the expense of total pandemonium from Egypt to Iran - it has enraged some US citizens. One correspondent, working up a tremendous modern slant on the "why don't you go back to Russia you Commie pinko faggot?" Cold-War classic, offers: "You must be French. I think your web site sucks. Why don't you move to Iraq? Communist hippy." Thats right. Question the advisibility of war against Iraq and you're instantly branded a Communist hippy. Worst still, they call you French. It fair sends a shiver down your spine. Gulf War 2 is available right now on a computer near you. Watch out for the forthcoming live television adaptation. ®
Lester Haines, 12 Feb 2003

BT! and! Yahoo! hold! hands!

BT and Yahoo! are best buddies today after announcing a joint marketing deal. In the next couple of weeks or so the top yodelling Internet company will begin offering its Yahoo! UK Plus service - which includes a spam blocker, instant messaging, email, parental controls, digital photo storage, anti-virus software etc - to the 100,000 or so punters of BT's no-frills, access only product, BT Broadband. The service costs from £4.99 a month. Oh, and Yahoo! will plug BT Broadband to its punters. And, that's it - apart from all that guff about how pleased they are to be involved in the deal. ®
Tim Richardson, 12 Feb 2003

BT tests water with rural ADSL project

BT is to confirm next month whether it will proceed with a scheme that could bring ADSL to areas currently deemed not commercially viable for investment in broadband. Last autumn the telco began a trial of a community broadband project, which makes it financially possible to convert an exchange to ADSL with just 16 customers. The initiative, known as ADSL Exchange Activate or Community Broadband, also uses "sponsors" such as development agencies and local authorities to help subsidise the cost of rolling out the ADSL service. BT has recently released "indicative pricing" to ISPs and potential sponsors in a bid to test the market and assess whether there is enough interest. If there is - and BT is "hopeful" - then the telco is likely to press ahead with the scheme. Key to this is the pricing. It's set the price at an upfront charge of £55,000 (ex VAT) per exchange, which will pay for 30 people to get ADSL for three years. This works out at a wholesale cost of around £50 (ex VAT) per user over the three-year term of the contract. With the ISP's margins on top this could lead to a retail price of between £60 and £70 per user. However, as BT points out, if part of this upfront cost is offset (subsidised) by a "sponsor" then the retail price to consumers could come down below £30 a month in line with mainstream broadband prices. With all the "ifs" and "buts", it explains why BT is still testing the water to see if the scheme will actually make it in the real world. ® Related Stories BT rural ADSL trial moves ahead Keep fingers crossed for BT rural ADSL trial BT enlists sponsors for rural ADSL trial
Tim Richardson, 12 Feb 2003

Gates holds forth on the ‘pervasive Linux’ threat

Bill Gates is taking Linux very seriously - but apparently, still not seriously enough to actually understand it. Speaking to the Microsoft MVP Summit on Tuesday he bracketed Linux with other 'kill the company' threats to Microsoft, giving OS/2 as a prime example. Or at least, that's what Peter Galli of eWeek tells us he said. Over at Microsoft Spin Central the transcript of the speech says he said something entirely different, and much more tedious. We've no idea what's going on here, but if its a trustworthiness thing, Peter gets our vote.* And his report's much more interesting anyway. In this, as a kind of warm-up to getting Linux wrong, Gates gets OS/2 wrong. For about six years, he says, it was a technology that people said could kill the company. The Register does indeed remember saying things to this effect, but also remembers not having a great deal of company. Nor indeed do we remember even the most determined OS/2 partisans saying this much beyond four years. OS/2 2.0 announced in October 1991, and its window of opportunity closed with the launch of Windows 95. Gates is also wildly, and characteristically, imaginative on the effort IBM put behind OS/2. "IBM... putting all their energy, their leverage on ISVs, bundling it with their systems..." Untrue, untrue, and untrue. The serious point here is that Gates himself was probably the one who believed for longest that OS/2 could kill Microsoft, that this paranoid delusion prompted much of Microsoft's anticompetitive actions against the product, and that he happily believes what he wants to believe, manufacturing, repeating and embellishing his own eccentric version of history. We look forward to hearing what he has to say about Linux after it has killed the company - that will surely be entertaining. In the meantime, a similar paranoid delusion drives his view of Linux, and Microsoft's response to it. On Tuesday, he described Linux as an unusual kind of competition, "out there and very pervasive," then warmed swiftly to his incompatibility and unreliability theme. There are more incompatible versions of Linux than all other operating systems put together, and the diffuse development model means that people "do innovations on top of Linux, they don't all get tested together and they're not all consistent with each other." So here Bill is arguing in favour of one company being responsible for calling all the shots as regards the OS, meaning there's a single consistent platform to build applications for, and you might also have noted the merest hint of a commercial for Microsoft's testing and certification operations. In the world he describes here, patches and service packs never break apps, apps never break other apps or the OS, everything works, and the single controlling company is benign, in no sense an evil, robber-baron monopoliser. You won't recognise this world, but don't worry because it's the world according to Bill, as he imagines it will be, provided you just trust him and leave him to it. Also in the world according to Bill, the Tablet PC is something that the disparate open source groups could never do, because it is the product of three groups, Office, user interface and handwriting, working together as one in order to produce a single, integrated, unified product. It may look to you like a box with the products of these groups stuck - somewhat uneasily - together, but you are wrong. Even if you were right, well, you'd be wrong by 2.0, trust Bill. And if you think it wouldn't be difficult to achieve similar levels of functionality and integration on a Linux-based tablet, using open source technology, well, you're wrong about that too. Gates's sound bite, characteristically, is stolen: "It's almost like a 747 where, yes, it's easy to do a wing, it's easy to do a tail, but to produce a wing and a tail that work together under all conditions, that's tough, and that's the position we're in." This will remind some of you of a very old joke: "Unix Airlines: Each passenger brings a piece of the airplane and a box of tools to the airport. They gather on the tarmac, arguing constantly about what kind of plane they want to build and how to put it together. Eventually, they build several different aircraft, but give them all the same name. Some passengers actually reach their destinations. All passengers believe they got there." One version of the full gag can be found here, and among the rest of them you'll find: "Windows Air: The terminal is pretty and colorful, with friendly stewards, easy baggage check and boarding, and a smooth take-off.  After about 10 minutes in the air, the plane explodes with no warning whatsoever." It's characteristic of Bill that he can unconsciously plagiarise one bit without the rest having any resonance for him. It's also characteristic that he tags Linux with the defects of Unix, describing it as "basically Unix." Well, that is arguable, but in grasping the similarities without noting the differences he fails to grasp the nature of the competition. He does want Linux to turn into Unix, clearly, and provided it does not, he may well be in a position to give that 'kill the company' speech from a different standpoint in a few years time. ® * Our well-honed sense of the surreal was piqued by the ExtremeTech implementation of Peter's report. ExtremeTech, as you may have noticed, runs eWeek news, usually the first couple of paragraphs, with a link to eWeek if you want to read the rest of the story. Now, at time of writing, if you go here you will get ExtremeTech's implementation of Peter's first two paragraphs, but if you "Click here to read the rest of this eWeek story," at the bottom, you will get this. Saboteurs? Friction within the stable? But somebody's sure to fix it soon.
John Lettice, 12 Feb 2003
Broken CD with wrench

Back to the video future for ATM

Industry groups are looking to retrofit existing technologies through standards developments to make them more suited to the delivery of broadband telco services. At a recent California conference, organised by the ATM Forum, strategies were mapped out for the development of standards for delivering streaming media and the like more reliably over existing carrier infrastructures. During the Delivering Video over Packet-based Networks event the MPLS Forum initiated several new schemes, most notably Frame Relay, Ethernet, and ATM Service Interworking over MPLS Networks. MPLS is an important traffic management protocol for service provider core networks. The ATM Forum initiated work on ATM/SIP interworking, to address technology gaps in video over packet highlighted during the meeting. Work to push ahead with standards for the delivery of MPEG-4 streaming media over ATM networks, for the provision of video on demand services, was also pushed forward. Considered the technology to deliver converged video, voice and data networks in the late 1990s little has been heard of Asynchronous Transfer Mode ((ATM) of late. That brash upstart, Gigabit Ethernet (GigE), now carries vendors' hopes of extracting investments from cash-strapped telcos. Gigabit Ethernet is becoming commoditised and revenue generating services can more easily be set up over GigE, the pitch goes. However there's an awful lot of ATM kit out there and in situations where bandwidth is restricted and quality of service is an important concern using existing kit makes more sense than a forklift upgrade to GigE. Andy Bray, of the ATM Forum, told us that means ATM-based products will continue to find use as access equipment (in DSL kit) and within the core of service provider networks for some time to come. Bray concedes that ATM "doesn't have much of a direct role" in Metropolitan Area Networks where the technically inferior, but cheaper, upstart Gigabit Ethernet reigns supreme. Enterprises, unless they're very big, are unlikely to invest in new ATM kit either, he admits. Many leading vendors in the ATM space - Nortel and Marconi, for instance - have had a torrid time of late - but ATM equipment is still been sold even by those most enthusiastic in evangelising Gigabit Ethernet. Bray points out that Cisco accounts for 30 per cent of ATM switch sales. "ATM equipment continues to be sold but it's not sexy and seldom talked about," he said. "Some vendors look to a future of building services on an IP network with almost infinite capacity but we're not in that situation yet." Bray points out that service providers have already made a substantial investment in ATM kit and that it remains the best technology over which to combine video, voice and data networks. "For service providers, reinvesting in a technology they've already got represents a low risk strategy to squeeze the most out of what they already have," said Bray. 'Betamax' technology? The battle for telco mindshare between ATM and GigE has been fought out with the kind of intensity more characteristic of OS wars. ATM's detractors, like one telco executive we spoke to last week, describe ATM as a dead duck technology. A duck can walk, swim and fly but do none of them very well. ATM can so voice, video and data but doesn't excel at any of these content types. So ATM's detractors compare the venerable protocol to a duck, and suggest its quackers to back it for future service deployments. Ouch. Really that's a bit below the belt and, particularly for DSL, "safe and mature" ATM will remain the daddy for some time to come. The way ahead The ATM Forum, whose members hail mainly from service providers and networking equipment manufacturers, holds quarterly Broadband Exchange meetings aimed at keeping members up to speed on specific segments of the networking market. The next meeting will look at 3G/4G wireless broadband and takes place in Madrid, Spain on April 28. ® External Link The ATM Forum - nothing to do with cash machines. Honestly! Related Stories MPEG-4 licences go live Cisco touts fibre-based Ethernet at 20xDSL speeds Router sales fall again in 2003
John Leyden, 12 Feb 2003