13th > March > 2003 Archive

Beeb calls time on ‘my BBC’

The BBC pulled the plug on its personalised Web-based information service my BBC yesterday. Said one Register reader: "Probably not missed by many, by the 'my BBC' service on the BBC (their rather average portal attempt) has been suddenly discontinued." A message on the my BBC Web site reads: "The my BBC service has been discontinued. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause you." The Beeb told El Reg that it is looking at other ways of giving users access to its information such as via WAP, PDA and SMS services, as well as email services. Whatever. ®
Tim Richardson, 13 Mar 2003
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HP debuts pay per use pricing on Superdome

HP yesterday introduced a new utility pricing model to its top-of-the-range Superdome severs, based on automatically measuring how much computing power customers use every month. The company has refined existing capacity on demand pricing models, which are based on the number of Superdome processors a company uses, to create bills based on the percentage of each CPU's processing capacity an organisation taps into. The new pricing structure is underpinned by automated metering technology measuring the percentage utilisation of each central processing unit (CPU) on HP Superdome servers. CPU utilisation data is automatically collected, encrypted and securely transmitted to HP's billing engine. With this usage-based pricing, HP's customers will be charged for actual usage on a monthly basis, creating a direct link between IT costs and business demand. Businesses with seasonal activity or unexpected new business opportunities will have capacity available but will only pay for the IT power they need, when they need it. Increased flexibility HP says this option offers significant advantages to customers during slow periods, as they will not pay for processing they do not utilise. In addition, users can readily tap into extra capacity during periods of increased demand. Delivered through HP Financial Services, pay per use is a part of HP's suite of On Demand packages, which provides customers with reserve capacity, instant availability and payments based on actual metered usage. HP's pay-per-use offering is currently available in North America and Europe, Middle East, and Africa. It is expected to launch in Asia Pacific shortly. ® Related Stories HP pencils Mid-2003 for Madison Superdome HP boosts Superdome performance "HP offers 'pay as you go' pricing for servers "IBM launches supercomputing on demand
John Leyden, 13 Mar 2003

Reg Kit Watch

PDA Samsung has unveiled its Palm OS 5-based smartphone, the SGH-i500, the GSM/GPRS version of the already-announced SPH-i500. The SGH-i500 runs Palm OS 5.2, the next major release of the operating system and the first version to drop the original Graffiti text-entry system. Instead it uses Graffiti 2, based on Jot licensed from CIC. The smartphone is based on a 300MHz Intel PXA262 processor, and included 32MB of RAM. Extra memory can be added using the SD/IO slot. The display is a 16-bit colour 324x352 screen, though only 320x320 pixels are used by the Palm OS. The built-in speaker supports polyphonic ringtones. The Smartphone has dimensions of 88 x 54 x 26 mm and weighs 150g. The SGH-i500 is a tri-band handset. The rechargeable battery promises 200 minutes of talk time and 100 hours stand-by time. Samsung has yet to announce pricing, or which carriers will offer the device. Mobile UK PC maker Time has launched a Tablet PC based on Transmeta's Crusoe TM5800 processor. The £899 handheld device, aimed at the education market, contains a 933MHz TM5800, backed by 256MB of DDR SDRAM and a 20GB hard drive. The screen is a 10.4in 1024x768 LCD with just 8MB of video RAM for 16-bit colour. Mobile connectivity is provided by a built in 802.11b adaptor, with 10/100Mbps Ethernet and a built-in 56Kbps modem for wired connections. The Time Tablet PC is available in the UK from today. ®
Tony Smith, 13 Mar 2003

Beeb axes 100 new media jobs

The BBC is axing around 100 jobs in its new media division in a bid to scale back spending. The Beeb said the job cuts - including editorial and techie staff - would be achieved through "natural wastage, voluntary redundancy and redeployment" over the next 12 months. Those areas fingered for the job losses include interactive Factual & Learning, interactive Development & Services (new media central) and Radio & Music interactive. It seems the Corporation is looking to shift away from Web content and replace it instead with a closer emphasis on interactive television. In a statement the monster media corporation said: "As with any well run business, BBCi has undertaken a thorough assessment of its current operation and future needs to ensure that licence fee payers receive those distinctive and value-for-money services expected of the BBC." The upshot is a "step change in its activity" which requires "commensurate changes within the department" and a "need to reallocate resources, and review which staff have the necessary skills to match the needs of the business". So, is the demise of the Beeb's personalised content service - my BBC - part of Auntie's "step change in its activity"? "Not at all," said a BBC spokesman, who explained that a more effective service should be available sometime in the future. ® Related Story Beeb calls time on 'my BBC'
Tim Richardson, 13 Mar 2003

IT spending: the Y2K effect, Mark II

A few years into their IT systems cycles, businesses are looking at the next development stage. Many companies are reluctant to upgrade again, often with good reason, but changes in the market mean that they would be likely to gain more valuable benefits than previously. In the run-up to Y2K, ERP-related sales rocketed, the industry went into overdrive, and IT budgets spiraled as companies sought to meet the unmovable deadline. Now, with most systems three to five years into their cycle, organizations are starting to think about the next development stage, either voluntarily or in response to the support deadlines recently issued by vendors such as SAP and Oracle. But what they see when they start examining their options is not pretty. Research by BASDA CEO Dennis Keeling shows that pre-Y2K, license costs accounted for only 20% of the cost of an ERP project, while the majority 80% was spent on capital costs related to IT equipment and external consultancy, as well as internal staff costs associated with implementation, customization and training. Today the license costs figure is down to a mere 10%, meaning that 90% of the budget for a multimillion-dollar ERP project is consumed by implementation costs, and within that the bulk is spent on consultancy. That factor, set against the background of previous overrunning, under-performing projects, means that companies are rightly reluctant to undertake upgrades. Often there is no compelling reason for change, and plenty in favor of the status quo. For organizations with a stable, functioning system that are in a position to lock down development activities, this is an option, especially given the availability of extended maintenance contracts. Despite the resulting hike in annual maintenance charges, it can be an economically viable and practical option for a short period. However, the upgrade landscape has changed and there is a chance that the higher proportion of consultancy costs may bring more valuable benefits than previously, because where it was then spent on force-fitting internal processes to rigid systems, today the effort is centered on integration, linking and extending systems. © Datamonitor is offering Reg readers some of its technology research FOC. Check it out here.
Datamonitor, 13 Mar 2003

Nvidia brings latest GeForce FX chips to notebooks

Nvidia today followed up last week's desktop GeForce FX 5600 and 5200 launch with the introduction of two mobile versions. The GeForce FX Go 5600 and GeForce FX Go 5200 both mirror their desktop equivalents. The 5600 is fabbed at 0.13 micron, the 5200 at 0.15 micron. While the 5600 delivers Nvidia's IntelliSample anti-aliasing technology, the 5200 does not. The 5200 sports a 350MHz RAMDAC, and two LVDS channels for notebook displays at up to UXGA and wide-UXGA resolution, and DVI support for external 1600x1200 LCD screens. The 5600 has a 400MHz RAMDAC. Both mobile processors offer DirectX 9 support, operate over an AGP 8x bus, and feature Nvidia's PowerMizer power conservation system. Both parts are already sampling and will ship in volume next month. Pricing has yet to be announced. Design wins include thumbs-up from Quanta, Wistron, Medion, Toshiba and FIC, manufacturers of the bulk of the world's name and no-name notebooks. ®
Tony Smith, 13 Mar 2003

Sparks fly as BTo hit by electrical fault

Up to 300,000 of BT Openworld's customers suffered an Internet blackout on Monday after an electrical fault damaged the ISP's kit. The exact details are not known but BT's ISP has described the incident as a "serious electrical fault" that knocked out part of its service for three hours on Monday afternoon. Normal service to BT Openworld's two million punters wasn't resumed until almost nine o'clock in the evening. Said the ISP in an email to punters: "You may have had problems accessing your email and personal web pages between 1.40pm and 4.40pm on Monday 10th March. "A serious electrical fault damaged some of our equipment and, as a result, we had to restart many of our systems. "We have emergency procedures in place for such rare incidents and our engineers worked as quickly as possible to replace the damaged equipment and restore the service. "Unfortunately, up to 15 per cent of our customers may have experienced email problems until 8.45pm, when normal service to everyone was resumed." The ISP has apologised for the incident and insists that no emails were lost during the downtime. ®
Tim Richardson, 13 Mar 2003

Lindows opens Click-N-Buy shop

Lindows.com, the Linux distro for consumers, is opening an online shop to sell software downloads from third-party vendors to owners of LindowsOS PCs. Punters confirm that they want to buy an app, then click once: the program is downloaded, configured and installed. Credit cards are billed automatically. The commercial service, called Click-N-Buy, kicks off with software from Bitstream, Sun, Idruna and a couple of games, among others. Discounts are available to members of Lindows' Click-N-Run club. The new service represents an "a la carte" option for customers and will sit alongside the existing "all you can eat" option, Lindows.com says. ®
Drew Cullen, 13 Mar 2003

Opera in fresh browser security drama

Opera today released a fix for a serious security flaw with its browser which could let crackers load and execute malicious code on victim's PCs. The vulnerability, which involves both version 6.x and 7.x of the browser, revolves around incorrect handling of very long filenames in the Opera's Download Dialog box. "This allows a malicious Web site to create a filename that causes a buffer overflow which can be exploited to execute arbitrary code," an advisory by security outfit Secunia explains. "Exploits are in the wild for Windows," it warns. A Download Dialog box can be spawned automatically, without user interaction, so the exploit is far more likely to trap unwary users. Secunia describes the risk as "extremely critical", with good reason. Just as well than that Opera has promptly provided a fix (available here), within a day of the publication of Secunia's alert. Opera users are strongly urged to upgrade to version 7.03 of the browser. News of the Secunia vulnerability comes a month after another serious vulnerability with Opera 7, involving the browser's Java console, was plugged. For many years Opera has had an impressive record for browser security. Even though Opera Software has responded with admirable speed to problems with its latest browser this enviable reputation must now be considered at risk, particularly if further problems emerge. ® Related Stories Opera fixes browser flaws Phantom of the Opera Opera releases version 7 of the 'other' browser A fright at the Opera
John Leyden, 13 Mar 2003

Creative preps MS-based Nomad video player

UpdateUpdate When Apple failed to launch a video iPod earlier this year, as it had been rumoured to be planning, it disappointed many of its fans. And now it looks like Microsoft is going to get just such a device to market ahead of it. The software giant today said it was partnerning with Creative Technology, developer of the Nomad range of MP3 players - and a company given a hefty kick up the pants by the launch of the iPod - to create a portable media playback device. Creative will develop the device hardware, based on Microsoft 's Media2Go operating platform, developed by its embedded systems group, and built around Windows CE .NET. Media2Go was unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year, but Microsoft began shipping Intel Xscale-based reference hardware today. A built-in hard drive will hold music, video and photos, and presumably there'll be an integrated LCD panel. The actual specifications of the device have yet to be revealed, but Creative said it would hold "more than 8,000 music files, 175 hours of digital quality video or up to 30,000 photographs". Media2Go uses compression to squeeze 40GB worth of data onto a 20GB hard drive. Incidentally, we're not quite sure what "digital quality" means - it's a bit like saying something's as blue as a blue thing. We had assumed Creative meant something comparable to DVD playback, but a trip to the Microsoft Media2Go web site reveals the truth: 175 hours of VHS quality playback. Ho-hum. "The players will provide continuous playback of video for up to six hours and continuous music playback for up to 12 hours," says Creative. Samsung, ViewSonic, iRiver and Sanyo have already licensed the platform from Microsoft. Creative's product is due to ship "late 2003" - in time from Christmas, presumably. So Apple has a little while yet to get its vPod out of the lab. In the meantime - and thanks to Reg readers for pointint out Archos' Jukebox Multimedia 20, a multimedia version of its old hard disk-based MP3 player. The 20's been around for a while, and is capable of DIVX and MPEG-4 video playback. The screen looks a mite small, mind, reminiscent of early 1980s' portable TVs. In its favour, as one reader writes, there's "no Microsoft DRM". ® Related Story MS, Intel talk up portable video players Related Link Archos Jukebox Multimedia 20
Tony Smith, 13 Mar 2003

Suddenly, the personal phone hub is respectable

A year ago, the idea of the personal mobile gateway was just a piece of speculative fiction from IXI. Suddenly, both Motorola and Samsung have launched conspicuously similar bits of technology around the concept. The concept is ingenious. Instead of having a single device which attempts to do everything from phone, PDA, mobile camera, mobile browser and SMS portal, the IXI Mobile solution - now adopted by Samsung - is to have a central wireless unit, and several optimised peripherals. Strikingly, on the same day that Samsung and IXI Mobile announced their collaboration at CeBIT, Motorola has leaked plans for a startlingly similar range of products which it will show, next week, in New Orleans at a "fashion display" during the CTIA conference. The main difference is simple enough: the Samsung device is a working prototype which should ship later this year. The Motorola family is purely a design-concept demonstration, which sources suggest won't ship for another two years. The key to both families is Bluetooth, which links all the devices together into a personal-area network. The "Personal Mobile Gateway" concept from IXI Mobile, as adopted by Samsung, doesn't require Samsung to make all the components. Instead, it has built what looks like a phone. Inside what is otherwise just another Bluetooth-enabled phone, however, is the software produced by IXI - which allows it to connect to a range of specialist products. The Motorola devices are built around a "Wearable Digital Assistant" instead, which looks like a phone, but without a keyboard - it is supposed to have "advanced voice recognition" features. The Motorola range, designed by Frog Design, has been leaked to PhoneScoop and is very clearly based on the same types of concept. There are even some directly parallel devices in both ranges; for example, a wrist-watch like device for reading messages off, and a bluetooth pen. At the CeBIT show in Hannover, Samsung is showing its PMG phone - and also, some other peripherals designed-for-PMG products. The Samsung SGH-X410, the world?s first PMG Phone, is a tri-band GSM/GPRS with 65k colours, Bluetooth and 40 polyphonic ring tones. However, at last month's 3GSM Congress, IXI Mobile showed a working PMG setup with prototypes of "sleek" add-ons from several manufacturers, including a Seiko watch, and a Lite-on phone - as well as a working games machine. The full list of IXI-based devices before Samsung, was: Game Park ?designed for PMG? handheld gaming consoles give users the ability to receive new games over the air, post high scores and compete against other players HIT Incorporated?s 'designed for PMG' Messaging Pens to allow users to record and email spoken messages Infohand 'designed for PMG' digital cameras to capture high quality images and instantly transmit them to a web site and to other 'designed for PMG' devices for immediate viewing Lite-On Technology Corporation's PMG device and 'designed for PMG' phone and a separate messaging terminal featuring IM (Instant Messaging), SMS, and e-mail Sanyo's is 'series of conceptual models of new mobile devices codenamed "Alviss" which consists of a new collection of credit card size wireless terminals (phone, emailer, photo viewer, keyboard, voice recorder and digital camera) and a Personal Mobile Gateway (PMG) Seiko Instruments' designed for PMG watch that can receive SMS messages, ring tone and logo downloads, display caller identification and incoming SMS alerts and can also check daily agendas. The Samsung announcement, however, is seen as the big breakthrough. "Samsung, as a mobile communications trend-setter, offers a wide variety of products designed to be at the centre of peoples lives both in their homes and when they are mobile," said Amit Haller, President and CEO of IXI Mobile. "As the inventor and pioneer of the PMG, we are very pleased to be working with Samsung to enable the introduction of new and innovative wireless products that greatly enhance the users? mobile experience." For more information on the PMG, visit www.ixi.com/PMG Copyright ©
Guy Kewney, 13 Mar 2003

UK.gov blows £1.5bn on botched IT projects

More than £1.5 billion in taxpayers' money has been wasted on delayed or cancelled UK government projects over the last six years. That's the damning assessment of a leaked report by the Treasury department in charge of Government spending, the Office of Government Commerce (OGC), obtained by Computing this week. The paper thumbs through its back issues to catalogue a litany of failed UK Government IT projects. These include an estimated £698m squandered on a cancelled (Pathway) project to develop smart cards for benefits payments, and £134m overspent on the Libra project to overhaul the IT systems of Magistrates Courts. The OGC plans to stem this spending haemorrhage through reforms in the way government IT projects are run. These are designed to achieve a "two- to three-fold improvement in the success of central government projects by June 2006," Computing reports today. Key to this strategy is the creation of Centres of Excellence (CoE) to oversee project management. "A CoE is much more than a programme office, because its remit is to provide a continuous overview across all of the department's portfolio of programmes - not just co-ordinating and reporting on the programmes but challenging what must be delivered and how," according to the report. ®
John Leyden, 13 Mar 2003

Decoding Centrino

AnalysisAnalysis There's no doubt that Intel's Centrino platform is impressive technology. Exactly how much performance it delivers over existing processor solutions, and how much longer it will allow mobile users to operate on battery power we'll see in the coming months as Centrino notebooks are put through their paces. And all the indications are that Intel will enhance the benefits Centrino brings in the second half of the year when Dothan, the successor to the 1.3-1.6GHz Pentium M chip that sits at the heart of Centrino ships. Dothan is being debugged right now, with early versions rolling off Intel's 0.09 micron/90 nanometre production lines. But while Intel is revelling in the "revolution" that it believes the launch of Centrino will bring, and is rightly proud of the technological achievements it has wrought, in its bid to harness the wireless networking trend to pull the company and the PC business out of the doldrums, it's engaging in an almost Microsoftian attempt to dominate the market. Usurping the standard Centrino comprises an energy-efficient microprocessor, low-power support chipset and a plug-in 802.11b adaptor. IEEE 802.11b has been gaining interest since the late 1990s, not least since Apple introduced it to the mainstream in July 1999 with the introduction of AirPort, its branding of the standard. Apple at least has always acknowledged AirPort's foundation on a standard. Not so Intel. Certainly, when asked, company representatives acknowledge the fact that it is, but at no point during Centrino's coming out party in London last night were 'Wi-Fi' or '802.11' mentioned. That might be dismissed as the enthusiasm of the company at the launch of its latest product. But this unwillingness to mention the 'w' word extends to Intel's hotspot roll-out programme. Intel's vision is to have sites co-branded by Centrino, Intel and the network operator. The name of the actual standard on which this is all based doesn't get a look-in. The concern is that the growing population of notebook users - and it is a growing market segment, one of the few (if not the only) expanding areas in the IT business - will associate wireless networking not with an open, interoperable standard but with a vendor-specific brand. The thought won't be 'I need a Wi-Fi-compatible system to connect to the Internet on the move' but 'I need a Centrino system to connect to the Internet on the move'. That's the power of branding. Hotspot? What spot? That said, Intel does have some way to go. Despite showing a long list of Wi-Fi hotspot providers, coverage is a very long way from achieving the near-ubiquity of mobile phone coverage. A single 3G base-station will give the same coverage as 500 Wi-Fi base-stations. Hotspot networks began appearing in the US about 18 months ago, as far-sighted airport authorities connected their lounges to the Internet via 802.11 base-stations. Last year, co-operative networks, such as Joltage and Sputnik, offered base-station owners roaming rights if they open their WLANs to other network members. At the same time, companies like Boingo, Gric, HereUAre and iPass began setting up base-stations and signing roaming agreements to allow members of other networks access to theirs. Such activity seems to have been the sign that showed Intel there was more to Wi-Fi than new technology, that there was real user interest in connecting to the Internet almost anywhere. It began exploring hotspot partnerships a year ago, hopping onto the bandwagon early but by no means at the start. From the spin, you'd think Intel had invented all this stuff. And following the British Government's decision to allow commercial services to operate in the unlicensed 2.4GHz band, similar services have begun to appear in the UK. Intel's own figures for March 2003 show just 250 publicly available hotspots in the UK - one for every 220,000 members of the British population. Relatively few are mobile computer users, but it shows folk will have a long way to go to get public WLAN access today. For Europe as a whole, the hotspot total runs to a few thousand. The wireless world Intel envisages is some way off yet, no matter how well Centrino sells, but the risk to the perception of the standards that make that world possible remains. The P4-M question Will Centrino sell well? Certainly it's an attractive proposition, on battery life and performance alone. Running flat out the 1.6GHz Pentium M can out-perform a 2.5GHz Pentium 4-M by around 12-15 per cent. Early independent reports suggest up to seven hours of battery life. That begs the question: why buy a P4-M now? Intel's answer is that Centrino will appear in mobility-oriented notebooks, while the P4-M will still have a role to play in systems designed for portability - full-feature notebooks and desktop replacements. With the desktop P4 carving a share of the latter market, particularly at the lower end of the market, the space left for the P4-M is diminishing. Why choose a P4-M now? A 1.6GHz Centrino will set you back around $1699; a 2.4GHz P4-M a little less than that, depending on specification. Intel says the P4-M will be around for some time, powering full-function notebooks, but if Centrino's better, what's to stop OEMs offering full-function Centrino notebooks? The power conservation advantage would be reduced, but buyers would still get the performance benefits. We can envisage Intel bumping up the speed of the P4-M line to take it past Centrino's 12 per cent lead, but the P4-M's pricing compared to higher clocked desktop P4s, suggest that the latter and the Celeron will become the chips of choice for big, portable PCs, while Centrino will dominate mobility-oriented designs. Unless Intel slashes P4-M prices. Confronting the Megahertz Myth The other thorny question it faces is the Megahertz Myth. If a 1.6GHz Intel chip is faster than a 2.4GHz Intel chip, what does that say about the use of clock speed ratings as the definitive measurement of performance? When we discussed this with Mooly Eden, head of Intel's Israel development centre and the guy in charge of the design of the Pentium M and the 855 chipset family that supports it, it was clear Intel wants to have its cake and eat it too. Megahertz is not the only criteria for performance, he said, lauding the Centrino. Megahertz will always be crucial, he noted later, when questioned about the value of the P4-M post-Centrino. In short, buyers who think megahertz is important will want the higher-clocked chip, and Intel's not going to stop them buying one. Smarter customers will choose the lower-clocked but faster chip. How many potential buyers will turn their nose up a Centrino, however, because they've had years of indoctrination? Centrino's other benefits may be enough. Let's get technical How have those benefits been achieved? In addition to a much more highly stepped (five to seven steps, says Eden) SpeedStep system, the Pentium M SpeedSteps the core, not the processor I/O, which is down to (and fixed at) 1.5V in any case. That, says Eden, provides the OS with much greater scope to drop frequency and voltage than the P4-M offers. Pentium M's well-publicised ability to put unused core components to sleep, and do the same with segments of the 1MB L2 on-die cache help too. Interestingly of the 77 million transistors on the die, fewer than 27 million are dedicated to logic - the rest comprise all that cache. Then there's the system bus, operating at 400MHz like the early P4, but pared down to allow a reduced operating voltage. Pared down how? By stripping out multi-processing capabilities, for a start. Even if there was room in a 'thin and light' notebook's shell, don't expect dual-processor Centrino boxes for some time yet. Dothan is unlikely to change this, but the shift to 90nm fabrication will allow the Pentium M team to add all the features they left out of the first chip in the series. Eden insists Dothan is not just a die-shrink, though that surely will allow Intel to ramp up the clock speed without sacrificing battery life too. The 90nm fabrication process allows Intel to punch out 400 Dothans per 12in wafer. But don't ask how many of those actually work... ®
Tony Smith, 13 Mar 2003

UK sees strong DSL growth

The number of DSL lines in the UK grew 90 per cent in the second half of 2002, according to the latest stats from broadband research outfit Point Topic. The UK outstripped France (87 per cent), Finland (82 per cent) and Switzerland (78 per cent) - only coming second to China, which notched up DSL growth of a whopping 214 per cent. Despite this acceleration the UK still fails to show in the top ten of Point Topic's key charts of the number of DSL lines and penetration. Instead, its league tables are dominated by the likes of the US, South Korea, Japan and Germany. For example, the US added 888,000 subscribers in the first half of the year, and 1.2m in the second half. In Germany, H1 DSL additions totaled 732,000, compared to 640,000 in H2. South Korea saw an increase of 556,000 in H1 followed by 704,000. Japan added 1.78m DSL lines followed by 2.34m in H2. Overall, Point Topic reports that the second half of 2002 saw stronger DSL growth compared to the first six months of 2002 with almost every top 50 country racking up double-digit growth in the six months to the end of December. Said Point Topic: "Broadband continues to be a telecoms success story, delivering substantial and sustainable growth. In difficult times for the communications industry, operators all around the world continue to sign up new subscribers to DSL services." ®
Tim Richardson, 13 Mar 2003

Big church group urges states to punish WorldCom

WorldCom may be clawing its way back to financial stability. But it isn't out of the woods yet - the perpetrator of the world's biggest fraud has been ambushed by theologians. And they are calling for retribution. Step forward the United Churches of Christ (UCC), a major American Protestant church group, which is urgeing the public utility commissioners in all 50 US states to "hold WorldCom and other corporate criminals accountable for their breach of the law and public trust". The UCC points to the fraud perpetrated by Worldcom in overstating revenues by $10 billion. As well as hurting investors and staff, Worldcom has "violated the public trust", according to UCC. So will the utilities commissioners take the bait? Not yet: the UCC notes that "no state public utility commission has yet taken action against WorldCom, home to the United States' biggest-ever accounting scandal, for the filing of false reports and other statements in direct violation of state laws and rules". The Rev. Robert Chase, communications director of the UCC, says: "Stewardship of the nation's Internet and telecommunication infrastructure and facilities is an important public trust. Companies granted the privilege of running these facilities bear enormous responsibility to assure that the rapidly developing world of communication services are operated in the public interest." The UCC is calling on the states to assess if WorldCom violated the public trust and if so "begin appropriate remedial proceedings, including revocation of WorldCom's licence". And it wants the utility commissioners to draw up "rules of stewardship for information-age companies that use the public airways under public-interest authorisations, and manage the nation's digital infrastructure". This will help prevent future WorldComs, the group argues. Says the Rev. Chase to the states: "We believe that as public servants, each of you has a responsibility to protect consumers by taking action when a company such as WorldCom violates the law on such a massive scale." ® Related link The UCC press release
Drew Cullen, 13 Mar 2003

NatSemi CEO looks to China

InterviewInterview ExtremeTech's Jim Louderback had a chance recently to sit down with Brian Halla, CEO of National Semiconductor to get an idea of how National is approaching the future. Since this interview was conducted, things have gotten dicey for the Silicon Valley chip company. The company announced that it was shedding its system-on-a-chip Geode business, and then late last week investor-activist Ralph Whitman announced that he wants two seats on the board. Where is chip technology going? All the fab stuff is going to China. Intel and AMD will try to maintain the process control roadmap for CMOS, but it's erroneous to think that this won't go to China too. Since .5 Micron, the process technology roadmap has been dictated by the chip manufacturing equipment guys. The last major piece of equipment built in the US was when IBM microelectronics built a copper sputter. Now it's Applied Materials, Nikon and Canon who determine what everyone's .13 micron process looks like. A big reason why Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and other Taiwanese and Chinese foundry companies have been successful is because there's so much commonality that everyone uses. It's easy to move from one to the other's fab. The largest consumer of semiconductor equipment today is TSMC. Who is ASML (another major semiconductor equipment vendor) going to take its orders from? TSMC, that's who. Now what do we know about Taiwan? It's virtually already unified with China. Over half of the fabs have moved to mainland China. TSMC will be moving to Mainland China. They are who AMAT and ASML listen to. TSMC will be in Bejing, and that means that the process roadmap for our industry will also be dictated out of Bejing. So China's becoming a huge force in chip development? Every company needs a China strategy before its too late. Here are the three things they have to figure out: How do I take advantage of the explosive consumption that will happen in China. It's already a replacement market. How can I take advantage of the manufacturing opportunity in China? How do we deal with the China Brain Drain? They graduated more double E's (Electrical Engineers) than everywhere else in the world combined. We're looking at China as a big opportunity. So what will keep National competitive in a China dominated market? We are an analog company. Analog engineers are raised not born. All these guys train under gurus, the training goes on for 5 or 10 years. And all the best gurus are at National, Texas Instruments and companies like that. Why is analog so important? In any cell-phone today, 3/4s of it is analog. Take the Sony Ericsson T66. It's done in four chips plus a power amplifier.. Three of those four are analog chips. Even with SPOT, analog has become a disproportionately large part of the circuits. So if digital chips are going to China, what can Intel do? Intel wouldn't know how to build an analog circuit. They could always buy someone. But Intel is so focused on Pentiums, they don't have time for anything else. Plus an acquisition probably wouldn't work out. Analog companies and engineers like to be the hood ornament not the tail pipe. How is it being a CEO these days? It is a bit of a stigma. My mom even called and said, "Are you embarrassed to be a CEO." all put in the same bucket and we're all tarred with the same brush. It's nuts. They're going to kill stock options, so finally the east coast companies can get even. This is not about the old economy vs. the new economy. It's about the US losing its position to countries that are still hungry. Microsoft gets it, and that's why we're happy to have nine programs with them. Nine Programs? What are they? Well I have this paper here that lists all of them. (As Brian reaches into his bag, his PR person tells him that some of them are still secret). OK, what can I talk about? One of them is ultrawideband at .13 micron using just 350,000 gates. Ultrawideband doesn't need RF, you already have the speed and you just crank out pulses. Another thing we're doing is smart displays with Microsoft. Smart displays are like a webpad grown up and a webpad shrunk down. If you use a PC in your home, it works great, but you need to run Windows Media Center. Version 1.5 of smart displays uses 802.11b, but there is some trouble with video. Editor's Note: Even with National shedding the Geode business, the company still plans on working with Microsoft on Smart Displays, along with the other partnerships. Version 1.5, due in June but demonstrated this week at CeBit, will let you simultaneously use the smart display and your PC. In addition, another box due this spring will turn an old monitor into a "smart display" too. But those smart displays are too expensive. What's going to bring the price down? We have to be able to get the glass for less than 100 bucks. That's happening now. $495 is the target price for this product. Our version of the reference platform is all our silicon and we just continue to forward integrate. Also, nothing gets the price down like getting the volume up. What else? We're just scratching the surface with SPOT, soon we'll end up with a low cost FM radio that can go into everything and anything. Extrapolate from ultrawideband at 10ghz, where anything beyond .13 micron we get for free, we could easily have half a dozen 10 gig radios where we could pass around data just among ourselves. Why did Microsoft come to National? National is pointed in the same direction as Microsoft. Look at Geode for example. When we first showed the web pad in 1998, Bill Gates made three trips down to silicon valley to see it. (Editor's note: shortly after this interview, National ended the Geode project.) What's your outlook for 2003? I see us on an upswing again. I predicted that the recovery would be in full steam June 21st 2003 at 2:15 in the afternoon. Every quarter Craig Barrett gets away with predicting that the recovery is two quarters away, and I wanted to be specific. But we actually did some thinking about this, we went back into history plotted and plotted out the business cycles. We looked at it, and it's just a sine wave, an envelope of minimum and maximum, with the width of the wave showing the time in boom vs. the time in recession. We came up with an equation and plugged in the real numbers in. Some of the peaks were off by 2%, some by 5%, But then the guy who did it used a neural net to smooth it out, and it looked incredibly accurate. Then we cranked out the formula, and plotted the medium of the sinusoidal wave heading back up. It ended up being the end of the second quarter. So I picked June 21st because it's my anniversary. I figured if I picked June 21st, i'll always remember my anniversary. When I announced it, the reaction was funny. Half of the people took me as dead serious, the other half said it was obviously tongue in cheek. But it's not that far off from what others are thinking. When we get back in full swing, we see the same amplitude as we had during the dot com boom, during 2004. The peak is further outGet back in full swing, same amplitude of dot com boom in 2004, on the way up. The peak is further out, but I'm not going to tell you where it is. Today we're seeing a volume pickup, but you never know. The lead times are so much smaller. The customers don't have to give us any visibility, because the semiconductor industry has excess capacity. But the industry needs these periods, because all of a sudden you can get very complex technology for free. The price comes down, and brand new ideas incubate. That's because you can get what was previously high performance at a high cost, and now it's high performance at a low cost. Where will National be in five years? In five to ten years we expect sight and sound an information to be integrated together into a single chip. We'll be a major player in UltraWideband too. Beyond that we'll see radios that dynamically reconfigure themselves to look for the lowest cost, highest performance connection to the internet backbone depending on what you need and where you are. We'll continue to work with Samsung on the display technologies. We'll continue to be drawn into the consumer market. Consumer electronics is such a big show. There's a huge blurring of the line between consumer and commercial. Is that laptop a commercial product or a consumer one? Will you do an "Intel Inside" campaign? We did this AOL Phillips set-top box, and one of our aggressive young marketers said, "if we give you a discount, can we get a 'National Inside' on the box." I put an end to that ? we're not doing a Nascar, we're doing a set-top box. Do you see a killer app on the way? Check this out (Brian pulls out what looks like a large yellow Tylenol caplet). This is a camera that does an endoscopy. It records 2 frames a second from launch pad to splashdown, and it completely replaces existing technology. Inside here is an imaging device, a radio, and a white LED driver. It shoots pictures for 24 hours. The pill costs $450, same price as flexible one, but much, much more comfortable. At National, the more we can suck everything onto one chip, the more we can do, more cheaply. Copyright © ExtremeTech.com
Extremetech, 13 Mar 2003

IDC forecasts 2003 will be a good/bad* year for Itanium

IDC appears to suffering from some confusion concerning the future of Intel's Itanium processor. According to an Intel spokesman, citing someone called 'Bozman', the research agency has predicted that a staggering 25,000 servers based on the Itanium processor will ship this year. That's very good news for Intel and no doubt represents a very significant increase in sales of the 64-bit chip. But what's this? An IDC press release from last December predicts... er... "2003 will be a good year for Linux, Wireless LANs and Messaging, but not for Itanium" [our italics]. Hardly a thumbs-up - especially for a platform expected to sell in the tens of thousands. The release includes the prediction: "Adoption of 64-bit computing will be slow, and vendor-driven. IDC does not expect to see full 64-bit use in commercial applications until later in the decade." In addition, "64-bit computing will face ongoing challenges in 2003". The IDC release, dated 23 December 2002, can be read here. Where does The Register stand on this one? Why, we're behind IDC all the way... ®
Tony Smith, 13 Mar 2003

ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 to sport on-chip DDR RAM

Not to be outdone by Nvidia's GeForce FX Go 5200 and 5600 announcement, ATI had a mobile chip launch of its own today, unveiling the Mobility Radeon 9600. It also announced the Mobility Radeon 7000 Integrated Graphics Processor. The 9600 is the first mobile graphics chip to support GDDR-2M, a DDR 2 variant incorporating power-saving features. OEMs can connect discrete memory to the chip or choose any of three versions that incorporate up to 128MB of memory in the chip packages - a technique not so far from the on-die approach taken by BitBoys (remember them?) Further power management comes from PowerPlay, ATI's SpeedStep-like power conservation system. The 9600 core can operate at 1V, and consumes just 0.5W when idling. The 9600 is fabbed at 0.13 micron. Interestingly, the 9600 is the first mobile chip to be user-upgradeable, claims ATI, thanks to "full pin and driver compatibility across multiple product generations". So finally ATI is matching Nvidia on the scope of its drivers. ATI says the chip can handle 12 pixel shading ops per clock cycle - delivering "up to 50 per cent more performance than the fastest competing desktop graphics processors in key benchmarks, including 3DMark 2000 Pixel Shader 2.0", boasts ATI. There's a lot more willy waving along those lines in the release, so we'll assume it's a lot more powerful than its predecessors. And we'll look forward to independent benchmarking. The 9600 is shipping now, as is the 9600 Pro and the Mobility Radeon 9200, the AGP 8x successor to the 9000. Systems incorporating the chips should ship this Spring. The 7000 IGP, meanwhile, supersedes the Radeon IGP 340M, offering 333MHz DDR support and the ability to hook up to Intel's Centrino Pentium M, the Mobile Pentium 4-M and the desktop Pentium 4 with a 533MHz frontside bus. It supports AGP 4x, and ATI claims it's 25 per cent faster than its predecessor. Like the 9600, the 7000 is designed to allow user upgradeability (if the OEM chooses to offer it) and incorporates PowerPlay. ® Related Stories Nvidia brings latest GeForce FX chips to notebooks ATI Radeon 9800
Tony Smith, 13 Mar 2003

New Symbian phones from Mitsubishi, BenQ, Samsung

The next wave of Symbian OS phones is well under way this week, with groovy new designs from Mitsubishi, BenQ and Samsung. Cameras, big screens, swivelling bits - yup, looks like we're about to witness an entertaining envelope-pushing contest. The Mitsubishi, on show at CeBIT, is a concept really, but a jolly interesting looking one. It's billed as a "next generation mobile terminal," which means it's a combo wireless LAN unit, mobile phone and VoIP Internet phone. It changes function when you swivel it, and it's currently leading in the swivel wars, as far as we can see, because it's got two bits that swivel. No obvious swiveling from the BenQ P30, but this one is very nearly real, and as a UIQ product it will be a Sony-Ericsson P800 rival. It's due out in Taiwan in the second half. Samsung's SGH-D700 is a remarkably swift and highly-specced (aside from an apparent lack of Bluetooth) execution of the Series 60 UI, apparently. It swivels too, and is also due in the second half. You can find a full spec, plus several pictures, at All About Symbian. ®
John Lettice, 13 Mar 2003

Dell shuns Microsoft's hate-radio toilet shockjock

A hate-radio shockjock whose toilet rants have proved too deranged even for readers of the extreme right-wing Free Republic has received a massive career boost thanks to Microsoft here in the United States. The self-styled "Michael Savage" debuted on the MSNBC TV channel last week, a station jointly owned by General Electric, which owns NBC, and Microsoft. Which owns the personal computer industry. Advertisers have voted with their feet, and lurched away from the controversial slot in droves. Dell Computer told us today that no more ads for the computer company will air during the show, "Savage Nation". And it's not hard to see why. "[It's] like watching a train wreck," is how one freeper describes "Savage"'s toxic ramblings. "The tendency to assign any real value to any of these guys is strange, let alone breathlessly hanging on their every word," writes another, more level-headed freep contributor. But the poor chap, who fills his hate-radio slot with vile homophobic and racist diatribes against gays and brown-skinned people - or any flavor of "commies pinkos and perverts" - he doesn't discriminate - is right now on top of the New York Times bestseller list. And the middle-management drones who man these media outlets stations seem to be in awe of this opportunist trash-talker. They think his toilet contributions are "invigorating". Just like a good lynching. He isn't funny, like PJ O'Rourke. He isn't iconoclastic, like the old Rush Limbaugh, He's just nasty, but he has made a success out of complaining about brown-skinned people, and he's commercialized his own pathologies and repressions (which are quite delicious, as we'll see) into a lucrative career. So who is this "Michael Savage", and what makes him irresistible to blue-chip sponsors such as Microsoft? Herbalist The 60-year old "Savage" (who improbably insists that he's 39 years old) was born Michael Alan Weiner, and spent most of his life as a freewheeling beatnik bum - at one point befriending San Francisco beat legends such as poet Laurence Ferlinghetti. But the North Beach crowd found the tiny Weiner too needy for comfortable companionship. So, after several years of moderate success punting herbalist remedies the resourceful Weiner decided to reinvent himself, only this time, with a toilet mouth. But his train-wreck rants - which impel a voyeuristic frisson even amongst the most devoted listeners - have brought in the dollars for Weiner. The tiny fellow with the Napoleon complex wants to go mad! Before your eyes! His career path mirrors the trajectory of former woolly Carnegie Mellon liberal Declan McCullagh, now a lavishly-paid writer at CNET. Both realized the value of relentless self-publicity. And both - McCullagh, like Weiner - decided that principles are for fools. You don't stay poor for very long if you can defend rich guys' their right to keep their money, each followed the dollar trail to arrive at their own, personal epiphany. Each advocates the gazillionaires' "freedom" to spend their gazillions. The knack to pulling off this stunt is in persuading us, dear readers, that it's our freedoms that are a stake. In all, it's a very simple equation, and one so alluring that it's never short of fresh McCullaghs or Weiners to heed the cry. There's one born every minute. So what drives the tiny Weiner? In a fascinating profile at Salon written by David Gilson, we learn that Weiner, as a novelist, had some pretty interesting impulses:- "Inner voice screaming at me for years, first rational, then crazy, telling me to do mad things. Every form of relief tried, painting, psychotherapy, running, diet, vitamins, etc., etc. Almost uncontrollable now. Impulses to stab children, strangers, wife, self with scissors." Err, thank you. I think we have quite enough evidence. You don't need to be Wilhelm Reich to see the connection between personal sexual repression and fascism, but thanks for spelling it out so unambiguously for us, Professor Toilet. The USA's fascination with vile-mouthed hatemongers causes dyed-in-the-wool Americanophiles (and I am one, so sue me) no end of difficulties. It's the safest, sweetest and most reasonable place in the world, then you realize that some people really get off on this, and the suburbs resonate to the sound of steering wheels being thumped in vigorous agreement with some toilet rant about the poor, or brown skinned people, or both. But this vile phenomenon is only mainstream thanks to the corporate sponsorship of the USA's largest corporations, who bless it with their dollars. Now Dell Computer has followed Proctor and Gamble in promising to remove its advertising from "Savage Nation." Good call, Dell. A spokesman told The Register:- "We never make judgement calls on the content - but based on the fact that it limited our ability to communicate with all our customers, we asked our agency to make sure our ads did not run in those programs in the future." ®
Andrew Orlowski, 13 Mar 2003