1st > April > 2003 Archive

Virgin Mobile to launch mobile phone breathalyser

Those wags at Virgin Mobile claim they are about to launch a new phone that has an in-built breathalyser. Of course, it hasn't been designed for anything quite so public-spirited as to prevent people on the pop from drinking and driving. No, no, instead, it's to stop people from sending embarrassing texts or making nuisance phone calls in the middle of the night. According to this April Fool (that's right, it's that time of year again) the "Alco-Phone" will block people from making calls if they've drunk too much and should stop those regrettable calls and texts to the boss, the missus or an ex-lover. Quipped Virgin Mobile chief exec, Tom Alexander, in a statement: "If you like a drink and are prone to sending inappropriate or regrettable texts at the same time, then this is the phone for you. We believe that the Alco-Phone is destined to save the relationships of millions of people." And it may well do, but if it did actually introduce such a phone just think of all that revenue Virgin will lose as its new phone blocks all those alcohol-induced calls and texts. ®
Tim Richardson, 01 Apr 2003

Uncle Roger's improper Ganda

OpinionOpinion The Ganda virus shows why the Internet isn't the best source for reliable war news, and malicious code isn't a good medium for anything, writes SecurityFocus columnist George Smith. Laugh at the news of poor "Uncle Roger" from Haernoesand, Sweden, the mistreated student/virus-writer rousted by the coppers for creating a virus he thought might get his complaints heard during Gulf War II. "Go USA" was one phrase the virus used as an enticement -- the idea being, perhaps, to exploit the feelings of citizens who might wish to acquire a jingo screen-saver. Detained by Swedish police last week, Uncle Roger confessed to creating and spreading the virus called Ganda -- said to be clogging a miniscule few thousand computers. Messages left within the virus showed Roger to be overwrought by his experience at the hands of Swedish teachers. "[Ganda] is a response to eight long years of discrimination," he had scribbled in its code. However, the news didn't make CNN, Fox, al Jazeera or the New York Times. Uncle Roger miscalculated in his bid for self-replicating publicity, even though Associated Press Sweden reported he had sent his message of protest directly to local newspapers. For Ganda, Roger might get four years, said authorities -- an inappropriately long punishment for a fellow whose biggest offense is best described as gross idiocy. If I were to recommend a sentence for the creation and spread of very trivial viruses it would be something humiliating, not prolonged exposure to a general prison population. I've often favored punishing creators of relative non-spreaders like Ganda by making them jump up and down on their computers until the machines are smashed or for half an hour -- whichever takes longer -- with passersby invited to pelt them with cups of soda. Anyway, the Swedish public school system gadfly joins a very small cadre who have used messages embedded in malicious software to complain of scholastic treachery. Trudging back to the 90's, one could read "Dedicated to the University of Malta -- the worst educational system in the universe, and the destroyer of 5x2 years of human life" in the "Maltese Amoeba" virus. But in the end, only other virus-writers and anti-virus experts new of Mr. Amoeba's displeasure with the U of M. The virus was a bad medium for propaganda then, and is only slightly better now. Not Ready for its Closeup This becomes obvious if you watch shows devoted to retelling tales of computer mayhem. Television producers will readily admit that the PC screen is not compelling -- even when it appears to be attacking you -- and that pointing and clicking, directory displays and websites downloading often make for the most boring and awkward moments in viewing. Viruses don't do videography well. So I would agree with Uncle Roger that the Swedish school system let him down. It's plain that anyone who would come up with a plan to spread a message with an Iraq war hook via computer virus while almost everyone else was glued to the television has been betrayed by their educators. Understandably, none of this is of comfort to those felled by Ganda. Stories from the home front indicated that people who normally know better than to open executable attachments were sucker-punched by the virus' invitations while frantically opening e-mail in search of word about family members on the lines. "[Ganda] screwed up my computer, and now I can't get e-mail or check news sites until my brother comes over to fix it," said one American woman to Wired News. Not to be insensitive, but some of these claims were hard to believe: a too convenient excuse for those embarrassed by their PC predicaments. However, for those with a sincere gripe, it is time to stand back from the machine. They will be safe from virus-writers of this type if they accept the Internet's limitations, and realize that traditional news organizations have been far better with information on the war than the net has. One reason is their invulnerability to subversion by malware-loving idlers. It shames the net and its current corporate development that television is not hackable by computer viruses and the Uncle Rogers of the world. The U.S. military's Iraqi Freedom "information operations" are a parallel lesson. According to the New York Times, The Pentagon indicated it would electronically jam Iraqi communications and television at the outset of war. These jamming operations, if they were even undertaken, failed miserably, and electronic warfare was eventually shoved aside in favor of Tomahawks. But even though Iraqi television was interrupted by bombs on the studio, it came back up hours later. If only networked computers were that tough. George Smith is Editor-at-Large for VMYTHS and founder of the Crypt Newsletter. He has written extensively on viruses, the genesis of techno-legends and the impact of both on society. His work has appeared in publications as diverse as the Wall Street Journal, the Village Voice and the National Academy of Science's Issues in Science & Technology, among others.
George Smith, 01 Apr 2003

Free software gives hackers taste of own medicine

April FoolApril Fool IT security specialist Backfire Security today announced the availability of a software download as a discrete desk-top client application which wreaks revenge on those hackers and culprits attacking your network or infecting users with worms and/or viruses. The freeware package - PAYBACK v1.0 - is available from www.backfiresecurity.co.uk in both PC and Mac formats. PAYBACK v1.0 is a new kind of anti-hacker application called an IRS (Intruder Retaliation System) and is based upon "guerrilla" programming protocols and algorithms originally developed for the Chinese Space Program. The software has the ability to instantly and dynamically 'trace' the IP source address - no matter how well masked - of the network attack/infection and respond by launching either a Domain Name or Mail Server flood attack in the direction of the attacker. This overwhelming retaliation is then accelerated by up to 6000% per cent, according to independent tests, as the software initiates a peered "guerrilla" offensive by capturing any available waste Internet data during its transit (dropped packets, redundant addresses, undelivered mails etc) and aggregating them in the attack. "Anyone who has ever been hacked or infected by viruses would doubtless like nothing better than to pay their attackers back with a lesson they'll never forget," said A. (Archie) Mendoza, CEO and founder of Backfire Security Inc. "Our aim is to exterminate all hackers and virus felons from the Internet by the end of 2004, and we have the unique technology to do it." Nick Morse, managing director of Mindshare Group, Backfire's principal distributor for the UK market, said: "This is exactly what business needs to protect itself against online security threats. With an IRS lying in wait - literally anyone can get a hacker by the scruff of the neck and take them to the cleaners." Backfire Security was founded by a group of reformed ex-hackers - among them Archie Mendoza, Tal Selley and Damien Li. The highly motivated team of "Poacher-turned-Gamekeepers" has been responsible for a range of award-winning security solutions, among them the GROWL IDS, DESTROY IPS and PEACE Security Gateway. Headquartered in Sunnyvale, CA (USA), Backfire Security Inc. has engineering and testing development offices in Chengdu (China) and Chepstow (UK). ®
Team Register, 01 Apr 2003

£18,000 buys you surrogate ‘cyberbaby’

April FoolApril Fool Well, it had to happen. After the highly distasteful internet auction of twins last year and the temptation for unscrupulous chancers to exploit the web's potential audience in the search of profit, an outfit calling itself "The National Society for Social Change" (NATSOC) is offering busy executives the chance to procure a "2d kid". For around £18,000 a year, NATSOC will use a client's sperm fused with an egg of his choice to produce a child which is then farmed out to "surrogate" parents. The proud father then follows the kid's progress online, hence the term "2d kid". NATSOC calls this a "low commitment, high reward cyber relationship", and obviously believes that this will tempt time-starved suits who want the luxury of passing on their DNA without the hassles which are part and parcel of actually raising children. There is, mercifully, some potentially bad news for UK-based NATSOC. A spokesman for the government department which closely monitors surrogacy and formulates legislation to control the use of donated human sperm and eggs told us: "We haven't yet heard of this organisation, but from what you say they are breaking at least three current laws. We'll be following this up immediately." Child welfare charities have, unsurprisingly, responded with horror: "This just beggars belief," said a spokeswoman from the Institute of Child Developmental Studies. "Children need a loving environment, preferably with their natural parents. They are not a commodity which can be bought and sold for profit. I assume that the authorities intend to act." We hope so. Sadly, it's a damning indictment of our modern, connected world that there are no depths to which companies will not sink in order to try and make a quick buck online. Just how NATSOC intends to line its pockets you can see for yourselves here. It makes depressing viewing. ®
Lester Haines, 01 Apr 2003

Is your website accessible? Probably not

The Disability Rights Commission (DRC) is to conduct a formal investigation to focus on web access, writes Peter Abrahams, of Bloor Research. One thousand websites spanning the public and private sectors are to be tested for basic compliance with recognised industry accessibility standards. According to the DRC, Britain's disabled comprises one in seven of the population - 8.5 million people. A site which is not accessible could be considered to discriminate against disabled people and so could be illegal. (The UK would need a test case to establish this with private sector organisations such as, err, us -Ed). A key aim of the DRC investigation is to identify recurrent barriers to web access and to help site owners and developers recognise and avoid them. In addition, 50 disabled people will be involved in in-depth testing of a representative sample of these sites for practical usability. This work will help clarify the relationship between a site's compliance with standards and its practical usability for disabled people. The research supporting this Formal Investigation will be conducted in collaboration with a team from the Centre for Human Computer Interaction Design at City University London, led by Professor Helen Petrie. The findings of the investigation are expected by the end of this year. The commercial benefits of an accessible site, let alone this investigation, suggests that all firms should develop standards and procedures for ensuring accessible sites. Different people have different difficulties such as: inability to position a mouse accurately, reading small print, distinguishing print from the background, and total blindness. I consider myself to be able bodied, but moving towards silver surfer status, and I find some sites frustratingly difficult to read and use. Websites can be made accessible to all these disabilities but it requires thought and planning. A tool called Bobby is available to report on the accessibility of a site. A straw poll of sites tested using Bobby suggested that 'could try harder' is the state of our industry at the moment. © IT-Analysis.com Related link DRC press release
IT-Analysis, 01 Apr 2003

AMD, Fujitsu to merge Flash ops

AMD and Fujitsu have agreed to merge their Flash memory operations in a bid to mount a direct challenge to Intel's dominance of the market. The two companies' Memorandum of Understanding - which will presumably require shareholder and regulatory authority approval before becoming a done deal - calls for the merger of Flash operations into a separate entity called FASL (Fujitsu AMD Semiconductor Limited), to be based in the US and Japan. FASL already exists as a 50:50 JV between the two companies. FASL was launched in 1993. AMD will hold 60 per cent of the new operation; Fujitsu the remaining 40 per cent. However, FASL's results will appear on AMD's books. After difficult times a few years back, AMD's Flash operation has been perking up of late. During the company's last completed financial quarter, Q4 2002, AMD sold $217 million worth of Flash parts, up 15 per cent from Q3 2002's $189 million. For the year as a whole, AMD sold $727 million worth of Flash chips, putting it in fourth place behind Toshiba ($842 million), Samsung ($1.2 billion) and Intel ($2.1 billion), according to iSuppli figures cited here. Fifth-place Fujitsu sold $657 million worth of Flash products last year, so FASL has the potential to become the second largest Flash seller by sales. ®
Tony Smith, 01 Apr 2003

419 scammers surface in Baghdad

With Gulf War II less than two weeks old, we're impressed to see that Nigerian advanced fee fraudsters - or "419ers" as they're known in the parlance of international scams - have rapidly deployed to offer Western partners a bite of the Iraqi oil billions falafel: 10 Jasim Street, Ibrahim'Ali, Baghdad, Iraq. Email: falbashar@olumo.net Re: Urgent Assistance Needed By way of introduction I am Eng. Farouk Al-Bashar, I represent my family as the oldest son of the Al-Bashar family, who are the descendants of Ibrahim Al-Bashar Ali from one of the oil rich areas in Iraq. Over the years my family has acquired huge sums of money from royalties for the exploration of oil in our region but over the past 15 years, Saddam Hussein and his gangs of bandits have taken our oils without payments and we can not complain as those who did are all dead. In the wake of the Gulf War of 1990, our family withdrew most moneys that remain in coded bank accounts that Saddam did not find and we hide it in a secret chamber underground, where it remained safe until after the war. At the end of Gulf war, we moved the funds into a private vault of a security company in Baghdad, where it was until we collected it a few days ago on the fear of the eminent war with America. We pray they remove Saddam as he is the cause of much hardship here, but our funds are trapped here and there is no avenue to transfer any amount from Iraq without Saddam knowing. The problem now is how do we transfer the funds totalling US$12.5 Million in cash from here. We are afraid that with the capacity of the bombs America is coming to Baghdad with nowhere would be safe for the money, so we need you to help in securing a private collection agency who would come to Iraq and collect the money and have them moved to the west, where our family is planning to relocate to as life in Iraq is no longer worth living because of Saddam. I have to travel lots of miles each day to send an email hoping someone out there would assist this family, if you can we will give you the details of an agency that can lift the funds from here as given to me by a US Marine. The private collection agency would then collect the fund from here and deliver it to you for safe keep. Hoping the American campaign would be successful, we would then come over to your country for a meeting to share the funds and hopefully start a new life with you as a partner. For your assistance with this project the family is willing to give you 10% of the funds, however if this does not suit you we are open for negotiation. We eagerly await your response so we can inform you of the next line of action. Regards. Eng. Farouk Al- Bashar For the entire Al-Bashar family We wonder if this Al-Bashar is by any chance related to Dave "Basher" Al-Bashar, East End enforcer and personal friend of the Kray twins' mother Violet? If so, readers are warned to approach this deal with caution. And why, we ask, are Nigerian wide-boys risking cruise-missile-borne fiery death to liberate Saddam's ill-gotten gains? Haven't they heard there's a war on? Perhaps this, from Reg reader Ross Brown, will clarify the situation: MY GOOD FRIEND, I AM MAKING THIS CONTACT IN GOOD FAITH,BELIEVING THAT YOU WILL ASSIT ME FOR A MUTUAL BENEFIT. I AM MR. ANTHONY ENYIDEDE.THE SON OF THE SLAIN COMMMISSIONER OF FINANCE IN IMO STATE OF NIGERIA. MY FATHER LATE PROFFESSOR GODWIN ENYIDEDE WAS KILLED BY THE MILLITARY DURING THE SECOND REPUBLIC THAT USHERED IN THE PRESENT ADMINISTRATION OF CHIEF OLUSEGUN OBASANJO THE INCUBENT PRESIDENT OF NIGERIA. BEFORE THE DEATH OF MY FATHER HE DEPOSITED THE SUM OF 6.3 US$ IN THE APEX BANK OF NIGERIA,THE CENTRAL BANK OF NIGERIA(C.B.N.) THE SAID MONEY HAS BEEN IN THE BANK FOR THE PAST FOUR(4) YEARS HE DIED. NOW ,I AM LOOKING FOR A FOREIGN FRIEND TO HELP ME TRANSFER THIS MONEY INTO HIS PERSONAL OR COMPANY ACCOUNT ABROAD.THIS MONEY WHEN TRANSFERD WILL BE SHARED IN PERCENTAGE DEPENDING ON THE AGREEMENT REACHED BY TWO OF US.I AM ALSO ASSURING YOU THAT THIS TRANSACTION IS RICK FREE. PRESENTLY,I AM A SECOND YEAR LAW STUDENT OF THE IMO STATE UNIVERSITY,NIGERIA.WHILE THIS TRANSACTION IS ON I WILL LIKE YOU SEND ME AN INVITATION LETTER TO YOUR COUNTRY,SO THAT I WILL COME OVER TO HAVE A SHARE OF THIS MONEY AS SOON AS IT IS TRANSFERRED INTO YOUR NOMINATED PERSONAL OR COMPANY ACCONT. I ALSO HAVE THE INTENTIONS OF STUDING ABROAD AS SOON AS THIS TRANSFER IS EFFECTED. THIS TRANSACTION MUST BE CONCLUDED BEFORE THE MONTH OF APRIL,BECAUSE THE STATE GOVERNMENT MAY RECALL THIS MONEY FOR THE NATION WIDE ELECTION COMING UP IN NIGERIA BY APRIL,A CLOSE SOURCE FROM THE GOVERNMENT HOUSE GAVE ME THE INFORMATION. THANK YOU IN ANTICIPATION. REGARDS, ANTHONY ENYIDEDE. Yes that's right: having plundered Nigeria's state treasury and handed out billions of excess dollars left lying around by deceased US building contractors, the poor old 419ers have a meagre $6.3 left to distribute to the West's needy. There is, however, one distinct advantage to this transaction, as our correspondent points out: "I note with interest that the proposed deal is "RICK FREE". Good, I used to know someone called Rick and definitely don't want him denting my share of the profits." Absolutely. ®
Lester Haines, 01 Apr 2003

Intel extends Celeron range

Intel yesterday grew the Celeron desktop line with two new processors running at 2.3 and 2.4GHz, respectively. We say 'new', but both parts are essentially second-generation Pentium 4 chips - aka Northwood - with most of the on-die L2 cache switched off. The Celerons contain 128KB of cache, operate with a 400MHz frontside bus and ship in Socket 478 packaging. The chips are fabbed at 0.13 micron. The 2.4GHz chip cost $127, the 2.3GHz part $117. The rest of the Celeron line-up comes in as: 2.2GHz ($103), 2.1GHz ($89), 2.0GHz ($83). All prices are per chip sold in batches of 1000. The 0.18 micron 1.8GHz and 1.7GHz Celerons cost $69 and $54m, respectively. ®
Tony Smith, 01 Apr 2003

Cost turns UK punters off 3G – survey

Researchers are warning the mobile phone industry that the high cost of phone calls and handsets could dent the uptake of 3G mobile technology. According to the Work Foundation, people in the UK worry about the cost of using mobile phones far more than is commonly assumed. Report authors James Crabtree, Max Nathan and Simon Roberts say: "This misunderstanding of British attitudes to phone use threatens to delay the uptake of 3G mobile technology, or make 3G attractive to only a small number of consumers." "Our research suggests that the mobile industry must remember how important cost is to most people who buy and use mobile phones. The industry is aware of this but it doesn't change the fact that until 3G becomes better value most consumers will find it an expensive worry too far." The authors point out that with the cost of running a 3G phone reaching more than £600 a year it is far too expensive for most ordinary users, who currently spend well under half that sum. However, a spokesman for Hutchison 3G, the UK's first 3G network, dismisses the report: "We believe our pricing is competitive. We believe we've achieved the right balance between good value for customers and generating something that is economically sustainable. "This is a mass market consumer proposition and is priced accordingly," he said. Whatever the debate over 3G, it's clear that people in the UK love their mobile phones, even though they may whinge about the running costs. Eight out of ten adults and nine out of ten children own one even though many people believe their mobile phones are expensive and addictive. The Work Foundation report MobileUK: Mobile Phones and Everyday Life, was funded by Microsoft and PricewaterhouseCoopers. You can buy a copy for ten quid from the web site. ® ®
Tim Richardson, 01 Apr 2003

CSC gets tough on file-sharing employees

Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) has warned employees that they face "counselling" or even the sack if they are found to be using the firm's network to download and store illegally-held copyright material. The stark warning was contained in an internal memo sent last Friday in which CSC explained that it has been notified by the Business Software Alliance and the Recording Industry Association of America, among others, that "illegal audio, video and software copyrighted materials has been detected on its computers". According to a copy of the memo, seen by The Register this illegal hoarding of copyright material has been verified following an internal investigation by the IT services company. "This is in clear violation of CSC's Human Resources Management Policy," said the memo. "Anyone using either CSC computers and / or the CSC network that has such programs and / or copyrighted media (.avi, .mp3, etc., files) is subject to appropriate disciplinary actions. First offenses will result in counselling by both your manager and Human Resources, and your personnel file being annotated as to the situation. Second offenses will result in immediate termination. CSC will not tolerate such abuse of the law," it said. In a bid to clampdown on illegal downloads, CSC - which employs around 90,000 people - is to begin scanning its network and PCs to "detect the presence of such peer-to-peer programs" from the end of April. Anyone caught with illegal software on their machines faces the threat of "counselling" [hang on, do they mean a rollicking? Ed] or even the sack. "We regret having to take these steps, but the abusive and inappropriate behavior of certain members of our staff leave us no alternative," the memo said. CSC declined to comment on the content of the leaked memo. ®
Tim Richardson, 01 Apr 2003

MPs question Inland Revenue over C&W tax deal

Cable & Wireless today announcing that it's got "its" £1.5 billion, set aside to cover a secret potential tax liabilities, back from escrow. At the same time, members of the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee are asking the Government some searching questions over the tax deal brokered with C&W, which saw the firm escape from its escrow fiasco in return for a full settlement of £380 million. C&W fessed up to the secret prospective tax liability in December when its credit rating was cut to junk status by Moody's. This triggered a provision to set aside £1.5 billion in escrow to cover liabilities inserted into the £3.5 billion sale of C&W's half-share in One2One (now the UK arm of T-Mobil) to Deutsche Telekom in 1999. C&W put the money into escrow in January, so it is a tribute to its negotiating skills that it escaped so quickly, and so lightly. Norman Lamb, Lib Dem Treasury spokesman described the £380 million payment as "an unreasonably low sum" and has written to Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, and Sir Nicholas Montagu, head of the Inland Revenue, seeking an explanation, the Daily Telegraph reports. "I would like to know whether this is a done deal or whether we can re-open the case," Lamb told the paper. "We need reassurance about this settlement in the light of the £1.5 billion originally ring-fenced by the company to cover it. "Such a wide discrepancy raises a lot of doubt about the ability of the Revenue to clamp down on tax avoidance at a time when the public finances are being stretched by the war in Iraq." And if that wasn't enough excitement for one day, C&W is also flogging its domestic ops in Northern Europe (in Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden and Russia) to an MBO team and its Swiss domestic ops to Smart Telecom. C&W will continue to provide network infrastructure services to IP-eYe, the vehicle for the MBO team. Prices are undisclosed. ® Related Story US investors sue C&W over secret £1.5bn liability
Drew Cullen, 01 Apr 2003

Nortel looks to boost security and mobility in WLANs

Nortel Networks yesterday announced a set of products designed to help customers tie wireless LANs into corporate networks, with security and mobility improvements to improve the scalability of the technology. The Canadian networking firm has developed an architecture geared to boosting security and improving wireless roaming capabilities across converging public and private networks, as well as hotspot environments. As part of this strategy, Nortel Networks is announcing a portfolio of WLAN products designed for delivering high-bandwidth voice and data services securely and allowing end users to have anytime, anywhere access to applications such as email, voicemail and unified messaging via a personal computer, handheld device or cell phone. Nortel Networks WLAN portfolio will initially include four core products: Nortel Networks WLAN Security Switch 2250: Provides security management services, such as privileged-based access and unauthorised access detection, as well as centralised control to protect and manage mobile communications over WLANs. Additional load balancing capability will provide more efficient traffic distribution and bandwidth management; enabling network managers to maximise network availability. Nortel Networks WLAN Access Point 2220: An access point to provide the first level of security to wired Ethernet networks. It also offers dual image support for operational and default settings to enable emergency repairs in hotspot deployments to be delayed until convenient. Additional features will include a WLAN hotspot feature set, dual-mode radio signalling and seamless IP roaming across different domains, including dual mode roaming between the 802.11a and b standards. Nortel Networks WLAN Mobile Voice Client i2050: To support wireless IP telephony calls for pocket PCs. Nortel Networks WLAN Mobile Adapter 2201: A Cardbus adapter for mobile computing devices such as laptops that will support both 802.11a and 802.11b standards. These products are expected to be generally available in the second quarter of 2003. These products, combined with Nortel Networks existing IP-enabled products, are positioned as a means to deliver mobile enterprise users the same services that their desktop counterparts already enjoy. Wireless operators are offered products which promise secure WLAN hotspot connectivity as an extension to existing data services. According to Nortel, current wireless equipment offerings from vendors "rely on proprietary standards and after-market add-ons that not only impede network performance, but also limit the functionality and scalability of their networks". As enterprises begin to scale their WLANs beyond departmental and 'hotspot' rollouts, they will demand highly manageable and scalable solutions that provide a seamless, secure user experience with their existing wired infrastructure and, ultimately, with the emerging public WLANs. Nortel wants to offer the technology pieces to build such converged networks. ® Related Stories Nortel marries GPRS and Wi-Fi We'd love to go wireless but what about security? Broadcom wins HP support for '54g' WLAN brand Nortel builds security framework Motorola & Nortel 'merging wireless kit divisions'
John Leyden, 01 Apr 2003

Are Scott, Carly and Larry risking time at Camp X-Ray?

Making a charitable donation could find you in Camp X-Ray. Scott McNealy, Larry Ellison and Carly Fiorina, please note, you've been doing it too. As we'll explain. And you could be at risk too, dear reader: if it's the wrong charity ... at the wrong time. Take the case of senior Intel Engineer Maher Mofied 'Mike' Hawash. Hawash has been arrested on undisclosed charges and detained. He has not been accused of any wrongdoing, but owes his loss of liberty - and constitutional rights - because he has detained as a "material witness" on the grounds of giving to a charity. Senior Intel VP Stephen McGeady - a guy with very cool timing, as we recall from the Microsoft antitrust trial - has rallied to his support:- "Americans are taught that the Constitution protects us against arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, and that our freedom and these constitutional liberties are what we are fighting for in Iraq and elsewhere," McGeady wrote to the Oregonian. "Yet one of our neighbors can be taken from his home or office and held without charge for weeks or months." Hawash had indeed given to a charity, and The Oregonian newspaper, which had obtained a list of donors from the FBI, set about its work. It contacted Hawash last Fall, to question him about his donation, and last week, they could barely disguise their glee at his detention. "It is shameful that the Oregonian chose to report this as though Hawash were a criminal, rather than as a citizen whose rights are being trampled," wrote McGeady. But the crackdown was coming. The Feds were already keeping a beady eye on those wooden slot boxes and collection tins. A Portland FBI officer earlier this month boasted that his priority would was to get suspects "off the street", promising, "we'll be arresting them for tearing the tag off a mattress." Well, somebody must have got reckless in Sleeptrain. The FBI froze the charity - Global Relief Fund, which distributes zakat or charity - one of the pillars of Islam - to fund health facilities in the occupied West-Bank territories and Mosques and Muslim schools in the US, the Portland Tribune reported last Fall. It was accused of "links" with Al-Qaeda, which it denied, suing the US state after its accounts were frozen. And the links appear to be inconclusive. The order cites GRF's support for a couple of bad things. Baddd things indeed. One is mention of the word 'Jihad' in GRF documentation. But Jihad, which literally translates from the Arabic as "striving", reflects a Muslim's social obligations, to overcome your bad desires (and don't say you don't have days when you want to overcome your bad desires?). Its interpretation in the Western media as something nasty is because one of the more vigorous translations, or imperatives, emerges as "Holy War". Which of course, by implication - whoah, another huge leap, there - means armed struggle against Infidel religions, which means Blowing Us Up! Now this whacky sequence as owes as much to the ignorance and conflations of Western media as it does to the few fringe groups who are nuts enough to believe this stuff. Which is against the Qu'ran. The second is a photograph of GRF supporters purportedly holding up boxes of ammunition. Well, this we put down to small-town youthful exuberance, and the desire of guys to been seen with their stash. You know how guys like to be seen with their stash? (I'm thinking of hip-hop's gold chains here, bear with us). Well, this, we're convinced is just a mere photo-opportunity, and those balaclavas and shades were rented, no doubt, from the NORAID guys round the block. Perhaps there's a kind of "rent a balaclava" franchise, they've all got going there, these poseurs - but who knows? The third, and rather damning piece of misplaced intelligence is that infoflow in the "Al Qaeda" link turned out to be going the wrong direction. A senior Al Qaeda no-good was fingered with giving a donation to the GRF ... but not the other way round. If you recall, Osama Bin "do you mind if I borrow your mountain for a cave-complex filled with murderous training rooms, only it's like a gym" Laden sweetened his presence in your nearest mountain with almsgiving, donating to local communities and building hospitals. Zakat, in other words. Sure, take over our mountain. That's a deal. So where do the Oracle, HP and Sun CEOs enter this miserable story? In December last year, all three suspended donations to the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF), a nationalist Hindu charity which claimed to be working on behalf of the urban poor, which it was. But it was also accused of - a charge it denies - operating a "shadow network" responsible for sectarian violence. An NGO accuses IRDF of channelling aid away from Hindu and Christian victims of disasters and encouraging "Hinduisation." And a violent fundamentalist, and well armed fringe is seeking to "Hinduise" tribes in Gujarat, for example. In other words, an association was made with an organization that promotes terror. While we don't know how strong these might be, the accusation is the same. Yet these annual corporations weren't subjected to dawn raids, while private charity donor finds himself stripped of his liberties. Newspaper editors are sometimes disappointed to find there a due process of law to determine innocence or guilt. The Oregonian should be reminded of this, as it goes about measuring the length of the noose. ®
Andrew Orlowski, 01 Apr 2003

Apple 12in PowerBook G4

ReviewReview It's easy to be impressed by a new computer when you've only had it for a few days. It still smells fresh, nothing's been spilt on the keyboard, it still looks shiny. And the idiosyncrasies and glitches haven't had time to emerge. Unless there's something spectacularly wrong with the machine, it will get the thumb's up. That's fine for most reviewers, but not much help to anyone who's bought a highly rated system only to find that said idiosyncrasies really get in the way. So rather than bash out 500 words on Apple's new 12in PowerBook a few days after receiving it, we thought we'd use it for a month or so and then give our verdict. Our initial impressions of the machine have, by and large, been proven right, but some issues have emerged that might have been missed by a quick once-over. You can read a full spec. sheet for the PowerBook over at Apple's web site, so we won't go into details here. Suffice it to say that it's based on an 867MHz G4-class processor, with a base 128MB of 266MHz DDR SDRAM (boosted to 640MB in our machine - much too low a maximum), a 40GB hard drive (ours is 60GB), and with a slot-loading DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo optical drive. Additional Many thanks to Reg readers who pointed out Apple's PowerBook Developer Notes, which point out that the notebook's RAM limit is actually 4GB - all we have to do is wait for large enough SO-DIMMs to become available - or at least not prohibitively expensive as today's 1GBMB DDR SO-DIMMs are. Whatever, Apple still loses points for fitting only one memory slot. Port array The machine comes with Apple's standard portable port set: built-in modem, 10/100Mbps Ethernet, 400Mbps 1394, two USB 1.1 ports, proprietary video out (Apple bundles a set of dongles that incorporate S-VHS and VGA ports), and microphone and headphone sockets. Like the iBook, all these are on the left-hand side of the notebook, flush with the case. Alongside them lies the power jack. We've always liked this approach. It saves having to turn your notebook around to plug peripherals into the back of the machine, and there's no fiddly flap to lift - or break - to reach them. Apple has an advantage here: it doesn't have legacy ports to support so it doesn't need to find ways to cram them all in. And it's consistent: too often you see notebooks with some ports under flaps, others under different flaps, or exposed. By contrast the PowerBook is a model of ease of access. There's no PC Card slot, of course, but with analogue modem, wired Ethernet and unwired 802.11 available, we don't need one. On the right-hand side of the PowerBook is the aforementioned slot-loading optical drive, which is a joy to use after all those flimsy tray-loading mechanisms that expose the lens to dust every time they're opened. The one flaw with the optical drive really isn't the drive's fault: Mac OS X isn't CD-RW friendly. Burning one's no problem, but to erase a disc prior to re-writing, you have to run, of all things, Apple's Disk Utility and effectively reformat the disk. Given that burning is so intuitive - just copy the files onto the disk icon, and select Burn Disc... from Finder's File menu - you'd have thought wiping them would be too. Not so. The rear of the machine sports three vents, one at either end of the backplane, and a third in the middle under the screen hinge. The outer pair are speaker grilles, cunningly rear-facing so that the sound reflects back off the screen toward the user. It works too, allowing the sound to come from the monitor rather than underneath your hands as is the case with front-mounted speakers. Display The PowerBook's 12.1in LCD (native resolution: 1024x768) is mounted on a short arm at 90 degrees to the screen. The beauty of this arrangement is that when the PowerBook is closed, there's no exposed hinge The downside is that it effectively drops the position of the display by an inch. At first we quite liked this - it looks cool - but there's a problem: it encourages you to stoop even further over the notebook than you might otherwise do, which isn't exactly good for your vertebrae. Ergonomic issues emerge with the PowerBook's keyboard. Getting full-size keys into a layout that can be no wider than 27cm requires some compromises. Apple's was to slice the Return key in half, making it easier to miss, and leaving the keyboard looking like the right-hand end has been lopped off. That said, we found the keyboard good to type on and it's been a pleasure to write with. The keys themselves are formed from translucent plastic and then painted to match the PowerBook's aluminium shell. So far we haven't seen any of it rub off, but with extended use we can imagine certain keys losing their covering, spoiling the overall look of the notebook. The characters aren't printed on top of the aluminium paint, they're stencilled through it. This allows the same keyboard to be backlit, making the characters glow, a feature supported by the 17in PowerBook but not the 12in. Wireless connectivity The PowerBook includes Bluetooth - essentially, it's a built-in adaptor hanging off an internal USB channel; as, incidentally, is the internal modem - and while our ancient (well, a year old) Nokia isn't Bluetooth enabled, our Palm Tungsten is. Setting up a HotSync connection between the two wasn't entirely intuitive, but we got it to work. The speed isn't too good. A Bluetooth sync takes around 1m 19s, compared to around 21s for a USB cradle sync. Still, it's a small price to pay for getting rid of all those cables. Apple doesn't offer wireless networking as standard. The PowerBook has a built-in antenna, so enabling an 802.11 network connection is just a matter of fitting the optional AirPort Extreme card. Our PowerBook came with this pre-installed. Connecting to a non-Apple 802.11b base station took a little work. Finding the network was easy and instantaneous - logging on was more complex. Apple's AirPort system uses a text password protection scheme. Our Proxim 802.11b base station uses four hexadecimal 64-bit keys to encrypt data during transmission. Connecting PowerBook to base station was a matter of working out how to enter said keys into the AirPort software's password field. Apple deserves praise for eliminating all this hexadecimal techie stuff and replacing it with a user-friendly password system, but it could have added an expert mode for greater compatibility with non-Apple systems. It's also inconsistent: joining a network from the AirPort menu allows you to choose the format of your password: in this case hexadecimal. The password field in the Network System Preferences pane offers no such choice. More to the point, access authentication and data encryption are not the same thing, and Apple shouldn't confuse the two. Once the WLAN connection was made, we had no further trouble. Reception was excellent wherever we wandered around the house, and we had no difficulty joining public networks that had no password protection. Battery The PowerBook's Lithium-ion battery has been the subject of some controversy, with users reporting poor recharge performance, and others claiming that Mac OS X gives inaccurate charge readings. Our experience is mixed. We calibrated the battery, as suggested by Apple, but found it never quite recharged to 100 per cent. A second calibration fixed the problem, but appears to have reduced the battery's capacity by a fraction. What Apple doesn't make clear in the PowerBook manual is that the battery doesn't charge if it's more than 95 per cent full. Why? To eliminate very short recharge cycles, which aren't good for the Li-ion's overall lifespan. If we'd have known this, we wouldn't have done the second calibration and might have a higher capacity battery. We wonder how many users have performed umpteen calibrations in the hope of getting an accurate reading - and have suffered much larger capacity reductions than we did as a result. It has been said that a Mac OS X 10.2.4 bug mis-reports the battery level, but our problems occurred with 10.2.3. That said, if Apple is shipping the machine with 10.2.3 - ours machine arrived long after the 10.2.4 update was posted - perhaps it knows more about the bug than it's letting on. We'll just have to see if the rumoured 10.2.5 update improves matters. The bottom line: Apple needs to give better, clearer guidance about effectively maintaining Li-ion batteries. We got an average battery life of around two-and-a-half hours - about half the five hours that Apple suggests we should get. Again, the 10.2.4 bug may be causing trouble here. Thermals If there's one thing we weren't happy about the PowerBook, it's the amount of heat it generates, particularly when connected to the mains. Surprisingly, perhaps, it's not the CPU at fault but the hard drive, located at the front of the machine on the left-hand side. Setting the Energy Saver System Preferences panel to put the hard drive to sleep when it can helps. Generally, however, the left-hand wrist-rest area can get very hot. Ditto the top left-hand side of the machine's face, just above the keyboard, where the mains adaptor connects. Of course, that's one of the disadvantages of using a metal case, which doubles up as a heat disperser. We've got used to the heat now, but it was a surprise at first. Your own experience may vary - we've been using the machine solidly for eight hours a day, with occasional Sleep periods, during which the PowerBook quickly cools right down. The PowerBook is very quiet to use, but if the heat inside the case builds up to a certain level, an internal fan, which draws air in at the front left-hand side, across the hard drive, GeForce chip and CPU (both mounted on the left-hand side under the keyboard - roughly speaking the X and C keys, and 3 and 4 keys, respectively), and out of the rear vent we mentioned earlier. We've heard worse fans, but it's by no means quiet. Nor, incidentally, is the optical drive, but most users expect that. The fan noise is disappointing. Again, occasional users may not be disturbed by it, but heavy users almost certainly will be. Performance For a machine with no L3 cache and a relatively low-end graphics chip - GeForce 4 420 Go with just 32MB of DDR video memory - the PowerBook feels remarkably sprightly. Running Quake III 1.3.2 beta at 1024x768, with 32-bit colour and textures, maximum texture quality, high geometric detail, trilinear filtering and no sound gave us a very playable 47.7 frames per second. Dropping down to a smaller resolution is always a drag with LCD panels, and it's good to have a graphics system that's powerful enough that you don't have to. Doom III, if it ships on Mac OS X, may cause us to revise that view, but as occasional players rather than dedicated gamers, we liked what the PowerBook can do. The PowerBook uses an older PowerPC 7445, according to Japanese site MacMedical, which has taken one of the machines apart: here (in Japanese). The site also has schematics of the PowerBook's motherboard. Converting a 8m 20s audio file from CD took 53s using iTunes. Verdict Apple's 12in PowerBook isn't the lightest or thinnest notebook we've seen, but it's certainly the best looking, and we've enjoyed using it. It's also one of the most compact. Thinner notebooks, aimed at executives, tend to have larger screens and thus larger cases, but we really liked the fact that the PowerBook is barely larger than a sheet of A4 paper. It's highly portable. The screen might be too small for some, but at 1024x768, we found it large enough for Photoshop work and all the other multi-palette apps we run. The games too. Screen size is a compromise, and one we felt very easy to make given our preference for the PowerBook's size. And Apple still offers the 15.4in PowerBook G4 and, of course, the 17in machine for users who prize screen size above portability. ® Rating   90% Pros Great looking Very portable Slot-loading optical drive Well designed Cons Can get hot Memory expansion limited Price Combo drive: £1399/$1799 Superdrive: £1556.89/1999 Options/ upgrades 802.11g WLAN 60GB HDD Up to 640MB RAM
Tony Smith, 01 Apr 2003

UK drivers face fines for ‘wrong type of hands-free device’

Six million UK drivers face fines for using the wrong type of hands-free device. That's the warning from pressure group the Association of British Drivers (ABD) which is trying to raise awareness about a proposed government ban on in-car mobile phones. The 6,000-member ABD, which campaigns for better conditions for motorists, is highly critical of government proposals which would prohibit the use of most popular hands-free kits, including some Bluetooth-based technology. Last August, the Department for Transport (DfT) began a consultation on its proposals. This consultation ended on November 25. The DfT has been "considering responses" since then. The consultation document highlights the DfT's desire to prohibit any form of mobile technology which might distract drivers and involves them fiddling with buttons instead of keeping their hands on the wheel. So Bluetooth headsets (hi-tech ear covers) are frowned upon but building Bluetooth technology into the dashboard, and making mobile calls voice controlled, is acceptable. Fines of up to £1,000 for ignoring the ban are planned, as the UK government contemplates taking a far tougher stance on the issue than the rest of Europe. At least 14 countries in Europe have already introduced a ban on hand-held mobile use in the car, but only two - Spain & the Republic of Ireland - have banned hands-free kits. The Republic of Ireland is now reviewing its legislation, which has proved difficult to enforce. The UK's DfT wants to make it an offence to use any hands-free kit, apart from costly installed kits wired into a car's speakers. But the Association of British Drivers believes that although dashboard Bluetooth technology is significantly more expensive, "there is no evidence to show that these kits are safer than earpieces or headsets". Also the government's plans create confusion because both Bluetooth headsets and dashboard equipment are marketed as "hands-free devices", it warns. Hands-free handcuffed The Government estimates that "approximately 100,000 fixed penalty notices could be issued each year and about 5,000 prosecutions in courts as a result of the creation of a new offence". Opponents of government plans believe this calculation fails to take into account the scale of mobile phone use by UK drivers. Research commissioned by hand-free kit manufacturer Jabra, and based on telephone interviews with 561 motorists, showed that 43 per cent of the UK's drivers who own a mobile currently admit to using their mobile in the car. That represents around 16 million licensed drivers in the UK. Of these drivers, 51 per cent use some type of hands-free device. Hands-free kits are already widely used by UK motorists according to new research from Jabra, the mobile arm of the GN Netcom Group. The research shows that the headset or earpiece is the most popular device, used by 19 per cent of all drivers who make mobile calls from the car, compared to just 6 per cent using a fully-installed in-car kit. Even though motorists welcome the ban on hand-held mobile use by drivers, four in five quizzed during Jabra's survey oppose extending this ban to hands-free systems. George Tennet, vice president, sales & marketing, Jabra EMEA, said: "Based on our research, we can reasonably estimate that around six million drivers currently use a headset or earpiece device, compared to just over two million using an installed car-kit. We think the new law should concentrate on the eight million drivers who don't use any kind of hands-free device and are most likely to put themselves and others at risk." The proposed law threatens to ban many types of hands-free devices and will be impossible to enforce, the ABD claims. ABD Spokesman Nigel Humphries said: "Jabra's research shows the new law will criminalise six million UK motorists who are using the 'wrong type of hands-free kit'. This will achieve nothing but to bring the law into disrepute and lead to widespread non compliance." It concludes that government plans are "unworkable" and hopes to persuade the government into a 13th hour rethink. Motoring organisations and mobile phone companies are also campaigning against the ban, which is likely to be considered by parliament later this year. ® Related Stories Of vehicle mobile phone bans, and automotive Bluetooth UK gov moves to ban mobile phones, inc Bluetooth, in cars
John Leyden, 01 Apr 2003

BT to reveal price cuts this week

BT is expected to reveal details of its much-hinted-at broadband "price cuts" later this week. Sources claim the monster telco will make its announcement about possible price cuts in the next couple of days. However, BT remains tight-lipped about any possible announcement even though it has been criticised by some ISPs for leaving them in "limbo" over future plans. One insider told us: "It is true that BT and its Chief Executive have been dropping hints that something is to happen." However, he declined to say exactly when an announcement would be made. Whatever is being said publicly it looks like this week could prove to be a busy week for BT. AFX is reporting that BT is set to reveal "substantial" price cuts for its fixed line customers tomorrow, citing sources from within the monster telco. Speculation that BT might announce price cuts come as the dominant telco is facing stiffer competition from other operations providing telco services. Only today it was confirmed that supermarket chain, Sainsbury's, has teamed up with the Carphone Warehouse Group to provide mobile and fixed line telecoms services. Sainsbury's said it plans to launch the service later this year in response to punters looking for "simplicity and value for money". ® Related Stories BT plays BB price guessing game ISPs left in limbo over ADSL price cut hints
Tim Richardson, 01 Apr 2003

What the hell is a ‘proximity server’, and why should you care?

How interesting: more strange fusions at the edge of the network. CeBIT saw the emergence of the personal wireless gateway. As Guy Kewney reported here and as we discussed further, here, the "phone hub" or PMG "personal mobile gateway" allows you to move your mobile phone - or other wireless-enabled trinkets - between networks. For example, Siemens PMG-enabled phone uses your lower-cost landline when you're indoors, and when you're out of the house, it finds the GSM/GPRS connection. It's a device category that needs a snappy name, but for now PMG must do. Now meet its cousin: the proximity server, or wireless access point. Both are indeed wireless gateways. The Koreans already have tens of thousands in use. These local points allow you to download software or updates onto your phone while you're in a Radio Shack. The driver isn't just software, of course, but a bigger prize: M-Commerce. "Shop" buttons are increasingly common on Asian phones and a Bluetooth-enabled handset will allow the vendor to push special offers at you. This netherworld - you're in a supermarket, but looking at the screen of a computer rather than the packaging on the shelves - has some interesting implications. If the on-screen menu takes your eye, rather than the visual signals emitted by the packaging, then we can see a world much like the one Alex Cox envisaged in Repo Man - where every object on the shelves has identical industrial packaging, differentiated only by name. "Beans", or "Toilet Roll". Modern marketing and the advertising 'industry' began when the shopping experience was de-personalized, and we no longer had a specialist shopkeeper to recommend his wares. It's a far cry to suggest that standing in a sterile supermarket looking at a sterile computer screen for what to consume constitutes a "repersonalization" of shopping - it sounds like an emotional Siberia, to me - but it does have implications for the world of branding and graphics design. But we're getting a little ahead of ourselves, here. Proximity Servers These "Proximity Servers", as we've heard them called, are already here. WideRay stations are a familiar feature at trade shows, dispatching the show agenda and exhibitor details to Palm and PocketPC PDAs. The difference is that in the coming months is the clients capable of receiving wireless data will be arriving in significant volume. By the end of the year, WideRay CEO Saul Kato told us yesterday, all application-capable phones will sport a Bluetooth or InfraRed port. And he meant the US, rather than Europe. Kato is based in San Francisco and has a lot of interesting observations to share. The WideRay is a gateway: the vendor calls it a "wireless service point". At the back end it takes GSM/GPRS or Ethernet in, has room for cached data and is capable InfraRed or Bluetooth or 802.11 out. (It's really a small Linux box, and you can add your own software to extend the platform). But why default to GSM/GPRS, when 802.11 is "becoming ubiquitous". The answer is mostly cost, says Kato. It's far cheaper to kit out hundreds of stores with SIM-equipped "Jacks", as WideRay calls them, because they make no assumptions on the existing infrastructure, except being able to pick up a GSM signal. You don't need to have DSL. The Jack doesn't even need a power chord: it's battery operated. There's another advantage, however, other than volume. As anyone who has been to a busy trade show can tell you, lots of 802.11 networks in a small space do not make for a happy experience. A CeBIT or a CTIA show floor has a passing resemblance to a mall. Making Money From Wireless Like most in the industry, Kato doesn't see many people making money from WiFi "except at airports, and maybe coffee shops". The vociferous clamor for 802.11 from the "laptop nation" hasn't resulted in a viable business model. People expect it for free, too, which makes VCs think "very interesting, but I'll invest my money somewhere where the public want to give my client some money". As for the carrier side, what's in it for them? Simple, says Kato. They're not really interested in delivering "mobile data" as making money, too. (We seem to have forgotten that money makes the world go round, or at least, must factor into the equation somewhere when VCs are asked to make capital investment decisions). "ARPU [revenue per subscriber] is not a direct linear function of data," he explains. "When you think about it, they'd rather you didn't use the network." Well, this is true of all flat-fee models. But of course, they do want people to make money off the services. And if a wireless service point in every store or location gives a chain an advantage, then it will do it. The total cost of ownership of putting a "proximity server" in a store is about one-tenth of the cost of putting in WiFi. And stores have a much wider demographic reach than by appealing to members of "laptop nation" who happen to have their laptops with them as they wander by. Kato hesitates to call this a Personal Area Network. While it takes connectivity down to the "last yard", he says it's more connection or transaction oriented. No pairing is necessary. WideRay writes client software for Symbian, PalmOS and PocketPC, which handles the exchange. Another interesting aspect could arise if people exploit the cacheing aspect. Imagine a community space where you leave your photos, or a message board. Phone wireless is opening up a lot of social exchanges that we didn't expect before. In a cafe or a club you can leave a message on the board: "you with the leather pants - you cute." A crude example, I admit, but flirting was the driver behind text messaging, and that's become the most popular software in the world. Kato is optimistic that the US won't be left behind this time. Despite the fact that the West Coast seems to be so dazzled by WiFi, that it's blind to all other forms of wireless, I'm sure this will become ubiquitous without most of us even realizing it. ® Related Links WideRay IXI PMG Magazine vendor-sponsored online mag [BBC report on pub Meshbox w/pix] Related Stories Suddenly, the personal phone hub is respectable Become a wireless ISP for $300 (Meshbox) Carriers conspire to cage 800lb reindeer Sprint to meet WiFi half way
Andrew Orlowski, 01 Apr 2003

Third of tech firms ignore customers

A third of tech firms fail to reply to Web-based enquiries from customers, according to a survey by US-based consultants. In its latest study into how companies treat their customers online, The Customer Respect Group found that six out of ten firms responded to email requests within 48 hours, while one in ten took four days or more to reply to a customer enquiry. Of course, the most staggering is figure is this third of companies that didn't reply at all. Said Donal Daly, CEO of The Customer Respect Group: "The most pressing issue for one-third of these companies is simply to begin responding to customer inquiries. Nothing turns off a customer or potential customer faster than getting no response." "If they want to capture new customers, or even keep the ones they have, they're just going to have to treat them with more respect." The best-performing companies were Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Xerox, IBM and Microsoft. The worst offenders were EMC, Ingram Micro, and Tech Data. The research also found that three in ten companies used an autoresponder to reply initially to an email, but two in ten companies failed to follow this up with a proper response. Five per cent of tech companies failed to provide any contact information whatsoever on their Web sites. ®
Tim Richardson, 01 Apr 2003

Content is king for 3G. But what content?

AnalysisAnalysis Content and applications are the key to spurring uptake in 3G mobiles. Says who? Says the panellists debating a Work Foundation study, MobileUK: Mobile Phones and Everyday Life, last night at the organisation's London offices. According to the report the high cost of phone calls and handsets could dent the uptake of 3G mobile technology. This prompted the debate Do we really need 3G? (a question we've sometimes pondered also). The short answer is: yes, but maybe not yet and not necessarily in the way 3G services are first entering the market. Panellists, including industry analysts and Microsoft UK MD Neil Holloway, argued that carriers will have an uphill job persuading consumers to embrace 3G, certainly in the short term. John Fletcher, senior consultant at telecommunications consultancy Analysys, said the industry needs to be wary of repeating mistakes which marked the introduction of WAP. This technology failed to live up to its promise of delivering a customer-friendly "mobile Internet" experience. WAP was a let-down. And that means that punters are more sceptic about 3G, according to Fletcher, who forecasts a gradual take-up only for 3G: "With 3G, people need to be convinced content is worth paying for," he said. Girls, games and gambling are often cited as the killer content for 3G. Fletcher goes along with that, with a caveat or two. 3, the UK's first 3G network, has, for example, appointed a Director Of Adult Content. Playboy is among its many media partners. Fletcher, along with others at the meeting, expressed doubts about whether or not it will be socially acceptable to view porn in public. And games? Well, 3 is to offer clips of Premiership goals but current limitations (still to be ironed out) mean these can only be delivered an hour after the event, Fletcher says. Delivery times, and revenues, should improve by the time Euro 2004 rolls into Portugal next year. Content is king Participants in the Mobile UK debate noted that the far faster speeds available - five times faster than GPRS - delivered to users in South Korea has spurred the take up of services in the country. Looking at South Korea gives some clues as to the likely reception of 3G services in Europe. Analyst firm Strand Consulting reported last week that average revenue per user (ARPU) in South Korea is almost as large as the biggest European countries and "has grown almost overnight" as younger mobile consumers switch to Java-enabled colour mobile terminals and download speeds of up to 144 Kbps. Mobile services are growing and the media companies are lining up to become part of this fast growing business, Strand notes. It argues that content providers, worldwide must go mobile to survive. "In the coming years, the mobile platforms will be one of the only major sources of new revenue for media companies, as their traditional markets decline and customers fragment and have gone online," Strand says. But speed isn't the only factor that determines success in the mobile industry; and content (at least in the conventional sense) isn't always king, analyst firm Forrester Research cautions. All European telcos can learn valuable lessons from i-mode and Vodafone live!, according to a brief issued by Forrester today. Europe's i-mode gets the services right and the marketing wrong, while Vodafone live! does the opposite, it argues. Since its launch last Spring in Germany and the Netherlands, and in France and Belgium six months later, i-mode's base grew to 336,000 users at the close of 2002. Vodafone live! launched last October in the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Ireland, and Portugal - and has already hit its one million-subscriber goal. So who's got it right? Over to Forrester analyst Michelle de Lussanet: "At present, i-mode gets the services right and the marketing wrong and is struggling to sign up new customers. However, the customers that do sign up rave about the service and translate their enthusiasm into revenues: 83 per cent of existing customers are satisfied with the service, and i-mode users spend on average € 7 more than other users. By contrast, Vodafone live! puts a great message on top of weak services. While Vodafone live! outsold i-mode five to one in countries where the two compete over Christmas, unsatisfied users of pure content services will abandon them when free trial periods run out." Forrester advises i-mode providers and Vodafone to plug the gaps by weaving "conversational content" through service design and marketing. "Providers must enhance existing content to make it conversational. For instance, they could enrich weather services with the capability to distribute weather maps to friends, with an invitation to a picnic or a warning to drive safely in the fog attached," de Lussanet says. "Marketing campaigns for conversational content services should promote desired states of mind, not specific technologies or services." In other words, mobile phones as Yoga. Or colonic irrigation. Search for the killer app continues A meeting on the future of 3G technology is hardly complete without a discussion on killer applications. Has anyone identified the killer 3G app yet? No. All the speakers at last night's Mobile UK debate appear to agree that location-based services and peer to peer content exchange, sending pictures and video clips to friends, look like promising revenue streams. But naming a technology that will do for 3G what SMS did for 2G had everyone stratching their heads. Content and services will drive adoption of 3G, everyone agrees, but how do we get there, without the foot soldier? Mobile UK panellists expressed concern over the dearth of application developers working on 3G applications. The closed architecture of 3G networks may even impede development, the panel suggested. Death of the Business Case Soon many people will have a 3G phone - which they will use on 2G networks. Dr Ben Anderson, deputy director of CHIMERA, an institute for socio-technical research linked to the University of Essex, argued in the Mobile UK debate that usage patterns for 3G are inherently unpredictable. He outlines a beta-world scenario where the mobile industry creates numerous different services and companies then "jumps on something as quickly as possible, when it becomes successful". According to Anderson the unpredictability of 3G uptake marks the "death of the business case". This intriguing perception may have fallen on deaf ears on some attendees at the Mobile UK debate - perhaps the world isn't ready for just-in-time marketing, just yet. ® Related Stories Cost turns UK punters off 3G - survey Carriers conspire to cage 800lb reindeer New spec heralds digital video broadcast on 3G handsets Mobile handset sales up 6 per cent in 2002 Mobile games will boom as MMS languishes 3G is coming (ready or not) Hutchison 3G unveils prices, services South Korea leads the way on 3G (even though it's 2.5G) Tech savvy are gagging for 3G Personal music stations for 3G phones Mobile startups dismiss 3G - for now
John Leyden, 01 Apr 2003

EMC backs Brocade on SAN applications

EMC is developing volume management software to run on Brocade's SilkWorm Fabric Application Platform (FAP), and in the process declared its intent to push hard for standards in the nascent SAN application platform market. The SilkWorm FAP is an intelligent Fibre Channel switch that allows storage management applications, to run in the SAN without the need for a separate server. It faces competition from Cisco's MDS9000; InRange and McDATA are also believed to be working on similar devices. "Some things work best in the network and some will remain in the arrays," said Mike Lewis, EMC CTO. "Network functions are things about distributed information - volume management is the best descriptor for what we'll move into switches." However, as things stand, software suppliers must develop different versions for each device, as there is no standard API. Lewis said that EMC, which has 60 per cent of the Fibre Channel switch market as a Brocade OEM, will use its weight to get standards accepted here. "It gives us some say," He said. "We are pushing strongly to ensure API incompatibility is not a problem. We're all about standards, and just as Brocade has announced relationships with our competitors, you should expect that we would look for the same heterogeneity in platforms." Although there is no public standards effort on fabric APIs, Dave Stevens, Brocade's bizdev director, said it has offered to licence the SilkWorm API for free and will submit it as a possible standard. "Our objective is to broaden the infrastructure. We need to work with a variety of software players." ®
Bryan Betts, 01 Apr 2003