Apple is set to enhance the desktop UI it created twenty years ago, according a report at eWeek. The report bears the Rothenberg hallmark of quality, so listen up. At the heart of the UI revamp are "piles". Although haemorrhoids give millions of sufferers discomfiture every day, Apple's "piles" are an intriguing concept which should ease the pain of using such a constipated file and folder UI metaphor. Piles are an Apple invention, now patented, that allow users to browse and organize documents by their semantic content. They were developed by Gitta Salomon and her colleagues at Apple's Advanced Technology Human Interface Group and announced to the world at the CHI conference in May 1992. Gitta kindly sent us the original presentation and spoke with us briefly today. She left Apple in 1993, and after a spell at Sony's lab started her own company, Swim Interaction Design, based in downtown San Francisco. The paper describes "Piles" as an adjunct to the file/folder metaphor, in the paper (co-authored with Richard Mander and Yin Yin Wong). A clue is in the title, which describes piles as a metaphor for "supporting casual organization of information". Piles were seen as complementary to the folder filing system, which was used more for archiving than grouping recently used, but related documents. "The folder as the sole container type presents an impoverished set of possibilities," the authors noted. But Piles are a deep innovation, which require the system to add content-based filtering and some, possibly AI-guided help to the user who is browsing through a Pile. They're more than simply eye-candy. "There are different aspects to Piles," Solomon told us today. "They are a visual representation, but also helping them organize things, as a way to make suggestions. There are fuzzy edges - the computer is presenting you with 'what if?' questions on a pile of stuff. This would help indexing of the contents of documents in real time, much as BeOS' BFS file system indexed metadata attributes in real time using a dedicated system thread. BFS designer Dominic Giampaulo joined Apple last year, and the rumor circuit has consistently suggested that better threading is a priority for the Panther update to MacOS X. Which suggests that Apple has both the will and know-how to provide a system capable of supporting very rich Piles. "It would preferable to be real-time," agreed Solomon. Even a glance at Apple's HIG 1992 paper shows a thoroughness and inquisitiveness that's lacking in much of today's software. Rather than being contented with the Pile, the team was weighing pros and cons of how it should behave, using iterative user feedback. For example, the researchers identified four kinds of browsing methods: an "edge" method where users looked for clues from the outlines of documents in the stack; a "restack" method, where users took documents off the top to reveal the next; a "hinge" method, which sounds very much like leafing through a book, stopping at various points, and a "spread" method which empties the contents of the pile on the floor, so to speak. They explored the optimal structure of a Pile viewing "Cone". The Piles team looked ahead too, at scripting, and how Piles could be used for informal collaborative data sharing. Most intriguing of all was the discussion of gestures for manipulating Piles. That chimed. In this column lamenting the dearth of innovation in the Macintosh UI he helped create, Bruce Tognazzini promotes gestures as a way for Apple to restore its reputation. "The clutter of words, icons, and buttons that obscure our screens today are the result of the severely limited vocabulary of the mouse. The only word it knows is "click," so you have to find an instance of the word you want to convey to the computer, then say "click" while you hover over it," wrote Tognazzini. "The mouse is dead; it's time for a change," he concluded. Well, yes and no - we humbly suggest. Your correspondent recently spent an enforced fortnight in the world of Windows, for the first time in a couple of years, and the only highlight of the experience - which must be very similar to keel-hauling - was the productivity increase in using the Opera brower's mouse gestures. Once you've used mouse gestures, it's very hard to go back. But for gestures, you don't need to throw away the mouse. Any two-buttoned mouse will do. Uh, oh. Did we just say "two buttoned mouse"? ® Bootnote: Via readers: mouse gestures for Cocoa apps; (thanks Andrew Bowman); and for Windows, too. "The only downside of the program is its name: StrokeIt," writes Edward Robinson from Georgia Tech about the latter. "It's very hard to be serious about a program with a title like that, but be that as it may, I think it's a fantastic piece of software." Related Stories Spring has sprung: a new desktop era for the Mac? Windows on a database - sliced and diced by BeOS vets
Music industry lobby group the RIAA has been attacking cherished institutions of national life, such as the military and education, in recent months. But by attacking finance capital itself, could the pigopolists have gone too far? Two record labels are suing a venture capital firm Hummer Winblad Venture Partners for giving Napster a lease of life. HWVP gave Napster a $13m capital infusion in April 2000, which EMI and Universal claim prolonged the file swapping service. The history of Napster litigation is important, here. Napster had been slapped with a lawsuit the preceding December, but when Hummer Winblad invested, Judge Patel had made no ruling that Napster was involved in illegal activity. The good Judge issued her preliminary injunction three months later in July 2000. (She finally ruled in February 2001, but not after questioning out loud whether the oligopolists had a right to maintain their traditional cartel into the distribution of online music, too). Big Chill The music and film industries' litigation is intended for one reason only: to encourage a climate of fear. The punitive suit against the file swapping students is intended to create an example for file sharing software developers everywhere: that they could be impoverished for life. The suits against Sherman Networks in Australia and 'DVD Jon' in Norway are intended to show that no corner of the world can provide refuge from the United States' DMCA. The case against Verizon, as Thomas C Greene pointed out in this important analysis, is both more draconian and much more subtle. The suit intended to encourage ISPs to proactively block file sharing, but it also has the effect of rendering the Bill of Rights' fine words meaningless, because of a failure of the judicial branch. And how our elected representatives protecting us? The Democrats are beholden to Hollywood's money, and call for stiffer penalties; while the Republicans are so blinded by folklore or theoretical notions of how capitalism should work to see how it actually behaves in real life. And so both parties have missed a populist campaign. However the suit against the VCs - designed to deter investment - may be one step too far. As the San Jose Mercury reports, finance capital isn't going to like this one bit:- "The uncertainty attendant to those pending lawsuits is deterrence aplenty to the flow of investment capital to new technology,'' says a VP . "Even without the threat of direct suit, investors in innovative technologies face the very real risk of loss of their investment.'' Now, at school we were taught that the reward for risk was something called 'profit', so to hear VCs complaining about risk may strike some of you as little bogus. At the same time, the nuturing of new entrepreneurs is a value held dear to many here, and by attacking finance capital it may have given both sides of the partisan divide some common cause. Maybe. ® Related Stories DoJ supports RIAA in Verizon P2P privacy scuffle File swapping students - quit toking, start voting Liberation abroad, repression at home - a student's tale RIAA Naval academy bust: 85 rapped RIAA attacks the future of America Missing RIAA figures shoot down "piracy" canard "I poisoned P2P networks for the RIAA" - whistleblower
In the light of recent warnings by PeopleSoft and Siebel Systems, there were a few sighs of relief when SAP AG released its preliminary Q1 results, because although they represented a mixed bag, they were considered to be strong when compared to those of SAP's peers. However, its ability to outperform the market looks less secure in the long-term. Even though SAP has a strong position relative to PeopleSoft, Siebel and Oracle, the inevitable question about the sustainability of that position remains. To maintain its position in the market, SAP needs to continue to win new customers while also making incremental sales to its existing customer base, hence a heavy emphasis on CRM, SCM, portals, the integration capabilities of the NetWeaver platform, and unsubtle encouragement on the upgrade front. Although it is winning new customers, and CRM and SCM sales in particular are going well, there are areas of concern regarding the take-up of some of the newer technologies. The percentage of revenue gained through sales of SAP's core finance and HR applications is dropping, from 43% in Q1 2002 to 33% in the Q1 2003. Although they produce a healthy, predictable and nicely visible income stream, they are not growth areas so SAP needs customers to take up its newer technology, yet the existing customer base appears to be reluctant. A recent survey carried out by ComputerWire indicates that planned take-up of xApps and NetWeaver is low. The survey found 88% of companies said they are not interested in xApps. Just 1.3% are currently considering the process-centric cross applications, a mere 8% are planning to procure them in 2003, dropping back to 1.3% who are looking at purchasing xApps in 2004 and beyond. The picture is similar in relation to NetWeaver, with 85% uninterested, 8% considering it now, 2.7% planning procurement during 2003 and the same again for 2004 and beyond. SAP's position is not in danger but the company no longer looks quite so unassailable in comparative terms. Even though it has managed to outperform the market, the question of how long it can continue to do so, to the extent it has achieved to date, is edging higher up the agenda. © Datamonitor is offering Reg readers some of its technology research FOC. Check it out here.
Some of Europe's biggest mobile operators have dodged the bullet for now, after it was revealed that the EU's three-year enquiry into roaming would be delayed. The delay in the probe, first reported by the UK's Financial Times, means that UK and German mobile telecoms, such as mmO2, Vodafone, Orange and T-Mobile, will escape the prospect of paying millions in competition fines in the short term. Although such levies were never guaranteed to be instituted by EU competition authorities, it was thought that Brussels had built a strong case against what is often regarded as the gouging of consumers on roaming charges. Roaming refers to mobile phone calls originating or ending in a market outside of a person's home market. Prices for such calls are typically substantially higher than normal mobile calls due to the way calls are routed through foreign networks. Te EU investigation, which covers all the mobile network operators in the UK and Germany, may not produce results until as late as August and the hold-up is due to European Competition Commissioner Mario Monti's difficulties in building a rock-solid case against the firms. It was back in 2001 that authorities raided the premises of many of the operators in the two countries, looking for evidence that the firms were artificially inflating prices. For their part, the telecoms under scrutiny have insisted that their roaming prices are not excessive, although such denials have often rung hollow with consumers. Spokespeople for the EU have so far declined to comment on the case or on the delay. It has also been reported that operators may evade punishment altogether because in July the EU gains new regulatory powers in 18 telecom-related market segments that will make it easier for Brussels to influence or even override deals made by member states' telecoms watchdogs. This means that instead of fines being imposed by the EU Competition Commission, local telecoms regulators could be compelled to implement price caps and other tools to control the sector. In February, when Monti and Information Society Commissioner Erkki Liikanen provided guidance on the future of telecoms regulation in Europe, the pair said that the European Commission would encourage national regulators to impose new rules on mobile operators. Of the 18 market segments named by the EC for national regulators to intervene, restrictions on international roaming and call origination and termination costs were listed as top priorities, alongside broadband rollout and local loop unbundling. © ENN
The state of Washington is to implement a new law which will impose heavy fines on retail employees who sell violent video games to minors. Under the terms of the bill, which was passed by a large majority in the state senate last week, a fine of $500 can be imposed. The bill targets games featuring violence against women and the killing of police officers - so the most high profile game to be affected is clearly Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, which features both of the above in spades. Gail Markels, the general counsel to the IDSA, denounced the law as a "misguided attempt at video game censorship", Reuters reports. This sounds to us like exactly the kind of knee-jerk reaction which the games industry often (rightly) accuses national governments of making to violent games; censorship, after all, is what passing legislation to remove content from a videogame would be. Preventing children from playing unsuitable games is just called "common sense". © gamesindustry.biz
Doug Dingus, an applications engineer in Portland Oregon, filed this report for Newsforge. Despite reports to the contrary, the Oregon Legislature is continuing to debate the issue of Open Source software use in State government. HB 2892 has already been though a General Government Committee hearing despite strong lobbying efforts from the Business Software Alliance (BSA), Computing Technology Industry Association, and the American Electronics Association (AeA). This is a big win with more to come if we can all continue to support this bill. A lot of progress has been made, but in order to move forward HB 2892 needs permission from the Speaker of the House, Karen Minnis (R-Wood Village), for a work session to finalize the bill. Minnis is not expressing support for any new development of HB 2892 despite widespread and growing support for the bill. Support for HB 2892 has reached beyond technical circles, clearly indicating this is a simple business issue, not just a technical one. Many people have worked hard to get HB 2892 where it is today. We need this kind of support to continue while the Oregon Legislature is focused on the issue. HB 2892 is a bipartisan bill aimed squarely at improving the economy of the State of Oregon. LHB 2892 will reduce the state's annual cost of computing through a reduction in software license costs made possible by the use of Open Source software where it makes sense. Schools using the approach now are already seeing the savings. HB 2892 will provide new job opportunities. Many of these new jobs will be here in Oregon where we currently have a surplus of high-tech talent looking for work. HB 2892 reinforces the ethical use of taxpayer dollars by encouraging the use of freely available software when it makes sense to do so. HB 2892 will have a dramatic impact on future computing costs over time as lock-in to closed software and data products are reduced in favor of open software and data products. Many members of the legislature support this bill for these and other reasons, and are eager to see it move forward to the house for a vote. However, they face strong opposition from Republican House leaders who continue to receive the attention of the industry lobbyists during this critical time. This high-level opposition to HB 2892 has little to do with what is best for the Oregon taxpayer and everything to do with what is best for the established software vendors seeking to continue to profit from lock-in at the government level. The only real opposition to HB 2892 comes from special interests that only want to continue to protect their annual revenue from one of their biggest customers - the State of Oregon. This does not have to continue! HB 2892 deserves to be heard and not quietly killed by lobbyists. We have the attention of the Oregon Legislature in a big way right now, making this a very important time to act. The State of Oregon is looking hard to save where it can in this difficult business climate. This and your continuing support in the form of a short phone call, letter, e-mail or fax to your representative as well as the Speaker of the House will help HB 2892 continue to move forward through the legislative process. Related Information: Find your Oregon State Representative here ©
A poster advertising the Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance computer game "condoned violence", according to the advertising watchdog. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received 15 complaints about the ad, which showed a hooded youth in a train carriage wiping his bloodied hand on the shoulder of a middle-aged businessman. The accompanying text read: "Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance. It's in us all". Those who complained said the poster was "irresponsible", because it confused real-life crime with a game and might incite people - especially children - to violence. They also said it was "offensive, distressing and unsuitable to be seen by children". The advertisers, Midway Games Ltd, defended the poster arguing that it did not depict a criminal or violent act. The company also insisted that it was a "fantasy product" and was not targeted at children under 18. But the ASA disagreed ruling that the poster "condoned violence and was irresponsible". It also concluded that the poster was "distressing and likely to cause serious or widespread offence". The ASA rejected a third complaint that the ad was racist. ®
There are few signs that Oftel and Freeserve are about to kiss and make up following a recent legal spat that saw both sides claiming victory. Industry insiders claim Oftel is furious with Freeserve over the aggressive way it challenged the regulator's rulings on broadband at the Competition Appeals Tribunal (CAT). Yesterday, Oftel boss, David Edmonds, wrote to the FT insisting that, contrary to some reports, last week's ruling by the competition commission was not a defeat for Oftel. His comments followed the CAT's decision to order Oftel to re-investigate Freeserve's allegation that BT was engaged in predatory pricing for broadband. In the letter to the financial paper Mr Edmonds made it clear that the CAT had "fully upheld [three out of four of] Oftel's decisions". And he insisted that a report which described last week's decision as a "defeat" and "embarrassment" for Oftel was "unjustified". However, in a sign that tensions still remain high between Oftel and the UK's biggest ISP, Freeserve General Counsel, David Melville, said today that he is "rather bemused" that Mr Edmonds feels the need to be drawn into "this kind of dialogue". Commenting on Mr Edmonds' letter to the FT Mr Melville said: "The most important part of the case as far as were concerned was predatory pricing where Oftel's procedures were found to be completely deficient - so much so the court quashed that part of the decision and required the Director General (DG) Telecoms to look into that matter again with an "open mind" (a phrase which came from the court not David Edmonds) and tight timescale. "More than a year has passed since Freeserve launched its complaint and instead of crowing about victory, we wish the DG would start to take our complaint seriously and we hope that his early claim to victory means that he is not going to approach the issue of predatory pricing with anything other than a truly open mind," he said. ® Related Story Freeserve and Oftel both claim victory in key competition dispute
A new computer worm attempts to spread by taking advantage of concerns over the killer flu-like virus, SARS. Known as Coronex-A, the mass-mailer worm forwards itself to all contacts in Outlook address books and attempts to dupe computer users into opening infectious attachments by claiming they offer details on the current SARS epidemic. Coronex is a Windows-only worm whose spread, thus far, has been minimal. The Coronex worm uses a variety of subject lines, message bodies and attachment names to entice users into double-clicking including: "Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome", "SARS Virus" and Hongkong.exe. "The worm has been deliberately coded to exploit the public's genuine concern about SARS, and is just a further demonstration of the ways that virus writers attempt to use psychological trickery to spread their creations," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos Anti-Virus. Cluley believes it is important for AV vendors to avoid using 'the SARS virus' moniker for the malicious code in order to reduce the possibility of confusion and panic over the virus. As usual, users are advised to update their anti-virus protection as a precaution against infection. In corporate environments, firms should consider blocking executable files at the gateway. There's little legitimate reason to send executables or screensavers via email but these routes of distribution are frequently used by virus writers. ®
Palm today launched the latest member of its Tungsten high-end PDA family, the Tungsten-C. As Palm watchers had gathered from various unfortunate (for Palm) appearances in store catalogues, flyers and other third-party sales collateral, the C offers integrated Wi-Fi support. Palm has also extended its Zire consumer-oriented PDA range with the Zire 71, bringing an ARM-based processor, a colour screen and a built-in camera to the family. The addition of 802.11b networking rounds off the Tungsten line's support for wireless connectivity. The Tungsten-T has Bluetooth, and the ARM-less Tungsten-W provides Internet access through cellular networks. It's not yet clear whether the C's Wi-Fi connectivity supports wireless HotSyncing with a similarly equipped PC. But it will allow users to access the Net from any of the Wi-Fi hotspots that are springing up left, right and centre. And, in view of emerging technologies such as Sproqit (see Sproqit serves real-time PC access to PDA owners), will be well placed as a home mobile entertainment terminal - stream your MP3s over the WLAN to you Wi-Fi Walkman, sorry, Tungsten-C. Like the W, the C sports a micro keyboard, but lacks the older device's bulbous antenna pod. It's also based on an ARM CPU - a 400MHz Intel XScale PXA255 - and runs Palm OS 5.2.1. That means it's not only rather faster than the stylish but ageing T - itself based on a 144MHz Texas Instruments ARM-derived chip - but comes with Graffiti 2, the character recognition system Palm licensed from Jot after successfully being sued by Xerox for patent infringement. The faster CPU gives the C the horsepower to run multimedia applications better than previous models, and Palm is bundling Kinoma Player and Kinoma Producer, movie playback and conversion (from QuickTime, AVI, etc) tools. Incidentally, Tungsten T users can get the Player software as a free download from Kinoma. Producer is available as a two-day free trial. The C has a 320x320 16-bit colour 'transflective' screen and contains 64MB of memory, thanks to PalmSource's recent move to expand the amount of RAM the Palm OS can address. The Zire 71 is based on a 144MHz TI OMAP processor running Palm OS 5.2.1, and sports the same 320x320 16-bit transflective screen as the Tungsten-C. Like the T is has a slide action, though in this case it reveals the 640x480 rear-facing digital camera lens. The 71 contains just 16MB of memory. It measures 11.25 x 7.25 x 1.68cm (4.5 x 2.9 x .067in) when closed, but is 2cm longer when the slide is opened to reveal the camera. It weighs 5.3oz. The Tungsten-C measures 12 x 7.68 x 1.63cm (4.8 x 3.07 x 0.65in) and weighs 6.3oz. The Tungsten-C retails for $499 (UK pricing unavailable), the Zire Z1 for $299 (£245 in the UK). The 71 is available today, but the C will ship on 5 May. Of course, these new releases make it even less likely Palm will sell off its remaining stockpile of old m5xx and m1xx series PDAs, which the company continues to advertise on its site, long after offering superior and comparably priced upgrades. ®
A group of Florida-based porn peddlers, penis enlargement and Viagra spammers has united to file suit against anti-spam organisations. Under the newly-registered name EmarketersAmerica.org, a front set up Mark E. Felstein, lawyer for notorious spammer Eddy Marin, the suit seeks to force prominent anti-spam organisations to stop blocking their spam. A long list of individuals and anti-spam organisations which prevent bulk mailers from getting their spam out, including the UK-based Spamhaus Project and Spews.org, are listed in the suit. Nuisance suit The civil action law-suit, filed on April 14, seeks an injunction against anti-spam organisation on behalf of the plaintiffs. It also seek damages of $75,000 (plus interest and costs) against the defendants on five separate counts: blacklisting IP addresses of the plaintiffs, libel, invasion of privacy, the publication of allegedly false information and "intentional interference with a contract". Steve Linford, of The Spamhaus Project, told us the law suit was without merit and purely motivated by an attempt to waste the time and energy of those fighting against the spam menace. "Spammers will try anything. These lawsuits are intended to tie you up in defending it, wasting time and money," said Linford. The lawsuit come just days before a Federal Trade Commission conference on spam, due to last for three days from April 30. The main anti-spam and direct marketing organisations along with three "major spammers" are due to attend the conference, whose findings will be reported to Congress and may clear the path to Federal legislation on the issue. The timing of the lawsuit - days ahead of the conference - is not a coincidence, Linford believes. Linford, who's based in the UK, told us he has been the subject of several similar lawsuit before. A Louisiana court dismissed a $3 million lawsuit by bulk mailer Ronnie Scelson against Linford last year. Spammers from as far away as Madagascar have also threatened to haul him into local courts. Because he's based in Britain, Linford believes he can safely ignore the EmarketersAmerica.org suit. But other parties to the suit, based in the US, are within the jurisdiction of the Florida courts. Linford argues that spammers may have made a tactical mistake. Defendants in the case could countersue EmarketersAmerica.org, and during the discovery phase of the case request documents on the organisation. Linford has no doubt that the individuals behind the lawsuit include Eddy Marin, who he described as "probably the world's largest spammer", along with a loose alliance of spam purveyors, suing under a front name. "These are people sending out bulk mail about penis pumps, Viagra and the sleaziest types of spam," Linford told us. "Florida has become the world's spam capital, thanks to weak state laws. If spammers are caught out in the state all they can expect is a slap on the wrist at worst," he said. According to Linford, 180 recidivist spammers account for 90 per cent of the world's spam. Deal with them and you've cracked the spam problem, he believes. "If these 180 were somehow spirited off the Internet - we'd be left with the Nigerians, and companies spamming by mistake. The spam problem would simply disappear," he said. ® Update In an ironic twist, the home page of EmarketersAmerica.org has been replaced by a message which states: "THIS PAGE HAS BEEN RE-DIRECTED FOR ABUSE / SPAM VIOLATIONS".
Down in Santa Clara this week O'Reilly Associates are hosting something called an "Emerging Technology" conference, which began life two years ago as the P2P conference, back when Peer-to-Peer was the rage. O'Reilly are the good guys, well-loved and with good reason: their excellent editorial judgement and good taste has put high quality books in front of the high quality geeks who need them. Tim O'Reilly himself showed his vision and marketing nous by helping to "rebrand" free software as something much more cuddly and understandable, called "Open Source". This has drawn the ire of free software purists such as the FSF, but it has, we reckon, added to the greater common good immeasurably. So it's odd, when you peruse the Emerging Technology Conference agenda, to get the sense that you're staring at a scene that resembles the Scientology cult. It achieves this spooky effect by pandering extensively to a tiny part of the idea spectrum and excluding not just important historical figures with rich contributions to make, but emerging entrepreneurs and researchers, too. Cults begin by excluding behavior that doesn't fit the norm: that's the very definition of a "cult". Omission is not forgetfulness: an omission is an exclusion. Who's out of favor at this "Emergent Technology" conference? Who is Emerging, but not deemed worthy of inclusion? One candidate could be the leader of the British Antarctica Expedition, a Swiss-based polymath called David Mantripp. David submitted a paper to the O'Reilly conference on MMS usage patterns. At first, he got an enthusiastic response. Rael Dornfest, who headed a three-man technical committee that included Clay Shirky and trivia-blogger, cum blog-celeb Cory Doctorow,. Dornfest told him that "this is exactly what we want". But David hadn't counted on Clay Shirky's monomaniacal exclusion policy. Because his paper dealt with a picture messaging protocol (MMS) that had been agreed upon by the incumbent operators, it didn't fit with Shirky's simplistic agenda for the future of wireless: and "wireless" is a term he has decided to ethnically cleanse. It doesn't include incumbent wireless operators: in Shirkyland, the slate must be wiped clean. The agenda, remember, is that the incumbent operators will be wiped out by people-powered WiFi. So the agenda, in this case, assumes that wireless carriers are evil, and must die, so Mantripp's paper was gently sidelined. Two months later, Mantripp got the bum's rush. Official. Would he be attending, we enquired? "The agenda is so boring that I just can't be bothered,' Mantripp told us, reflecting the European response to the lobbyists. Wireless, O'Reilly style, excludes all the interesting bits, and specifically excludes the "last yard" Internet that is being grabbed by proximity server and PMG vendors. Social software to the last bit, except, if it doesn't fit the patten, it can't be included. Clique Instead the O'Reilly Conference, which depends almost exclusively on Shirky for its intellectual ballast, has been given over to a curious clique of webloggers. Late last year, Shirky held a private "social software summit" whose attendance list was remarkable by its omissions. It excluded social critics, the inventor of FidoNet, and many other historical figures of importance, although it included Danny O'Brien (and wife) of NTK and Rusty Foster of Kuro5hin.org: two coruscating critics whose withering wit could have sunk this vanity exercise before it had the chance to leave harbor. And so far, these are two critics who are in the tent, but are conspicuously failing to piss out. Or even acknowledge that there's a tent at all. Which is a significant omission. These omissions add up. Only last week we received an invitation to an "Emerging Technology" party at a campsite that appears to be hosted in Danny O'Brien's backyard. [Full disclosure: your reporter is acquainted with the above, and wishes them nothing but good fortune.] Can you imagine a campsite of bloggers? Even with such fine wits as O'Brien and Foster in attendance, it's hard to imagine that this won't break down into a consensual circle-jerk. Such is the world of blogdom, which relies heavily on its own, synthetic consensus. And in anycase, Emergent Intelligence has to take a back seat to Real Life. We'd love to attend, only the long awaited documentary on the MC5 and the Detroit scene will, alas, take up a valuable portion between 3:30pm and 5pm on Wednesday afternoon. There isn't any Social Software that can match the potency of the MC5, or this crucial period in American social history, which saw promised a vital revolutionary link between the Black Panters and the White Panters, which MC5 manager John Sinclair founded. Suspicion lingers that this was a proto-Malcolm McLaren stunt. We shall see. Either way, given the choice between shorthairs talking about their blogs, and longhairs talking about "fucking in the streets", which would you choose to see? Really. ®
Apple and AMD have been working together of late, a senior AMD official admitted at the launch of the chip maker's 64-bit Opteron processor this week. During the press Q&A, the head of AMD's server business, Marty Seyer, said the company had been talking to "all tier one and tier two vendors". Of course, only a few of them have committed themselves to supporting Opteron, leaving the company with its usual base of little known customers, but that's by the by. All tier one and tier two vendors? we wondered, and later popped the question, "so can we conclude you've been talking to Apple as well, then?" Said senior official fell silent for a moment then turned to his PR minder and asked, "Can we talk about what we're doing with them yet?" The answer was a muddy 'not sure... have to get back to on that' kind of thing. So what can we read into this little interchange? Certainly there have been rumours aplenty in the past concerning Apple's possible migration to the x86 world, and AMD's x86-64 technology - now officially known as 'AMD64', by the way - in particular. We've always found such claims incredible, given the considerable difficulties of managing the migration users and software developers to a new platform. Yes, Apple is a past master at this, witness the 680x0 to PowerPC shift, but don't underestimate the effort involved. Then again, practical issues, such as the paucity of high-performance PowerPC processors might just tip Apple's hand, forcing the company to take the hard path because it has no choice. With IBM's 64-bit PowerPC 970 coming up, it's hard to imagine Apple feeling such pressure right now. Assuming it does choose to use the 970 - and all the indications are that it will - it will gain a significant speed boost, and an easy migration path to 64-bit computing. Users can continue to run 32-bit Mac OS X and their 32-bit apps natively on the 970, upgrading when they see fit first to a 64-bit version of the OS - which should boost the performance of 32-bit apps too - and then to 64-bit apps. That's the same path AMD is offering to 32-bit Windows and Linux users: the 'no brainer' option of better 32-bit performance today, with 64-bit upgradeability for tomorrow coming effectively free of charge. Its success depends on the availability of 64-bit apps and hardware vendor support. Apple doesn't have to worry about the latter, but it is concerned about winning the hearts and minds and coding fingers of its developers, and that's why the delayed Worldwide Developers Conference is expected to see the launch of 64-bit Mac OS X and 64-bit development tools. Many of those developers also work on Windows code, and quite a few will be - we suspect - watching the take-up of Opteron and, later, Athlon 64 with interest. The technology's relevance to consumers is limited, but it's of considerable importance to digital content creators, a key Apple audience. AMD64 has the potential to attract a lot of content creators to the x86 world by providing very significant performance gains not only through 64-bit computing but through the infrastructure technology AMD has put in place, such as the on-die memory controller and using HyperTransport as the system bus. Now, we're not saying that 64-bit Photoshop et al running natively on AMD64 CPUs is going to happen anytime soon, or that if it does, pro Mac users are going to switch over in droves. But the availability of such a set-up, especially if Apple hasn't got anything comparable to offer, will slowly erode Apple's user base. It was always assumed that Apple's adoption of the PowerPC 970 was driven by the need to get closer to achieving performance parity with x86 processors. But the arrival of AMD64 technology makes that adoption a necessity. Success for AMD depends on many factors, not least what Intel may offer as an alternative. Rumours have already claimed Intel's next major mainstream processor, Prescott, will feature AMD64 technology or something similar. While that would effectively doom Intel's expensive Itanium project to all but the highest-end applications, Intel may choose to risk that if it sees AMD making too many inroads into its Xeon and Pentium sales. Again, that puts even greater pressure on Apple to keep up or risk appearing out-moded. Again, PowerPC 970 offers Apple the only way to stay in the game. Even then it's going to be tough. Full independent benchmarks are only just starting to emerge comparing Opteron with Xeon and other processors, and the results are looking good for AMD. AMD's own figures, for its 1.8GHz Opteron 144, intended for uni-processor systems, show the chip yields peak SPECint2000 and SPECintFP scores of 1170 and 1219, respectively. IBM's preliminary numbers for the 970 (also at 1.8GHz) are 937 and 1051. IBM may up the figures at launch, and in any case, real-world performance depends on system configuration. Even if Apple achieves performance parity - a significant milestone, it must be said - the pressures on AMD to ramp up AMD64 performance are arguably greater than IBM's need to speed the 970. So should Apple go AMD64? And might that be the basis for those comments from the senior AMD guy? We find it hard to imagine that AMD hasn't been talking to Apple, if only informally. Just as Dell regularly converses with AMD to keep Intel to heel, so Apple almost certainly talks to AMD and Intel to keep the pressure on Motorola and IBM. At the very least, it needs to keep up with trends among other processor platforms so it has an up-to-date contingency plan in case PowerPC proves untenable. We're more inclined to believe that any recent co-operation between the two companies centres on Apple's move to HyperTransport as the basis of future Power Mac systems. Apple is a founding member of the HyperTransport Consortium, and its next-generation Power Macs are rumoured to sport an HT bus. The PowerPC 970 has a frontside bus capable of 6.4GBps throughput - exactly what you'd expect from a coherent HT link. Good sources suggest we'll learn the truth at WWDC, when Apple is expected to come clean about its 64-bit strategy and the hardware that will drive that programme. We don't expect Apple to announce its pro workstations will, say, be based on Opteron 244 processors and Nvidia's workstation-oriented nForce Pro 3 250 chipset, but stranger things have happened. At this stage we'd put more money on AMD than on the likelihood Motorola can pull a 64-bit G4 out of thin air... No, the PowerPC 970 remains the chief candidate. And we'd caution against reading too much into the AMD official's comments. But we think it unwise to rule out the possibility of co-operation between Apple and AMD, particularly at the HyperTransport level. ®
A man due to stand trial for assisting the suicide of a man he met through a Net site has been found hanged. Louis Gillies, 36, was due to stand trial this week accused of assisting the suicide of Michael Gooden, 35, who flung himself to his death last June after the pair allegedly formed a suicide pact after meeting through the newsgroup alt.suicide.holidays. After exchanging messages on the group, the two met in a pub near Beachy Head, East Sussex (a notorious suicide spot) to share a "last supper". Gillies reportedly backed out of following Gooden, of south London, to his death after receiving a call from a friend who succeeded in talking him out of his plan to take his life. The circumstances of Gooden's death, and messages posted by Gillies on the Net following his friend's suicide led to charges that Gillies had aided and abetted his friend's suicide. Gillies was due to face those charges in Lewes Crown Court this week. When Gillies failed to appear in court, Glasgow police yesterday visited his home in the city's Kelvingrove area where they found him hanged. A suicide note was found at the scene, according to reports by the Glasgow Evening Times. Judge Anthony Scott-Gall, who was due to preside over the trial, said: "It's a very bleak ending to a very bleak case." ®
Lucent pensioners are aggrieved at the prospect of the company slashing retirement benefits as part of latest round of cost savings at the beleaguered networking equipment manufacturer. Ken Raschke, president of Lucent Retirees Organisation, which has signed up 4,000 members since its formation in February, met with Lucent CEO Patricia Russo and other top executives last week. Raschke described the meeting as “cordial” to Reuters. However he told the news agency that pensioners are “upset” that Lucent has cut their death benefit and fearful about the erosion of other pension and health care benefits. A death benefit for pensioners, equivalent to a year’s salary for those retiring before 1998, according to Raschke, was dropped by the company in February. Lucent's “pension fund” was underfunded to the tune of $7.4 billion at the end of September 2002, according to SEC fillings. Cutting benefits is one way to meet this shortfall. Analysts speculate Lucent could half its health insurance outlays by restricting coverage to claims of $5,000 or above. The Lucent Retirees Organisation aims to use its shareholding and influence to oppose such measures. "Our members are saying they don't want Lucent to balance the company's books at the expense of eroding what has been promised to them," Raschke, the former head of an equipment plant, told Reuters. Current Lucent workers also face tough times because of the company’s flagging fortunes. Lucent aims to restructure the company to employ just 35,000 employees by September, a third of the workers it employed when its restructuring process began in January 2001. ®
EMI has teamed up with more than 20 outfits including Freeserve, BT, and Tiscali to flog its music online in Europe, the music giant announced today. The move is seen as a bid by EMI to embrace the digital world while trying to tackle the twin problems of falling music sales and the increased use of illegally downloaded material. In what it's describing as the biggest European music download initiative by a record company in Europe, EMI says punters will be able to choose from more than 140,000 tracks by some 3,000 artists. Once the track is purchased, punters ca burn music onto CD-R or copy tracks to portable players. They will also be able to buy singles online as soon as the songs are played on the radio ahead of their full commercial CD launch. The online catalogue will include music from outfits such as Coldplay, The Dandy Warhols, and Norah Jones. It will also provide access to EMI's back catalogue including David Bowie, Deep Purple, and Pink Floyd. Said Tony Wadsworth, chairman & CEO, EMI Recorded Music UK & Ireland: "EMI has a vast digital catalogue and is now providing consumers with the music they want in a way that is faster, safer and more adaptable than is currently available on any of the current services - and it's legal." Last November EMI announced the launch of a digital download service in the US with around nine online music distributors. ® Related Story EMI in US music download deal