28th > April > 2003 Archive

Corrections and Carrionifications

LettersLetters A couple of apologies are in order. 1. Software Engineers re: Why Intel Doesn't Write Stuff Down (Because They're Smart) Reader "oberon" wrote me a very angry letter indeed:- "While most of the articles are timely, accurate, and insightful, this trash should never have been published," he writes. "What do you have against software engineers?" Well, that's nuts, I thought. I had thought that I'd said that the barrier to entry in hardware is higher than software, without implying - because it's a barmy generalization - that all software engineers must necessarily, and the same heights couldn't be scaled by all?" Then Frank Logan from Wasabi wrote to me: "I enjoyed reading your article until I got to the point where you essentially said that software engineers were somehow inferior to hardware engineers. This mis-characterization pretty much eliminated your credibility and made what was an otherwise interesting report seem more like message board drivel." So I went back and checked. And this sentence seems to cause the trouble. "It is a tribute to the superior modes of communication that hardware people seem to employ: terse, economic, efficient and full of value. Whereas software people tend to babble incoherently, getting themselves into all kinds of trouble." The offensive phrase is "tend to". So this piece was in no way intended to support the inference that "tend to" means all software engineers are incoherent babblers. Sun's Jim Waldo has an nice perspective which he told me when I barged into his office on Thursday. (It was Sun Labs' open days, and it's the one year you can do this without Sun Secruity Guards hauling you out of the building, and we wish there were more days like this). "Hardware, software? It's the same thing - with different interfaces." Leaving aside clumsy generalizations, we still maintain that Intel edited its communications and stayed out of trouble, while Microsoft blabbed and incriminated itself. Nevertheless, we're sorry for any offense caused, folks. Especially in an article about, err, language. 2. Misleading Instructions re: This contained one gross inaccuracy. If you turned up, as we advised, at the AMC Kabuki 8 at 3:30pm on Wednesday, you will not have been able to catch the movie, MC5 - A True Testimonialshowing as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival. Because it wasn't showing then. It actually had two showings, one on Wednesday and one on Friday, at the Kabuki. So apologies to anyone who missed out because of our bum advice. I caught the Friday showing and to hear a thousand people whooping (some weeping) as the credits rolled was quite something. The extraordinary reaction to this great movie give me hope it will find a broad theatrical release. You have to see the footage of the MC5 to realize what a physical party this was: they made a sound of Joy not heard in Honkie Culture for, I reckon, about two hundred years. (We have introspection very well covered, but the cupboard is pretty bare when it comes to sounds of uninhibited joy. And you have to marvel at a rock movie where some of the best surviving live footage has shot by FBI surveillance teams). Which leaves only one loose end to be tied up. Brother Wayne Kramer of the MC5 survived the band's crash and personal catastrophe. A survivor, he's now a musician in LA. And he uses Apple stuff (as that link proves), and at the very least deserves, we think, a prominent and very well paid role in their promotional material. After all, isn't Think Different just the tame, shorthair version of the longhair original: Kick Out The Jams? Jobs - you do must The Right Thing. ®
Andrew Orlowski, 28 Apr 2003

KPN shuns H3G UK loan request

KPN is still not lending any more money to Hutchison 3G, the greenfield 3G network in which it is a minority shareholder. Last September, the heavily indebted Dutch telco said it would no longer fund H3G, so it's rejection of the March cash call from H3G comes as no surprise. H3G's service, live in the UK and Italy, is late, by at least a year, and subscribers have stayed away in droves in the UK. Early reports of unreliable phones and battery life measured in hours have not helped take-up either. Many more have taken the bait in Italy. Upshot, H3G has, or had, a funding gap. H3G issued a £1bn funding call to its shareholders in March to cut it some slack as it builds up subscriber numbers for its 3 networks. The company has also renegotiated loan repayments to banks by one year. H3G knew it could count upon Hutchison Wampoa, the majority shareholder; NTT DoCoMo, the other shareholder, is also coughing up. ®
Drew Cullen, 28 Apr 2003

Apple attempts to patent iPod-like ‘scroll-disk’ mouse

Is Apple about to change the face of user-computer interaction? That's certainly one (albeit exaggerated) interpretation of the patent application the company filed in the US, and revealed by MacObserver. The patent application, number 20030076303, can be read here. The headline date of the application is 24 April 2003, but the application's Filed field says 7 February 2002, so Apple may have been working on this for some time now. Essentially, Apple's patent application details an iPod-style scroll-dial on the face of the mouse in place of the usual scroll-wheel. Apple argues rightly that this is more intuitive than a scroll-wheel, which operates only in the direction (up and down) of vertical scroll-bars or lists. Yes, a scroll-wheel can control horizontal scroll-bars, but it's counter-intuitive: the bars move left and right, but the wheel still moves up and down. Apple's disk rotates clockwise and counter-clockwise whether you're scrolling up and down a web page or horizontally through a Mac OS X Finder window in column view. Another benefit the applications cites is that the user doesn't need to take his or her finger off the disk to continue scrolling - "ie. the disc can be rotated through 360 degrees of rotation without stopping" - unlike a scroll-wheel, which forces you to continually pull your finger off the wheel if you want to go beyond whatever arc of the wheel is exposed. What's got the Mac community excited, however, is the possibility, mentioned in the application, of the disc doubling-up as a button, and they're inferring that this means Apple is getting ready to offer a two- or three-button mouse. Well, it wouldn't be before time. Even before Mac OS X, Apple implemented contextual menus, which are most effectively controlled by multi-button mice, but which Apple's preference for single-button jobs meant users needed to use a keyboard modifier button to activate. Unfortunately, while the application does talk about using the scroll-disk as a button, it's clear that it's intended to be the mouse's main and only button. On it's own the scroll-disc patent wouldn't be exactly exciting. It's not hard to imagine some Apple engineer turning his or her iPod over and thinking: hey, this would work as a mouse. Apple might well want to protect such a use for the future, either for itself, a licensing based revenue-generator or both. However, this weekend we were sent basic technical diagrams of an alleged Apple device that does indeed merge iPod, scroll-disk based mouse and, bizarrely, phone. We weren't the only ones sent the pics, and we stress that we haven't been able to substantiate any of the claims made by our correspondent, and the spec., including the scroll-disk and 15-30GB of hard disk space, sounds like someone's compiled all the juiciest bits of recent iPod and 'mysterious Apple communications device' rumours. Ditto Mac OS X Panther's support for synchronising Home folders on multiple devices, which the iPod/phone/mouse apparently supports. Of course, getting your Photoshop files via a Bluetooth or USB 1.1 connection wouldn't be much fun, so the mouse either has a FireWire or USB 2.0 cable, or 802.11 cable-free connection. USB 2.0 has backwards-compatibility issues, Wi-Fi has battery life problems. And $499 seems awfully expensive for a mouse, even one with a phone and iPod built-in. Such a device certainly wouldn't be cheap. We can imagine Apple wanting to offer a high-end, designer handset, just as it offered a high-end, designer MP3 player, but while the latter market was up for grabs, the handset business already has some very well established players - and even they are having a hard time of it. But then Apple's not beyond doing the unexpected, and a combined iPod/phone - the mouse bit seems a step too far - could be on the cards. But Apple has other fish to fry, and there are better markets for it to enter than the handset business. ® Related Link MacObserver: Dial Up The Great Mouse Button Debate: Apple Applies For Rotary Mouse Patent
Tony Smith, 28 Apr 2003

Q1 chip sales up 13%

Global chip sales rose last month, the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) reported yesterday, leaving Q1 2003 sales totalling $36.4 billion, 13 per cent higher than Q1 2002's total of $32.19 billion. That said, the quarter's sales total was down on the previous quarter's figure, by just 3.2 per cent from $37.6 billion. You'd expect a seasonal dip in any case, in turn suggesting that the Iraq war's impact has been minimal. Indeed, the SIA reiterated its forecast for double-digit growth for the year as a whole, buoyed by that 13 per cent year-on-year increase. Sales during March rose to $12.1 billion, back up toward January's figure of $12.2 billion from February's $11.8 billion. March's raised figure suggests that February's dip was as much a product of February being a shorter trading month as anything else. In fact, February and March sales were higher than you might expect from the number of trading days they contain. March was less than a percentage point down on January's figure, ie. sales were effectively flat through the quarter. The good news for the PC industry is that sales of microprocessors rose 5.9 per cent through March. Breaking the figures up by region, the SIA said: "Sales in the Asia-Pacific market, the world's largest with 36 per cent of total chip consumption, were up 17.2 per cent year over year in March, and sales in Japan, with a 23 per cent share, rose 33.5 per cent. Sales in Europe, now the third largest market, rose by 11.3 per cent in March, while sales in the Americas, with a 20 per cent market share, fell by eight per cent, reflecting the migration of the electronic equipment market - including component sourcing, design services, and electronic equipment production, to Asia." ®
Tony Smith, 28 Apr 2003

Nvidia reaches ‘tentative’ deal with SEC

Nvidia has reached a broad agreement with the US Securities and Exchange Commission that in return for agreeing to be a good boy in future, the stocks and shares regulator will not fine the company this time. The agreement, revealed in Nvidia's annual report, filed with the SEC on Friday, was tabled earlier this month. It is not a formal arrangement, and negotiations to finalise its terms could take weeks or months, Nvidia warned. Even then, the SEC may decide that it wants to take "enforcement action" after all. The agreement, such as it is, involves an SEC cease-and-desist order to Nvidia to refrain from future violations of various US securities laws. In return, the SEC will not force the company to cough up a fine. If that sounds like Nvidia's being let off the hook, it is. The cease-and-desist order forbids the company from breaking the law, which is the point of turning rules into laws in the first place. The agreement marks the latest stage in an investigation into Nvidia accounting practices that has been underway since February 2002, following the results of an SEC probe into allegations of insider trading around the time that Nvidia was awarded Microsoft's Xbox architecture contract. The SEC examined whether $3.6 million recorded in Q2 and Q3 of fiscal 2000, should have been recorded in Q1. In September 2002, it started looking at other periods of Nvidia accounts. In April 2002, Nvidia said it would restate its results going back to FY2000 to correct accounting errors identified by the SEC investigation and its own internal enquiries. More recently, Nvidia received a Wells Notice - notification that the SEC intended to pursue punitive action against the company. This suggests that the agency uncovered something more than a calculation error. After all, $3.6 million is not a particularly large sum for a company the size of Nvidia to overlook, and doesn't of itself suggest the company was engaged in profit smoothing. But the interest in 2002's books may have revealed other irregularities. ® Bootnote Nvidia's annual report also reveals it's tussling with the trustees of 3dfx, which sold that then bankrupt company's assets to Nvidia in April 2001. The trustees claim Nvidia has failed to make payments under the terms of the sale. Nvidia says it can't fulfil its obligations until it receives notification of the full extent of 3dfx's debts and liabilities, and so gets an idea of what it owes. Related Stories SEC sends letter to Nvidia Nvidia opens books for SEC
Tony Smith, 28 Apr 2003

Intel slashes Celeron prices

Intel yesterday cut the prices of its 1.8GHz to 2.4GHz Celeron desktop chips, as predicted. That lends credence to forecasts that the chip giant will slash 533MHz frontside bus Pentium 4 prices on 11 May. The Celeron prices fell by up to 23.9 per cent. The 2.4GHz chip fell from $127 to $103, a reduction of 18.9 per cent. The 2.3GHz fell from $117 to $89 (23.9 per cent), the 2.2GHz chip from $103 to $83 (19.4 per cent), the 2.1GHz part from $89 to $79 (11.2 per cent), the 2GHz Celeron from $83 to $69 (16.9 per cent) and the 1.8GHz chip from $69 to $64 (7.2 per cent). The 1.7GHz part will remain at $54. The 11 May cuts are expected to see the 2.8GHz P4 fall in price from $375 to $262, a fall of 30 per cent. The 2.6GHz part falls from $241 to $193 (19.9 per cent) and the 2.4GHz part from $193 to $163 (15.5 per cent). The 3.06GHz P4 will stay at $401. This will knock the chips' prices down to below the introductory prices of the 800MHz FSB parts, believed to be scheduled for a 21 May launch. The 2.8GHz P4C will come in at $278, the 2.6GHz P4 at $218 and the 2.4GHz P4C at $178. The 'C' indicates 800MHz bus support when there's already a 533MHz FSB chip at that clock speed. ® Related Story Intel readies 30 per cent Pentium 4 price cut - report
Tony Smith, 28 Apr 2003

OFT probes MS school licensing rules

The Office of Fair Trading last week began a formal investigation into Microsoft's alleged abuse of its dominant position in the UK's education market. Following industry complaints, the OFT is to examine Microsoft's Schools Agreement for alleged violation if section 26 of the 1998 Competition Act. "The OFT has reasonable grounds for suspecting that Microsoft has abused a dominant position through the introduction of its School Agreement licensing option," the government body writes to parties to the complaint. It is particularly interested in "the requirement for schools licensed under the School Agreement to licence Microsoft software for all their eligible computers, regardless of whether schools then choose to install the licensed Microsoft software on all those computers included within the licensing terms." Parties to the complaint, including Staffordshire software reseller Learning Machine, which complained about Microsoft's behaviour last December, have been asked to submit evidence by May 7. The OFT states that it has "reasonable grounds for suspecting that Microsoft has abused a dominant position" through the introduction of its School Agreement licensing option. The investigation, which the OFT said could take as long at two years to report its findings, will determine if Microsoft is guilty or innocent of the alleged abuse. ® Related stories Microsoft 'hoovers millions' from UK schools - MP Microsoft 'hoovers millions' from UK schools - update
John Leyden, 28 Apr 2003

Web giants to declare war on spam

Three of the world's largest technology companies -- Yahoo, AOL and Microsoft -- are to announce details of a major offensive designed to combat unwanted e-mail. The initiative, details of which are expected on Monday, will see the three rivals cooperating and calling on other technology leaders to participate in measures aimed at checking the rising flood of spam. Already unwanted mail is on track to make up some 40 percent of e-mail by the end of 2003: AOL Time Warner, Yahoo and Microsoft say they fear that people will simply stop using e-mail if spam is not stamped out. A number of software packages already exist to help Internet users filter out unwanted mail messages -- most of which peddle porn, Viagra, and dubious financial and medical services -- and the European Union is seeking to make unsolicited e-mails illegal across member states. But the initiative from AOL Time Warner, Microsoft and Yahoo is an unprecedented, top-level offensive from the Internet industry itself, designed to track down spammers and turn them over to the authorities. Brian Arbogast, a vice president at MSN, told reporters over the weekend that the industry will cooperate to drive spammers out of business. The companies will cooperate to locate and prosecute so-called "kingpin" spammers, promote anti-spam federal legislation that clearly targets such spammers and establish technical standards to combat the menace. Already each company is taking steps separately to fight the problem; most recently, AOL earlier this month filed five federal lawsuits against spammers it accused of sending 1 billion junk messages. Those lawsuits sought damages of more than USD10 million, but the fact that most defendants were listed as "John Doe," actual name unknown, underlines the extent to which spam has become a phantom menace, with the worst offenders easily able to conceal their identities with bogus sender information and temporary mail accounts. The anti-spam initiative being launched on Monday comes ahead of this week's public forum on spam, hosted by the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, DC. Starting Wednesday, the three-day forum aims to explore spam issues including deceptive routing and subject information in messages, the financial cost of the problem, best practices for e-mail senders and receivers, and security weaknesses that contribute to spam, such as open relays and open proxies. © ENN
ElectricNews.net, 28 Apr 2003

BT Midband to cost £35 a month

ExclusiveExclusive BT's "midband" service - a 128k Net access product based on ISDN and aimed at people who can't get broadband - is to cost significantly more and do even less than the telco's entry-level ADSL service. When details of BT Midband were first raised in November last year it was suggested that the service would cost around £25-£30 a month - the same(ish) as existing BT's ADSL services. But documents seen by The Register reveal that BT Midband is to cost £35 a month and limit users to up to 150 hours online a month. The service goes live on June 1. BT is expected to make a formal announcement about BT Midband later this week. BT Midband is based on the telco's Home Highway ISDN service and should be available to around 97 per cent of the UK population. Ordinarily, BT Midband chugs along at speeds of up to 64k. However, when users need to download a large file, for example, it automatically ramps up to 128k. But - and it's a big but - using the service at the quicker speed eats up users' allotted 150 hours online more quickly and means customers get less time on the Net. So, in normal usage punters will get somewhere between 75 and 150 hours a month for their £35. Anyone exceeding this cap will be charged on a pay-as-you-go basis although unused hours can be carried over from month to month. According to the monster telco, BT Midband is "an alternative flat rate (fixed monthly fee), high-speed Internet package" and is "not intended to be an 'always on' service". The service has a two-hour session limit although punters will be able to sign on again immediately after they've been disconnected. BT denies the service is a "poor substitute" for broadband insisting that it is a "significant improvement on standard dial-up connections" and will "meet the needs of a great many of our customers". Earlier hopes that the service might be linked with an always-on email service have also been dashed due to "technical challenges along the way". ® Related Stories BT to offer wholesale 'midband' service from the summer BT touts broadband for everyone
Tim Richardson, 28 Apr 2003

Importers warned over GBA Pokemon titles

Nintendo has issued a warning to retailers importing copies of Pokemon Sapphire and Pokemon Ruby for the GBA, indicating that the company will take legal action if importing becomes widespread. Game Boy Advance cartridges carry no region protection, and with the UK launch of the eagerly awaited Pokemon titles still two months off, many gamers and indie retailers are turning to the US version of the games - which was released several weeks ago. Some importers are even selling the US edition of the games for a lower price than the titles will launch at in the UK when they finally arrive on July 25th. Speaking to UK trade paper MCV, Nintendo UK general manager Andy Williams commented that "Nintendo is monitoring the situation closely and is prepared to take legal action against importers and retailers should the number become significant. The games currently on sale are not intended for sale within the EEA." However, Williams does not believe that the game is being imported in significant enough numbers to cause serious damage to the UK launch. Nintendo is likely to face similar problems with future GameCube titles, thanks to the availability of Datel's Freeloader, a product which allows gamers to play imported titles on their GameCubes without any internal modification. Of course, rather than cracking down on its most loyal and hardcore fans, Nintendo could always do itself a favour and make some attempt at sorting out the disgraceful state of its European release schedule, which currently sees major titles being released in Europe several months after their US debut. © gamesindustry.biz
gamesindustry.biz, 28 Apr 2003

Windows Server 2003 – Secure by Default

OpinionOpinion With Windows Server 2003, Microsoft has finally produced an operating system that isn't begging to be hacked on the first boot, writes SecurityFocus columnist Tim Mullen. One of the biggest criticisms of Windows 2000 was its "everything on" default installation state. For a consumer operating system, it made sense: people wanted specific functionality, and Microsoft provided it for them. For example, IIS installation was enabled by default with all possible mappings and sub-services enabled. The problem was that no one really needed Internet Printing services enabled by default. Few needed IDQ mapped to the Index Server ISAPI extensions. And production environments certainly didn't need sample files and code examples loaded and reachable by anonymous users. The thought was that if you didn't need a service or application, then you would go and turn it off or uninstall it. Microsoft is not alone in this folly. Solaris, for instance, also turns on many potentially unneeded services by default. I attended Jay Beale's "Securing Solaris" Blackhat training session (in disguise, of course) and was surprised by the amount of work one had to go through to turn off all the services you really didn't need. The problem is that many people don't actually go back and turn things off -- particularly when Windows is involved. Code Red infections are testament to this. But I can relate to the mindset. When I first became interested in Linux, I purchased Red Hat and went on a binge to explore everything. And I mean everything. I did a complete installation. Why? Because I had no idea of what I was doing, and I didn't want to miss out on something. I didn't want to lose the opportunity of checking out something cool. I'm sure many others feel the same way, and that is why Microsoft thought they would save people the trouble of going back and loading applications by installing the "popular" ones by default. But when it comes to security, offering up unneeded (and many times unknown) services by default has proved to be a poor practice. With last Thursday's product launch of Windows Server 2003, (the operating system formerly known as ".NET") this has all changed. The install is actually a bit anticlimactic -- you boot, install the operating system, and are left with a bare-bones, minimal-service installation. No bells, no whistles. IIS does not install, and even after you install it by invoking the "role wizard," you are left with minimal Web server functionality. If you want something, you've got to install it yourself. When you install Terminal Services, users are automatically severely limited in what actions they can take within a TS session. And thanks to the Internet Explorer Enhanced Security Configuration, you can't even browse the Web from the server without making explicit configuration changes. This is what many of us have been waiting for, and it is great to see Microsoft deliver. They even coordinated the product launch with a comprehensive "Windows Sever 2003 Security Guide" and an XP/Win2k3 "Threats and Countermeasures" companion, immediately providing security configuration information to their customers. Thank You For Being Ripped Off By AT&T... The concept of "security by default" is beginning to permeate the culture of mainstream technologies. Hopefully, other business environments will follow suit. For instance, AT&T customers have been in the news lately as victims of long distance service theft. People with poor security on their voicemail systems have had their announcement message changed to declare that long distance calls can be placed against the account. In one reported case, a customer was being held accountable for over $8,000 dollars in international charges to Saudi Arabia and other countries. An AT&T spokesman was quoted as saying that "it is the responsibility of the customer to secure their voicemail system" If AT&T tried to make me pay a bill like that, I'll tell them to go piss up a rope. AT&T's default security of their product is insecure. Yes, it may be my fault that someone could change my announcement message, but it is AT&T's fault that their policy allows automated, un-authenticated charges to be placed on someone's account by merit of a voicemail message. The reality is that few companies really need to allow such charges to be made. The secure stance would be to require a company to "register" for such a service, not to allow it by default. Aggravating the issue is the fact that AT&T expects its customers to pay for its own mistakes. And that is something that customers are not willing to put up with any longer. Microsoft deserves kudos for Win2k3's security posture, and "secure by default" is an standard every business should strive for, no matter what they're selling. © Timothy M. Mullen is CIO and Chief Software Architect for AnchorIS.Com, a developer of secure, enterprise-based accounting software. AnchorIS.Com also provides security consulting services for a variety of companies, including Microsoft Corporation.
Tim Mullen, 28 Apr 2003

MS security patch slows XP systems to a crawl

Microsoft last week attached a health risk to one its own security patches, following widespread complaints that the fix slowed systems to a crawl. The problematic patch, designed to fix a flaw in the way the kernel passes error messages to a debugger, was issued on April 16. The vuln affects Windows NT 4.0, NT 4.0 Server, Terminal Server Edition, Windows 2K and Windows XP) and is - potentially - very serious. However the vuln is also difficult to exploit, hence Microsoft's designation the problem as "important" - and not critical. For an attack to be successful, an attacker would need to be able to logon interactively to the system, either at the console or through a terminal session, Microsoft explains. Servers are less vulnerable to the issue, according to MS, because of commonplace restrictions on the ability to logon interactively. Once this substantial login hurdle is cleared, all manner of mischief is possible. "An attacker could exploit this vulnerability to take any action on the system including deleting data, adding accounts with administrative access, or reconfiguring the system," according to Microsoft. XP users who followed Microsoft's initial advice and applied the patch were in for a nasty surprise. Reg reader Granville Gough writes: "If you are running WinXP and install this fix, your machine will be compromised. It will slow to a crawl, taking up to 30 seconds to open a spreadsheet, Word doc, run Meidaplayer and more." "The problem goes away if the fix is removed," he adds. In a warning, issued on Friday, (Apr 25) Microsoft says it has "investigated this issue and confirmed that there can be performance problems when the patch is applied to Windows XP Service Pack 1 systems. "Microsoft is actively working on a revised patch for Windows XP Service Pack 1 and will re-issue that patch when it has been completed and fully tested." However reader Scott Lappin reports that the flaky patch also had "disastrous effects" on Win2K systems, so it seems the performance problems are not isolated to WinXP - contrary to Microsoft's suggestion. So until Microsoft gets its act together users are left with the choice of leaving their systems vulnerable to an "important" security flaw or applying an exceedingly slow quick fix. Microsoft's revised advisory fails to clearly recommend either course of action, leaving it to the discretion of users. ® Related Stories IT managers trust Microsoft on security... NT4.0 too flawed to fix - official Critical Win2K flaw yields multiple attack vectors Minor glitch in Win2K patch
John Leyden, 28 Apr 2003

Virgin Mobile up on youth popularity

Virgin Mobile - the joint venture between Virgin Group and Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile - reckons it's the DeeBees (dog's b******s) after signing up more than a quarter of a million new punters in the first three months of the year. That brings its total customer base in the UK to more than 2.6m punters who, between them, helped Virgin Mobile generate more than £1m a day in revenues. Virgin Mobile is so confident about its appeal to the yoof market it reckons it will crack the three million mark somewhen later this year. And it also anticipates that revenue will jump to around £400m in 2003 - up from £288m in 2002. Last year Virgin Mobile - which has around 5 per pent of the UK's mobile market - made an operating profit of £5 million and posted EBITDA earnings of £16m. Publishing figures today Virgin reported that turnover for Q1 2003 was £94.5m - up from £57.9m a year ago. But despite the much-bragged about growth in punters on the previous quarter, turnover was only up 2.5 per cent compared to Q4 2002. In a statement Virgin Mobile's boss, Sir Richard Branson said: "Not only is Virgin Mobile going great guns as a network in its own right, we are also a major contributor to our network partner T-Mobile's UK customer base. I believe that we now account for more than 20 per cent of their total network base, and contribute approximately 25 per cent of SMS traffic on the network, which is a reflection of how appealing the Virgin Mobile brand is to Britain's youth." Speaking of T-Mobile, in March Virgin and its business partner fell out over a dispute concerning charges. ® Related Story T-Mobile loses bid to reduce its Virgin spend
Tim Richardson, 28 Apr 2003

Dell targets gamers with consumer 800MHz FSB kit

Reg Kit WatchReg Kit Watch Desktop PC Dell has introduced its most powerful consumer desktop, the Dimension XPS. Based on Intel's 800MHz frontside bus Pentium 4 running at 3GHz and Intel's i875P chipset, and with a 128MB ATI Radeon 9800 Pro graphics card and Creative Audigy 2 sound card, the box is aimed squarely at gamers. More consumer-friendly features include two 1394 ports and eight USB 2.0 ports. 10/100Mbps Ethernet is built in. The system can be ordered with up to 200GB of Ultra ATA-100 storage, and you can have Serial ATA and RAID support via an optional controller card. Optical drives options include: 16x DVD, 48x/24x/48x CD-RW, and 48x CD-RW/DVD, DVD+RW/ +R combo drives. All of this is backed by a 460W power supply, fitted into the bottom of the mini-tower case rather than the top. The result, claims Dell, is a quieter system and one whose internal workings are more easily accessed - a boon for the upgrade-crazy hardcore gamer. Pricing depends on configuration, but a model with 256MB of 400MHz DDR SDRAM, 60GB hard drive 16x DVD, 19in CRT display, Radeon 9800 and Windows XP Home edition costs $2199. ®
Tony Smith, 28 Apr 2003

T-Mobile fights UK union bid

T-Mobile has hired "union avoidance labor consultants" The Burke Group to fight a union recognition vote in the UK. The Burke Group claims a 96 per cent strike rate in fighting 700 union recognition campaigns, although its hit list is entirely American. The Communications Workers Union has been recruiting among T-Mobile's 6,500 UK employees - 4,000 in call centres for 18 month. A ballot to establish union negotiating rights started last week and closes on May 9. So will its imported union buster create "unbearable havoc" in the run-up to the deadline? Calling all T-Mobile staff: tell us what's going on, but remember to vote first. A T-Mobile spokesman told the Financial Mail on Sunday. We're not anti-union but we do have issues with collective bargaining." Oh really? So what about Germany, where, as FMOS notes, several union officials are on the supervisory board of Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile's parent company. So why is sauce for the German goose poison for the UK gander? ®
Drew Cullen, 28 Apr 2003

Dixons won't repeat misleading credit ad

Dixons Stores Group (DSG) has received a ticking off from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) over misleading advertising. Currys, one of DSG's stable of retailers, was found to be advertising misleading ads for interest-free credit - something the OFT won't stand for. Why? Well, although the "no interest" or "0%" loans might sound tempting, it seems that if the loan wasn't paid off in full at the end of the interest free period, then interest would be charged for the whole period of the loan. And that is a big no-no, as far as the OFT is concerned, since such ads break the law and can mislead consumers. Dixons - along with a number of other retailers - had already given assurances that they wouldn't run such ads. However, in this one case in a Currys store Dixons has admitted that it was at fault blaming the incident on a "marketing error". It has now given "informal undertakings" that it will change the advertising of its in-store credit to end misleading 'no interest' claims, said the OFT today. In a statement John Vickers, OFT chairman, said: "A company advertising 'interest free' or 'no interest' credit deals must offer just that - credit without interest. Consumers should not be misled by inaccurate advertising." ® Related Story Dabs.com and Time bow to OFT pressure
Tim Richardson, 28 Apr 2003

Conman caught by rogue mobile redial

An incompetent conman spilled the beans on a fraudulent insurance claim when he accidentally redialled the company he was trying to rip off. The man, who can't be named for legal reasons, inadvertently redialled the call centre of claims adjustors Loss Management Group, moments after phoning in a fraudulent claim. He proceeded to explain to a friend how he invented a claim for seven supposedly stolen items of jewellery, blissfully unaware that the call was being recorded. The incompetent crook used documents he found during a house clearance to substantiate his fraudulent claim. "Unfortunately for the individual concerned, we automatically record all calls for training and monitoring so we had the complete conversation on tape," Tony Le Fevre, managing director of LMG, told Call Centre Europe. According to LMG, jewellery fraud costs the insurance industry £70 million a year. ®
John Leyden, 28 Apr 2003

Intel gives away lip-reading speech recognition code

Intel has released lip-reading visual speech recognition software under an open source licence. Called Audio Visual Speech Recognition (AVSR), the software is part of Intel's OpenCV computer vision and facial recognition code library. Essentially, it tracks the speaker's mouth movements as individual character and syllable sounds are formed. Intel reckons the technique to be far more accurate than traditional speech recognition algorithms, which analyse sounds rather than images. That's not to say the results are perfect, and Intel's announcement implies that the system works better when coupled with facial recognition to identify 'known' speakers. Indeed, Intel's web site shows that the best results can be achieved with a mix of video and audio recognition algorithms, the one giving weight to the choices made by the other, particularly as the levels of background noise increase. The code was developed by Intel's Research subsidiary, part of whose remit is to develop applications that make the most of mainstream PCs' processing power. In other words, Intel is developing code that helps encourage users to upgrade to more powerful chips, ideally - and given chip makers' relative market shares, almost certainly - those made by Intel. It's motives may not be entirely philanthropic, but at least Intel is giving the code away with a minimum of restrictions. ® Related Links Intel's AVSR page Intel's OpenCV page
Tony Smith, 28 Apr 2003

Spinning network centric warfare in the peace

Do we detect the beginnings of a spin campaign to 'prove' that network-centric warfare (ETA 2010, according to Pentagon documentation) won its spurs in the Iraq war? Sadly, we fear we do. The US Department of Defense was probably even more disappointed than we were that the 'first digitized division,' the 4th Infantry, was pretty much still unloading tanks when Saddam's fanatical hordes mysteriously legged it, but never mind, they can always just go with the stuff they had on the ground instead. An early sighting is to be had here, at AP, which is often very good, but alas, sometimes no better than it should be. The piece does not contain incorrect data as such, but from the title 'Networked information decisive in Iraq war' onwards it conveys an impression that is misleading, but exceedingly helpful to those who wish to get over the message that spending billions on battlefield automation will be money well-spent. Says the author: "networked information was perhaps the Pentagon's most striking asset in Iraq, where variations of signature Internet tools and tactics donned military fatigues. Think Napster, instant-messaging and eBay in battlefield khaki." Did they, indeed? "Their three-week victory was spurred by internetworked tanks on the ground, satellite-linked robot eyes in the sky and personal intercoms that converted urban fighters into nodes on a footsoldier network." All of these are explained a little further down page, and in large part turn out to be maybe not quite as revolutionary and exciting as you might think at first impression. Napster? "nearly every combat leader's vehicle was wired into a network like the revolutionary music file-swapping service, said John Garstka, an assistant director in the Pentagon's Office of Force Transformation." But this is not Napster as we know it; we suspect it is largely an Office of Force Transformation soundbite. Note that, whereas the intention as regards the 4th, the digitized division, is for all of the vehicles in the command unit to be networked together then networked back through the command structure, here we're only talking about 'combat leaders' vehicles,' and the import of that kind of depends on how wide you cast the combat leader net. It doesn't take much in the way of bandwidth to pass an ID and GPS coordinates via wireless, which is as well considering the military currently doesn't have much wireless bandwidth, so presumably what we're being told here is that individual vehicles are not being tracked, but that the general position of the formation can now be inferred from the position of the command vehicle. This is possibly not rocket science, and for a few hundred dollars these days you can keep track of your children this way. Next, the deft slide into the bit that's currently easy. "Each of those vehicles glowed as a 'friendly' blue blip on the computer battle maps of commanders, bomber dispatchers and fighter pilots overhead." All of these will already have good communications, and the situation we therefore have is that yes, the command structure does probably have a better grasp of where all of the units are, but the combat leaders themselves don't have this yet. "Click on one of those blue blips and you can send an AOL-style instant message to the vehicle's crew - in real time." If it's also going to get there in real time, then presumably this is no ordinary battlewagon, where data still has to fight its way through voice over a pretty narrow wireless pipe, but one of the conventional, more comms-heavy command vehicles. And maybe it can even - although Mr Garstka doesn't say - IM back. But why not just pick up the phone? And we don't think the fighter pilots will be tapping IMs on keyboards. At least, we hope not - we fear we spot our second Pentagon soundbite. But: "Text messaging speeds battle decision-making, written orders being clearer than garbled ones on a radio." Yes, that makes sense, but it sounds more like a mechanism for delivering written orders than instant messaging to us, given that Centcom surely isn't going to be sending out IMs to individual unit commanders saying 'kill the T72 1.5km off at 2 o'clock' - that's his job, even when network-centric warfare really does happen. As regards this one, we wonder what kind of pix they pass around the chatrooms when they're not bombing anybody: "Officers directing the lethal ballet spent a lot of time in computer chats, relaying intelligence. One was Air Force Maj. Bill Cahill, who at the Combined Air Operations Center in Saudi Arabia passed pictures from spy planes to bomber dispatchers." Seriously though, this points us to one of the more important uses of technology in Iraq, but it's one that's been proven for some years now. Smart weapons mean that if you know where a target is you can hit it with near certainty, and spyplanes and UAVs (the big success of the 4th's first experiments) give you a much better chance of knowing that. So getting pictures ought to make it a lot easier for the bombers to get to a plausible distance from the target and flip the switch. But this is all existing stuff that's being honed, it's arguably pretty much a standalone (albeit connected in its own way) system, and does not as yet fit obviously into the network-centric warfare picture. Last soundbite, eBay. "A frenzy of bidding typically occurs in the minutes before an eBay online auction ends. It's called swarming. U.S. forces did it time and again in Iraq. Their communications gear let them gather quickly and strike in small units. Even knots of commandos, because they were networked, didn't fight in isolation. That explains U.S. commanders' confidence in ordering armored raids into Baghdad on April 6. They quickly seized a bridgehead in the center of the city, even though the territory held was physically more like an island." We fear this communications gear may really have been voice, and furthermore we fear the voice gear used by the "knots of commandos" is likely to have been (shush...) French (the comms gear of choice for us.mil's cheese-eating spearhead, the Rangers, Marines and Special Forces). But if we said, 'We were passing this palace and we noticed it didn't seem very heavily defended, so we called down a few airstrikes and called up lots more tanks that were fairly close,' although you might be impressed by our initiative, we wouldn't have sold you network-centric warfare, would we? Similarly (well, we presume 'similarly'), voice was a hit with the British forces: "Every British ground soldier toted a Personal Role Radio, a walkie-talkie system the U.K. debuted in Afghanistan in 2001. The kit consists of a lightweight headset linked to a compact radio normally fixed to the breast. The radio lets soldiers converse at distances of 500 meters, keying their microphones with wirelessly-linked buttons on their guns." The kit's presence in the article is however of some significance, because the Bowman Personal Role Radio (which this is, began shipping last year as the first part of the Bowman system, which will ultimately do battlefield data, but doesn't yet, because it hasn't yet. Shipped, that is. So right now the squaddies have simply got nice, light, walkie-talkies. Which is nice. So not much meat, but much spin, here then. However, there's a worrisome sting in the tail. John Arquilla, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, is cited: "Because the United States is now unbeatable in conventional war, Arquilla predicts a future of netwars where ill-defined foes 'might not fight as open armies or nation-states. Those foes, like al-Qaida, can be expected to network and swarm.'" So spot the next big budgetary request. The Men in the Shadows will have as yet uninvented lightweight voice and data communications technologies that can operate where there are no land or mobile networks, and will operate as a kind of Napster (or even more evil, Usenet) with AK47s, RPGs and Stingers. Not figuring that out the need for lethal hardware early enough may of course be where Napster went wrong, but clearly we're going to have to be ready for this threat. We'll need to be able to tag individual people red and blue, because the punks don't have airplanes and don't sit around in nice, detectable tanks, and it'll be even harder because we're already proposing to do it with robots rather than real people soldiers, RSN. So it'll cost - but hell, how much do you value freedom? ® Related links: The US M1A2 Abrams, and war as a video game The Pentagon's tactical Internet - a war too early?
John Lettice, 28 Apr 2003

Apple launches 99c a song music service

Apple launched its online music service today, providing almost unlimited usage rights, CD quality audio and reliable downloads for just 99 cents a song. But you're out of luck if you live outside the US - the only territory in which the service is available. It's Mac-only too. It will come to Windows by the end of the year, the company promised, but it could make no such pledge to international Mac users. The service centres on a new version of iTunes, Apple's free jukebox software, and provides over 200,000 tracks at launch. According to Apple CEO Steve Jobs, that number will continue to grow "every day". At its launch last month, BT's Dotmusic on Demand kicked off with 155,000 songs, so Apple probably has the lead on volume. It certainly has the lead in content, offering exclusive songs from the likes of U2, Eminem, Bob Dylan and others. The service also provides full album art and a selection of videos, all of which can be streamed for free. Tracks come from all the major record labels, and all songs can be burned to CD, even from labels that have in the past permitted downloading and streaming, but not burning. Each of those songs is encoded not in MP3, but in AAC, as expected. The reason, said Jobs, was because it sounds better. Add to that a higher level of compression for a given level of quality and anti-piracy technology, and you get the full picture. Apple's songs are encoded at 128Kbps, which Jobs claimed "rivals CD quality". In fact, he said, it's better than CD quality, since Apple has in many cases used original masters to create is song library, rather than ripping a stack of CDs. Each song is available as a 30-second preview at full quality. Unlike rival services, there's no subscription fee - punters can download one song or as many as they like. Those tracks can be downloaded to any number of iPods - but not, you'll note, other MP3 players - and three Macs. Jobs said that Mac owners who buy new machines can "de-authorise their old computer and re-authorise the new one" so there is some degree of matching user/Mac to what's downloaded. Any song can be burned to CD, any number of times, but to prevent mass-burning, any given playlist can only be burned ten times without. That, reckons Apple, won't affect ordinary, honest users, only those who auto-burn stacks of CDs for chums or commerce. The idea, said Jobs, is to give users the same deal as they've always had through buying LPs, cassettes and CDs for a one-off fee. That includes using music in other contexts - Apple's service includes a licence allowing you to incorporate downloaded songs as soundtracks to Mac-produced home videos and DVDs, for example. Quality encoding, album art, exclusive material, reliable downloads, fast and accurate searching through iTunes, unlimited CD burning and unlimited transfer to iPods are what Apple reckons will persuade users to ditch the likes of Kazaa in favour of the Apple service. Crucially, though it's betting punters will be willing to pay 99c rather than go through the hoops they sometimes have to crawl to get songs for free. We reckon many will. Apple seems to have figured out that music isn't necessarily about albums but singles, and has priced the service accordingly. Actually, it's good for albums too, since a ten-track full-price album will cost you less than it costs on CD. The last new album we bought in the US cost, if we remember correctly $10.99; from Apple it would cost $9.90. Or you can buy the whole album for $9.99. It's not clear whether that's a CD purchase or a download. That said, we'll have to see just how quickly new album releases appear on Apple's servers and how many of their songs are included straight away. It will also have to work on its back-catalogue: the Beatles and the Rolling Stones are both noticeable by their absence. Bruce Springsteen's hugely popular The Rising is missing too. It failed our Jethro Tull test too. Not all the artwork for available albums is there yet, either. Apple may have cracked on the online business model, but like all the other services, it's up against the problem of not being able to provide punters with the songs they want. Mac users who can't get most of this stuff from other, Windows-only services may not mind so much, but other punters will need the reassurance of a very much larger catalogue when the service becomes available to Windows PC owners later this year. ®
Tony Smith, 28 Apr 2003

MS issues Visual FoxPro OS statement …

Microsoft has issued a statement designed to stop developers from running one of its development tools on Linux. The controversy kicked off earlier this month when Microsoft executives warned software developer Whil Hentzen, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, against demonstrating how to run Microsoft's Visual FoxPro (VFP) on Linux during a seminar. Prior to the demonstration, Hentzen received a call from Ken Levy, Microsoft's Visual FoxPro marketing manager, telling him that he would be in violation of the EULA (End User Licensing Agreement) for VFP if he demonstrated (or ran) the development tool on Linux. But developers had previously been led to believe from Microsoft that "as long as licenses were in order" running VFP on Linux as a developer environment was permissible, if not exactly encouraged. "It appears that Microsoft is trying the tie its applications (developer tools) to their operating system," Hentzen told us. "Given the legal difficulties that Microsoft has encountered over the years, we don't believe that this is legal, and thus we don't believe that this is the intent of the EULA." Last weekend, Microsoft's Levy posted a message on enthusiast sites essentially saying that Visual FoxPro is a Windows-only tool. "Visual FoxPro was designed and tested for use in creating applications that run on the Microsoft Windows platform; the same applies to the components that are provided to developers for redistribution with Visual FoxPro-based applications," Levy writes. "If a developer wishes to distribute the Visual FoxPro runtime with an application, the runtime may only operate in conjunction with a Microsoft Windows platform. As with any contract, you should seek your own legal counsel's advice when interpreting your rights and obligations under the Visual FoxPro End User License Agreement." Levy said the statement was his last comment on the issue, though it's unlikely that the VFP on Linux camp will drop the subject quite so easily. Letters we've received on the subject are weighted towards those who oppose Microsoft's stance. Californian developer Howard Golden believes that the "MS EULA wording is intentionally misleading to suggest tying without actually tying VFP to Windows". "The EULA does not say you can only operate VFP on MS operating systems. It only says you can't use VFP to design, develop and test your own programs that are not designed to operate on MS products," he emails us. The distinction is critical: If someone can operate your program on Windows, then it's OK to run VFP on Linux to design, develop and test the product on Linux." FoxPro is a database and dev language purchased by Microsoft in 1992, and now known as Microsoft Visual FoxPro (VFP). The technology allows developer to create an executable, which can then be distributed (along with a support library DLL), to an unlimited number of end users. Within the FoxPro community there's been considerable interest of late in running VFP apps on Linux, instead of Windows. VFP can run on Linux using WINE. ® Related Stories MS legal threat derails Foxpro on Linux demo Running MS-Office on Linux
John Leyden, 28 Apr 2003

Freeserve nears 70k BB punters

Freeserve chalked up an extra 19,000 broadband customers in the first three months of the year bringing its total to 68,000 punters in the UK. That might not seem a lot for the outfit that calls itself the UK's number one ISP, but Freeserve insists that the growth rate is in line with increases elsewhere in the UK's broadband market. And it's not bad either since Freeserve isn't spending large wads of cash to obtain new punters. Overall, the total number of Freeserve customers rose by 92,000 from 2.57m at the end of December 2002 to 2.67m at the end of March. Importantly for the ISP, Freeserve managed to increase the number of dial-up subscribers by around 100,000 bringing the total number of paying narrowband punters to a smidge over a million. Today's figures were released as its parent company - Wanadoo - reported that revenues for Q1 2003 rose 38 per cent to €567m euros from €410m in the corresponding period last year. Much of this growth came from the growth in broadband subscriptions across Wanadoo's operations in Europe. At the end of March it had 1.6 million broadband punters, an increase which helped its Net access revenues jump 61 per cent from €221m in Q1 2002, to € 355m in Q1 2003. Wanadoo says these results put it on track to hit growth of between 25-30 per cent for 2003. In a statement Wanadoo chairman and CEO, Olivier Sichel, said: "This first quarter confirms the dynamic performance of Wanadoo's businesses, in particular broadband Internet access, where we now have over 1.6 million customers across Europe." In all, Wanadoo had 8.79m Net access punters in Europe. ® Related Stories Wanadoo makes a profit Freeserve denies it's gone cold on BB
Tim Richardson, 28 Apr 2003

McNealy on Project Orion, Sun's Database hole

InterviewInterview Later this year, Sun will start shipping almost every piece of software it makes from the Sun One Application Server and Directory Server to grid computing and clustering products as part of a giant bundle with its Solaris operating system. This Microsoft-like bundling exercise has the potential to change the way both software and hardware are priced. Early indications have this massive software suite shipping to customers at a cost of between $100 and $200 per employee, which would be quite a blow to the thousands of dollars per CPU middleware crowd. Sun has tried for some time to boost its middleware business with modest success, but McNealy, Chairman, CEO and President at Sun, is convinced that this aggressive pricing model will make Sun's big software bet pay off. Sun plans to use the Orion stack as an attack against HP, which abandoned its own middleware line last year, and against IBM's WebSphere products. Sun's rivals dismiss Orion as just another ploy by the server company to generate much needed software revenue and doubt it will work. McNealy, of course, is confident it will succeed. When did you first come up with the idea for Orion? Did HP's decision to exit the middleware business help push you in that direction? It wasn't as much a competitive thing as it was a customer value thing, as boring as that sounds. When we put all of the Orion software in Solaris, guess what happened. It didn't work. So we debugged all that and now it works. But what is the competitive angle behind Orion? We looked at WebSphere, and we are the number one platform for WebSphere, and they are siphoning off all this money. We have an awesome Web server that runs like the wind. It has availability and reliability features like you can't believe. You also don't have to go out and buy another app server. There might be a reason to go BEA on the very high end, but 90 percent of the users will be just as happy not spending money on that. Why should all this stuff be siphoned off by these middleware folks, leaving you with users who don't have enough money to go out and buy computers and computer systems. It's really more of an attack on WebSphere than it is on HP, but if you buy an HP computer, you still have to buy the stack. You still have to go buy an app server, a Web server, a directory, calendaring and all the rest of it. They are each pigeon-holed, probably HP more than IBM. HP has to go to the outside. IBM in the sense that they have this huge multi-billion dollar software business that is going to come under unbelievable pressure because all of sudden only their servers are the total available market and secondly, they have to get cost competitive. What's the motivation for a customer to pick your software over the market share leaders? This is where the CIOs typically don't do the right thing. They go, "I am going to do the total cost of acquisition of the server. Then I will do a total cost of acquisition for the app server and the directory." If they add them all up and look at the total acquisition cost of the system, we win hands down. We are so far and away the low cost producer. With us doing the R and D on the software integration, there is no integration costs for the customers, which never gets factored into the total analysis. Our equipment is higher volume and less expensive than theirs, and there is no IBM Global Services needed to integrate it anymore. They can't charge $40,000 a CPU for just the app server. But no matter how you slice it, IBM owns the database with DB2, which is the biggest piece of the software stack. They can leverage that against you in their pricing to a large degree. That's why we partner so aggressively with Oracle. So that still gives IBM more control than Sun with regard to the overall cost of software. They have a business model and a revenue model that they have to go support, and that database revenue is pure profit. Where MY SQL works we say use MY SQL. Where the directory database works use the Sun One Directory Server. Where Oracle works use that. There are lots of other database strategies that are being developed out there. It's MIRVing. Databases are MIRVing. IBM and Oracle would rather have you believe that everything is going to go into one database. In fact, that is not what's happening. The world is MIRVing. MIRVing? Multiple Independent Re-entry Vehicle. You didn't know what MIRVing was? You're not old enough to know. During the Cold War, the issue around the arms race wasn't just how many missles you had but the fact that the warheads could MIRV, which meant they would go off and you could have seven independent, targeted pieces come flying off. So you could hit seven cities with one missle. This goes back to a time when in elementary school we used to do air raids where you had to get under your chairs and cover up. So with databases MIRVing, there's just data showing up in lots of different places. There's a database in StarOffice. There's a database in your phone and all of your appliances. That still gives IBM a way to undercut Orion though? I don't know that it is the dominant piece. It is a piece of the software stuff you have to pay. The real question is how many more database licenses do people really need. I don't think they need all that much more, and we don't have any revenue model built around that. Yeah, I wish we had one. But we do have one - MYSQL, Postgres and the Sun ONE database technology. I think the open source opportunities are non-trivial there. Have you considered making a database acquisition? You know, we haven't decided that is a war we want to go fight. Why not let them all beat each others' brains in. It's still unclear to me how users will purchase Orion. You are giving them the whole stack whether or not they just want one piece. Do you expect them to move to Sun one piece at a time? The stacks are always up for upgrades. That is the only way the stack-makers can make their next quarter numbers. At some point, the license expires or they need an upgrade. It is not like overnight everyone is going to go to Orion. At some point they say, why don't I just go because it's cheaper. Do you have an idea of what this migration might look like? We don't really know. It will be an interesting experiment. I would buy an Orion license and then tell everybody that before we ever sign another software license tell me why we shouldn't use what we already own. The real goal is to price it aggressively enough so that if you are just going to use one piece of it, it's still compelling. At that point, I thanked McNealy for the interview and tucked my computer away in an HP-branded backpack. It has lots of nice pockets, you see. McNealy wished me good luck and then asked an associate, "Can you get him a new backpack?" ®
Ashlee Vance, 28 Apr 2003

Apple takes iPod to 30GB

Apple introduced a new, slimmer generation of its iPod personal music player, as predicted. The new design sports a touchpad-based "solid-state" scroll wheel and four backlit control buttons: track skip/rewind, Menu, play/pause and track skip/fast forward. The updated iPod is available not only with 15GB and 30GB hard drives, as expected, but there's an entry-level model with a 10GB hard drive. Until the launch today, it had been assumed that Apple would continue to offer the 10GB second-generation iPod. US prices are $299 (10GB), $399 (15GB) and $499 (30GB). Only the top two models ship with the new recharging/sync cradle, however, along with a belt-worn carry case. The dock connects to a new, non-standard port on the bottom of the iPod. In turn, it connects to a host PC or Mac via 1394 or USB 2.0. It also offers audio-out ports to make it easier to connect the iPod to a hi-fi. Apple will release the USB 2.0 Windows driver in June as a free download, but Windows users will have to cough up $19 extra for a USB 2.0 cable - Apple only ships a dock connector-to-1394 lead in the box. Connecting the iPod to the host computer automatically initiates an iTunes, iCal and Address Book synchronisation in Mac OS X; or just a music synchronisation with iPod. Actually, we thought you could do this already, so what, we wonder, is all the fuss about? All three models contain enhanced software that not only supports the AAC audio format Apple is basing its online Music Store on, but allows users to create new playlists on their iPod. Taking a leaf out of the mobile phone biz, the new iPods feature extra games - Parachute and the perennial Windows favourite, Solitaire - plus an alarm clock and text viewing facilities. ®
Tony Smith, 28 Apr 2003