9th > May > 2003 Archive

Google to fix blog noise problem

Google is to create a search tool specifically for weblogs, most likely giving material generated by the self-publishing tools its own tab. CEO Eric Schmidt made the announcement on Monday, at the JP Morgan Technology and Telecom conference. 'Soon the company will also offer a service for searching Web logs, known as "blogs,"' reported Reuters. It isn't clear if weblogs will be removed from the main search results, but precedent suggests they will be. After Google acquired Usenet groups from Deja.com, it developed a unique user interface and a refined search engine, and removed the groups from the main index. After a sticky start, Usenet veterans welcomed the new interface. Google recently acquired Blogger, and sources suggest this is the most likely option. Bloggers too are likely to welcome their very own tab as a legitimization of the publishing format. But many others will breathe a sigh of relief as blogs disappear from the main index. "I just want a search engine that works," laments Chris Roddy, a politics and linguistics undergraduate at the University of Emory. "I can get a Google search with porn turned off; why can't I get blogs turned off too?" he asked on Slashdot. Google has strived in vain to maintain the quality of its search results in the face of a blizzard of links generated by a small number of sources. (Google searches 3,083,324,652 pages as of 4PM PT today. Assuming there are one million bloggers, and generously assuming they have a hundred pages each, that amounts to 0.032 per cent of web content indexed by Google. Recent research by Pew put the number of blog readers as opposed to writers, as "statistically insignificant"). However, through dense and incestuous linking, results from blogs can drown out other sources. "The main problem with blogs is that, as far as Google is concerned, they masquerade as useful information when all they contain is idle chatter," wrote Roddy. "And through some fluke of their evil software, they seem to get indexed really fast, so when a major political or social event happens, Google is noised to the brim with blogs and you have to start at result number 40 or so before you get past the blogs." We'd noticed. "Taking Usenet out of the general search was great, because it is not really interfering with general Internet searching," Roddy told us. "Usenet was a public forum in the first place." A Slashot discussion prompted a suggestion that Google add a -noblog option, which it effectively appears to be introducing by default. Gary Stock, chief technology office for Nexcerpt, Inc. agrees. "A year or two ago you could hit 'I'm Feeling Lucky' and there was a good chance that you could find a good and authoritative page," he told us. "It is less the case today. More and more people have more text to type, and may not have anything authoritative to say - they just throw up characters on the screen." He says that the link-based algorithm called PageRank™ was designed, at Stanford University, with very different assumptions about the quality of information. "They didn't foresee a tightly-bound body of wirers," reckons Stock. "They presumed that technicians at USC would link to the best papers from MIT, to the best local sites from a land trust or a river study - rather than a clique, a small group of people writing about each other constantly. They obviously bump the rankings system in a way for which it wasn't prepared." Information Quality For Stock and Roddy, the problem is that the resulting degradation in the quality of information makes it even harder to find primary source material. Roddy said the realization came after searching through 500 blog entries to find a primary source. Exacerbating the problem, says Stock - who devised 'Googlewhacking', or the art of producing a search query that returns just one result - is the frequency with which the sites are indexed. "If they are really spidering all 3 billion pages, then they must have changed some law of physics," he explains. "Someone has made a choice whether to go to a site ever hour or every three years. That begs the question - if I know something to be a high traffic site and I train my robots to visit often, do I discount it when I feed my information to PageRank?" For example, he cites a hypothetical. "Suppose turtle-rescue.org has authoritative information about turtles. And it changes every month. Then BoingBoing puts up a page about turtles and that becomes a big deal. "Each of us gets vote," jokes Stock. "And someone votes every day and I vote once every four years." "The blogs push up very quickly up to the top of the search results." Databases "To me the power of what Dave Winer and Ev Williams have done, and it's great, is that I can easily publish ResourceShelf in seconds, giving me time to do other things," says respected author and librarian Gary Price. Price doesn't regard his site as a weblog, even though he uses Blogger tools, now owned by Google. Price co-authored The Invisible Web, a guide to little-known about public resources on the Internet [Amazon - review]. "But what happens when the weblog fad dies down?" he asks. "The public think that they can put 2.1 words into Google and the best answer will appear, they don't ask how long is it taking them to get it. For the average person - its very good, but there are choices out there; and a lot of people aren't aware of them and don't know." "You have to realize there are other information sources, and that information costs money." "This is why New York Public Libraries has a sign 'Here's where you find the stuff that isn't in Google.' and much of this is publicly accessible," Price points out. Or as Seth Finkelstein reminds us,"Google is good, but not God." (We'll follow up what, and how to get it, soon). Unearned Reputations Ironically, the low information quality of blog-infested Google results is a consequence of bloggers' attempts to introduce community aspects to what remains a solitary activity. The auto-citation feature 'Trackback' is frequently fingered as the culprit: many search results Google returns are trackbacks. And yet dealing with Trackback noise can be as much an opportunity as a challenge for Google's user interface designers. Just as the standalone Usenet tab allowed sophisticated metadata searching and threading, so could the Google Blog tab. Granting 0.03 per cent of the web with its own Google Tab might rankle with some, but others could argue it produces the best of both worlds, for general Search users and webloggers. One group is likely to protest long and hard, however: and that's people who have taken advantage of this quirk to use Google as their primary promotion channel or reputation creator. While folk whose reputations have been forged before the dawn of the blogroll will not be affected, and need not worry, the reaction may be predictable. It's a bit like challenging a monarch with the viability of the hereditary principle: you can guess what they'll say. Just as one-man one-vote democracy terrifies the bejesus out of some people, so surely will a fairer Google. ®
Andrew Orlowski, 09 May 2003

Stelios faces his domain Waterloo

Stelios Haji-Ioannou has backed down in his Napoleonic crusade against owners of "easy" domains, telling legitimate print-selling business Easyart.com that he is too busy suing other people to bother it - just weeks before court action was due to start. However, while the self-titled man of the people has threatened to renew his "passing off" claim against Easyart when he has more time, under the law he would now have to apply to a judge for permission to do so. He would also have to produce further evidence that Easyart was in fact trading on the back of his name, which means highly dubious vox-pops are out the window. Easyart CEO Simon Matthews is delighted and relieved. "Stelios has surrendered and we have won." Mr Matthews had vowed to fight Stelios all the way in order to protect his business, something that he was warned would cost him £50,000. "This was a David and Goliath fight. It is a good day for smaller companies who stand up to bullying tactics from large corporations," he said. Mr Matthews also hopes this his victory will see others prepare to stand up to EasyGroup's universal claim on the word "easy". "We hope that this gives hope to the many other companies out there who are trading legitimately under the 'easy' name who have been threatened by this man," he said. Over the past few years, EasyGroup has threatened a large number of "easy" domain owners, claiming that by even registering their domain, they are hoping to trade off the series of companies that have made him rich and famous - EasyJet, EasyCar, EasyInternetCafe. After the company failed to win an "easy" domain at arbitrator WIPO, it then threatened owners will immediate and expensive legal action. Only two cases have even gone to court, one was settled and the other EasyGroup lost, but the sheer cost of the action has seen many domain name owners hand over their property. When Mr Matthews became the object of the group's attentions, he vowed to fight all the way to the High Court to protect his business, which, he happily tells us, turned a profit for the first time at the end of 2002. Whether Mr Haji-Ioannou will return to bullying domains out of hapless owners after his current legal problems with the OFT and British Phonographic Industry, we don't know, but for anyone willing to stand up to the multi-millionaire, Easyart's case adds another level of defence against hostile intentions. ® Related stories Easyart.com to face Stelios in 'easy' court action Stelios faces challenger in easy domain name crusade
Kieren McCarthy, 09 May 2003

Ram Raiders bin stolen HDDs

They planned their heist to perfection. First, there were two getaway cars and a flatbed lorry to steal. Then, over several days, bolts were weakened on a panel the metal fence surrounding the target company's premises. This was to provide an alternative escape route, just in case the police turned up. The precaution was unnecessary. The robbers used the flatbed lorry to ram-raid the building, occupied by specialist hard drive repairer 1st Computer Traders, in Tamworth, Staffordshire. They smashed through the glass-fronted lobby, driving the back wall six feet into the store room of the hard drive repair specialists. The sensor alarm attached to the wall fell down among the 2,000 hard drives on racks attached to the displace wall and promptly stopped working. So the smoke alarms failed to go off, and no alert was sent to the police. The ram raiders got even luckier: the digital ccTV had captured the team making away with approx. 1,000 HDDs, worth £80K+. But when 1st Computer Trader staffers viewed the evidence a couple of days after the robbery, the ccTV promptly recorded over the evidence as they watched. The manufacturer had stated that the machine kept seven days worth of footage. All that remained were two stills captured by the staff as they watched the robbers hurling the hard drives into plastic bins. Director Simon Steggles said: "The robbery was a brilliantly clever set-up but they were idiots in the way they handled the hard drives. How many will be working after this?" Insurers have refused to pay up for the stolen hard drives, citing the failure of the alarm system. "We are a small company, so the loss has hurt, but we're recovering," Steggles said. Police have told 1st Computer Traders that know who the robbers are - a professional gang targeting computer shops in the West Midlands. But they do not have the evidence to nail them. But West Midlands resellers and disties, beware. The raid was more than a month ago, but if any of you are offered a big consignment of broken hard drives, give Simon a call on +44 (0) 1827 55555. ®
Drew Cullen, 09 May 2003

MMS to boom – Nokia

Three-quarters of UK survey participants are "excited" by MMS, providing an indication that MMS will repeat its success in Japan throughout the world. The findings are contained in a new report that was compiled by HPI Research Group and sponsored by Nokia Networks. The research surveyed various focus groups, but also surveyed 16- to 45-year-old mobile phone users who do not yet have an MMS phone. The survey, which was carried out in the UK, Japan, the US, Germany, Singapore and Finland, predicted that MMS is set to repeat the success of SMS text messaging. Respondents expressed great interest in downloadable services like travel information, news, games and screensavers. The study also suggested that these MMS-based services would capture traditional media spend for specific services, such as breaking news, travel, weather reports from television, Internet and other media. "Consumers really want MMS and are as intrigued by MMS as they were by SMS," said Pekka Pohjakallio, director of mobile Internet solutions at Nokia Networks. "What's really interesting is how MMS looks set to broaden mobile communications use as a whole and support the creation of new kinds of picture content services." Pohjakallio also said that the depth of demand for MMS services is extremely good news for the industry and creates a consumer pull for more advanced 3G-based services. The survey claimed that the pattern in the UK reflected the progress of MMS in Japan, where 90 percent of camera phone owners send multi-media messages to other phones and 68 percent send messages to e-mail accounts. Japanese users do not use their MMS capability instead of their phone's voice functionality, in fact Japanese users have increased their use of mobile phone services since getting their current phone and they expect to receive text or multimedia messages in response to multimedia messages they send. If the findings of the study are borne out it will be good news for Nokia Networks, which produces the infrastructure equipment necessary to build a mobile phone network. The division has been struggling for some time and for the full-year of 2002 saw its sales decline by 13 percent. Nokia said in January that it expected the overall market to contract by a further 5 percent to 10 percent during 2003. © ENN
ElectricNews.net, 09 May 2003

Portuguese oil co. touts latest MS SmartPhone

It is almost certainly the first time anybody other than a phone company has launched a mobile phone: GALP and Microsoft have done a deal to provide an AEG-built Windows-powered (PocketPC) device to GALP partners and customers. Microsoft's Steve Ballmer himself will be in Lisbon today to announce the deal. "This marks the first deal of its kind -- in which a major national corporation, whose core business is not affiliated with anything phones nor technology, delivers and brands a mobile phone," said Microsoft last night. More details will emerge after Steve Ballmer gives his speech at 11.00 AM. If this doesn't frighten the cosy cartel of mobile phone makers, it can only be because they are already terrified of the shape of Microsoft looming in their rear-view mirrors. Portugal's largest mobile operator, TMN, will distribute the Smartphone nationally through a huge "instant retail network" The network, says Microsoft, comprises convenience stores, petrol stations and retailers franchised or owned by Galp Energia, Portugal's leading oil and gas company, this summer. The phone itself is not quite the mystery it may sound - it's the "Tanager" - the phone which T-Mobile will announce in a few weeks for American distribution, and which Orange will release in Scandinavian countries this month. Built by HTC, it is essentially an updated Orange SPV with a brighter display and an easier keyboard to use. It will be branded by AEG, and the Galp phone will carry the AEG logo. Mysteriously, Microsoft added: "AEG is working with Dangaard Telecom to bring the Smartphone to market." Key product features will include GALP related services, such as loyalty program information and account services, location-based content and services; and other services, such as driver assistance, location-based information (maps, routing, traffic info, POI data base) and auto-related content, provided by FastAccess. FastAccess is a joint venture of Galp Energia and Brisa - one of the largest private motorway operators in Europe and the leader in the Portuguese market. FastAccess is described as the leading Portuguese driver-related and Telematics mobility services provider. Juha Christensen, vice president of the Mobile Devices Marketing Group for Microsoft, said: "Partnerships will become increasingly important in the mobile industry and this is a great example of how together partners can reap the business benefits of mobile data communications and at the same time provide innovative services for their customers." © Some recent articles on NewsWireless.Net T-Mobile puts WiFi on the phone bill Apple's wireless "leadership" shows a chink in armour
Guy Kewney, 09 May 2003

Services take centre stage, as software licences slip

Taking a look at some of the recent earnings announcements for enterprise applications vendors, you could be forgiven for thinking that the days of selling software licences were sliding to an end, writes Fran Howarth, of Bloor Research. Almost all of the gorillas of the enterprise application space - Siebel, SAP, Oracle and PeopleSoft included - have seen revenue from licence sales slip as a per cent of overall revenue recently. And, across a wide range of companies, transaction sizes are getting smaller. So what is going on? According to Siebel, the reductions are more due to conditions surrounding purchasing decisions - rather than factors affecting professional services, maintenance needs or other issues. The vendor believes that the general weakness in the global economy from 2001 onwards, combined with reduced corporate capital expenditure due to cost-cutting and geopolitical uncertainties, is to blame. This has led to purchasing processes being delayed, meaning that the entire purchasing cycle from evaluation to signing of a software purchase order takes longer. However, it is predicting a return to more normal levels of licence purchasing in the second half of 2003. Time will tell. But for some vendors, the shift appears to be irreversible. To counter this, many are beefing up their services capabilities - many vendors that are expecting headcount to remain relatively flat state that they are, however, looking to increase their professional services resources. Others are looking to acquire professional services firms catering to their area, as evidenced by an upturn in the number of mergers and acquisitions involving services firms this year. I put the question to Jacquie Boast, chief operating office for Kewill Solutions Europe, a manufacturer of supply chain execution solutions that has been in operation for more than 30 years. Two years ago, software licences comprised between 50% and 60% of total revenues, but that has slipped recently to closer to 30%. According to Boast, one out-of-the-box application cannot suit all companies, as different firms have different and unique business processes, workflow and integration needs. End-user organisations have seen too many poorly managed software implementation projects that have blown initial budget estimations and taken years to get working. Add to that the fact that applications are becoming more functionally rich and the need for increased services, such as customisation, becomes clear. Boast reports that Kewill's customers are increasingly looking to outsource the development and management of their applications to the vendor. More and more, they want the application to be hosted for them. And customisation is a particular issue, with many applications being delivered in a modular fashion, allowing the customer to pick and choose those that they require. To make them work together, as well as to interface with existing technology systems, requires much help in terms of professional services. Additionally, customers are looking for a range of complementary services. In the supply chain execution market, which Kewill serves, this means providing such services as supplier enablement. To cater for this, the vendor has a dedicated community management team that is responsible for integrating and customising applications, as well as getting the customer's user and supplier communities to use the software. Such services are on the increase. Over time, lessons learnt and best practices will be incorporated into new software releases. But, for now, many must rely on professional services capabilities to allow them to make the best use of applications that they have purchased. © IT-Analysis.com
IT-Analysis, 09 May 2003

‘Banned’ Xbox hacking book selling fast

Hacker-engineer Andrew "Bunnie" Huang says he's already pre-sold between 400 and 500 copies of his self-published tell-all "Hacking the Xbox: an Introduction to Reverse Engineering," weeks before its scheduled May 27th publication date, despite -- or perhaps because of -- looming suspicions by some that the book skirts the edges of legality. "It' s about getting the book out there on principle, because I can't find a publisher willing to publish it," says Huang. "I think it's controversial, but not illegal." With chapters on "Soldering Techniques" and "Installing a Blue LED," Huang's how-to may not seem an obvious candidate for joining Huckleberry Finn and Harry Potter on history's sad list of once-banned books. But Microsoft, the maker of the Xbox, has taken a dim view of home modifications of the game console, focusing its litigious ire in particular on "mod chips" that allow Xbox owners to run software that Microsoft hasn't approved and licensed. With a mod chip installed, users can run everything from virtual juke boxes to the Linux operating system on the game platform -- as well as pirated copies of Xbox games. Last year, a Microsoft lawsuit temporarily shut down the Hong Kong-based company Lik Sang, which sold mod chips over the Internet. And last month, mod chip entrepreneur David Rocci was sentenced to five months in federal custody for conspiracy to violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Rocci was the proprietor of a U.S. website that sold mod chips and helped users locate pirated copies of Xbox games to run on their modified machines. Huang says his book describes some types of mod chips -- explains how they work, and what lessons they offer designers of secure hardware platforms. For example the "Matrix" chip installs solderlessly over a test port manufacturers left on the Xbox motherboard. "You don't leave these test structures on the motherboard, if you want it secure," says Huang. Another chapter helps readers replace the machine's firmware -- a mod chip trick used by sophisticated pirates and tinkerers. "They can be used by the pirating community, and they can be used by the Linux community -- so that one chapter that talks about firmware devices plays to the Linux community," says Huang. "I believe that should be a legal activity." DMCA Fears The book also revisits a technique that cemented Huang's reputation as a hardware hacker last year, which involves building custom hardware to intercept an encryption key as it crosses the Xbox's internal high-speed bus. To avoid legal complications, Huang published his research paper on the technique only after receiving permission from Microsoft, negotiated with the help of EFF attorney Lee Tien. "To get the paper published in the first place we had to negotiate a legal mine field," say Tien, who went on to contribute a chapter on the legalities of reverse engineering to Huang's book. But Huang didn't get Microsoft's blessing for Hacking the Xbox, which goes beyond discussing a single hacking technique. The book aims to teach readers how to think like a hardware hacker, using the internal secrets of the game console the way a med school teacher uses Gray's Anatomy. With the boundaries of federal copyright law, particularly the DMCA, unclear, Huang says tech-publishing house John Wiley & Sons got cold feet and withdrew its plans to publish the book sometime after Rocci's guilty plea. Wiley didn't return phone calls on the matter. Unable to find another publisher, Huang elected to sell the book himself through the Web. He dug into his own pockets to fund a print run of 1,000 books, which he says will be delivered to his home later this month. "It'll be only a matter of two weeks when a pallet of books comes to my doorstep," he says. "Every book will be boxed by my own two hands." Huang began accepting credit cards through his website this week, after already selling nearly half of his initial print run through a PayPal account. He says he's barely reached the break-even point. "He's not going to make a huge amount of money," says Tien. "He thinks that it's worthwhile stuff. That it's interesting, and it's teaching people." "Mainly, at this point, it's boiled down to a political battle, for the freedom to tinker," says Huang. "For my entire life I've been playing with hardware. This is the first time someone's told me I can't play with hardware because it's illegal." © Related story MIT grad student shows how to read Xbox security key"
Kevin Poulsen, 09 May 2003

Nvidia admits GeForce FX 5800 ‘not successful’

Nvidia last night announced disappointing results for the first quarter of its current fiscal year, 2004. The chip maker admitted its NV30 chip - aka the GeForce FX 5800 - was "not a successful product", and confirmed that it would launch its replacement, the NV35, next week. The suggests Nvidia will indeed announce NV35 at the E3 show, to be held in Los Angeles on 13-16 May, as forecast. Speaking during a post-announcement conference call, Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang said the NV35 will replace the NV30. The new chip is believed to be called the GeForce FX 5900. Pictures of the new board can be seen here. Sales for the period were $405 million, down 30.5 per cent on Q1 2003, when Nvidia recorded sales of $582.9 million. Sales fell sequentially too, down 13.6 per cent on the previous quarter's $469 million worth of sales. The most recent quarter's figure was below Wall Street's expectation of $410 million, according to FirstCall's poll. Net income totalled $19.7 million (12 cents a share), down 61.3 per cent on the previous quarter's $50.9 million income (30 cents a share) and a whopping 76.3 per cent on the same period last year's figure of $83.2 million (47 cents a share). Revenue from Nvidia's deal with Microsoft fell $43 million quarter over quarter. The company expects to get some of that back in the current quarter, but it's hard to see it given Xbox's recent price cuts. Huang said Nvidia would begin producing a new GeForce FX chip, this time with IBM, which the company selected as a second manufacturing partner in March. Huang said the company has not yet decided how it intends to split production between IBM and its original foundry partner, TSMC, in the long run. TSMC will be producing NV35, he said. Talk of the new GeForce FX, plus NV35, drove Nvidia's shares up 11 per cent in after-hours trading from $16.06 to $17.80. But that's still a very long way from 2002's high of around $70, when the company seemed unaffected by the downturn the rest of the semiconductor industry was experiencing. Looking ahead, CFO Marv Burkett said the company expects revenue to rise by between 12 and 18 per cent in the second quarter. However, he admitted that gross margins in the second quarter may drop 1-2 per cent. Nvidia is putting in place cost-cutting measures, he said. ® Related Stories Momentum builds for E3 launch of Nvidia NV35 Nvidia to debut NV35 at E3? Nvidia books IBM fab for GeForce FX
Tony Smith, 09 May 2003

ATI ships Radeon 9600 Pro

Reg Kit WatchReg Kit Watch Graphics ATI has begun shipping its Radeon 9600 Pro graphics chip and card, earlier than originally planned but a little later than the part's re-scheduled ship date. On 2 April, ATI marketing chief Rick Bergman said the company's Radeon 9600 products would ship "later this month". ATI missed that by a week or so, but what's seven-odd days among friends? The 9600 Pro supports up to 128MB of DDR SDRAM across a 128-bit bus. It supports AGP 8x, and provides four parallel rendering pipelines with two geometry engines running side by side. It can drive monitor resolutions of up to 2048x1536 in 32-bit colour. Analog and digital monitor connection are provided, along with TV-out. Once again, ATI stressed its use of TSMC's 0.13 micron process technology, a tacit dig at its arch-rival, Nvidia. TSMC has been blamed for the problems Nvidia has had getting 0.13 micron chips to market. By stating how happy it is with said process, ATI is effectively saying Nvidia's problems are its own fault. And given Nvidia's decision to use IBM as well as TSMC, ATI's comments are calculated to encourage TSMC to view ATI as a better customer than Nvidia. Machiavellian or what? Chipsets SiS has introduced the SiS655FX chipset. Designed to support Intel's Pentium 4 200MHz quad-pumped frontside bus - for an effective clock frequency of 800MHz - the chipset also provides 400MHz DDR and AGP 8x support. The chipset's North Bridge connects to the SiS964 South Bridge across a 1GBps link based on SiS' Hyperstreaming technology which debuted with SiS' AMD-oriented SiS758 chipset in March. ®
Tony Smith, 09 May 2003

DoCoMo wristphone sells out in 20 mins

NTT DoCoMo's Wristomo I-mode wristphone sold out within 20 minutes of going on sale, the company said yesterday. Wristomo was made available to the Japanese public on Wednesday at 10am local time. By 10.20am, all 1000 devices that made up the wristphone's first production run, had been sold. Each phone costs ¥37,000 ($316). It operates on Japan's PHS (Personal Handyphone System) network, enabling internet access as well as voice calls. It ships with software allowing its internal phone book and diary to by synchronised with Microsoft Outlook via a separate data cable. Each Wristomo measures 17 x 4 x 1.75cm (6.8 x 1.6 x 0.7in) and weighs 110.6g (3.9oz), said the company. Talk time is 120 minutes; standby time around 200 hours. DoCoMo's launch is set to be followed by Samsung's GPRS wristphone in Europe in Q4, and Motorola's IDEN wristphone. NTT DoCoMo said it plans to offer a second batch of 1000 Wristomos via its web site next Thursday at 10am. ® Related Story Chuck out your handsets, here come the wristphones
Tony Smith, 09 May 2003

OpenForum Europe rejects Perens charges

This week, Linux evangelist Bruce Perens criticised OpenForum Europe for supporting software patents in the European Community. Graham Taylor, Director OpenForum Europe, has penned this open letter in response. As you will be aware OpenForum Europe was recently a signatory to a letter organized by EICTA in support of the revisions proposed by Arlene McCarthy relating to software patents. OpenForum Europe draws its members from both the business user and supplier communities (including HP, IBM, Red Hat, SCO, SuSE and SUN) and has consistently adopted a pragmatic approach to the perceived business needs of users as reported by our members and by independently commissioned research. Unfortunately this pragmatic approach is not welcomed in all quarters and our recent support of proposed revisions on software patents at the EU has created much negative and extreme comment from some members of the OSS community, based on incorrect information on our position. As a result we are today posting the following response on the website and writing to Bruce Perens and others clearly explaining our position and credentials. We hope this will provide greater clarity on our thinking and true beliefs. “Comments in the press may give the impression that OpenForum Europe (a) seeks to represent the Open Source Community, and (b) supports proposals for software patents in Europe. OpenForum Europe wishes to make it clear that it does not attempt or ever has attempted to represent the wider Open Source Community. Suggestions made to the contrary are false. OpenForum Europe can only seek to represent the opinions and interests of its members. OpenForum Europe was invited to comment on software patent proposals currently under consideration by the EU, a task which was undertaken with some misgivings in light of the acrimonious nature of the debate, which it observed was damaging the presentation of OSS in the quarters where influence was most necessary. It sought to find a consensus amongst its members, the members comprising representatives from corporate OSS development and supply companies and business users of Open Source Software. Informal discussions indicated the degree of polarisation and concern that surrounds the software patent debate. There are clear and real concerns on the potential impact if Europe follows the same route as the US. Political soundings made it clear that a position which denied all software patents was unlikely to either succeed in Europe, or be viable in isolation with the rest of the world. As a result, representations were made by OpenForum Europe in January to ensure that the software patenting process made strenuous efforts to support the interests of Open Source developers; that patents should only be granted by exception where real innovation and technical contribution had been made and could be evidenced. Furthermore if any such patent was to be included in any interoperability standard then there must be special rules on licensing which allows free access for such purposes. Copyright would be the preferred mechanism rather than patenting which should not be applied without rigorous scrutiny by people with real skills and experience in software development. OpenForum Europe's position is that a lack of clarity about the intent and purpose of software patents would be potentially even more damaging to the interests of European software developers. Our focus is to ensure that as much as possible is done to ensure that any patents are carefully granted and not used in anti-competitive ways; in particular they should not be used to prevent the development of Open Source alternatives to proprietary products. It is this respect that we are supporting the positive revisions proposed in Arlene McCarthy’s opinion now being considered by the European Parliament for the granting of patents. OpenForum Europe was set up as a not-for-profit, independent organisation to accelerate the take up of GNU/Linux and OSS by business. It does this by using business language to explain the opportunities and tackle the business issues that its research highlights are the main obstacles to progress. It sees the OSS opportunity to improve business efficiency and effectiveness as immense – it is nothing to do with anti any one company – it is all about achieving a new improved business model – more effective, lower cost, more choice. No evangelism – just hard business sense.” Yours sincerely Graham Taylor Director OpenForum Europe
Drew Cullen, 09 May 2003

Tiscali UK caps users

Tiscali UK is capping its unmetered Anytime service to 150-hours a month. Snag is, the Italian ISP forgot to tell anyone about it. The first punters knew of the cap was when some of them received an email saying: "We notice that you have had extremely high usage (over 150 hours a month) on your AnyTime package every month for the last three months. Unfortunately your current level of usage is adversely affecting the service we can offer other users." Tiscali then threatens punters that unless they reduce their usage they will be booted off the service. One Register reader who received the email told us: "Now I have looked up their terms and condition and yes it does say about 150-hours. However when I moved to them last year (I was bounced by BT Openworld for a similar thing) I checked out Tiscali which was definitely unmetered at the time, so this is clearly a change of terms and conditions." According to Tiscali UK the Ts&Cs were updated - last Friday. On Wednesday this week the ISP emailed a "small percentage of [its] AnyTime customers who were persistent heavy users in every one of the last three months" and issued the warning. However, it won't be until after the weekend that Tiscali UK will inform the rest of its punters about the cap. The 150-hour a month cap - which Tiscali claims is "in line with industry standards" - comes into effect from May 16. In a statement Tiscali UK ISP Director Steve Horley said: "We have been monitoring this for three months and have identified a core of users who are consistently treating the service as an 'Always On' service. "AnyTime offers flexible any time use but we have always been clear that it is not designed to be always on. Like other players in the market we have adopted 150 hours as a reasonable level, bearing in mind the average AnyTime customer uses under 50 hours per month." ®
Tim Richardson, 09 May 2003

Broadband: it's not all about speed, you know

Broadband providers should concentrate on delivering high service quality rather than chasing ever-greater speeds. So says a report from Point topic, which argues that raising sustained service levels is essential if punters are to adopt new applications. Motives, means and applications maintains that a high data rate is of no value for many applications unless it is continuous. "It must not come and go while the user is trying to watch a football game or have a phone conversation," says the report. "The conclusion that broadband providers should focus on raising service levels is controversial because much of the emphasis in developing DSL technology has been on achieving ever higher data rates," it said. Asked to comment, one industry insider told The Register: "I couldn't agree more." ®
Tim Richardson, 09 May 2003

Toshiba to demo low-cost blue-laser optical disc

Toshiba is developing a blue-laser optical disc based on today's DVD production process. The upshot: much higher capacities of optical storage at a much lower cost than other blue-laser technologies. According to Toshiba, the new disc requires only minor changes to an existing DVD production line and the equipment it's based on to produce. The disc is based on a single-side, double-layer 120mm diameter, 1.2mm thick DVD constructed using back-to-back bonding. Rival blue-laser offerings are based on multiple discs stacked one on top of the other, each read by adjusting the focus of the laser. This approach produces media that are thicker than today's DVDs and require the disc to be fitted inside a cartridge for protection. By contrast, Toshiba's disc doesn't need a cartridge any more than a regular DVD does. And by using the same form factor as a DVD can ultimately be delivered using slimline drives capable of being fitted inside notebook PCs. Toshiba's new disc is read using a short wavelength blue laser, focused through a lens comparable in numerical aperture to current DVD drives. That ensures backward compatibility with today's CDs and DVDs, Toshiba claims. All of which should ensure the discs are not only cheaper to produce than current blue-laser systems but so too are the drives. Sony's first blue-laser drive, which is set to go on sale this summer, costs around $3000. Discs are $45 a pop. The new read/write disc will offer a capacity of at least 36GB. It builds on work carried out jointly by Toshiba and NEC to create a next-generation blue laser-based DVD format. Their efforts are currently being considered by the DVD Forum, the body overseeing the format. The Toshiba-NEC technology is designed to boost today's DVD capacities of 8.52GB for a dual-layer, single-sided read-only disc to 30GB, and a 4.7GB single-layer, single-sided read-and-write disc to 20GB. Toshiba will detail its work on the new disc and the technology behind it next week at the Optical Data Storage 2003 show, held in Vancouver. ® Related Story Reg Kit Watch: Sony unveils blue-laser optical drives
Tony Smith, 09 May 2003

Blogger forces Irish domain registry into sunlight

Irish blogger and Internet consultant Antoin O'Lachtnain has succeeded in his bid to force the secretive company running Ireland's .ie domain into the open. Following a lengthy battle with IE Domain Registry Ltd (IEDR) and the University College Dublin (the original owner of the registry) using the Freedom of Information Act, an appeal has finally seen the not-for-profit director-owned company ordered to release large amounts of correspondence concerning the .ie domain. The company has attempted to block the release of any material by claiming alternately that it is commercially sensitive, would break others' privacy, may prejudice upcoming trials, would break the laywer-client privilege and doesn't exist or can't be found. The Information Commissioner refused to entertain nearly all grounds and ordered the information be released, despite IEDR and UCD's concerns that doing so would "expose the company to prejudicial media comment". IEDR has eight weeks to appeal on a point of law, after which the workings of Ireland's most important Internet company will be laid bare. Mr O'Lachtnain told us he doesn't even know if there will be anything of interest within the huge pile of paperwork but his intention was to force greater transparency onto the company. He doesn't intend to stop either until the private company running a very public resource is made more accountable, in line with domain registries across the world. "We want IEDR to immediately publish its accounts, replace its current board members and introduce new procedures," he told us. Despite officially spinning off IEDR in July 2000, UCD remains in control of the company, remains registered as its official owner at IANA, and chooses four of the company's five directors. IEDR currently charges one of the highest prices in the world for its .ie domain. For one year, and assuming your registration is accepted, a .ie domain will cost you €69.95 or £49.58. This compares to £36.36 for purely commercial domain .tv; £10.56 for a .com domain; and just £3.04 for a .uk domain. IEDR executives have, in the past, attributed this disparity to extra costs associated with running a restricted domain (i.e. manually checking applications). However, with numerous mistakes and errors made and with more relaxed rules now operating, pressure has been building for several years for the prices to come down. IEDR's refusal to disclose or even discuss operating costs has made it impossible to put its claims to the test. IEDR's first published accounts, published on 14 May 2002, saw the company produce an operating profit of just €91,670 (£65,613) on turnover of €1,936,535 (£1,386,073). This seems rather small, especially when the company had &242,529 in reserves from operating profit from when the registry was run by the University College Dublin. The profit to income percentage comes out at 4.74 per cent. This compares to 16.8 per cent recorded by .uk domain owner Nominet in the same year, despite Nominet investing heavily in new equipment and infrastructure. IEDR says the financial results were "satisfactory" due to a series of "one-off costs" that included unquantified "necessary legal, accounting and technical costs". Also, poor performance was also attributed to "the foot and mouth disease alert" and "the tragic events in the US on 11 September". How did this affect the market for buying Irish Internet domains? The turbulent history of the Irish Internet (ignoring the fury surrounding high-cost Internet connections and poor ADSL roll-out), including its restrictive, arcane system and over-priced domains can be attributed to ancient Internet roots. Nearly every country domain was originally started up and run by academics. But across the world, the same problems (lack of legal knowledge, business nous, marketing expertise, ability to see future problems) has caused those academics to slowly let go control to realise the Internet's wider potential. In Ireland's case, however, the UCD has not taken its hands off the tiller and the country's homegrown domain industry has suffered as a result. Antoin O'Lachtnain's victory at releasing what will no doubt be hugely tedious paperwork should at least make IEDR realise it can no longer live in its own cocoon. Once UCD relinquishes control, Ireland will soon catch up with the rest of the world and we may see .ie domains rise from the pitiful 35,000 currently registered to potentially millions, each one advertising Ireland to the rest of the world. ® Related link Antoin O'Lachtnain wins
Kieren McCarthy, 09 May 2003

Museum calls on industry to help celebrate IT heritage

The UK's Museum of Computing, a not-for-profit organisation with links to the Science Museum and the Bletchley Park Trust, the British Computer Society and the University of Bath, is seeking help from IT companies around the world to draw up its ongoing exhibition programme. Founded in 2000, the Museum of Computing is the only museum dedicated to computing in the UK. It's located within the University of Bath's extra mural Oakfield campus in Swindon and opened its doors to the public earlier this year. Admission is free of charge. The Museum's goal is not to become home to a permanent collection of its own, but to provide a new location for other organisations to showcase their collections, and to become an educational centre for schools. Its first exhibition is dedicated to the work of the codebreakers of Bletchley Park and the creation of the world's first programmable computer, Colossus, used to crack German ciphers. The Bletchley Park exhibition comes to a close on 15 May. Later this month, the Museum will open its home computing display, which charts the sector's history from the late 1970s onwards and features over 40 exhibits include some 8-bit blasts from the past, like the Oric, Jupiter Ace, Atari 400, Texas Instruments TI99/4A and many others. But what next? That's where the Museum is looking for help. The Museum is looking to host exhibitions that celebrate major technological breakthroughs and the people behind them. It is also hoping to organise presentations exploring the contribution of British computer and telecommunications companies. Displays of computer hardware and software are also part of the plan. "We want to encourage today's generation that has never seen such machines to celebrate their heritage and take pride in great British pioneers and their achievements," said Museum chairman and founder Jeremy Holt. "By showing the major leaps in technology over the last 70 years, we hope to stimulate the creative thinking of today's engineers, programmers and visionaries." Tomorrow's too, we hope. To that end, the Museum is calling on IT organisations to suggest exhibitions for its ongoing programme and opportunities to mark technological breakthroughs, old and new. And - let's not beat about the bush here - the Museum wants to hear from philanthropic corporate grands fromage willing to put their money where their mouth is. "If this concept is taken up by companies and individuals proud of their work, and it captures the imagination of the IT community as well as the general public, there is no telling where it may lead," said Holt. ® Related Links The Museum of Computing Companies interested in pursing sponsorship opportunities should contact Jeremy Holt directly.
Tony Smith, 09 May 2003

Microsoft publishes US Xbox Live prices

Microsoft has revealed some of its pricing plans for the US Xbox Live service, hopefully giving some indication of what it's lined up for European consumers. Renewals will start at $49.99 for a year's subscription, or $5.99 for a month; subs can be topped up either online or with top up cards bought from various stores. The voice communicator will sell separately for a rather princely $29.99, but new users will also be able to buy an all-in starter kit including bundled games, communicator and one year's subscription for a pretty respectable $69.99. Assuming that Microsoft plays fair with currency conversion, we expect this to translate to either £29.99 or £34.99 annually in the UK, or £3.99 a month. © gamesindustry.biz
gamesindustry.biz, 09 May 2003

Cops seize dorm PCs in college raid

Ohio State cops have made the latest raid on techie college students, seizing computer equipment from three freshman and one sophomore. Officers charged into the students' dormitory rooms earlier this month in a search for evidence linking them to a file-trading network run on the OSU network, The Lantern reports. Search warrants in hand, the coppers nicked some computers, video game manuals, Blockbuster movie rental cards, DVDs, a microphone and a power cord. "I thought they were coming in for a drug raid," Josh Cavinee, a sophomore in aeronautical engineering told the school paper. "They came in, patted me down and made me sit in the corner. It's a good thing we didn't have drugs here." It is too, Josh. Freshman Patrick Muckerman was not as lucky. The computer engineering student was found to have a computer running a server that helped other students search for files. All of the students are thought to have been running Direct Connect Hub file-sharing software on OSU's ResNet network. Police officials would not tell the paper what kind of charges the students may face, but it's not hard to venture a guess. Earlier this month, the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) settled up with four other busted file-trading students to the tune of $59,500. It's a little harder to justify these types of raids on college students after a Los Angeles court cleared a path for file-swapping software. The students were playing a similar role to StreamCast and Grokster, serving as a file trading facilitators, if you will. The really bad ones are the 3,000 students sucking up OSU's bandwidth. Why not put the entire campus under house arrest? Detective Willis Amweg stated in an affidavit that: "Section 291.04 ORC (Ohio Revised Code) makes it a criminal offense for any person to knowingly gain access to any computer network beyond the scope of the express consent of the owner of the computer network." A directive that vague and broad should be sufficient to shut down all of the collegians' PCs - one power cord at a time. None of the OSU students were arrested, and the police admitted they are not quite sure what to do next. The RIAA's SWAT team has no doubt booked a flight to Columbus, so it can help. One of the OSU students denied running any type of trading hub in his comments to The Lantern. "I wasn't running a hub; they just think I was," said Eric Diamond, a freshman in electrical and computer engineering. said. "I used the system, and that is it." Police have not returned his calls for more information. ® Related Stories RIAA attacking our culture, the American Mind The Real RIAA (and other True Crime Stories)
Ashlee Vance, 09 May 2003