10th > October > 2003 Archive

Terminator Carly joins Team Schwarzenegger

Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina is to advise the new Governor-elect of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. She's one of four Silicon Valley appointees on a bi-partisan Transition Team, which includes the Mayor of San Francisco Willie M Brown. Schwarzenegger has vowed to pare debt-ridden California's spending to the bone. And Fiorina should be able to help there: upwards of 18,000 staff were layed off as a result of the HP-Compaq merger, a bodycount to match the new Governor's Terminator movies. The bodybuilder turned politician (that's Arnold) has expressed an admiration for the communication techniques of Adolf Hitler, while Fiorina has expressed admiration for the Nineteenth Century German comedian GWF Hegel. But beyond that, it's hard to see what lasting synergies there may be, as Fiorina is know to be a Democrat. Although one of the few women on the transition team, she is more than capable of looking after herself, should the Governer-elect's hands start to wander. ® Related Story Intel spammer comes up short in California governor bid I'm Carly, Fly Me
Andrew Orlowski, 10 Oct 2003

Google bug blocks thousands of sites

Google, like the rest of us, seems to be fighting a losing battle to make sense of a rising tide of Internet garbage. But a programming error by the search engine has compounded the problem: by inadvertently blocking thousands of sites from Google users. It's been called a "Google-NACK": you enter a particular search term and Google tells you that there are thousands of matching results, but fails to return many, or any results. For example, a search for keyboard bracelet returns just five sites out of "about 49,900". (Your mileage may vary, as Google results differ depending on where you are, and which way the Segway scooters are pointing - but it's a fairly typical figure.) What's happening? Award-winning researcher Seth Finkelstein has a theory why. Google's own spam filters, designed to weed out link farms created by pornographers and spammers and Scientologists, are crude, and are blocking many innocent sites. "Technical solutions may have unintended consequences," he says. "When Google searches for combinations of terms, pages with the terms close to each other are ranked highly. Such pages are also unfortunately often search spam pages, using a mismash of keywords. Thus, an unusual combination of words (and a dedicated spammer) will bring spam pages near the top of the results for certain keyword searches." Perfect storm One such example is Elwyn Jenkins, a spammer and former e-currency evangelist now based in Australia, who touted a pamphlet called "Make Money Online" - which boasted that "Dr. Jenkins has pioneered a unique approach to using Google and blogs to build traffic." Jenkins used a link farm using the domains www.microdoc-news.info, www.microdocs-news.info, smoogle.info, googlevillage.info, blogging-news.info, googlology.info, microdoc.bloki.com, www.question-factory.com, meeting-mentor.blogspot.com, radio.weblogs.com/0111745, verityintellectualproperties.com, textchunk.info, personalbrain.info, technacy.info, verity-ip.com, bloggers-news.info and ... well, you get the picture. His Googlephilia was returned in kind by bloggers, who pumped up his PageRank™ (PageRank™s fatal flaw was incestuous linking) by linking to him approvingly. So creating a perfect storm - and an almighty headache - for Google's algorithm overlords. The term GoogleNACK ('Negative ACKnowledgement') was coined by Gary Stock, CTO of Nexcerpt, a web clipping service that monitors thousands of news sources. Stock coined the phrase Googlewhack, sharing his research with Google. In an effort to weed out the noise, Google constantly refines its weighting algorithm, which it says is a combination of a hundred different factors. In an attempt to thwart deliberate gaming by link farms and blog noise (exacerbated by lossy software gimmicks such as 'Trackbacks', which generate reams of content-free pages for Google's crawlers), Google has stepped back from its trademarked PageRank™ method and instead, emphasized more traditional factors such as anchor text. "I'd say the people to *whack* here are those search-spammers who are causing the problem and requiring Google's defense," says Finkelstein. But all factors, once known, are susceptible to gaming, and perhaps no one search engine can ever hope to win an arms race against unscrupulous and determined spammers. Although calls have increased for Google to be regulated, perhaps the best defense is simply common sense: other search engines deliver surprising results that Google can't, and a wise browser will use a combination of tools. It certainly helps to shop around. Or ask a librarian. ®
Andrew Orlowski, 10 Oct 2003

SCO: irrevocable doesn't mean forever

Star LetterStar Letter IBM, and now SGI claim that their UNIX™ licenses are irrevocable. Not on your nelly, says SCO - and is there anyone left on the planet who isn't aware of SCO's litigation against Linux and open source? To: Subject: Why do these guys keep calling the license irrevocable? I have read over SGI’s licenses and I’ve found no place where it says it is irrevocable. Why would anyone in their right mind sign over a license to anyone that was not revocable? “Congratulations sir, I know you were speeding and drunk at the wheel, weaving in and out of your lane, but lucky for you, you had one of these drivers’ licenses that is irrevocable. Have a nice day.” There is no such thing as an irrevocable license. You have to abide by the statutes of a license or it can be revoked. You can’t take code based on a license you signed, change it a little and then give it away for free (as in the case of XFS from SGI). If SCO allowed companies to contribute derivative UNIX code to Linux and give it away for free, it would destroy the value of all other versions of UNIX, including SCO’s own, not to mention the versions of UNIX made by SUN, HP, IBM, SGI, Sequent, Hitachi, Fujitsu, Siemens, and every other one of the 6,000 other licensees. Why would SCO not have such a provision in their licenses? This line of thinking is absolutely ludicrous.    In fact, this very language comes from SGI’s license it originally signed with AT&T which license SCO now owns: If LICENSEE fails to fulfill one or more of its obligations under this Agreement, AT&T-IS (AT&T Information Systems) may, upon its election and in addition to any other rememdies that it may have, at any time terminate all the rights granted by it hereunder by not less than two(2) months’ written notice to LICENSEE specifying any such breach, unless within the period of such notice all breaches specified therein shall have been remedied; upon such termination LICENSEE shall immediately discontinue use of and return or destroy all copies of SOFTWARE PRODUCTS subject to this Agreement. Irrevocable? Hmmmmmmmmmmmm. Blake Stowell Director, Public Relations SCO So, Mr.Bond. {Villain fingers pussycat} How do you get out of that one? ®
Andrew Orlowski, 10 Oct 2003

Why 'Download.com' isn't what it appears to be

Earlier this week we reported that CNET's Download.com had booted an anti-spam product after complaints about its makers. They appeared to be spammers themselves and were lying about their product. The spam we got referred to Download.com, Cnet's popular shareware library, where the product could be downloaded from. At least, that's what we believed and complained about to CNET. Now, CNET informs us that we fell victim to the same trick that the spammer used to dupe thousands of innocent users. 'Download.com's distinctive page design was copied by the spammer and the pages were presented on the spammer's own web servers to make it appear as though the product was being downloaded from the real Download.com,' Scott Arpajian, senior Vice President of CNET Download.com told The Reg. "When your reporter visited Download.com, the product appeared to have been removed, but in fact it was never there to begin with." Hey, didn't we say that Spam Remedy operated in stealth mode? Just kidding. Actually, the product was still offered this week through Optinspecialist.info aka SecureDiscounts aka Soft4all.biz. All 'companies' known for hosting spamvertised sites. Securediscounts also offers software that permits people to pirate software from DVD's onto CD's, using domain names such as Ultra-software.info. In the past Spam Remedy was also sold through nano-soft.biz, a domain registered by Andery Kovalev from Tallinn, Estonia, another indication that there is a Nordic connection. 'Is it just me, or are the former Soviet Union and its republics becoming the centre of Internet scams?' someone on the Net asks. after he received spam from the company. So far, the people behind Spam Remedy have only identified themselves as the DarkSoft Group, which not only developed the abovementioned pirate product but also crafted 'the only real time remotely deployable spy software application'. Apparently, it gives you the power to remotely monitor pc's from anywhere. That is if you believe them. What we do know is that DarkSoft seems to favor hit and run tactics. They register (or let others register) domain names for a short time and then move on to another address, like rats escaping the flood. The spamvertised links optinspecialists.info, soft4all.biz and nano-soft.biz links worked yesterday, but were out of use as from this morning. In fact, DarkSoft seem to have vanished from Earth. We have to congratulate DarkSoft on their Download.com spoof. We fell for it. However, they may have gone too far this time. "CNET vigorously defends its copyrights and trademarks," Scott Arpajian told The Reg. 'We are currently working with the necessary authorities to take appropriate action." CNET has thanked us for giving it the opportunity to set the record completely straight with our readers. Which is very gracious of them, as it's the least we could do. Apologies all around. ®
Jan Libbenga, 10 Oct 2003

Microcomm Systems buys Invisible Networks

Invisible Networks, the Cambridge-based wireless broadband operator that went titsup last week, has been bought by London-based Microcomm Systems, the outfit behind Mesh Broadband. Financial terms were not disclosed. However, once IN's business and assets have been transferred to Microcomm Systems Ltd, it's expected that IN will go into voluntary liquidation early next month. That said, the acquisition means that IN's punters should be able to continue with their broadband services. According to a statement issued last night, Microcomm Systems plans to upgrade and improve IN's current network and integrate it with its existing operations based in Southend, Essex. Said Microcomm Systems director, TJ Amushan: "I am delighted that we have been able to secure the community networks and to keep them running. "Acquisition of these networks and customer base provides one of the key locations in our strategy for the East of England." Initial reaction among IN punters, though, has been mixed. Although some are reserving judgment on their new service providers until they have read the small print, others just aren't happy. They're miffed that not only will they have to pay more for the service (around £30 a month) they will also have to commit to year's contract. ® Related Stories Invisible Networks saved - maybe MCom sniffs around Invisible Networks 'Some interest' in Invisible Networks rescue Invisible Networks goes titsup
Tim Richardson, 10 Oct 2003

Siebel OnDemand CRM: has Siebel shot itself in the foot?

Across the board, large enterprise business application vendors have seen licence sales under pressure, with deals taking longer to close and average transaction size having slipped for many vendors to half of the level seen two or three years ago, writes Fran Howarth of Bloor Research. Many customers have been burnt by long implementations that run over time and over budget and are now turning their attention to smaller implementations to address specific points of pain. Of all the applications companies can implement - including supply chain management, professional services automation, human resources and financials management - customer relationship management has got some bad press over recent years for failing to provide the benefits and return on investment levels promised. And the benefits available are not even as large as for some other applications - almost 50 per cent of companies' revenues are spent on goods and services purchased, so whatever amount is cut from the bottom line through use of automated supply chain management and supplier relationship management applications will translate directly to increased profits. Not so for customer relationship management where, for a company operating with a 10% profit margin, sales revenues will have to be increased by ten times the amount that is cut through more efficient procurement to achieve the same benefit. And that's not the end of the story. Whilst some of these applications are extremely complex, especially supply chain management technologies, customer relationship management is not. Much of the functionality offered through customer relationship management technology is really pretty straightforward. This makes customer relationship management especially ripe for being offered as a hosted application - unless your company thinks that running a call centre equates to customer service and wants the larger, on-premise application. Salesforce.com showed us how to do it and has taken a significant lead in the provision of hosted applications. But then, Salesforce.com never intended to be labelled purely as a customer relationship management provider - instead, it built a hosted applications platform and developed a customer relationship management application to prove that the platform worked and because this application is easier than most others. Another company, Onyx, is also paving the way with its 'embedded CRM' story, offering customer relationship management applications in a web services environment. So what of Siebel's CRM OnDemand offering? This represents a re-architecture of its premise-based product and provides a much more intuitive, easy to use front end. Working on the same data model, the CRM OnDemand offering integrates seamlessly with its premise-based offering, allowing it to push its new offering to branch offices and subsidiaries of its existing clients. Siebel will also benefit from the enormous marketing clout of its go-to-market partner IBM. This is not the first time that Siebel has come out with a hosted offering. Back in 1999 it introduced a hosted offering written in a client-server environment, but this offering lasted only a couple of years before it was taken off the market. In the meantime, other companies have moved to capitalise on the gap in the market and have gained market share. There seems to be a rare consensus among analysts following Siebel's CRM OnDemand announcement that while it is a good product, it is most likely to be successful among those companies that already have a Siebel deployment in place - and some potential customers are likely to choose the new hosted version, rather than fork out for an all-singing-and-dancing on-premise version of a software that does more than they really need. This is especially so since Siebel has made its hosted version available backed up by analytics capabilities. Siebel has really made this move because it was forced to compete with the newer players on the market to protect its market share. It needs now to work hard on bringing the usability of its in-house version of the software up to scratch if it to avoid shooting itself in the foot by cannibalising that sales channel. During an announcement call of this new initiative, Siebel went out of its way to rubbish its competitors, especially PeopleSoft and Oracle. That is behaviour we more normally expect to see from Oracle and is not a strategy that will resonate with customers. Try it for yourself. Siebel is offering a free 30-day trial of the software. My guess is that, unless your company is labouring under the illusion that customer relationship management is more complicated than it really is, you probably won't need anything else. © IT-Analysis.com
IT-Analysis, 10 Oct 2003

The Netherlands: DSL Heaven or Hell?

In a matter of weeks the Netherlands have turned into DSL heaven, with prices dropping as low as €14.95 a month. DSL users were used to €40 and €50 plans just two months ago. Now providers and, more surprising, customers, are complaining. In August Versatel offshoot Zon introduced its €14.95 DSL service; Wanadoo, Het Net and Tiscali soon followed with similar offers. (By compairions Tiscali UK cut-price DSL product, announced Thursday, is a meagre 150 Kbps 'broadband' package for £15.99 - €22 - a month.) This week Dutch company Speedlinq joined the fray with Europe's first "go as you please service". There is no subscription. Users buy five gigabytes for just €22.50 and they can use that amount whenever they want. Although providers are slashing prices, few are happy. Wanadoo Benelux director Jean Jacques de Prins this week warned that his company is not going to make any money. "We used to have the highest DSL prices in Europe, now we seem to have the lowest," he said. Customers also complain when they discover that most offers come with strings attached. Some cut-price deals are only temporary, while others have a usage cap of 250 MB. If you exceed the data limit, you have to pay extra. Also, many providers are unable to cope with the demand. Users are told they have to wait three months before they can get a DSL connection. The Dutch consumer watchdog says it is flooded with complaints. KPN Telecom, by far the biggest DSL provider in the Netherlands, only offers cut price DSL through it subsidiary Het Net ("The Net'". Its main DSL providers Xs4all and Planet Internet haven't lowered prices yet. Instead, they will increase bandwidth next month. But subscribers are still not impressed: they believe that their subscription (€52 a month) is too high compared to recent cut price offers. That's bad news for KPN and others in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe: The price can only go down, not up. ®
Jan Libbenga, 10 Oct 2003

Students to get own ISP

A new ISP aimed specifically at UK students is due to go live later this month. NETStudent reckons it can serve up just want students want - keeping its service simple and affordable. There's a pay-as-you-go option, while £13.99 a month gets you 150 hours online. Oh, and NETStudent's ADSL broadband service costs £25.55 a month. However, if price really is an issue for hard-up students then it might well be worth taking a look at ADSLGuide's list of broadband ISPs and their prices before committing what meagre cash they have. Talking of broadband, Totalise - one of the stable of ISPs owned by Brightview - is offering ADSL for £23.99 a month. It's also cut the cost of its unmetered dial-up "Anytime" from £14.99 a month to £10.99 a month. According to Caroline Frankel, Brightview's chief marketing officer: "Totalise customers now have the chance to upgrade to broadband and unmetered services at a significantly cheaper rate than most other ISPs." Of course, you can't get much cheaper than free. And that's exactly what Silvermead Satellite Broadband is offering punters interested in hooking up to its service. They wrote to us saying that "we have started offering free trial accounts to any members interested in joining our leading satellite broadband service". Wow, that sounds good, we thought. The catch, unfortunately, is that you'll need to supply your own satellite dish, oh, and your own satellite modem. As long as you've got that, you can get a free trial of Silvermead's one-way satellite service. How long is the free trial you ask? Well, about 48 hours - you know, just to make sure it works. Talking of satellite, Aramiska has unveiled a new product which it claims is the "UK's first community broadband service specifically designed to bring affordable broadband to individuals living in rural communities". Its ARC 2000+ product allows communities to run wireless broadband services using the two-way satellite service from Aramiska. The service is already being used in West Hatton, Northampton and Angus Glens, Scotland. Of course, one of the key things about always-on broadband services is security. AOL UK has confirmed that its broadband punters - who pay from £27.99 a month for their services - can now download McAfee Personal Firewall Plus for no extra charge. The offer is "all part of AOL's efforts to make the broadband Internet experience safer and more enjoyable for its members", apparently. ®
Tim Richardson, 10 Oct 2003

Intel preps 1MB cache 130nm Pentium 4s

Intel intends to charge a whopping $925 for its Pentium 4 Extreme Edition - the recently announced 3.2GHz part with 2MB of on-die L3 cache. And the chip giant plans to offer regular Pentium 4 chips with 1MB of cache to expand the number of high-end desktop parts it offers before the arrival of 'Prescott', its next-generation P4 chip. The Extreme Edition, designed to compete with AMD's Athlon 64 FX-51, is due to ship early next month, DigiTimes reports. Its price is almost $300 more than the typical $637 entry point of top-of-the-range Intel desktop CPU introductions. Prices are per processor when sold in batches of 1000. With all that L3 cache, the chip's die size is significantly larger than that of the regular P4, so yields are likely to be lower, not only because Intel can punch out fewer per wafer but the bigger the die, the more likely it is to have imperfections that prevent it running at the desired clock speed, or not at all. Such imperfections may explain for the release of 1MB cache 2.8, 3 and 3.2GHz P4s. If a given chip won't run at 3.2GHz, Intel will try it at a lower clock speed and offer it at that frequency. That said, it's not clear from DigiTimes' story whether these parts have 1MB of L3 cache, the P4's L2 cache has been increased from 512KB to 1MB, or Intel has added just 512KB of L3. All are possible, but the first and last are the more likely, we believe. The recently released 3.2GHz Xeon DP which Intel described as offering "1MB of cache", actually has 512KB of L2 and 1MB of L3. Either way, the new chips should shore up the current 130nm P4 line while Intel ramps up 90nm Prescott volumes. That chip is likely to begin shipping at the very end of the year, just before the close of Intel's fiscal fourth quarter after Christmas. Even then Prescott is likely to be in very short supply. ®
Tony Smith, 10 Oct 2003

Toshiba to demo simplified 100Mbps WLAN

Toshiba's European R&D division will next week demonstrate a "low complexity" WLAN capable of achieving raw data rates of up to 100Mbps - almost double what today's 802.11g standard can offer. The company will show off the technology at the ITU Telecom World 2003 conference in Geneva, which opens its doors on Monday. Toshiba's system uses a technique called MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output), which improves WLAN performance by utilising multiple channels simultaneously through multiple antennae. Spatial multiplexing schemes put the data back together again while improved signal processing boosts the network's range. Performance increases proportionally with the number of antennae built into the system. MIMO uses Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM), the basis of 802.11g. Toshiba, alas, isn't the first to achieve a 100Mbps WLAN. US wireless networking chip maker Airgo has already begun sampling chipsets that use a dual-antennae MIMO rig to offer 108Mbps. And last month Intel committed itself to designing MIMO into its future WLAN products and to push for the inclusion of the technique in the putative 802.11n standard, currently being developed as the successor to 802.11a, b and g. Toshiba claims to have extended MIMO not only by improving the bandwidth it offers over single-antenna systems, but by simplifying the underlying hardware. Company boffins use a technique called pseudo-exhaustive state space searching to reduce the complexity of the work a WLAN adaptor has to do to decode incoming radio signals. The result, says Toshiba, is "vastly reduced power consumption, turning high-bandwidth, wide-range WLAN into a commercial reality". The researchers are also developing WLAN systems that adapt to different environments to provide the best performance they can, irrespective of traffic type, network topology or data rate. Again, such adaptability is also a keystone of Intel's ongoing WLAN research work. Toshiba is also developing device detection and auto-configuration systems that can create secure, robust networks without user intervention. Meanwhile, Toshiba's implementation of a MIMO-based wireless network will be used to transport MPEG 2 video streams across the demo network, to show how future WLANs may be used in the home as the basis of consumer entertainment systems. "Our research is focused on improving the performance and flexibility of WLAN whilst removing the complexity of implementing and managing solutions for end-users, whether they're businesses or consumers. We've already reached a significant milestone - a low complexity 100Mbps solution - and expect to break the 1Gbps barrier in the next three years," said Prof. Joe McGeehan, head of Toshiba's Telecommunications Research Laboratory, based in Bristol. ® Related Stories Intel announces death of copper Airgo to double Wi-Fi bandwidth to 108Mbps
Tony Smith, 10 Oct 2003

European notebook prices fell 25% during Q3

European notebook prices are shrinking fast. A new mobile system will today set you back around three-quarters of what it would have cost you a year ago, market watcher IDC reported today. And notebook prices are just over 42 per cent less than they were in August 2000. During September, European notebook prices dropped by 1.7 per cent over August's average. That drop was enough to bring the overall figure for Q3 down 10.6 per cent on Q2's average price. Compare Q3's average price to that seen at the start of the year, and prices are down 25 per cent, said IDC. The reason, the company said, was fierce competition between vendors, who are using price as their main competitive weapon in a bid to stimulate demand. The effect is worse in the retail channel, but the upshot will be a 50 per cent increase in consumer notebook sales during Q3 over the same period last year. Business are buying more notebooks too, albeit at a lower rate, and IDC reckons that overall, EMEA notebook shipments will rise 29 per cent between Q3 2003 and Q3 2002. Across the notebook, desktop and x86 server markets, European prices fell 7.1 per cent between Q2 and Q3, and 20 per cent between Q3 2003 and Q3 2002. Compared to August 2000, prices during Q3 were just over half what they were back then, IDC's figures show. "This third quarter has been another challenging one for PC vendors," said Karine Paoli, research director for IDC's European Personal Computing group. "With many countries still in recession and business renewal cycles continuing to be delayed and postponed to 2004, vendors had no other choice than to remain very active on the promotions and marketing front to stimulate demand." It's not going to get any better for them, she added. "With limited hope for a major economic recovery before the second half of 2004, pricing will remain a key volume generation weapon in the fourth quarter and into 2004," she said. ®
Tony Smith, 10 Oct 2003

Sculley explains how he missed the chance to trash Apple

Earlier this week former Apple CEO John Sculley claimed that one of the "biggest mistakes I've ever made" was turning down Andy Grove's suggestion, in the late 80s, that Apple switch from the Motorola 68000 processor line to Intel's x86. Not doing this, he said, meant that Apple wasn't able to benefit from the commoditisation that drove prices down in the PC market, and couldn't compete against the likes of Dell. Sculley is now a partner in investment outfit Sculley Brothers, and is surely well-placed to survey the smouldering, unprofitable ruin that the identikit commodity PC market has largely become. Sure, Dell makes money out of diligent Redmond-shadowing and shmoozing, razor margins and white-knuckle logistics, but what happened to all those happy PC companies that existed back in the late 80s when you made that fateful non-decision, John babe? You think maybe you'd have got lucky? Actually, Sculley went on to signal to the audience (we suspect, without entirely noticing he was doing so) what he regards as his real missed chance: "Michael Dell had the insight that innovation wasn't just about cool technology. It was also about innovating on logistics." Together with his Intel pipedream, this tells us a great deal more about John Sculley than it does about where Apple might have gone wrong. Dell's success has come through leveraging relatively small innovations which are made largely by other people and combining this with systems that are sufficiently honed for it to be able to make a profit out of high volume, fast refresh cycle commodity boxes. Dell's chosen leveraging platform is and always has been Wintel, but that neither means it should be anybody else's choice nor the only choice. Boil it down to the essence and you get brand, volume, logistics, and this is the stuff that Sculley, a former salesman of fizzy water for Pepsico, understands. Actually that particular market seems to have room for two major players, so if we progress the analogy into PCs, what have we got, Doke and Carlico? But we digress. Sculley's problem in the late 80s was not that he wasn't shipping Intel boxes but that Apple didn't have the brand, volume, logistics advantage. It had - still has - the überBrand par excellence, but it didn't have the volume, nor was there a route whereby it could get there quickly and with certainty. Which is where Sculley's problem at least overlaps with Apple's problem. Sculley's Intel gaffe (for gaffe, indeed multidecked gaffe, it is) simply reminds us that the fizzy water guy never really grasped the technology. At the time of the non-decision Apple really did have to start thinking about where it was going after 68k ran out of steam, but the x86 line in those days didn't look particularly promising as a platform, the 68k still beat the 386 and PowerPC beat the 486 when it came out. By the time Intel really could deliver, Apple was committed to PowerPC, and if Sculley had chosen Intel back when he claims he had the chance, he'd have done so solely on the basis of Andy Grove's promise that It Would Be So. That would have been a stupid decision, and is really not one that could or should have been made. Stupid decisions can turn out to be right for the wrong reasons - but not in this case. If Apple had switched to Intel at almost any time in the last 15 years it would have been making a dangerous, possibly reckless move. The switch to PowerPC has obviously not panned out in entirely the way it was intended, in that it was a component of a volume play that has not worked, but it's had the virtue of aligning Apple with companies who, through lack of other friends, have had little choice but to more or less look after Apple. Sure, Apple has at times been a pawn in other companies' much larger games, but although it's had its ups and downs it's still here, the brand is if anything even cooler, and it's looking pretty healthy for a loser. And the x86 alternative? OK, you switch to x86, so you're one of a large and growing number of Intel customers, and actually you're one of the smaller ones. In order to preserve your uniqueness you have to continue developing your special software, making a virtue of it not being Windows, so whose crosshairs do you go into now? If your special software turns out to be so much better than the other stuff that runs on x86, do you licence it to everybody, just like the other company does, so you're competing head-on with Microsoft as well as trying to drive down prices, hone the logistics and invent Dell before Dell does? Don't you have problems with people asking what's so special about your software anyway, seeing it runs on just the same hardware? And seeing, indeed, that somebody back in the 80s screwed up by signing a 'give away the crown jewels' deal with Bill Gates. As biggest mistakes go, John, we feel this is a contender... In addition to all of these interesting conditions introduced by an Intel switch, you could also lob in the likelihood of IBM, Apple's partner in the reality of the early 90s, being a deadly competitor in these imaginary ones. Through into the beginning of that decade Microsoft and IBM were allies, remember, so if Apple had come in with sufficient impact to change the dynamics it's feasible that at least for a period they might have remained so, with the OS wars being Apple versus the Microsoft-IBM axis, rather than the OS wars we actually experienced. Yeah, and Apple might have won. There really are too many mights in all of this to be worth bothering about - given the number of horrors down that particular trail the probability is that an Intel switch would have rendered roadkill of Apple within a couple of years, and anyway, as we said a while back it would have been a stupid decision that could not and should not have been made. Should it be made now? Conditions are certainly different, to the extent that the underlying hardware is much less of an issue when it comes to preserving the uniqueness of the brand. And as we're getting to that part of the cycle again, at some point Apple will have to switch. But to Intel? That's really not the only answer, and presuming that Apple still wants a brand/volume virtuous circle there are plenty other things it could do. Any it could do several of them, by sector, by platform, with its brand now being sufficiently strong for this not to be any kind of religious issue. Think about a current day parallel to Sculley's 80s choice. In ten years time, do you think that we'll be looking at Sony's biggest mistake? Or Microsoft's? If like us you'd rather not put money on that one, then you at least accept the possibility that there's more out there than Intel. ®
John Lettice, 10 Oct 2003

World's worst Internet groomer jailed

A 64 year-old paedophile described by police as the "most prolific Internet groomer ever caught" has been jailed for five years. Former postal worker, Douglas Lindsell, was sentenced yesterday at Kingston Crown Court after pleading guilty to attempting to abduct a young girl. Lindsell, from Twickenham, gained the trust of his victims by pretending to be a teenage boy. Police said that Lindsell had "overtly sexual" contact with more than 70 girls from the UK and overseas. Police used the sentence to warn parents of the dangers of chatrooms and the potential threats caused by unmonitored use of the Net. Children's charity NSPCC described the case as the "worst and most frightening case of Internet grooming" known so far". Said NSPCC Internet safety expert Chris Atkinson: "It clearly shows the extraordinary lengths that sex abusers will go to target and lure children for their own sexual gratification, and highlights the dangers of internet chatrooms. It also shows that the recent decision by MSN to close its chatrooms in a bid to protect children from people like this was correct. "This sentence shows these crimes are unacceptable and will be severely punished, and makes plain that there is no hiding place on the Internet for sex abusers." ®
Tim Richardson, 10 Oct 2003

Lycos UK cans POP3

Lycos UK is canning its POP3 email service later this month. In an email to punters the company said: " Lycos will discontinuePOP3 service on the 21st of October 2003. But don't worry, you can still access your Lycos Email through Outlook and Outlook Express by using our new synchronisation tool. "Synchronisation lets you delete, create or move folders in Outlook and the same will happen automatically in Lycos's web interface." A spokesman for Lycos said execs had made a "business decision" to ditch the service. Lycos also intends to launch a "premium" email service later this month costing from £12 a year. ®
Tim Richardson, 10 Oct 2003

Sun's Solaris x86 customers see the light of day

After a couple of months of being nudged, prodded and begged, Sun Microsystems has forked over some Solaris x86 customer wins to prove the OS has plenty of backing. The customer list is impressive. You won't find any massive enterprises picking up Solaris x86 for equally massive rollouts on the list, but you will find a diverse set of smaller customers, ranging from gaming companies to financial services. Sun is holding up five new customers as proof that their renewed backing of the OS is paying off. "We have over 300,000 registered licenses for Solaris 9 x86," said Ann Wettersten, vice president of software marketing at Sun. "We are tripling our investment in the OS, and customers are seeing it as a viable alternative." It's a bit hard to keep track of all the ins and outs surrounding Sun's relationship with the Solaris x86 OS. The company once kept it around as a play thing for Intel server users who wanted Unix on their kit. It turns out there were more of these types of users than expected - or at least more vocal ones - because when Sun later cut the development budget for Solaris x86 a massive cry was heard. Sun insisted that lean times required focus on the money making Solaris for Sparc chips, but the users said, "We don't really care." So Sun decided to bring Solaris x86 back in force and over the last year has promised that customers are interested in the OS. The software has also taken on a more important role at the company now that Sun has Intel and AMD kit of its own. Sun is pointing to current Windows NT users and Linux types as prime candidates for a Solaris x86 overhaul. GetMore Securities is one company that made the switch from Windows NT. The online stock exchange has moved part of its operations onto Solaris x86, citing improved security and uptime as a reason for the switch. More impressive is the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research's use of Solaris x86 on a cluster of 700 dual processor AMD Athlon systems. The researchers are also use Sparc-based servers on the back end to complement their high performance computing operations. Sun points to this customer as one example where a company can save on training costs. The Solaris admins can go back and forth between the Sparc and AMD servers. Maya Online is a gaming company that is using Solaris x86 on Sun's own hardware. Maya says it can support 30,000 simultaneous players running Solaris x86 on 50 of Sun's LX50 servers. We've always wondered if anyone bought the LX50 - which has since been replaced by new kit - and now we know that at least one customer did purchase the kit. Sun has a couple more customers that tout the threading ability of Solaris x86 as a perk. Sun has long tuned Solaris for multithreaded SMP systems, so customers with software than can take advantage of that may see some nice performance gains. Sun is working to tune Solaris x86 for various Intel and AMD - Opteron included - servers to try and beat out Linux and Windows on overall performance. Sun, of course, already claims leads in security and scalability given Solaris' impressive track record on RISC boxes. Sun is offering Solaris x86 at a few different prices. Later this year, customers can purchase it as part of the Java Enterprise System for $100 per employee. This price includes Solaris along with most of Sun's suite of infrastructure software such as the Sun ONE application server, web server and directory server. Or customers can buy a one processor license for $99, a two processor license for $250 or a four processor license for $1500. Taking the two processor price as an example, Sun is saying it can beat Windows by 13x - 19x on cost of acquisition. Sun pits the $250 unlimited user license against $2,799 for Microsoft Windows Server 2003 or $4,999 for the enterprise edition of the OS. Beyond the 32bit kit currently in action, Sun is tuning Solaris x86 for AMD's Opteron processor. The company put up a few job requests seeking Opteron help, but Sun representatives would not say what the folks will be working on. Sources have, however, confirmed that Sun plans to roll out an Opteron-based system. Sun said to "stay tuned" for more Opteron related news at its upcoming Sun Network conference to be held in Berlin in December. ® Related Stories Sun searches for a few good Opteron engineers Sun releases low end kit - Opteron box on the way Sun ashamed of Solaris x86 past Sun gives Solaris x86 a nudge with new test suite
Ashlee Vance, 10 Oct 2003