27th > October > 2003 Archive

Asus A620BT Bluetooth Pocket PC

Reg ReviewReg Review Asus launched its MyPal A620 PDA on the back of Microsoft's summer launch of Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC. Wireless connectivity was one of the key improvements the software giant made with the new version of its operating system, but without a built-in radio the A620 wasn't best able to demonstrate those communications enhancements. Taking that criticism on board, Asus is now offering the A620BT, which adds Bluetooth to the A620 hardware. Almost no other specifications have been changed. Like its wireless-free sibling, the A620BT contains 64MB of SDRAM, of which 55.2MB is available to users. The new model includes 64MB of Flash ROM, double the A620's 32MB. The PDA's screen is the Pocket PC standard: 3.5in, 240 x 320 pixels, 16-bit colour. The most compact Compact Flash device? Asus describes the A620BT as the world's thinnest and lightest Compact Flash-supporting Pocket PC. It weighs 141g (5oz) and is 1.3cm (0.5in) thick. That certainly compares well with Dell's Axim X5, which weighs in at 196g (6.9oz) and is 1.8cm (0.7in) front to back. Indeed, the X5 is bigger all round. The A620BT's size puts it more on a par with devices that offer SD Card expansion, but it's by no means the thinnest or lightest Pocket PC we've seen. The Viewsonic V35, for example, is just 1cm (0.4in) thick and weighs 119g (4.2oz), and there are others of comparable weight and size. However, for now, CF support offers the broadest range of accessory devices: GPS, GPRS, Wi-Fi, wired Ethernet, modem, camera, VGA monitor and FM radio cards are all offered as optional extras for the Asus PDA. The A620BT's CF slot is mounted into top of the device, between the stylus bay and the 3.5mm headphone socket. Remove the slot protection module and you can slide in memory cards. For bulkier adaptors, there's a panel on the back of the PDA that comes off to make room for GPS battery packs and so on. On the base of the device is the cradle connector and a separate power jack, allowing you to recharge the device when you're away from your desk. When the A620BT is placed in the cradle, it takes power through the cradle connector. Incidentally, the cradle is engineered for the PDA to fit tightly and precisely, ensuring a good connection and making it impossible to accidentally knock the A620BT off the cradle. The downside is that it requires two hands - one holding the PDA, the other the cradle - to remove it. The cradle hasn't been designed for folks who need to get away from their desks quickly. Because the CF slot takes up so much of the top of the device, the A620BT's infrared port has been relegated to the left-hand side. While there aren't any other places it could go where it would be more conveniently sited, there's still something unintuitive about not having it on the top of the device, and even we spent a moment wondering why we were having trouble beaming photos to the handheld until we released the MyPal was facing the other PDA end on. Above the A620BT's screen are the on/off and now obligatory voice record button, alongside of which is the PDA's microphone. Asus bundles its own Settings application to control a number of the device's features, including microphone gain and sensitivity. Adjusting both did little to improve the quality of the recordings we made - this is definitely not the best PDA we've used for spoken messages. Sweet screen The screen, however, is rather fine. The colours are vibrant and the display looks good across the big range (255 levels) of backlight intensities Asus provides. It offers a very wide viewing angle, as you'd expect from a transflective LCD panel, and unlike other Pocket PC screens we've seen, the component colours of anti-aliased ClearType text didn't appear to separate out as the viewing angle increased. However, the dithering on the 24-bit photos we beamed over was very apparent thanks to the screen's low dot pitch. This is a common problem with Pocket PC machines, which do suffer from much poorer displays than Palm PDAs do, for instance. Our Palm Tungsten T, from which we beamed the pictures, can only display 16-bit colour too, but its more compact 320 x 320 panel makes a big difference, blurring away the dithering you always get when a device tries to show hues it doesn't have the colour depth to handle. Pictures converted to 16-bit colour in Photoshop looked splendid, however, and as we said, the Asus' screen produces some very rich looking shades. The screen's backlight intensity is applied using the Asus Settings app we mentioned earlier, which provides two adjusters, one used when the PDA is running on batteries, the other when it's connected to the mains. That's a nice touch for users who keep their PDAs active when cradled. The settings app also lets you alter the PDA's left-right stereo sound balance, and boost the level of treble and bass in the sound - all handy features for users who like to download songs to their handhelds. We found the A620BT's sound quality to be pretty good, especially with the bass turned up. It's no iPod, but the PDA is good enough to stand in for it when you don't want to carry more than one device around. Use headphones, though - the A620BT's internal speaker, like the microphone, isn't great, particularly at high volumes. Performance Finally, Asus Settings allows you to set the device's "Run Mode" - essentially how it balances processor horsepower against battery life. You can choose from three fixed modes: Turbo, Standard and Power Saving, which clock the handheld's Intel XScale PCA255 processor at 400MHz, 300MHz and 200MHz, respectively. A fourth setting, Automatic, changes the device's run mode on the fly, according to processor demand. There's also an Advanced Performance Enhancement check box, but Asus gives no guidance as to what this does precisely. With it turned on, and the device set to Turbo mode, we ran SPB's Benchmark suite. The numbers aren't at all bad, particularly on the graphics test. Bigger bars are best. Both the Dell and the HP are also based on 400MHz XScale processors, the former running Pocket PC 2002, the latter running Windows Mobile 2003. We should point out that the Dell and HP figures are not ours, but were taken from the SPB online database and are provided here for a broad comparison. Our upcoming Axim X3 review should provide a better set of figures to contrast with our own A620BT numbers. Asus Settings isn't the only software the company provides pre-installed. Asus Backup copies all your data or just the PIM information - you choose - to the device's Flash memory or to a CF card. Asus SmartKeeper does exactly the same thing, but copies everything to either of those safe locations automatically when the battery reaches a certain level. It can also be run manually, making us wonder what the point of the Backup application is. Asus also offers a Launcher program as an alternative to the Start menu's Programs option. Asus Launcher provides a Palm-style interface for your applications, which can be organised into user-defined categories, the better to reduce screen clutter. It's a nice idea, and it does make application management easier, we found. However, when we went and changed the contents of the Start menu in the usual way, half the aliases displayed by Launcher broke, so it's none too robust. Bluetooth As we said, what differentiates the original A620 from the new model is Bluetooth support. Windows Mobile 2003 implements Bluetooth through two utilities, Bluetooth Settings and Bluetooth manager, both access from the Today's page's Bluetooth button at the bottom right corner of the screen. Settings allows you to decide which services you'd like to use, such as file transfer between devices, business card exchange, setting the PDA to access audio servers, or even to become a server itself. It's here you set the name the device shows to other Bluetooth devices, and decide whether it's visible to them and whether they can connect to it. Bluetooth Manager then provides Wizards to connect to other devices, and a list of connections once they've been set up, such as cellphone pairings and Internet connections. Setting up such connections isn't difficult, though the software could have been better designed - where you expect to tap on a connection name to select it, you simply highlight it and tap the OK button in the top right corner to exit that part of the application. We successfully paired the A620BT with our Nokia 6310i, but when we tried to dial into our ISP, we had no luck. The PDA contacted the phone, sent over the number then seemed to drop the link. Now, Nokia's Bluetooth implementation is known to be somewhat idiosyncratic, but as Palm has shown with its PhoneLink app, it's possible to work around that. Still, users of other Bluetooth phones may have better luck. Verdict The A620BT is a fast PDA that finally gets the built-in connectivity it deserves. Microsoft's software isn't perhaps as friendly as it could be, but it works, and allows the device to move beyond the infrared era. The handheld's screen is superb, as are the joypad control and buttons, which should please mobile gamers. So too will the sound quality and sound adjustment options - this is a good multimedia machine, particularly with the improvements Microsoft has made to the OS in that area. Alas the US power supply bundled with our review model prevented us from doing any true battery life tests, but subjectively it felt good, even with Bluetooth turned on. We got a few days' use out of a single charge. Run flat out, we understand the device yield about four and a half hours' use - pretty much what you'd expect from a Pocket PC these days. Asus claims you can expect 19 hours' of continual usage with less strenuous tasks, though that's with Bluetooth switched off. It's a shame, then, that Asus hasn't made the battery removable. We're not fans of the Compact Flash format, but Asus has implemented it well. The A620BT doesn't feel large, and it isn't heavy, yet it can take a wide range of add-in cards. It's slim enough to appeal to users who only have CF memory cards, or none at all, yet flexible enough for folk who to want to add bulky CF devices. However, if you're not a gamer or a CF card user, there's little here to differentiate the A620BT from other devices. Its looks are good, but won't wow you. It's Bluetooth support isn't unique. At just under £320, the price isn't bad, but again nothing special. You can pick up various Bluetooth-enabled iPaqs for a similar figure. And Asus doesn't give you much extra software for your money, unlike Dell, for example. The A620BT is a good Pocket PC device, but Asus needs to do more to make it stand out from the crowd. ® Rating 75% Pros — Superb display — Multi-mode processor speed control — Good joypad and buttons — Compact for a Compact Flash device Cons — Poor software bundle — Non-removable battery — — Undistinguished spec. Price £316.19 including sales tax; Related Reviews Viewsonic V35 Palm Tungsten E Palm Tungsten T3 Palm Tungsten C Wi-Fi PDA Palm Zire 71 Sony-Ericsson P800
Tony Smith, 27 Oct 2003

Logitech Pocket Digital 130 digicam

First UK ReviewFirst UK Review Logitech's Pocket Digital digicam was always intended to be cheap and cheerful. Credit-card sized, it was design to slip into your pocket, to be used at any time to quickly capture moments of your life. Take out the camera, slide open the case to expose the lens, point and click. Download later at your convenience. Cheap and simple it may have been, but the Pocket Digital was crude. The viewfinder was little more than a hole in the case, making it hard to be sure you were framing picture correctly. Instead of a flash, the camera's on-board Autobrite software was supposed to enhance the image, but still managed to leave picture looking far too dark. Daytime results were little better: the picture smeared by what looked too high a level of JPEG compression, and limited to a native resolution of 640 x 480 pixels. To be fair, Logitech never touted the device as a camera for photographers - it was intended for the email generation, producing pics ready to be sent to friends and family around the world. The Pocket Digital 130 is aimed at similar users, but has been designed for people who demand printable image quality. Logitech has beefed up the device's photographic abilities. It's not yet in the same league as a digital cameras from the top brands, but it is a very real alternative to disposable 35mm cameras and some low-end non-disposables. Logitech has upgraded the PD's CCD to a true 1.3 megapixel device. The original could interpolate 640 x 480 images up to 1280 x 1024, but the results were barely better than the standard-size shots. Now, both full-size shots and the smaller, 640 x 480 images the 130 offers for users keen to maximise the camera's storage capacity are far superior to those the original version was capable of, as you can see: Pocket Digital 640 x 480 (Click for full size image) Pocket Digital 130 640 x 480 (Click for full size image) Pocket Digital 130 1280 x 1023 (Click for full size image) The 130's shots, at either size, are crisper and with stronger colours than the original could deliver. But for the size and the resolution of a mere 96dpi - a small increase on the original's 72dpi - the 130's daylight shots are comparable with some of the higher end digicams we've seen over the past few years. Certainly they are more than adequate for email and web usage. And by using Photoshop to knock the physical dimensions of the image down to, say, a standard 6 x 4in print size, you can boost that resolution to over 200dpi - plenty for a top quality inkjet printer, or even a professional print service. Case study So much for the pictures, what about taking them? The 130 provides a better viewfinder that no longer leaves you wondering whether what you see will be what you get, though Logitech still hasn't yet etched framing guides into the lens, alas. Sliding open the case reveals the lens and viewfinder window as before. The sliding mechanism is smooth, but it doesn't lock off when open as the original Pocket Digital did, which is a disappointment. The 130's buttons are larger and better than before, but again don't offer physical feedback in the way the original's did. The buttons allow you to change the image size, delete one or more pics - though without an picture LCD, this can be a matter of guesswork - set the 10s timer and toggle the audio feedback. Above them is the status display, showing the number of 'exposures' you have left, battery charge and image size. The 130 fells much more solid than its predecessor, which should help counter shaky hands a little. At 104g, it weighs almost twice what the original did. Like the first version, it has a brushed metal shell, but this time it's not coated, so expect to spend a lot of time wiping away fingerprints. While the 130 retains the original's credit card-size profile, it's considerably thicker, particularly in the region of the lens. While that detracts from the first version's 'take anywhere' feel, it nevertheless helps the 130 seem more of a 'real' camera. Alas, while the case is more capacious, Logitech hasn't seen fit to increase the memory - it's still 16MB. Still, it can hold 45 full-size shots or 159 VGA images - better than the 53 640 x 480s the original could manage. There's no SD card or SmartMedia slot for to allow you to add more. Flash! The 130's case has a rectangular window just off-centre. Opening the sliding case aligns this with the camera's strobe flash. Strobe it may, but it generates as much 'red eye' as any other digicam - you can even see a subject's red pupils through the viewfinder when the flash goes off. Alongside the viewfinder is a tiny LED which indicates when the flash is ready for use. The camera defaults to auto-flash mode, but a button on the back allows you to keep the flash off, or to override the sensor when you want to take people shots in daylight. While the flash is a significant improvement over Autobrite, it reveals the 130's limit light-gathering ability. Pictures taken with the flash are noticeably darker and more grainy that daylight shots. Click for full size image Of course, that's to be expected, and, as we said, Logitech isn't pretending that the addition of a flash makes this a pro camera. While the flash allows the camera to be used indoors lighting conditions, it doesn't generate as much light as a typical 35mm camera's built-in flash does. Connectivity The 130 connects to a host PC via a mini-USB port. While the previous version required its own drivers, under Mac OS X (and Windows XP, apparently) the new model uses the standard USB mass storage profile, allowing the host to treat it as a removable Flash drive. While that makes it easy to get pictures off the camera - it's just a drag-and-drop operation - it does mean you need to eject the device to unmount the storage volume. You can just unplug it and go. Windows users will still need to install drivers first. The camera's battery is recharged from the bus. The 130 uses a Lithium Ion unit in place of the original's lighter but more expensive Lithium Polymer cell. That change is undoubtedly one of the reasons why the 130 is heavier, but it's been a small price to pay to keep the cost down. Verdict We've always been fond of the Pocket Digital's size, ease of use and sheer cheap-and-cheerfulness, but disappointed by its poor picture quality. The 130 nicely eliminates the latter without losing the former. Yes, it is larger, but not significantly so, and the greater heft makes it feel better in your hands while you're taking pictures. The Pocket Digital 130 will never take a prize photo, but it will take some great shots you'll want to treasure and share. And it's compact size allows you to make sure you never miss a moment. If the 130 has a flaw, it's the price. While £100/$150 isn't bad for a true 1.3 megapixel, it's not exactly a breakthrough price, either. Nor is it unique. There are plenty of rivals out there offering comparable features for the same price or less. Worse, many offer more options, such as a digital zoom, a bigger flash, video clips, and even a picture-preview LCD. Cheaper cameras tend to come with less RAM, but some do allow you to add more via memory cards. Quite a few of them come from more better-known photography and/or consumer electronics brands than Logitech: JVC, HP, Fujifilm and Konica. Lesser known brands, such as BenQ, Nisis and Mustek and Digital Dream, offer comparable but cheaper cameras. Or you can pay not so very much more and get a two or three megapixel job. But arguably few if any of these - or the more direct competitors - offer quite as compact a camera as the 130, and that remains its strength. For that reason, though the market may be crowded, the 130 is worthy of attention. ® Rating 70% Pros — Good picture quality for online use — Ultra-compact size — Recharged via USB Cons — Limited resolution — Weak flash — Better cameras are chasing it on price and size Price £100 including sales tax; $150 Recent Reviews Micro MP3 Players Creative SoundBlaster MP3+ Asus A620BT Pocket PC Palm Tungsten E Palm Tungsten T3
Tony Smith, 27 Oct 2003

Palm Tungsten T3 PDA

Reg ReviewReg Review Palm's innovative enterprise-oriented Tungsten T PDA had a good screen, but at a resolution of 320 x 320, it look rather small compared with Pocket PC devices' larger displays. While last summer's T2 replaced the original display with a much superior transflective LCD, the size remained the same. Instead, Palm chose to wait until the autumn release slot to offer a Tungsten with a bigger, iPaq-beating screen. The result is the Tungsten T3, which not only provides a larger display - 320 x 480 now - but revamps the T series into the bargain. It's the upgrade the T2 should have been but wasn't. Superficially, the T and the T3 are the same. Both are compact, metal-shelled devices designed for easy information look-up, but slide open to reveal a text-entry area. Alas, even closed, T family members aren't much shorter than the older m500 and V series devices, but they do feel more compact than their Pocket PC rivals. The T3 is a little longer than the T, but fractionally thinner and narrower. Both T and T3 offer Bluetooth wireless connectivity. They also feature a headphone socket, microphone and voice record button (now enlarged on the T3) on the left-hand side of the shell. The SD card slot - now with a protective internal flap - telescopic metal stylus, IR port and power button are still on the top. There the similarities end. In place of the T's dour gun-metal colour scheme is a brighter, lighter tone for the T3. The T's five-way navigation control and row of application buttons has been replaced by an oval design that wraps the buttons around the navigator, which now takes you through the application categories as well as helping you quickly select application icons. Navigation is undoubtedly faster on the T3 than the T. From OMAP to XScale Apps run more quickly too, thanks to a 400MHz Intel XScale processor, probably a PXA255, though Palm isn't saying. What it has admitted is that the chip is underclocked, in order to provide a better battery life. To what extent the processor has been throttled back isn't known - it certainly feels faster, more responsive than the T's 144MHz Texas Instruments OMAP chip, but more than twice as fast. And it's possible the machine adjusts the CPU frequency according to the processing load - again, Palm is keeping mum. Kinoma Player 2.0 performance test yields a frame rate of 77.5fps on the T3, a 56 per cent increase over the T's score of 49.7fps. However, since the 126MHz Tungsten E scores 68.5 per cent, both T and T3 scores a disappointing - the former a result of the slower SD card sub-system in the T, and the latter as sign, perhaps, of just how far the T3's XScale processor has been underclocked. In each test, we played the same 2.4MB full-screen movie off the same SD Card. More obvious is the much-increased memory capacity, to 64MB. Only 52MB of that are free for use - the remaining 12MB is used by the system, though NoSleep Software's FileZ declares it free - but almost all of that 52MB is available from the word go. Palm has squeezed all its PIM applications and bundled extras like VersaMail, SMS, Photos, PhoneLink, Kinoma Player and Documents to Go into the T3's 16MB Flash ROM (the T had 8MB). Palm also installs RealOne in the ROM, but since this app doesn't work with the PDA's main memory, satisfying itself only with SD memory cards, its presence is a bit pointless. Doubly so when the SD card preference was set in the days when Palm PDAs couldn't access more than 16MB of RAM. Now they can - and do - Real needs to tweak its software accordingly. Speaking of SD cards, there have been problems reported with the T3's slot and 256MB cards. While an update has shipped for the Tungsten E, nothing has been made available for the T3. Palm is at least investigating the problem. And make sure you download Palm's updated Outlook software before using your T3 - we've heard of significant problems incurred if you use the ones that shipped with early versions of the machine. Oh aye, a changed UI Switching the T3 on reveals the device's modified UI. Along the bottom of the screen is a nine-button bar. The first takes you to the application list, cycling through the categories each time you press it. Hold it down and you get a mini-menu listing the six most recently launched apps. The second button activates the Find panel, while the third pops up the menu bar. Button four displays the time - handy with apps that don't already show it - and clicking it displays a panel showing the date, battery charge (with a percentage figure, at long last), available memory, the screen brightness slider and a quick sound on/off control. The next button sports an exclamation mark and signals alerts. Past that is the Bluetooth button, which invokes a panel allowing you to turn the radio on or off and connect to the Internet via a phone - a feature missing from the T; you had to go into Preferences or an Internet application to do it. The seventh button toggles full-screen text input on and off, the eighth flips the display from portrait mode to landscape. The last button alternatively shows and hides the virtual Graffiti text-entry area. Palm had to implement this to allow the full 480-pixel height of the screen to be used to show other things, but the result isn't as aesthetically pleasing as a printed text-entry panel. While the keyboard panel has a neat 3D look - and doesn't take up any of the top portion of the screen - the other panels are far from pretty. The four application buttons are monochrome - it's a colour screen, guys - but you can now change them. Pressing one and holding down the stylus pops up a list of applications - choose one, and its icon becomes the new button. Palm has also added a 'wide' mode, dropping the four application buttons for an upper case, lower case, number entry triptych that looks OK, but takes a little getting used to. Holding down the text-entry area button in the button bar calls up a mini-menu which allows you to select which of the three entry panel styles you want to use. You can also make your selection in a new Preferences panel, Input. Incidentally, the Color Theme Preferences panel has no effect on the colour of the Graffiti area, which doesn't even appear when the PDA's slider is closed. Dismissing the text-entry panel forces the PDA to fill in the gap with data, whether it's application icons, a photo, a page of the diary, a colleague's contact information, or whatever. Of course, not all apps support the larger display height, and the T3 is smart enough to pull up the entry panel automatically whenever it launches a program that can only deal with a 320 x 320 display. Alas it's not sufficiently clever to hide it again when that app is closed down. Updating the PIM The T3 runs Palm OS 5.2.1, and incorporates a number of changes to the platform's core PIM applications. To-Do, for example, is now called Tasks a la Windows Mobile, Address is Contacts, Memo Pad is called Memos, and Date Book has been renamed Calendar. The latter brings its old day summary screen to the fore, adds a list of new emails to the read-out of the day's appointments and to-do items, and sets them all over a colourful background undoubtedly intended to mirror Windows Mobile's Today screen. Actually, we like this, and also the fact that you can set either it, the day, week or month screen as Calendar's default view, a feature missing from the T. Events can have categories applied, and there's a new Location field. Like Contacts - which adds more fields, such as Birthday, and the ability to quickly rename custom fields - Calendar makes good use of the extra screen space when the text-entry area is hidden. The full-year view is nice, and the month view gets previous and next month mini-views, just like a real diary. Tasks can now be listed by date as well as by category. Not all Palm apps make use of the longer screen - Expense, PhoneLink (which is nice to see finally installed by default), HotSync, Dialler and CardInfo don't, for example. Calculator uses the space to show past calculations. DataViz' Documents to Go does support the new screen size - and, more to the point, finally allows you to work with native Microsoft Office file formats, cutting out the conversion process employed by previous versions of the software during synchronisation. Incidentally, if you're interested in our initial thoughts on Graffiti 2, you can read them in out Tungsten C review. We confess we might be becoming less keen on it. Or rather, on Palm's implementation. We always assumed that using multiple stylus-strokes for certain characters, 'T' for instance, was a feature of Jot, the software on which Graffiti 2 is based. Yet the old single-stroke method is Graffiti 1 is supported by Jot, as recent tests on a Windows Mobile 2003 device revealed. In that respect, the Pocket PC's version of Jot is closer to Graffiti 1 than the Palm version of the software is. Bluetooth With PhoneLink now installed by default, access the Internet via a dial-up ISP or - better - a GPRS connection is a doddle. Having tried to set up Bluetooth to communicate with a cellphone for Net access on a Windows Mobile 2003 device, Palm's version - which, unlike Microsoft, realises there are networks outside the US - is a doddle. A Wizard takes you through pairing the T3 with your phone - it knows about all the major brands - and setting up a network connection. PhoneLink is pre-programmed with GPRS access for a wide range of cellular networks, and we were up and accessing the Web in moments. Well, we would have been had Palm pre-installed its WebPro browser as standard, but it's on the bundled software CD and will be zapped over when we next do a HotSync. Speaking of CDs, Palm now provides separate discs for Windows and Mac users, allowing users of either platform to install everything from a single CD not two. That screen in full We've grumbled about the virtual data-entry area, but it's a small price to pay for the extra screen space. The transflective display is superb, with a very wide horizontal viewing angle - it's a bit narrower in the vertical - and all the extra room. Photos in particular benefit from the extra real-estate, especially when you switch to landscape mode, which makes showing friends your pictures a more enjoyable. Reading email is easier on the wider screen, too. Switching to landscape redraws the button bar along the right-hand side of the display (what was the top). Again, the PDA draws in the data-entry area when it launches an app that can't cope with the extra space, this time stacking the Graffiti panels vertically on the right. The usual QWERTY keyboard becomes an alphabetical grid four-keys wide. The T3 ships with a grey leather screen cover that attaches to the back of the device and wraps over the top. It's a bit naff, but definitely easier to get on and off the screen than the more stylish plastic cover that shipped with the T. Verdict Palm claims a battery life of around five days, but you won't get that with Bluetooth left on. We got just under two days. But then we use Bluetooth quite often, so it's easier to leave on. We just have to recharge more often. A nice touch would be button on the device to turn the radio on and off, a feature found in a number of Centrino notebook PCs which Palm would do well to add to the T series. Battery life is crucial here, because it explains why the T3' 400MHz CPU doesn't appear to be running at full tilt. We expected the T3 to feel rather faster than it actually did. The PDA feels more responsive - it's certainly not slow - and smoother than our T, but the gap between the T3 and the low-end Tungsten E was less obvious. PDAs aren't about raw horsepower, of course - but it would be nice to know that the power of the 400MHz is there if and when you need it. Despite these issues, the T3 is still Palm's best high-end PDA yet, because it manages to offer such a large display with only minimal compromises to the compact slider design introduced with the original Tungsten. Putting as many apps as possible into ROM to free up as much of that 64MB of RAM for user data is a big plus too. And with prices on the street down to as low as £285, the T3 represents excellent value. ® Rating 80% Pros — Large, two-angle 320 x 480 display — Lots of memory (52MB) — Great Bluetooth support Cons — Performance limited — Battery life could be better — Less compact than the Tungsten T — Aesthetically challenged virtual Graffiti area Price £329 including sales tax; €466.70; $399 Related Products Buy the Palm Tungsten T3 from The Reg PDA store Related Reviews Palm Tungsten C Wi-Fi PDA Palm Zire 71 PDA Viewsonic V35 Pocket PC Sony-Ericsson P800
Tony Smith, 27 Oct 2003

Palm Tungsten E PDA

Reg ReviewReg Review While the focus of Palm's marketing has centred on newly released machines, the company has maintained steady sales of its older products, not only to buyers seeking a cheaper machine but corporates who want to buy solid, established products in bulk. Cottoning on to this trend, when Palm launched its first colour PDA, the m505, it also shipped the monochrome m500 for enterprises who might otherwise have chosen the old V or Vx. Buyers like these aren't necessarily interested in the latest gimmicks - what they really want is a simple yet functional machine that they can offer staff in the knowledge that support requests will be minimal and maintenance straightforward. Last year's introduction of the Tungsten T wasn't accompanied by a corporate-friendly alternative. Quite apart from anything else, Palm had far too many old m500-series machines stockpiled it wanted rid of first. Besides, while the compact slider design of the T was guaranteed to attract individuals, it was arguably too much of a risk for IT departments. Moving parts mean a greater chance of breakage, and thus a greater maintenance and resource management headache for BOFHs. And as the first machine to use the new, ARM-based Palm OS, the T contained a lot of untried, unproven technology. With built-in Bluetooth, it was pricey too. A year on, and with m500 stocks dwindling, Palm clearly felt the time was right for an Tungsten aimed at enterprise bulk-buyers. Ditto individuals looking for a more business-like PDA than the bright, consumer-friendly Zire line can offer yet one that's not as expensive as the higher-end models. The result is the Tungsten E, Palm's cheapest business-oriented device yet, and the true successor to the old m515 and the V series. The E is fractionally thicker than the V - codenamed 'Razor' after its slimline profile - but it's thinner than the T3. It's a little longer than that model, though becomes relatively much shorter when you open the T3's slider out. The E has no sliding mechanism, just a solid shiny metal shell. But it's styling marks it out as a Tungsten family member: the five-way navigator control - oblong this time - and the groove that runs past it, from one side of the device to the other, a familial trait that connects it to those Tungstens with such a slider mechanism. The slider-less Tungsten C and W have the same marking. The E's shiny black plastic top borders the obligatory SD card slot (more for individuals than corporates, this), headphone socket (ditto), on/off switch and the stylus bay. The stylus is made of metal, but not telescopic, and in a sign of the device's ancestry, the plastic top unscrews to reveal a pin narrow enough to trigger the reset button hidden beneath a hole on the back of the PDA, as per its V and m500-series ancestors. Like those machines, the E has two grooves running down either side, but where once those furrows could take either the stylus or the slip-on screen cover, the better to suit left-handed as well as right-handed writers, now only the right-hand slot can take the pen. The cover is there, but it fits into a far finer groove than before - so fine that you might not at first think the grey vinyl cover comes off. It does, and since it's not particularly stylish, that's just as well. To keep the cost down, Palm ships the E without the familiar recharge/synchronisation cradle. Instead, the PDA's base has a mini-USB port for connecting the sync cable, and a separate power jack into which the transformer plugs. Dude, where are my apps? Turning the E on reveals a rare sight on a modern Palm applications screen: no scroll bar. The E ships with just 12 applications pre-installed, enough to fit on a single screen. The T3, by contrast, comes with 21. Of course, the accompanying CDs - one for Mac owners, a second for Windows users - contain the usual array of bundled apps, including the familiar Documents to Go, RealOne Player, Palm Reader, Acrobat Reader, Kinoma player, VersaMail and so on, it's just that Palm has kept the pre-install to a minimum. Again, that's a concession to the corporate IT department, giving hardware managers scope to add apps as they, not the user sees fit. For the rest of us, all the others are just a HotSync away. Already installed on the E are the classic PIM apps, Expense, Calculator, HotSync, CardInfo and Prefs. All 12 of them are located in the machine's 16MB ROM, suggesting there's plenty of room in there for others. The E contains 32MB of RAM, 28.3MB of which is available to users. Around 1MB of the 32MB is taken up with OS-related files, the remaining 2.7MB presumably being reserved for OS updates and the like. The E is equipped with a 126MHz Texas Instruments OMAP 311 processor. Not quite the same spec. as either the Zire 71 or the Tungsten T2 - and a league behind the T3's maximum performance - but reasonably nippy and very responsive nonetheless. The E's Kinoma Player 2.0 performance test yields a frame rate of 68.5fps, lower than the T3's 77.5fps, but much better than the T's 49.7fps - and the T has a nominally faster CPU. If the E's processor isn't exactly top-of-the-range, the 16-bit 320 x 320 transflective LCD certainly is. As we noted with the Zire 21 and Tungsten C, it's a great-looking display with a superb viewing angle, and in a PDA that's more important than CPU horsepower. PIM-plus Like all of Palm's recent releases, the E runs Palm OS 5.2.1, and like the T3 features the remodelled PIM applications, renamed and enhanced for a more Windows Media 2003 feel. We won't cover the apps in detail here - take a look at our Tungsten T3 review for our thoughts on them. Similarly, we covered Graffiti 2 in depth in our Tungsten C review. Sibling rivalry Once the E has been loaded with the extra applications provided on the accompanying CD, you have a PDA that stands up remarkably well against Palm's other offerings. Indeed, but for Bluetooth, it's hard to recommend the T2 over the E. Unless you particularly fancy the more compact design, courtesy of the T2's slider mechanism, there's almost nothing to distinguish the two. Indeed, if you enter a lot of information directly into your PDA, the E is arguably better. Without the slider, it's quicker to start writing on the E than the T2 - or even the T3 - which have to be opened up before they'll accept text. Both E and T2 have 32MB of memory and comparable CPUs: 126MHz OMAP 311 and 144MHz OMAP 1510, respectively. Similarly, the Zire 71 only has a built-in camera to offer above the E's spec. It too has a slightly faster CPU, a 144MHz OMAP 310, but half the memory of the E. Don't forget though, that most of the 71's bundled apps are in ROM, so its 16MB of RAM is pretty much free for data; once the E is loaded with the same range of applications, a big hole has been eaten into its 32MB. So at £145/$199, the E is considerably better PDA value that the £249/$299 Zire 71 or the £279/$329 Tungsten T2 - £100/$100 and £134/$130 are a lot to pay for a digicam and Bluetooth, respectively, unless those two features are important to you. The T2 has a Palm Universal Connector for external peripherals; the E doesn't. Again, the value of the UC depends on whether you need it or not - we suspect that but for the HotSync cradle most Palm users don't. The E's price advantage and relatively minor feature disparity makes the device a compelling PDA purchase. We were originally going to conclude the reverse, thanks to an apparently missing Infra Red port, but after switch Beam Receive off, then on again several times without any of three other devices being able to send the E apps and data, a reset did the trick. We've had this problem before with fresh Palms - perhaps it's time PalmSource looked again at its IR code. But with IR available, the E becomes fully able to take advantage of mobile phone connectivity, and becomes a powerful mobile e-mail tool. IR isn't as fast or as flexible a connectivity technology as Bluetooth, but for a 130 quid saving, who's complaining? Battery The Tungsten E's one flaw is its short battery life. Palm claims four days' average usage between charges. Using the device fairly intensively during a 24-hour period saw the charge drop to a third of capacity (33 per cent). By contrast the Tungsten T3 fell to 34 per cent during the same period - we were using both devices in parallel - and that had Bluetooth switched on during the period. Both PDAs were set to maximum screen brightness. We should point out our measurement of battery life was by no means scientific - especially when it's impossible to turn off the auto-power off function - but we think it gives a taste of what to expect. A slower CPU the E may have, but it doesn't offer significantly longer battery life as a result. The E is significantly lighter than the T3, and we suspect simply uses a smaller battery, hence the shorter operational duration. Certainly the T3 Li-Polymer battery is rated at 900mAh, while the E's is just 380mAh. Verdict The classic Palm Vx is reborn. The Tungsten E is an entry-level business-oriented PDA that packs in the power of higher-end devices at a low-end price. No cradle? That's less of an issue for us. In an increasingly mobile world, not everyone has a fixed desktop on which to place one. Notebook users will relish the ease of simply hooking up PDA to PC with one cable. As for a separate recharger, we're all used to charging mobile phones away from other devices, so why not a PDA too? That's good for corporate environments - and for consumers, too. We reckon quite a few would-be Zire buyers will spend the £70 extra for a faster, better-looking Tungsten E with a colour display and 16 times as much memory. You can see why Palm UK has decided not to release the Zire 21 just yet. In the US, the price differential between the colour E and the monochrome Zire 21 is greater - $100. But we'd still argue that the E represents better value. ® Rating 85% Pros — Excellent price — Good build quality — Top-end screen on a low-end PDA Cons — Battery life could be better — — Too few pre-installed apps Price £145 including sales tax; €204.62; $199 Related Products Buy Palm Tungsten E and T3 from the Register's PDA store Related Reviews Palm Tungsten T3 Palm Tungsten C Wi-Fi PDA Palm Zire 71 Viewsonic V35 Pocket PC Sony-Ericsson P800
Tony Smith, 27 Oct 2003

Creative SoundBlaster MP3+

Reg ReviewReg Review While the Mac has long offered a fine audio experience, the PC was for many years limited to bleeps and warbles issued from its single built-in speaker. The work of sound card companies, in particular Creative, helped redress the balance, and desktop PC users have now come to take good sound quality for granted, first through bundled SoundBlaster cards and more recently thanks to multi-channel sound built into the chipset. Integrated sound systems are finally making their way into notebooks too, but that still leaves plenty of machines out there that are incapable of providing a sophisticated, modern sonic environment for games, movie and music playback. In any case, it's only relatively recently that notebooks have come to be considered capable multimedia and gaming machines, and thus used by the kind of folk who spend money on upgrades like sound cards. Clearly notebooks offer limited scope for expansion - PC Cards are pretty much all they can accept - so how can portable computers being used for multimedia be given a good sound system? Creative's answer is the SoundBlaster MP3+ - essentially a 16-bit sound card in a box. The small 2 x 4in module hooks up to one the host computer's spare USB ports - from which it draws its power - routing audio data through its processor and out to a set of analog and digital output ports: gold-plated RCA jacks, an S/P DIF for digital audio and a standard 3.5mm socket for headphones. Next to the headphone port is a handy volume dial. The unit comes with velcro strips to attach it to your notebook's cover, or there's a clip-on hook so you can slip it onto the display. Creative's SoundBlaster MP3+ It also channels sound into the notebook, again using standard inputs: microphone, RCA and S/P DIF. As its name suggests, the SoundBlaster MP3+ is perhaps aimed at more at music fans than gamers. The main components of the software bundled with the device are all designed to enhance music playback and to an extent recording too. Unlike the higher-end products Creative is known for, the MP3+ is a 16-bit stereo device, pure and simple. It doesn't provide Dolby 5.1 or higher sound bit resolutions and sample frequencies, so you're not going to get an all-singing, all-dancing DVD experience, for example. Creative's Media Source app provides the front end for the device, a music manager, player, recorder and CD burner. You can call up any of Creative's suite of set-up utilities from Media Source, or from a slide-down control panel that's installed at the top of your screen. The panel's buttons call up Media Source, a graphic equaliser, speaker set-up, sound mixer, EAX set-up and the Wave Studio sound editing app. Speaker set-up lets you tell the system whether you're using headphones or speakers. It's here you set up the bass boost. You can adjust the level of amplification, and the frequency at which it cuts in. The results are good, particularly if you're listening on headphones, as we were. The sound mixer allows you to set the relative volumes of the various sound sources being channelled through the MP3+, such as CD, MIDI music, line-ins and so on, plus record level. Designed primarily for rigs with more than two speakers, its value to the owner of the stereo-only MP3+ is limited, but you can at least set the left/right sound balance; front-rear fading naturally doesn't work. EAX is more useful, offering a range of 15 pre-sets, each of which renders a different sound 'environment'. So if you want to the music coming off your notebook to sound like it was being played in a cathedral or the intriguing 'haunted cavern', you can. Some 'environments' work better than others, though how pleasing the effect is largely a matter of taste. With a five- or seven-speaker set-up we can imagine the soundscape being impressive, but it's value is limited if you're listening with 'phones or even a pair of small speakers, as we suspect most notebook users will be. EAX is fun to try out, but we wonder how many people will use one of the pre-sets as a default setting. And there's no way to tweak EAX to create your own environments. Equally gimmicky - but also fun to try out - is the time shift option, accessed through Media Source's Tools menu. Clever sound processing allows you to speed up or slow songs down without changing the pitch. We've all played 33rpm LPs at 45rpm, and heard how singers suddenly sound like Pinky and Perky. That side-effect is removed here, leaving the song playing up to twice or down to half the speed without losing clarity. Smart Volume Management (SVM) is perhaps more useful, keeping the playback level consistent through otherwise quieter and loud sections - though it tends to lower the overall volume - and the ten-band graphic equaliser provides a finer control over the output. Unlike EAX, you can save your own EQ settings. Creative Multi-speaker Surround (CMSS) is or relatively little worth, widening a song's stereo separation to give a slightly spacier, echoey feel. We tried it on a variety of tracks covering a wide span of genres. CMSS works, but it didn't really enhance our listening pleasure to any significant degree. On the recording side, the MP3+ naturally samples incoming audio at DAT-standard 48kHz and 16-bit. Creative also includes an audio clean-up system, which helps eliminate pops, clicks and hiss if you're digitising material previously stored on tape or vinyl. Click image for full-size version There's no doubt that together these features enhance the notebook audio experience. It works for desktops too - we tried it out on a sound card-less minitower. However, we did experience problems with lots of crackles and pops on the sound, particularly when some features, such as EAX and CMSS, were turned on. Settings were usually applied to the sound a few seconds after they were made in Media Source. The latter problem is almost certainly because we were running the system on an old Pentium II machine with 64MB of RAM and running Windows 98 SE - the minimum specification set down by Creative. But the noise is more difficult to pin down. Certainly, other reviewers haven't commented upon it, so we're inclined to believe it's a problem with the host PC, probably the USB bus. Minus that noise, the sound quality is impressive, and while the MP3+ lacks some feature's we'd have like to have tried, such as multi-channel surround sound, what it does offer isn't half bad for a £35/$60 add-on. And we should note that the device does support Dolby Digital 5.1 pass-through via its optical output. If you do want a more sophisticated, audiophile option, then Creative offers the SoundBlaster Extigy and Audigy 2NX, but for many users, these may be overkill, and the Extigy isn't really a mobile solution. And the Audigy is nearly three times the price of the MP3+, and it requires a separate power supply and USB 2.0. If you use your notebook for listening to music rather than simply maintaining your portable player's song archive, the Creative SoundBlaster MP3+ is a great 'cheap as chips' add-on that will improve your listening pleasure no end. ® Rating 75% Pros — Improves music and movie playback on older notebooks — Bus powered — Provides MP3 ripping and file management Cons — Limited to stereo output; no surround sound — Sound resolution 16-bit not 24-bit Price £39.99 including UK sales tax; $59.99
Tony Smith, 27 Oct 2003

Micro MP3 Players

Reg Group TestReg Group Test Apple's iPod has drawn buyers' attention to the hard drive-based music player market over the last few years. However, the Flash-based player market hasn't stood still during this time and has continued to evolve from the iPod-sized Rios of old into more compact form factors and squeezing in more music capacity. Today, a typical 'micro' MP3 player will offer up to 512MB of storage in a case no larger than a ciggie lighter. What limits the size of a Flash-based MP3 player is the battery, the controls needed to work the device and a display capable of showing meaningful information. Many of the devices we look at here cram all of the above into packages small and light enough to slip in any pocket, yet are easy to control. The first, however, pushes size to the limit - ridding itself of a separate box in the process... Sport MP3 The Sport MP3 does away with the usual MP3 player form factor entirely. Its design philosophy is simple: if you're going to be wearing headphones, why not build the player into the headset? That's what the manufacturer has done, and the result is a pair of 'back of the head' 'phones that contain 128MB of Flash memory, basic controls and a small AAA battery for power. And, crucially, no wires. You do need a wire to connect the Sport MP3 to your PC - the supplied USB cable, which connects to the 'phones via a tiny jack hidden behind an equally small and fiddly flap. Unfortunately, the Flash RAM isn't exposed as a mass storage device, so you can't mount it on your desktop and copy over whatever MP3 or WMA files you'd like the device to play. Instead, you have to use the bundled Windows-only application called SlidingManager. While music transfers are reasonably quick, the software provides no ripping function. Nor does it support playlists - you just add songs to the list, and the device starts at the top and works its way through one by one. You can use the bundled software to re-order the list, but it's hard going: it doesn't work by drag and drop, only by selecting a song then clicking an up or a down button enough times to put the track in the right place. The Sport MP3 has a built-in equaliser, but it's limited to the five pre-sets built in to the bundled software: normal, classic, live, pop and rock. We found only slight differences between each setting. Wearing the 'phones feels odd- they're heavier and bulkier than usual 'back of the head' units - but you get used to it. The set weights 80g without the battery. The controls are fiddly, but kept to a minimum: just an on/off switch and a jog-dial that serves as the play/pause button, plus fast forward, rewind and track skip. CoWon iAudio CW200 The iAudio is one of the better looking players on the market, and it certainly has one of the best user interfaces. The device is built into a Sony Vaio-style violet and silver plastic shell. At one end is the microphone and headphone socket, at the other the AAA battery hatch and the covered USB port. On either side are two jog dials, one for setting the volume and navigating the menu system, the other for play, track skip and track scan. Between then, on the face of the device, is a nice, long two-line LCD, that manages to convey more information than some much larger panels on bigger, hard disk-based players do, including volume, battery level, mode, equaliser setting as well as track name, band, album and time data. The dual jog-dials are a very nice touch. We found the iAudio's dials too squidgy - they need to pushed a long way in to select a menu item or to pause playback - but there's no doubt that they provide a much better level of control than the tiny, fiddly buttons most small MP3 players feature. Pushing the lower button in displays the menu - a line of buttons each highlighted by turning the dial in the appropriate direction. The first button, Mode, lets you flip between the iAudio's MP3 playback, FM radio and voice recorder facilities, each of which have line of menu buttons of their own. Nothing new here, you might think, but the iAudio's menu is fast and responsive. Particularly for mode settings. Call up the MP3 mode's EQ menu, for example, and as you scroll over each option - rock, pop, jazz and a very bassy classical - the player automatically switches settings, on the fly. So you don't have to select the EQ pre-set you want and navigate out of the menu structure before you get to hear the change. Switching between mono and stereo FM works the same way, though the iAudio's stereo reproduction is rather hissy, as is the case with almost all devices that are too small to include a good FM antenna. Mono reproduction was nice and crisp, though. Alongside the play/skip jog dial, which in FM radio mode switches between station pre-sets, is the record button used for voice memos and for recording radio programming. The quality of radio recordings is poor, but it's fine as a solid-state dictaphone. The iAudio is one of the heavier players we looked at, but its weight is by no means a deal-breaker and of little relevance to anyone carrying it a pocket. Decktron MyVoice Plus DMR-1832 From the heaviest player, to the lightest: the MyVoice Plus. It's the smallest too, though not by much. As its name suggests, the MyVoice, works like a dictaphone as well as an MP3 player. Its recording quality is surprisingly good - the compression runs to about 16Kbps - and the microphone is capable of picking up conversations across a room. And unlike the iAudio, pressing the Record button automatically takes you to recording mode - you don't have to select that option first. That said, you still have to turn the machine on in the usual way - you can't just hit the Record button and start speaking. It supports voice-activated recording, however, so you could leave it running, speaking as and when you need to. MP3 playback is fine, with four pre-defined equaliser settings - pop, rock, jazz and classical - but no way of making your own adjustments. Like the iAudio, EQ pre-set changes are made on the fly. You make such changes using the Menu button, which has different actions depending on whether the device is playing a track or not, and how long you hold it down for. While this does make is easy to access certain features quickly - such as EQ - it also means you have to stop the track you're listening to before you can change, say, the screen contrast, the backlight timer, or any other of the menu options. Going straight to the menu system would be generally quicker and more flexible and save button presses. MyVoice's buttons are small, and have a loose, rattly feel. Indeed, the device as a whole has a cheap, plastic feel. On its face, are the tiny menu, fast forward, rewind and play/stop buttons. On one side sit record and volume buttons, and a control-lock switch. Below them sits the mini-USB connector, hidden by a flip-up cover. The single AAA battery is replaced by opening a cover on the back of the device. The microphone, lanyard attachment point and headphone socket are found on top of the unit. MP3 files are copied to the MyVoice using the bundled, basic SkyManager software, which also allows you to upload voice recordings. You can also copy over any other kind of file, allowing you to use the player as a data store. The downside is you need to load SkyManager on any other computer you want to access those files from. Unlike the Jens MP-100, MyVoice doesn't work as a true Flash drive, so its use as a data carrier is limited. Jens of Sweden iBead MP-100 Of all the players we looked at, the Jens of Sweden's MP-100 was one of the one we were most keen to try. It's essentially a USB Flash drive with MP3 playback, an FM radio and voice recorder bolted on. The beauty of this approach is that you simply plug it straight into any USB-enabled system, drag your music files over, eject the mounted drive and you're away. There's no special software to install - unless you count generic Windows 98 USB drivers - and cross-platform support is guaranteed - handy if you're not a Windows users. It also means the player can double up as a portable data carrier, allowing you to move important files quickly between machines or use the same home folder no matter what machine you may be working on. That's the ideal, but the MP-100 fails to achieve perfection. For a start, it ships without a manual - you have to download it. Only then can you learn how to set the player's volume, for example. Controlling the device is fiddly, and compared to other machines, are positively minimalist: just a jog-dial, a play/pause button, a Record/repeat button and a 'Hold' control lock switch. Even the battery is built-in, charged via the USB connection. If the MP-100 offers few controls, it nevertheless provides the user with plenty of settings to adjust. Where other players have a handful of equaliser pre-sets, the MP-100 has a nine of them - adding reggae, live, extreme bass, techno and dance to the more commonplace rock, pop, classical and jazz. Better still, you can apply your own settings, using a five-band slider set-up, controlled with the jog-dial. Similarly, the MP-100 allows you to set your own voice recording sampling rate to best balance sound quality with recording capacity. Sampling rates from 8-48KHz can be selected, though given the nature of the built-in microphone some of the higher rates are perhaps superfluous. The MP-100 also provides easy track and file deletion, and even a basic folder navigator so you can see what's stored on the device without having to connect it to a computer first. We had some problems doing so on our Mac. Un-mounting the drive by dragging its icon to the trash can, as per any other storage device, works, but the player almost immediately triggered the OS to remount it. With a little practice, we were able to time the device's physical disconnection ahead of the remount, thus avoiding the risk (we hope) of data corruption. We didn't have this problem on a Windows machine, but since cross-platform compatibility is one if the MP-100's USPs, it's a significant problem. Hopefully future firmware updates will fix the problem. M-Any SlimBox Like the MP-100, the SlimBox is powered by a rechargeable battery. This time, it's removable, and the manufacturer handily bundles a separate charger. It also includes an AAA battery add-on adaptor allowing you to use standard batteries as back up. Such attention to detail can be seen all through the SlimBox. It's only player we tested, for example, to ship with a remote control unit. And while almost all of the others have recording facilities, this is the only one with a microphone jack in addition to the built-in mic. SlimBox looks like a fat PCMCIA card - though it too uses a USB connection for file transfer. The main controls - volume up and down, fast forward, rewind, stop and play/pause buttons - sit on the front under the four-line display and microphone. The LCD's orange backlight isn't as aesthetically pleasing as other players' blue lights, but the display is nice and clear. On the left-hand side are the Hold slider, covered USB port and 3.5mm microphone jack. On the other side site the earphone socket, remote control port, and Record and mode buttons. Below them is the battery hatch. Pressing the Record button takes you straight to record mode - press it again to start recording. Like other players, the sound quality isn't great, but it's sufficient for voice memos. Recording through the microphone jack is handled separately, and kicks in a higher quality compression scheme. There's a bundled 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable so you can hook SlimBox up to a hi-fi and directly encode music. If SlimBox has a flaw, it's the control system, which depends on pressing the Mode button quickly or for a longer duration. It's too easy to end up in the wrong mode, and the player drops out of its 'mode selection mode' too quickly. A proper menu system would make the device much easier to use. Conclusion All the players we tested gave us decent audio quality, so we focused our attention on usability and portability. We liked all of the players we tried, but the iAudio, the MP-100 and the SlimBox stood out. The iAudio styling, UI and size make it a winner, while the MP-100 scores on its cross-platform support and the SlimBox for overall attention to detail. That's not to say the others were stinkers - the Sport MP3 won plaudits for its unique form factor, though its controls are difficult to use and it can be uncomfortable to wear. The Decktron is a fine product, but unremarkable, and we weren't so keen on its light, plasticy feel. ® Sport MP3 Rating: 2 Available from: Cool New Gadgets Price: $159 (128MB) iAudio CW200 Rating: 4 Available from: MP3 Players.co.uk Price: £179.95 (256MB), £129.95 (128MB) Decktron MyVoice Plus Rating: 2.5 Available from: MP3 Players.co.uk Price: £79.95 (128MB) Jens of Sweden MP-100 Rating: 3.5 Available from: MP3 Players.co.uk Price: £174.95 (256MB), £129.95 (128MB) SlimBox Rating: 3.5 Available from: MP3 Players.co.uk Price: £199.95 (512MB), £169.95 (256MB), £134.95 (128MB)
Nick Hawkesmoor, 27 Oct 2003

Viewsonic V35 Pocket PC

Reg ReviewReg Review Viewsonic's first PDA, the V35, was released in the US a wee while ago, but it finally made it to these shores a couple of months back. Pitched as one of the cheapest and thinnest Pocket PC devices around, we thought the V35 merited a closer look. The unit itself is just 1cm (0.4in) thick, and a trim 12 x 7.5cm (4.8 x 3in) face-on. So it's smaller than its closest rival, Dell's Axim x5. It's lighter too, at 119.1g (4.2oz) to 195.6g (6.9oz). It feels light too, but not flimsy. It's made out of plastic, but it feels solid - though not the way a metal-cased device does. Alas it's no looker. The V35 is a classic 'slab' PDA, all straight lines and little or no concession to industrial design. You can argue that that doesn't matter since Pocket PCs are so clearly aimed at business roles. But as Compaq (now HP) showed with the iPaq and Palm with the original Palm V and more recently the Tungsten T, even executives like their toys to look good. Consumers certainly do. The V35's front panel is dominated by its 3.5in 240 x 320 LCD. Given Viewsonic's background in the LCD monitor market, we expected the V35's screen to be better. It isn't bad, but it's not the brightest PDA screen we've seen, even with the backlight turned up to full. That may be one of the trade-offs made to get the price down. So is the XScale's processor speed: 300MHz not the more common 400MHz. The V35 ships with Pocket PC 2002's ClearType option turned off, and turning it on we can see why: letters aren't so much anti-aliased as blurred. To be fair, this may be a common issue with Pocket PCs, but it was disappointing nonetheless. Memory doesn't sound limited, but it is. The V35 comes with 64MB of RAM, but only just over a half of it - 36.5MB - is available to the user; the rest is reserved for applications. A neat - but by no means unique - touch is a built-in Flash disk to protect data even when the battery fails. Below the screen are the usual application buttons and a four-way navigator control, which complements the Clie-style jog dial mounted on the left-hand side of the PDA. Next to the jog-dial is the control that activates the V35's voice recording facility - the built-in microphone is on the front of the devices, in the bottom left-hand corner, opposite a flower-shaped speaker grille - and below it is a recessed reset button. The V35's right-hand side sports a 3.5mm headphone socket. On top is the power switch, stylus dock - within which is a telescopic implement; screwing off the end reveals a pin capable of reaching the reset button - IR port and SD card slot. The slot supports SDIO as well as memory cards, allowing the V35 to use Bluetooth and Wi-Fi adaptors, and the like. The obligatory synchronisation cradle connector is located on the base of the unit next to a separate power point. The V35's power adaptor plugs into the cradle or straight into the PDA, so the device is as easy to charge as a mobile phone. A nice touch, that. When fully charged, you'll get ten hours of usage out the V35, claims Viewsonic. Battery life depends so much on usage that we didn't carry out a specific duration test. However, using the V35 in the same way we use our regular Tungsten T, we found the former needed recharging more frequently than the Palm. An apples-to-oranges comparison, perhaps, but from past use of Pocket PC devices of comparable spec. we'd still say the V35's battery isn't the most capacious on the market. Oh, and the power-saving CPU settings, which reduce processor performance in order to lengthen battery life, didn't seem to make an appreciable difference. Speaking of the battery, the V35 implements a rather neat 'gotcha' in the form a recessed switch located on the back of the device. The switch disconnects the battery, and the V35 ships with the battery so disconnected. If, like us, you're not in the habit of reading product documentation, you'll no doubt do what we did and wonder why the wretched thing isn't turning on, even though the power's connected. There might be a very good reason for the incorporation of such a switch, but we can't see what it is. Such concerns aside, we have to say the V35 isn't bad. Not great, perhaps, but not rubbish either. No one would buy one as a style accessory, but if you're in the market for a cheap PDA, you could do a lot worse. The low user memory size might seem an impediment, but it's more than enough for the personal information most PDA users keep, and in any case, the SD card slot provides for ample expansion to hold multimedia should be more interesting in the Pocket PC's use as an electronic photo album or MP3 player. Though its relatively short battery life may limit its use for such apps. Above all, it wins on its weight and its equally light price. That said, it's not the cheapest Pocket PC around - you can probably pick up a Toshiba e330, a Dell Axim with a comparable spec. for under £200 - and lesser-specced devices for an even lower price. But the V35 has them beat on weight and size. ® Rating      60% Pros Light SDIO support Good price Cons Low battery life Not a looker Limited RAM Price      £229 excluding UK sales tax
Tony Smith, 27 Oct 2003

The Palm Zire 71 PDA

A Reg in-depth reviewA Reg in-depth review Palm's budget-priced Zire PDA has proved a popular addition to its consumer-oriented product line-up. The Zire 71 is the follow-up, adding a colour display, an integrated digicam and a little multimedia-friendly processor horsepower, all designed to tickle the fancy of buyers with more cash and a desire to spend it on the latest consumer electronics. Internally, the Zire 71 is broadly the same as the higher end Tungsten T. It's based on a Texas Instruments OMAP310 processor running at 144MHz - the T uses the 1510 chip, which adds a DSP core to the ARM CPU core both processors share - and contains 16MB of RAM. It also contains 16MB of ROM, twice the size of the T's ROM and capable of holding not only the operating system and all the regular Palm PIM applications but some of the bundled applications too, freeing up RAM for the user's data and own installed apps. Installing more RAM would have been a more preferable solution. Palm bundles RealNetworks' RealOne player, touting its MP3 playback features, along with Audible player, for commercial spoken word content. It also includes Kinoma's movie playback app, plus the desktop tool, called Producer, you need to convert QuickTime, MPEG and other movie formats into Kinoma's own, highly compressed version. We ran a 65MB QuickTime file through Producer and got a 7MB file that played reasonably well on the PDA. Palm also bundles VersaMail, its email application, but users will have to dial in via a mobile phone and the 71's infra red port to check for new messages. Presumably that's why Palm didn't bundle its browser software, Web. It does include Adobe Reader and Palm's own eBook reader, along with Solitaire. Candid camera Unlike the T, the 71 has no microphone, so voice recording is out of the question, an odd omission for a multimedia-oriented device, perhaps. However, like its higher-end cousin, the 71 has a slide mechanism. Rather than revealing the Graffiti text entry area, the 71's entire back panel slides open to expose the PDA's digicam. The camera lens is mounted on the rear of the device, allowing the screen to be used as the viewfinder. Mounted into the back section of the device and also revealed by the sliding action is the camera's shutter button. It's a clever approach that not only protects the camera lens, but plays on Palm's growing reputation for innovative case design. Since it's playing for the same consumers who are being targeted by the mobile phone companies, Palm no doubt feels it has to compete on the same level of product design as Nokia, Sony-Ericsson and co. The Zire 71's metallic blue and chrome colour scheme - albeit paint on plastic rather than metal - is also a nod in that direction. The camera's native resolution is 640x480, though you can select 320x240 to match the 71's screen size and save memory, or 160x120 to cram even more photos into the available RAM. By default the camera automatically adjusts the brightness of the image and its white point, but both of these can be changed by the user. The Zire 71's camera at work, indoors (top) and outside (bottom) Palm's image capture software provides on-the-fly photo management, and will date-stamps pictures if you want. The 71 fires up the capture app as soon as the slider is opened - closing it drops you into Palm's album software, Photo. Images look superb on the 71's 'transflective' display, an improvement over the T's screen it shares with the Tungsten C (see our review here). Colours are vivid and realistic. The backlight is always on. Palm includes a vinyl sheath-style case and a wrist lanyard along with the PDA to further stress that the device is one you carry around with you as you would a good consumer-oriented camera or a cellphone. The case is good but holds the 71 so tightly that it pushes the navigator control and turns the device on. Thank goodness for the Palm's auto power-off function. Build quality Said navigator is a slight departure for Palm. In place of the Tungsten family's wheel-shaped five-way navigator, the 71 sports a tiny joystick that offers the same functionality. It's reminiscent of the navigator built into Sony Ericsson's T68i cellphone, from which we suspect Palm also drew the 71's colour scheme. Palm's Zire 71 (left) - inspired by the T68i? (right) The 71 feels soundly build. It's plastic, of course, not metal, but it doesn't feel cheap. The camera-revealing sliding mechanism isn't perhaps as smooth as it might be, but it doesn't feel like it will go loose either. The stylus slots into the top of the device, and you can feel the locking mechanism grasp it to prevent it falling out. The top of the stylus is knobbed so you can unlatch it with a fingernail and then pull it free. The knob is nicely flush with the edge of the case so it won't get pulled out inadvertently. It's clear Palm has paid a lot of attention to detail when designing the 71. The SD card slot, for example, has a wider mouth than other Palm PDAs and is wider at the top of the hole, making the fiddly little cards much easier to insert in a hurry. That's a good way of making the technology more friendly for consumers, who Palm no doubt reckons will be buying a lot of cheap memory cards to store photos on. The 71 also reads data from memory cards far more quickly than our Tungsten T does - a sign of superior SD card support in Palm OS 5.2, we presume. The top of the device also sports the power switch and the 3.5mm stereo headphone jacks. Oddly, given the 71's focus on multimedia apps, Palm hasn't seen fit to bundle earphones. Silly, that. So is the absence of a recharge indicator light. You can easily place the 71 on its cradle only to find it's not recharging, particular if you've temporarily turned off all sounds, as we did. Then you don't even get the usual beep to tell you recharging has started. Like the C, the 71 runs Palm OS 5.2.1 with the Graffiti 2 character recognition system. We've covered Graffiti 2 in some detail in our Tungsten C review, but to summarise, it is an improvement on the old model, though for those of us who've got used to Graffiti 1, there's some learning to do. Fortunately, the curve you have to climb is shallow. Because the 71 is designed to operate with a stylus, it has a dedicated text entry area, which eliminates most of the problems encountered using Graffiti 2 on the C. That said, full-screen text entry is also supported. Verdict When we took the 71 out of its box for the first time, we thought we weren't going to like it. The camera seemed gimmicky, the colour scheme and plastic shell aimed too clearly at a hip, with-it crowd, daddy-o. But it didn't take long to enjoy using the 71. The camera's fun to use in the way that disposable cameras or tiny digicams like Logitech's Pocket Digital are - quick snaps to capture moments not necessary preserve memories or record experiences. We can't say we'd take too many snaps ourselves, but if you figure you're paying for a well-designed, fast PDA, you can kid yourself you're getting the camera for free. We're already a convert to Palm OS 5.2 and Graffiti 2, and to that we can add the 71's joystick navigator. We found it easier to use than the Tungsten series' version. The screen is certainly better than our T's, though the same caveats apply as we noted in our Tungsten C review: there's little difference in bright, outdoor conditions. It's still the best screen on a PDA, though. The price remains an issue, however. While the cellular networks continue to subsidise camera-phones, will punters be willing to spend £245 on a PDA with one? Particularly one that can't easily interface with a cellphone to allow piccies to be instantly sent via MMS or e-mail. The 71 ships with telephony software, but it has to be installed separately. That may be fine for a techie audience, but consumers should have it right from the word go. Even then you can only connect by infra-red. No, the 71 really needs a better, more consumer-friendly messaging facility, and Palm has blundered by failing to integrate communications tools to match its fine multimedia offerings. ® Rating 85% Pros Nicely integrated digicam Good build quality Good looking Cons Ungenerous amount of memory No audio recording facility No Bluetooth, and poor comms support Price $299/£245/€347
Tony Smith, 27 Oct 2003

Intel takes axe to P4, Celeron prices

Intel yesterday cut not only its desktop Pentium 4 prices yesterday, but trimmed what it charges for the mobile version. Desktop prices fell by up to 35 per cent as anticipated. Mobile Pentium 4 prices were reduced by similar amounts. The chip giant also tweaked mid-range Celeron prices - and those of top-of-the-line Mobile Celerons, too - but by a lower margin: no more than 16 per cent. Intel Pentium 4 Processor Prev. Price New Price Change 3.2GHz, 800MHz FSB $637 $417 -35% 3GHz, 800MHz FSB $417 $278 -33% 3.06GHz, 533MHz FSB $401 $262 -35% 2.8GHz, 800MHz FSB $278 $218 -22% 2.8GHz, 533MHz FSB $262 $193 -26% 2.6GHz, 800MHz FSB $218 $178 -18% 2.66GHz, 533MHz FSB $193 $163 -16% 2.53GHz, 533MHz FSB $193 $163 -16% Intel Mobile Pentium 4 Processor Prev. Price New Price Change 3.2GHz, HyperThreading $653 $433 -34% 3.06GHz, HT $433 $294 -32% 3.06GHz $417 $278 -33% 2.8GHz, HT $294 $234 -20% 2.8GHz $278 $218 -22% 2.66GHz, HT $234 $202 -14% 2.66GHz $281 $186 -15% Intel Celeron Processor Prev. Price New Price Change 2.5GHz $83 $79 -5% 2.4GHz $79 $69 -13% 2.3GHz $79 $69 -13% Intel Mobile Celeron Processor Prev. Price New Price Change 2.4GHz $149 $134 -10% 2.2GHz $134 $112 -16% 2GHz $112 $96 -14%
Tony Smith, 27 Oct 2003

Palm Tungsten C Wi-Fi PDA

Each member of Palm's Tungsten line of pro-oriented PDAs offers wireless connectivity of one form or another. The original member of the family, the Tungsten T, has built-in Bluetooth. Earlier this year, Palm shipped the W, which can talk to cellular networks. The newest addition to the line, the Tungsten C, sports integrated 802.11b Wi-Fi connectivity. In addition, the C provides a more general upgrade to the Tungsten line, offering the latest version of the Palm OS, much more memory and a significantly faster ARM-based processor. A must-have purchase for the discerning Palm owner then? Not quite. Wi-Fi may be the IT world's flavour of the month right now, but we'd question how useful it is to the average PDA user, and for all the C's power, we think the T remains the best mainstream machine Palm has produced. Indeed, when a faster, more capacious version of the T ships, we think it will relegate the C into something of a niche role. That's not to say the C is a poor product - it's actually a rather good one. A look at Palm's product page will show you its chief physical attributes. To add to that, the C's construction is solid, feeling meaty rather than heavy (it's 178.6g or 6.3oz). Alas it's case is scratchable plastic rather than the T's durable metal. It's bigger than the T, being thicker, slightly wider and an inch longer when the T is shut. It's the same length as an open T. Hidden within the T's slide-open case is the PDA's Graffiti character-entry pad. The C has a Blackberry-style micro keyboard instead, which makes for faster (with practice) writing. The C also has a T-style five-way navigator button, though it's smaller and thus more fiddly than the T's. Graffiti vs Graffiti Despite the keyboard and lack of a dedicated character-entry area, the C retains Palm's pen-based text entry mode, offering Graffiti 2 rather than the original version, which the company was forced to ditch after being successfully sued by Xerox for patent infringement. CIC, the developer of Jot, which Palm has rebranded as Graffiti 2, presumably has as a licence from Xerox. Graffiti 2 lets you use the whole screen to enter text. Text is entered on the left-hand side of the screen, numbers on the right. It will display your pen strokes on the screen if you wish so you can see what you're writing. Graffiti 2 is an improvement over its venerable predecessor. Some character shapes are different and require two strokes of the stylus, but it took us almost no time to get the hang of them. It makes mixing upper and lower case characters far easier that the original did - you just write in the middle of the screen for capitals. That's much better than having to manually select caps or caps lock mode as you do with Graffiti 1. Entering symbols is much easier too. For many of them you no longer need to select symbol mode. The sooner Palm offers a Palm OS 5.2 update for the Tungsten T, the better, though we suspect licensing issues and the commercial realities of today's PDA market may prevent this. While we like Graffiti 2, we wish Palm hadn't implemented it in the C. Pen input may be part of the operating system, but the hardware hasn't really been designed with it in mind - hence the lack of a dedicated (or even virtual) text-entry area. If you don't use the keyboard for text entry, you can run into difficulties. For instance, if you write a line of characters with Graffiti on, you can't highlight the selection to delete it - you have to switch Graffiti off first, select it the text, then switch full-screen entry back on if you want to use a stroke of the stylus to delete the text. Use the pen this way is how most existing Palm users work, and they'll be surprised when the C doesn't accommodate them. Incidentally, this isn't an issue with Palm's other Graffiti 2 PDA, the Zire 71, as we'll explain in our upcoming review of that product. Despite the C's keyboard centricity, users will still need to pull out the stylus to work with the UI. You need it for UI elements like on-screen buttons, moving the text caret and entering symbols that don't appear on the keyboard, such as % and £. Buttons on keyboard provide access to menus, the app launcher and the Find... dialog. But while you can type in your search string, or call up the list of applications to beam, you can't select which application you want to send, or activate the search without the pen. Actually, you can do the latter - pressing the centre button clicks the dialog's left-most button, which is fine if the app developer has put the default button there. Palm really should have gone all the way and configured the C to operate without the stylus. That doesn't necessarily mean forcing one way of working on the user, but giving the choice to use one or the other, not requiring they use a mixture of the two. Palm OS 5.2 Graffiti 2 is part of Palm OS 5.2 - the Tungsten C ships with a minor update, 5.2.1 - which also incorporates some under-the-hood enhancements such as support for 64MB of built-in memory, which the C duly provides. Rather more fun is the ability to change the UI's colour scheme, including a theme called Nostalgia for folk missing the PalmPilot's green and black monochrome display. Alas you can't create your own themes out of the box, which defeats the object a bit. Palm offers all the usual PIM applications in the C's ROM, where it has also installed bundled apps, including updated versions of Palm's own VersaMail e-mail package, WebPro browser and PhotoBase picture gallery software (the last two now renamed Web and Photo, respectively). All contain worthwhile enhancements and like Graffiti 2 should be made available to Tungsten T users. New adventures in Wi-Fi Web and VersaMail naturally take advantage of the C's integrated Wi-Fi adaptor. Palm has integrated 802.11b access rather well, and once we'd made the necessary security adjustments to our base-station, we could connect to the Internet via the C with ease. Palm wisely prints the device's MAC address on the back of the case, making it easy to add the device to your WLAN base-station's list of permitted clients. Public Wi-Fi access should be a doddle, but with so few hotspots around, how often owners will connect this way is open to question. Palm probably has its eye on corporates rolling out Wi-Fi at the campus level, allowing the C to be used as a mobile email terminal or for wireless vertical applications. Of course, you can check your email in Starbucks, etc. but how often would you want to? Many users will, but most, we reckon, will prefer the freedom of movement offered by a cellphone/Tungsten T/Bluetooth combo. Yes, it's slower, but until hotspots become more widely available (and cheaper), it may be the preferred mode, particularly since the PDA, even with Palm's fine Web software, isn't really a browsing platform of choice. At home, most WLAN users will surf using a Mac or PC, for that very reason. The C might make a good portable music terminal, pulling songs off a desktop system via the WLAN, but the software's not there yet - RealPlayer, Palm's preferred MP3 playback software can't yet see music files stored on the network, only on the PDA. And you'd have to use the device's built-in speaker - the headphone socket isn't a standard 3.5mm job, nor is it stereo. The C displays the Wi-Fi signal strength in the Command bar, once you're connected, but for such a key component, you'd have thought it would be more prominently displayed, like next to the battery life indicator. Speaking of which, Wi-Fi eats into the battery life - the battery fell from 100 per cent to 84 per cent after just an hour's usage. You can set the Palm to conserve power by shutting down the WLAN connection when it's not being used. Irritatingly, though, the device continually pops up a Connecting... dialog box every time you access the WLAN. It does this even when you tell the device to stay powered up permanently. The C can HotSync via the WLAN, but only if your computer is a PC - Mac HotSync software doesn't support this mode, alas. T or W? As a Tungsten T owner, we were keen to see how the two compared. The C certainly has the better screen. The new 'transflective' display is much brighter than the T's screen - and readable at wider vertical angles. Colours are more vivid, more realistic - a white screen looks more like paper, less like a backlit LCD. The backlight is always on, by the way. A Big improvement, we thought. Well almost. In bright light conditions, there's less of a benefit, and in some instances, outdoors, we even found the T's screen easier to read. The C lacks the T's voice memo facility. We don't use the latter very much, but it's a nice feature limited only by the T's memory capacity. The C has the memory capacity, but not the built in microphone. Palm has chosen not to bundle a headset. Where the C definitely does beat the T is speed. The T seemed quick after years spent using a Palm V, but the C seems another order of magnitude faster again. That's thanks to its 400MHz Intel PXA255, the mainstay of PocketPC PDAs. It runs 178 per cent faster than the T's 144MHz CPU. The C's 64MB of memory (51MB for user data and apps) outshines the T's meagre 16MB too, though both are expandable with SD cards. Verdict So would we swap our Tungsten T for the C? Sorry, Palm, but no, we wouldn't. We'd certainly like to add Palm OS 5.2 and Graffiti 2 to the T, not to mention more RAM and a faster processor, but we prefer the broader utility of the T - the standard headphone socket makes it a better media player, it's got voice recording built in, and Bluetooth lets gets us quickly online whenever we can't find an Wi-Fi signal. We prefer the T's smaller size too. Wi-Fi is a strong draw, but we'd happily wait for SanDisk's SD card Wi-Fi adaptor, which is due this autumn. Wi-Fi access isn't widespread enough to warrant buying into for PDAs just yet - having to find a specific location just to check your email on the move defeats the object of portable computing that the PDA was designed to provide. That said, the C should appeal to corporate users with on-site WLANs. And the keyboard? Like Wi-Fi, there will be users who demand it, and heavy-duty email users will want the speed it brings to writing messages. Graffiti is good for basic stuff, but for anything long you really need a keyboard. It's an important feature of the C - just as it of the Tungsten W - though it's a shame that its integration isn't as tight as it might be. ® Rating 75% Pros Very fast Realistic colour display Integrated Wi-Fi Cons No built-in voice record facility Non-standard microphone socket Keyboard integration could be better Weighty Price $499/£395/€560
Tony Smith, 27 Oct 2003

Joe Average User Is In Trouble

OpinionOpinion One of the many hats I wear here in St. Louis is that of college instructor, writes SecurityFocus columnist Scott Granneman. I teach courses in technology at Washington University, recently ranked the ninth best overall college in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, and at St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley, one of the better community colleges in the area. I teach smart people at both locations. One is composed of folks who can pay the high prices for an education at a nationally-ranked university, and the other has people who work during the day and want to improve their skills at a good public school while keeping their costs low. In other words, I see a pretty good cross-section of the computer users in our area. Oh sure, some of my students are what we'd call "computer people," who work professionally programming or administering various systems or developing Web sites. But those are few and far between. Most of my students are office workers, or writers, or homemakers. Almost all of them run Windows at home and at work, usually ME or XP. They all know how to "use" their computers, which means that they can write papers, read email, use the Web, and even install software (as long as it's not packaged as a ZIP file: most of them have no idea what a ZIP file is or how to use it). In other words, your typical American computer user. I'm here to tell the security pros reading this that we are in deeeeeep trouble when it comes to securing the computers of these people. Security is just not a concept that "normal" folks focus on. It's not even on the radar screen. It's just not thought about at all. The problem "Do you update your anti-virus software regularly?" I'll ask them. Most look at me as though I'd just asked them if they refloozle their hossenblobbets with tinklewickets. A few will tentatively volunteer a timid, "I ... think so?" Some are willing to admit that they don't even have anti-virus software. At least they're sure. "Do you run Windows Update regularly?" I'll ask next. Hmmm ... those hossenblobbets really do need refloozling. Some state that yes, they do run Windows Update, but they have no idea what it is doing to their computer, so they just agree to everything and assume it's all good. Most say they've never done it once, if they even know what it is. "Do you have DSL or a cable modem at home?" is my next question. Ah, finally! A question they can all answer. They know the answer to this one! About half usually have some sort of broadband connection, and they are enthusiastic in their answers: "Yes, I do! You betcha! Love it!" "Great!" I continue. "Do you have personal firewall software running on your computer? Do you have a router/firewall so your Windows machine isn't directly connected to the Internet? Did you remember to turn off file and printer sharing if your Windows machine is directly connected to the Internet?" A pause ... and we're right back to hossenblobbets and tinklewickets. It's enough to make someone who cares about security throw up his hands in frustration and just give up. Especially when we look at the unending stream of patches that has been flooding from Redmond, Washington over the past couple of days ... uh, weeks ... uh, months ... oh, the heck with it: years. Just last week Microsoft announced a mega-patch for five security vulnerabilities deemed "critical". Windows Server 2003, which Microsoft promised would be its most secure OS yet, has already had nine security bulletins issued for it. Windows XP, the flagship desktop OS for home and business users, has released patch after patch after patch, as a search at the SecurityFocus Vulnerability Database will disclose. To top things off, some of Microsoft's patches are themselves buggy, requiring further patches and updates to fix these patches. It is a huge - and growing - problem for IT professionals at businesses to keep up with all the patches Microsoft issues. How, then, are non-professionals supposed to deal with the problem? More importantly, how are security pros supposed to deal with the bigger problem: that non-pros don't deal with the problem? Solutions? We can't just ignore the problems with insecurity that our non-IT friends, family, co-workers and acquaintances have with their computers. If their machines are compromised, we feel the effects, whether we realize it or not. We feel the effects when we end up spending several hours each week doing pro bono IT work at the homes of the people we know (I've tried sending my Mom a bill, but she never pays, the deadbeat). We feel the effects when the Internet slows to a crawl due to a sudden explosion of traffic caused by a particularly-virulent virus or worm. We feel the effects when we get even more spam, sent from compromised zombies to everyone else on the Net, or when those zombies are used in DDOS attacks on anti-spam Web sites. We feel the effects when zombies owned by our unknowing friends and family are used to secretly host scams, or porn sites ... or worse. In my angrier moods, I sometimes think that we should require licenses to operate computers, just like we require licenses to drive automobilies. I know that such a plan would never work in the real world, but it's a pleasant fantasy all the same. So what can be done? First of all, Microsoft desperately needs to improve the underlying security of their products. As I talked about in my last column, there are fundamental problems with the way that Microsoft designs its systems. Email programs that contain embedded Web browsers that are themselves embedded into the operating system are disasters waiting to happen. Microsoft makes it too easy for people to do stupid things with its software, and it needs to remedy that. Further than that, Microsoft needs to improve the way that its operating systems are updated and patched. A recent decision to consolidate patches into a monthly release is not, however, the way to go. Sure, on the one hand it makes things easier for the security pro who now only has to download and apply a mega-patch once a month. But, on the other hand, do you really feel like waiting three weeks until the next mega-patch comes out, hoping and trusting that you don't get bit in the meantime? And do you think your grandmother is going to remember to install that monthly patch? I can just see it now: "Hi, Grandma. Yeah, I'm doing fine, and so's the dog. Sure, cookies would be great! Hey, did you remember to install your Microsoft mega-patch yesterday?" To counter the immense problem of the millions of people who never install personal firewall software, Microsoft bundled an extremely simplistic "Internet Connection Firewall", or ICF, with Windows XP. Unfortunately, ICF is turned off by default, and it's hard for users to find if they do want to enable it. Even worse, ICF only blocks incoming traffic, so Trojans that try to phone home are in the clear. Evidently Microsoft is going to improve ICF in future versions of Windows, including future shipping copies of XP (which is good, considering that the next major version of Windows, code-named Longhorn, isn't going to see the light of day until 2005 at the earliest). It's going to be enabled by default, which is a good start, but there's no word about blocking outbound traffic at this point. To counter the immense problem of the millions of people who never install or update anti-virus software, Microsoft recently purchased GeCAD, a small Romanian anti-virus software company. Microsoft hasn't made it clear how deeply it intends to get into the anti-virus business, and analysts are divided, with some sure that Microsoft will eventually challenge Symantec and McAfee and the other large AV vendors, and others arguing that Microsoft just intends to get a better handle on improving the security of the Windows platform. I suspect that Microsoft hasn't yet decided what it wants to do on this front. Forcing AV software onto end users is a good thing, but I would really hate to see Microsoft destroy another software market by bundling new capabilities into the OS (the same concern applies to personal firewalls in the previous paragraph). To counter the immense problem of the millions of people who still do carelesss things with their email, like open attachments they weren't expecting, Microsoft is making changes to the way its corporate email program Outlook behaves (including, however, the addition of odious DRM (digital rights management) features that will cause more problems than they solve). These are good changes, but let's see what happens once Outlook has been in the real world for a few months. I hope that the days of constant security issues with Outlook are over, but I'm taking a skeptical wait and see attitude, an attitude that seems entirely justified, based on one bizarre "feature" that the brand new program displays. Oh, by the way: if you or someone else you know uses the the free Outlook Express, you're out of luck. Microsoft has no plans to improve it any further. If you know someone using Outlook Express, get them onto something else ASAP, like Mozilla Thunderbird. To counter the immense problem of the millions of people who never run Windows Update (or Office Update, for that matter), Microsoft will probably install patches and updates automatically, by default. This makes me nervous, to say the least, since Microsoft has a history of releasing patches that don't work, or cause new problems, or require updates for the patches themselves. And personally, I don't like anything automatically installed on my machines. I want to be in control. But for the great mass of computer users out there, I think it's a solution that is unfortunately necessary. If people won't do it themselves, then it needs to be done for them. Let's just hope it works smoothly. An unrequested but necessary responsibility Microsoft can do a lot, but its still the folks in the trenches who are left with the hard work and the dirty jobs. Yeah, I'm talking to you, the security professional reading this column. You and I have a lot left to do. We bear some of the blame for this mess by both mistaken actions and inactions but, more importantly, and more unfortunately, we bear most of the burden. Even if we don't want to, we're going to have to work with the people around us to help improve this pretty awful situation. I know a lot of you are already performing what feel like the labors of Hercules. You're providing the free tech support that I mentioned above. You're spending hours downloading and installing patches, and cleaning up for folks when their computers become bewitched, bothered, and bewildered. You're the one driving out to CompUSA to buy a router/firewall when your parents get that new DSL connection. And you're the one patiently explaining yet again to yet another person why they need to install anti-virus software. But we can do more. No, we must do more. Because like or not, Windows ain't going away for a while. Probably not ever, totally (calm down, Linux and Mac OS X users - I'm on your side, but let's be realistic here). We've got to do more, because who else is going to do it? Microsoft claims it's working as hard as it can to improve the security of its products, but the success of that claim is, to put it politely, debatable. Besides, as we all know security is one big chain that is only as strong as its weakest link, and the weakest link is always ... the people. Microsoft can work and struggle to give its software a secure foundation, the same strong foundation that much open source software already has, but as long as it makes it easy for smart people to do dumb things, we're always going to have a problem. So it's up to us, the people reading this column, the smart people who try to do smart things, to help the great mass of computer users. And what's the greatest help we can offer them? It's simple, really: education. We've got to educate our parents, our other family members, our boyfriends and girlfriends, our wives and husbands and partners, our in-laws, our friends and acquaintances, our co-workers, and even the people we just bump into for a few moments at parties. We need to be polite, non-threatening, non-judgmental, and above all, helpful. We can't be zealots. Our answer to every problem can't be "Run Linux!" or our other favorite operating system (unless the individual we're talking to is interested in such a solution, then by all means, go for it). We can, however, recommend (and install, and support ... *sigh*) software that will run on their operating systems and is built in a more secure fashion, however, like Mozilla or OpenOffice, if that software is appropriate. Most importantly, we need to speak in a language that Joe or Jane User can understand. No hossenblobbets and tinklewickets. Going back to my classes at Washington University in St. Louis and St. Louis Community College, I always spend time with my students educating them about various issues in security. I try to impress upon them the importance of anti-virus software, and Windows Update, and firewalls, both hardware- and software-based. If they have a broadband connection, I take some time to talk about the advantages it brings, but also about the dangers, and how they can protect themselves against those dangers. And you know what? My students are genuinely interested in what I can tell them, and most of them think about what I've said and actually act on it. I can't teach my students everything, but I try to teach them something. Every security professional needs to do the same. We're at the forefront, like it or not, and it's up to us to help lessen the myriad of problems we see around us. Like it or not, we need to become educators - permanent educators - or we may find ourselves refloozling those hossenblobbets with tinklewickets one too many times. Copyright © SecurityFocus Scott Granneman is a senior consultant for Bryan Consulting Inc. in St. Louis. He specializes in Internet Services and developing Web applications for corporate, educational, and institutional clients.
Scott Granneman, 27 Oct 2003

Email scammers target Halifax, Nationwide, Citibank

Scam emails trying to con customers of Halifax, Nationwide and Citibank into handing over sensitive account information circulated widely over the Internet this weekend. The emails, posing as a security check from the banks involved, take the same form as other 'phishing' scam emails which targeted NatWest bank customers last Friday. Potential victims are encouraged to verify their account information at fraudulent sites such as http://www.nationwide.co.uk:ac=u5t4cBr5ogytNEE6V6Lg@ShOrTwAy.To/n2r5j4/?Cqw2ZJUAhJ6LPAP, which pose as the real thing. As explained here, the weird looking address takes advantage of several things most people don't know about the structure of a valid URL. The main trick is that anything between "http://" and "@" is completely irrelevant, so the Nationwide scam site is actually ShOrTwAy.To/n2r5j4/?Cqw2ZJUAhJ6LPAP. Nearly one in 50 emails attempt ID theft Users are advised to ignore the scam emails, which are becoming increasingly common. Typically these fraudulent emails are sent to numerous people using spamming software in the hope of reeling in a few victims. Spam, which accounted for more than 50 per cent of all email messages sent over the Internet, is increasingly being used for criminal activity in the US and Europe, according to antispam specialist Brightmail. Brightmail reckons that various forms of scams account for one in ten of the spam messages it blocked in August, with 17 per cent of these involving identity theft or phishing scams. Anatomy of a scam Following the increased prevalence of such scams over the last two months, the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit and leading banking associations APACS and the BBA earlier this week issued a checklist for UK consumers designed to help them protect themselves against Internet fraudsters. The NHTCU warned last week that phishing (conning people into giving access details to online bank accounts) is only the first part of a two-stage scam. The second phase of the scam involves trying to recruit British people with online accounts to act as agents to transfer money abroad. This is necessary because the fraudsters themselves are located outside Britain and therefore unable to transfer cash from their victims' accounts directly. Are banks doing enough/ Some observers believe that banks need to do more to protect their users from scam artists. Andrew Goodwill, of anti-fraud site Early Warning, commented: "The banking industry has an obligation to its customers to allow them to access their bank accounts in a secure manner. It should not be up to the customer to make the decision whether an email they receive asking them to update their bank details is genuine or not." Banks never send out requests for account information by email but for Goodwill this is beside the point. "Most members of the public do not have the skills involved to verify whether an email has come from their bank or from Joe rip-off merchant in Russia. So far the banking industry has sat back and allowed this security flaw to exist. The only way members of the public get to hear about these emails is through the press long after the emails have been distributed." "ISPs are also to blame for hosting sites for these scamsters and I believe that ISPs should be more aware of the activities of there customers whilst using there servers," he added. ® Related Stories UK banks and police proffer anti-phishing advice NatWest customers targeted in 'phishing' scam Lloyds TSB phishing scam nipped in the bud Email fraudsters target Barclays MS, eBay, Amazon et al join ID theft busters Accused AOL phisher spammed the FBI ID theft hits 10m Americans a year
John Leyden, 27 Oct 2003

Google: the challenges of the proposed IPO

At one level the news that Google is considering holding a massive on-line Initial Public Offering (IPO) is, hopefully, a barometer of the growing revival in technology stocks and Internet-related stock in particular, writes Bob McDowall of Bloor Research. Two other challenges are likely to dominate the news surrounding the proposed IPO. The first is consideration of an on-line offering method of sale. The second is the perception that Google occupies a near monopoly position in the world of internet search engines. An on-line offering via a web-based auction of shares in the company would have number of distinct advantages. It would avoid the costly investment banking fees, which invariably accompany an IPO. The price literally would be set by the market than the creative methodologies, which have been devised by investment banks to value web based technology stocks, subject to any underlying reserve price, which the company may wish to set on the stock. Any underlying perceptions in the eyes of potential investors that the price was set to low or that favoured clients were benefiting from preferential allocation on the stock, would be avoided. The stock would mark its debut on the market by a strong display of transparency with the way its IPO was handled and its price would reflect the market price. Integrity and reputation in this context are of significantly greater importance with this stock than they are with most IPOs. The investment banking industry counters the proposal of an on-line auction. They suggest that an on-line offering will in fact over inflate the initial price, as there is likely to be a huge demand from the private investor, accessing the issue via the web. There will be insufficient stock available to satisfy the overwhelming demand. Equally, they contend, the stock will end up being held in extremely small amounts (from the perspective of the financial institutions and market makers) in the hands of private client investors. Consequently, it will be difficult and costly to make an effective market in the stock post IPO. A more sensitive issue and one with greater legal and regulatory impact is the role of Google as a search engine. Many contend that Google, by far the most successful of the search engines is a de facto monopoly. If this assertion were proved or at least there were an investigation to determine how pivotal Google was in "the search engine sector", this could postpone or delay the IPO. It could result in Google having to take action to stimulate other competition and ultimately diminish the value and future earnings prospect of the stock. A more esoteric matter surrounding the IPO of Google is the concern over privacy. If, as is sometimes asserted, Google handles over 80% of the search engine enquiries, it collects huge amounts of information on matters, which affect privacy. Which web sites are visited? Who visits them? With what frequency are visited? By whom are these web sites visited? In the final analysis should Google be subject to some form of public oversight? © IT-Analysis.com Related stories Google mulls $15bn IPO - report Google swallows another competitor
IT-Analysis, 27 Oct 2003

Tide turns for enterprise apps vendors

The quarterly business results are coming in and, for enterprise application vendors, it looks as if the worst is over, writes Fran Howarth of Bloor Research. Although we are not likely to be seeing the high growth rates common two to three years ago for some time, the business climate appears to be steadily improving. SAP reported its results last week and, although its results were relatively flat, German-based SAP is one company that is particularly affected by currency variations. On a constant currency basis, its results actually showed a 7% increase over the period one year ago. But what is more interesting is that software licence sales in the US market jumped 35 per cent in the quarter. Not all Europeans like to admit it, but the economies of Europe generally follow the fortunes of companies in the US, albeit with a lag. When the world economy started to falter in 2001, many Europeans initially took a "we can hold our own trousers up" attitude and thought that European economies were not necessarily likely to dip as well. How wrong that was. But, if European economies do tend to follow the general trends of the US, then there appears to be a fair amount of hope that the clampdown on enterprise technology budgets will ease over here as well. According to SAP, the better results in the US were owing to higher deal closure rates than previously. Although business is still not exactly booming - and SAP will continue to be affected by the strength of the Euro for some time to come - the efforts that the vendor has taken, in common with most companies, to set its own house in order are allowing it to increase its operating margins to reach a good level at 25 per cent. These improvements will continue to be felt and, along with a more buoyant market for software sales, SAP has been able to increase its guidance for the coming months. PeopleSoft has also released its results this week. Three months ago, when it last reported results, many were taken by surprise at the good results that it was able to achieve. Faced with a hostile takeover bid from rival Oracle, many industry watchers had expected its business to be adversely affected by the uncertainty caused as end-user organisations were expected to delay making decisions to purchase PeopleSoft products until the outcome of Oracle's bid became clear. But PeopleSoft was able to confound all expectations, leading some analysts to ponder on how it had been able to pull rabbits out of a hat. But PeopleSoft has again surprised with the strength of its business results. For the quarter just gone, its overall revenue figures are more than 5.5 per cent higher than even the very top end of the guidance that they had previously issued. Overall, even with the acquisition of J.D. Edwards during the quarter and the charges related to that, third quarter GAAP results were considerably better than expected. Although these two vendors do not represent the entire spectrum of the enterprise applications market, they are certainly companies that are watched to gain some idea of how the market is progressing in general. Other results are trickling in and many are showing improved performance, however slight. It looks as if we have turned the corner. © IT-Analysis.com
IT-Analysis, 27 Oct 2003

BOFH and The Boss's Porn

Episode 15Episode 15 BOFH 2003: Episode 15 So I'm wandering past The Boss's office one day, when I notice that tell-tale puzzled-yet-vaguely-interested-but-revolted expression on his face which that can only mean one thing. Hard Core Porn. Improvising, I grab a sheet of paper from his PA's desk and barge in. "If I could just get your signature on this or... oooerrr, what IS that," I ask, tailing off to tones of disgust. "I... I was trying to find out something on Waterskiing." "And you just happened to click on the first watersports category you found?" "I..." "And then clicked on the 'Sure, I'm an adult with a disgusting obsession, let me in'?" "No, I..." "Then browsed your way into image number.... 9 of a.. 17 part series." "I..." "Don't worry - you're secret's safe with me - I've signed a confidentiality clause with the company which means that I can't tell ANYONE about ANYTHING I've seen at the company." "Yes, but..." "No matter HOW depraved." "I..." "Or liable to get someone fired. In fact, I wonder if the clause covers people who're breaking company Internet usage policy? I guess it doesn't, when you come to think of it, because..." "I got here by accident," The Boss whimpers. "I never realised that people could do..." "Of course you didn't - and I advise you to stick to that defence. It's certainly better than the 'I was just intrigued and wondered what drew people to it' or 'My browser just went berserk and started popping through the pages' which we hear so often. No, I'm sure that would be an acceptable reason for your behaviour!" "I BLOODY GOT HERE LOOKING FOR WATERSKIING INFORMATION!" The Boss snaps, going on the offensive in an attempt to turn the inquisition tables on me. "The wife and I are going to beach resort for a couple of weeks and I thought I'd pick up a couple of pointers so as not to look like a complete duffer!" "You and your wife, really? Does SHE know about your... uh? tendencies?" "Oh you can't tell her!" he crumbles. "It was a bloody accident, I searched for waterskiing and things and refined my search to watersports in general, then chose this site because it said it was 100 percent relevant." "Relevant to YOU, yes." "What?!" "Well those search engines remember what you've searched for and browsed to in the past. So when it says relevant, it means to YOUR INTERESTS, not to the TOPIC you were searching for." "So what I've looked for from this machine?" "Yes." "But this is a new machine - the Helpdesk came and installed it yesterday! So it must have been them who were doing the bad things" "I don't think the Helpdesk have been 'Browsing the Pink' so to speak, as they work in an open plan office where people could have seen what they were doing at any time - unlike yourself." "They must have - it's a brand new machine." "So you got rid of your old machine?" "Yes, it was very noisy apparently." "It's quite a good idea to roll over your machine every few months or so - to cover your tracks. You've gone up a notch in my estimation." "I didn't want a new machine! They said that I was due for replacement, transferred all my files, and gave me this! I was happy the way things were!" "Of course you were. Like I said, Mum's the word. Now, was that all the porn you were looking at, or was there more? I'm only asking because I assume that you'd want it erased from the cache logs so as not to appear in some disciplinary action taken when the logs are reviewed." "You review the cache logs." "Of course. We say it's to improve hit efficiency, but really it's just to refer items to the HR group. See, we're not permitted to LOOK for indiscretions, but if we encounter them in the course of our day-to-day operations...." "Look, I've told you, it was just this one image, by accident." "So you wouldn't mind clicking on the BACK button." "I..." "Here, I'll do it for you. >click< Oh, 8/17 >click< 7/17... " "OK, OK, so I looked at it, but it was all so.. well.., weird" "Uh huh, >click< 6/17 >click< 5/17, my goodness, what is that?!?" "I don't know, that's obviously a leg, but I can't work out...." Our conversation is interrupted by the arrival of the Boss's PA with a magazine in her hand. "Just wanted to get your signature on this.. ohmigoodness, what is that?!!!!" "It's OK, he was explaining how he'd accidentally browsed there," I respond, nipping the horror in the bud. Or not. "Two guys, browsing some disgusting porn together.." she comments sourly. "I.. I was trying to find out something on Waterskiing" "And you went straight to.... er.. Watersports?" "Uh." "And then clicked on 'Let me in'?" "No, I.." "Then browsed your way into image number...5 of a... 17 part series." So of course we're screwed...® BOFH: The whole shebang The Compleat BOFH Archives 95-99 Get BOFH Books here BOFH is copyright © 1995-2003, Simon Travaglia. Don't mess with his rights.
Simon Travaglia, 27 Oct 2003

BOFH and The Conference

Episode 14Episode 14 BOFH 2003: Episode 14 So The PFY and I have been shafted by The Boss who's signed us up to a one-day "conference" in the city which is so airy-fairy it should really just be called a trade show. Ordinarily, as a computing professional, you'd expect to disagree with people on matters of technology on occasion. For instance, someone might have the position that Word was the best editor of all time, whilst others might rightly suppose that emacs is. Similarly, someone may suggest that Microsoft has a suite of tools and settings designed to ensure application and desktop security, whilst others might rightly say that's a load of crap. HOWEVER, when faced with the 'expert' opinion that a vendor's machine runs faster or is more robust because the monitor is silver or that the box has a number of flashing LEDs to indicate activity, you find yourself reaching for the 18-inch hammer-of-truth to perform some impromptu vendor reprogramming. What also irks me are vendor's 'technical' people (whose qualifications would be almost sufficient get them an extra role in a remake of "Deliverance") who are at the conference to give you the 'expert opinion straight from the horse's mouth'. True, there's a part of the horse's anatomy involved, but it's not the mouth... So I roll up to the conference bright, early and annoyed and am immediately cornered by a meet-and-greet person who tells me she "wants to make me feel right at home here". "Excellent Nancy, that's great. So where do I find the hot curry, case of lager, a sofa and TV set?" Nancy chuckles lightly, looking for an exit, but is sadly caught in my tractor beam as unfortunately I must have "accidentally" locked the entrance door behind me to give me a large amount of time alone with the vendors and their freebies before the great unwashed arrive and get all the good stuff. The PFY, meantime, is standing outside in a suit, complete with fake nametag, redirecting people to the rear of the building, for "safety reasons". "So what do you do... uh... Simon?" Nancy asks, making polite conversation while vainly waiting for a new conference attendee arrives to allow her to step away politely. "Well I'd have to admit to being a Systems Administrator," I respond. "Really? Just like Roger over there?" she responds, pointing at a sad vendor droid - made even MORE sad by the fact that he's scrawled MCSE under his name badge just so people know EXACTLY who they're messing with... "nnnnYes indeed. Roger and I are alike in the same way that a town reservoir could be likened to a toilet cistern," I respond, unable to suppress a hint of snobbish elitism. "Oh, I see - You mean there's a difference of scale involved?" "Well yes, but also that Roger's job involves taking shit from people". "Excuse me?!?!" "Sorry, I can't believe I said that! Please forgive me! What I MEANT to say was that Roger was full of crap!" "But Roger's company is a Platinum Sponsor of this show!" Nancy cries loudly, in case her loyalty is in question. "That would be the company that's marketing an anti-spam product based around Bayesian filtering - only they call it a 'patented statistical classification process', after porting some freely available source to .NET and whacking a 500 quid price tag on it." "I... uh..." "But wait, there's more! You can, for a small fee, upgrade the aforementioned pirated software to one which also sends you email to tell you that it's rejected a message!" "But wouldn't that..." "Defeat the purpose of the application? Why yes it would. And, talking to Roger there's another bloke whose company sells 100 Base T Network cards for PCs which ALSO have a wireless adaptor onboard - so that your machine can remain connected even if your network goes down!" "Does that happen a lot?" "Funny you should ask - No. And if it DOES go down it's generally because a core network device has failed - which the access point is connected to - so you have no connectivity anyway." "Well, I'm sure there are a lot of other worthwhile products here today." "Including the company of that bloke at the reception desk over there which has released a bug-fixed version of their software which actually WORKS now. Only they put the words 'New Generation' on it so they can charge their customers extra for the version upgrade." "So if this whole show is a waste of time, why are you here?" "Why indeed. Because my Boss enrolled me without asking, and not to attend would be a waste of good quiddage, but more importantly, for the drinks and freebies." "You're attending to get drunk and get free merchandise?" "You betcha!" "Isn't that just a LITTLE shallow?" Nancy asks sarcastically. "SOME people might say so." "And YOU would say?" "Gimme some Pens! And one of those cool rulers with the calculator in it. And the stress ball. And the elastic modem patch cable. And some of those...." . . . Suffice to say the show didn't pan out as well as expected. That said, the original objective - having The Boss removed from the Company's Conference mailing list - did eventuate, so the whole thing wasn't a complete write-off. I never did get that curry, though. BOFH: The whole shebang The Compleat BOFH Archives 95-99 Get BOFH Books here BOFH is copyright © 1995-2003, Simon Travaglia. Don't mess with his rights.
Simon Travaglia, 27 Oct 2003

Opera mobile makes breakthrough with Nokia 6600

The mobile phone version of the Opera browser will ship as standard with Nokia's forthcoming 6600 smartphone. The triband phone is due out in Europe, Africa and Asia-Pacific this quarter, and is the 'official' Nokia packaging of the camera smartphone for the business market. In addition to looking OK for business users (a major concern for Nokia's market segmenters - the 7650 doesn't really, and the 3650 certainly doesn't), the 6600 is packed with multimedia, mobile imaging and - dare we say - entertainment features. Nokia suggests somewhat implausibly that: "The Nokia 6600 offers the best of both worlds - advanced business features to keep on top of everything at the office, together with the latest functionality to capture precious family moments." Which we think would be better put as: 'Business users want all the gizmos everybody else has, so here's one they can persuade their bosses to get for them.' Whatever, although it's classed as a "mobile business" device its format makes it more of a standard/mainstream phone, as opposed to the previous more 'special purpose, special market' devices, so getting Opera into it is a big win for the browser company, which now stands a very good chance of making Opera the happening, standard mobile phone browser. Other new phones expected to ship with Opera include the Sendo X, the Sony-Ericsson P900 and Motorola's 3G A920, and there's also one coming from Kyocera. The version for the 6600, 6.1, is smaller and using less memory than previous versions, is available in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Chinese traditional and Chinese Simplified, and is available from opera.com for other Series 60 phones for a free 14 trial, and E25/US$29 for a full licence. ®
John Lettice, 27 Oct 2003

Halifax suspends e-banking site after phishing attack

Halifax has taken its web site offline in response to the widespread circulation of fraudulent emails targeting its customers this weekend. In a statement emailed out to customers on Saturday, Halifax said: "In the interests of the security of our customers we have temporarily closed the online service in order that we can communicate the issue to online customers and to make improvements in the service to further safeguard online accounts. "Please note that we would never send you emails that ask for confidential or personal security information." A Halifax spokesman confirmed that its online banking facilities were currently offline. Halifax expects to restore normal service later today (Monday, October 27), he added. Other banks targeted by phishing scams have kept their sites online. So why has Halifax pulled its site? Taking the site offline means Halifax's 1.5 million online customers will have to fall back on the phone to manage their finances. It also takes out one avenue with which Halifax can warn users about the problem. What does Halifax hope to achieve? A spokesman said: "We felt it was better to bring the site down and make changes and then bring everything back up in its together. We want to tackle the problem in its totality." When the scam came to Halifax's attention on Saturday it tracked the problem back to a fraudulent replica of its site, hosted in Russia. We understand from Reg readers that this site loaded a copy of the legitimate Halifax website in a separate window as well as a form designed to dupe users into handing over sensitive account information. Halifax is unaware of anyone who handed over sensitive account information, but the bank maintains it made sense to "temporarily close its facilities". Halifax says it acted cautiously and in the best interests of users. We are unconvinced that its decision to take its facilities offline was justified. Some Halifax customers have already written to us to criticise the suspension of online facilities. Reg reader John Allsopp writes: "So, let me get this straight, because Jo Public User is generally stupid, it means that the rest of us can't bank via the Internet anymore? Maybe if credit card fraud gets any worse the Halifax will withdraw those as well?" ® Related Stories UK banks and police proffer anti-phishing advice Email scammers target Halifax, Nationwide, Citibank NatWest customers targeted in 'phishing' scam Lloyds TSB phishing scam nipped in the bud Email fraudsters target Barclays
John Leyden, 27 Oct 2003

Buffalo's Airstation ISDN

It sometimes feels a little ironic to me that the state-of-the-art wireless network I have at home is connected to a socket on the wall that can barely outrun a modem, writes Jon Collins of Quocirca. Believe me, this is not through choice. One of the 'benefits' of living in the heart of rural England is that ye olde branche exchange is unlikely to ever connect enough folk for BT to consider it suitable for an ADSL upgrade, even if we did live within the required distance to benefit from it. Which, along with many thousands of others who have chosen the cornfields over the conurbation, we don't. OK, it's not the slowest connection in the world, and neither is the 802.11b configuration the most efficient available. The clever device that links the two is a Buffalo Airstation ISDN router, a box which combines the functions of a wireless access point, a hub and an ISDN modem which connects itself to the Internet whenever a connection is required. ISDN offers two phone lines and two data lines (64Kbps each, or a combined 128Kbps), and operates a two-out-of-four-ain't-bad policy. On the other side of the box, the network equipment is exclusively Buffalo - exclusive largely because when it was bought about two years ago, wireless interoperability was not guaranteed. It is understood that things are better than they were, but better safe than sorry. There are a number of computers at home, of which three qualify as being 'active' - ie. they're not consigned to the loft. One computer is connected to the network via a Buffalo USB wireless adapter. Another - a laptop - does so using an 802.11b PC Card. And let's not forget the Compact Flash wireless card for Little Dell, the PDA. A second desktop and a laser printer are both close enough to the router to merit a wired connection. And, well, it all sort of works. There are many benefits of this set-up, some planned and some unexpected. The most visible advantage is that, no longer are there wires trailing all over the house. In addition, all the computers can share the same Internet connection without requiring to be configured separately. They can talk to each other, which is highly useful for both simple file exchange, and cleverer things like editing a presentation that is saved on the laptop, by using an application that is run on the faster desktop computer. Back-ups are a theoretical breeze, in that files can be copied from one computer to another for safekeeping, with all the complexity of drag and drop - this is theoretical because one still has to remember to do it. Finally, using printer sharing, anybody can print to any printer, very handy when that inkjet cartridge runs out and there aren't any more in the drawer. Clearly, a number of these benefits are more down to the 'networking' and less to the 'wireless', but the latter has certainly made it more convenient to network the computers together. Without wireless, we would still be attempting a hotchpotch of infrared, USB, floppy and CD copying back and forth. There are some problems, but nothing is particularly insurmountable. The working range of the Compact Flash PocketPC card is, well, hopeless - probably about five paces at best. This might be half useful if the router was in the middle of the house, but it's in the bottom corner. Of course, I could buy a wireless repeater or a higher power aerial, but for now it's not the end of the world. Another downer is the speed of data transmission - it's, well, slow. Too slow, in fact, to transfer any large amount of data in a reasonable time, particularly if there's someone else contending for the packet space. That's a bit of a glib statement, and I have a 802.11b here, admittedly; but even with 802.11g, which boasts an order of magnitude speed improvement, don't expect to be pumping a DVD's worth of material from one computer to another (say) without leaving the computers on overnight. The Buffalo range itself - let's just say its not for the faint-hearted. Things have improved on the manufacturer's Web site since I first started going there, but the PC Card driver is offered without warranty or support - hardly a motivating factor. As far as I can tell, this driver is the same version that was available two years ago, so I would have hoped they'd have things worked out by now. Also, Buffalo seems to be in denial that they ever made an ISDN box, which makes me just a tad concerned when I have one right next to me. The line doesn't always drop when it should, and the laptop will hang if I try to suspend it with the wireless card inserted, but still, everything works, near as dammit. For a home network sharing Internet access, or even for a small business sharing resources with the household, a wireless network offers a number of advantages. Costs are falling all the time, and the administrative overhead is quite small - even Buffalo ships a serviceable configuration wizard which takes the back-work out of the installation. For home wireless, I know that my paltry installation is just the beginning, and there is plenty of progress being made in wireless technologies for the home. Perhaps the real advantages will come when these new device types start to be plugged in, such as the Linksys media converter, which would let me watch photo slide shows on my TV, or listen to MP3s through my stereo. As wireless technologies improve, we can expect to see new devices that take advantage of the higher speeds - no doubt Internet-linked for a wide range of new services. Maybe, one day they might even be available to the rural information-poor! Sorry, getting ahead of myself there, but the point is that the drive towards wireless as a home infrastructure is well underway. What's the problem there? None you might say, unless you're an early adopter and take some dubious pleasure in working through the inevitable teething troubles. Well, maybe there is one small problem: what's the company going to think? Thus far, firms have equipped their teleworking staff based on the principle that few people have a computer at home already, and if they do it will be standalone. When the home is a network, however, this is no longer the case. While the obvious answer might be to restrict the use of the office computer on the home network, there are certain weaknesses in this strategy. Such as: how is the office laptop going to connect to the office? If the answer is, via the ADSL link, then question two becomes, 'what, the one that's already configured for the kids?' Practically, it becomes very difficult to separate the corporate equipment from the home equipment. This raises issues of responsibility and control - for example, how to determine why a connection is not working when it should, not to mention interoperability ('It all worked fine until I plugged my laptop in - all I did was follow their instructions') and cost ('Hey, kids, the company's paying for the Broadband!'). Last but a gapingly not least is security. Enterprises already complain about the security issues raised by not knowing who has plugged what into the corporate network - what happens when that network extends (via a nice, secure VPN link, no doubt) to the uncharted territories of the home wireless network with high speed Internet access? Now, before vendors start emailing their product descriptions, let's acknowledge that there are a number of mechanisms for protecting that trusty laptop. Personal firewall software from the likes of Symantec and McAfee, for example, or the hardware equivalent from Linksys, plug one gap. The real issue is not the one which can be solved with technology, but the one that requires a policy solution, namely explaining to employees what they can and cannot do with their corporate assets when working from home. Unfortunately, many organisations treat management and security policy as a one-shot operation, which hasn't included the homes of employees in its scope. Perhaps it's time that it did. Equally clearly, there are a whole number of convergence issues that are yet to be addressed by IT vendors or end-user businesses alike. Copyright © 2003
Quocirca, 27 Oct 2003

Sony sued by US university over PS2 chip tech

The University of Wisconsin Madison has filed a suit against Sony and Toshiba, claiming that technology being used in the creation of the PlayStation 2's Emotion Engine processor infringes a patent which was filed by the university in 1986. Little information about the lawsuit or the patent it deals with is available at the moment, although we do know that the University is seeking damages and a halt to the use of the technology in question. The PS2 is based on a MIPS processing core with custom extensions added to it to improve the efficiency of the console. This unit is known as the EE Core - while Emotion Engine is a term used to describe this component and several others which are integrated onto a single chip and provide the console's processing power. Toshiba had a hand in designing this component for Sony, and was originally involved in manufacturing the chips as well. It's thought that the lawsuit centres on the manufacturing process involved in creating Emotion Engine devices, not any technology on board the chip itself, and as such both Sony and Toshiba are targeted by the suit. Copyright © 2003, GamesIndustry.biz
gamesindustry.biz, 27 Oct 2003

Longhorn to erase Cairo mis-step with 1995 ship date

Speculation about the ship date of Windows Longhorn, Microsoft's next big 'make or break' (Surely just 'break' - Ed) operating system reached fever pitch today when, hours before Bill Gates' big speech at PDC, the New York Times' Steve Lohr confidently asserted that it is "not expected to be shipped until late 1995 or 1996." Appropriately, elsewhere in the same piece IBM's VP i/c Linux-boosting Irving Wladawsky-Berger muses: "Microsoft today reminds me of I.B.M. in the years from 1988 to 1990." Whatever you two people were smoking in that interview, guys, we really think you should share it around. If Longhorn does make it out of the door in time for the fall 1995 market then Microsoft stands a good chance of beating the PowerPC partnership to the punch, but the company may have trouble persuading its PC partners to switch to the new OS if it turns out it won't run acceptably on a 386SX machine with 16 megs of memory. By 1996, however, Apple may be close to shipping its ambitious new Copland operating system, which was announced early in 1994, and IBM and Motorola and IBM are expected to unveil their own mass-market CHRP-based PowerPC machines in that year, so Redmond can't afford much slippage. ® Update Shame on those of you who've already emailed saying there's a typo in that last paragraph. You'd think the Cairo in the headline was some kind of clue, but apparently not. OK?
John Lettice, 27 Oct 2003

Next DVD spec. to offer Net access not more capacity

The DVD Forum, the body that oversees the DVD specification, has decided to stick with red laser technology and current storage capacities rather than make the move to blue light and more capacious discs. Instead, it will offer Internet integration to tempt upgrade-hungry consumers. The Forum, which counts consumer electronics companies as well as music and movie industry giants among its 216 members, last week laid down its plans for the next generation of the DVD standard. While Toshiba and NEC had been pitching a blue light technology that would have considerably increased the space available for movie and other data, the Forum has decided to stick with the existing laser specifications, NE Asia Online reports, presumably for greater backward compatibility. As it stands, the next generation of DVD will work just like today's format, but with greater Internet integration. Many DVDs already include links to web sites, but they're included in a separate DVD-ROM partition on the disc that can only be read by a computer-hosted DVD drive. The next version of the spec. will allow content creators to build those links directly into the scripts that tell a DVD player how to show the movie. The idea is that 'Enhanced DVD' players will have Net access built-in, either directly or via a home network, enabling consumers to access extra material at will. The format will also support the use of "digital keys", as the report puts it, to authorise the connection to web sites. Both technologies are expected to appear in product next year, which means the spec. isn't that far off completion. Put them together and it's clear the move is about shifting the DVD spec. away from a simple storage medium to a kind of digital theatre ticket where purchasing the DVD buys you entry to the content - which will almost certainly be stored someplace else. Today, broadband take-up is growing, but it remains a primarily PC technology. But presumably there will come a time when most homes have it, and it will feed a broader local network comprising not only computers but games consoles and other home entertainment devices. While a DVD is likely to prove the best medium for movies for the next few years, if not further out, there's still plenty of supplemental content that punters are going to want, and the movie industry is going to want to sell them. But how to provide it without it being ripped off? Full-scale DRM is an option, but one consumers are unlikely to support, even those who aren't in the habit of filching films off the Internet. The solution then is to provide content on the Net, but through a controlled access system. Playing an 'Enhanced DVD' for the first time might begin a background process that links a disc ID to a player ID and records the connection on a server somewhere. Play the disc elsewhere and the system spots the fact and blocks access to the content. Such an approach is likely to be used to deliver extras, which some buyers will want and many others won't. But extend the idea just a little and all the content, including the movie itself, comes down the wire to the player owned by the consumer who bought the disc. In essence the DVD is nothing but a entry ticket, perhaps with some free content on board that the industry doesn't mind giving away. Such a system doesn't preclude nor is precluded by direct video on demand systems. Instead it provides a way into such systems for consumers who don't own a PC but have a 'transparent' Net connection, perhaps via a cable TV box, anyway. Such a system neatly gets over the content industry's aversion to delivery technologies that don't involve physical product for punters to purchase, or at least business models that aren't based on the old 'x dollars for y items' mode. It also includes enough DRM to block piracy (at least theoretically) but not enough of it to make usage difficult for the customer. Of course, the next generation of the DVD standard is unlikely to deliver all this, at least not at the outset, but it does appear to put in place the foundations for such a structure. ®
Tony Smith, 27 Oct 2003

US Army ‘going to Linux’ after OS switch for GI PDA

The US Army has abandoned Windows and chosen Linux for a key component of its "Land Warrior" programme, according to a report in National Defense Magazine. The move, initially covering a personal computing and communications device termed the Commander's Digital Assistant (CDA), follows the failure of the previous attempt at such a device in trials in February of this year, and is part of a move to make the device simpler and less breakable. According to program manager Lt Col Dave Gallop this is part of a broader move towards Linux by the US Army: "Evidence shows that Linux is more stable. We are moving in general to where the Army is going, to Linux-based OS." The trials of the earlier version, at Hunter Airfield in Georgia, showed it exceeding the permitted one mission failure per 158 hours, not having sufficient battery life and having its communications obstructed by trees. The latter objection seems a little harsh to us, given that trees are pretty hardware- and OS-agnostic, but what do we know? The new devices are to be compatible with the new Stryker infantry vehicle, and hence come under the title Land Warrior Stryker Interoperable (SI). The previous was the LW-IC (Initial Capability). The LW-SI is intended to use the Stryker as a base station for recharging and downloading battlefield information, which would appear to provide a workaround for the limitations of the currently available communications systems. General Dynamics Decision Systems was awarded a development contract in February, and the computer (or maybe computerish) part of the system will come in a number of shapes and sizes, depending on role. Standard infantry versions will be pretty light and rugged, but the "leader version" could have longer range radio, keyboard and handheld display. GDDS says it's also developing variants for medics, combat engineers and forward observers. Even if Lt Col Gallop is slightly premature in predicting the military's imminent switch to Linux, it's adoption for Land Warrior is a pretty big deal, given that this could conceivably turn it into the base OS for the devices carried by every US soldier. According to to GDDS (FAQ here, project overview here) it's a first step on the path to the "Future Soldier", beginning to realise the US military's visions of the digitised battlefield, the tactical Internet and (new one on us) the Soldier as a System. There's an impressive big graphic of the roadmap here, which gives an idea of the CDA (currently 12 pounds), how it fits in, and the evolutionary/revolutionary approach being taken. The Stryker, incidentally, is designated a "light armored vehicle", or LAV. We fear this may severely impact its marketability vis a vis the British Army, and caution the developers never, ever to designate one a LAV-E. ®
John Lettice, 27 Oct 2003

Packard Bell preps Athlon 64 notebook

Packard Bell is set to become the first major notebook vendor to offer a portable PC based on AMD's Athlon 64 chip. According the company's Belgian web site, the EasyNote M3308 will contain an Athlon 64 3000+, along with 512MB of DDR SDRAM, a 60GB hard drive and a DVD-RW optical unit. The machine's 15.4in 1280 x 800 screen is powered by an ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 chip with 64MB of dedicated graphics memory The M3308 offers six USB 2.0 ports, a 1394 connector, TV out, PC Card slot, a four-in-one memory card reader (SD, MMC, SmartMedia and Memory Stick), a 56Kbps modem and 10/100Mbps Ethernet for wired connectivity, and an integrated 802.11b card from wireless communications. The whole thing weighs 3.8kg (8.4lb) and the Lithium Ion battery yields a three-hour work time, the company claims. So far, the M3308 is only available in Germany, for €2399 ($2826). Packard Bell had not responded to our request for UK availability at press time. ®
Tony Smith, 27 Oct 2003

Casio extends Exilim digicam to four megapixels

Reg Kit WatchReg Kit Watch Digicam Casio yesterday updated its Exilim slimline camera family with the EX-Z4U. The new model brings a four megapixel CCD capable of taking pictures up to 2304 x 1728 to the Exilim line-up. The EX-Z4U also features a 3x optical zoom Pentax lens and new audio snapshot and voice recording capabilities. There's also a built-in speaker for sound playback. Casio points out the camera's speed: 1.6 seconds to start it up (longer if the flash is enabled) and just a hundredth of a second to lock off the auto focus and expose the CCD. Again, that's with the flash and 2in LCD monitor turned off - picture time is longer with them turned on. The EX-Z4U also offers a fast playback mode that zips through all your shots at a speed of 0.1s per image. The Exilim measures 8.5 x 5.5 x 2.3cm (3.4 x 2.2 x 0.9in), so it's narrower than the slimline Cybershot DSC-T1 Sony launched last week, but thicker. The Casio is lighter: 4.6oz to the Sony's 5.5oz. The EX-Z4U is available in the US for $400. Notebook Fujitsu has added an AMD Low-voltage Athlon XP-M 2000+ processor option to its Lifebook S2000 notebook. The S2000 sports a 13.3in display powered by the machine's chipset-integrated graphics. The notebook uses 266MHz DDR SDRAM, and can be configured with up to 1GB of it using two DIMM slots. 30, 40 or 60GB hard drives are on offer. The notebook's storage bay can take a variety of optical drives or an extra battery. The S2000 ships with two USB 2.0 ports, and 1394, external monitor and infrared connectors. There's a 10/100Mbps Ethernet port and a 56Kbps modem built in, and 802.11b and g cards are available as optional extras. The notebook weighs 2kg (4.3lb) with a DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive installed, or 1.8kg (3.9lb) with just empty space in the storage bay. The computer measures 28.8 x 23.3 x 3.5cm (11.5 x 9.3 x 1.4in). Available now, prices start at $1199. ®
Tony Smith, 27 Oct 2003

US govt. can't ‘search and destroy’ leaked secrets

A US judge has turned down a Justice Department request to seek out and delete online records about classified information that temporarily became public as the result of a lawsuit. AP reports that legal experts considered the government motion "highly unusual" because it failed to name the computers on which the information was held nor specify how the government would retrieve and destroy information already made public. Assistant US Attorney Kristin S Door in Sacramento told the news agency that she was reviewing legal material for grounds on which the government might renew its request. The sensitive data relates to court documents filed by a former FBI counterintelligence agent, Lok T Lau, who is suing his former employer for wrongful dismissal. Lau was dismissed in the late 1990s for shoplifting. He claims this "aberrant" behaviour resulted from the stress of these undercover assignments, which the government failed to take into account when considering his case. Court documents in the case, which contain references to a classified one-month undercover overseas trip by Lau to an unnamed country in late 1987, were available at the courthouse for 19 days and published on the Net by groups including the California First Amendment Coalition, AP reports. US District Judge Garland E Burrell Jr. supported a government request to exorcise classified documents from court files on the case but he rejected a broader request to would have allowed Justice Department officers to "seek and destroy" electronic copies of the classified documents. The FBI usually abandons attempts to protect classified documents once they become widely accessible to the public. In this case, the government has decided to go the extra yard in its attempts to put the Genie back into the bottle. ®
John Leyden, 27 Oct 2003
DVD it in many colours

SuSE sinks hooks into Veritas

SuSE Linux has burrowed its way into a key ISV account by partnering with Veritas. By the first quarter of 2004, Veritas plans to sell its file system, volume manager and cluster software products for SuSE Enterprise Server. This deal should put SuSE on relatively equal ground with Red Hat, which already works with Veritas. All three companies are trying to profit from a shift off of Unix - particularly Solaris - where Veritas' file system and volume manager products have been successful. "With Linux as one of two operating systems expected to grow in new license shipments and installed base through 2007, Veritas' support for SuSE Linux Enterprise Server will enable SuSE Linux customers to create software configurations that increasingly approach Unix functionality," said Al Gillen, an analyst at IDC, in a canned remark. Veritas built a highly profitable business on the back of Sun Microsystems, during the dotcom boom. The company's file system and volume manager were often the top pick of Solaris customers. Sun, however, has been looking to edge Veritas out of some of this business and seen its hardware sales decline, prompting Veritas to form strong ties with other vendors. Over the past year, Veritas has worked to sign up other Unix players such HP and IBM. In addition, it has turned to Linux as a type of Unix replacement for a broad chunk of its product line. The Veritas Cluster Server product is one product in particular that has been billed as key for Linux customers trying to mimic the power of an SMP on commodity hardware. Red Hat has often beat SuSE to the punch in signing up large ISVs, which makes this deal important for the Euro-centric Linux vendor. The company has backing from close partner IBM and open source chum MySQL to tune SuSE Linux, Veritas software and Intel-based hardware so that it all works well together. ®
Ashlee Vance, 27 Oct 2003

Symantec buys ON Technology

Symantec today bought security management firm ON Technology for approx. $100 million cash. ON Technology markets products for centralized and unattended management - including auto-discovery, OS and application deployment, ongoing updates such as patches, and software usage and license management - for sundry computing platforms and devices. Its technology automates functions such as OS migrations, software deployment, mobile and remote management, asset management, security and patch management and disaster recovery. According to Symantec, ON Technology complements its enterprise security portfolio and will help it further its aims of developing an end-to-end management system. The transaction is expected to close by March 2004. Last week Symantec bought SSL VPN vendor SafeWeb for $26 million in a deal that closely followed its late September acquisition of storage management and disaster recovery firm PowerQuest Corp in an all-cash deal valued at $150 million. Altogether Symantec has forked out $300 million in cash to boost its portfolio in the space of only six weeks, making the company the 'Roman Abramovich' of the network security world. Last week, Symantec announced record results with revenues rising on the back of recent viral epidemics here. ® Related Stories Slammer and Sobig boost Symantec Symantec snaffles Safeweb Symantec stumps up $150m for PowerQuest
John Leyden, 27 Oct 2003

Novelty farting dog sparks US terror alert

Osama bin Laden will doubtless be absolutely gutted to learn that any plan he may have had to destroy a US airliner using a life-size novelty mechanical farting terrier is doomed to failure. Yup, the ever-vigilant airport security officials in Norfolk, Virginia, responded instantly when Brit passenger Dave Rogerson's flatulent fido's outgassing triggered a security device, the BBC reports. It appears that the "wind-breaking mechanism registered as a high explosive on sensitive monitoring equipment", resulting in armed Feds swooping on Mr Rogerson. Rogerson is reported as saying: "There's no humour at American check-ins and for about 20 minutes I was quite scared. They were very jumpy and convinced there was something explosive in the dog." Happily, tests soon revealed that the malodorous mutt posed no threat to national security, and was returned to its owner. Mr Rogerson has now renamed the animal "Norfolk" in honour of the airport and its contribution to the War on Terror. ®
Lester Haines, 27 Oct 2003

EU develops cyber crime forensics standards

The IT industry has teamed up with academics and the European Union researchers to develop standards for the investigation of cybercrime. The EU Cyber Tools On-Line Search for Evidence (CTOSE) project, a research project funded by the European Commission’s Information Society Technologies (IST) programme, has developed a methodology that "identifies, secures, integrates and presents electronic evidence". According to an EU statement, this methodology enables anyone from system administrators, information technology security staff and computer incident investigators, to police and law-enforcement agencies to follow consistent and standardised procedures when investigating computer incidents using "computer forensic tools". The methodology ensures all electronic evidence is legally and properly gathered and preserved, acting as uncontaminated and compelling proof that a crime or fraud has been committed to company management, industrial tribunals, or civil or criminal courts. Backers of the methodology hope it will be adopted as a best practice standard throughout Europe. “This innovative methodology, developed by the Commission, will not only help combat cybercrime, it will also increase user confidence in carrying out secure transactions in everyday life,” said European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. The methodology was developed against a backdrop of a rise in cybercrime. Fraudulent transactions, computer hacking and viruses, high-tech crime, identity theft and computer fraud have become common occurrences. The EU notes that computers can provide essential evidence of a crime as well as deliver the means of committing crime. Electronic records such as computer network logs, emails, word-processing files, and picture files increasingly feature as evidence in criminal cases but there is a lack of consistency across the EU in how such information is obtained and presented - hence the need for a unifying project such as CTOSE. Pooling resources to police cyberspace CTOSE combined the expertise of French telecoms equipment vendor Alcatel, UK security company QinetiQ and three research Institutes: the CRID at the University of Namur (Belgium), the University of St. Andrews (UK), and the Fraunhofer Institute (IAO)/University of Stuttgart (Germany), together with researchers in the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC). The CTOSE Special Interest Group (SIG) also contributed to the project, which reached completion at the end of last month. The project brought together some 50 experts from Europe and the US with a wide range of specialist backgrounds, including Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs), computer lawyers, computer forensic tool suppliers, high-tech police investigators, and IT security staff from major financial institutions. The project partners and SIG members are now drawing up plans to carry forward the CTOSE's work and ensure widespread deployment of the methodology and tools developed during the project. On-line law enforcement Tools developed during the project include: a Cyber-Crime Advisory Tool; an expert system which offers advice on the legal aspects of computer investigations (called “legal advisor”); an XML-based specification for electronic evidence. There’s also demonstrator - a software tool designed to simulate the effects of cyber attacks (e.g. hacking, website defacement or organised fraud) on both a typical unprotected website, and on a site which has followed the project's guidelines on forensic readiness. So how does it all fit together? The Cyber-Crime Advisory Tool (C*CAT), for example, tells an investigator, at each stage of an investigation, which procedures to carry out and what decisions are required. The “legal advisor” points out the legal requirements to investigators, to ensure that the evidence is admissible, convincing, and legally obtained. The XML specification enables one investigator to package a piece of evidence and hand it over to another, ensuring a safe 'chain of custody' for all electronic evidence. According to the EU, the tools developed by the project represent the first complete end-to-end methodology to guide investigators through the difficult task of computer forensics. More information here. ® Related Stories EC reviews infosecurity regime 'Sherlock Holmes' thinks lateral for murder cops
John Leyden, 27 Oct 2003
Broken CD with wrench

Cray preps new Opteron-based product line

Cray has given AMD's Opteron chip a big vote of confidence, saying it will roll out a new line of supercomputers based around the product. In 2004, Cray will begin selling systems with anywhere from 64 to more than 10,000 Opteron processors. All of the supercomputer-style systems will have a custom interconnect developed by Cray to deliver the kind of internal bandwidth needed for complex technical computing tasks. The decision to roll out the Opteron-based product line follows a deal Cray won last year to create a 10,000-plus processor system for Sandia National Labs. "These products won't be for everyone, but we think there are a decent number of customers out there," said Steve Conway, a spokesman at Cray. Cray is trying to meet the demands of customers that cannot rely on loosely-coupled clusters of commodity hardware or clusters of SMP systems for their computing problems. Even relatively tightly-coupled clusters tend to see processor performance outpace memory and I/O performance, which is why Cray uses a MPP (massively parallel processing) architecture. Cray wants to create a single computer that uses commodity parts where it can - Opteron - and custom technology - such as the interconnect - where it has to. The sweet-spot for the new line will be about 200 processors per computer, Conway said. This is a far cry from the massive Red Storm system being built for Sandia, but Cray is prepared to create computers that large should customer demand arise. "We can scale up several times beyond (Red Storm)," Conway said. Cray expects customers to come from the scientific computing, engineering and government markets. It won't say exactly when in 2004 the systems will be available or provide any more detail on configurations at this time. The company did, however, confirm that SuSE Linux's Enterprise Server product will be the OS of choice. The use of Opteron chips will give Cray customers the option of running 32bit or 64bit code, which was one reason the company is bullish about the products. "Having both options available is a home run," Conway said. AMD's Opteron chip appears to have outpaced Intel's 64bit Itanium in the high performance computing market. Over the past three years, Intel has managed to carve out a small niche for its high-end product, but Opteron shipments are already surpassing Itanic sales. ®
Ashlee Vance, 27 Oct 2003