5th > November > 2003 Archive

Net video and audio to go to trial

Video and audio transmitted over the Internet is set to go to trial following another successful patent challenge in the US courts. Last week, a judge in the Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh district court ruled that SightSound was allowed to go ahead with its case against two subsidiaries of media giant Bertelsmann, CDNow and N2K. The decision saw Bertelsmann's argument that SightSound's patent claims had been incorrectly filed thrown out and follows a similar decision against the company in February 2002 when it had argued that the patent did not refer to the Internet. The original case was brought against Bertelsmann in 1998. The case will now go to jury trial where any decision would have enormous implications for the whole online media industry. If SightSound wins, it will essentially have a stranglehold over any company that decides to make any images or sound available over the Internet. The company however prefers to think of its role as giving it "a unique opportunity to protect the commercial value of downloadable movies and music". So just how do you get to control the transmission of sound and pictures over an entire medium? Easy - you just work with the US’ improbably open patent system. Thanks to one man - Bruce Lehman - the US decided in the early 1990s (without Congressional review) to make business methods and software patentable. To any close follower of logic, this would appear to be an accident waiting to happen. It is. Following the time it takes to get a patent approved and then the obligatory five-year delay going through the US legal system, this year has seen the arrival of several big patent cases. Everything is still in the balance, although Lehman's faulty reasoning is already attracting some powerful detractors. Last month, the Federal Trade Commission put out a report arguing that patents should be harder to obtain and easier to challenge. At the same time, Tim Berners-Lee and the W3C starting fighting against another patent that risks wiping out large sections of the Net. While the concept of owning audio and video sent over a telephone line and then - gosh - charging for it with, er, a credit card, may seem quite insane, that is nevertheless what Arthur Hair has. He was co-founder of SightSound and is its chairman and CTO. The company says Mr Hair has 11 patents. We’ve only found five in the US and they all seem to pretty much cover the same thing. The first, and most significant in this case - 5,191,573: Method for transmitting a desired digital video or audio signal. What is this method? It is "a method for transmitting a desired digital video or audio signal stored on a first memory of a first party to a second memory of a second party." Okay. What else? "The method comprises the steps of transferring money via a telecommunications line to the first party from the second party. Additionally, the method comprises the step of then connecting electronically via a telecommunications line the first memory with the second memory such that the desired signal can pass there between." There's more: "Next, there is the step of transmitting the desired digital signal from the first memory with a transmitter in control and in possession of the first party to a receiver having the second memory at a location determined by the second party. The receiver is in possession and in control of the second party. There is also the step of then storing the digital signal in the second memory." You presumably would then expect a huge ream of technical information, coding, platform independent work-arounds, detailed telecommunication material. Nope, none of it. Just this great idea that it would be cool to send video and audio over a telecommunications line. And that you'd probably have to store a copy of it on someone else's machine. And that's all you need. Then there's 5,675,734: System for transmitting desired digital video or audio signals. And 5,966,440: System and method for transmitting desired digital video or digital audio signals. And more recent additions. 6,014,491: Method and system for manipulation of audio or video signals; 6,615,349: System and method for manipulating a computer file and/or program. You may want to look at that last one again. "System and method for manipulating a computer file and/or program." This was approved in September this year - just two months ago - and is described as: "A serving device having access to a computer file and/or program which is unencrypted and which can encrypt the unencrypted computer file and/or program to become an encrypted computer file and/or program and transfer it." What?! How on earth can you patent the very concept of encrypting a computer file? Not that you can blame Mr Hair or SightSound for going for these patents and those seeking to apply them. If you pull it off, you control a vast, multi-billion-pound industry in one fell swoop. And you can't blame the judge because, under the law, the patents are applicable. But surely commonsense has to reassert itself sometime soon. The pro-patent arguments in the case of business methods and software are looking increasingly unsustainable as each day goes by and the reality of the situation draws in. At some point a company will fight back against this patent madness rather than settle out of court and then we'll have a precedent. We could all save ourselves a lot of trouble in future years if that precedent comes down against such generic, woolly and unjustifiable patents. ® Related links US Patent Office search Patent 5,966,440 Patent 5,191,573 Related stories FTC calls for US patent reform Berners-Lee comes out fighting to save Web Open source prepares to kiss EU patent ass goodbye
Kieren McCarthy, 05 Nov 2003

Bluetooth boom spawns ‘bluejacking’

With Bluetooth finding its way into an increasing number of devices, a new pastime called 'bluejacking' has popped up. In simple terms, bluejacking is the art of anonymously sending messages to users of other Bluetooth devices who have switched on the technology and made their handset "visible" to potential bluejackers. Since Bluetooth-enabled phones, PDAs and laptops can search for other devices within their short range, bluejackers in crowded transport hubs, pubs or any other public place can easily send messages without being detected. Recipients must, however, accept the incoming data and, as such, bluejackers are unable to send long messages, since they may be refused. The get around this, the sender could set their username as "You have just been Bluejacked!" so that would-be victims receive a message along the lines of "Income message from: 'You have just been Bluejacked.' Would you like to accept?" Though certainly an annoyance, bluejacking does not pose a security threat and individuals wishing to avoid the aggravation can set their device to "invisible" or can simply shut off Bluetooth when not using it. Though the ranks of bluejackers remain small, chatter on Internet forums about the hobby has already begun and a what is possibly the first bluejacking Web site has popped up at Bluejackq.com. The Bluetooth protocol enables devices such as mobile phones and laptops to send data to other devices, without wires, over distances of about 30 feet. Introduced as a replacement for cables in 1998, Bluetooth has been slow to gain mass-market penetration, with interoperability and interference problems blamed as the main reasons. But now that the technology can be found in an estimated 100 million devices - from cars and laptops to phones and MP3 players - it is widely expected to become used by more mainstream consumers in the months ahead, according to the Bluetooth SIG, the group that promotes and ensures interoperability for the technology. Bluetooth's growth may not convert bluejacking into anything more than a short-lived fad. "I have to say, I'm not overly enthused by it," commented Matthew Towers, IMS Research's senior Bluetooth analyst, referring to bluejacking as a market driver. There is limited room for Bluetooth messaging applications, but other uses of the technology are likely to drive the technology in more meaningful ways, Towers forecasts. Among the top drivers will be Bluetooth hands-free earpieces for mobile users looking to talk on their phone while in the car, he says. According to Frost & Sullivan, shipments of Bluetooth devices will double in 2003 to 70 million units. © ENN Related stories 'Social Hardware' nears with Bluetooth iPod Goodbye, PC; hello, PS (Personal Server) Orange, Smart launch Bluetooth car
ElectricNews.net, 05 Nov 2003

Why the Friendster bubble 'has peaked – will pop'

The good times must be returning to the blighted technology industry. Silicon Valley's VCs are doing what they love best, and throwing investments at start-ups which don't know how to make money themselves. This is factored into the Venture Capital firms' own business plans: in the golden years here, they made money by taking private companies public rather than investing long-term in risky but potentially young start-ups. Friendster is a great example. It's the poster child for a clutch of new 'social networking' sites. Allegedly, Friendster was the recipient of $5 million from Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, and allegedly too spurned a $30 million offer from Google. Kleiner Perkins' John Doerr, sits on the board of both. We say 'allegedly' because the inside sources for so many of these rumors tend to have an interest in hyping the space. Just like the old days. And just like the old days, too, Friendster doesn't make any money. Nor do any of the other social networking start-ups. This must rankle not a little with the start-ups who do make money from 'social software'. So we rang the founder of one of the largest, Friendfinder, Andrew Conru, to find out. Despite its low profile, the Friendfinder network of twelve sites has over 20 million users, and typically 5,000 users in its chat rooms at any one time. (There are almost 4,000 as we write). And it generates a healthy profit - although Conru wouldn't say how much. He's also added social networking features to his sites. So naturally, these are competitors in one sense. But what did he think of the investment mania? "It's a bubble. Social networks have been around for a long time," he says. "Friendster is feeding off the hype. People get excited about joining a network and use it for a couple of months but once they get to know people they'll use other communication like email or IM." He likens it to fads such as weblogging, which has a higher abandonment rate, or flash mobs. It isn't just VCs who see an opportunity in the hype. Wiki-fiddlers, or HTML coders who have been unemployed since the last dot.com explosion, are also hopeful that this represents a change in fortune. But Friendfinder's CEO thinks they might all be disappointed. "I'd like to see the conversion rate when Friendster starts charging for the service. How many people will pay even $10 or even $5 a month, when they have access to their Outlook Express inbox for free?" "The technology is easy to mimic and very straightforward. The issue is will the hype of trying to get all your friends to join wear out?" A flaw in many of the networks' assumptions, he reckons, is that only a subset of one's friends will ever join a social network site. And at a certain point the networks themselves become redundant. "Once I know you, it's just as easy for me to contact you directly," he says. "A social network is simply a directory." In other words, Friendster's obsolescence is built-in. It's interesting to note that Friendfinder has an affiliate program that segments by region, religion and interests: there are separate locales for the Christian dating site BigChurch.com and Adult Friendfinder, for example. And while Friendfinder clearly likes users to be 'sticky', it's based on the assumption that users come and go. Controversially, Conru reckons that Friendster's popularity peaked a month ago. "It's a very romantic thing to get everyone in the world on the same network," he says, noting the difference in approach between his company and the techno-utopians. "Some people really want to let the network do our socializing. But once people have met other people, they get on with the rest of their lives." Andrew's simple observation, we reckon, distinguishes his businesses' success from the many failures we'll soon see. When will VCs learn this? ® Related Stories VCs back Friendster You are a Web Service - and you have an STD "Napster's back - what did Silicon Valley learn?
Andrew Orlowski, 05 Nov 2003

NetApp hoists $300m for Spinnaker

Network Appliance is looking to add some wind to its sails with the acquisition of Spinnaker Networks for close to $300 million in stock. NetApp hopes to tap into Spinnaker's distributed file system and clustering technology used to group large numbers of NAS (network attached storage) systems. The Spinnaker assets should help NetApp create high-end networked storage systems and add some virtualization software to its product line. The deal is expected to close in January of next year - standard regulatory approvals apply. "Spinnaker further accelerates the shift to networked storage and speeds our ability to deliver powerful new Storage Grids as the foundation for data infrastructures of the future," said Dan Warmenhoven, CEO at NetApp. The Storage Grid concept is similar to the utility computing models described by server makers IBM, HP and Sun Microsystems. The companies are touting future data centers that allow administrators to view and manage all of their hardware as one system instead of dealing with individual boxes. Ideally, this would make it far easier, for example, to allocate a storage volume by letting an admin issue a request and then have software take care of all the provisioning. NetApp once teamed with NuView, in part, to compete against Spinnaker in the the storage management market. In addition, Spinnaker was not shy about taking shots at NetApp with comparisons between the two companies' raw filer processing performance. Spinnaker touts its ability to cluster as many as 512 SpinServer filers. The company has claimed near linear performance when adding a new system to the cluster and can scale its clusters to well over 10Tbytes. "With this technology, Network Appliance is clearly extending its offerings in high-end storage solutions, and with its ability to unify SAN by adding Fibre Channel and iSCSI, this has the potential to be a great move for NetApp," said Steve Duplessie, principal analyst at Enterprise Storage Group. Spinnaker has not had a flying start, shipping only 75 SpinServers through the first three quarters of 2003. It does, however, point to the DoE and Oak Ridge National Lab as a high profile customers. NetApp plans to hold onto the few dozen Spinnaker employees and is particularly pleased with the engineering skills of its prey. Over time, NetApp expects to offer a single hardware product line that runs both the Spinnaker OS and its own Data OnTap OS, Warmenhoven told Byte and Switch. ®
Ashlee Vance, 05 Nov 2003

Small.biz gets teeny tax refund for online returns

The Inland Revenue yesterday promised that small employers in the UK - all one and a half million of them - can get up to £825 tax-free if they send in their employer end of year tax returns online. The sweetener marks the opening salvo in a battle the taxman will wage over the next three weeks to raise awareness of regulation changes which make it compulsory for employers to file all their tax forms online. From May 2004, large employers must start paying tax and other deductions electronically. And they must start sending end of year returns (P14 and P35 data) online by May 2005. This move online for the Inland Revenue will continue so that medium-sized employers in 2006 must start online filing by May 2006. Small employers do not have to start online filing "until later". But those who start filing online early can get up to £825 tax-free from the Revenue over five years, starting with their 2004-05 end of year returns. As size clearly matters for the Revenue, in case of any confusion the department will be "writing to 1.6 million employers" - a tad ironic to be doing this online drive by snail mail - to tell them whether they are a large employer (250 or more employees), a medium-sized employer (50 -249 employees), or a small employer (fewer than 50). A guide for filing PAYE returns and paying electronically can be found here . ®
Robert Jaques, 05 Nov 2003

How to grab a slice of EU R&D funding pie

The Government yesterday kicked off a programme to help UK firms get their hands on a share of €17.5 billion earmarked by the European Union has for research and development projects. Dubbed somewhat cryptically FP6UK - Framework Programme 6 UK - the scheme is designed to help UK companies get a share of the EU's currently running Sixth Framework Programme (FP 6) collaborative research and innovation fund. Framework Programme 6 has an overall budget of €17.5 billion and will run until the end of 2006. The fund has been created to "strengthen European research and technological capability and encourage Europe's international competitiveness". Most of the budget for FP6 is devoted to work in seven priority areas including "information society technologies", life sciences, genetics and biotechnology for health, nanotechnologies and nanosciences. It is open to all types of organisations in the EU, as well as a number of non-EU countries. FP6UK forms part of Whitehall's network of National Contact Points (NCPs), designed to advise British businesses. Whitehall said its launch will make it easier for UK businesses to apply for the EU funding as, for the first time, it enables them to access NCP's experts through a centralised service. FP6UK can be contacted online here or through a central telephone support number, 0870 600 6080, which can answer all general enquiries about FP6 as well as point callers directly to the relevant NCPs covering their specific area of interests. ®
Robert Jaques, 05 Nov 2003

Baby alarm snares bungling burglar

All parents know a baby alarm can deliver reassurance that their toddler is sleeping safe and sound in its cradle. What they may not, however, be aware of is that this humble piece of electronics is now at the cutting edge of crimefighting technology. Indeed, the good burghers of the German city of Bodum can today thank a mum's baby-monitoring kit for the arrest and incarceration of one hapless criminal. Having unsuccessfully attempted to rob a bar, the 46-year-old burglar decided to share the unhappy news with his mates - via the unlikely medium of CB radio. Sadly, this radio confession was transmitted to a nearby baby monitor, and the vigilant mother immediately alerted the authorities. Police moved in and extracted a swift confession from the rueful radio star. And the moral of the story is this: do not chat to friends about bungled robberies via CB radio in areas containing large concentrations of young families. You have been warned. ®
Lester Haines, 05 Nov 2003

Sony Playstation Portable pics pop up on web

Sony Computer Entertainment chief Ken Kutaragi yesterday revealed the company's prototype design for its upcoming Playstation Portable (PSP) handheld gaming console. He also hinted that the device may incorporate mobile phone technology. Speaking at Sony's Transform 60 conference, Kutaragi dubbed the PSP as the "Walkman of the future". And here it is, taken from Ken's publicly downloadable presentation foils: Sony's PSP concept design The PSP design certainly looks a league ahead of rival products, such as Nokia's new N-Gage and Nintendo's hugely popular GameBoy Advance. Of course, this is simply the concept design, and the final result may be less sleek, depending on such factors as ergonomics and manufacturing costs. The device in the top right corner is the PSP Universal Media Disc (UMD), a DVD-like dual-layer medium offering 1.8GB of storage. UMD comes with DVD-style region coding and copy-protection mechanism based on the Advanced Encryption System (AES). Each disc has a unique ID number too. Sony has already said that the PSP will be powered by a 90nm processor built from a MIPS 32-bit R4000 core. The chip will feature a SIMD vector processing engine along the lines of Intel's SSE 2 and PowerPC's AltiVec. It will feature 8MB of embedded memory clocked to 333MHz and operating at 1.2V. The memory bandwidth is quoted as 2.6GBps. A second MIPS R4000 core will be used as the basis for the PSP's media engine, with 2MB of embedded DRAM, and again fabbed at 90nm. Alongside these two chips will sit two dedicated graphics processors, one for high-level graphics manipulation, the other for the raw pixel shunting. This second core contains 2MB of embedded video memory operating across a 256-bit 5.3GBps bus. It can deliver a fill rate of 664 million pixels per second in 24-bit colour and churn out 33 million polygons per second with transform and lighting effects. The PSP will feature Dolby 7.1 multi-channel audio, with 3D sound. It will support MP3, AAC and Sony's own ATRAC3 sound formats. It uses AVC (H.264) and MPEG4 for video. The machine's UMD media can hold up to two hours' of DVD-quality video or four hours 'standard' quality, whatever that is. Either way, movies are displayed on the unit's 4.5in 16:9 widescreen ratio 480 x 272-pixel LCD, seen here. One of the key features of the PSP is 802.11b wireless networking for multi-player gaming. However, speaking at a news conference yesterday, Kutaragi said Sony will at some point add phone facilities, bringing the device even more into line with Nokia's console-cum-phone N-Gage. Kutaragi also said that PSP will not be a single device, but a range of machines targeting different users. He also stressed that the handheld's design has yet to be finalised. ® Related Stories Sony details PlayStation Portable specs. Wireless link for Sony PSP E3: Sony announces PlayStation handheld
Tony Smith, 05 Nov 2003

Sony Cell CPU to deliver two teraflops in 64-core config

'Cell', the massively parallel processing chip currently being designed by Sony and IBM, will scale from single-chip systems through to entire server rooms packed with thousands of them, Sony's executive deputy president Ken Kutaragi told attendees of the company's Transformation 60 conference yesterday. That's always been the goal, of course, since Cell was first announced back in March 2001. But yesterday Kutaragi put some numbers onto the chart. A four-core chip home server system will be able to deliver one billion floating-point operations per second, apparently. Move up to a 32-core chip - in, say, a blade server module - and you'd get 32 gigaflops of processing power, while a 64-core slab of silicon inside a rack-mount unit doing graphics work would churn out two teraflops, according to Kutaragi's presentation foils. Ultimately, Kutaragi suggested, we'll see 16 teraflop supercomputer 'cabinets' and one petaflop (a million billion flops, in other words) server rooms - the latter delivering enough raw power for true AI systems, he said. Kutaragi likened a single Cell chip to IBM's 32-node RS/6000-based chess supercomputer Deep Blue. The exponential scaling rate suggests Cell really doesn't come into its own until you use lots of them together. That's certainly the design philosophy: "With built-in broadband connectivity, microprocessors that currently exist as individual islands will be more closely linked, making a network of systems act more as one, unified 'supersystem'. Just as biological cells in the body unite to form complete physical systems, Cell-based electronic products of all types will form the building blocks of larger systems," was how Kutaragi described the Cell concept back in 2001. Since it takes 2200 PowerPC 970 chips - aka the G5 - to yield just over ten teraflops - much the same as you get from 2000 Athlon 64s - getting similar performance out of just 64 Cell cores is impressive, if Sony and co. can deliver. Right now, they're just a little way past half way through the five-year Cell research project, so they have a few more years yet to demonstrate the device in action. We'd expect the successors to today's chips to have got a little closer to those kinds of figures by 2006, but not that close. Others are not so far behind. ClearSpeed's recently announced CS301 chip, for example, can deliver 25 gigaflops peak, the company claims. The CS301 is a 64-way parallel processing co-processor designed to work alongside an x86 or other general purpose CPU. The downside is that it's expected to cost over $1000 per chip. We suspect Sony and IBM are aiming for something a little more mass-market. ®
Tony Smith, 05 Nov 2003

Intel Pentium 4 Extreme Edition

ReviewReview It's not very often that Intel falls behind in the processor technology stakes, but that's exactly what has happened recently. When AMD launched its Athlon 64 range of CPUs it grabbed the accolade of having the most advanced x86 processor, writes Riyad Emeran. Of course Intel will probably argue this point stating that 64-bit processing on the desktop is unnecessary at present. There is some truth in that, but a bit of future proofing never hurt anyone. But Intel was never going to let AMD have all the limelight to itself, and on the eve of the launch of the Athlon 64 Intel announced a new high powered version of the Pentium 4 called the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition. To make things even more interesting, Intel has said that the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition is for serious gaming performance, much like the AMD Athlon 64 FX-51. So, after years of trying to convince the world that you needed the fastest processor to run your office applications and Internet browsers, both Intel and AMD are admitting that it's games that demand the cutting edge components. Unlike the Athlon 64 FX-51, the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition is not based on a completely new core, so it can quite happily drop into any of the current crop of Pentium 4 motherboards. Intel claims that this is a major advantage over its competitor since there is no need to use a costly new motherboard or expensive ECC memory, although cost really isn't something that the Extreme Edition has on its side. Cache and carry So, what is it that makes the Extreme Edition so different from a standard 3.2GHz P4? Well the most obvious difference is the huge helping of cache that Intel has added to the Extreme Edition. Just like a standard Pentium 4CPU, the Extreme Edition has 512KB of Level 2 cache, but it also has a mammoth 2MB of Level 3 cache. Intel is well aware of the performance advantage that increasing the full-speed on-die cache can bring. Back in the mid nineties when Cyrix chips were beating the original Intel Pentium on both price and performance, Intel released the Pentium MMX. No one really took advantage of the MMX instructions, but it was the fact that the MMX chip had twice the amount of Level 1 cache that made it so much faster. Although it has to be mentioned that the MMX Pentium chips didn't cost more than the out-going standard Pentiums. Intel has made the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition its flagship CPU, which is why this initial chip is running at 3.2GHz; the current peak of Pentium 4 frequency. But don't expect to pick up a cheap 3.2GHz Extreme Edition when the Pentium 4 top frequency moves on. Just like AMD with the Athlon 64 FX-51, Intel has decided that the Extreme Edition will only ever be available at the top clock frequency. So, is Intel aiming the Extreme Edition at the same hardcore gaming market that AMD is ear marking for the FX-51? Well, not quite. At a recent meeting with Intel I was informed that the Extreme Edition isn't aimed at hardcore gamers, it's aimed at elite gamers. I was understandably confused by that statement and asked for clarification of what an elite gamer was. The response was that an elite gamer is someone who actually makes their living from playing games. Now, I'm not entirely sure how many so called elite gamers there are in the world, but I'd say it's a safe bet that there aren't too many. Add to this the fact that most gamers that are good enough to make a living out of game tournaments are probably being sponsored by companies like Intel in the first place. Even if they're not being sponsored by the likes of Intel or AMD, there's a good chance that they'll have some kind of sponsor that supplies them with hardware. So, if you happen to be an elite gamer, and have to buy your own hardware, and have very deep pockets, what kind of performance could you expect from an Extreme Edition? Benchmarks Running the SYSmark application benchmark produced a score of 330, which is coincidentally exactly the same result achieved by the Evesham Axis FX51 system based on an Athlon 64 FX-51 with 400MHz dual channel memory. Running the same benchmark on a standard 3.2GHz Pentium 4 produced a score of 321, which is lower than the Extreme Edition but not significantly. The Extreme Edition turned in a score of 19,834 in 3DMark 2001 SE compared to 18,748 on a standard 3.2GHz P4. The Athlon 64 FX-51 system managed a score of 19,812 placing it right next to the Extreme Edition once more. It's a similar story running 3DMark03. The Extreme Edition managed 5,945 compared to 5,854 on the standard 3.2GHz P4. In this test the FX-51 system clawed ahead slightly with a score of 5,992. Aquamark showed almost no difference between the standard P4 and the Extreme Edition with average frame rates of 44.5 and 44.9 respectively. Where the Extreme Edition really pulled ahead was in the memory test under PCMark and the SiSoft Sandra cache test, which isn't too surprising. You can view the charts here. So it looks like the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition is faster than a standard 3.2GHz chip, and roughly on a par with the AMD Athlon 64 FX-51. Of course it has to be remembered that the FX-51 will actually perform faster in a 64-bit environment. That said, you'll have to upgrade to a 64-bit operating system, with a full complement of 64-bit drivers and 64-bit applications to take advantage of the advanced technology inherent in the Athlon 64 range. It's also worth mentioning that the Extreme Edition is equipped with Intel's Hyper Threading technology, which is useful for anyone who multitasks heavily. Where Hyper Threading really shines though is with multi-threaded applications, where you can see tangible performance gains over non Hyper Threaded processors. Obviously you're not going to see the kind of performance increase that you get from a true multi-processor system, but an increase is definitely there. In today's environment Intel has produced a chip that can hold its ground with the latest technological marvel from rival AMD. Ok, throwing a load of cache at a current generation chip may seem a little ham fisted, but Intel has achieved what it set out to do by not getting left behind in the performance race. However, large amounts of fast cache don't come cheap, and the price of the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition is quite scary to say the least. I remember when AMD told me that the FX-51 was going to cost $733 at launch and thinking that there wouldn't be many buyers at that price. But now that Intel has announced pricing for the Extreme Edition at $925 in quantities of 1,000, the cost of the FX-51 seems a lot more reasonable. I still haven't had confirmation of UK pricing, but it's safe to say that it will be the most expensive desktop processor you can buy. I doubt very much that too many Extreme Edition chips will find homes here in the UK. There probably won't be too many PCs built with them either, since system integrators will find it near impossible to create an affordable system based on such a platform. If you're the type of person that just has to have the fastest possible components in your PC and you have a huge amount of money to burn, you might find the Extreme Edition an attractive proposition. Otherwise, there are far cheaper ways to build a fast PC. Verdict Whether or not you believe that this chip was announced purely to rain on AMD's parade is irrelevant. What matters here is that Intel has created a very fast CPU and consequently hasn't been left behind by its competitor. Unfortunately the price of the Extreme Edition is quite simply too prohibitive for the vast majority of PC users, no matter how obsessed with games they might be. Intel Pentium 4 Extreme Edition Rating 70% Price $925 More info www.intel.com Copyright © 2003 TrustedReviews.com
Trusted Reviews, 05 Nov 2003

UN warns of e-gov ‘white elephants’

E-government isn't all it's cracked up to be, according to a United Nations report published yesterday. Ever since the hype of the dotcom boom politicians in both the developing and the developed worlds have looked at how technology can help deliver public services. But according to a report - United Nations World Public Sector Report 2003: E-Government at the Crossroads - the growth of e-gov has "not gone entirely smoothly". The report warns that a "too-grandiose approach" to e-government could result in failure or "white elephants" that cost tax payers dearly. "Because of a high rate of failure of specific e-government projects in developed, as well as developing, countries, bricks-and-mortar public services need to be maintained even as digital applications are increasing," warns the report. What's worse, it seems that people are releuctant to touch base with government electronically. The report estimates that in most countries, only one in five of those with Net access actually engages with the government online, with issues such as security and privacy proving to be major stumbling blocks. The report also expresses particular concern about lack of access by women, by the poor and other disadvantaged groups. ®
Tim Richardson, 05 Nov 2003

MS puts $250k bounty on virus authors' heads

UpdatedUpdated Microsoft today announced two $250,000 rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the virus authors behind the infamous Sobig and Blaster worms. The rewards, part of a larger scheme, were announced in joint press conference with the FBI, the US Secret Service, Microsoft and Interpol in Washington today. At the conference, Microsoft announced the creation of the Anti-Virus Reward Program, initially funded with $5 million, to "help law enforcement agencies identify and bring to justice those who illegally release damaging worms, viruses and other types of malicious code on the Internet". Microsoft's program is believed to be the first time financial rewards have been offered in a computer crime case, but rewards for the arrest and conviction of criminals are commonplace in other types of investigations. Microsoft will put up the money for the reward but it will be up to investigators to decide if anyone qualifies for the bounties. Two people have already been arrested by the FBI for releasing variants of the Blaster worm. One of those alleged virus authors, Jeffrey Lee Parson, was only arrested after a tip-off. It's unclear whether Microsoft's bounty is up for grabs for the individuals who alerted the authorities in this case. No-one has been arrested for creating the Sobig virus. Fistful of dollars Senior Microsoft executives have been placing an increasingly strong emphasis on talking up Redmond's security efforts in recent months, amid concern that the continued tide of Windows-specific security vulnerabilities and viruses might erode Microsoft's bottom line. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has even taken to making Wild West analogies, a line of thinking that's now been taken to its natural conclusion with the offer of a bounty against the cyber criminals responsible for creating Blaster and Sobig. Will VX writers turn fink for MS? In August the original Blaster worm infected many unprotected home and business computers and attempted to launch a denial of service attack against Microsoft security update website. The worm exploited a critical security hole in the RPC component of Windows to spread. Adding insult to injury, the worm contained a message mocking Microsoft chairman Bill Gates. Just days later the Sobig-F worm, which spread on the Windows platform, bombarded email users around the world. Many companies reported receiving hundreds of thousands of infected emails every day, severely slowing down their email infrastructure. "Virus writers have damaged Microsoft's reputation by concentrating on writing viruses which spread on Microsoft operating systems. It's no surprise to hear that they are fed up with this situation and prepared to offer a reward for the capture of these virus writers," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. "There must be people out there in the computer underground who know who is responsible for the creation of these malicious worms. Offering a total of $500,000 will be a great temptation for someone to break their silence - and do all legitimate users of the internet a favour," he added. ® Related Stories Telia blocks spam-sending Zombie PCs Sobig-F is dead Juvenile arrested in Blaster worm probe Feds sexed up case - Blaster suspect Parson not dumbest virus writer ever, shock! The trouble with anti-virus Ballmer to crackers: this PC ain't big enough for the both of us Microsoft Q1 profits up
John Leyden, 05 Nov 2003

Campaign calls for safe e-voting

A coalition of technical, legal and political experts yesterday launched the free e-democracy project to ensure that electronic voting can be trusted by voters and politicians across Europe. Voters and candidates must be able to feel certain that voting intentions are accurately recorded. If any doubts arise then all interested parties must be able to verify and audit all aspects of the election, the project says. The coalition includes groups such as the free e-democracy project, the Usability Professionals' Association and the Foundation for Information Policy Research. It warns that voter trust in the electoral process could be destroyed. without such safeguards debacles such as the count of votes in the last US Presidential election are likely to be repeated on this side of the Atlantic, it warns. E-voting risks Computerised voting is inherently subject to programming error, human error, equipment malfunction and malicious tampering. Due to the opaque nature of the technologies involved, which few understand, it is crucial that electronic voting systems provide a voter-verifiable audit trail. This must be achieved without compromising the secrecy and integrity of the ballot. We'd note that e-voting is surely an application where the transparency of open source technologies comes into its own. But rather than getting into such technical debate, the coalition is sticking to general points of principle. Louise Ferguson, a board member of the Usability Professionals' Association and a leader of its voting project, said: "We need to ensure that new systems for voting are well designed and secure, or we risk losing voter confidence in the democratic process." E-voting systems lacking these safeguards are being rushed upon voters across Europe with little regard for the risks and the costs to our democracies, according to the coalition. The UK has held e-voting trials in local government elections, and will hold more as part of the 2004 European elections. France, Spain and Ireland have also held trials. E-voting is already established in Belgium and Switzerland. The European Commission is looking at introducing e-voting across the EU, and the Council of Europe is developing guidelines for elections involving e-voting. Campaign manifesto The campaign calls on all concerned European citizens to sign up to a resolution demanding a voter-verifiable audit trail. Jason Kitcat, a campaign founder, said: "This is an issue which needs to gain the attention of politicians before it's too late and we have unauditable electronic election systems installed. Our hope is that by mobilising the voices of technical, legal and political experts we can nip this potentially disastrous problem in the bud." Mikko Valimaki, chairman of Electronic Frontier Finland (EFFI), added: "We have already seen real problems with e-voting machines in the US. One candidate in the 2000 US elections was awarded -16,022 votes due to a technical error. While this problem was fixed in time, in a democratic society we cannot tolerate software or hardware errors in the voting system." ® External Links Resolution on voter verifiable e-voting (campaign home page) Related Stories UK e-voting pilots deeply flawed Fraud potential found in e-voting systems FIPR highlights e-voting risks E-voting could cure voter apathy E-voting: another UK Government gimmick? Govt unveils plans for eDemocracy Bush hand-count hypocrisy shot down Hack the Vote!
John Leyden, 05 Nov 2003

ADSL snag catches Virgin.net

Virgin.net said it will consider compensating punters who've suffered a spluttering broadband service in the last four weeks. The problem has since been identified as dud routers. Last month, the ISP announced it was aware of a "performance-related issue" affecting its broadband customers and explained that it was carrying out work to identify the cause of the problem. The ISP estimates that between ten and 15 per cent of its 30,000 or so ADSL punters has been hit by the problem which has resulted in a slow service and lost connections. The ISP has also seen a "significant" increase in complaints because of the issue. Some punters are so hacked off they're threatening to ditch Virgin.net. One, who contacted The Register said: "They have been taking our money for no service and not responding to our emails." However, Virgn.net's MD Alex Dale told The Register that the ISP had already offered compensation to some customers. He added: "If they [customers] feel they've had inadequate service we will offer compensation." Although the problem has taken a while to identify, Virgin.net says the work will be completed by 14 November. ®
Tim Richardson, 05 Nov 2003

Microsoft vs Massachusetts

Attorneys for the state of Massachusetts' today argued that the antitrust settlement between Microsoft and the Department of Justice is completely inadequate. Tom Reilly, Massachusetts Attorney General, accused Microsoft of failing to take responsibility for its action. "Are they going to be held accountable ?" he asked the appellate court. "It is offensive that Microsoft still don't think they did anything wrong." The state is joined by the Computer & Communications Industry Association and the Software & Information Industry Association in arguing against the settlement. Massachusetts is the last State to hold out, and along with the two trade groups, wants the settlement returned to the district circuit for stiffer remedies. But Microsoft has a good record in the appeals courts, having removed Judge Jackson (and Sporkin before him) and succeeding in getting struck down the original remedy as too severe. And the six judges sounded pretty cool on Massachusetts' idea of a remedy, too. One Judge, Raymond Randolph, thought that stiffer penalties would harm PC manufacturers by raising support costs. The state's proposal that Internet Explorer be made open source was questioned by one judge who said that would put the code "everywhere" and another who said this rewarded Microsoft's competitors. Presumably, Microsoft's competitors should not be rewarded for obeying the law.®
Andrew Orlowski, 05 Nov 2003

Intel claims high-k material will slash chip power hunger

Intel today outlined its plan to build the millions of transistors that make up its microprocessors using high-k dielectric materials. The move won't take place until 2007, when the chip colossus shifts down to a 45nm fabrication process, but when it does, it will reduce the amount of current leaking out of each transistor by a factor of 100 - significantly reducing each chip's power consumption, the company believes. Today's processors use silicon dioxide as the gate insulator or dielectric. The gate controls the flow of electrons from one side of the transistor to the other, and is what allows the component to operate as a switch. As the gate gets thinner - a result of shrinking chip fabrication processes - more current leaks out through the dielectric, requiring chip designers to use a higher voltage to switch the transistor on efficiently. High-k material reduces that current leakage, allowing transistors to operate at a lower voltage. The result is less power consumed and less power dissipated as heat. Leakage is increasingly a problem for next and future generations of processors. One of the reasons Intel's upcoming 'Prescott' Pentium 4 processor consumes 90-100W - more than today's P4s - despite being fabbed at a smaller size is a result of the greater amount of current lost through the chip's smaller transistor gates. Past efforts to develop high-k dielectrics have foundered on reduced transistor efficiency. Intel appears to have cracked that problem. However, there is still the issue of current leaking out of the transistor gate when the switch is turned off. "This is the first convincing demonstration that new gate materials will enable transistors to perform better, while overcoming the fundamental limits of the silicon dioxide gate dielectric material that has served the industry for more than three decades," said Sunlin Chou, Intel senior VP and general manager of the Technology and Manufacturing Group. "Intel will use this advancement along with other innovations, such as strained silicon and tri-gate transistors, to extend transistor scaling and Moore's Law," he added. Intel isn't saying what substances constitute its high-k dielectric. Nor will it yet identify the new metals it plans to use for the gate electrode. The metals - one for CMOS transistors, the other for PMOS designs - replace today's polysilicon electrode material, which is "not compatible" with the high-k dielectric. Intel will discuss details of the development of new transistor materials tomorrow at the 2003 International Workshop on Gate Insulator in Tokyo. ®
Tony Smith, 05 Nov 2003

Sony to offer $60 iPod? Not likely

Sony will take Apple head on next year with the launch of new portable music players that pitch directly against the Mac maker's iPod. So much the consumer electronics giant admitted at its Transformation 60 conference yesterday. But early reports that it will do so with a $60 device seem highly unlikely, unless Sony has managed to rewrite the rulebook of hard drive economics. Most coverage of the Sony iPod story follow an initial report from news agency Reuters. It indirectly quotes "Sony executives" saying that the hardware company will "introduce versions of a rival music player to the iPod for as little as $60". Crucial to what follows is the word "versions". Reuters rightly notes that $60 is "only one quarter or less than the $200-400 Apple charges for the various versions" of the iPod. The implication is that the Sony product will be an iPod at a quarter of the price. However, Sony hasn't said that its $60 music player will feature a high capacity hard drive as the iPod does - or is as compact as the Apple machine. Hard drive prices are falling, it's true, but ultra-compact, high capacity models are still pretty expensive, and eat up much of the cost of manufacturing a hard drive-based music player. We've no doubt that Sony will offer such a device of its own, but the $60 model isn't it. That's less than half the price of a typical 128MB solid-state MP3 player, for heaven's sake. Sony is no stranger to the mobile digital music market. It has offered Network Walkman products for some time, now. To date, these have been solid-state products, with built in Flash memory expanded by the addition of Memory Stick media. In that regard, the company already competes with Apple's iPod. While we can imaging Sony expanding its Network Walkman to encompass a high-end hard drive-based product, and a budget-priced solid-state model for $60, we very much doubt it can do so with a single unit. Not unless it plans to offer the product for rather less than it costs the company to make it, and we can't imagine it doing that... ®
Tony Smith, 05 Nov 2003

Virgin Mobile claims record Q3

Virgin Mobile is reporting a record Q3, signing up 270,000 new punters for the three months to September end. This takes the customer base for the mobile network operator to more than three million. Turnover for the first nine months of the year skipped in a £309 million alongside an operating profit of £59 million, the company said. Virgin Mobile, is a JV between Virgin Group and Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile. Yesterday, independent retailer Carphone Warehouse reporte a 70 per cent jump in pre-tax profit from £12 million to £20.3 million. ® Related Story Carphone Warehouse to create 1,000 jobs
Tim Richardson, 05 Nov 2003

WorldPay fights 'massive, orchestrated' attack

WorldPay, the Royal Bank of Scotland's Internet payment transaction outfit, is continuing to fight a sustained Internet attack which has left its services mostly unavailable for a second day. Since yesterday morning, WorldPay's online payment and administration system has been reduced to a crawl due to a malicious DDoS attack by unidentified computer criminals. WorldPay stresses that no customer information has leaked as a result of the attack, which it is working hard to address. WorldPay's services allow online retailers to accept online payments via credit and debit cards and are thus integral to the operation of the many ecommerce sites that use its facilities. The company has put in place a series of measures (including "re-routing transactions and changing its back-up processes") to mitigate the attack. As a result, some transactions are going through today, even though systems are working slowly. WorldPay says it hopes to restore services to near-normality by the close of business today. Worldpay's Web-based systems are being flooded with spurious requests that are eating up its bandwidth, a spokesman said. The source of this "massive and orchestrated attack which came out of the blue" is unknown, he told The Reg. WorldPay's immediate priority is to get its systems up and running, rather than locate the attackers. It apologises to customers for any inconvenience caused by the attack. In a statement to customers this afternoon, WorldPay said: "We are working hard to solve this problem. Although we have been subject to a 'denial-of service' attack, the integrity and security of our systems and our customers' data is in no way compromised." "While this type of attack on our system is difficult to prevent and avoid it is purely a matter of the network capacity being overloaded by the deliberate actions of a third party," it added. WorldPay has approximately 28,000 clients worldwide, including major concerns such as Vodafone and Sony Music Entertainment and many smaller online retailers, such as CashnCarrion, The Register's online store. Worldpay claims 40 per cent of small and medium online retailers in Britain use its service. Around 70 per cent of its business is in the UK and Europe. ® Related Stories WorldPay floored by malicious attack
John Leyden, 05 Nov 2003

Dell is looking for a few good men

Prison industrial complex. Military industrial complex. It makes no difference to Dell. The company knows exactly where to look for a few able-bodies to drive its manufacturing lines. Dell has joined the U.S. Army's PaYS (Partnership for Youth Success) program. It's one of the first hi-tech vendors to team with the military for this type of deal, which will see Dell grant interviews to Army personnel. Only the best and the brightest can join the Dell team. The program limits PaYS enrollment to soldiers who score in the top half of their military entrance exam. We're guessing that means coughing really loud as opposed to whimpering when the doctor approaches with the rubber glove. The Army characterizes this program as a triple win for truth, justice and the American way. "We see this partnership as a win-win-win situation -- for Dell, for the Army, and for our nation," said Major General Michael D. Rochelle. "A young person who has served a tour of duty with the Army comes out with on-the-job skill training and experience, and demonstrates to American industries that they have learned a superlative work ethic. They are employees you can be proud of. We are also proud to partner with Dell in offering Army veterans the opportunity to interview with a premiere company." A strong work ethic is required on the Dell factory floor where PCs and servers move at pace. We've seen the Round Rock factory and must admit, it's Dell's greatest engineering feat to date. With any luck, the PaYS program pays better than the prison workforce formerly used by Dell to recycle PCs. Dell did a bit of soul searching and decided the chain gang might not be the best path to take. ®
Ashlee Vance, 05 Nov 2003

Lara Croft to hit the catwalk

Next week sees the launch of the so-called "Miss Digital World" competition - a chance for designers and programmers to win a virtual beauty contest by sending their computer-generated e-Babes down the online catwalk. Franz Cerami is the man with the plan and the artistic vision: "Every age has its ideal of beauty, and every age produces its visual incarnation of that ideal from the Venus de Milo in ancient Greece to Marilyn Monroe in the 1960s. Miss Digital World is the search for a contemporary ideal of beauty, seen through virtual reality," he expounds. Yup, typical bloke's flim-flam for what is little more than a chance for hormonally-charged geeks to give flesh to their masturbatory fantasies. Mercifully, the organisers have some moral and ethical framework propping up this nonsense: "They [contestants] should not have taken part - not even as extras or cameos - in pornographic films, shows or plays nor have made statements...in any way out of tune with the moral spirit of the competition." Bearing this in mind, any digital artists, advertising agencies or videogame programmers are invited to send their leggy lovelies - complete with date of birth and body measurements - to the organisers. And, if any reader fancies his or her chances, here are a few pointers: Give a creation date of no later than November 1987. Anything after that will probably attract the attention of Lolita-busting paedocops. Know your target audience. Just consider the romantic ideal of young men who spend 22 hours a day eating pizza in front of a computer. So, breasts larger than 36D, please. To avoid your creation making statements "in any way out of tune with the moral spirit of the competition", stick with this formula: "I like children and animals and my ambitions are to travel the Internet and make people happy." It is, however, quite acceptable for your digital diva to throw backstage tantrums in the time-honoured style of Naomi Campbell. They should not, however, blow away fellow contestants in the time-honoured style of Lara Croft. If by any chance your electronic Emmanuel has previously appeared in a low-rent pornographic production - even as a humble fluffer - or has been working as a lap-dancer, or has a drug habit, or once spent time in the Big Brother house, just don't mention it on the application form. And remember: real beauty is on the inside. Bootnote Would-be contestants are directed to the Miss Digital World website, although they should note that at time of publication, the site is "under construction". ®
Lester Haines, 05 Nov 2003

Italian charged in porn dialler virus scam

A 39-year-old Italian man accused of running a porn dialler scam has been charged with fraud and virus distribution. Italian police say the unnamed suspect stood to net €104,000 from a scam which tricked users into running a virus, called Marq-A, which altered the Internet dial-up number used by victims to a premium rate line, La Repubblica reports. Marq-A (AKA Zelig), first seen last month, directs innocent computer users to a website where a malicious program posing as a screensaver can be downloaded. If run, the virus changes the phone number used for accessing the Internet to a premium-rate number based in Aruba, in the Dutch Antilles. Investigators claim that more than 57,000 minutes were logged on the premium-rate number at an estimated cost of €104,000. If the virus had been allowed to continue for a month, it is estimated over €1m would have been collected. The Italian financial police were able to freeze the money accrued through the 'viral marketing' scheme. Funds were first sent to a New York bank account, then transferred via Venezuela before ending up in an account belonging to a ghost company in Aruba. The text of the virus was Italian, so it had little effect on the rest of the world. "Marq-A is one of only a few viruses which attempt to make money. Many viruses cause severe disruption and financial loss to companies worldwide, but offer no financial gain to their author," said Carole Theriault, security consultant at Sophos. "It is positive to see that authorities in different countries can work together in order to prevent these crimes. If cyber criminals believe that they can be traced and made to pay for their actions, maybe they will think twice about releasing their malicious code." Marq arrived in the form of an email with the subject line "The moment is cathartic", which directed users to download a supposed screensaver called zelig.scr. Flavio Oreglio, one of the stars of the Italian TV show "Zelig", is the author of a book called "The moment is cathartic" and this will have encouraged some recipients to download the malicious program. Zelig is also the name of a 1980s Woody Allen film about a man who travels through recent history, assuming a number of different guises. News of the charges in Italy come as Microsoft today announced it is setting up a $5 million fund providing rewards for those who provide information that leads to the arrest and conviction of virus authors. ®
John Leyden, 05 Nov 2003

Veritas drills into disk with new NetBackup

Veritas is getting down and dirty with data management, rolling out a new version of NetBackup and a host of complementary products that can scan deep into a customer's data stockpiles. The centerpiece of Veritas' latest product dump is NetBackup 5.0. The most immediate gain customers will see over the 4.5 product is a 50 percent reduction in backup times and better restore speeds. Customers can now preform a synthetic backup that combines smaller, incremental data changes into the full backup without taking any systems down. In addition, Veritas has added a desktop and laptop option for the NetBackup product. Admins can set a user's PC or notebook to perform automatic backups of data on the hard drive, or let users perform these backups manually on their own. "There is tons of data out there such as a new presentation or business model that does not get backed up by the IT department today," said Brenda Zawatski, vice president of product marketing at Veritas. "Our product sets aside some cache on the hard drive and sends the backups to the server." The NetBackup pricing for Unix, Linux and Windows systems starts at $5,000, and the Desktop/Laptop option starts at $2,500. Veritas is also integrating a new product - Data Lifecycle Manager 5.0 - into its NetBackup and Backup Exec product lines. The Data Lifecycle Manager is meant to help customers keep up with regulatory requirements for protecting information. It lets admins set policies for how often data should be backed up, how long the data should stick around and on what types of storage systems the data should reside. "This allows an admin to put a policy on the data that says, 'I am going to keep it around only for a certain amount of time and then either delete it or store it on a specified type of media,'" said Bob Maness, worldwide director of marketing at Veritas. Veritas has also added in an index feature to the product that lets users search for data by file type, date of creation, who has seen or altered data and when a file was deleted. You can also search e-mails, for example, by sender, recipient, sensitivity, subject line and by vendor. Users, however, won't be able to get their hands on the lifecycle product until the first quarter of next year. At that time, Veritas will roll it out for Windows and then follow in the second half of the year with Unix and Linux releases. If you thought the boffins at Veritas were slacking off, you would be wrong, as the company rolled out yet another product called CommandCentral Service 3.5. Once again, the product links into NetBackup and Backup Exec. This product was formerly sold under the Service Manager brand and gives admins a portal for controlling various backup operations. "A user can request that data be backed up every night and that certain pieces of information can be retrieved immediately or within an hour," Maness said. The admin can then either tell the user to shove off or use the software to check whether or not the employee is approved for that kind of service and how best to store the data. Overall, the software is meant to ensure that certain service levels can be met and helps keep track of how departments are using their storage resources. It ships with various reporting tools. The product starts at $22,000. ®
Ashlee Vance, 05 Nov 2003