13th > November > 2003 Archive
After IBM sent a blizzard of subpoenas to analysts and investment companies this week The SCO Group followed suit today. IBM, which is filing a countersuit against SCO, says it is frustrated by SCO not revealing its hand. Although SCO has attempted to collect a fee from Linux users, and claimed that IBM owes it $3 billion, the company has only shown fragments of code to support its case. IBM's wide ranging countersuit has snared Baystar Capital, Deutsche Bank, Renaissance Ventures and Yankee Group, who are either investors in the SCO Group, or who have seen the code under SCO's restrictive conditions, according to Forbes. Luminaries such as Richard Stallman, Linus Torvalds and Torvalds past and present employers at Transmeta and OSDL have received subpoenas, according to CNET, although Groklaw notes that Torvalds only received his this evening. With the case not due to be heard until 2005, the subpoenas are likely to form part of the discovery process. It's hard to see what SCO hopes to discover from Stallman, who wrote the GPL but contributed no kernel code. Perhaps they're specifically targeting EMACS? ®
Nokia has launched the first GSM phone that supports the inaptly-named 'Push To Talk' features natively. PTT is a half duplex feature, like a walkie talkie - only one person can speak at any one time - that allows conference calls to be set up very quickly with a dedicated button. It's a Voice over IP service that uses the phone's packet data, rather voice time slots. Nokia promises that all of its GSM/GPRS and 3G models will support PTT by 2005, beginning with the introduction of Symbian phones next year. Aimed at outdoors sports enthusiasts, the 5140 includes a digital compass, thermometer, stopwatch and flashlight in a splash resistant (Nokia is careful not to use the word 'waterproof') casing. Nokia bundles what it calls 'Fitness Coach' software. Two models, one for the Americas, and one for Europe and Asia, will be launched in 2Q next year. Both will support the higher data rates enabled by EDGE. Nokia says its base stations have been EDGE-capable since 2001. Smartphone users can already use push to talk if they have software such as Buzz2Talk installed. Analysts reckon PTT will catch on with groups such as teenagers and public sector field workers first. But it looks like we'll have to wait for a couple of years before phones supporting the service are ubiquitous. ® Related Products Purchase Nokia products from The Reg mobile store
OpinionOpinion Recently, Microsoft announced a program to offer rewards in exchange for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those who exploit its flagship Windows product through viruses, worms, and other forms of malicious code. Yet, despite the software giant's own executives saying publicly over a year ago that their products "weren't designed for security" the company continues to point fingers at third parties, hackers, and crackers as the source of the many problems plaguing the Windows-based portions of the Internet. It also demonstrates the ineffective organized chaos that remains Microsoft's response to the marketplace demands for better-developed, better-tested products. Security (or lack thereof) in Microsoft's products has adversely impacted corporate profits for years, and finally is beginning to affect Microsoft's future profit potential as well. As a result, Microsoft suddenly is committed to improving security, despite its years of sitting idle. Hence the company's mad rush to inject "security" into every product, speech, and statement to reassure its customers that Windows is still a worthy operating environment to spend money on. It's even sponsored an upcoming report critical of Linux security to help spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt about Microsoft's chief competitor and underscore why Windows is a better product. Sadly, rather than address its own problems, the company is content to use creative marketing as a substitute for good security and software development. The problem isn't that virus-writers are exploiting Windows, it's that Microsoft makes Windows easy to exploit by anyone with a modicum of programming know-how -- and instead of accepting responsibility, the company is trying to pass the blame for such problems off onto others. Creating a rewards program is a clever, low-cost way of diverting public attention away from the many problems resulting from its history of exploit-friendly programming practices so it doesn't have to address the root causes that forced the creation of the rewards program in the first place. It also allows the company to portray itself taking the moral high ground (albeit illusory) in its approach to proactive product security. The rewards program builds on the company's recent announcement to convert its traditional as-necessary security bulletin and patch-release process into a predictable monthly one. Interestingly, Microsoft's October 2003 white paper discussion of the new security release process says this will make it easier for customers to stay current through a single cumulative monthly patch that fixes reported problems in Windows. That sounds perfectly reasonable until one reads that "Microsoft will make an exception to the above release schedule if we determine that customers are at immediate risk from viruses, worms, attacks or other malicious activities. In such a situation Microsoft may release security patches as soon as possible to help protect customers." Given that the majority of Microsoft security bulletins deal with these very problems, one wonders if this new policy really makes a difference by improving security or if it means that to reduce the number of security bulletins (and associated negative media coverage) Microsoft will be more selective in what it deems an "immediate risk" to customers. It's likely that the company will seldom release a bulletin-patch outside of its assigned monthly schedule, since it would not only undermine its new policy but put it in the unfortunate position of having to defend what makes one problem "more critical" than another and warrant a special release. Admittedly, a monthly patch-release schedule may make it easier for customers to stay current, but also means that a potential adversary knows exactly when to release his next malicious code or exploit technique to the world. Network administrators likely will resent being kept in the dark between monthly patches, never knowing if their networks are endangered or being compromised until the next security bulletin is announced. Patching aside, it's more interesting - and seems very convenient - that the company responsible for the majority of digital problems in cyberspace in recent years is now offering a remedy for these recurring problems in the form of Trustworthy Computing and the next version of Windows code-named Longhorn. Of course, to receive this much-desired increase security, users must pay for it via a product upgrade. Unless I'm mistaken, this sounds a bit like the Mafia offering "protection" services to local neighborhood businesses to protect against security problems it creates (or tolerates) as a form of revenue. Pay for your "protection" or be "at-risk" (wink-wink) until you do. Microsoft has an established history of such sneaky practices to get what it wants from its customers. Remember that over a decade ago, the company intentionally caused early versions of Windows to display error messages if installed on anything other than the Microsoft version of DOS - once users installed MS-DOS, the error messages disappeared. More recently, to fix a series of critical vulnerabilities in the Windows Media Player last year, Microsoft forced users to accept the imposition of new and controversial digital rights management (DRM) software as part of the security "fix." Of course, users were free to not install the fix if they didn't want the DRM software on their systems, but would remain at-risk to attack and exploitation from any number of criminals on the Internet as a result. This brings up the question of how the definition of "security" is changing to fit marketplace needs. The MSDN website shows DRM is a core 'security' function of Longhorn that runs in what Microsoft calls the Secure Execution Environment. The very fact that an operating system - the engine that runs our computers and touches everything we do on them - is based on a DRM foundation (with "hooks" for third parties including Microsoft to determine what may be done with what information on a computer) is frightening. Ask any objective security professional -- DRM should not be viewed as a function of security but rather an add-on function of revenue protection for those industries based on digital content. Home and business users alike should not be forced into a Mafia-like protection agreement to be secure in cyberspace. Nor should the fundamental definition of security be extended - or twisted - to include invasive mechanisms of profit-protection for industries unable to adapt their business models for the Information Age. Until Microsoft takes a realistic view of security and defines effective real-world ways of improving product security in the present day - such as cleaning up the existing Windows code instead of greedily forcing mass upgrades - its existing customers will be reluctant to adopt a newer version of the Windows product line no matter what the speeches and marketing material promise. Microsoft chairman Steve Ballmer recently said the company's rewards program makes it clear that Microsoft is "taking security seriously." What he meant to say was that it's clear that Microsoft is taking its security reputation seriously. That's a big difference. Copyright (© 2003 by author. Permission granted to reproduce in entirety with credit to author. RRichard Forno is consulting, lecturing, and writing in the Washington, DC area. His areas of expertise include information security program development and management (emphasis on incident response & security awareness,) information operations, trend analysis, and critical infrastructure protection. More biog here.
In a rare wireless hacking prosecution, federal officials this week accused two Michigan men of repeatedly cracking the Lowe's chain of home improvement stores' nationwide network from a 1995 Pontiac Grand Prix parked outside a suburban Detroit store. Paul Timmins, 22, and Adam Botbyl, 20, were charged Monday with penetrating and intentionally damaging a Lowe's system in violation of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. According to an affidavit filed by FBI agent Denise Stemen, intruders first hopped onto the wi-fi network at the Lowe's store in Southfield, Michigan on October 25th, at 11:20 p.m, and used the store's network to access the company's central data center at Lowe's North Carolina headquarters. They returned at least six times over the following two weeks and used the network to access store networks at seven other Lowe's locations around the country, in Kansas, North Carolina, Kentucky, South Dakota, Florida, and two stores in California. The intruders deployed unspecified hacking software at some of the stores, in once case crashing the point of sale terminals at a Lowe's in Long Beach, California, according to the affidavit. At some point, Lowe's network administrators and security personnel detected and began monitoring the intrusions, and called in the FBI. Last Friday evening a Bureau surveillance team staked out the Southfield Lowe's parking lot, and spotted a white Grand Prix with suspicious antennas and two young men sitting inside. The car was registered to Botbl, and the passenger, later identified as Timmins, was seen typing on a laptop. After 20 minutes, the pair quit for the night, and the FBI followed them to a Little Ceasar's pizza restaurant, then to a local multiplex. While the hackers took in a film, Lowe's network security team poured over log files and determined that the intruders had installed a virtual wiretap in a program that handles credit card transactions for all the Lowe's stores nationwide -- though the altered program had collected only six credit card numbers. "They were not able to access nationwide credit card files or get into corporate systems," says Lowe's spokesperson Gina Balaya. "They did access six credit card transactions from one store." Warparking The scene at the parking lot repeated the next night; this time the FBI watched as the car settled into a spot near the lumber entrance, and driver and passenger worked in parallel on their own laptops. The Bureau filed a criminal complaint on Monday, and the hackers were each released on an unsecured $10,000 bond, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's office in Detroit. They're allowed to use computers only for work and school. Timmins works as a networking specialist for a Michigan software company; Botbyl is a student at the ITT Technical Institute. Timmins and Botbyl, known online as "noweb4u" and "itszer0" respectively, are also part of the Michigan 2600 scene -- an informal collection of technology geeks that meet, blog, eat pizza and attend hacker conventions together, but generally balk at penetrating systems or otherwise committing felonies. "My initial reaction when I heard the charges was one of skepticism," says Karl Mozurkewich, founder of the Michigan software company Utropicmedia, and a member of the group. "Eighty percent of the people in the 2600 group in Michigan are more the curious type. There's probably 20 percent that actually want to go out and see what they can get away with." Timmins declined to discuss the charges; Botbyl could not be reached for comment. Mozurkewich speculates that the hack may have begun as a war driving exercise -- a legal pastime in which hackers search out and map wireless access points -- that went too far. "The sense I'm getting is they were messing around, and things just snowballed," says Mozurkewich. "We don't agree with this kind of behavior at all, but it's understandable to some point. It just goes to show a certain amount of immaturity." Security researcher Mark Loveless says Lowe's may have invited trouble. Loveless says he's noticed that at least some Lowe's stores don't take the basic precaution of turning on wi-fi's standard encryption -- called WEP -- to declare their network off limits. "There's a Starbucks near a Lowes that I go to a lot, and I've gone in there with a box running Windows, and actually [connected to] Lowe's network unintentionally," says Loveless. "It kind of pisses me off, because I've used a credit card at Lowe's before." Balaya, the Lowe's spokesperson, declined to say whether the Southfield store used encryption. "I couldn't release any information about the security of the system," she says. In February, a jury acquitted Houston security consultant Stefan Puffer of similar federal charges for penetrating a Texas county's wireless network to demonstrate its insecurity to a newspaper reporter. Puffer was not accused of modifying software or stealing data, and the jury concluded that he didn't cause damage to the system. Copyright ©
Exeter has been dubbed Britain's Wi-Fi Capital by Intel. The chip giant came to choose the county town of Devon because it has more hotspots than any other place in the country. Sorry, that should read 'more hotspots per person', which explains why London comes a mere 33rd on the list. It has more hotspots than any other location in the country, but by sharing them among six million or so people, down toward the bottom of the list it goes. Birmingham, Britain's second biggest city, comes in at a paltry number 57. Following Exeter in the top ten Wi-Fi towns are Bangor, Newcastle, Loughborough and Oxford, Exmouth, Banbury, Cardiff, Portsmouth and Southampton. There are some large towns in the list, but Exmouth? Exmouth?!? It's all highly spurious. According to the company, "the primary data source" used to calculate the top ten was its own online hotspot locator which "lists all public hotspots verified on Intel Centrino mobile technology". How many hotspots does that leave out? All those more than "three miles from the centre of each town", for starters. Intel only counted hotspots within that radius, immediately tilting the result toward smaller settlements. Then there are all those set up by individuals. The last point is crucial given that there's no measure of the extent to which any of the listed hotspots are used. A 3000-head village with a dozen hotspots may not make Intel's top ten, but you can bet those Wi-Fi set-ups are shuffling a darn sight more packets than many of the public ones. Indeed, it appears that pubs are the main location for British hotspots, according to Intel, with 1300 of them listed on the company's web site. Since that's been the focus of The Cloud's aggressive hotspot roll-out programme, we're not surprised. But we've yet to see anyone in a tavern actually whip out a notebook and get down to some serious drinking... er... surfing. Looking at the global picture, London comes in at number five, behind New York, Taipei, Vienna and Melbourne, but ahead of Stockholm, Vancouver, Hamburg and Tokyo. Intel used the same source to determine the number of hotspots in each location, but this time didn't factor in the size of each city's population. Not so long ago, Intel chiefs admitted they might have contributed to the hype surrounding Wi-Fi. Specious surveys like this aren't helping either, guys. ® Related Products Buy Wireless, 802.11 & WiFi products in The Reg mobile store
'Sonoma', the second generation of Intel's Centrino platform, may now appear later than anticipated, according to the latest roadmap information to leak onto the web. Announced in September at Intel Developer Forum, Sonoma comprises a second-generation Wi-Fi adaptor, Calexico 2; the 'Alviso' chipset; and 'Dothan', the 90nm, 2MB L2 version of the Pentium M. Intel said the platform will debut in the second half of 2004. With Dothan due to ship late 2003/early 2004, that timeframe was taken as shorthand for Q3. But according to roadmap information relayed to Xbit Labs, Sonoma will not appear before Q4 2004. That's still within Intel's publicly stated timetable, so face will be saved. Alviso's North Bridge features a new graphics core and adds dynamic screen power-saving technology, which controls a notebook's backlight on the fly to reduce the backlight brightness - and thus its power consumption - based on what's displayed on the screen. It also supports DDR 2 SDRAM. The Alviso South Bridge, ICH6-M, brings Serial ATA and Gigabit Ethernet to Centrino. The chipset uses the ExpressCard add-in format. It also features 'Azalia', a sound system that supersedes AC97 and offers Dolby 7.1 support. Like 'Prescott', Dothan appears to be taking longer to arrive than planned. It is expected to launch at 1.6, 1.7 and 1.8GHz early next year, after Intel has begun trickling enough chips through to customers to record the sales in its accounts this year. However, it now appears Dothan will hit 2GHz in Q3 - past roadmaps didn't have that milestone being reached before Q4. Come that quarter, and Intel will up Dothan's frontside bus to 533MHz. Alviso - and this Sonoma - will almost certainly bet the chipset that enables that effective FSB frequency. Low-voltage Dothans are now roadmapped to appear during Q1 2004, still at 1.3GHz, rising to 1.4GHz in Q2, and taking on the 533MHz bus in Q4. As per previous roadmaps, Ultra-low Voltage Dothans are still set to ship at 1GHz next quarter, rising to 1.1GHz in Q2. ® Related Stories Intel i855GME to pave way for 'Centrino 2' next year Dothan notebooks to ship Jan/Feb 2004
Sharp will release a third member of its series of Linux-based, clamshell-cased Zaurus PDAs later this month. The SL-C860's unique selling point is integrated English-to-Japanese (and back again) translation software, which appears to operate across all applications. Receive a Japanese e-mail and the Zaurus will convert the text to English. When connected to a host PC via USB, the SL-C860 acts like a memory card reader, providing the PC access to data held on CompactFlash and SD cards inserted into the PDA, Sharp said. The Zaurus can also take grabs of what's appearing on the host PC's screen. The new model also provides MPEG 4 video playback, and has been designed to hook up to Sharp's Galileo personal video recorder. The SL-860 is based on a 400MHz Intel XScale PXA255 processor running Metrowerks' OpenPDA embedded Linux. It contains 128MB of Flash memory - 65MB of which is available for user data - and 64MB of SDRAM. The device sports a 3.6in 640 x 480 screen which rotates so that the closed clamshell can be used like a classic pen-based PDA. The device measures 12 x 8.3 x 2.3cm (4.7 x 3.3 x 0.9in) and weighs 250g (8.8oz) with the rechargeable 1700mAh Lithium Ion in place. Sharp claims the device will run for up to eight and a half hours on a single charge. The SL-860 goes on sale in Japan on 27 November. Pricing information was not provided. Sharp didn't say when - or even if - the device will ship in the UK and US. ® Visit The Reg Mobile Store for all your PDA and cellphone needs
Episode 28Episode 28 BOFH 2003: Episode 28 The Bastard wants to know: do you know your Computing Personalities? The following set of questions is aimed at determining whether you're up to the task of recognising a professional in their line of work. Select the correct response from the 'technical professional' to each initial statement in the following. Best of luck! Spot the Slave Trader You: "I need an experienced Linux Engineer with exposure to RedHat and Slackware" A. "Pardon?" B. "I'm sorry, we don't have those skills" C. "We don't have that, but we do have a relationship with another agency who may be able to fill the position" D. "We have someone who shows potential" E. "We have someone who used Word with a typing speed of three words per minute" Spot the Salesman on a commission "Could we have a low spec. machine, say a PIII 1.2 gig, with 128 Meg? A. "Sure" B. "I'd have to look, but I think so" C. "Sorry, we only have 1.5s and P4s. Want to see those?" D. "Yes, but everyone wants them at the moment so they'd be about the same price as a P4 1.2" E. "Sure, I can get you a P4 3G with Speakers, DVD ROM 1 Gig Memory 180 gig hard drive, 21in LCD flat screen monitor, inkjet printer and ADSL modem" Spot the 'Technical' Manager "We have a problem with our core router, looks like the content management firmware is dropping packets because of some poor criteria settings" A. "Dropping... ...Packets?" B. "Problem? With the Router?" C. "What Criteria are we talking about? Can we remove content management until it's sorted?" D. "I'm sorry, I have no idea what you're talking about." E. >Dribble< The IT 'Consultant' "So we just need a plan to rationalise our cabling infrastructure..." A. "OK, sure, I just need to get an overview of what you currently have" B. "Cabling - have you considered wireless?" C. "Sorry, I work in Active Device networking, but could put you onto someone who knows" D. "Could be a big job, but I'm up to it!" E. "Yes, I'd think you would. By the looks of it you've got a complete balls up. We'll probably need to start from the ground up. Luckily I have some contacts in the business who can tell you how to do it right this time. It won't come cheap and I can't give you a timeframe, expected cost or project plan. But I'm onto it!" The Beancounter "...Which means that to ensure sitewide authentication we need to slap a radius server in somewhere - shouldn't be more than a couple of grand, maybe five if we add a redundant power supply into the box along with a mirrored disk for higher availability" A. "OK, I suppose if you think it's necessary" B. "Five grand does seem a little pricey - are you sure it's worth it?" C. "I think we can do without the redundancy - go for the two grand box!" D. "Can't we run it on some other server? Doesn't 2000 do it?" E. "I have a machine on my desk which needs to be replaced because it catches fire every now and then. Just put it in a room near a sprinkler above it..." After-Sales Support "So we're pretty disappointed with the service we've been receiving on the kit we bought earlier in the year" A. "Really. How about I come and meet you, take down the details and see what we can sort out?" B. "What problems precisely? If you give me the jobs numbers I'll follow them up!" C. "Really? Those servers were state-of-the-art for uptime specs. Of course, that's nothing compared to our new product which has been voted top of the range of highly available..." D. "That's terrible. Perhaps it's time to replace them. We have some very good servers that have been voted top of the range..." E. "WHY DWELL ON THE PAST? Let's face it - if you had our new servers you wouldn't even remember the poor maintenance you've had. Tell you what, I'll knock the shipping fee off the first order for you as a sign of good faith." The Bastard "...And I really do need you to recover the files I was working on five weeks ago but accidentally forgot to back up" A. "I'm sure we'll be able to get something back" B. "I'll have a look at the backup indexes and see" C. "Our policy is only to keep data for 28 days, so it looks like you may be out of luck. Have you got any deleted file recovery tools?" D. >Clickety< "Nope, nothing there" E. "There's a one-time recovery charge of 50 quid per recovery. OK?" >Ching Ching< [3 seconds later] "Nope, nothing" The Bastard "...And then I turned my laptop on but the screen was black" A. "It may just be dark initially while it's booting. Wait a couple of minutes and see" B. "Maybe you've got your screen brightness and contrast wound down?" C. "Is the battery OK?" D. "It's rooted." E. "It's rooted" and "Drop it off here so we can steal the parts out of it... er... I mean run diagnostics" The Head of IT "We just installed the file-share machine and it all appears to be running very well" A. "Excellent!" B. "Ah yes, the file-share. I believe that that was a project that was most often requested of us" C. "What's a file-share machine - something like FTP is it?" D. "Yes, I used to use files when I started computing. You used them to keep the pins on card collater sharp..." E. >droool< The Engineer "...And then the hard drive gave a whine and stopped" A. "So, let's just take a look at that motherboard then" B. "A fan problem, you say" C. "Sorry, I didn't bring any replacement keyboards with me" D. "I think you should leave the diagnosis to an expert" E. All of the above Scoring Mostly A: Perhaps you should work in the field of computing a while Mostly B: Perhaps you should work in the field of computing for a while Mostly C: Perhaps you should work in a field for a while Mostly D: OK, so you've seen some of the shame Mostly E: You've been there, done that, got the T-shirt and wear the scars. You know what to expect from a 'professional'. You're bitter too. Very, very bitter... ® 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.
ATI yesterday took the wraps off its first DirectX 9 mobile-oriented Workstation-class graphics accelerator package, the Mobility FireGL T2. Based on the FireGL 9600 chip, the Mobility T2 provides four parallel pixel pipelines and two side-by-side geometry engines. But according to ATI, the accelerator can handle only six textures per rendering pass, compared to the desktop FireGL T2-128's 16. Anti-aliasing at 2x, 4x and 6x is provided, along with anisotropic filtering at up to 16x. The Mobility chip adds ATI's existing power-saving technologies, PowerPlay and Power-on-Demand, which dynamically adjusts the chip's clock and core voltage according to load. Both parts support 128MB of DDR SDRAM graphics memory across a 128-bit interface. Full 128-bit floating point precision is supported. The mobile accelerator can run two monitors at up to 2048 x 1536, digital and analog. It supports AGP 8x and 4x. The Mobility T2 works with Windows 2000 and XP, and Linux, via OpenGL or DirectX 9. Both graphics APIs' high-level shading languages are supported. Drivers and chip have been certified by "leading" CAD and digital content creation apps, ATI said. The Mobility FireGL T2 will be used in IBM's ThinkPad R50P and T41P machines, and is shipping now in HP's Compaq nw8000. ®
BT is feeling the heat from increased competition and lower pricing, the UK's dominant telco admitted today. Publishing Q2 results for the three months to the end of September, the company reported that turnover had fallen by two per cent to £4.57 billion. In particular, revenues in BT's traditional phone business fell six per cent as more and more people opt for rival operators such as Tesco, One.Tel and, more recently, Tele2. Cuts in fixed-to-mobile termination rates, imposed by the regulator Oftel, accounted for more than half of the decline in group turnover. Despite the fall in revenue, the telco's pre-tax profit was up seven per cent at £529 million. While BT's core business is being squeezed, it reports that turnover in "new wave" areas - which includes broadband - rose 25 per cent to £761 million. Indeed, the company now has more than 1.5 million ADSL connections, three times the number a year ago. As a result broadband revenue increased to £106 million from £45 million. BT's chairman, Sir Christopher Bland, said that it "continues to be a challenging year for our traditional business" before adding that its "new wave businesses are delivering strong growth". BT has also reduced its debt mountain - which at its height stood at £30 billion - by 33 per cent over the last year to £8.8 billion. ®
Everyone in the UK should be able to access broadband by the end of 2005. So says eminister Stephen Timms, who reckons that a constructive, working together kind of approach will help roll out high-speed Net access to those living in rural and semi-rural areas. Addressing Cambridge MIT Institute's third Annual Competitiveness Summit in Newcastle-upon-Tyne yesterday, the eminister said: "Today I am calling for us to take the next major step and deliver broadband availability to every community by the end of 2005 - this is a challenging target but one which can be attained. "Better partnerships between the broadband industry, Government, the regions, local government and local communities will allow every community to experience the same advantages broadband brings to some rural communities already - and in a far shorter timescale than ever envisaged "We have made good progress - between ADSL and cable, broadband is now available to 80 per cent of UK households, and that is almost certain to rise to 90 per cent next year - but more can and should be done. "Of course we cannot begin to reach this target without the essential contribution of the broadband industry. "That is why today I am calling on them to work even more closely with us, to identify the challenges ahead so that between us we can take the next big stride in achieving a common goal - 100 per cent broadband availability by the end of 2005. "This is an ambitious target but I am confident that we can make available the business, community and individual benefits of broadband to every community far earlier than we previously thought," he said. With the Government not prepared to dip its hand into its own pocket (you mean our pockets - Ed) to help fund directly the roll-out, some critics claim Timms' new target is little more than grandstanding. Others point out that the UK already has 100 per cent broadband access - by satellite. The problem, they say, is that it is just too expensive compared to ADSL or cable. Freeserve, though, reckons the eminister has his finger on the wrong pulse insisting that the continued high price of broadband is preventing high speed Net access from becoming a mass market product. Said the ISP in a statement: "What's the point of rolling out broadband to 100 per cent of the population if the demand isn't there? Roll out isn't the main issue. Lets sort out demand and bring the prices down. Consumers want significant service and price improvements before they move across to broadband en masse and for that to happen we need to see the industry once and for all freed of its reliance on a single, dominant player that forces us to make do with 'one size fits all' wholesale products." ®
Further information regarding Nintendo's latest console, the iQue, has emerged from China, including details of the software which will ship with the system and a revised price point. The device, which is due to launch before the end of the year in Shanghai, with other regions of China to follow later, is effectively a Nintendo 64 contained in a single control pad-sized unit. The system features an chip which integrates the entire functionality of the N64 onto a single die - based on a process similar to that used by Sony in creating the integrated PS2 chip for the PSX, the EE+GS@90nm. The iQue is set to retail for 568 Yuan (about €7), not 498 Yuan (€51.50) as originally reported, and will come bundled with an AV cable, a power supply, a 64MB Flash card and one full game: puzzle title Doctor Mario. Four other games will also be present on the Flash cartridge, but in time-limited form, with a ten-hour trial of Zelda 64: Ocarina of Time, a seven-hour trial of Mario 64 and one-hour trials of Wave Race 64 and Star Fox: Lylat Wars. Full versions of these games can be unlocked at special booths located at Nintendo's partner retailers in Shanghai, and will cost 48 Yuan (€5) each. Nintendo has put significant thought into the digital distribution system used by the iQue. The in-store booths will also apparently be capable of updating the operating system on the console, and the flash card maintains a log of every game you've purchased - allowing you to put games you already own back onto the card without having to pay again. The new information on the system comes courtesy of popular online games retailer Lik-Sang, which plans to sell the console to overseas markets. Interestingly, the system reportedly features NTSC TV output, although China is a PAL territory - suggesting that an overseas launch in future may be a possibility. Copyright © 2003, GamesIndustry.biz
The authorities are positive: the ITU will, this week, plump for the Motorola-endorsed ultra-wide band (UWB) technology. Meanwhile, the IEEE, which is also examining this direct-sequence CDMA UWB proposal in the IEEE 802.15.3a study group, is said to favour the Intel-sponsored MultiBand OFDM Alliance (MBOA) with Texas Instruments. Is it Europe vs America, yet again? The race for control of UWB is, effectively, the bid to take over from Bluetooth. Both Bluetooth (already working) and UWB (still laboratory-based) do personal area networks. The difference is simple: Bluetooth is never going much faster than a megabit per second; UWB promises half a gigabit per second... one day. Perhaps. The politics of the battle are, however, not as simple as the normal trans-Atlantic battle (typified by the GSM vs CDMA phone fiasco, or the 802.11a vs HiPerLan farce). In this case, Nokia is said to be on the Intel side. But politics there are. "Steve Turner, UWB business development manager at Texas Instruments Inc. - a core member of the MBOA - says the stalemate is due to delaying tactics that are now causing general annoyance throughout the industry," wrote Unstrung this week. He was pointing the finger at the Motorola initiative. Now, Motorola has added more weight to its alternative standard proposal by taking over the UWB assets of a company it has been investing in - Xtreme Spectrum - which has a second-generation UWB chipset, called Trinity, available in sample quantities. This version can "only" reach 100 megabits per second; the third generation chip set is expected in 2005, at 500 megabits. Can the world accommodate one IEEE standard and one ITU standard? Clearly, yes; with a range of only about 20-30 feet, interference can be limited by purchasing only the "right version" for the locality (typically, your equipment in your pockets). But in marketing terms, this dispute could be a disaster, with the IEEE and ITU poised to endorse products which will split the market. Compatibility between the two looks impossible. Copyright © 2003 NewsWireless.net Recent NewsWireless Stories Cisco pushes CCX hard; kills off 802.11b Wi-Fi Microsoft - is it really trying to rival Nokia?
Microsoft recently broke its global pricing policy for the Thai market, offering steep discounts in the Royal Kingdom for its Windows and Office products. From a report at Linux Insider, we learn why. First-time computer users are flocking to a government-subsidised programme to bring cheap PCs to the public. Although pirate copies of Windows and Office have a street price as low as $4, the information ministry's scheme of selling PCs loaded with Linux and OpenOffice for $250 is a runaway success. A million new PC owners will be using Linux within the next few months. "Charging Thai consumers nearly $600 for Windows/Office is the equivalent of charging US consumers $3000," notes the report. But even at the right-sized price of $37, Thai first-timers are preferring Linux. Which also cites Linux's superior Right-to-Left support as a reason why the ministry's computers are popular. From the report we can draw several, and some surprising conclusions. As a business model, charging a software licence fee against a comparable free rival is now, perhaps, a risky proposition. The oft-cited factors of global brand appeal (Microsoft is one of the world's most recognised names) and integration count for little in emerging markets. This isn't to say Microsoft will disappear in a puff of smoke: with a cash pile of $51 billion, it isn't going to go away anytime soon. And it can conceivably switch, as IBM did, from dictating the market to shift to a services model where it maintains legacy code: keeping it just about up to date for incumbents to count the costs, and find it cheaper to stay where they are. Microsoft's most valuable software asset right now is not any of the interesting file system or user interface enhancements in Longhorn that it unveiled at PDC, it's Windows Update. Keeping the worms and viruses at bay is going to be a full-time job: probably one that ensures Microsoft's long-term survival. But in terms of simple economics: when a piece of software with an expensive licence fee is pitched against a free rival of equivalent functionality, the software with the licence fee will lose. And this particularly applies to emerging markets in the East. Here in the occident, we expect to hear "exit costs" to emerge as the dominant theme of Microsoft marketing in the coming months and years. We also have an anecdote to offer, which might be useful. Alt-F4? This reporter gave up Mac OS X for Ramadan. Well, sort of. Fasting is good for soul, to be sure, which explains why 2.5 billion people around the world practice it in some form, but my reasons weren't so high-minded. Not having spent more than an hour at a time at an x86 PC in the past three years, I was curious to see what was going on in the Windows world. I have no great revelations that you haven't heard: yes, Opera on Windows is incomparably great (and makes Safari look like, to paraphrase my colleague Ashlee Vance, a grey rectangle). And yes, the hardware is much better value and feels dangerously cheap. (When I began to burn a CD, the USB bus failed: Windows reported that there had been a "power surge" - and disabled all the USB devices). But all this, you already know. However, I found that moving from a coherent (although still flawed, as John Siracusa points out this week in his latest heroic installment) the user interface on Windows is a very jarring experience. There are many patches, spyware and virus checkers to install, nothing is ever quite predictable, and the system guides the user over a barbed wire fence. Ctrl-W now closes many applications windows, but not all. Alt-F4 closes the others. What should I press? Now this is relevant, we figure. The new PC users in Thailand have only some muscle memory of legacy systems, which levels the playing field in unexpected ways. Linux on the desktop is still immature and infuriating, but for a new and resourceful user, the legacy is as much of an encumbrance as it is an opportunity. And here's the key. Linux Insider reports that most of the new Linux users are expected to stick with their PCs thanks to the fanatical level of support provided by the Thai Linux user groups. Gartner predicts a 70 per cent stick rate: which is quite extraordinary, given the power that is so often attributed to factors such as branding and incumbent advantages. So here we have two related phenomenon. A government is prepared to look after its people and subsidise a low-cost PC initiative, which enfranchises a new middle class. (Thailand's infant mortality rate doesn't look to shabby compared to some laissez-faire countries, such as the United States). And community based support groups, which are very much part of software libre's growth, hold a huge advantage, here. The report cites Thai language support as a key factor in Linux's popularity: but this didn't appear out of nowhere over night. Asked to "think local", Thailand has provided an intriguing and successful solution: a community-based model that atomises concepts we're used to thinking of as important, such as "brand". It's a new way of doing business, and we look forward to seeing how Western companies adapt, given that the potential market is so large in Asia. And is it too early to declare the software licence dead? ®
T-Online - the ISP of German telecoms outfit Deutsche Telekom - is in talks to buy AOL Time Warner's Internet operation, according to a report in German rag Sueddeutsche Zeitung, by way of AFX. Apparently, senior execs from both companies have already met to discuss a deal that would see T-Online acquire a 70 per cent stake in AOL, the paper said. No one from AOL was available for comment at the time of writing. However, a spokesman for T-Online told The Register that no negotiations were underway between the two companies. "[Such a deal] is more unlikely than likely," he said. ®
Networking security firm Top Layer this week announced plans to boost the speed of its intrusion prevention appliances in repelling both network and application-level cyber attacks. Top Layer's Attack Mitigator IPS 5500, due to be released in the first quarter of 2004, is designed to complement end users' existing firewall and network security infrastructure. It is touted as Top Layer's fastest and more reliable security platform to date. Many firewall vendors (such as NetScreen and Check Point) have recently announced their intention to build application intelligence into their firewalls. Firewalls were traditionally designed to guard against network-level attacks - such as IP spoofing and port/network scans - but as more sophisticated application-layer attacks, such as worms and exploits of known software vulnerabilities, have become increasingly common a need has arisen to rejig corporate defences. Integration Vs best of breed Top Layer's argument is that rather than loading extra application-aware intelligence into firewalls better performance can be obtained by using standalone intrusion detection and prevention, such as its Attack Mitigator IPS 5500. The Attack Mitigator IPS 5500 uses a combination of hardware technology and new "Deep Packet Inspection" technology that offers better performance under heavy attack than the software-led approaches to backed by firewall vendors, according to Top Layer. Top Layer claims the IPS 5500 can handle 60,000 stateful inspections per second or twice the rate possible with competitive technology. The IPS 5500 adds to Top Layer's existing Attack Mitigator family of in-line security devices, which are designed block intrusions and attacks that conventional firewalls miss and that Intrusion Detection Systems (electronic burglar alarms) merely detect. If you’re not on the white list, you’re not getting in The Attack Mitigator IPS suite of products allows good traffic to pass through while actively blocking malicious traffic such as application-level attacks, worms (such as Slammer and Blaster), SYN floods, protocol and traffic anomalies, DoS, DDoS, and other attacks. It also blocks outbound attacks from any compromised machines within an internal network. The Attack Mitigator IPS, which would normally sit behind corporate firewalls, does need to be tuned to customer's individual environments in order to make sure legitimate traffic is not blocked, Paul Lawrence, director of sales engineering at Top Layer told El Reg. The product also needs signature updates to recognise new types of attacks. Cracking down on DoS DDoS attacks have been much in the news of late with attacks on WorldPay and online gambling sites setting a worrying trend of increased hostile activity. Lawrence said most of these assaults were "high-volume brute force" attacks but with the twist that attackers were actively monitoring the success of their attacks and modifying them over time to make assaults more likely to succeed. Although Top Layer's technology can help defend against such attacks, Lawrence was careful to say that there is no "silver bullet" answer to security problems. Businesses need to think of intrusion protection technology as one component in a multi-tiered approach to defending against attacks which needs to include firewalls and following best practice network design principles, he added. ® Related Stories NetScreen firms firewalls against app attacks Check Point bolsters apps security defences When firewalls and intrusion detection just aren't enough Vendors sharpen tools to thwart DoS attacks IDS users swamped with false alerts
Germans Stressed Germans are known to be hard-nosed and hard-working people, but apparently they too are not immune to the much feared New Economy Depression Syndrome (NEDS), a form of work-related stress that is caused by information overload and continuous interruption. Many Germans complain about stress, caused by the use of email and mobile phones, according to research by Ears & Eyes. Often people have to wade through dozens of e-mail messages, while their mobile phone keeps ringing. Ears & Eyes interviewed 1362 German men en women between 20 and 42 years old. No fewer than 71 per cent of the women and 65 per cent of men say they feel stressed. Only six per cent of the women and only three percent reported to problems with information overload. To compensate for the anxiety, the Germans like to take long holidays, or spend more time with their relatives. No Free ADSL for Dutch schools Dutch KPN Telecom is not allowed to offer ADSL free of charge to more than 10,000 Dutch schools, a judge ruled Wednesday. KPN wanted all Dutch schools to sign up for ADSL internet access through its subsidiary Xs4all for three years at no cost, a spectacular €75 million promotion deal. Telecom watchdog OPTA and the Netherlands Competition Authority (NMa) had no objections, and naturally, schools were jubilant. Competitors nl.tree and Easynet did object to this offer, saying that the it would hurt their business, and the Dutch court agreed. nl.tree currently runs Kennisnet which links 11,000 educational institutes via the World Wide Web. KPN responded that it will appeal to the court ruling. Why your car needs to speak Esperanto German car makers have proposed a standard for the use of digital data in onboard computers, according to the German magazine Wirtschaftswoche. The idea is that cars can exchange information about road conditions, congestion and mechanical problems while on the road. 'There is no benefit if BMW only speaks BMW and Mercedes only understands Mercedes,' Reinhold Eberhard of DaimleyCrystels told Wirtschaftswoche. In the future, cars would be able to exchange information about aquaplaning, oil spills or failing airbags wirelessly within a range of 600 metres. Young Norwegians: hackers in the making? Norway is well on its way to raising Europe's most fanatic hackers. A new survey indicates that one of five young people in Norway knows somebody who has tried hacking, using the Internet, Norwegian television reports. Some 14 per cent of those questioned believe there is nothing wrong with hacking into computer networks. TV2.no cited one adolescent that touched a computer for the first time at the age of three and believes that the possibilities of hacking are endless. The Norwegian Directorate for Civil Protection and Emergency Planning (DSB) says that it is important to know what people think about hacking and that wrong attitudes ‘must be controlled’.
Do you have trouble interacting with members of the opposite sex? Do you find it hard to start conversations in social gatherings? Well, help may be at hand in the form of the ice-breaking nTAG. The nTAG is something you hang round your neck like a conference badge. The devices talk to each other by infrared and are connected to a central server via radio. nTAG's website explains it all thus: nTAG Interactive provides a complete event communications system for forward-thinking business and social gatherings. The system is built around our groundbreaking interactive name badge - the nTAG. nTAGs are wearable computers that improve networking among event participants while streamlining event management. Yes, while nTAG is principally aimed at the corporate market, we gather it has recently been tested on several hundred unfortunates at a US technology conference. The nTAGs were programmed with personal details and alerted wearers when someone socially compatible came into range. Which is tremendous news for those who really can't deal with the nitty-gritty of human interaction. We reckon it will be a boon for singles nights. Just programme in your wants and preferences, and wait for nTAG to alert you to the presence of a receptive potential partner. You wouldn't even need to speak - nTAG could do the whole thing for you: nTAG 1: (Triggered by proximity to possible sexual match) Fancy a shag? nTAG 2: (After analysing the wearer of nTAG 1's proclivities) Yeah ok. nTAG 1: My place or yours? The nTAG server then orders a minicab and alerts the event organisers so that the two lovebirds can't run off into the night without handing back their nTAGs. And that, we believe, is the future for both the socially inadequate and nTAG. Why so for nTAG? What about the corporate possibilities? Well, we think that any sane person would have to held at gunpoint to induce them to carry an electronic device which, besides containing personal or other information which is transmitted wirelessly, can also be tracked by event organisers and makes the wearer look like a complete muppet. We could be wrong, of course. ®
If you're a UK university student and have a penchant for rum, football, samba and programming, although not necessarily in that order, then check out Microsoft's Imagine Cup. The competition is "designed to show the ease and innovation of development of the Microsoft Developer Tools platform". It's open to any team of students who'd like to emulate the success of last year's team from Hull, who banked a handy $10,000 in the final in Barcelona. The Imagine Cup is in three stages: an online challenge, a coding challenge for the top 150 from stage one, and finally a three-day "code-athon" for the 32 winners of stage two. And this is the good bit. The overall winners will then be invited to compete for a cool $25,000 in the world show-down in Brazil. Time to dust off those maracas. Alternatively, if you'd prefer a trip to Hockenheim to watch Michael Schumacher win the German Grand Prix, then that's the prize in the Sun/Siemens Java Masters 2004 compo, which kicks off on 1 December. Entrants must create new functionalities for Siemens M55, MC60 and SX1 mobile phones using professional developer tools supplied by Sun and Siemens. Simple as that. Time to proceed directly from Student Union bar to the nearest computer pausing only to stock up on coffee and Pot Noodles. Good luck. ®
Companies that take the plunge with widespread Wireless LAN deployments can expect to enjoy "significant productivity gains and increasing financial returns". According to the 2003 Wireless LAN Benefits Study conducted by NOP - but commissioned by Cisco - WLANs will create a nirvana of increased employee productivity, combined with reduced network administration costs. The 2003 poll of some 400 US medium and large organizations using wireless is an update of a study originally conducted in 2001. it found that WLANs gave end users the ability to be connected to the network, on average, 3.5 more hours per day - up from 1.75 hours in 2001. The increase in network connection time makes staff almost a third more productive than they would have been if they had been tied to a wired infrastructure, the research claims. According to NOP/Cisco, deployment of business WLANs in employees' homes, as well as significant hot spot usage while on the move, created time savings of almost 80 minutes per employee per working day - an increase of almost 30 minutes per day over 2001. Almost a quarter of employees within the mid-size and large organizations polled access wireless LANs today, up from 16 per cent in 2001. This increase in deployment, plus the reported additional time savings, resulted in the rise in annual dollar value of time saved per employee to almost $14K today, up from just over $7K in 2001. "The increasingly ubiquitous nature of wireless LAN usage - being driven by wider horizontal roll-out within organizations - is facilitating a surging cost benefit for companies going wireless," said Richard Jameson, CEO of NOP World Technology. "We expect this trend to continue as wireless LAN roll-out within organizations becomes even broader - and as the technology is driven across all levels of the organization." ® Related Products Buy Wireless, 802.11 & WiFi products from The Reg mobile store
A new service designed to send emails out to your loved (or loathed) ones after you die went live this week. Mylastemail.com enables subscribers to set up a series of final messages online which it promises will be forwarded only when they are dead. Members can leave "love messages, words of appreciation and encouragement" to those they care about after their demise. Three-year membership of the service costs $9.99. A final letter could do much the same job but putting the service on the Web makes it easier to make those final messages as up-to-date as possible. So how do the people behind the service know if someone is dead? If those last emails get sent out early it’s possible to imagine them causing all sorts of problems. Karen Peach, from LifeTouch, the company behind mylastemail.com, explained that the service includes "stringent security checks" to make sure last email are not sent out prematurely. As part of the Mylastemail registration process, subscribers are asked to print off a LifeTouch Guarantees document and to keep this in a secure place where it can be found when a user passes away. "The instructions on this (official looking) document are for the person who will be handling your affairs once you've passed away. They are requested to return the LifeTouch document, together with a certified copy of the deceased's Death Certificate, to LifeTouch," Peach told The Register When this document is received by further checks are carried out to make sure the documents match a registered person's details. Only at this stage will emails be 'released' from the system, and a LifeTouch email is sent to the recipients informing them that there is a Mylastemail for them to pick up from a secure server when they are ready. The email is held on LifeTouch's secure server for 12 months. "At no time can the administration staff access the emails, or the email addresses," Peach added. Mylastemail.com reminds us of the service allowing dying people to videotape advice to their loved ones seen in the film Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead, starring the ever-dependable Andy Garcia. Peach admits she hasn't seen the film but adds that LifeTouch is looking at "adding services such as attaching video MPEGs and voice messaging for the next stage of mylastemail". Which is nice. Boat drinks, anyone? ®
Microsoft has released its Virtual PC operating system virtualization software to manufacturing. Virtual PC 2004 is the new version of the operating system virtualization software Microsoft acquired in February 2003 along with Connectix. It is due to be generally available by the end of the year and Microsoft is concentrating on highlighting the use of the product in reducing the cost and complexity of operating system migrations. The successful launch of Virtual PC 2004 is particularly important for Microsoft as it attempts to encourage Windows users to move to the latest version, Windows XP Professional. However, assisting with operating system migrations is not the only use that Virtual PC can be put to. The product also allows users to emulate one hardware environment and hence operating system from within another. In this way the software is generally used for software testing across multiple versions of operating systems with multiple hardware configurations. Although the product is still capable of emulating non-Microsoft operating systems in the virtual machine environment, the likes of Linux and Unix will not be supported by Microsoft, and this capability is being underplayed by the software giant. Instead the company will use the product as a tool to encourage users to migrate to the latest version of its operating system, highlighting the fact that users will be able to emulate older applications during a migration to Windows XP Pro. Recent research from desktop systems management vendor On Technology indicated that a quarter of businesses have not migrated any of their desktops to Windows XP, while only 11% of companies have completed a migration to Windows XP. In a recent interview Janet Gibbons, Microsoft Windows product and solutions marketing manager, agreed that companies have put off large-scale migration or upgrade projects due to financial considerations, but she also maintains that companies are moving to the latest version of Windows. "XP deployment is happening," she said. "The problem is that a lot of the recent research was talking about companies fully migrated to Windows XP. Very few large companies migrate everything at any one time." While that might be true, according to On's research, only 24% of companies have migrated over half their desktops to Windows XP, almost two full years after the product was officially launched. Source: Computerwire/Datamonitor
Iomega announced its Removable Rigid Disk (RRD) system last August. Three months on, it has finally unveiled a product that will feature the system - which won't ship for another four months. The Rev is an alternative to tape back-up systems and archival storage rigs for SMEs and enterprise workgroups. Iomega will bundle back-up software that copies and compresses - effectively doubling the drive's native 35GB capacity, it says - the files that need backing up. RRD is a 2.5in disk system that incorporates its own motors and read/write head assembly into the cartridge. The upshot, claims Iomega, is a far more resilient system that eliminates the problem past removable drive formats have had with dust getting into the cartridge and onto the disk, buggering up data as it does so. With the extra complexity, RRD cartridges are not going to be cheap - Rev media will be $49 a pop, says. Lacking the rotation mechanism and head assemblies, the drives should be far less expensive than others of their ilk, but Iomega still plans to charge around $400 for them - a result, no doubt, of its decision to target SMEs and corporates. Whatever happened to the 'give away the razor, charge a premium for the blades' approach? That price point will pitch the RRD solution under competing tape-based systems, and offer the added benefits of faster back-ups/restores - 22MBps, the company says - and random access. The Rev will also offer what Iomega calls a 'boot and run' facility - the back up includes enough system software to start up a computer and replace everything on the hard drive. It's not clear whether this facility works across multiple Rev disks. That will be essential if anyone wants to recover a drive with a capacity of more than 90GB. Rev is expected to ship next March in internal ATAPI and external USB 2.0 incarnations. In the second half of 2004, Iomega will ship Rev autoloaders, external 1394 drives and internal SCSI and Serial ATA units. ® Related Stories Iomega to re-enter removable hard drive biz Iomega touts 1.5GB micro drive as Flash killer
Have you ever wondered what it's like to buy lipstick while in a petri dish? Consumers in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma know this experience all too well. They were part of a real-world RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) experiment conducted earlier this year by Wal-Mart and Proctor & Gamble. The two U.S. giants placed hidden RFID tags inside of Max Factor Lipfinity lipstick with little mention of the affair to consumers, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. A disgruntled P&G employee informed the paper of the study, which is one of the first of its kind in the U.S. Over a four month period, P&G researchers viewed the Wal-Mart shelves from some 750 miles away in Cincinnati. They used Webcams mounted near the shelves to watch consumers buy the lipstick and then used RFID scanners to track the inventory. Wal-Mart has been upfront about its plans to roll out a massive RFID inventory tracking system. Although the issue as to whether or not the technology should only be used for back-end purposes as opposed to monitoring consumer goods is quite dicey. Wal-Mart confirmed that it had indeed been keeping an eye on consumers in this case, after first denying the test. A P&G spokeswoman was more forthcoming. "She said there was a sign at the Lipfinity display that 'alerted customers that closed-circuit televisions and electronic merchandise security systems are in place in the store,'" the Sun-Times reports. She added that the system was only used to track lipstick leaving the shelves. Once taken by a consumer, the product was out of range. Some pundits laugh off the potential Big Brother effect of RFID tags, but many technophiles fear the little tags will be used for a wide range of nefarious purposes. "On the surface, the Broken Arrow trial may seem harmless. But the truth is that the businesses involved pushed forward with this technology in secret, knowing full well that consumers are overwhelmingly opposed to it. This is why we have called for mandatory labeling of products containing RFID chips," Katherine Albrecht, founder of CASPIAN, a privacy rights group, told the paper. To date, Wal-Mart and the U.S. Department of Defense have been among the most vocal backers of the technology. Some say their plans could cost suppliers millions. Related Story Sun-Times piece
Well, here's a puzzle. At the close of today's European antitrust hearing Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith popped up and told reporters: "It is a confidential proceeding as you know, so I really can't talk about what we or others are saying inside the room, and as result, I'm sorry but I am really not in a position to answer any of your questions." That is, he told them nothing. But "Microsoft Corp said it would be forced to offer European consumers a substandard version of Windows if the European Union makes it re-write its operating system," sources close to the case said. Like us, you may be hard put to identify sources close to the company sufficiently enslaved to trot out that party line without comment - having a hand there all the time must surely be painful. But we get the message, and we know where it came from. Pull that trigger, sources close to Microsoft say, and Europe will be doomed to run second class Windows. Which amounts to, what? The sources say that users will be deprived of the benefits of bundled Windows Media Player, the DRM-friendly Windows accessory Microsoft proposes as the music industry's weapon of choice for the digital age (unaccountably, the sources seem not to have mentioned that last bit). The notion of Windows being diminished by the enforced removal of one of its components has a certain familiarity to it, but the differences between this instance and the last one are probably more significant than the parallels. In the early stages of the US antitrust trial a preliminary injunction forced Microsoft to remove IE from Windows. Microsoft first responded with foot-dragging, then in a heroic piece of dumb insolence offered a broken version of Windows, sans IE. It was we suppose not entirely impossible to break Windows by accident while removing IE, at that stage in the integration process, but the odds would have been heavily against it. The entire matter however became irrelevant when the injunction was overturned. This time around, there are differences in several areas. First of all, Microsoft is not arguing that Media Player is a key component without which Windows will not work. This would be an even more laughable contention than the earlier IE version, and is quite clearly unsustainable. Microsoft is not arguing that Media Player is essential for Windows, just that Windows would be in some way diminished if Media Player were not immediately available to users, and if they were instead given a choice of media players. Second, the enforced removal of Media Player is much more of a promise than a threat. In the US the IE issue batted back and forth through the courts, resulting finally in Microsoft not having to perform the operation after all. In the EU, on the other hand, we are not talking about preliminary injunctions. The European Commission has already delivered its proposed verdict to Microsoft, and if there's any parallel with the US legal process then we are at a fairly late stage in the appeals process. There's still some scope for legal fannying around, but not a great deal. Then there's the matter the sources seem not to have piped up about yet. The Commission intends to require Microsoft to open up Windows' interfaces to competitors, its intended targets being somewhat broader than was the case in the US. This is likely to be of considerable greater significance than the issue of whether or not Media Player gets bundled and if, as seems probable, the Commission's interest extends into Longhorn's APIs, Microsoft could find its style cramped considerably. ®
ExclusiveExclusive Some say Sun Microsystems should give up on its Linux desktop ambitions, but there are serious signs of life that indicate the company may be on to a good thing, The Register has learned. Well placed sources have confirmed that Sun is teaming up with service providers to roll out a whole new set of "rented" desktop services. As of yet, Yahoo was the only name mentioned, although one source confirmed there will be more large service providers on board. This news comes as Sun's desktop business nears profitability almost before it even opens for business. "I am very confident that in a short period of time the doubters will shut up," said Jonathan Schwartz, the head of Sun's software business, in an interview with The Register. "We hope to convince the market that there is revenue to be had and are on a near term road to profitability." Schwartz declined to comment on the service provider deals, picking Sun's favorite phrase of late - stay tuned - instead. Schwartz did, however, say there are some large Java Desktop System deals that could close in the next few weeks and put this business in the black. Sun does not actually start selling the Java Desktop System - a Linux OS with other open source software trappings - for another couple of weeks. But the company has signed up large users already who will receive kit as it rolls out. In addition, Sun could be close to inking deals with IBM and HP around the Java Desktop System. "We've had much more productive discussions with HP and IBM executives about licensing our desktop than we have had with Dell," Schwartz said. "Dell is kind of standing on the sidelines. They like to participate in mature markets, but this is one market that might mature without them." Sun's favorite critic and professional cheerleader Steve Miloonovich, analyst at Merrill Lynch, publicly flogged the company for going after the desktop. He asked that Sun give up on its ownership of Java and forget about the client. The latest news from the company seems to indicate "The Loon" might have missed the mark. Sun has pushed its thin client efforts in the past, but our sources indicate the upcoming desktop news will indeed make a splash. Sun is batting around the idea of teaming with service providers to rent out applications such as StarOffice and also hardware such as online storage. The service provider could theoretically ship a thin client or white box to a consumer and then charge for various products. Do you want browsing, StarOffice and storage? Well, that's x dollars per month. The idea is to offer cheap computers to certain types of customers who essentially rent the system. The service provider could manage the servers in its own data center. By shipping something like a thin client that has relatively few parts, the service provider and hardware maker reduce the risk of hardware failures. Sun could then offer up a type of rent-a-blade product to either the service provider or end user. Customers would purchase storage space for their documents, photos and music. Whether or not Sun's thin client strategy pays off remains to be seen. It has always been an idea well ahead of its time. In the near term, however, signs that Sun's desktop Linux efforts will be a money maker are encouraging. ®