8th > December > 2003 Archive

IBM draws first blood in SCO Linux battle

SCO has lost the first round in its legal battle to assert intellectual rights over Linux. A federal court ruled Friday (December 5) that SCO must respond within 30 days to IBM's demands that SCO hand over "all source code and other material in Linux ... to which plaintiff has rights". SCO claims ownership over "millions of lines" of code in Linux and accuses IBM of illegally donating chunks of its Unix operating system to the Open Source operating system. It is sueing IBM for £3bn and if successful, it will have a strong platform for claiming royalties from companies which have built products on Linux. Following Friday's ruling, SCO has to follow a strict deadline by the end of which it must set out exactly the ways in which IBM is said to infringe its IP. Also it must prove that IBM, rather than SCO, distributed Unix source code into Linux. IBM spokesperson Trink Guarino told eWeek: "We are very pleased the court has indicated it will compel SCO to finally back up its claims instead of relying on marketplace FUD." ®
Drew Cullen, 08 Dec 2003

Wicked Sun forces final death of Win98, Office 2000, etc

Microsoft will pull the plugs on MSDN downloads of a range of products, including Windows 98, Office 2000, SQL Server 7 and NT Workstation, next Monday. These contain the polluted Java which, according to the settlement with Sun, Microsoft has to stop supporting. So it's all Sun's fault, really. Up to a point. The deal with Sun doesn't actually require Microsoft to completely kill off its JVM finally until September of next year, so it's clearing the decks early, and perhaps conveniently. The demise of Office 2000, SQL 7 and ISA Server 2000* in particular will help usher users along the company's recommended upgrade paths. Microsoft will be issuing new, settlement compliant, versions of Office XP Pro, Publisher 2002, NT Server 4.0 and Small Business Server 2000. Officially, the issue for Microsoft is one of support rather than availability. Windows 98 and NT 4.0 Workstation licences, for example, ceased to be offered through system builders earlier this year. Developers use the MSDN download facility, however, for support and backward compatibility purposes. Prudent developers will therefore be spending the next week grabbing images 'just in case', while the surreal-minded among you might care to conjure with the notion of Win98 ISOs showing up on P2P networks, with Sun lawyers in hot pursuit. Depressingly, the cull doesn't seem to cover the unlovely Windows ME, which only just comes out of the OEM channel at the end of this month, and will remain street-legal via the more desperate class of system builder for another year. You might care to note that here, WinXP is scheduled to be pulled out of the OEM channel at the end of 2005, which means that the lifecycle roadmappers at least are still looking for Longhorn in Q3-4 2005. But we can't always rely on the roadmappers. If you look here, at the bottom of the page, where it says: "Product availability dates for Windows 2000 Server, Windows 2000 Advanced Server, and Windows 2000 Datacenter Server will be published on this page after the release of its successor product, Windows Server 2003", you might reckon there's something the Windows 2000 Server team may have missed... ® * Although ISA Server 2000 was on the retirement list as originally published, Microsoft has subsequently said it will be be issuing an updated version of the software. The current version will therefore remain available from MSDN until this happens.
John Lettice, 08 Dec 2003

Cambodian data entry outfit provokes ‘sweatshop’ slur

If you set up an office in Phnom Penh and fill it with Cambodians doing data-entry chores for US organisations, is this a philanthropic application of globalisation or nothing more than the cynical exploitation of cheap sweatshop labour? That's the question raised by the BBC which reports on the success of Digital Data Divide (DDD), a non-profit organisation now employing more than 100 Cambodians in tasks as diverse as knocking out Harvard University's Crimson newspaper to archiving a 19th century Boston residents' directory. DDD is the brainchild of Canadian Jeremy Hockenstein who set up the organisation after a trip in 2000 to Cambodia. Hockenstein raised $50,000 dollars to target the most disadvantaged of Cambodia's citizens - including victims of the country's genocidal civil war - and within a mere six months DDD was covering its operating expenses. Later grants from the British Government, World Bank and USAID have enabled DDD to expand to its current size. Employees get around $65 a month - considered a very good whack in Cambodia - and their hard work has helped DDD earn more than $275,000 in foreign contracts. So, what's the problem? Well, The Boston Globe has accused Harvard's Crimson of "hypocrisy for hiring low-cost Asian typists". DDD's replies that the job would certainly have gone to Indian or Phillipino outfits had it not secured the work. Hockenstein is adamant that "globalisation can benefit some of the world's poorest citizens". He also hopes that "ours is a model of how you can do it responsibly, and if you do it responsibly you can actually get more work". Most cost benefit analyses show that Western consumers are the prime beneficiaries of outsourcing overseas. But the politics are messy. While many agree that such globalisation helps the poorest nations gain a footing on the capitalist ladder, aggrieved Westerners who have lost their jobs to Indian call centres and Russian programmers argue that charity begins at home. Many more, especially in the US, are worried about losing their jobs to overseas. The protectionist drums are beating. ® ®
Lester Haines, 08 Dec 2003

Cyberkiosk assaults Spanish teenager

It only merited a brief report on Yahoo! yesterday, but the story of the teenager-eating Madrid telephone kiosk further confirms our suspicions that the eventual rise of the machines and the subjugation of humanity is only a matter of time. The unfortunate victim was trapped by the finger when attempting to get a €1.50 refund from the belligerent booth. The phone's anti-theft system swung into action trapping the eighteen-year-old for over two hours. She was eventually freed after firefighters completely dismantled the cyberkiosk. Chillingly, this comes just a couple of years after our report on the shopper-eating cyberloo which ate a middle-aged woman on a trip to Newcastle-uopn-Tyne. On that occasion it also required the violent intervention of the fire brigade to liberate the hostage. Sadly, the Spanish online media seems oblivious to the threat on its doorstep, with both El Mundo and abc choosing to ignore this terrifying warning. Indeed, we cannot help feeling that changes to the Spanish constitution and the indictment of the former president of Nicaragua will be the least of Spaniards' worries when they are fighting a vicious war of survival against murderous telephonic Terminators over the rubble-strewn remains of Madrid. Update In response to those Spaniards who have emailed to point out that the woman in question was trapped by a humble telephone kiosk, and not in fact a malevolent cyberdevice, we'd like to point them and other readers in the direction of 1972 film La Cabina by Antonio Mercero. The film tells the disturbing story of a man unable to escape from a telephone box which is eventually taken away on the back of a truck, its occupant still inside. This prophetic work clearly warns of the dark forces which are only now executing their plan for the enslavement of humanity. And if that doesn't convince you, then try this: when bored, or short of more intellectually rigorous material, journalists will pick on any story which appears to reinforce their own prejudices. In this case, that phone boxes and cybertoilets are the vanguard of a homicidal robot army. For the record, we concede that Spanish TV has given plenty of coverage to this particular episode. We can only conclude that the "if it bleeds, it leads" principle was applied in this case, in the absence of more pressing material. ®
Lester Haines, 08 Dec 2003

Man arrested in Cambs Police iPod email phone jam scam

A 21-year-old man from St Neots has been arrested after the main switchboard at Cambridgeshire police HQ was jammed by thousands of calls on Friday. Concerned callers rang the Huntingdon-based HQ after receiving an email informing them that £399.99 would be taken out of their account to pay for an iPod music player they'd supposedly ordered. The email also advised recipients that they should call the number listed in the email if they had any queries. The snag was that the number did not belong to some ecommerce outfit, but to Cambridge Police HQ. Its phone lines were jammed. At the height of the deluge the HQ received more than 500 calls an hour as callers phoned to find out why they were being billed for something they hadn't ordered. On Friday, deputy chief constable Alan Given said: "This appears to be a deliberate attempt to affect the service provided by the force. "If you have received such an e-mail we would advise you to ignore it and not ring the number of customer services that is listed. "However, you should monitor your bank statement and if a similar amount is taken from it, contact your local force as soon as possible." Police today confirmed that the number of calls has tailed off considerably over the weekend. A 21-year-old man from St Neots has been arrested and released on police bail in connection with the incident. He is due to report back to police in March. ® Related Products Get yourself an iPod, from The Reg wireless store
Tim Richardson, 08 Dec 2003

A smaller CeBIT?

It won't be as dramatic as with Comdex in Las Vegas, where attendance this year was below even lowered expectations, but Europe's biggest ICT trade show CeBIT in Hanover is scaling down noticeably too. According to German press reports, because of the economic downturn in Europe, many companies including Borland, HP, Oki and Toshiba will not be on the show floor next year, even though CeBIT still ranks as the world’s number one event for the ICT sector. Fortunately, not all companies stay away. Alcatel, Microsoft, Panasonic, Samsung and Sanyo will be present at the Hanover show, which starts March 18. Microsoft will take over HP’s stand in Hall 1, while Korean company Samsung will double its floor capacity. Panasonic too will use CeBIT to showcase its growing digital portfolio. Deutsche Messe AG also announced the leading keynoters for its ICT World Forum, which explores the critical strategic issues facing the industry in the year ahead. Among them are Nokia's Pekka Ala-Pietilä, Silicon Graphics CEO Robert Bishop, France Telecom's Thierry Breton, Peoplesoft's Craig Conway and Patricia Russo from Lucent Technologies. ®
Jan Libbenga, 08 Dec 2003

‘Dial 9’ scam snares Wilts Police

BT and premium rate phone watchdog ICSTIS have once again reassured punters that an alleged phone scam that could cost them £20 a minute is a hoax. The intervention of BT and ICSTIS follows a statement by Wiltshire Constabulary published on its Web site on Friday warning people to be on their guard against the alleged scam. The statement warned punters not to press the number 9 on their phone if they receive a call telling them they've won an "all expenses paid trip to..." wherever. If they do, warned police, they could be liable for a whopping bill of £260. A spokesman for Wiltshire police told The Register that a number of people had received the "phone call" but was unable to say whether anyone had been charged for the call. ICSTIS is known to be keen on speaking to Wiltshire police in a bid to clear up this misleading hoax. Wiltshire Police have now removed the warning from its Web site. A spokesman for BT, told The Register: "The technology doesn't exist on a BT line to make a reverse charge call by pressing a single button." And here's what ICSTIS has to say on the matter. £20 Per Minute Telephone 'Scam' - An Urban Myth Over the last few days ICSTIS has received hundreds of enquiries about the above 'scam', which is being widely publicised by e-mail. To help us put an end to the current spate of enquiries, please pass this information on to all contacts. The apparent 'deception' takes place when people receive a recorded message informing them that they have won an all-expenses paid holiday and are asked to press 9 to hear further details. It is then claimed that callers are connected to a £20.00 per minute premium rate line that will still charge them for a minimum of five minutes even if they disconnect immediately. It is also claimed that, if callers stay connected, the entire message lasts for approximately 11 minutes, costing £220.00. Please note this is not true. A £20.00 per minute premium rate tariff does not exist – the highest premium rate tariff available is £1.50 per minute. Despite the hundreds of enquiries received by ICSTIS about this ‘scam’ (and most have heard about it second or third-hand), not one person who claims that it has actually happened to them has been able to produce a phone bill to support their story. ICSTIS urges any individual or organisation that receives an e-mail about this scam to delete it immediately. Please do not forward it on to others. ® Related Story Phone scam warning exposed as hoax
Tim Richardson, 08 Dec 2003

Micron ships 1Gb DDR 2 chips

Micron has begun shipping 1Gb DDR 2 chips, and has designed DIMMs to take the parts, along with its 256Mb and 512Mb DDR 2 chips, the company will say today. The announcement represents little more than willy-waving on Micron's... er... part. Demand for DDR 2 isn't expected to kick in until next quarter when Intel ships its first chipsets that support the technology. By then, Hynix will be shipping 1Gb DDR 2 parts. Other companies' 512Mb DDR 2 lines will be well ramped too. They will all offer registered, unbuffered DIMMs, based on their DDR 2 chips and aimed at workstations and servers. Micron began sampling its 1Gb DDR 2 chip last October. ® Related Story Micron samples 1Gb DDR 2 Hynix to ship 'first' 1Gb DDR II chip during Q1 2004
Tony Smith, 08 Dec 2003

Kazaa shuts down Kazaa Lite

This weekend users of Kazaa Lite K++ learned that almost every download site of the popular peer-to-peer file-sharing application had disappeared, including the links on its own home page. Sharman Networks, the company behind the original Kazaa, approached the ISP of every website that hosted the program and ordered its removal on grounds of copyright infringement. Kazaa Lite K++ is one of many light versions of the popular file-sharing program, but it wasn't developed by Sharman Networks. K++ was set up to offer a version free of the growing amount of spy and adware within the original Kazaa Media Desktop Program. In exchange for installing Kazaa Media Desktop without charge, the GAIN Network and Cydoor spyware will show you online ads. Remove these add-ins and Kazaa simply won’t work. Kazaa does offer an ad-free Plus version for $29.95, but naturally, most Kazaa users preferred the free versions widely available on the Web. Although there are still plenty of sites where Kazaa Lite can be downloaded, the program may no longer function properly, according to Slyck.com. Kazaa Lite is based on a Kazaa version prior to 2.5. Therefore a current supernode (a computer that contains a list of some of the files made available by other Kazaa users) in the Kazaa Network will not accept its shares. "The speed of the application will pummel to the ground and (drive Kazaa Lite) out of existence," a user notes. As expected, most Kazaa Lite fans are gnashing their teeth. Here is an attack from Slyck.com: "This latest act from Sharman punctuates a long history of hypocrisy that involves the protection of their own intellectual property rights, yet blatantly ignoring the copyrights of others." Many Kazaa Lite users will probably divert to other Kazaa clones, such as GIFT, which connects to the Fasttrack, Openfasttrack, Opennapster (old Napster) and Gnutella networks. Still alive and kicking is also the Diet K add-in, which removes all spyware from the original KaZaA Desktop without crippling it. ®
Jan Libbenga, 08 Dec 2003
Broken CD with wrench

C&W flogs US ops by way of Chapter 11

Troubled UK telecoms firm Cable & Wireless has announced its imminent exit from the US market with the sale of its assets to Gores Technology Group. The move out of the US market was first announced in June, but it is only now that the company has managed to find a buyer for its assets. The US business lost $255 million last year. The company's US operations will be sold to Gores Technology Group for $125 million. The sale is being conducted under Chapter 11 Section 363 process bankruptcy laws. This takes place as a condition of sale, requested by Gores Technologies. Cable & Wireless said that it would make a Chapter 11 filing on Monday. Two subsidiaries are covered by the sale, Cable & Wireless USA and Cable & Wireless Internet Services, which together are called Cable & Wireless America. Cable & Wireless has announced that the remaining cost of its exit from the American market is not expected to exceed STG300 million. The price being paid by Gore Technologies comprises of USD50 million in cash and USD75 million in a loan note from the company, both of which will be delivered on completion of a sale of the US businesses. Cable & Wireless confirmed that the deal is subject to closing adjustments based on business performance targets that have been set for working capital, revenue and certain overhead expenses. Although the purchase price could be reduced if Cable & Wireless America does not achieve these targets, under the terms of the sale agreement, it cannot be reduced to less than USD50 million. The company said that the proceeds of the sale would be used to pay off outstanding liabilities in the US. "As I said last June, we were looking for ways to achieve a least cost exit, whilst taking account of our customers' interests. I am therefore pleased we have found a solution that will allow the US Businesses to have a positive future under new ownership," said Francesco Caio, chief executive of Cable & Wireless plc. The announcement is the latest in a series of moves aimed at restructuring the company. Cable & Wireless announced that in June that it would be shedding 1,500 jobs. The company's share price was up on Monday morning on the London Stock Exchange, trading at £1.375, up 6.38 per cent from Friday's closing price. Analysts had predicted a far higher cost of exit from the US. ®
ElectricNews.net, 08 Dec 2003

Internet showdown side-stepped in Geneva

The international showdown over who should run the Internet has been side-stepped at the very last minute following 12 hours of intensive talks in Geneva. More than 200 negotiators met at an extraordinary meeting on the weekend before the World Summit on the Information Society in order to thrash things about and hopefully prevent the entire meeting from being disrupted by three controversial issues. Most significant among these issues was over who should run the Internet. Western countries want ICANN to continue to head it, whereas the rest of the world wants the ITU to take over to lend a more international flavour. The two sides were stuck in a deadlock (despite extra days of meetings) which threatened to put the entire meeting - the first of its kind concerning the Internet - at risk. And so, in true diplomatic form, all sides agreed to put the issue on the back burner. Discussion papers dated 5 December (the first day of the special weekend meeting) suggested that a “Preparatory Committee” be set up that will hold its first meeting in the first half of 2004 and review “those issues of the Information Society which should form the focus of the Tunis phase of the WSIS” - to be held in 2005. And that is what everyone agreed to - since agreement was going to be impossible, farm the issue out to a committee to report back in a year’s time when hopefully the hot potato will have cooled down. And it’s a good job they did manage to broker this compromise. Both sides had dug their heels in and the argument threatened to damage or even break up the meeting. And if that had happened, a huge raft of agreed-to, widespread and positive agreements on how to improve and encourage the information age would have been lost. The equally contentious issue of free speech and the role of the media on the Internet was also broached. China didn’t like the Western wording about press freedom. And so the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights was used as the reference point instead. The exact paragraph may read: “Nothing in this declaration shall be construed as impairing, contradicting, restricting or derogating the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, any other international instrument or national laws adopted in furtherance of these instruments.” We say “may” because we only have the papers provided to the meeting on Saturday. Aside from announcing a compromise had been met, the exact wording has yet to be released and the Geneva press office is helpfully not answering its phones, but with any luck it should be posted on the official site soon. So is everything agreed? No. There still remains the thorny issue of whether richer Western nations should provide aid to poorer nations to bring them into the information area and if so, how much money exactly and how that is to be managed. That should give the politicians plenty to grandstand about while the vast majority of the work has already been argued over and agreed to by civil servants. In oddly connected news, ICANN has just revamped its website and given it a far more accessible and friendly feel. Discussion topics are actually flagged rather than carefully hidden; relevant information is easier to get hold of; and the ponderous and knowingly dense prose about ICANN and its roles has been turned into real English. It seems that new head Paul Twomey knows what is needed to save ICANN and he’s working fast on it. With the WSIS decision to move the Internet governance issue back a year, the starting pistol has been fired. He now has 12 months to make ICANN acceptable to the rest of the world. It won’t be easy. ® Related link WSIS official site Related story Will December make or break the Internet?
Kieren McCarthy, 08 Dec 2003

UK NHS trials Sun Linux, threatens 800k user defection from MS

The UK National Health Service is to run a trial of Sun's Java Desktop System, with the prospect of rolling it out across 800,000 desktops. The trial was pointedly announced in a statement by Richard Granger, NHS director general of IT, who said that successful implementation of the system would save "many millions of pounds." In addition to being in the throes of a massive and ambitious IT modernisation plan, the NHS is currently locked in not-very-cordial negotiations with Microsoft UK over desktop licensing costs, and Granger has previously made his displeasure over Microsoft's apparent lack of flexibility clear. Microsoft has made determined moves to block defections to open source in Europe, in for example Munich and Newham, but the prospect of a million NHS users walking out the door should certainly be enough to win the company's attention. And if Sun won a major foothold in UK public service at the client end, this would by no means be the end of it. Not having Microsoft on the desktop would substantially reduce the chances of the company leveraging its way further into the server side, and would require that any Microsoft systems used would interoperate effectively with open source desktops. So it could both roadblock the leveraging process and enable the wider take-up of open source in European governments. Also today, it was announced that BT has won service provider contracts for the NHS worth in excess of £1.5 billion over ten years. These will be delivered via Syntegra, its systems integration subsidiary. Syntegra is a major Sun partner. Granger may of course only be threatening defection in order to get Microsoft to shift on discounts. Under the circumstances, he surely ought to be able get some big ones. Is Ballmer on the plane yet? ®
John Lettice, 08 Dec 2003

Microsoft aiming IBM-scale patent program at Linux?

While attention has been focused on The SCO Group's IP suit against free software, Microsoft itself has prepared the ground for a full scale patent licensing program in which smaller vendors will be the most vulnerable. In June, Microsoft hired Marshall Phelps from IBM, the executive who began IBM's patent-based revenue program in 1985. Seeing growth from its traditional businesses taper away IBM turned to patents (and financial instruments such as mainframe leasing) as a way of increasing revenues. Microsoft has been granted 3,000 patents and applied for over 5,000 more. "From 1935 to 1984, IBM did not ever enforce a patent for license revenue," says Eben Moglen, pro bono counsel for the Free Software Foundation. "They simply said acknowledge it." Moglen, who knew Phelps while he was at IBM, said that Phelps was the leader in developing a strategy to exploit IBM's huge arsenal of patents. "You don't just get patents for the sake of getting patents," Phelps himself told a roundtable in May, Intellectual Property Today reported. In fact, Phelps is credited with making technology companies aware of how valuable a patent portfolio could be, if astutely monetized. Author and CEO Kevin Rivette said Phelps' work had "shocked the world" at the time. Last week, for the first time, Microsoft crossed a historic line by monetizing its FAT and Cleartype patents. While the FAT file system is maybe a legacy technology in personal computers, it's ubiquitous in the removable media used in digital cameras. Knowledge of FAT is essential for non-Microsoft computers to be able to exchange data with Windows machines. While the fee represents a peppercorn rent for large consumer device manufacturers (it caps at $250,000) it's a toll nevertheless. The industry has come to regard FAT as a ubiquitous standard. Flash money "Microsoft is deciding that there's money to be made and control to be had by exercising patents, so first they said they'd spin it as if it was a good thing," says Sun Microsystems' chief technology evangelist Simon Phipps. "It's a pre-emptive strike that makes Microsoft look like victims rather than perpetrators." And the low ceiling offers hardware manufacturers a simple economic choice, says Moglen. "Compact Flash manufacturers can add a quarter to the cost of the card. A 256MB memory for sells for $119, so there's 25c in there. Similarly the digital device manufacturers would rather license this than redesign the firmware - it's cheaper than redesigning their file systems, which would disrupt auxiliary programs." "They're not posturing and appearing aggressive, " Phipps told us, "but the potential for harm is on a par with the SCO suit. So why now? Revenue ramp "When MSFT begins a revenue based licensing scheme, it intrinsically thinks that its antitrust troubles are over," thinks Moglen. Microsoft has reached a point, he says, where the company can no longer enjoy the same annual revenue growth that it did in the 1990s. Like IBM in the eighties, it's now looking for 'creative ' ways to keep the shareholders happy. There's some justification for Microsoft's concerns. The boom in desktop revenue that followed the adoption of Windows 3.0 (which more than doubled Microsoft's desktop license income from $28 for DOS alone to around $70 a seat) and Windows 95 (which saw competitors such as IBM itself eliminated and Apple shrink to a third of the size it once was) resulted in impressive annual leaps on the balance sheet. Server revenues haven't proved to be as lucrative as once promised, but they're there, and these revenues weren't there ten years ago. However developing countries don't show the same appetite for Microsoft software as Redmond had expected. Tomorrow's economic powerhouses India and China are very keen on Linux, and Microsoft has been forced to slash prices in markets such as Thailand to compete with very popular low-cost government-sponsored programs which bring Linux computers to the masses. "When Microsoft had a kind of growth curve that suggested it had not yet reached maturity, patent revenue was more trouble than it was worth," says Moglen. Microsoft's efforts to transplant the horizontal PC business model into other businesses - cable TV, cellphones, games consoles, and handhelds - have so far been less than successful, as the balance sheet shows. Apart from the Office and Windows businesses, every other part of Microsoft loses money. "Microsoft executives are aware they have crossed a maturity threshold - they can't grow as quickly as they have before; and even blockbluster products won't change this dramatically. So patent revenue is a significant assistant to maintaining something like traditional forms of growth," Moglen points out. Who hurts? Sun's Phipps says the company performed due diligence before releasing its Linux Desktop, Java Desktop System, to ensure it knew who had the rights to every piece of code in the distribution. Not without a small hint of a sales pitch - but justifiable, as we'll see - Phipps argues, "Because of the evil of software patents there are people out there who would probably want your money. You have to accept it personally, or get a vendor to accept it on your behalf. When you buy a Windows or a Solaris you're assuming that they will. Now people are taking responsibility for development in house, they should be aware of the risks," he says. "Writing software isn’t about doing cool stuff, it's about watching your back." Moglen is even more blunt. "US firms with substantial patent portfolios, an HP or an IBM, can swing back," he says. They have both deep pockets, and deep retaliatory patent portfolios. "But the free world will respond with great anxiety to measures that appear to be against free software." "Garage inventors don't have liability." He doesn't characterize it as a "doomsday machine" against the free software movement just yet, but he says some should be more concerned than others. "There are companies, such as Novell/SuSE and Red Hat who will be concerned about patent defense," he told us. "There will be places where concern will be at a local maximum." Who's next? Microsoft's actions so far don't constitute a full frontal attack on free software. It's often been rumored that Microsoft has a number of patents - the number varies - on the Linux kernel itself. But it has chosen not to pursue such an inflammatory tactic, just yet, and may not even need to at all in order to succeed. By eliminating independent distributors such as Novell and Red Hat, it forces it into a straight fight with large competitors such as IBM and HP, who happen to be Windows licensees, dependent on PC revenue, and bargaining from a position of weakness. And therefore unlikely to pick a fight. Sun, of course, isn't a licensee, but only two manufacturers have the global reach to make a decisive difference: Nokia and Sony, and of those two, only Nokia isn't a Windows licensee. (Red Hat declined to comment for this article). So there's no mistaking a rhetorical campaign from Redmond to "delegitimize" free software, and a parallel campaign to "legitimize" use of Microsoft IP under an approved license, under certain conditions. Microsoft would far rather you run untamed Linux code on its partitioned Windows servers hosting UNIX™ services. At some point in the future, we suspect, having convinced the world that Linux is a nasty but necessary virus, it will generously offer to host it all on giant Windows clusters. (Earlier this year, Microsoft bought Connectix's VM software to do just that job). So the shooting hasn't started, and it might not start at all, but it's worth heeding the words of Kurt Vonnegut's Kilgore Trout (1946-1,001,986), who warned us - "In this era of big brains, anything that can be done will be done - so hunker down." ® Related Story MS tightens IP grip on Cleartype and FAT- calls it liberalisation
Andrew Orlowski, 08 Dec 2003

Inland Revenue poised to ditch EDS

EDS stands to lose a 10-year deal worth £4bn-£5bn to manage the Inland Revenue’s computer systems in punishment for the fiasco surrounding the introduction of tax credits last year. Hundreds of thousands of people went without payments, resulting in short-term hardship for many families on low incomes. So far so bad. Then the public purse took a hammering with the Inland Revenue overpaying tax credits to the tune of £2bn. In a report last month, The Public Accounts Committee placed most of the blame for the cock-ups on EDS software. The board of the Inland Revenue has now recommended that the contract to manage the country’s tax and national insurance IT systems should be awarded instead to Cap Gemini supported by Fujitsu, the FT reports. In response, EDS has taken advertising space in London’s Evening Standard and The House ( a magazine for MPs) in an attempt to lobby the Treasury to ignore the Inland Revenue recommendation. This ad is “unprecedented for a civil contract”, according to the FT. In its ad, EDS warns against taking "unnecessary risks", claiming it has "the experience, knowledge and understanding of working with government on large-scale national programmes". It estimates that the transfer of the contract to Cap Gemini will cost £60m. Some 2,500 Inland Revenue staff based in Telford will transfer to Cap Gemini if it wins the day. EDS’s junior partner in the Inland Revenue contract is Accenture. ®
Drew Cullen, 08 Dec 2003

NatWest warns of dodgy email

NatWest has warned people to ignore an email calling for punters to disclose private information about their bank accounts. The email - the latest in a series supposedly from UK banks seeking to con people into disclosing personal information - has apparently been sent randomly to both customers and non customers of NatWest. It says: Dear Valued Customer, - Our new security system will help you to avoid frequently fraud transactions and to keep your investments in safety. - Due to technical update we recommend you to reactivate your account. Click on the link below to login and begin using your updated NatWest account. When punters click on the link it takes them to a site that asks them to input sensitive banking details. Confirming that it was yet another fraud, a spokeswoman for Natwest told The Register: "NatWest would never ask customers to provide us with this type of information by email and would urge our customers to delete emails asking for this information without responding. "We have taken immediate steps to combat the fraud and increase security while maximising our customers' access to our Internet services. "In the meantime any customer who believes they have been subjected to this fraud should contact customer services immediately on 0845 600 8212," she said. ® Related Stories Halifax suspends e-banking site after phishing attack Email scammers target Halifax, Nationwide, Citibank NatWest customers targeted in 'phishing' scam
Tim Richardson, 08 Dec 2003

UK ‘not ready’ for e-voting

Proponents of e-voting were dealt a blow today after the Electoral Commission concluded that the UK is just "not ready" to vote electronically. The Commission was responding to a Government announcement in September which called for further trials of postal and e-voting to take place at next year's European Parliament elections. While the Commission acknowledges that there is "some enthusiasm" to trial e-voting at next year's elections, it concludes that there are still big concerns about the complexity, lack of time available and security of Internet and phone voting. Said the Commission in its report, Electoral pilots at the June 2004 elections: "With regard to electronic voting at the regional level in 2004 the Commission is concerned that insufficient time remains for all necessary contractual, security and software development to take place for the elections in June. "It has therefore decided not to recommend an electronic pilot for next June." Instead, the Commission recommends that voters in the North East and East Midlands should be given the chance to vote only by post at the European Parliament and local elections next year as part of voting reforms. ® Related Story UK to trial e-voting - again
Tim Richardson, 08 Dec 2003

Could Segways replace soldiers as hired killers?

Aided by backing from the U.S. Department of Defense, the Segway Human Transporter may well be the first scooter of mass destruction. The enchanted minds at DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) - an arm of the DoD - have funded the Segway Robotic Mobility Platform (SRMP), which is a modified version of the fabled scooter designed for more military pursuits. At present, researchers scattered throughout U.S. universities are dabbling with the SRMP to see what kinds of tasks a robotic version of the Segway can handle. Armed with various sensors, hardware add-ons, and software packages of their own design, the groups are hoping to prove the Segway could be used to perform scouting operations, recover wounded troops or even one-day do battle. The idea may not be as far-fetched as it seems. Last month, a renegade Segway owner in San Francisco attacked and wounded a three-year-old girl. The DARPA plan, however, calls for far more precise strikes in rugged terrain and without much human intervention. The SRPM program is, in some ways, similar to other work being done in the area of robotic vehicles. DARPA has set up an event called the Grand Challenge to be held next year in which robot cars will race across the Mojave Desert. The idea is to have vehicles see and steer on their own using a complex set of sensors and software. Robot systems are interesting enough in their own right, but in both cases DARPA is heeding to a command sent down by Congress for the U.S. to automate its military force. A Congressional mandate calls for one-third of ground combat vehicles to operate unmanned by 2015. Where the Grand Challenge looks to spur a robot cavalry, the SRMP program is geared more toward creating robot troops. A number of universities, NASA and the Navy are all helping design SRMP vehicles. The modified Segway allows these groups to develop their own software and sensors for the scooter and then plunk a laptop down in the machine to act as its brain. The mission at hand is a tough one, as can be seen in this Carnegie Mellon video. The Segway goes to kick a rubber ball only to find itself making love to the pavement a short while later. Some of the more impressive test runs can be seen in these videos from Georgia Tech and Stanford University. The Stanford team even has their Segbot face off against an all too willing police officer. Real campus crime must be at an all-time low. DARPA's interest in the scooter could not come at a better time for Segway LLC. During a mandatory recall earlier this year, it was revealed that a paltry 6,000 Segways have been sold. Maybe the ideal role for the scooter is not as a clumsy means of urban transport but instead as a hired killer that can dice through enemy lines at 12.5 m.p.h. A lucrative military contract is sure to do more for Segway's bottom line than a bunch of bloated hobbyists. The leaning of this country toward robotic fighters conjures up some mixed feelings. It clearly makes sense to keep actual human beings out of the fray where possible and, on some levels, the idea of robot wars is far more appealing than the destructive exercises we engage in today. Still, one could well assume that the U.S. may end up a few years ahead of rivals in the robot warfare race. (Yes, we see that is the point - no letters, please.) And it would appear all too easy to send a fleet of robot killers into a country of ill-repute. While some of the evildoers would meet their maker, it doesn't seem hard to believe that innocents would get caught up in the mix as well. How is a child to avoid robot soldiers, robot tanks and hopping land mines? If the robots come for us, we do hope there is a human controlling the beast on the other end. Few things could be more demeaning than to be killed by an over-zealous, autonomous Segway. For more information on the Segway Soldier head on over here. ®
Ashlee Vance, 08 Dec 2003

Acer TravelMate 661LMi laptop

Reg ReviewReg Review It's dangerous when reviewing hardware to describe any particular attribute as 'too much', 'too big' or 'too high'. Inevitably, at least one reader will not unreasonably describe said excess as nonetheless perfect for the applications they like to run, or the their own preferred mode of operation. So we're loath to say the resolution of the Acer TravelMate 661LMi notebook's 15in screen is too high. But there comes a point where increasing trying to cram more into a display without increasing the physical size of the screen becomes a handicap as icons and text shrink to unreadability, and we think the 661LMi's 1400 x 1050 native resolution is that point. We say 'native resolution' because you can knock back this impressive display's pixel count to a more readable 1280 x 1024, say, or any of the others supported by the machine's Intel Extreme 2 graphics engine integrated into the notebook's chipset. But with only the one native resolution, you end up with a smeared, out-of-focus image that might do in a fast-moving game but not a serious productivity app. And the 661LMi isn't a gamer's machine. Based on Intel's Centrino platform, the 661LMi is a business-oriented mobile PC, and a very respectable one at that. We weren't keen on its display, or its supposedly ergonomic curved keyboard, but we could few faults with its extensive feature set, performance and certainly not its price. The Acer is based on a 1.4GHz Pentium M backed with a decent 512MB of 266MHz DDR SDRAM and a 40GB hard drive. A Centrino machine, it uses Intel's 855GM chipset, which, as we said, provides the graphics acceleration and grabs 64MB of the main memory bank as its video buffer. The 661LMi ships with an 802.11b Wi-Fi adaptor accessed through a hatch on the underside. Wireless Like other Centrino machines we've looked at, the 661LMi had us connected to the office WLAN in moments. It's a battery eater, of course, but Acer has engineered in a button on the front of the machine which turns the Wi-Fi radio on and off, the better to conserve power when you're out of range of a hotspot. Oddly, it also has a similar switch for a Bluetooth radio, even though Acer doesn't offer an integrated Bluetooth option. Leaving out Bluetooth is disappointing in a laptop so otherwise rich in features. The de rigueur 10/100Mbps Ethernet and 56Kbps modem ports are joined on the rear of the machine by serial, parallel, s-video and DVI connectors. On the right-hand side sits the power point and the removable DVD-RW and CD-RW combo optical drive. Over on the other side of the machine you'll find four USB 2.0 ports, a 1394 connector, and 3.5mm headphone and microphone sockets. On front of the 66LMi, alongside the above-mentioned, radio power buttons, sit the machine's other wireless comms port: the IrDA lens. Next to it sits a four-in-one memory card reader, capable of using Memory Stick, Smart Media and SD/MMC cards. Moving back to the left-hand side of the machine, its card support continues with a PC Card slot and what appears to be a Smart Card reader, ideal for corporates who have implemented a Smart Card-based authorisation scheme and ready for better e-commerce security that physically authenticates credit card transactions. Dangerous curves Opening the notebook up reveals the aforementioned colossal display and the keyboard. We know all the arguments for the use of ergonomic keyboards: essentially, they reduce the physical strain on your hands and fingers while typing. The usual way of achieving this is by placing the keys reached by one hand at a slight angle to those typed by the other, the idea being that they're better positioned to match the angle at which your hands naturally sit. That may be the case, but having gotten well-used to a linear keyboard layout, we found the Acer's curved keyboard caused us to make frequent mis-hits, usually involving turning on Caps Lock when we didn't need it turned on. The keys themselves had a slightly squidgy feel, but do at least seem larger than many notebook keyboards we've used. For non-typists, that may compensate for the unusual curvature, but not, we suspect, for typists. Beneath the keyboard is the usual touchpad and mouse buttons. Acer adds a nice touch between the latter: a four-way rocker to scroll pages left and right as well as up and down. That's the idea, anyway - and an improvement over, say, the up/down scroll wheel built into the touchpad on the Samsung X10, for example. Of course, how much left and right scrolling you'll be doing on a 1400-pixel display remains to be seen. Mounted underneath the wrist-rest area and facing forward are the 661LMi's two speakers. This may be a one-off, but we noticed a distinct bias toward the right-hand speaker when sitting in the usual 'notebook user' position. We got down on the floor so our ears faced the two grilles and the bias had gone, suggesting not a fault with the audio system per se, but the acoustic effect of the notebook's innards. Either the battery or the hard drive has more of a dampening effect than the other. The poor balance can be remedied using Windows' sound control panels, but it's not an ideal solution, lowering the volume from right speaker down to match what's you hear as coming from the left. A better solution is a pair of earphones. Performance The 661LMi scores as well as can be expected on the usually array of Benchmark suites -SysMark 02, MobileMark 02, etc. The latter yields a battery life of a smidge over four hours - not industry leading, but still very respectable. Low 3DMark numbers show this is no hard core games machine. For a more applications-oriented set of figures, we ran a few our own suite of tests. Apple's iTunes was set to work encoding a ten-minute AIFF file (100.9MB) from the hard drive to a 128Kbps MP3. It took 1m 5.4s on mains power. Using the battery and Centrino's notebook power profile it took 1m 6.9s; switch it to the maximum battery life profile and the time fell to 2m 36.7s. With minimal power management, the 661LMi ripped the AIFF in 1m 5.3s. Finding and replacing 32,212 carriage returns in a 273,234-word Word 2003 document took 4m 42.2s on its first run. Verdict The list of 'toos' we mentioned at the start contains one exception: 'too expensive'. That's not a charge that can be levelled at the 661LMi. At around £1199 including sales tax, it packs in a lot of features for a pretty good price. We'd personally question the value of a DVD-RW drive for a mobile professional, and might perhaps opt for the cheaper TravelMate 661LCi, which makes do with a DVD-ROM/CD-RW unit and costs £100 less. We'd certainly accept a 'lesser' optical drive if it mean we got integrated Bluetooth, which is arguably more important to mobile users than DVD-R compatibility. Bluetooth allows them to use a suitably-equipped mobile phone as a GPRS modem for efficient (if not Wi-Fi fast) Net access. Whatever optical drive you get, it's removable, so you can either reduce the notebook's weight a little - it's 2.9kg (6.4lbs) as standard - or to make room for a second battery. The 66LMi felt sturdy and solid, and despite the use of Centrino technologies, it's no 'thin and light' model. Think of it more as a desktop alternative than a road warrior's machine. Don't think any the less of it for that, though. We had our issues with the keyboard and screen-size, but at the price Acer is asking for it, we can't complain too loudly. And if our still-going-strong AcerNote Light 380 is anything to go by, it will have been built for the longer term. ® Acer TravelMate 661LMi Rating 80% Pros — Nice price — Broad feature set — Solidly-built Cons — Curved, ergonomic keyboard — Screen resolution too high — No Bluetooth Price £1199 inc. sales tax More info The Acer UK web site Related Reviews Rock Pegasus CTS notebook Elonex eXentia Media Center PC Samsung X10 'thin and light' notebook Visit The Reg's Review Channel for more hardware coverage
Tony Smith, 08 Dec 2003

Microsoft CRM goes global

Microsoft Business Solutions today released to manufacturing final code for its latest customer relationship management (CRM) software. Version 1.2 of Microsoft CRM offers sales, marketing and customer service modules and is commercially available in 47 geographies from January 2004. The previous release, Microsoft CRM 1.0, was available only in North America. Version 1.2 marks Microsoft's first global foray into a CRM sector which many analysts say is poised for big growth, especially in the SME sector. Microsoft says its CRM product is its first business application built using Microsoft .NET technologies. The software is designed specifically for mid-market companies with 25 to 1,000 employees, or for departmental use. Unsurprisingly, the product supports the full gamut of Microsoft's backend offerings, including Windows Server System 2003, Exchange Server 2003, Microsoft Office 2003 and Microsoft Small Business Server. The software will ship in eight language versions in addition to US English, beginning with International English, French, German, Italian and Spanish, to be closely followed by Brazilian Portuguese, Danish and Dutch. ®
Robert Jaques, 08 Dec 2003

HP would be better off without Compaq drain – Analyst

One of the premier hardware watchers around has challenged the rationale behind a merged HP/Compaq, saying the old HP may have provided better shareholder value than the new behemoth. While HP has done a fair job of cutting costs and largely putting the distractions of the Compaq acquisition behind it, raw financial data suggests the company is diluting massive printing profits with large losses in the PC and enterprise hardware businesses, according to a report issued today by Toni Sacconaghi, analyst at Sanford Bernstein. The analyst states that the old HP would have posted much more impressive earnings per share figures than the new company and likely would have kicked the share price higher than current levels. He has challenged HP to answer some tough questions about the company's structure at its financial analyst conference to be held Tuesday. "Our analysis reveals that HPQ's EPS in 2003 would very likely have been notably higher today had it not merged with Compaq; moreover, HPQ's Imaging profitability has surged since the merger while PCs' and Enterprises' have collectively weakened," Sacconaghi writes. "We estimate that a standalone HP would have generated $1.59 in EPS in FY 03 from Printing and Services alone (vs. HPQ's total actual earnings of $1.16), suggesting that PCs and Enterprise could have lost a staggering $0.40 a share (or about $1 billion pre-tax) and HP would still have delivered better EPS as a standalone company." This is not an especially helpful analysis if you're in the executive ranks of the new HP. An unheralded "artist and musician" named Walter Hewlett predicted the lucrative printing and imaging business may be hurt by taking on Compaq's baggage. And now more than a year-and-a-half since the deal closed, these warnings appear to be coming to fruition. Leave it to the always observant Sacconaghi to pour acid rain over HP's victory parade. As we discussed last week, HP's fourth quarter was in many ways a bright spot for the company. All of its businesses reached profitability in the same quarter for the first time since the merger. This set a new baseline with which to measure HP, as much of the doom and gloom predicted by pundits did not occur. Yes, HP lost some market share, angered some employees and irked some users, but, all in all, it pulled off the largest tech merger in history with style. The question Sacconaghi raises, however, is whether any of this matters. HP may be profitable across the board but at what cost. "Despite having posted a strong FY Q4 (strongly above consensus revenue growth; solid EPS, reaffirmation of guidance), HPQ's stock has failed to rally, which we believe is largely because investors remain unconvinced of the company's future ability to deliver materially improved profitability in Enterprise Computing and PCs," the analyst writes. Not surprisingly, it's largely many of the pre-acquisition worries that have Sacconaghi concerned about HP's future potential for growth. The company has yet to prove it can compete with Dell as a low-cost PC, server and storage supplier or with IBM as a "solutions" seller. "The relative disappointment in ESG (Enterprise Systems Group) and PCs (again, the key tenets of the merger) is underscored by the fact that versus the revenue and operating profit targets HPQ provided last December at its analyst meeting, HPQ has exceeded its Imaging targets, but fallen short of its revenue targets in all other areas, and was also below its operating profit range for ESG and Services (and at the very low end of its range for PCs)," the analyst writes. "The bottom line is because of the lack of improvement in PCs and Enterprise (both of which HP doubled down on as a result of the merger), and continued strength and improvement in Printing (which shrunk as a percentage of the total revenues due to the merger), HPQ would almost assuredly have stronger EPS (and probably a higher stock price) today if it were still a standalone company." Ouch. On all sides of its hardware business, HP is under pressure to keep innovation high while maintaining profitability - a challenge it's not clear the company can meet. For example, rivals Sun Microsystems and IBM have heated up their attacks against HP's user base, sensing some weakness. HP recently pushed back the delivery dates for key features of Tru64 meant to be melded into HP-UX. In addition, HP has refused to ship the EV79 Alpha processor as promised, deciding instead to give a speed bump to the current EV7 chip. One may guess that these moves come as a result of the massive headcount and cost reductions in HP's enterprise business. If delays and end-of-lifes are what it takes to keep the ESG in the black, how long will users stick around? All of these issues aside, HP would likely argue that the Compaq acquisition was based on long-term value and not short-term shareholder gains. HP CEO Carly Fiorina is often trumpeting the industry consolidation idea and sees a larger, more formidable HP as tougher competition against IBM down the road. But there must be times when HP wonders what it's doing making servers and PCs when it could be a pure profit printing machine. How long can the company keep squeezing the PC and server groups to keep up before they give in? ®
Ashlee Vance, 08 Dec 2003

Coke floats music download service

Sugared water seller Coca-Cola has decided to toss its brand into the online music selling ring, crowding what is already a bazaar-like marketplace. In January of next year, the myCoke Music site will go live in the U.K. Coke has promised a selection of over 250,000 songs from 8,500 artists at a cost of 99p each. The new service will be run in partnership with music distributor OD2 - Microsoft's European DRM supplier. You've got to admire the tremendous sack of a company that can pull off handing kiddies teeth-rotting drinks with one hand while serving up a DRM infection with the other. The cunning marketeers at Coke, however, are one step behind rival Pepsi, which already announced a deal with Apple to give 100 million iTunes songs. But Apple has yet to roll out a Euro service, and Coke is stepping up to give the UK kiddies what they want. In different shapes and forms, we now have Apple, Microsoft, Dell, HP, Napster, Pepsi, Coke and maybe even Wal-Mart hawking songs online. All of these companies are rushing to enter a business with atom thin margins at best and business sinking losses at worst. In almost every case, the motive is to link to a larger sale be it pricey iPods or placing a brand in the consumer's face for other, profit-making goods. You have to wonder if the music industry is longing for the day when they had the entire online music populace collected in one, illegal place - Napster. A direct link to tens of millions of users would seem to suit the monopolistic music industry far more than divvying up sales across computer makers, retailers and soft drink makers. At the same time, the record labels must be overjoyed at the fact that so many companies are willing to associate their precious brands with DRM technology. What says, "Family Values" more than Coke - the trusted hand that keeps your children happy and alert at night. We should probably stop before getting into some serious trouble but let it be said that tough to open CDs had their merits. You can't order them up on demand and actually have to leave the house to get them, but at least you can play them whenever you want. ® Related Stories MP3.com archive is destroyed Lock up the copyright cartel - not Johansen Penn State trustee and RIAA lawyer denies conflict of interests
Ashlee Vance, 08 Dec 2003

Intel toasts Itanium's success by giving servers away

Intel has declared 2003 "The Year of Itanium" and then backed up this bold statement with a server give-away program. It's rare that a vendor kicks off a free trial program for one of its most successful, rapidly selling products, but that's exactly what Intel has done. Aptly dubbed "The Intel Itanium 2 Solution Challenge," the new program allows Global 500 customers who have RISC-based systems to use an Itanium 2 server and related services for up to 90 days for a gratis kit evaluation. "We are bullish on the Itanium 2 processor's performance and price advantage versus proprietary offerings," said Lisa Graff, director of Intel's Itanium Group. "Intel, along with our industry partners, wants CIOs to experience the difference an Itanium 2 architecture-based server can make." (Proprietary clearly means something else at Intel.) You might wonder why Global 500 customers have yet to dabble with the Itanic. After all, this is "The Year of Itanium," and Intel promises that 100,000 chips will be shipped by year end. Honest. Even a server industry novice can tell that Itanic is the pride of Intel's processor fleet. Intel gave Itanium a full 40 days to enjoy its position as processor-of-the-year. For some reason, the company known for aggressive marketing tactics decided a stealth approach was best for its 64-bit processor. Just as the year neared its end, Intel unleashed the secret weapon and backed up the rocketing sales with a giveway program to tempt actual customers to buy the product. It makes perfect sense. Any why not be bold? IDC just put out third quarter numbers on the chip, which showed Itanic is indeed setting records. In Q3, a whopping 4,957 Itanium servers were shipped. That's up from 3,250 in Q2 and 1,963 in Q1. By contrast, 10,746 Opteron servers were shipped in Q3. That's more in one quarter than Intel shipped so far this year, and it's not even the year of Opteron. That's also twice as many Opteron boxes as shipped in Q2. Let's also compare this figures to another relative 64-bit newcomer - Sun Microsystems' UltraSPARC IIIi. This processor took just about as long as Itanic to come to market and has been on sale for but two quarters. Only counting two of Sun's products with the chip, Sun shipped more than 24,000 of its V210 and V240 servers. Over two quarters, that means Sun has out-shipped the entire Itanium ecosystem by about 2.5x and done so with just two servers. And this is a struggling company, just like AMD. If you're a software maker looking for volume sales, "The Year of Itanium" may not be a major celebration for you. A lot of people will argue that Intel is selling large SMPs, which makes processor and system sales different beasts. Following that line of reasoning, take Intel's own number of 100,000 processors for the entire year. Through three quarters, Intel has shipped close to 10,000 servers, according to IDC, which puts the processor per server count at about 10. With more server sales in Q4, that number will fall. We're talking midrange kit - at best. In addition, HP accounts for more than 90 percent of the Itanium market and only this quarter rolled out 8 and 16 way systems. We suspect the vast majority of sales are for one and two processor systems - boxes similar to the V210 and V240. If year 12 of the Itanium project was its finest showing to date, you can only imagine how well lucky 13 will go. ®
Ashlee Vance, 08 Dec 2003