4th > March > 2004 Archive

'We're just like the RIAA,' says SCO

The SCO Group's masterful public relations tacticians have demanded that the company be compared to fellow IP (intellectual property) crusaders at the RIAA. "We believe that there are important similarities between our recent legal activities against end users and those actions that have taken place in the recording industry," said SCO CEO Darl McBride, during a conference call today. "It wasn't until the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) ultimately launched a series of lawsuits against end user copyright violators that the community at large became fully educated regarding the liabilities associated with using copyrighted materials without providing remuneration to the copyright owner. We believe that the legal actions that we have taken and will continue to take will have a similar impact on end users of Unix and Linux." Does this mean SCO will start suing 13-year-old Linux users? Not yet. It does, however, mean that SCO has kicked an already religious IP war to the next level, comparing itself to a dubious organization with dubious practices. SCO professed its love for the RIAA while explaining new lawsuits filed against DaimlerChrysler and AutoZone. The DaimlerChrysler suit primarily revolves around SCO's accusations that the company put bits of Unix Systems V code into Linux. This would be a breach of contract between the two companies, according to McBride. SCO's main beef with AutoZone stems from the car parts seller's use of Linux servers. (Funny enough, SCO's legal attack mechanism appears to be running on Linux.) Away from these lawsuits, Judge Brooke Wells in U.S. District Court in Utah demanded that SCO show more of what it calls infringing code to support an earlier suit against IBM. Big Blue was also ordered to produce memos from top executives outlining IBM's Linux strategy. And even farther away in Australia, an open-source company has filed a complaint with a consumer protection group charging SCO with hurting its business by causing fear around Linux. CyberKnights accuse SCO of being too vague in its assault against Linux. If only someone had thought of that earlier. Have a alook at what the CyberKnights are up to. And so ends one of the busier days in the SCO-Linux affair. Does it get any better than this? ® Related stories SCO takes Linux-loving auto industry to court SCO 'customer' admits to IP license purchase SCO opens online IP store Novell offers SCO last drink at System V saloon
Ashlee Vance, 04 Mar 2004

EC blesses Samsung – Tosh storage union

The European Commission has waved through the merger of the optical disk drive operations of Toshiba and Samsung. It ruled yesterday that the proposed joint venture will not affect customer choice as it does not "significantly alter the competitive landscape which is characterised by a number of competitors both big and small". In all markets, The Samsung-Tosh combine faces strong competitors, including Japanese/ South-Korean Hitachi LG joint venture, Taiwan's Lite-On, Japanese companies Panasonic and TEAC and a number of smaller competitors. Toshiba and Samsung are pooling their optical disk drive businesses to create a better getaway vehicle for them to flee the market, without losing too much face or money. Into the pot goes the development, design and marketing of CD drives and DVD drives, mostly made for PCs. Production is to be outsourced. ®
Drew Cullen, 04 Mar 2004

Gateway waves goodbye to another 2,000

Gateway is to pink-slip 2,000 staffers, in the wake of its takeover of eMachines. This will reduce headcount to c.5,500 within a few months. Roderick Sherwood, CFO at the PC maker, dropped the bombshell yesterday in a presentation at the Morgan Stanley Semiconductor & Systems Conference. We trust the staff were informed first... Gateway announced its intention in January to buy eMachines for $235m in cash and stock. eMachines will give Gateway a budget PC line to flog in the US and, through Dixons Stores Group, in Europe. The enlarged group will be the third biggest PC maker in the US and the seventh biggest in the world. This will mark a return to growth for Gateway, albeit achieved only by acquisition. The company has been rowing backwards on revenues and staff numbers for years, fleeing Europe and Asia to concentrate on its American heartland. But even now, it doesn't appear to have regained the knack of making money: it lost $114m in its last financial quarter. ® Related stories Gateway to buy eMachines Gateway revenue warning scares off investors eMachines wins Dixons PC deal
Drew Cullen, 04 Mar 2004

Alcatel ponders Chinese takeaway

Alcatel is apparently looking to sell its mobile handset division in a bid to stem spiralling losses in the operation. French media reports have linked Chinese manufacturer Nanjing Panda Electronics as a possible purchaser. If these reports prove well founded, a deal with a Chinese company could prove to be a shrewd move in Alcatel's quest to return to profit. Network infrastructure and services provider Alcatel is thought to be looking at ways to end losses in its mobile phone unit that could include the complete sale of the business to a Chinese company. "We are reviewing all kinds of solutions," said a spokesperson for the struggling French firm. "These could include a sell-off, a partnership or whatever it takes to end losses." For the year ending 31 December, Alcatel as a whole reported a net loss of €1.94bn, down from €4.74bn in 2002. Sales fell 21.9 per cent to €12.5bn from €16.0bn in 2002. Indeed, Alcatel has not posted a net profit since the fiscal year 2000. While the firm has set no hard deadline for making a decision on the future of its underperforming mobile phone unit, the company aims to have a solution by the end of the year at the very latest. A report in the French newspaper La Tribune claimed that the Paris-based company is poised to sell the unit to Chinese manufacturer Nanjing Panda Electronics although the company itself has refused to comment on the report. Over the past few years Alcatel has undertaken dramatic steps to ensure its survival by severely cutting its cost base. These comprised a round of job cuts and the disposal of a number of non-core assets. The company divested its battery business last October, and its optical component business in May 2003. It also recently merged its optical fibre and cable business with that of Dutch cable supplier Draka. A deal with a Chinese company would make sense as it would allow Alcatel access to potentially the biggest and fastest growing mobile phone market in the world, and in return would give a Chinese partner an opening in Europe. Stemming the losses in its handset arm remains a crucial part of the company's restructuring strategy and could play a major part in returning it to profitability. Source: ComputerWire/Datamonitor Related research: Datamonitor, "Mobile Consumer Update; data data data" (DMTC0864)
Datamonitor, 04 Mar 2004

Barging ants solve network congestion

Ants could help to manage the flow of data through networks, according to researchers at Université Paul Sabatier in Toulouse, France. Vincent Fourcassié and his team studied how ants manage to avoid banging into each other on foraging trails. They discovered a pragmatic approach: faced with a blockage, an ant will simply barge the other out of the way, forcing it to take an alternative route. Ants will lay down scent cues for their colleagues to follow when out looking for food. These trails mark the path between food and home and are reinforced as more ants use them. This makes them even more attractive, and even more ants want to use the trails. Too many ants trying to use one route will slow the delivery of food to the nest. In his paper, published in Nature, Fourcassié reports that ants will just shove each other off the main thoroughfares, and onto chemical back streets. Computer scientists at University College London say this simple approach could help reduce congestion in large networks – like telephone systems. Fourcassié and team set up a trial with bog-standard garden ants. Luring them out into the open with a sugar source, the team funnelled the ants over a bridge, divided into two branches of equal width. When there was plenty of space, on a 10mm-wide route, the ants mainly stayed on one, well-marked trail. When the branches were narrowed to just 6mm, the traffic was more evenly distributed. Fourcassié argues that this demonstrates that outward bound ants were hitting traffic head-on. "It was not the result we expected," he says. "We expected the ants to do a U-turn and come back to the nest. But the ants found a better solution to the problem." This helps maintain an even flow of food into the nest. Fourcassié suspects that a similar strategy is used inside the nest. The original paper is available here, to Nature subscribers. Everyone else can read the abstract. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 04 Mar 2004

Verton slips on Black Ice

LetterLetter The polemic surrounding Thomas C. Greene's recent review of Dan Verton's Black Ice: The Invisible Threat of Cyber-Terrorism continues unabated. The following is a letter from Jay G. Heiser, columnist for Information Security magazine and occasional Register contributor. It is published in full: Dan Verton is apparently not satisfied just to demonise al-Qaeda. He also feels the need to attack everyone who questions the basic premise upon which sales of his book depend. While I didn't think his sensationalised book was worthy of comment, let alone notice, I do take exception to his characterisation of my profession as being 'intellectually bankrupt'. The unwillingness to accept cyber-terror as being a 'clear and present danger' is not due to 'a cultural reluctance to accept terrorist organizations as thinking enemies capable of adapting to the modern world.' His suggestion that those of us responsible for performing information security are bigots, tragically unable to think clearly about terrorism because we are trapped in outmoded ethnic stereotypes, is inaccurate and insulting. Scepticism about both the significance and mitigation cost of any highly visible risk issue is always necessary and appropriate. The aftermath of 9/11 has made it abundantly clear to anyone who has taken the effort to understand Risk Communications that human beings will inevitably overreact when confronted with a dramatic risk situation that they do not fully understand. ANY time that al-Qaeda is submitted as justifying a significant change in activity, we should reflect upon the benefits of having the junior Safety Patrol collect fingernail clippers and knitting needles (as if any plane full of passengers would ever again sit passively through another hijacking attempt). For a risk management professional, one of the important lessons of 9/11 has been to watch out for the carpet baggers. It is literally a crime that so much unnecessary and inappropriate risk mitigation work has been sold as a response to this galvanising event. The very term 'homeland security' is a sacred cow that deserves heavy scrutiny. It's a marvellously polarising concept that immediately invokes 'Land of the Free, Home of the Brave' connotations, making it dangerously simple to mislead through assertions like "They are true patriots at a time when patriotism is under attack." This is manipulative at several levels, but let it suffice for me to counter that the true patriot is someone who is willing to tell the truth, even when it conflicts with the party line. More important in this instance, it is not the case that Richard Clarke, one of the 'patriots' in question, is universally viewed within the information security community as having provided useful leadership. He may indeed have been well placed to 'know the truth about the various matters', but that is not the same thing as saying that his advice has been particularly useful. It is his suitability as a thought leader that was legitimately questioned, not his patriotism. Verton is still unable to provide cogent or compelling evidence that the yet-to-be-demonstrated potential for cyber-terror requires some form of resource re-allocation. His arguments are little more sophisticated than 'something really bad happened once, those responsible are not all dead, something really bad will happen again, computers are good and we should expect bad things to happen to them.' His response is full of 'could be's and 'might will have been's, but it isn't compelling. This is the typical sort of Chicken Little rhetoric that has become all too common. I've spent the last 5 years publicly urging the infosec field to stop with the hype, and to concentrate on real problems, so perhaps I'm over-sensitive when I find myself in a majority situation, agreeing with a high percentage of my peers that cyber-terror is not a priority for corporate risk managers. The IT world has plenty enough housecleaning to do already without the needless distraction of hypothetical infowars. As was demonstrated last year in both America and Britain, complex systems such as power grids can fail quite dramatically on their own, without being pushed over the edge by anti-globalist insurgents. The things that system designers and managers should be doing to ensure robust and stable infrastructure are things that will protect us equally from mistake and attack. We don't need an exaggerated threat of terrorist attack to encourage us to make safer and better systems. The future threat of cyber-terror is not significant in comparison to the current risk represented by either fraud or bugs. The home user, the office, and government decision makers are all tired of being warned about horrible new threats that never materialise, and this 'boy who cries wolf' backlash is making it increasingly difficult to make real reductions in risk. It is important that we do keep a weather eye on the horizon, watching for any significant indications that cyber-terror actually will appear. However, this is not the same thing as spending money today to make it less likely to occur in the future. The decision to put cyber-terror concerns on the back burner is one of the most well-informed ones made by the infosec community, and I question any other characterisation as being self-serving. Jay G. Heiser Columnist "Information Security" magazine Related stories Cyber-terror drama skates on thin Black Ice El Reg badly misguided on cyber-terror threat
Team Register, 04 Mar 2004

E-pharmacies guilty of ‘blatant disregard for health’

It's still all too easy for people to buy prescription drugs from online pharmacies. That's the warning contained in this month's edition of consumer mag Computing Which?, which reckons that Internet pharmacies display a "blatant disregard for the health of those buying from their websites". Posing as ordinary consumers, researchers bought weight-loss drugs and anti-depressants - all prescription-only medicines - with little or no diagnosis or promise of follow-up care. Few, if any, of the sites Computing Which? visited ran proper medical checks before dispensing the drugs. Most relied on patients to monitor their own dosage, 'trusting' patients to tell them what medications they've been taking and for how long. Jessica Ross, Editor of Computing Which? accepts that regulating online pharmacies isn't easy since many sites used by people in the UK are based overseas, so exempt from UK law. She said: "The MHRA [Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency] should issue clear guidelines for best practice so that sites selling prescription-only medicines register customers, track repeat prescriptions and more importantly, monitor individuals once they start taking the drug. "If these sites have nothing to hide, they should name the doctors and pharmacists used by them and work with the MHRA to put proper safeguards in place." Yesterday, the UN's drugs agency urged Governments to do more to crack down on the illegal trafficking of pharmaceutical drugs online. Inconsistent laws and the failure to enforce legislation already in place has led to an explosion in the trade of pharmaceutical drugs online. Some can be bought via Web sites while other are touted openly in spam emails, making it easy for people to get their hands on powerful drugs. ® Related story Drugs agency calls for crackdown in e-pharmacies Legality of online pharmacies questioned 'Unscrupulous' Net drugs trade led to death of student e-Pharmacy sites offer risky prescription
Tim Richardson, 04 Mar 2004

Revealed: the true cost of broadband

The average cost of a 512Kbps broadband service in Europe is €74.61 per month. Those seeking the best deals should consider a move to Sweden, while avoiding Switzerland. The figure comes from a study by consultancy firm Quantum-Web. Their report - entitled "European Broadband Benchmarks" - covers 83 operators in 12 countries across Europe and examines the costs of approximately 730 different billing systems. The report shows that the most expensive 512Kbps tariff offered is 17 times more costly than the cheapest. Of the many speed bands analysed, Cegetel of France was shown to be the most affordable, having what the report describes as the "cheapest true user prices." The most expensive tariff at 512Kbps was shown to be Switzerland's Sunrise, while the cheapest over 1Mbps per month is offered by Bostream of Sweden, at €1.96 per month. Around 30 per cent of services offered fall into the €74.61 monthly price bracket, while only 7 per cent fall into the most expensive tariff packages category. The report also covers all available speeds from 128Kbps through to 4Mbps products. Quantum-Web says that this range of analysis provides "an unbiased impression of the relative price for quality in the European market". European Broadband Benchmarks also looks at residential ADSL, Enterprise broadband, SDSL, VDSL, FWA satellite FTTH and cable services. "The broadband story in Europe is much wider than DSL," commented Qmars Safikhani, managing consultant at Quantum-Web. "Cross-sectional analysis implies measuring cable, xDSL and satellite fixed wireless. As broadband and wireless increasingly collide, it is critical to offer a perspective that reveals the entire broadband landscape." © ENN
ElectricNews.net, 04 Mar 2004

Eidos profits defy Legacy of Kain

Eidos plc - the software outfit behind Lara Croft - racked up increased profit even though half-year revenues dipped after two titles failed to perform as expected. The UK's largest video games developer and publisher said that weaker than expected sales for two of its titles in the US market had contributed to the dip in turnover. Earlier this year the company warned that sales of Commandos 3 and Legacy of Kain had proved disappointing. This, combined with US hardware sales falling short of market forecasts and a weaker US dollar, would result in revenue for the period being "modestly below market expectations", it predicted. And it was right. For the six months to the end of December 2003 revenues were £78.7m, compared with £88.9 in the same period in 2002. Despite this, profit was up from £4.4m to £6.2m. The company also announced today that it has entered into a conditional agreement to acquire Danish-based studio IO Interactive - which develops the "Hitman" franchise - for £23 million in cash and stock. Once the deal goes ahead it's expected to make a small contribution to operating profit in this financial year, the company said in a statement. Commenting on the results, Eidos chief exec, Mike McGarvey, said: "I am pleased to announce operating profits pre goodwill and exceptionals up 30 per cent and profit after tax up 42 per cent, our third consecutive profitable six month period. "This performance has been driven by the on-schedule release of a strong portfolio of quality games and demonstrates the benefits of our strategy of owned IP supported by stringent cost and process controls. "We look forward to the remainder of this financial year, which will see the release of some of our most exciting titles. We remain confident in meeting current market expectations for the full year to 30 June 2004," he said. During the second half of this financial year, Eidos expects to release a further six titles including Thief: Deadly Shadows, ShellShock: Nam ’67 (previous working title: Tour of Duty) and, on 30 April, the next sequel in the Hitman franchise, Hitman: Contracts. By late morning shares in Eidos were down 2p (1.5 per cent) at 131.5p. ®
Tim Richardson, 04 Mar 2004

Softbank punters run online protest auctions

Two customers angry at the derisory amount Softbank offered in compensation for a serious breach in customer security are staging online protest auctions on a Yahoo! Japan site. Personal details are up for grabs. Softbank - which together with Yahoo! operates "Yahoo! BB" in Japan - offered a miserly 500 Yen (£2.50) certificate to placate irate punters whose personal information might have been leaked to extortionists. Four people have been arrested as part of ongoing police investigations into the leak, discovered last month. Yahoo! BB has tightened up its internal security procedures and senior Softbank execs in Japan have promised to take a 50 per cent pay cut in response to widespread local criticism of the company. Customer credit card details were not compromised, but everything else on up to 4.52 million Yahoo! BB customers was up for grabs, according to English language paper the Daily Yomiuri. The highly unimpressed protestors are inviting bids for their names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and Yahoo! user IDs. One has attracted a top offer of 1.36 million Yen (£6,740). The seller, nicknamed "ooofunooo", readily admits the data on offer is second-hand - it has already been leaked by Softbank - but says that since it is in digital form, it should still be in good condition. ooofunooo said that he expected the auction winner to pay only listings fees, not the closing bid price. A second protest auction has reached a bid of 487,444 Yen with six days left to run. Softbank and Yahoo! Japan both declined to talk to local reporters about the protest auctions. ® Related Stories Softbank rocked by giant data leak
John Leyden, 04 Mar 2004

Email ‘leak’ suggests SCO got up to $100m from MS

UpdatedUpdated An email apparently leaked from SCO suggests that SCO is far more dependent on Microsoft financial backing than previously thought. If genuine, it means that the company has already received something approaching $100 million, and that Microsoft has substantially larger sums, which it would by preference wish to transfer indirectly, available. The email, published here with useful annotations at Opensource.org, purports to be from Mike Anderer of S2 Strategic Consulting to Chris Sontag, VP and GM of the SCOsource, with responsibility for the company's IP holdings. It is cced to SCO CFO Bob Bench. S2 itself has done contract work for SCO, and the email appears to concern SCO IP licensing as a route for obtaining funding from Redmond. VC outfit Baystar Capital is referred to as a "Microsoft referral," this wording appearing to support suggestions that the $50 million SCO received from Baystar in 2003 was connected to Microsoft. "Microsoft also indicated," it says, "there was a lot of money out there and they would clearly rather use Baystar 'like' entities to help us get signifigantly [sic] more money if we want to grow further or do acquisitions." Of the deals currently (although the email is dated last October) in the works, it says: "I just want to get this deal and move away from corp dev and out into the marketing andfield dollars....In this market we can get $3-5 million in incremental deals and not have to go through the gauntlet which will get tougher next week with the SR VP's." That certainly fits with the way Microsoft is; the company has large piles of money, but purse-strings for the likes of IP licensing are still pretty tight and controlled, whereas in marketing and field they are much less so, there is not so much need for a tangible immediate benefit, and the pot is much, much larger. But we should be clear about what it is we have here if the email is genuine. It is from a CO contractor working with SCO IP licensing, and it contains a number of characterisations of what Microsoft's views and intentions are. These are not necessarily quite how Microsoft's execs might put it themselves, and the email does not constitute clear evidence that one or more senior Microsoft executives have as a matter of policy decided to launder vast sums of money into SCO in order to keep the company afloat and disrupt Linux. Not, of course, that we're saying such a policy mightn't exist, just that the email does not provide evidence of its existence. It does, again if it's genuine, provide evidence that SCO is making money out of its IP portfolio, that Microsoft is targeted as a major current and future customer for this, and that Microsoft is quite understandably nervous about being spotted ploughing money into the company that's being tagged as its Unix attack-dog. If it turns out to be real, then this email and related traffic would clearly be logical subpoena subjects for the companies on the receiving end of SCO's lawsuits, and it's not out of the question that such action would find a smoking pistol or two. But it could be all happening without a smoking pistol. Take one company nobody much likes any more, not much money, IP to convert, lawsuits to fight, who's it going to call? And take another with vastly more money than it needs, not many friends either, Linux-Unix interoperability-related goals, and a stated corporate view that Unix is good, Linux is bad. The latter doesn't actually have to invent the plot, because the plot will invent itself. Then everybody will think it invented the plot anyway. Whatever - see if it's real, wait for the subpoenas, see if it leads anywhere. Considering the crass exercises in futility some of the emails in the antitrust actions led to, it still might. Update: SCO has confirmed the email as genuine. More here ® Related stories: SCO takes Linux-loving auto industry to court 'We're just like the RIAA,' says SCO Subpoenas fly in SCO vs IBM
John Lettice, 04 Mar 2004

Return of the Register polo shirt

Cash'n'CarrionCash'n'Carrion We're delighted today to announce the relaunch of the black Register polo shirt, one of our original lines and still as chic now as it was when last seen at the Cash'n'Carrion warehouse. The 100 per cent cotton shirt features out famous Reg logo tastefully embroidered on the left breast. It's available in sizes ranging from medium to XXL for £16.16 (£18.99 inc VAT). So, if you can't afford to indulge in the sport of princes, you can at least look the part when mingling effortlessly with Charles, Wills and Harry at the post-chukka knees-up. Good show. ®
Cash'n'Carrion, 04 Mar 2004

Sun Java site running sluggish on decaf

Sun is beefing up the capacity of its main Java development site to resolve intermittent access problems that have irked users over recent days. Since Tuesday, several Reg readers have complained that java.sun.com is either down or not working. A test on the site showed that response times were unusually sluggish and downloads slow. A spokeswoman for Sun acknowledged that the site was operating below par. She said the infrastructure had to be upgraded to cope with extra demand. Sun hopes the extra capacity will return the site to peak performance, even though it's not exactly sure why the site is running slowly at present. In a statement posted on the site, Sun said: "In addition to troubleshooting the root cause we are adding seven additional Sun servers to assist with capacity needs. We have also changed load distribution to include additional locations. These actions will boost performance and reliability." The company thanks developers for their "patience and continued loyalty" as it works to restore the site to full health. ® Related Stories UK's corporate Web sites 'wallowing in mediocrity' Top UK companies waste millions on duff web sites
John Leyden, 04 Mar 2004

Internet governance: who will take the helm?

The debate on Internet governance almost reduced the first World Summit on the Information Society last December to anarchy. But what exactly is Internet governance? Last week, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) ran a workshop in Geneva - the first in a series of events trying to come to grips with this slippery issue. Take 200 Internet experts, including such celebrities as TCP/IP co-inventor Bob Kahn, throw them into a room to discuss the subject. And what do you get? Not even an agreement on a definition of Internet governance. This now falls to a task force to be set up by UN secretary general Kofi Annan in preparation for WSIS II in Tunis in 2005. The lack of a clear understanding of what needs fixing on the Internet worries the likes of Daniel Karrenberg, chief technologist of RIPE NCC - the non-profit organisation which allocates IP addresses to ISPs. He chaired a "who-is-doing-what" panel at Geneva. Adopting a nautical analogy, he said that if governance is about steering boats, then the supplies ships which provide naming and numbering services were sailing along just fine. Other representatives from RIPE, ICANN and Centr - the Council of European National Top Level Domain Registries - agree with him. The result of governments taking the wheel could be hampered development, according to Bill Manning of EP.net - one the twelve root server operators. He agreed with his co-panellists when they asked for confidence in the industry's self-regulation. "We are not cowboys, we do not run hobby systems," he said. Business sector representatives also warned against heavy-handed regulatory approaches. But this clubby atmosphere did not suit everyone. Nabil Kisrawi, representative of the Syrian Government, said: "We don't want to go to somebody sitting in the Netherlands to ask for an IP number. We don't like ICANN making decisions for Syria or the US State Department telling some other US department to tell ICANN what to do." Governance must not be compared to state regulation, he said. Governments from the developing countries did not ask for regulation, but for an equal treaty under the UN. Nevertheless, Kisrawi and his colleague from Saudi Arabia pointed to GSM as evidence of how intergovernmental governance can be successful. The exclusion of developing countries from ICANN - or their perceived exclusion - is one thing. But the major preoccupation of governments worldwide is to tame the Internet. Problems such as child pornography and spam clearly demand attention. At the same time, governments, technologists and the business community are confronted with increasingly vociferous calls from end-user organisations and 'netizens' to be included in the debate. The WSIS was the first test of the UN's so-called 'multi-stakeholder approach' and some governments found this idea provocative. The Chinese representative at the ITU workshop, for example, insisted that governments must hold the reins. In the end, the ITU workshop was something of an arena where different institutional approaches to Internet governance battled it out. Some governments believe the ITU to be the logical regulator for the Internet - at least that's what William Drake, member of the WSIS Internet Caucus of the Civil Society, reckons. But he acknowledges that the traditional Internet community still views the ITU with suspicion. He personally favours the OECD's soft-law approach rather than the full-fat ITU intergovernmental strategy. Markus Kummer, eEnvoy of the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the man who led the complex ISIS negotiation on Internet governance, said: "No one talked about setting up one new super organisation." He is in line to take the helm of the next vessel to negotiate the heavy seas of Internet governance - Kofi Annan's UN Task Force. The Swiss diplomat was certain about just one aspect of the voyage to Tunis: it's going to be a bumpy ride. ® Related stories World+dog fight over World Summit of The Information Society Will December make or break the Internet? Internet showdown side-stepped in Geneva
Monika Ermert, 04 Mar 2004

High speed Internet helps drive NTL

New customers spending even more on TV, phone and Net services have helped NTL increase revenues, the cableco reported today. NTL - which emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January 2003 - added 58,400 new punters during the three months to the end of December, taking its total customer base to 2.87m. During this time the number of (ahem) broadband customers rose by 84,600 to 949,200. Yesterday, the cableco announced it has now racked up more than one million broadband punters. Take-up of NTL's content bundle - "Broadband Plus", unveiled last November - has also proved popular. As of today 43,000 customers have signed up to the service. All this has helped make execs at NTL feel rather chipper. "Broadband growth for 2004 is targeted at 25-30 per cent, reflecting continued industry-leading penetration of our existing customer base and further penetration within our marketing area," said NTL in a statement. Over the year, NTL increased the number of triple play customers (those punters who take telephone, TV and high speed Internet services) by 58.4 per cent to 591,300 - up from 373,300 at the end of 2002. Average Revenue per User (ARPU) went up to £41.96 in Q4, an increase of £1.93 compared to a year before. Said the cableco: "ARPU growth continues to be driven by the growth of our broadband and DTV businesses and by the migration of telephony customers to premium 'Talk Plan' packages." Here are the big numbers. For the three months to the end of December 2003, revenues increased by 8.1 per cent to £576.7m ($982.7m) from £533.4m ($839.1m) for the same period of 2002. At the same time, NTL's net loss fell by 78.5 per cent to £130.2m ($223.9m), down from £604.9m ($931.3 million) in Q4 '02, helped by a reduction in debt charges. Revenues for the full year were up 2.6 per cent to £2.23bn ($3.6bn) from £2.17bn ($3.26bn) in 2002. Net loss for 2003 was down 63 per cent at £583.6m ($954.2m) from £1.58bn ($2.37bn for 2002). ® Related Stories NTL notches up 1m 'broadband' punters NTL dangles content as sweetener for punters NTL trials PAYG broadband NTL renews assault on broadband hogs
Tim Richardson, 04 Mar 2004

California offical in court over Oracle mega-deal

An aide to former California governor Gray Davis appeared in court yesterday on charges of falsifying evidence in the investigation into California's megabucks licensing deal with Oracle. Kari Dohn did not enter a plea, but listened quietly while the charges against her were read out, the San Diego Union Tribune reports, She is accused of falsifying six reports and schedule entries. Her lawyer Allen Ruby said she will plead innocent to the charges, which are "without merit...The case will either be dismissed or there will be a trial and an acquittal". The case centres on a software licensing deal the Davis administration signed with Oracle. The state auditors' office discovered that normal competitive tendering rules were ignored when the $93m contract was awarded. Further, instead of catering for the quarter of the state's 230,000 staff who needed database access, the deal covered 270,000 licenses. Auditors estimate the six year contract would have cost the state $41m more than it needed to, had it been left to run its course. The contract has since been cancelled. Heads began to roll in late April, 2002, and four top civil servants either resigned or were sacked. First to go was the head of State's IT advice department Elias Cortez, who worked for Oracle in 1997, and contracts chief Barry Keene, a former state senator. Both resigned. The investigation has run for nearly two years, and Dohn is the only figure from the administration suspected of criminal wrong-doing. State attorney general Bill Lockyer said he had found no evidence against the former governor, or four senior staff fired during the inquiry. If convicted, Dohn faces up to nine years in chokey. She is scheduled to return to court on 13 April. ® Related stories UK.gov claws deeper discounts from Oracle How Oracle screwed California Oracle cleans up pricing act
Lucy Sherriff, 04 Mar 2004

Cisco's SAN biz bores McData CEO

Despite its best efforts to crack the storage switch market, Cisco Systems' performance doesn't have one of its main rivals terribly concerned in the near term. "I don’t want to minimize their growth in the last quarter, but it was a ho-hummer for a company the size of Cisco,” said John Kelley, the CEO of McData, in an interview with Byte and Switch. Cisco and ho-hummer don't usually go together in the same sentence, but in this case Kelley has a point. Out of the $5.4bn in sales reported by Cisco in the second quarter only $40m came from SAN (storage area network) switches. And that is with a 70 percent rise in orders from the first quarter. Cisco can now claim 540 customers in this market dominated by McData and Brocade. At the time of its second quarter announcement, earlier this month, Cisco tried to put a good spin on the small revenue total. "After a slow start, our storage networking business picked up dramatically in Q2, with revenue of approximately $40m, a 120 per cent increase over Q1," Cisco said, adding component shortages and "some channel issues" hurt the previous quarter's numbers. Cisco's SAN switch revenue falls well short of Brocade's $145 million and McData's $114 million. But while Cisco's results don't do all that much for Kelley, the McData CEO does admit Cisco has him scared. The biggest concern being that three is a crowd in the SAN market. “It’s going to be a tough, slug-it-out environment,” Kelly told Byte and Switch. “As aggressive as all three of us are, there’s probably not enough to execute what we all want to do." Given Cisco's size and past success it's hard to imagine the SAN newcomer being the odd man out should the market squeeze. ® Related link Kelley interview Related stories Brocade and Quantum toot their own horns IBM out-performs HP and EMC (says IBM) EMC confirms low-end storage charge
Ashlee Vance, 04 Mar 2004

Confess about XP Reloaded quick, Gartner tells MS

Microsoft should level with us, soon, on whether or not it intends to ship an interim 'XP Reloaded' version of Windows, and if it is getting the green light, it should discuss the timeline and feature sets immediately, says Garter. The research outfit's recently-issued 'First Take' is actually directed at giving upgrade advice for customers still using Windows 2000, and confused by the Reloaded story, but it contains quite a few grisly reminders about the things Microsoft ought to do, but doesn't. For example, Microsoft was saying in 2001 that it intended to release Longhorn in the second half of 2004. As we've seen since then, the Longhorn date has slipped spectacularly, and Gartner's view that we're not going to see it before 2007 seems all too plausible. At the same time, Microsoft intends to stop selling Windows 2000 through the channel at the end of this month. If you ask Microsoft when Longhorn is going to ship, Microsoft will tell you it will ship when it's done. And if you listen to Microsoft executives' presentations over a year or two, you'll note that the 12-18 month window in which the company thinks Longhorn might ship moves progressively. So, we have a period of indeterminate length from the demise of Win2k until the arrival of Longhorn, into which - the company indicated in just the last few days - something which might be a retreaded version of XP, might be a marketing campaign or might be a mix of the two is likely to be slipped. You can see how this kind of thing causes a certain amount of angst among Microsoft's treasured corporate customers. Many of them are still using Windows 2000, for perfectly rational reasons. XP wasn't a massive leap over Win2k, but has sufficient differences to add support costs, so why shift? And if Longhorn were still on target for H2 2004 (not of course that anybody sensible ever believed that one) they'd now be sitting fairly pretty. Not only does Microsoft seldom issue accurate roadmaps - the company has a history of producing new versions more or less out of the blue, and then finding itself moving the expiry dates around on the lifecycle charts a couple of years later. Quite often this happens just days before a product's previously scheduled expiry, which is really not a whole bunch of help to anyone. The pity here is that it's almost certainly not the case that Microsoft secretly knows when it's going to ship things and when it's going to kill them. On the contrary, the company is probably telling us more or less what it knows, when it knows it, and if Reloaded really turns out to be a product rather than a marketing programme, then it's probably one that's just popped into somebody in Redmond's head. Or that some maniac in Redmond has just finally managed to sell to the High Command. So prior to making Gartner and the enterprise customers happy by producing regular and accurate roadmaps, timelines and feature sets, Microsoft really has to consider carefully and deeply why it is that it is unable to do this. And maybe why inserting timeline changes as puffs of white smoke in keynotes is really not a smart idea. ® Related stories: Windows Shorthorn is 'dead-on-arrival'
John Lettice, 04 Mar 2004

Russian boffins in arctic base ordeal

Russia's revitalised polar research programme has come to a sudden halt following the disappearance of much of its floating base into the cruel Greenland sea. The 12 researchers at North Pole-32 - situated 700 km north-west of the Spitzbergen archipelago - escaped intact but now face an ordeal reminiscent of John Carpenter's The Thing. They are huddled in the remaining buildings and relying on airlifts for supplies, since the base's runway was also lost to the deep. However, bad weather has so far hampered attempted supply drops. The incident happened at 14.15 GMT on Wednesday. The BBC reports that the base's leader saw "an enormous wall of ice which grew to at least 10 metres in height in a matter of minutes". The fate of North Pole-32 echoes that of Russia's last polar encampment - evacuated in 1991 after the ice floe on which it was built drifted into a warm current and broke up. North Pole-32 has apparently so far travelled 2,750 km since April when it was established to issue climatic reports. A spokesman for the Russian hydrometeorology service told the BBC that the base had "strayed too far to the south, hence the problems with melting ice". ®
Lester Haines, 04 Mar 2004

Japanese deploy bi-lingual talking PDA

Visitor's to Tokyo's Narita airport can avail themselves of a bi-lingual PDA which translates between English and Japanese. The "e-Navi" contains 50,000 Japanese and 25,000 English words and is reckoned to be able to cope with slang. Punters just speak into the device, and are given an almost instant translation. NEC is behind the technology, which uses voice recognition, digital voice translation and a voice synthesiser to deliver the required speech. Chris Shimizu, NEC's corporate relations manager, says that the system has tackled some of the more slippery problems of voice recognition. For one, it can apparently handle accents. What's more, "it doesn't require a user to pre-register their voice". Shimizu said that the technology would "absolutely ideal" for mobile phones, since it is virtually instantaneous. Almost inevitably - this being Japan and all - the "e-Navi" translator began life as one component of the Papero - a talking robotic "personal companion". Sadly, the little cyberpal wasn't asked to provide a suitably user-friendly and colloquial English name for itself, since Papero is short for the decidedly non-fluffy "Partner-Type Personal Robot". It will be interesting to see if the e-Navi really has picked the bugs out of voice recognition, or whether hapless travellers will be wandering around Narita's concourse shouting "my hovercraft is full of eels" at terrified locals. ® Related Products Check out the Pocket PC department of The Reg mobile store
Lester Haines, 04 Mar 2004

IT bosses baffled by new products

IT directors are either oblivious to, or sceptical about the benefits of new products - despite growing confidence in the economy and bigger budgets at their disposal. 3G services, tablet PCs and Blade servers are all apparently causing confusion. Andrew Brown, IDC’s mobile computing head, told The Register that businesses didn’t want to hear jargon or product names: “3G is a great example. People don’t understand what it means, but it's just more capacity and bandwidth. Many (26 per cent) are also uncertain and are waiting to see proof of genuine business benefits." He argues that operators need to learn to sell a business case, not a product. “No one should talk about ‘3G’. It should just be a part of mobilising enterprise applications.” As the mobility issue shifts responsibility for voice away from admin and under the wing of the IT department, 2004 will be a growth year for computer systems as a whole, IDC said. Linux will continue to gain, too: 48 per cent of Linux servers purchased in 2003 were used for new application deployment, compared with about 31 per cent for both Windows and Unix. Reputation will be key to success, however, with most of the companies surveyed ranking trustworthiness and price above technology leadership. Chris Ingle, IDC's EMEA group consultant, reckons that “buyers are unconvinced by many propositions that are being promoted by vendors” and is betting that vendors who can show customers how a product fits into existing infrastructure will win the day. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 04 Mar 2004

Michael Dell to relinquish CEO title, command of ‘brain’

Michael Dell plans to step down as Dell CEO in July and hand over the reins of the company he founded to current president Kevin Rollins. Dell will retain the title of Chairman, while Rollins will become president and CEO of the PC, server and storage maker. Dell and Rollins have run the company together since 1997 in a two-in-a-box management style. Their partnership has produced an endless stream of color pieces, describing how they share an office, share decision making and sometimes even share a brain: "[They're] kind of the left and right sides of the same brain," observed Crawford DelPrett, senior VP at analyst firm IDC, which is a metaphor with all kinds of unintended consequences. With Rollins now presumably in full command of the motor functions, he gets to move Mike's arms and legs. Dell corporate PR said the move "is consistent with current primary roles." Dell largely focuses on technology trends, while Rollins handles day-to-day operations and strategy. Dell also heads up the company's research and development efforts, which leaves him with a fair bit of spare time to spend gazing into the future. Dell has often been credited with bringing in a strong supporting cast to help him run a company that has enjoyed phenomenal growth. Rollins is a prime example of these moves, as he joined Dell in 1996 after working as a vice president and partner of consulting firm Bain. The move to split the CEO and Chairman roles could be seen as an olive branch to corporate governance watchers. Many pundits have called for companies to divide these responsibilities. Rollins will officially take on the CEO title at a shareholders meeting on July 16. He will also be nominated for election to the Dell board at that time. ®
Ashlee Vance, 04 Mar 2004